WARNING, the following story, while true, is very graphic and depicts a disturbing situation. It is NOT recommended for the squeamish.
COPS ARE TOUGH
Cops are tough, everyone knows that. They have to be. They see everything. Nothing bothers them, and they certainly do not let their emotions get in the way of doing their jobs.
For instance, I remember a case from about twenty-five years ago that gives a graphic demonstration of just how tough cops are. It was a double homicide; a young mother, about twenty-three, and her three-year-old son were stabbed to death. I was one of eighteen members of the Major Case Squad called out in the late afternoon. Every one of us had at least ten years on the job, and we were as tough as cops get.
The scene was inside a small apartment within sight of Interstate 70 in a St. Louis County municipality (there are 93 of them). When we first arrived, the ID men (crime scene investigators) were processing the apartment so we were not allowed into it.
Instead, we were broken up into two-men teams, with one team assigned to interview the person who discovered the crime. In this case it was the husband/father. The rest of the teams (me included) were sent out to canvass the other apartments in the complex. It did not take long. The complex was not large, and most of the residents had been at work during the possible times of the homicides. Those who had been home had not seen or heard anything unusual. We did learn that the victim family was friendly, and they were extremely religious, going to church several times a week and playing instruments in the church band.
The bodies were removed by the time we returned, and the ID men were just finishing with their photographing and processing of the apartment for evidence.
Another major case team, along with a photographer, went to the morgue for the autopsies. I was glad I did not catch that assignment, because autopsies are not much fun. The rest of us received a tour of the apartment.
It was the worst crime scene I’d ever experienced. Every room had blood on the walls, furniture and floor. From the way it was sprayed about, it was obvious someone had run throughout the apartment after suffering a severed artery.
The woman’s body was found on the floor of the living room. There was a pool of blood there. The outer surfaces of the pool had started to coagulate, and the edges had begun to break down into a clear liquid. This occurs after blood is exposed to the air for several hours; it is an indicator of the time of death. The metallic smell of the blood was strong throughout the apartment. The ID men said she had been stabbed repeatedly (twenty-seven stab wounds were found during the autopsy), and she had two deep slashes, one on each side of her throat.
As investigators, we immediately started speculating on the sequence of events in the apartment. You can learn a lot from blood. Spatters can tell you the direction they came from and their distance from the source. By looking at the ceiling, we located several different areas where stabbings had taken place. As a knife is yanked out and raised up before plunging down again, it slings streaks of blood up onto the ceiling. Cops are tough; we examined these streaks and discussed possible motives while placing markers on the floor to show where she had been standing as those blows were struck.
The only indication of the child’s murder was a blood-soaked cushion on the couch. The ID men said that he was face down on the couch with his throat cut. There wasn’t much to speculate about in that area.
The first suspects in any homicide is the discovering party. Next in the suspect hierarchy are members of the immediate family. The husband/father was immediately of double interest. After his initial interview outside the scene, he was asked to come in and assist us. This sounds horribly insensitive, but he was already been in there when he found the bodies, and he was the only one who could tell us if anything was out of place or was missing. Besides, cops are tough, and sometimes we have to do things that are insensitive.
The husband was visibly shaking as he walked through the apartment, but he held himself together long enough to point out several things which were missing. A cheap stereo his wife had owned before they were married was gone from a shelf in the living room, several pieces of her jewelry were missing from the bedroom, a blender was missing from the kitchen cabinet, and his old, broken wristwatch was missing from a bowl on top of the refrigerator.
The husband was then taken to the command post in the local police station for an in-depth interview. In one way, it was not needed. We knew who had committed the murders. All the items taken from the apartment were not worth as much as one small, portable, color television, which had been left behind. We knew who did it, because someone grieving for their brutally murdered family would never have noticed anything as insignificant as a missing broken watch taken from a location out of sight on top of a refrigerator. The husband had walked directly to it.
The interrogation commencing with him was now seeking background information, a motive and a confession.
There was not much for the rest of us to do. A few teams went to talk to family members and co-workers in an effort to find out what kind of relationship he had with his wife and child. The rest of us just sat around waiting for something to do.
Several hours later, one of the ID men came in with the 8 X 10 photographs from the crime scene and the autopsies. We all got around a table to view and discuss the photographs. We knew the photos would be rather grisly, but this is the equivalent of a police classroom and we were tough. It is all part of learning everything you can at each crime so the knowledge can be applied to the next one.
The ID people had put the photos in order: overall shots of the scene, shots of the wife at the scene, shots of the wife during the autopsy, shots of the child at the scene, and finally, shots of the child during the autopsy. We flipped quickly through the general shots and concentrated on those of the wife.
The first few photographs showed her facedown on the living room floor. It was clear there were several holes cut through the clothing on her back. From the blood around the wounds, it was apparent she had been alive when she received them (people do not bleed after death except for gravity seepage from low wounds, and these were at the highest point of her body). In the photograph taken after she was turned over, the wounds to her neck were visible. We figured they were probably the cause of all the blood squirted on the walls. Then we came to the photographs of her autopsy.
Autopsy photos are brutal. They showed a progression from the body as originally found, to the undressing of the body to reveal the stab wounds, to the cleaning of the wounds, to probes placed in the wounds to show the direction and depth, and then to close-ups indicating that the knife used in the murder had a serrated edge (it made a rippled incision). The final few photographs showed the body’s interior with the damaged internal organs. No one so much as blinked an eye while we looked at those photographs. We were busy discussing whether the wounds were made by someone standing in front or behind her, and if that person would be right- or left-handed.
Then we came to the first photograph of the child on the couch. There was no visible wound or blood. He was face down with his knees folded under his stomach, and his hands, in little fists, directly under his shoulders—it was a position much like my youngest son used to sleep in when he was a baby.
The next photograph was taken after he was rolled over on his back. I don’t know if the wound was visible or not. All I saw was his face: a little, round, cherubic face with the eyes squeezed closed in an expression I will never forget. How to describe it? It combined the angelic innocence of a child with pain, confusion, fear, love and hurt; all with the texture of the rough tweed cushion imprinted deeply into the skin.
The twelve-year veteran detective who had turned the photograph over, dropped it on the table and walked over to the window. I could see his shoulders shake as he silently sobbed. He had a three-year-old son.
Someone whispered “My God” in a voice that broke. Every officer around the table suddenly had something to do requiring their backs be toward everyone else. Some went out for cigarettes or coffee, some checked over their notes, and two started writing their follow-up reports. The photograph laid there haunting us, reminding us that our job was to protect the innocent, condemning us to our failure no matter how the case turned out.
My eyes had misted over; blurring the photograph, at least enough I could no longer see that face. I managed to turn it facedown on the table before leaving to get coffee. Coffee did not help. Nothing helped. I could still see his face. I can still see it now.
That photograph was still face-down on the table where I left it when the interrogation team got a full confession from the husband a little later. He said he and his wife had gotten into an argument over money after he stopped by for lunch. He lost his temper and attempted to hit her—forgetting he was holding a knife in his hand. The knife cut her cheek, and she screamed he was going to go to jail. All he remembered after that was chasing her around the apartment stabbing her again and again until she collapsed.
He said that as he stood over her body, their crying son ran over, grabbed his leg, and tried to pull him away from her. The boy kept repeating, “You hurt Mommy! You hurt Mommy!”
To keep him from telling anyone, he picked him up, forced his face down into the couch cushion, reached under him, cut his throat, and held him there until he quit struggling.
The husband took a shower, changed clothes and threw the blood-covered ones, along with the things missing from the apartment, into a wooded area about a mile away. We recovered them there, along with a serrated-edged steak knife.
Yes, cops are tough. The investigation we conducted that day was a credit to the badge. I wonder if the State of Missouri knows there are eighteen men waiting to volunteer as executioner if the husband’s appeals ever run out? Someone has to do it, and cops are tough.
This incident is the only time in my career I probably should have gotten professional help. Of course, cop machismo prevented that; therefore, I never got over that child. I really can close my eyes and see him now; however, I was able put him to work. To be effective in establishing a rapport with a victim or suspect during an interview or interrogation, it is necessary to show empathy with their emotional state, even if they break down and cry. Since that day, by thinking of that child, I can cry on cue. That ability has been an asset on more that one occasion.