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The abandoned factory sat just across the county line. Its towering and crumbling red brick smokestacks stood like fingers pointing to the sky. Portions of the building’s red brick facade and stacks appeared as if they’d been devoured by mounds of deep green kudzu.

A vast asphalt parking lot and an array of driveways surrounded the enormous building, a place where hundreds of employees once buzzed about like bees in a hive.

During its heyday, rows upon rows of workers sat side-by-side at long metal tables, operating industrial sewing machines. Others were charged with dying operations, driving forklifts, and pushing the buttons and dialing the knobs of machinery that clicked and clacked and whirred as they transformed tiny threads into enormous rolls of various types of cloth. Floor sweepers maneuvered back and forth in the corridors and spaces between equipment. Their nonstop to-and-fro movements were much like the mechanical and mindless ducks in a shooting gallery.

An in-house machine shop contained every tool imaginable for the repair of equipment from the smallest of contraptions to the hulking and huffing and puffing metal machinery, some the size of buses. There, highly skilled professionals wore heavily soiled overalls and displayed a shift’s worth of jet-black grease stains on their faces and hands. They went about the business of fixing and mending and fabricating at a never-ending pace, round the clock, seven days per week. Likewise, the factory workers tended to their never-ending tasks that, too, were divided into three round the clock shifts.

A constant flow of tractor trailers arrived empty and left filled with goods, heading to other factories where the materials would be transformed into an assortment of consumer goods.

Then, without notice, came the layoff notices and one by one workers were let go, machinery slowed, lights ceased to flash, motors stopped turning, and the factory quickly began to die. Paint peeled, roofing sagged, and pipes leaked. Weeds sprouted through cracks in the parking lot and driveways. With the end of truck traffic the wild plants and stalks flourished and propagated and spread and grew and grew and grew.

Rats and roaches replaced workers. Raccoons and opossums took over office spaces.

Vandals arrived to break windows and leave behind painted symbols and signs. Teenagers held spooky nighttime seances. Others smoked pot and drank beer and cheap wine and told stories of ghosts who roamed the empty hallways and cavernous spaces.

We received a call from a concerned citizen who’d reported seeing what appeared to be a person inside the factory, using a flashlight to find their way. It was just after midnight and the caller said “something just didn’t seem right.” She was absolutely correct.

Inside the factory, using our bright Maglights to help find our own way, we stepped into a room big enough to contain two high school gymnasiums. Inside the sprawling space we waded through an assortment of monstrous machinery and rows of metal racks. The roof sagged and  dripped oily water. Rust coated the steel supports that crisscrossed the upper spaces. Field mice scurried along tabletops and among the broken glass that littered the floors. Roaches as big as my thumb scattered and slid into cracks and crevices when the powerful beams of our flashlights illuminated them.

And that, in that huge room among the mice droppings, dripping water, massive insects, and eerie echoes, is where we found the boy. His body hung from a thick and long, black extension cord that connected his neck to a steel beam that supported an upper floor. Two loops of cord around the neck were held in place by a granny knot.

The boy, barely a teenager, wore a dark t-shirt, shorts a bit too big for his narrow frame, dirty white socks, and one black Converse tennis shoe. Its mate, the left one, was on the floor beneath the body. Also under the boy’s body was old office chair. The seat was on its side with its wheels two or three inches from the left shoe, which was also on its side.

His eyes and mouth were open, as if locked in a silent, terror-induced scream. His skin was cool and firm to the touch. There was no flashlight and without it there was no way the boy could’ve found his way through the pitch black darkness to find the room, find a chair and cord, attach the cord to a rafter, and so on. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face inside that place without the assistance of a light of some kind.

The knot that held the cord closed and tightly to the boy’s flesh was positioned on the right side of the neck. According to his mother, the boy was left-handed and to use his right would have been extremely awkward, unlike many left-handers who are fairly fluid with the use of both. Still, a knot on either side of the neck is not a particularly strong indication of left- or right-handedness. A point to consider if all else failed.

The victim’s friends said he’d been hanging out with a group of older teens who sold drugs They said the boy was not a user, not even pot. However, an autopsy indicated the presence of cocaine and pot. The examination also showed bruising in various spots on the body, including the areas around the wrists and forearms, as if someone had held him there, tightly. The signs pointed to a beating and a murder.

Still, the medical examiner ruled the death as a suicide. I knew better. Remember, the call came in as a report of someone seeing a light inside the factory. There was no flashlight to be found and common sense told me that flashlights don’t grow legs and flee crime scenes. So, in spite of the official ruling and based solely on the witnesses claim of seeing a light, and common sense, I continued to investigate and it didn’t take long to learn the truth.

The boy sold drugs for a known dealer. While selling those drugs he caved to peer pressure and began using. Then he became hooked. His habit grew to a point greater than he could afford so he started using the drugs he was given to sell. Then, as is often a problem, he was quickly unable to pay his dealer and went deeper and deeper into debt.

So they killed him. And they left his body swaying in an abandoned warehouse among rats and mice and roaches and raccoons and opossums and rust and broken glass, dripping oily water, and eerie echoes.

A few days after the boy’s funeral, teenagers, those who went to the factory at night to drink and to smoke pot and to tell tall and spooky tales, had a new ghost story to tell, one of a new spirit roaming the factory corridors. Many claimed to have seen the dead boy hanging from the rafters, especially on Halloween nights. Passersby sometimes said the boy appeared at the windows, peering out from behind cracked glass.

As a result of those vivid imaginations we’d sometime receive calls of people seeing what appeared to be a person inside the factory using a bright flashlight to find their way. And we’d investigate. Of course, we never found a single ghost, but each time I went, even though it was just a memory, I did indeed see that poor boy hanging from the rafters. It’s one of those things you never forget.

The cause of death, by the way, was changed to Murder, a fact I never doubted, not even for a second. So remember, writers, sometimes it’s “the thing” that isn’t there, such as a the flashlight in this case, that’s the key to solving a crime.

 

I’ve played in a number of bands over the years and each had it’s own particular flavor, or style of music. I played trumpet in a jazz band, guitar in several rock bands, drums in both rock and church groups, and I played bass in rock, raggae, and groups with a heavy leaning toward soul, like bands who covered groups such as The Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, A Taste of Honey (I loved thumping out the bass line in “Boogie Oogie, Oogie”), and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

But it was James Brown, another superstar musician, who came to mind when I selected the topic for today’s article and this was so because of two points. One: during his action-packed performances this iconic man of soul perspired heavily, spewing liquid like a human lawn sprinkler. Two: sweat is the focus of this post.

In a Cold Sweat

“When you kiss me
And ya miss me
You hold me tight
Make everything all right

I break out – in a cold sweat.” ~ James Brown, Cold Sweat

Actually, Brown plays no role in this piece, but the mention of his appearance on stage brings about an excellent mental picture that ties in with sweating, so off we go …

As you know, our skin is our body’s largest organ. It’s also the fastest growing. Skin is our own personal gift-wrapping, a covering that protects our “insides” and it prevents our important “stuff” from leaking out onto our furniture, floors, and city streets.

Skin is amazing; it’s made up of three layers, and it’s complicated. A lot goes on in and on our skin, such as temperature regulation and a part of that is due to the constant contraction and dilation of the blood vessels that live near the skin’s surface. This expanding and contraction controls how we transfer heat from our bodies.

Also aiding in temperature control is sweat.

Singer James Brown’s sweaty performances weren’t part of his act. Instead, his body produced sweat to help cool him as gyrated and crooned while under all those hot stage lights. Yes, Brown’s 650 sweat glands per square inch (that’s how many we each have) remained in constant overdrive when he and his band were in front of frenzied audience.

No Sweat

The familiar phrase “No Sweat” means simply that a task is easy, and it’s possible that we could hear its humble use, for example, when a case is wrapped up and a killer is behind bars.

Reporter: “Wow, you caught that killer quickly. How’d you do it?”

Detective: “No sweat.”

However, based on new crime-solving technology, “No Sweat” could indicate the possibility that a crime goes unsolved. This is where James Brown and his perspiration enter the equation.

Picture James Brown walking through a hotel lobby after one of his sweaty performances. Gravity pulled those droplets of perspiration downward. Some, of course, were absorbed into the material of his clothing but others fell to the floor, on furniture, and they transferred to anything he touched, including telephone receivers, and ink pens when signing autographs, etc.

The same is true for eothers who touches an object. Everyone leaves behind very small, invisible traces of perspiration. And, like us, bad guys are also human with human skin that is also comprised of 650 sweat glands per square inch. And they, too, leave behind those invisible specs of perspiration.

With that in mind, scientists have developed a means of analyzing deposited perspiration, with results that provide insight as to the number of people who were present at crime scenes. And, they’re able to produce those results in real time while on those scenes.

According to Jan Halámek, an assistant professor of Chemistry at the University at Albany,  each of our skin secretions are different and, therefore, unique to us. Meaning that your sweat is different than the sweat produced by the sweat glands of Jeffrey Dahmer (thank goodness).

The makeup of our sweat is so distinct that it is as unique as our fingerprints. So unique that the chances of two people having the same levels of lactate, urea, and glutamate, the three metabolites examined, is, well, essentially zero.

For now, though, investigators will have to settle for knowing only the number of people who visited a crime scene, but not their names. This is so because the levels of metabolites in humans vary with exercise and/or diet. The same is true when a person is ill.

Someday, though, someone will start a sweat database much like fingerprint and DNA databases, but with instant results. Yes, in the near future, it’s possible that a detective walks into a crime scene, holds a SweatDetector 2000 to a doorknob, and within seconds the killer’s name, address, and shoe size pops up on a handheld monitor.

And, if a case goes unsolved we’ll most likely see a phrase used to mean the opposite of what it does today, such as when a detective responds to the reporter’s question, “Why couldn’t you solve the case, Investigator?”

Her reply … “No sweat.”

 

Think back to your first public speaking engagement, or to an important job interview. Perhaps even to the time when you were to meet the future in-laws. Oh, and that time when the lovely Cross-Eyed Mary murdered her husband. What a day that was.

She’d thought about doing “the deed” for weeks. Then came the Saturday when she bought the pistol from the shady guy selling ice cream in the park. A quick glance at the cheap drugstore watch on her wrist indicated it was either twenty-five, or six, to four (Hey, does anybody really know what time it is?). Anyway, she knew the time had come.

The decision to end the life of another human was a heartbreaker, of course, and thinking about it often left Ms. Mary dazed, and confused. Yet, despite the good times, bad times, and a whole lotta love, what is and what never should be, finally happened. It was down by the seaside, where she figured to “do it.” And do it she did, right there in the tiny beach cottage just off Penny Lane, the place Mr. Mary fondly called his little yellow submarine. The prime piece of real estate at the end of a long and winding road. He loved that place.

Yep, that’s where it happened.

It was a scorcher that evening, with the mercury bumping 97 on the old RC Cola thermometer hanging from a bent, rusty nail hammered into one the front porch posts. The a/c unit was out of service and the repair service wasn’t scheduled to arrive until the following week.

Cross-Eyed Mary – She signs no contract

But she always plays the game …

Cross-Eyed Mary, with her sweat-soaked “I Luv Paul” t-shirt clinging to her back and pudgy belly, climbed the steps and used her key to open the door. He didn’t expect to see her there. Nor did his teenage girlfriend, Eleanor Rigby, the best friend of the Mary’s eldest daughter Michelle.

Using the back of her left hand to quickly mop away the sweat from your forehead, brows, and eyes, Miss Mary used the right to push open the door. And, just as she stepped inside she heard the creep say to his young lover, “Hold me tight, baby, and please, please me.”

The bucktoothed girl with a spattering of tiny freckles across her cheeks and nose, replied, “Baby, we’re gonna twist and shout! Wait, why don’t we do it in the road!”

That’s the line that sent Cross-Eyed Mary over the edge, according to the prosecutor. But it was the one she spoke that convinced the jury to send her away for life, and she said it after taking the stand in her own defense. She leapt to her feet and stood straight as an arrow to boldly claim that, “True happiness is a warm gun.”

She’d thought she might sway the female jurors by crying and shouting coffin-nailers such as, “I’ve been cheated!” and “I saw her standing there with the devil in her heart,” and, “I told him, ‘You’re going to lose that girl!”

What most surprised Ms. Mary during the entire experience was the moment police detectives arrived to haul her to jail for the murder of her unfaithful husband and that disgusting “little child.”

How on earth did they find out? She was so careful. Wiped away all the prints. Vacuumed. Dusted. Swept away the tire tracks. Established an airtight alibi. Tossed the gun into the ocean. Picked up the brass and tossed it behind the pistol.

No one saw her on Penny Lane and there were no cars in either of the driveways on the intersecting street, Blue Jay Way. The ice cream vendor didn’t know her. Of that she was certain. So, what? How?

Well, let’s see …

First, what do we know about the crime scene that could implicate our murderer, Ms. Mary?

The temperature displayed on the RC Cola thermometer. Remember it?The thermometer hung from a post on the front porch at the murder scene and indicated it was an extremely hot day. To make matters worse, the a/c unit was inoperable meaning the inside temperature was even hotter, in more ways than one. Ms. Mary was sweating, profusely, as people do when it’s hot, and when they’re scared or anxious.

We know why people perspire when it’s hot (to help cool down our bodies), but why so when we’re under emotional stress?

Our skin has two main types of sweat glands—eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands occur over most of your body and they open directly onto the surface of the skin. Apocrine glands develop in areas around hair follicles in places where hair is typically most abundant, such as the armpits and groin. This is the “stinky” sweat.

Apocrine glands empty into the hair follicle just prior to release onto the skin surface. Apocrine glands are found in the armpits and genital area, and release secretions (sweat) when we’re under emotional stress.

When the temperature of our bodies rise, eccrine glands secrete fluid (sweat that’s composed of mostly water and salt). The salty fluid is released onto the surface of our skin.

Okay, with that said, let’s shorten this long story.

When we’re hot we sweat. When we’re nervous we sweat. When it’s hot in a house at the beach, on Penny Lane, and a very nervous and anxious Ms. Mary goes inside that super-hot home to kill her husband and his girlfriend, well, it’s certainly safe to say she was sweating … a lot.

When sweating profusely inside a crime scene, as with skin and muscle suffering from old age and over-eating, gravity is definitely not a friend. Not at all. It pulls that body fluid downward, away from its source. Sure, some that salty liquid is absorbed by clothing, and some evaporates (this is the part of the process that cools our skin), but some of the mixture drops or is cast away from the body, landing on whichever surface that happens to be in its path.

And, since our bodies contain approximately 650 sweat glands per square inch, we also leave a bit of perspiration on everything we touch. Everything.

Within those secretions are three components that are attractive to scientists who’re hoping to use sweat to solve crimes. Those three components are: Urea, Lactate, and Glutamate.

Urea – the breakdown product of protein metabolism in the body.

Lactate – a substance produced by cells when the body turns food into energy.

Glutamate – an amino acid found in the body. Used to make proteins.

Here’s the part where science meets law enforcement. The chances of any two people having the same amounts/levels of all three—urea, lactate, and glutamate—is fundamentally zilch. Zero.

Therefore, experts now believe that they can accurately pinpoint the number of suspects and/or others who were present at the location where a crime occurred.

This process cannot identify a specific person, though. But it does provide investigators with another tool for their toolbox. Knowing how many culprits to search for is a valuable bit of information.

Testing Our Sweat

Sweat testing is not new. In fact, it’s used in many areas, such as testing for and monitoring cystic fibrosis, monitoring nutritional deficiencies, elevated glucose levels, inflammation experienced by industrial workers, and even if our medications are working properly, or not.

A sweat chloride test is used to diagnose cystic fibrosis. The testing procedure stimulates sweat production and then measures the amount of chloride.

Cystic Fibrosis

Speaking of cystic fibrosis, here’s  something you may not know:

As a former biotech company director, Dr. Denene Lofland (my wonderful wife and one of your WPA instructors) managed successful clinical projects that resulted in regulatory filings of four compounds and FDA approval for two new antimicrobial drugs for the treatment of pneumonia and cystic fibrosis. She also supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance.

In other words, Denene and her team developed new drugs for the treatment of both cystic fibrosis and pneumonia. She then traveled to the FDA to present the drugs for approval. The FDA approved both and each are available for prescription by physicians. Denene managed clinical trial both in the U.S. and Australia. And that last one … it’s a secret. Yep, she’s the smart one. I just carry her books, do the shopping, and cook …


Music!

Okay, how many of you noticed the references to song titles and lyrics in today’s article? Hmmm … perhaps you should take a peek because the first person to correctly identify each reference wins a special Writers’ Police Academy collectible patch!

To enter, first comment here on the blog stating that you plan to enter, and then send the list of song references/titles/lyrics to lofland32@msn.com. And please type Cross-Eyed Mary in the subject line of your email. Hint. that was a clue to song title included within the blog post. Thanks, and good luck!

WPA patch pictured here with other patches, and roles of evidence and crime scene tape.

 

1030 hours.

Radio transmission – Theft from jewelry store. Items taken—two diamond rings with value exceeding $10,000.

Traffic stop.

Weather – Sunny. 84 degrees.

Reason for stop – Vehicle matched description provided by jewelry store owner. Plates—out of state.

Weapon(s) involved – Taurus .380 recovered from beneath driver’s seat. Fully loaded with spare magazine in small cloth bag. No weapons used in connection with the crime.

Stolen items not found.

My partner and I were pros at playing good cop/bad cop. In fact, we were the go-to guys for eliciting confessions. But these two, the man and woman suspected of taking two expensive diamond rings from a local jewelry store, were also pros. In their line of work—stealing—they were some of the best in the business and their game was an old one. They pretend to shop for engagement rings. She tries on several, asking to see first one then another and then back to this one and then the other, and so on and so on until the clerk has an assortment of bling scattered about the glass countertop like a spattering of snowflakes on a frozen lake surface.

Their goal was to confuse the clerk so they could pocket a few gems and then make their getaway after not seeing the “perfect” ring.

It worked. When the frustrated clerk/owner returned the items to their respective spots in the case she noticed two valuable rings were missing. So were the two “customers.”

The responding uniformed officers asked, of course, for a description of the pair of thieves, but the owner simply couldn’t offer any solid details. They’d so thoroughly confused her that all she could remember was one was male and the other, female. She was able to recall their race and that both wore nice clothing … she thought. However, she wasn’t sure if it was the man who wore a blue shirt or if it was the woman whose top was blue. She was confident the man had on khaki pants, though. No doubt about that detail.

For the record, the actual color of the man’s shirt was green and the woman had selected a red and white striped top as her shirt du jour. They both had on blue jeans at the time of the traffic stop that took place within 30 minutes of the theft. There was no other clothing inside their car. The owner’s descriptions were not even close and, unfortunately, the store’s surveillance cameras were switched off. “Oh, we don’t bother with that thing,” she later told me.

Questioning the two suspects was going nowhere. We had them in separate rooms—ALWAYS separate the suspects and witnesses to prevent comparing stories—and we alternated between the two, trying every trick in the book. You left fingerprints. The clerk ID’d you. Witnesses saw you. Yada, yada, yada. But we were spinning our wheels because they’d readily admitted to being in the store and knew no one other than the clerk was there at the time the items were taken.

They said they’d looked at and tried on rings. However, they didn’t like what they saw and left. But they didn’t take anything.

It was their word against the store owner’s and we had no evidence. They’d allowed us to search both them and their car and we found nothing but the gun, which was illegal—he was a convicted felon and the gun was concealed. I even tried using the weapon as leverage—we’ll cut you some slack for it if you confess to the jewelry theft and return the rings. No dice. We had nothing.

So I took a walk around the hallways, trying to think of some sort of angle to help garner a confession. As I passed by the door to the dispatchers’ room one of them called out with a cheery “Good morning,” so I stepped inside where I noticed a small stack of new videos (VHS tapes at the time) beside her terminal. The top one was a collection of Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny’s image plastered on the front. He held a carrot in one hand and his rabbit lips were split into a wide, buck-toothy grin. The video was a gift for her child’s birthday.

I had an idea and asked to borrow the tape.

After a quick stop in my office for a bit of artistic trickery, I returned to the interview room where the female suspect sat waiting. When I opened the door and stepped inside she smiled and asked if she could leave.

I took a seat in the chair across from her and returned her smile. Then I slid the tape across the tabletop. “We have a video,” I said. What I didn’t say was that I’d removed the Bugs label and replaced it with one I’d cobbled together in my office before returning to the interview room. The new label simply read “Video – June 6, 1994.” (June 6 was the current date, and Video…well, it was a video, right?).

“When I show this tape to a judge … well, you know what’s going to happen, right?” I said.

Tears quickly formed in the corners of her eyes. Then she looked down toward her feet and nodded. “I know,” she said. “Yeah, we did it. He took them, though. Not me. You saw that on the video, right?”

That classic downward look is a telltale sign a confession is imminent

Suddenly she wouldn’t shut up, telling me they’d dropped the rings out of the window when they saw me pull out behind them. I sent a patrol officer to the approximate location where he found both rings. She also confessed to other thefts in other cities. The gun, too, was stolen. They’d broken into a home and found it while searching for valuables. The necklace she wore that day was stolen, as was the watch on her boyfriend’s wrist.

When I entered the room with her boyfriend/partner in crime, with the tape in hand, my first words to him were, “What’s up, Doc?”

An hour later we had signed confessions from from both suspects.

And that’s how Bugs Bunny helped me solve the Case of the Missing Jewelry.

And, well … That’s all, folks.