A body, snow, and no footprints
One of my jobs, for nearly 20 years, was as a Forensic Investigator for the Medical Examiner in a large, Midwestern city and the surrounding county.
My job was dead bodies. Figuring out why and how the deceased had hopped aboard the glory train.
Not the clean, made-up bodies in funeral homes, suitable for viewing by the family.
These were bodies that were shot full of holes, or stabbed, or sliced, or mangled. Found decomposed in the woods, thrown from cars, stuffed into trunks. Slammed into by trucks, tossed off roofs.
Bodies of young men stitched up with a Tec Nine because they wore their hats the wrong way. Bodies found in doorways with needles still in their arms. Bodies of babies in cribs who suddenly stopped breathing. Bodies hanging from beams when life became too painful.
Dead bodies were my bread and butter.
And, occasionally, amidst the horror of sudden, unexpected death, I was presented with a real mystery.
As Jack Webb often said on the Dragnet TV show of the 50’s and 60’s, “I was working the night watch when the call came in.”
In my case, the bloodied body of a young man had been found in a backyard. At the scene, I noted it had snowed early in the evening, and the body, covered in blood, was lying on top of this fresh snow.
The Mystery Unfolds
However, I could see no footprints, other than the ambulance attendant, anywhere near the body.
The EMT and police had been meticulous in preserving the evidence, leaving only a Paramedic’s bootprints from the alley to the body. Upon examination, I determined the cause of death was multiple stab and slash wounds. No mystery there.
It was apparent the body had arrived after the snowfall. But how was this possible without footprints or drag marks of some sort?
Since no buildings were close, I immediately ruled out being thrown out a window.
One of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries came to mind. And, like Father Brown, I knew a logical solution to this puzzle was to be found in the evidence.
Bodies don’t fly, and everyone leaves footprints. They just have to be found.
I examined the snowy tracks in the alley. A Paramedic rig, two squad cars, and several police officers had pretty much obscured the area’s footprints.
But not all of them.
Amongst the Rockport sole prints of the police, I spotted two sets of cross-trainers, one Nike and one New Balance. And they had been made after the snowfall.
It took about a half hour to determine, in the slush, that the prints had come from the north end of the alley. But only as far as the yard where the body lay.
The prints then returned the way they had come.
Okay, so two men had carried the dead man down the alley and threw him into the yard.
Considering the amount of blood on the victim, we should have easily found a trail of blood drops. But there was none.
A little more investigation by flashlight (it was nearly midnight by this time) revealed a thin ribbon of spatters almost covered up by a mound of snow. This was much less than I expected.
The Nike and New Balance footprint trail led right up to the backdoor of a house nearly a block away. A single spot of fresh blood on the outside of the door gave the police enough reason to first knock, then enter the residence under the doctrine of exigent circumstances (someone else might be inside in grave danger and to wait for a search warrant could result in loss of innocent lives).
Once inside, the murder scene was starkly evident. The walls and floor of both the kitchen and living room were covered in blood.
Two men, in clean clothes, were found hiding in the basement. Blood-spattered shirts and pants were found stuffed in a bag in the front hall.
One of the men wore Nike cross-trainers, and the other New Balance. Both sets of shoes were blood spattered. The police and I found hunting knives, still blood stained, in the bathroom sink.
A large amount of cash and several blocks of cocaine were recovered from the oven.
In the living room, we discovered a rubberized sheet. It was evident from its blood spatters and impressions that it had been used to carry the body down the alley. It was probably also used as an aid in hurling the body into the yard.
So what I had first thought was a complex Father Brown mystery turned out to be a commonplace drug, rip-off homicide.