Where were we?
Anyway, when last we were with our hero (me) I was uttering my favorite tagline-
If you recall, I had just driven a nosy news cameraman out of a death scene like Jesus Christ driving the money-changers out of the temple.
I was standing over a dead homeless guy who didn’t have any identification or belongings on him. He also didn’t have any teeth, shoes or socks and I had no idea what to do since it looked like we didn’t have access to a mobile fingerprint machine (Horay for defunding the police!)
You know what, rather than have me muddle through a recap, you can just read my last post here:
I found myself in something of a conundrum when it came to identifying this dead guy. The officers were already texting pictures of his face to other cops and asking if anyone recognized him.
“Okay,” I said, shaking off my dismay and resolving to carry on. “Here’s the plan. Let’s load him into my truck and take him to the closest funeral home. I’ll call the crime scene people and see if they can give me some direction with fingerprinting him. I’ll also call the on-duty sergeant and see if he can help us at all.”
More than anything, I just wanted to get this guy off the street and into a well-lit room where I could get a good look at him. He might have had tattoos or scars under his clothes that would help us out. He was also wearing walking casts (otherwise known as ortho-boots) in lieu of shoes and I hoped he might have his ID or some other significant paperwork tucked into the padding of these medical devices. Speaking of, the fact that he wore these boots was helpful. He had to have gotten them from a hospital, which meant he had been registered and discharged. SOMEONE had this guy’s name, date of birth and medical history. I just had to figure out who.
As planned, I launched a few frantic phone calls as I drove to the funeral home. Predictably, the crime scene people ignored all of my communication, even when I sent them this delightful little text:
Shockingly, the addition of a hairless cat didn’t make my entreaty any more tempting to my colleagues. And the only suggestion I had gotten from the on-duty police sergeant was that I should do my best to fingerprint the decedent myself and then take the print cards to the crime lab the next day and hope someone was there to run an AFIS check on them.
“But doesn’t anyone have any of those mobile fingerprint machines? I could swear you guys had them.”
“Nope,” the disappointment was heavy in his voice. “Well, technically we have a whole mess of them sitting in our property and evidence room, but as far as I know the entire county discontinued the program. For a while the transit guys had them- but now…” his voice trailed off. It had been great while it lasted. When we had an unidentified body, we could call for an officer with the AFIS machine and they’d come to the scene and scan the dead person’s fingers. With 10 minutes and a good wifi signal, the machine could produce an ID and rap sheet for anyone in the national database. It was pure magic… but also a pure magic no one in administration wanted to pay for. Now we had a property room full of expensive door-stops and no magic except whatever I managed to conjure up with nothing but curse words and my own rage.
“Okay, well… we’re going to get a better look at this dude at the funeral home and see if we can find anything that might give us some direction.”
“Okay… I guess give me a call if I can do anything more to help?”
I was too irritated with the circumstances to say goodbye. I was tired, hungry and realizing that my options for identifying this dude were shrinking like styrofoam in a fire. Getting him unloaded and undressed at the funeral home didn’t offer much hope. He was completely free of tattoos or significant, identifying scars (except for the previously mentioned mess of track marks and non-specific scars on his arms. But those were hardly distinctive since most homeless drug addicts display these same markings) Again, he had no teeth so dental wasn’t an option (not that it often is). I tore his ortho-boots apart in the hopes he might have squirreled away his ID in there, but no dice. The only unique thing about him was the fact that the ortho boots came off to reveal our dead guy had undergone bilateral foot surgery sometime in the last few months and the stitches were still there. It was like he’d been born on the moon and fallen out of the sky.
“Well fuck,” I said again, turning to the officers who gazed back at me blankly, waiting for some direction. “Okay. So we know this guy has been to a hospital. We found him midway between St. Joseph’s and Kaiser so here’s what we’re going to do. Take pictures of his surgical sites and his face, take them to St. J’s. I’ll do the same and take them to Kaiser and we’ll see if anyone in the ER remembers him.”
It was a haphazard plan, but one based in experience. Back when I was a paramedic we were on a first-name basis with every homeless person in the city. Due to their lifestyle/circumstances they were susceptible to any manner of medical emergency: overdoses, assaults, hypothermia, catastrophic illnesses. Not to mention the fact that sometimes they just wanted to sleep indoors so they would flag down a cop or ambulance and claim they had chest pain. A lot of ER’s have to ban these “frequent flyers” because they can fill up every bed in the department in a matter of hours on a cold night, leaving no resources available for actual, life-threatening problems.
The officers and I had just raided the fridge at the funeral home for snacks and drinks and we were gearing up to sally forth into the night to procure an ID when the sergeant called back.
“Who’s you favorite cop EVER?!” he demanded of me… which is kind of a trick question since I’m married to one. But I was in a bind so I went ahead and threw my husband under the bus.
“Ummm… you are?”
“You bet your ass I am! It just so happens that I went to the police academy with the on-duty sergeant in *next county over* And I pulled probably the biggest favor OF MY LIFE. He’s sending a couple of officers over with an AFIS machine.
“None at all!” I could hear him, beaming with pride over the phone. “They’re about a half hour away. I gave them your number so you should be hearing from them when they’re close. And we owe somebody BIG for this.”
He was right. The county that was generously loaning us 2 officers and an AFIS machine had over 200-and-counting continuous nights of ANTIFA protests. Their city was being torn apart at the seams and they were severely understaffed and probably hating life in a way that I couldn’t even fathom. But here they were, coming to my rescue with a magical, expensive door-stop that actually WORKED.
When the promised officers arrived, it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing their feet. I greeted them at the door with maniacal cheer and immediately offered them the funeral home’s entire stock of cookies and mixed nuts. If there had been champagne, I would’ve uncorked it and sprayed it all over the ceiling, I was so excited.
They were understandably, a little weirded out by my enthusiasm at their arrival. But I couldn’t help it. I was giddy with relief at the thought of getting my decedent identified and wanted to make sure they knew how much I appreciated them.
At first the AFIS wouldn’t take a print off the dead guy. But I fixed that by wrapping his thumbs in warm, wet, paper towels. This is also how we unlock dead people’s finger-print phones as well. It seems, phones require a warm fingerprint and AFIS machines feel the same way. So that’s a trade secret I guess… you know- should you ever have need of a dead fingerprint.
Anyway, once the officers had a usable print, they went back to their car to plug the machine into their computer, warning me before they left that it was always possible our guy wasn’t in the system. I nodded like a grinning bobble-head and offered them another package of trail mix, gushing that I understood and I was just happy that they showed up to help. They excused themselves and I glanced over at the local officers who were staring at me in astonishment. It appeared they were utterly amazed at my transformation from a surly, disillusioned monster to a cooperative, charming hostess. Little did they know that I was raised by a Boston debutante and no one can maintain appearances like a bourgeois housewife. As far as I can tell, I was born to serve hors d’oeuvres as the world burns.
We had been told it would take about 15 minutes for the AFIS machine to render a verdict, and my nerves crawled with the agitation of the wait. I stood in the vehicle bay of the funeral home, vibrating and twisting my keychain around in my hands until finally the anticipation proved to be too much. My decedent was laying on a prep-table in the vehicle bay as I was moving him to the cooler when our fingerprint saviors showed up. I started hopping around, first on one foot, then the other, shaking my keychain in time with the imaginary ticking in my head. “Come on! Come on! Come on!” I silently prayed. My hopping looped into a wide circle around the decedent as I tried to discharge the nervous energy. One local cop had gone back to his squad car to write up reports, while the other stood in the corner, watching as I rotated around the dead body.
“What are you doing?” he finally asked.
“I’M PERFORMING A DANCE TO THE FINGERPRINT GODS! WHAT THE FUCK DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M DOING?” I shouted
And with that I began waving my arms over my head in dramatic swirls, shaking my keys, jumping and twirling as I circled the body. “You should join in! It might help!”
All the same, a few minutes later, the visiting officers came back into the funeral home with wide grins. We had a hit. The AFIS machine displayed the driver’s license photo of our dead guy, clear as day. And listed along with his name and date of birth, was an array of arrests for criminal trespassing, drug violations and theft. Even better, our dead guy had an incredibly bizarre last name which meant a next-of-kin search would be a damn sight easier than if he was just any old John Smith.
Jackpot. We were saved.
I fell all over myself thanking our guests and sent them along with a virtual cornucopia of soda pops and munchies. It was well past dark and inching toward bedtime, but I was convinced that I’d be able to get this guy sorted out and the majority of my paperwork done before my shift ended.
In a matter of hours I was cozied up in bed, sleepy and satisfied that my upcoming days off wouldn’t be choked up with unfinished reports or unreturned phone calls. My husband was working late so I was luxuriously spread out over the entirety of the mattress when he stumbled in. It was about 3 am, 5 hours to shift change and I’m pretty sure he thought he was doing me a favor when he grunted to me as he threw himself into bed:
“There’s a homicide. The detectives are going to be calling you in about 3 hours.”
(brief side note- it’s pretty normal for the detectives to wait to call the medical examiner when they’re on the scene of a homicide. Since I’m investigating the death but not the crime, I don’t really need to be present for all of the crime scene photographing and fingerprinting- which can take HOURS. They usually only call me when the body is ready to be moved.)
I did the math in my head. 3 hours put me at 6am. Shift change was at 8am. It’s kind of an unspoken rule that if you’re going off shift, you only have to loosely handle anything that happen the last hour of your shift. Meaning from 7am on, anything complicated or lengthy (like a homicide) would be held over for my incoming co-worker.
But they weren’t going to be calling me at 7, they were going to be calling me at 6. This homicide was all mine.
Stay tuned for Acting Out, Part 3- The mintiest finger in the west!