***Warning! This story contains graphic descriptions of a death investigation that most people will find disgusting and unsettling. It is meant to be since it makes a point. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you continue to read! ***
Law enforcement holds a unique position among the social hierarchy in group settings and guarantees you are never really off duty. Being a cop is one of the few careers where you are usually introduced by your job. “Hi this is my friend Jaden…He’s a COP.” This last part is usually said in a conspiratorial whisper followed by some lame joke that you have heard at least 500 times. Doctor’s and Astronauts also get this sort of treatment, though usually without the, “I didn’t do it!” remarks. Firemen would also be introduced by occupation, but it never comes to that. You can always spot a fireman by the requisite Fire dept. t-shirt. They’re also the ones who walk into a room and spread their arms out wide and turn slowly so all can see their grandeur while informing the room, “I’m a firefighter!”
As a cop you will experience the unique phenomenon of people immediately asking a series of inappropriate questions. The first is usually, “What’s the worst thing you have seen?” This question is asked with a gleam of barely concealed perverse pleasure. You may also get the “delusional weekend warrior” confrontation, where a beer bellied cubicle warrior will look you up and down challengingly while talking about the time he almost joined the military, but they wouldn’t take him because he was just so awesome they didn’t want him to kill all the bad guys. He will try to talk to you about firearms and asks what you carry on duty. When you tell him it is always, “Well my super bazooka .50 caliber death rifle revolver will put that thing to shame” or some other such nonsense. As annoying as this is, you can usually laugh it away and quickly try to make your way to somewhere else in the social gathering without the Fobbit trying to regale you about the fight he got into that one time in middle school. The third type you encounter, I like to call the “whiner.” They like to complain about this one time they got a ticket for going 70 mph in a 50 mph, but the cop was lying because he just knows the cruise control was set. Somebody needs to look into this cruise control thing! I have literally spoken to hundreds of people whose cruise controls seem to be off by 15-20 mph!
As annoying as these three types of people can be in social settings, it is the “What’s the worst thing you have ever seen” guy that used to bother me the most. I would try to deflect and crack jokes about things to avoid answering the question. It was during one of these awkward situations that I finally cracked the code. I decided I was just going to TELL HIM THE TRUTH.
It was one of those large barbecues that you get dragged to by your wife. You know…the ones where you don’t really know anybody, but her friends are there, so you get to go and be suitably happy and social? Married dudes will know exactly what I mean! Anyway I had managed to drag myself out of bed in the early afternoon…which for a graveyard guy was like 3 am. After my initial cringing from the large burning orb in the sky and hissing at the evil orb of fiery death, I managed to choke down a 5 hr energy and was in a pretty good mood. Speaking of 5 hr energy, I should make an entire tribute to this amazing, legal, liquid crack! It may taste like a hobo’s ass crack, but is certainly gets the job done!
So anyway, no shit…there I was…loading my plate up with chips when an obviously intoxicated Chairborne Ranger approached. Phil wore a “Death from above” t-shirt that was stained with beer and what looked like last week’s egg salad sandwich. His belly hung loose and pale from the bottom of his shirt as he came up to me with the bleary look of someone who wasn’t very bright BEFORE getting drunk. I idly wondered which of the three paths Phil would take during our conversation and was somewhat annoyed that he decided to avoid talking about guns or his imaginary Kung-Fu skills and instead went straight for the dreaded worse call question.
Let me explain a minute. Yes, cops see amazingly hilarious things each and every day. Things that a team of Hollywood monkeys locked in a room with typewriters and cases of Mountain Dew can’t even begin to make up! But we also see a lot of horrible things that we frankly don’t want to talk about. Or even think about most days.
So when Phil asked, I decided to just tell him. I paused for a minute and asked what he meant exactly since there were just so MANY calls that can be considered the worst. I asked if he had a particular category he wanted to pick from? Phil just smiled triumphantly and said, “How about all of them!?” Phil was looking around with a large smile as a small crowd started to gather. Several other people in the crowd echoed Phil and asked about the “nastiest” or “grossest” call I have been on.
I shrugged as I continued to load food on my plate and made a show of looking thoughtful. I told him I wasn’t really sure. Maybe it was the two people who had shot themselves in front of me? I commented that the first guy was so close, I had to jump backwards to avoid the large gout of blood and brain matter that almost splashed across my boots. I took a bite of chips and said, maybe it was the guy who shot himself TWICE. The first time in the leg to show he was serious. I took another bite. “Nah” I said, “You don’t want to hear about that!” Like I was talking to myself I started running through options out loud. I mentioned the woman who had been hacked to death by her husband while her daughter was in the next room sleeping with the little mermaid playing in the background. Or maybe the time the parents ran over their 3-year-old child’s head in the driveway? Hmm…maybe the 7-year-old who was killed when his uncle’s homemade cannon exploded on the 4th of July? Or maybe the numerous child abuse and neglect cases or the sexual assaults?
As I am listing off calls in a casual rapid fire manner, I can see the eager looks on the faces around me begin to look a little strained. Mulling it over I announced, “A-hah! I know! How about the time I went to the death investigation where the dog ate his owner’s face off!?” This produced shocked gasps and exclamations of disbelief from the crowd. I decided if they truly wanted to know, I may as well tell them!
Oh yeah, I explain. I was on FTO with my second phase FTO. We had just stopped at a local AM/PM so my FTO could load up on gas station corn dogs. We go out to the car and I start to pull out while my FTO is in the passenger seat scarfing corn dogs like he was a hostage that had been starved for weeks. It had been a very busy shift without a break all day. You have to get your eat on when you can…usually as you’re driving from one call to another.
We just start to head towards the office to catch up on paper when a welfare check comes out. The postman is concerned because nobody has been picking up the mail at the address. The homeowner’s car is in the driveway and the television has been on every day for the past 3 or 4 days. The RP (reporting party) advises there is a “funny smell” coming from inside. I advise dispatch I am enroute and flip around to head to the call. I respond priority, because the RP says the door is open and he isn’t sure if somebody is having a medical emergency inside. As I’m dodging people who very likely received their driver’s license from everyone’s favorite box of caramelized popcorn (Crackerjack box! Stay with me now), my FTO asks me to slow down just a little bit so he can finish his corn dogs. I comply of course. When you’re on FTO he is the boss.
As we are driving to the call, I hear a shrill scream from the passenger seat and alarmed, I look over at my FTO. He’s pointing a trembling finger towards the sidewalk and exclaims, “What the fuck is that!?” By the look on his face, I expect to see death itself hacking up small children or something. I risk a quick glance in the direction he’s pointing and see the seasonal Halloween costume store. In front of the store is a clown holding a sign. I get a quick glimpse of the jagged teeth and leering face of one of those creepy scary clown costumes. Apparently my FTO is terrified of clowns and I spend the next several minutes trying to focus on not crashing while laughing at the antics of my FTO…who was actually a hilarious and amazing guy.
Upon my arrival I can see a stack of mail on the front porch. The front door is ajar and through the large bay window, I can see inside. The television is playing and there are heaps and heaps of garbage on the floor. I knock loudly and announce myself. There is no answer. I shine my light inside for a better look. The only piece of furniture in the room was an easy boy recliner. Next to the recliner was a TV dinner table that appeared to have fallen over for some reason. I look closer and can barely see socks sticking up from the other side of the chair. I tell my FTO someone is down. We quickly tell dispatch we’re making entry and ask for restricted traffic. You never know what you will find. It could be a medical problem or a homicide scene with some knife wielding serial killers ready to stick a pointy object into my favorite chest cavity.
I pull my weapon and we make entry into the house. I’m making announcements as I begin to pie off the chair to get a better look at the person who is down. I quickly flick my light on directly at the figure once he is in view. For a second my blood runs cold and my mind goes completely blank. Lying on his back is an elderly male. Fully clothed. I can tell he is older because of the gray moustache. From my angle, I can see up into his skull due to the lack of soft tissue blocking my view. The man’s spine and his naked white gleaming jawbone which was completely stripped of any flesh at all make a jarring contrast to the rest of his normal looking face. His entire lower face and neck had been eaten off, but his gray moustache and entire upper lip was completely untouched. There is a fat and happy little dog standing over his owner, happily licking fluid from the place his neck used to be. It is immediately apparent the dog has eaten the entire lower face and all the soft tissue of the neck and throat all the way down to the spine, which had created a kind bowl the dog was lapping fluids from.
It is almost Halloween and for a second I have to stifle a nervous giggle. The deceased looks very much like a Halloween prop and I actually get a vivid mental picture of the body sitting up and the head slowly turning towards me with a creak and that naked white jawbone moving up and down as an otherworldly voice croaks, “Trick or Treat!”
As I’m telling this story at the party, I am happily munching on chips and a delicious burger. The looks on the faces around me had gone from a malicious glee, to strained smiles, to a sickly uncomfortable grimace and finally to looks of abject horror. My wife shakes her head as I gleefully tell the story including wild gesturing and sound effects. A few people in the crowd begin to back away.
I continue my story and talk about how we continue to clear the house. This is a difficult task since the living room has approximately 8” to 10” worth of trash in large swelling piles like drifts of sand against a beach house, across the entire floor. You couldn’t even see the floor at all and footing was treacherous as I stepped on and nearly fell over several empty gallon jugs of Vodka. As we start to creep down the hallway towards the back of the house, I see the entire hallway is covered in dog feces. There was a plastic gardening rake leaning up against the wall. Inside the bathroom directly off the hallway was a large pile of dog shit, approximately 3 feet tall. It appeared the male would let the dog shit in the hallway and would then just rake it into a pile in the bathroom. Upon his death there was obviously nobody to rake up after Fido. The dog had been busy from the look of things and I wondered how much of the dog crap was made after eating his owner’s face? I made sure to leap over the piles. Sometimes you’re willing to risk the serial killer with the knife rather than maintain proper tactics and step in something like that!
As we made it into the bedroom I see a trail of something from the hallway to the bedroom and into the master bathroom. It appeared to be dribbled paths of bloody diarrhea. The bedroom was as disheveled as you would imagine and there were more bloody paths from the bed to the bathroom. Inside the clogged toilet was a bloody stew of something unpleasant. There were no suspect(s) to be found inside the house.
After the house had been cleared, another senior officer arrived. He told me to take photographs of the residence while he worked at calling the coroner and trying to obtain information regarding the deceased. I take a deep breath and tell myself to just suck it up and go back into the house. Ahh the joys of being the FNG! (Fucking New Guy). I step inside and begin to take photographs.
I explain to the party goers that the body didn’t bother me. The heaping piles of shit and trash didn’t bother me. The bloody diarrhea didn’t even bother me. What DID bother me was the dog. As I was trying to take pictures the fat and happy little dog excitedly came wiggling up to me. I looked at the dog and saw how bulging its belly was and thought about how his owner’s face was probably sitting in that belly right now. I tasted something metallic and thought I would hurl for a second. Mentally steeling myself, I ignore the dog and continue to move around the room taking photographs. The dog was becoming increasingly excited about my presence. It was trying to leap up and put its paws on me excitedly. I shoved it off me, but the stupid thing thought I was playing and kept darting around me and trying to force me to pet it. When the dog tried to lick my hands, I lost it. I couldn’t get over the thought of where that mouth had just been. I had a vivid mental picture of shooting the cursed flesh eating animal. Fucking New Guy or not, I was done. I yelled to the two officers outside, “Someone better get this fucking dog, before I shoot it!” My FTO pokes his head inside and I disgustedly tell him the dog is trying to lick me. He looks like he’s going to tell me to deal with it or something, but glancing at the dog he visibly shutters and agrees to try to find a leash to tie the dog up outside.
Animal Services had already been called to get the dog. I continued to take pictures and watched as the two senior officers outside tried to wrangle the dog onto a leash and tie it to a post outside without touching it. I couldn’t help but marvel at the humor as I watch them both cringe and make disgusted sounds as the fat happy little dog tried to lick their hands and faces. These two big bad cops with their body armor and weapons and shiny polished boots were cringing and squealing like a bunch of 12-year-old girls forced to hold a frog or something. Not that I could talk…I certainly wasn’t going outside to help!
By this point in the telling, my audience was completely disgusted and horrified by my story. There were hands over mouths and looks of open horror and shock. Hey, I thought…you ASKED. Nearly DEMANDED I tell you about calls that are unpleasant. I feel a bit like the guy on the movie Gladiator when he stands in front of a shocked crowd shouting, “Are you not entertained!?”
I can tell this isn’t as much fun as most of the barbecue goers thought it would be, but I don’t let up. I laughingly relate how when the Animal Services officer showed up we explained what happened and asked him to take the dog. The guy was in uniform, but was one of those “pierced shut” kinda guys with piercings and plugs and neck and face tattoos and generally looking like getting himself dressed in the morning was an exercise in pain. The animal services guy kneels down on the dog’s level and starts to vigorously pet its neck and ears while making high pitch doggy cooing noises about, “You poor boy, did you owner die and leave you alllll alone?” As he’s loving all over the dog, the dog is loving all over him back. It’s licking his face and hands happily…the same way it had been happily lapping fluids from his previous owner’s neck. My two partners and I stand there in stunned and horrified silence for a minute before one of the other’s says, “Uhhh…you do realize he ATE his owner, right? With that mouth he’s licking you with.” The animal services guy says, “Oh it isn’t hiiiis fault” in his sing-song doggy voice as the dog was literally licking his mouth.
I decide I can’t watch anymore and go back inside to finish my pictures. A while later the coroner arrives and we all finish the investigation. Based upon evidence at the scene, the 56 empty gallon jugs of cheap vodka and the deceased man’s medical history, it is determined to be a “natural” death and the coroner collects the body. As the coroner and the photographer are moving the body into the bag, I’m standing over him eating a tuna fish sandwich. The body shifts and a large pocket of putrefying gas is released. My FTO’s eye’s go wide and he gasps, “Corndogs!” He runs outside and vomits noisily on the front lawn. The other senior deputy looks at me in amazement as I munch on my sandwich and looks at my FTO outside throwing up and immediately begins to make fun of my FTO for having a delicate stomach while the FNG is standing over the body eating a sandwich. What I decided not to share with them, was that I had a pretty serious sinus infection at the time and couldn’t smell ANYTHING.
As I finish telling my story, I look around in satisfaction at the slightly green looks on several faces. I see a few full plates get thrown in the trash without being eaten. The crowd instantly thins around me as people wander off with disturbed looks on their faces. On the plus side, for the rest of the barbeque, I got to sit and eat my food in peace and not a single person asked me to regale them with stories, or even complained about “This one time” when they were arrested for DUI, or the time their friend got a ticket. I realized I just may have cracked the code. It only took a few more of these sorts of events before word got around and people stopped asking me about my work. I was able to go to social gatherings and just be another person who was off duty. I always keep a running arsenal of stories to tell just in case people decide they want to be funny and play the dreaded, “What’s the worst call” game. Of course that story isn’t even nearly one of the worst calls, I have been on, but it is one of the grossest and does an outstanding job of keeping people from asking for more!
Also published on Medium.