An assignment working homicide cases is, without a doubt, a first class ticket to the bizarre and all things macabre.
Cops who investigate murders for a living see it all, from poisonings to gunshot wounds to decapitation by sword. The list is limited only to the far corners of a killer’s imagination. In other words, endless.
It’s bad enough working a murder scene during daytime hours, but to do so at night, by moonlight, can be a bit spooky. And, when a crime scene involves a cemetery, a shovel, and a rotting corpse … well, that’s extra spooky. No, that’s downright S.P.O.O.K.Y.
As I mentioned, killers are sometimes quite creative. I’ve investigated uses where victims were stabbed with a sharpening steel from a kitchen knife block, suffocated with a plastic grocery bag, and even one poor soul who was deliberately pushed in front of a very fast passenger train. The latter did not end well at all. Well, neither did the others, but the train … an ear there, a finger over there, a brain two miles away (beneath a bush), an eye, an arm, a leg. Not pleasant at all.
Once in a while a killer blames his dastardly deeds on some unseen force, such as voices in his head, or as in a case I once worked, the killer blamed what he’d done on aliens from Mars.
This troubled man used an ax to hack his sister-in-law- to death. An extremely violent act. However, in stark contrast to the frenzied savagery, he was quite calm during my interview with him. He told me that Martians dictated every step of the murder, from his walk to the woodpile to get the ax to the point where he’d started hacking his brother’s wife into small pieces.
The victim’s small children were in the room, no more than fifteen feet away from the spot where their mother was being butchered by their uncle, a man who’d been released from a mental hospital two weeks prior to the murder. Doctors there said he was fine and showed no signs of violence.
Two weeks later … an ax. A separation from reality.
Chopped into pieces, with her children looking on.
Blood spatter on the ceiling and walls. Dripping and slowly running down the drywall and trim. Pooling on the floor. The killer’s bloody footprints throughout the house. Blood on the bed and linen. On the clothing, arms, legs, and faces of the children. They, tiny kids, huddled together, crying. Brain matter, flesh, and bone, all scattered about.
This was the scene when I arrived.
So yes, I’ve seen a few oddities over the years, including …
I knocked on Miss Evelyn’s front door, and while waiting for someone to answer I had a look around the front porch. Nothing unusual … a one-gallon vegetable can filled with sand and topped with a handful of cigarette butts, an old wooden rocking chair, five flower pots with each containing the remnants of some sort of plant—all dead, dried up, and crispy—, a well-worn, green cloth sofa, and a portable radio that was missing a knob. A foil-wrapped coat hanger poking up from a hole in the top of the radio’s plastic casing. It replaced the former antenna that, at some point, had broken and was either lost or discarded as trash. Either way, the radio, in it’s present condition, had been there for as long as I could remember.
And, as always, smack-dab in the center of the front door were three fairly fresh chicken feet that were tied together at the ankles with a piece of bright red twine. The collection of gnarly toes and bony knuckles dangled from a rusty thumbtack. Nothing odd at all … for Miss Evelyn. I knocked again. The “decor” hadn’t changed in all the years I’d gone there. Not a thing.
I’d met Miss Evelyn after arresting a man for burglary and, while searching his pockets for weapons and other illegal items, I discovered a small flannel pouch tucked inside his wallet. I figured the contents could possibly be drugs, probably marijuana or hash, or something of that nature, so I asked the kid to level with me so I’d know what to expect.
I was surprised to hear him say that what I held in my hand was not was I’d suspected. Instead, he said, it was his “medicine bag,” a ground up mixture of chicken bones, tobacco, human hair, and herbs. Its purpose was to keep him safe. This was my first contact with a medicine bag. However, it was far from the last.
Root doctors make medicine bags containing plant and animal matter, such as human or animal bone, sage, garlic, and even dirt from a grave. The purpose of the bag is, for example, to provide safety, heal and prevent illness, and to help ignite or halt romances, etc. Another practically endless list.
This young burglar purchased his bag from Miss Evelyn, a local root doctor. Since this was a totally new experience for me, I decided to pay this so-called root doctor a visit. And, long story shortened a bit, Miss Evelyn “knew all and saw all” and she soon became one of my most reliable informants.
Her customer base was massive and many were criminals, so …
A young man, Miss Evelyn’s nephew, answered the door and led me to the kitchen where his aunt stood at the head of the table, hard at work assembling her latest batch of medicine bags and other concoctions. A large black kettle was at full boil on the wood stove. I didn’t ask.
Miss Evelyn wore her usual attire, a blue bandana tied over her hair, a faded pink and blue housedress that was three sizes too big, and black pumps. If I’d had to guess I’d say she weighed in the neighborhood of just under a hundred pounds. As always, her face was wet with sweat and her fingernails were bitten to the quick. When she smiled it became instantly obvious that dentists were not a part of her clientele, nor had she ever, not once, crossed the threshold of any tooth doctor’s office. Her breath smelled like a rotting animal carcass. She was quirky, to say the least, and she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met.
I’d gone there that particular night to see if Evelyn could offer any insight about two bodies that had been dug up in a local cemetery. The vaults had been damaged and the caskets broken open. The grave-robbers took the same thing from each coffin—bones from the lower right arms and hands.
She said she’d heard about a couple who used human bones as part of their religious rituals. Before exhuming remains, though, they had sex atop the grave sites.
The man and woman visited Miss Evelyn to ask if she knew where they could get heir hands on a fresh corpse because they needed the blood prior to embalming. Well, Evelyn was having no parts of their nonsense and sent them on their way. And that was the purpose of my visit. Miss Evelyn called me the second the grave robbers left her house.
I finally caught up with the couple when I discovered their car parked near a funeral home. They were planning to break in to steal someone’s dearly departed loved one. Fortunately, we stopped them before they committed the act.
So, writers, bizarre and macabre crime does not always come in the form of murder. Nor are the macabre criminals always the odd characters who reside at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the house with the permanent thundercloud floating above it.
This particular couple, the grave robbers, were as normal as your neighbors. Both were professionals with public jobs. They lived in a typical neighborhood and drove a normal car. However, the contents of their trunk was a bit different than most—shovels, picks, tools for prying open caskets, and a few human and animal bones scattered about. Other than that … as normal as you and I. Well, perhaps you and I are not the best examples, but you get the idea …