Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A Bad Decision
I made keys at one of my local car dealerships this afternoon; a two year old Ford F-150 off road pick up truck. It seems that the driver over extended his abilities and rolled it. Once that happened he decided that it wasn’t worth what he’d agreed to pay for it so he quit paying the monthly notes and just left it at the bone yard.
While I was waiting for the keys to be programmed I couldn’t help but notice the car parked next to it; the one with the bullet holes in it. It had signs taped to all the windows, “Do Not Touch - U. S. Marshall’s Investigation”. There was a familiar foul stench emanating from within. All the windows had bullet holes while the driver’s side window was shot out completely. I could see the blood stains and was told that the driver had been killed. He’d stolen the vehicle and, upon being pursued by the police in Louisiana, had shot it out rather than give up. I counted close to 40 bullet holes; wondering how many had hit the mark. I wish I had my digital camera with me; the first thing that came to mind was the last scene from Bonnie and Clyde.
When I was a very young police officer working evening shift patrol downtown one of the more demented patrolmen, I think that would cover his personality, would take his fancy 35mm camera around to all the crime scenes. He would take pictures on slide film so that he could slip them in with his vacation pictures when friends and family came over. “This one is the kids jumping in the pool at the Holiday Inn, this next one is a drug dealer with his half his head shot off floating in Buffalo Bayou.” He eventually got removed from the force for some rather serious infractions, imagine that.
I made keys for a wholesale car dealer several years ago; an old Suburban that he’d bought at a police auction. All the carpet, headliner fabric and even the seats had been removed leaving the inside down to bare metal. Even with all that removed my nose could pick up on the smell, a particularly unpleasant odor left when the human body starts to decompose. I bet he had a hard time selling it, even with a box of Citrus Glade to cover the lingering odors.
The first time I ever ran across a DOA in a car was back in 1972 when I was a rookie police officer. It was a Monday afternoon on evening shift around 3 or 4pm; about this time of year because it was already starting to get pretty warm. We got dispatched to the parking lot of a large grocery store off the Gulf Freeway and were met by the store manager. The manager was upset because there was an ambulance parked with its flashing lights; not good for bringing customers in; that and the fact that there was a dead woman in one of the cars, a former customer at that.
We talked to one of the sackers who explained that he thought it a little strange that the car had been parked in the same place all weekend. He remembered having loaded the old woman’s groceries on Friday evening and never gave it another thought. The car windows were rolled up; even so, the smell was enough to gag a vulture. When the medical examiner gave permission for the body to be removed we were asked to help load the body into the bag. I wasn’t too keen on the idea; but my senior partner had volunteered my services.
It had been an especially warm weekend and the heat had cooked the woman. I put the disposable gloves on and began to lift the woman’s arm. I learned an important lesson that day; over cooked meat does not stick to the bones. It took quite a bit of effort to complete that assignment and when we left the odor had permeated my police uniform. It took several times going through the wash to make that shirt useable again; but when you only have 4 city issued shirts, well, you make do.
I suppose I need to bring this to a close, eventually. Jim Reed, the fellow who taught me how to be a locksmith, would show me the art of impressioning a trunk key. He’d prepare the key, wiggle it in the lock to collect some marks, file those marks and repeat the process until the key turned in the lock. He’d turn the key enough to make sure that the lock would work, letting the truck deck spring up half an inch or so before slamming it shut. He didn’t like to let the truck lid open up all the way, “Never know what you might find in there, a dead Mexican named Jose shot full of holes or a bunch of marijuana; no, you never know what you might find.”
I made keys for a Firebird that had been towed to a storage lot after being abandoned on the side of a freeway. Six months later the storage lot owner filed for a lien title so he could sell it when the original owner abandoned it. When I’d made the ignition key he wanted to hear the motor run. It turned over strong but never would start. I popped the hood for him, pulling the release under the dash board so he could see if it was getting any gas. He lifted the hood and had me crank it over again while taking the cover off the air intake.
“You’re not gonna’ believe this! The air filter has been packed with drugs in plastic bags; it’s not getting any air!” The car started right up as soon as the drugs were removed from on top of the carburetor. At least it wasn’t a dead Mexican named Juan.
Edited June 26, 2006
This article was published in the May issue of ALOA's Keynotes.
Posted by T. F. Stern at 5:33 PM