When cops receive calls from the elderly, often they are taken with less seriousness than other calls for service. This is because the elderly often want the police to help with trivial matters, or their minds see, hear and smell things that are not there; I once helped an old lady who called 911 because she forgot how to turn on the TV in order to watch Lawrence Welk. However, police officers still respond to these calls, no matter how odd... because we all remember our own grandparents, and love them, even when they start bottling their own urine.
Patrol responded to an apartment in the downtown area; an elderly woman was reporting a “bad smell”. The uniforms showed up, expecting it to be just a case of too much vapor rub and boiled prunes. But when they were shown into the back bedroom, they both smelled a distinctive smell: dead body. Fearing that grandma had shoved grandpa in a closet a couple of weeks ago, they searched the house, but found nothing. A check with the apartment manager showed that no one was missing, and no other apartments had the odor. They found nothing, so they called me.
I went to the apartment and also smelled the smell; however there was something missing that announces a decomposing dead body; blow flies... there were none. So where was the smell coming from? I did not know. However, as a body decomposes, the tissues in the body liquefy and flow downward; this apartment was on the top (5th) floor; so I went to the roof.
Now this building started life sometime around when the Wright brothers were still tinkering with bikes, but a few years ago was remodeled into a low-income senior apartment. The roof was very plain, but I caught a whiff coming up there. The smell seemed to be coming from an old chimney, which was only a few feet from the smelly room’s window. I went back to the station and told everyone of my findings, and also wondered how to see what was in the bottom of a 5-story tall chimney. There was no access from the basement, and whatever furnace or trash incinerator there was, had been removed during the Truman administration and bricked up.
I rigged a small video camera to the end of three ropes, and then lowered the camera. I could see the bottom of the shaft when the lighted camera reached bottom. There was a clear, plastic bag at the bottom. Bag + bad smell + dark hole = bad. I called my sergeant, told him what was going on, and pretty soon I had 5 detectives, an evidence tech, the Fire Department and the Chief of Police on the roof. Everyone had a different way of finding out what was in the bag. The fire guys wanted to rig up a skinny guy and lower him down, some of the detectives wanted to tear open the chimney on the ground level, the chief wanted to make his 2 o’clock appointment, the evidence tech hung back and wondered what I was going to do. I went to the local Bi Mart and got some steel rod and large treble hooks. I attached the hooks to the rod, and lowered the whole thing down the 80 feet to the bottom.
I’m very sorry if you were expecting some gruesome, exciting finish to the story. The hooks worked great, they picked up a very EMPTY plastic bag. I still don’t know where the smell is coming from, but when I do, I will let you all know.