THE PEPPER TREE Origins, by Dave Freedland
The Pepper Tree was my second book that followed Lincoln 9, which introduced the main character, Lieutenant Scott Hunter. I debated writing The Pepper Tree first, because it was such a great story, but opted to first write Lincoln 9, to determine whether or not I could compose a novel, and develop fictional characters.
With the success of my first book, I marched forward with a haunting story that followed my law enforcement career for several years. As a rookie cop, I was made aware of a landmark tree, along a dusty road through the Irvine Ranch, where three separate serial killers had left at least one of their victims. It was difficult to believe that the press had not picked up on the location, which was clearly visible from the San Diego freeway. What made it unique was the fact that the tree provided sufficient foliage to cover the dumping of bodies. In addition, the adjacent two-lane road provided a flat, unobstructed view for ½ mile in both directions, which prevented the perpetrators from being surprised by law enforcement or witnesses to their crimes.
Looking through my notes and day timer calendars, I discovered that several violent crimes had been perpetrated within a 3-mile radius of that tree. This made the location a target rich environment for the creation of a captivating murder mystery.
The use of a command officer, Lieutenant Scott Hunter, for a main character in a homicide story is controversial. Normally, those possessing the rank of lieutenant or higher are managers who handle more of the administrative, or strategic responsibilities, and are seldom involved in the “nuts and bolts” of investigating murders. However, during my career I was fortunate to have had a couple of mentors who were lieutenants who finished their managerial duties, then ventured into the field, or took a more hands-on role in the investigation of the ultimate crime. Lt. Hunter became a character who was a composite of my two mentors, along with the leadership style I chose for my own career.
Having been raised in Long Beach, California, the Long Beach Police Department detectives were frequent visitors to my father’s pharmacy, following the burglaries committed by drug addicts. A body dump that was possibly linked to the famous Black Dahlia murder case occurred in an oil field approximately a mile from my home. These two factors were instrumental in my including an additional crime scene in this beautiful city.
A Southern California landmark primarily known only to law enforcement earned a reputation for crime scenes of the most unspeakably vicious homicides. Infamous serial killers had chosen this location to discard and display their victims as trophies of their horrific deeds. Lieutenant Scott Hunter must lead a team of detectives to identify and capture a perpetrator who’s targeting young women, and has chosen this landmark to showcase his victims.
This story is a work of fiction, but the Orange County location is real. So notorious, in fact, that those officers working the graveyard shift need only radio their activity at a site bearing two words, and they are immediately dispatched a back-up officer to the “pepper tree.”
As a young patrol officer, Hunter had been introduced to the “terror at the tree” on an evening when he turned his police cruiser down that dusty road separating asparagus fields, and discovered a corpse hanging from a low-hanging limb. But now as the leader of the Robbery/Homicide team, he received that most dreaded call interrupting the stillness of the night, a body dump.
Bio: Dave Freedland is a 34-year decorated law enforcement professional having served with the Irvine Police, and the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Departments. Following a competitive athletic career culminating with the award of “UCLA’s Most Valuable Gymnast,” he graduated first in his Sheriff’s academy class. While serving with the Irvine Police Department he worked in a variety of assignments including Detectives, Patrol, Training, Internal Affairs, SWAT, and retired at the rank of Deputy Chief of Police.
As a SWAT team leader, he supervised operations for numerous barricade and hostage incidents, and was the recipient of several awards including “Police Officer of the Year” and the “Meritorious Service Award.”
He currently trains and teaches martial arts in Orange County, having attained a 6th degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan karate.
Dave’s first book, Lincoln 9, was Oak Tree Press’ best-selling Amazon novel in 2015.