Oct 15, 2005

Feckless Fireplace Foibles

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.

Oct 9, 2005

More about Dogs

Whenever there is death, I tend to want to hang out.  I don’t think it’s because I am some sort of monster, or have any Goth leanings; it’s just my job and I enjoy it.


So when I heard that a dog showed up at a house with a human leg, it piqued my interest.  The problem was that it was in a neighboring jurisdiction, and they probably didn’t need me coming in and telling them how to investigate this.  As a matter of fact I wouldn’t have the first clue in how to interrogate the dog, I mean... should he be considered a suspect or merely a witness?  How hard can you lean on a dog?  Do you have to get him a lawyer or someone from PETA?  


Well, I had to content myself with following the story in the local paper, along with an occasional contact with the detective who was working on the case.  It seems as though the dog was not inclined to reveal his source of... well... meat, and the detectives were not able to find where in this rural, farmland area the rest of the body could be .


Now the leg was both a lower and upper leg, with the foot attached, but most of the tissue had been removed (by a combination of decay, insects and Fido’s hunger).  It was assumed that this female (there was polish on the toenails) had to be out there, somewhere, in a shallow grave or somewhere that was hard to get to, because after 4 days of searching, nothing was found.  Then, the same mutt showed up with a portion of the other leg (the femur).  This brought the focus back to the dog.  I was able to speak to the supervising detective in the case, and he said, “The dog's still not talking."  

Well, they tried attaching GPS tracking systems to the dog, which resulted in the near loss of about $500 in equipment.  They even brought out search dogs, who evidently have their own code of “species silence,” because they were not able (or willing to rat out their brother canine) to find anything.  After a week of searching, they gave up. 


A couple days later, a local farmer found the body in the middle of his alfalfa field.  And, because I had made such a pest of myself, I was asked to come to the autopsy, and to take part in a secondary search of where the body was found.  Gruesome, but cool.


It is still a mystery how this woman died, and even who she is; however I will always think of her when a dog is licking my hand.