It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and a very strange call for a homicide unit.
“7411, take the sick removal at 2617 West Division, second floor, Rodriguez.”
Sick removal? Mike and I pondered why a homicide car was being sent to the scene of a sick removal. There were hundreds of those each day in a city the size of Chicago and most times a uniform car was not even dispatched, let alone homicide.
The scene was stranger still. We were used to arriving to a roped off area teaming with uniform cars and maybe an ambulance or two. When we pulled up at 2617 there was nary a single city vehicle of any type. We confirmed the address with communications, “That’s correct 7411, 2617 Division, Rodriguez on the bell… that’s the second floor.”
We experienced the unusual act of finding a legal parking place at the curb and walked back about a half a block to an entrance next to a non-descript store front. We pushed the sidewalk door open. The next door was locked, but when we rang the bell labeled “Rodriguez” the buzzer immediately sounded and we climbed the single long flight to the second floor. One of the apartment doors was opened and we were ushered in silently.
It was a neat apartment and several of the Puerto Rican residents gazed at us sadly and silently. A young man came from the rear of apartment.
“I’m Eduardo, they don’t speak English,” he said apologetically. “In here please,” as he ushered us into a small front bedroom overlooking Division Street. There was a single cot on a pipe frame neatly made with a bedspread that hung down to the floor. In the cramped space was a dresser with a mirror and several pictures. The man lifted the bedspread and there on the floor lay a .22 caliber revolver just under the floor edge of the spread. There was one expended shell in the chamber.
“What happened?” we asked as we positioned ourselves between Eduardo and the weapon.
This was Humberto’s room he explained. Humberto had written a two page suicide note completely in Spanish. It was eloquent, even in translation. Eduardo unfolded two half-sheets of lined notebook paper. He began to read.
“Juanita, my love, you whom God has given the power to put a field of stars in my eyes on the darkest of nights and the scent of jasmine to accompany the radiance of your smiles, it is you, and only you, that God put me on Earth to worship. I adored you. The Virgin herself was not so pure or as fair. I cannot live without you. I do not want to take breath without you at my side. What point is my existence? My prayers have been without an answer by God. I am tormented with longing. It is for me only the pull of a trigger that releases me from your leather hold on my hopes, my heart, my life itself and yet my oblivion releases me from the pain of your cruelty. I curse you, my love.”
Eduardo paused as he turned to the second page and for a moment looked at us with the saddest brown eyes I had ever seen. Mike and I were speechless. He continued reading.
“I lay the blame of my death, may God receive my soul, on you and my curse is this. May you live without peace as one not yet dead but not alive to feel pleasure, joyless and betrayed by your next lovers, rejected by your family. Turned out of the Church. That God rejects you as you have rejected me and you end your days scorned and vilified. Yes, Juanita, this is my curse and my prayer. When I am found this note will be found and it will burn in your mind every day and every hour and every minute as you have haunted me likewise. I pull this trigger knowing that I will love you and hate you past the moment of my death until the end of all time and in my passion, in the next life when we are reunited I will share with you the same agony as you have taught me to suffer. Goodbye my love. Goodbye my angel. I curse you forever”
There was a long silence.
Mike and I looked at the bedroom again. If Humberto was right handed, it was conceivable that he had shot himself while on the bed, the revolver dropping to the floor, becoming just barely concealed by the bedspread.
“Were the police here?” we asked.
No, just the ambulance. Humberto had been removed to the Norwegian-American Hospital. The young man was at a loss to explain the absence of any uniform police. There was no phone in the apartment so Mike went downstairs to the car to call for the crime lab and a beat car to initiate the report and inventory the revolver and suicide note.
I continued talking with the family. Humberto’s sister had arrived home about an hour earlier and found her brother unresponsive on the bed with a trace of blood at the corner of his mouth. His breathing was shallow and labored. They called 911 and the fire ambulance responded and transported him to the hospital. It wasn’t until after the paramedics left that the family found the suicide note atop the dresser and then the revolver just under the edge of the bed. That’s when they sent a cousin out to call the police back.
Things were in good hands at the apartment now and Mike and I headed for the hospital.
At the ER admitting desk we told the clerk that we were there to check on the condition of the attempted suicide brought in by fire the few hours. She looked quizzically at us. We checked our notes…
“Humberto Rodriguez,” we said.
She conveyed an expression of recognition, but then just as quickly frowned as she answered.
“We have a Humberto Rodriguez,” she said. “But he’s not an attempted suicide. Let me check and find out where he is.”
She picked up the phone and in moments she had an answer for us.
“Humberto was brought in by fire ambulance about an hour and a half ago. He’s in Intensive Care and he’s being treated for a bleeding ulcer.”
Mike and I stared at one another in disbelief. Bleeding ulcer?
That started a round of verbal jousting.
Could we see him?
Not really—it’s not a police case and besides he’s unconscious.
But we could talk to the nurses.
But they can’t tell you anything.
But we could look at the chart to see if it’s the same Humberto Rodriguez.
That wouldn’t help.
Can we speak with the hospital administrator?
Just a moment… okay go up to Intensive Care.
Up in the Intensive Care Unit we met with a bit more cooperation. Puzzled cooperation. Why would we be interested in a bleeding ulcer patient? We checked the admitting sheet on the chart. It was indeed our Humberto Rodriguez, brought in from 2617 West Division, second floor. It bore one more item of interest:
“Paramedics state that family reports a history of bleeding ulcer.”
We asked permission to use a phone and they directed us to an empty office next to the nurses’ station. It took several minutes, but eventually we reached one of the paramedics that made the removal. We introduced ourselves…
“Homicide?” he asked just to be certain that he had heard us correctly.
“Yeah, homicide. Are you the guys that transported Humberto Rodriguez—from Division Street?”
“Yeah…” cautious tone of voice now. “What’s up?”
“We’re at the hospital checking it out. What can you tell us about what you found at that apartment?” I asked
“Not much. Unresponsive male/Hispanic. Family came home and found him in bed, unconscious. We started an IV and transported. How’s he doin?”
“He’s in ICU, they’re treating him for a bleeding ulcer. What do you know about that?”
“Yeah, well… it’s all we could come up with. He had a small amount of blood in his mouth and one of his cousins said he had a bleeding ulcer. There’s a real language barrier there ya know. Why are you guys on this”
“Ya sittin’ down?” I said. “We think it’s an attempted suicide.”
“No way! How?” he sounded incredulous.
“You know what… you’re right. Maybe we’re jumping the gun on this… maybe we should check this out more. We’ll get back to you.”
“Yeah, maybe you should… I don’t think so… unless he drank something. Call us back will you?”
Mike and I returned to the nurses station and asked if we could see Humberto. More verbal banter. Why—he’s unconscious. We just want to see him. What good will that do? Please, can we just see him for a minute or two? Okay (exasperation), but don’t be long.
Mike and I stood at Humberto’s right side, peering intently at his head. He had very thick black hair and long sideburns. An IV was running and he was on oxygen. He was totally unconscious. We stepped closer. Could it be? Was it? Halfway up his sideburn, deep in the slightly curled hair.
“Nurse,” we called. “Could you take a look at this?”
“And what am I looking for?” The nurses were getting just a bit tired of having us around at this point.
“Maybe a small caliber gunshot wound”?
She rolled her eyes, but she moved closer to Humberto. Rolled eyes became wide eyes. She took her penlight and pointed it into the side burn as she moved the hair slightly with her hand.
“Jean!” she shouted. “Come here.”
“What is it?” said the supervising nurse as she appeared at bedside.
“They think it’s a gunshot wound,” she said as casting a glance in our direction. She was hedging her bet if we were wrong.
Jean pulled an overhead light close to Humberto’s head and donned surgical gloves. She parted the hair in his right sideburn. She turned and began to shout directions.
“Page Doctor Malik! Get X-Ray up here stat! Get me the Administrator on the phone!” Then she turned to us. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“We weren’t sure.”
“How did you know?” she asked.
“It’s what we do,” I said with just a hint of superiority in my tone. It was payback time for all the verbal judo and besides, it was a chance to burnish the homicide mystique.
Three days later we were notified that Humberto had passed away. We stopped by his apartment on Division Street and were met by a somber family preparing for his funeral. We handed a sealed envelope to Eduardo—he looked at us questioningly.
“It’s the note—you asked for a copy.”
He took it gently from Mike and stroked the edges of the envelope.
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Mike.
“It is addressed to Juanita,” he said with a flash of anger in his eyes. “I’m going to deliver it.”
Author’s note: Special thanks to a fellow writer and my good friend, David Joseffer, for his help in translating the suicide note.