Donald Lang sat quietly in an interrogation room on the second floor of the Maxwell Street Homicide office, handcuffed to a heavy iron ring on the wall. We had arrested him a short time earlier at the South Water Market where he worked, loading and unloading trucks. His employer told us that he could load or unload a truck in half the time of two men. His street name was Dummy, because he could not speak nor hear. Donald Lang was of slight but very muscular build. His eyes were darting about intensely and he was obviously somehow absorbing what was happening, but we took him into custody without resistance.
It was obvious that we had a huge communication problem. Somehow we located a police officer who was fluent in sign language, having been raised by deaf parents. In a very short time he was there and our first real attempt to interview Donald began. We started with the Miranda warnings but he gave us no indication that he understood anything that was being said or signed to him. We wrote some words with paper and pen… nothing. In short order, our sign language expert had an opinion.
“He cannot read, he cannot write, he does not sign and I doubt very much if he can read lips to any extent.”
Donald sat quietly in the room with us as we tried to think of any way to connect with him. My partner showed him a mug shot of the woman he was accused of killing and suddenly we detected a spark of a response. Donald grabbed a pen and began to draw. A crude drawing by any standard, but he was communicating! He drew three stick figures, pointing to one and then to himself, apparently indicating that was him. Two more stick figures, one with a mass of lines at the top to apparently indicate hair. He pointed to that figure and pantomimed breasts by cupping his hands to his chest. Then he drew a third figure, again with hair and he wrote a number above each figure, 5, 8, and 3. Then he drew a long line from the stick figure with breasts and redrew the figure at the far left edge of the page. He stopped for a moment and looked at the three of us, then he held up three fingers, pointed at the leftmost stick figure, X’d her out with great emphasis and threw the pen forcibly down onto the table. He almost appeared relaxed at that moment. He had told us his story! He looked at us with an aura of satisfaction.
We were astounded. Something very profound had just occurred, but what? We both initialed the drawing preparatory to inventorying it for evidence. I stood there for a moment just gazing at Donald. He stared back at me with that uncanny intensity. Intensity, not hostility. Then I motioned my partner out of the room and closed the door. We walked several feet from the interrogation room into our office area.
“There’s blood on his sock,” I said quietly.
“What?” exclaimed my partner.
“Reddish brown stains, probably dried blood on his one sock.”
We returned to the interrogation room. Donald had rolled down both of his socks so that the stains were no longer visible.
“The son-of-a-bitch can hear! I’m tellin’ ya’, he can hear!” shouted my partner.
“He couldn’t have heard us—the door was closed and we were all the way into the office,” I replied.
“Then how does he do it?”
“I think he just watches everything that is going on around him. Maybe he caught my glance to his socks, I don’t know… but I don’t think he can hear.”
We requisitioned a paper jump suit from the 012th District lockup and had Donald strip by pantomiming the motions then we inventoried all of his clothing, including his socks. He was cooperative.
We called the Felony Review Unit of the Cook County States Attorney’s office. They would send out an Assistant States Attorney to review our investigation and approve charges.
I sat in the interrogation room with him while I tied up some paperwork and when I glanced up he was quietly staring at me.
“Donald, Donald, Donald, what’s going on in there?” I said pointing at my forehead. “You may be a deaf mute, but you’re no dummy.”
He stared at me, expressionless.
How on earth are we going to conduct a fair trial for you? I thought to myself.
Author’s Note: The complete story of Donald Lang is online at: https://wp.me/p4miAb-bB