The Spider Killings: Conclusion

Roxanne had pieced together the story of how the elusive serial killer had met his demise


The Spider Killings: Conclusion
by laleh haghighi

A fictional series based on real events that happened in Iran known as the "Spider Killings". [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

PART 21 (conclusion)
Roxanne had just finished emailing her story to the newspaper office in Tehran. “The Spider Killer Dead in His Own Web!”, the headline of the newspaper would read in the special evening edition. They had found the remnants of seven bodies buried in Sharif’s garden, and they suspected that the oldest one was that of his wife, Azam. Along with the more recent victims found scattered inside and in the outskirts of the city of Mashad, the body count totaled sixteen.

There was no doubt that Sharif was the Spider Killer as each corpse found interred in his backyard had the telltale signs of having been strangled to death. Some of the corpses still had their headscarves wrapped around the rotting flesh around their neck. All of them had been wrapped up in their own chador before being buried.

Additionally, before dying, Sharif had confessed to Azadeh, his last would-be victim, that he had murdered Yassi, the young woman left at the Imam Reza Mausoleum. Finally, the one other witness who had escaped from his clutches, the older woman with the red hair who had tried unsuccessfully to give some clues about his identity to the police, had successfully identified his corpse. He was the same man who had assaulted her, trying to murder her by choking her with her own hejab.

Roxanne had pieced together the story of how the elusive serial killer had met his demise. She had interviewed everybody involved, Mahin, Babak, Azadeh, as well as some of the women in Majid’ so-called safe house. Ramin had made her privy to all the police files on the murdered prostitutes who had been found with the gruesome mark of the Spider Killer for the past several months.

In the end, it was Babak who had saved Azadeh. In a case of coincidence, some people may call it fate, Roxanne thought bittersweetly, the Spider Killer lived in the same neighborhood as his seventh victim, Fati, Babak’s mother. The little boy had recognized the houses and shops when the killer had driven them to his home but before he could say anything, Sharif had assaulted Azadeh in the car, rendering her unconscious.

When Sharif locked Babak in his bedroom, the resourceful little boy had wasted no time climbing out of the window and then ran and ran through the streets until he made it back to his original home.

Mahin was in the middle of fervent prayers for the release of her husband, Hossein, from prison, when she heard the knock on the door. She had wished to no end there was some way she could find Babak again to prove to the chief of police that her husband was innocent. So when she opened the door, she was both stupefied and overjoyed to see Babak standing by himself in front of her. She fell on her knees and hugged him, sobbing that it was a miracle from Imam Reza.

Mahin had called the police at once. Babak had told her the same man who had killed his mother was just now trying to kill "another lady." Mahin did not question the veracity of his tale. She was certain that the little boyu had flown back to the nest carried by the spirit of a force greater than she had ever known. Everything that came out of his mouth, she took seriously.

Truthfully, Mahin was less worried about the fate of the woman who now lay at the mercy of the killer than excited at the prospect of having Hossein finally released. But her initial joy gave way to frustration when the desk clerk at the police station treated her story with derision.

-- “I am telling you, you have the wrong guy, pass me on to the chief of police, I have to tell him.”

The desk clerk had just laughed at her.

-- “Sure lady, and then, after that, I will pass you to Ayatollah Khamenei, I am sure he is also interested in your cockamamie tales.”

Hanging up in frustration, Mahin cursed out loud. Those no-good, lazy, idiotic sons of bitches: How she hated them! As usual, she would have to resolve the problem herself. There was no time to lose. Grabbing Hossein’s work gun, which she had meticulously hidden in the house in the wake of his arrest, she took Babak by the hand and told him to show her the way. After that, well, it was easy to make her way into the house of the killer, just in time to save him from dealing the fatal blow to his last victim.

There was nothing else on the news in Mashad but the Spider Killer. Television, radio, newspapers, and over the wire, even international news agencies were frantically disseminating the bits and pieces of information they were receiving about the salacious story.

Roxanne was mostly disgusted by the local coverage. From the authorities, to the majority of the conservative media, to the regular mardom, the common people interviewed on the street, the consensus was that Sharif was a hero, nay a martyr. He had died in the great cause of cleaning up the streets of Mashad from the immorality that reigned there. Overnight, he had become a vigilante seeking justice, instead of the coward who had succeeded in picking on the most vulnerable segment of the population.

Just now, Roxanne was watching Ayatollah Kazemi conduct a news conference on television in which he was blaming the immoral women, all with past criminal records and history of drug addiction, he emphasized, who had pushed a man to his limit. Weren’t these disgusting women the ones who were truly responsible for the infamy visited upon their holy city?

The Ayatollah conveniently left out the information from all the autopsy reports, which suggested the pious and upstanding hero Sharif had had sex, if you can call it that, with each of his victims, after he had strangled them.

As Roxanne watched Kazemi on television, with his freshly dyed hair, his movie-star make-up and his affected air of refinememt, which only translated as arrogance, the only thing that could soothe her heart was the knowledge that at least his nephew Majid was dead. His monstrous henchman was gone. Peyman, and all the other people he had hurt, had been somehow avenged in that respect.

The problem was, what would happen to Azadeh? Who would believe the harrowing tale she had confided to Roxanne and Ramin while still recuperating in her hospital bed, where she was being treated for her injuries? Roxanne hoped that Ramin’s plan would work to save her from certain execution.

* * *

The television cameras and bright overhead lights were finally turned off. As the T.V. crews were leaving the Ministry of Justice, Kazemi returned to his office. He was surprised to see Brigadier General Ramin Rohani waiting for him there.

-- “Well, congratulations Mr. Rohani.” Kazemi stated with his most honeyed voice. “Although truth be told, you did not have much to do with the end result, did you?”

Ramin smiled.

-- “It is true, Sir. But I have come here for another matter altogether.”

-- “What’s that?”

-- “I wanted to present my sincerest condolences for your loss.”

Kazemi’s eyes became misty and for a second, Ramin thought he had caught a glimpse of a real emotion in the old man’s face. That moment was short-lived however.

-- “Thank you Mr. Rohani. The only thing that is helping me through my grief is the knowledge that we have his killer caught. As soon as she gets discharged from the hospital, she will be transferred to the Women’s Prison and I will personally preside over her trial… As if a trial is really necessary in this case!” Kazemi scoffed. “But oh well, we have to follow certain protocol, don’t we Mr. Rohani? Or we would be no better than vigilantes just as this Spider Killer fellow.”

-- “That’s what I came to talk to you about, Sir. The girl will not be prosecuted. She will be set free. I have negotiated her release.”

Kazemi’s lower lip began to tremble. Ramin was not sure if the man was caught between a macabre laugh or if he was going to start foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.

-- “You?,” the Ayatollah finally uttered after a long pause, standing up at his desk with his two hands flat out before him, as if to gain even more leverage in front of his adversary, “YOU have negotiated her release have you? Who do YOU think YOU are, Mr. Rohani? You are but a peon. I am Ayatollah Kazemi. Mashad belongs to me. That includes the girl, and that also includes you. Please do not try my patience. It would be better if you would return to your duties at this time instead of boring me with your delusions. I am very busy as you can imagine.”

He concluded his speech with a laugh that was meant to be mocking but it got caught in his throat and ended up a mere whimper.

But Ramin did not budge. Instead, he threw the large brown envelope that had been resting in his lap during the whole time onto Kazemi’s desk. It landed there with a thud, scattering some of the Ayatolla’s paperwork.

The gesture was so well calculated to be an affront that the old man was too shocked to react at first. Looking at Ramin, he decided that it was indeed best to take a look inside the mysterious envelope. As he started going through the documents, the Ayatollah’s face blanched.

-- “I thought you would be perhaps interested to know about another story, one that has the potential of dwarfing this very crisis that is now shaking our lovely city.” Ramin spoke calmly, even-handedly, as if he had meticulously rehearsed his speech. “The story of a high ranking official who, in cahoots with his nephew, engaged in a series of illegal activities including the trafficking of local Iranian women, to be sold to the sex slave market of certain Arabic and former Bloc countries in exchange for huge sums of money.”

Kazemi looked at Ramin, unable to hide his shock. Slowly, he sat back down at his desk. Ramin continued.

-- “These women were mostly desperate. Prostitutes, drug addicts, run-aways, abused women and children who were lured into this scheme by the promise of something better awaiting them abroad, a clean life, a new start. Little did they know they were just being used as commodities, for the profit of a man who, ironically enough, built his career and reputation on his image as a pious man who should be held in the highest esteem by the good folks of our city.”

Kazemi said nothing. He was just watching Ramin. The more Ramin talked, the more the old man’s eyes narrowed. Ramin continued.

-- “These women never returned to their hometown. Some were killed, others were jailed, forgotten and rotting away in far away prisons. Others still were lost, from one trafficking ring to another. All of them were enslaved, used and abused for years. And though the man, with the help of his nephew, got rid of many witnesses, and tried to quiet any story that would bring any sort of unwanted attention to the plight of the disappeared women of his city, he could not get rid of all of his enemies. There were a few women who survived, who managed to tell their tales. And of course, others here, who had knowledge of and in some cases assisted in these going-ons and are now ready to turn on their former boss in exchange for gaining immunity themselves. The proof is in the contents of that brown envelope, which you have been reviewing.”

-- “Where did you get these documents?” Kazemi asked, as calmly as he could.

-- “Your Honor, with all due respect, I think the question is not, where did I get them, but where they are now. The originals, I mean.”

-- “What do you want, Rohani?”

-- “Nothing. Nothing but the delight of personally delivering the news to you that at this moment, certain high-ranking colleagues of yours in Tehran are reviewing this dossier. You probably know them well. I believe they once drove you out of the capital for certain indiscretions you had allowed yourself with the young boys at the orphanage you had patronized at the beginning of your career.”

Kazemi’s face was turning purple, like he was suffocating. In fact, the old man was grasping hard for air. Courteously, Ramin got up and poured a glass of water for him from the elegant crystal pitcher that rested on the antique coffee table that was Kazemi’s pride and joy.

-- “This is why I told you the girl will not be prosecuted.” Ramin concluded. “She will be set free in exchange for this information I provided. In fact, you will be the one on trial. Your replacement has already been chosen and is on his way to Mashhad. You are to lose everything and will be lucky if you are left to live out your days under house arrest in some obscure village or other. Consider this a friendly advance warning, based on all our years of… knowing each other so well. I will leave you alone now, Sir, as you had requested. And again, I offer you my sincerest condolences.”

Once outside the office, Ramin exhaled deeply, then started trotting down the stairs of the building, a smile on his face at the prospect of recounting everything for Roxanne. As for Kazemi, he stared at the door from which the Brigadier-General had exited for a long time before he could muster the strength to get up from his chair.

* * *

That night, Kazemi stood at his office window, the panes wide open so he could breathe in the cool evening air that showed the signs that winter was already on its way. He had put his favorite Schubert record on, and he was sipping the best Champagne from his collection, all the while staring at the beautiful landscape of his adopted city, topped by majestic gold and blue domes of the Imam Reza Mosques.

At the end of the recording, he drained the rest of his glass in one gulp, and looked down from the horizon to the little framed photo in his hands. It showed a middle-aged man in a thin mustache holding a beautiful blue-eyed infant in his lap. Kazemi threw the frame out the window as casually as if he had flicked a cigarette.

He never heard the sound of the glass frame shatter against the pavement, for it was way too high and the wind would have masked the sound anyway. Then, just as casually, he climbed onto the windowsill himself and made his own, final descent.

* * *

A few days later, Ramin and Roxanne went to visit Azadeh in the hospital to let her know she was in the clear. But Azadeh was long gone from the hospital by the time they got there. The hospital staff said that, once the guards had been called off from her room, she had lost no time checking herself out. She had left nothing for Roxanne or Ramin, or even for Babak. No letter, no word, nothing. Roxanne looked at Ramin, her eyes welling up with tears.

-- “What are we going to do, Ramin?”

Ramin sighed.

-- “There is nothing more we can do.”

* * *

Two years later, Hossein, Ali and Babak were awaiting Mahin’s release from the Women’s Prison. Although she had been charged with murder, unauthorized possession and use of a firearm, and child abandonment and endangerment, risking execution at worst, or a long imprisonment at best, she had miraculously been acquitted.

A local women’s rights attorney had taken up her cause and won international attention for her plight. But what really had tipped the scales of justice was Babak’s testimony in her favor. The little boy had succeeded in melting the hearts of the harsh Judge when he appealed to him to save his Maman Mahin. Additionally, in the wake of Kazemi’ scandalous “downfall” from power, his replacement was eager to let the ghosts of the past rest in peace and had personally endorsed Mahin, further pressuring the Judge to render a positive verdict in her case.

In the turmoil and joy of the reunion, all was forgiven, if not forgotten, by Hossein, regarding Babak’s abandonment. Mahin’s years in jail had changed her. Though she would always have her acrimonious akhlaagh, her difficult character, and a tongue quick to sting, no one could even look at Babak askew without her jumping to protect him. He was now a full-fledged member of the family and never more would he experience the strangeness that had shattered his young life.

Indeed, a couple of decades later, long after Ali had moved to America forever, and Hossein lay cold on his bed after having succumbed to his long battle with cancer, it would be Babak who would stretch out his arms in an embrace and whisper softly to Mahin: “I will take care of you from now on, Madar.” But those days were still too far ahead for any of them to guess and for now, the newly minted family basked in the happiness of their reunion and their freedom.

* * *

At the same time that Mahin was being released from jail and into the warm embrace of her family, Roxanne was walking into one of the less fashionable cafés in Tehran, where she knew she could have a smoke with her tea without being bothered by the morality police. They usually stuck to the fancier addresses where they could extort more money from the rich men and women who liked to frequent those venues.

As she walked in, Roxanne hardly paid attention to the few customers, a dishevelled woman with half closed eyes sitting at a table with two louche men, probably a drug addict with her dealers. A couple of old men in the corner playing their endless round of takhteh, backgammon. She was busy talking on her cell phone to Ramin.

-- “So, how does it feel being back in the calm of the countryside after a dizzying week in Tehran?” She teased.

After resigning from his post and leaving Mashad two years ago, Ramin had moved to an old, secluded farmhouse in the countryside, which he had inherited from his wife Mandana after her death, but which he had never set foot in before. He had taken great pains restoring and renovating it until it had found back some of its charm along with some more modern amenities. Roxanne loved spending time there. It was always an ordeal to drag Ramin to her turf for a visit, instead of the other way around.

-- “So, do you think Setareh liked me?”

Ramin had finally met Roxanne’s daughter for the first time. That was the reason he had agreed to come all the way to Tehran. He despised big, noisy cities and found that he had finally achieved the happiness and inner peace he needed by living a simple life in the countryside, and writing. His first novel would be published in the fall. It was of course, a detective story. The only thing to complete the picture was making his relationship with his lover of the past two years, Roxanne, official. And that depended on her daughter Setareh.

-- “Well, you know how teen-agers are.” Roxanne replied with a laugh. “She didn’t hate you. That means you were quite a success!”

The two chatted for a while longer, making plans for the first visit to the farmhouse when Setareh too would be included.

After Roxanne hung up the phone, she fumbled through her purse for a bit, then finally fished out her beloved cigarette case. But as usual, no lighter! She searched and searched through all the inner and outside pockets of her bag, cursing herself for having yet again forgotten.

A hand reached out almost under her nose, flicking on a flame for her. Roxanne lit her cigarette and perfunctorily made her thanks, while looking up at the individual who had helped her. It was the woman who was sitting with the two thugs when Roxanne had entered the café. The woman looked at Roxanne’s puzzled expression and giggled.

-- “You don’t recognize me, Roxanne Khanoom?”

Roxanne cried out in astonishment. It was Azadeh. The young girl was barely recognizable. The shape of her nose had never quite healed properly, it seemed, after being broken by Sharif. Her new nose aged her quite a bit. Or maybe it was those dark circles around her eyes, the telltale signs of opium addiction. Azadeh had once been pretty enough to write a poem about, Roxanne thought to herself with anguish. Now the young girl was just skin and bones.

-- “My god, Azadeh! What happened to you? Where were you?”

-- “Does it matter? It’s always the same story, isn’t it? You should know. I always read your articles on the poor and downtrodden young girls of Iran!” Azadeh snickered.

Well, at least she didn’t lose her smart mouth, Roxanne thought fondly.

-- “Azadeh joon, come, let’s get out of here. I will take you to my house. You can tell me all about it. And I will get you all the help you need.”

-- “No thanks, I won’t be your pet project.” The young woman replied, an unforgiving hardness in her voice. Then, reconsidering, she added more softly. “I know what you are trying to do but believe me, you can’t mold anything out of emptiness.”

Roxanne wanted to plead with her, make her stay. She thought she could appeal to the young woman by mentioning the boy whom she had once considered her son.

-- “At least, do you want news from…”

-- “NO! Please don’t say his name.” The pain in Azadeh’s voice was so palpable, it made Roxanne’s heart ache. “I already know that he is happy. I see his mother sometime in my dreams. She is nicer to me now than before. She tells me about him. That is enough.”

Roxanne did not respond. It was sad to see that the opium had taken over Azadeh’s senses completely, haunting her nights with hallucinations and her days with the despair and hopelessness that were its hallmarks.

-- “I have to go now. It was nice seeing you though.” Azadeh concluded, after glancing quickly at the dour-faced men who had been sitting with her.

As the young woman turned her back and started walking away, Roxanne looked at her for a bit and then suddenly ran after her out in the street.

-- “Wait, wait please!”

-- “What is it?”

Roxanne caught her breath with some difficulty. She really needed to quit smoking.

-- “It’s just… After all this time… I don’t even know your… real name.”

Azadeh looked at Roxanne, surprised. She suddenly burst in laughter, and for an instant, Roxanne thought she had recaptured her youth and spirit from before. Then, after a small pause, the young woman answered Roxanne's request, stating simply:

-- “Maryam.”

With that, she turned around definitively. Roxanne watched her silhouette getting smaller and smaller in the distance, the folds of her black chador swaying gently in the soft breeze of the sunny afternoon. A silver Mercedes slowed down nearby, eventually making a full stop, and the chador disappeared into the back seat. The car sped off, re-joining the heavy Tehran traffic, and soon, Roxanne could see her no more.

(The end)

PARTS [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]


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more from laleh haghighi

why not

by Parthian on

make this into a book? Since it is "fiction" anyway, you can add more drama, and more pages without diluting the real story. It would be a good book.

laleh haghighi

And along came a spider

by laleh haghighi on

I appreciate your feedback very much and I am touched that you would find the story interesting and realistic.  I did not respond to previous comments on the earlier posts because I did not want to accidentally give away anything from the story.  But I appreciated every comment, both positive and negative.  I take note of them all and hope they will help me to improve as a writer in the future. 

I would highly recommend the documentary And Along Came a Spider, a 2002 production by Maziar Bahari.  It inspired me a lot to write this.  It features chilling interviews of the real Spider Killer, Saeed Hanai and his family, as well as heart-breaking interviews of the families of the victims.  As a warning, it also includes graphic footage of the corpses.  Below is a link to Part One of the documentary which I was able to find on YouTube.  I think if you click on it, and then watch out for the column of related videos, it will also guide you through the rest of the parts of the documentary.








by Avid Reader (not verified) on

Thank you! Your ability to build characters and intertwine their stories in such a realistc way is quite amazing. I too logged on every day to see what would happen next! I had read several articles on this story, but what struck me most was a lack of investigation into the lives of the victims... even though this is a story I think it yeilds realistic perspective onto the other side of the story. I'm looking forward to following your future writings!


Good job girl

by kitkat (not verified) on

Thanks a bunch for the story. enjoyed reading it every week.
Keep on the good work, will be checking the site for your new work hopefully some time soon :)



by A (not verified) on

You took on a very difficult task and I am sooooo proud of you.



Thank you!

by Winter60 (not verified) on

Thank you for this story! i would log on EVERYDAY to read the new part, even though i knew there wouldnt be an update! you're a great writer, and i hope you continue sending stories! Thanks again :)

laleh haghighi


by laleh haghighi on

Thank you to A for being my sounding board.

Thank you to JJ for your encouragement.

MOST OF ALL, thank you to the readers who tuned in.