It was a two bedroom unkempt basement apartment on Chicago’s west side. A fully clothed heavyset black male was lying in the narrow hallway that connected the two bedrooms with a messy kitchen. Beneath his head was a small pool of dark red congealed blood, the result of an apparent gunshot wound. Two more wounds were visible in his upper chest and shoulder. The body was cold to the touch and in full rigor.
There were signs of a struggle, upended kitchen chairs, some broken glass and traces of what appeared to be marijuana scattered on the linoleum floor. District personnel had secured the scene and the crime lab arrived the same time as Mike and I. We were working homicide out of Maxwell Street, the day shift, on this bright and sunny Sunday afternoon. Easter Sunday to be exact.
I glanced at my watch; 3:00 PM. We were due to officially get off in two hours, but the evening shift had agreed to come in right after they finished their Easter dinners. Mike and I planned to take an early duck as soon as at least one team from afternoons was in place. But it was not to be. The office had scheduled absolute minimum manpower due to the holiday and there was no way they would allow the new team to take our murder. That would put them short right from the beginning of their shift. Mike and I knew this would be our job and we would be working overtime into the late evening hours. Easter dinner for us would be fast food, if we were able to find anyplace open later in the evening.
The crime lab crew had finished their pictures and began dusting for prints. I motioned to the white wall phone in the hallway just above the body.
“If you can get that next, I’ll call our office and tell them what we have.”
They nodded and gave the phone the once over with negative results. I grabbed some paper towel and wiped much of the fine black dust off the instrument. I straddled the body and then dialed our sergeant, holding the phone away from my ear as I spoke.
“You guys know you’ll have to take this one,” he said.
“We know, we know… just wanted to keep you updated”
Still straddling the body, I dialed my sister-in-law. She and her husband were hosting the family Easter dinner this year and they had arranged to delay serving until I could get there from work.
“I won’t be able to make dinner this afternoon—we got a late job—you guys go ahead and eat whenever you’re ready.”
“What happened? We can wait… we’ll just feed the kids and the rest of us will eat with you when you get here.”
“No, that won’t work. Mike and I will be working quite late tonight.” I was in an uncomfortable position and my footing wasn’t the best—the last thing I wanted to do is fall on the body.
“Are you sure? What happened?”
I shifted my position to get a more solid stance but stared down at the floor and saw my pant leg was now touching the victim’s body. Flies were already exploring his nose and ear cavities, continuing to add to their eggs to those no doubt already deposited.
“We’ll fix a plate for you… you eat anytime you get here. What happened?”
“Ya don’t wanna know, you really don’t—I gotta go!”
* * *
It was a warm summer evening in mid-July and Mike and I were working a rare midnight watch assignment for the next few weeks. The call was “… a body in a garbage can…” and Mike volunteered us for the job even though we were not the next crew up.
“And tell me again, just why we’re taking this job?” I asked facetiously. We were already en route to the Taylor Street address.
“Because…” he feigned the part of a patient teacher speaking slowly… “It’s not going to be a body. It’s going to be a dog… or rotten meat… or something like that. And that will be our job and the next one… the real murder… will go to the next crew.”
He was right—it wasn’t a body… it was two bodies, one partially dismembered, each in his own pristine 55 gallon drum, complete with compression bands around the tightly sealed lids.
We weren’t exactly sure what we had at that moment but initial examination showed the “whatever” in each drum was dressed in winter clothing—definitely not appropriate for July. The street deputy that night was the city-wide homicide commander and he stopped by the scene.
“Have the wagon take the drums to Cook County Hospital as is and have them pronounced, then empty them at the morgue. I want you guys to be there when that happens and then call me when you know what you have.”
An hour later we met the Crime Lab personnel in the basement of the old Cook County Morgue. They readied two trays on the floor and then wrestled the drums to the end of each tray and tipped them gently as Mike and I helped gingerly from the closed end of each drum. The contents sloshed out of each drum and mostly into the trays but also onto the morgue floor where we could not avoid walking in it. Each body was a gelatinous mass but not unduly decomposed considering we were looking at two individuals dressed in heavy winter clothing. One of the victims was missing both lower legs—they would be discovered back at the crime scene, packaged separately. Apparently he was too tall to fit into his drum.
It was hours before we returned to our office. No way would we be going home at 9:00 AM. We tied up the final pages of our report shortly after noon, making exceptionally good progress due to the lack of interruptions—nobody wanted to come into the room where we were typing. I called my wife just before I left the office.
“Honey, take my robe and slippers and hang them in the garage. Make sure the washer is empty—I’ve got clothes that need to be washed… the rest dry cleaned.”
“Ya don’t wanna know.”
Less than an hour later I walked in the back door of our home in my bathrobe, carrying my clothes under my arm.
“Where are your shoes?” she asked.
“In the garbage… I’m going to shower”
“I really don’t think you want to know honey… at least not right now.”
* * *
It was a few days before Christmas and Mike and I were dispatched to Mount Sinai Hospital from morning roll call. Two year old Antoine Jarrett was DOA when his mother brought him in by fire ambulance. Child abuse was suspected. The Emergency Room staff was visibly disturbed and an intern angrily showed us to a private room where we examined the body of an emaciated two-year old boy lying on a gurney. In spite of death, his skin was grotesquely red. Mike and I looked quizzically at the doctor.
“Burns!” he was almost shouting. “From his shoulders to his feet, 95% of his body, second and third degree! His mother is with the beat officers in the police room.”
Back at our office, mother told us that when she had returned home from work two days earlier, her boyfriend told her that Antoine had soiled himself and boyfriend washed him in the tub with hot water. Momma noticed the redness of his skin, but Antoine appeared to be sleeping. They put the toddler in a cardboard box next to their bed and he alternated between moaning and sleeping. When the moaning got bothersome, they would push the box further under the bed. For the next two days, Antoine had nothing to eat or drink as momma and boyfriend “waited for him to get better.” This morning when he was totally unresponsive, they called the ambulance.
We handcuffed mother to the wall of the interrogation room and went to the residential hotel on West Jackson Boulevard where they lived. Boyfriend was sleeping, but he admitted us to the apartment and readily told us about “bathing” Antoine. When we ran the hot water, it was actually boiling and spitting steam as it partially filled the tub.
“He too ol’ to be shittin’ hisself,” explained boyfriend. “Da hot water teach him!”
Back at the area office the States Attorney Felony Review unit responded and took court reporter statements from both momma and boyfriend. They both seemed a bit bewildered that we thought they had done anything wrong.
“I brung him to da hospital,” was momma’s only defense.
Felony Review approved Murder charges against boyfriend and Child Endangerment against momma, the rationale being the mother’s cooperation would be needed for a successful prosecution against boyfriend.
I missed supper at home that night, but I got there before the boys’ bedtime. My two-year old raced across the room, narrowly missed the Christmas tree, and jumped into my arms. I gasped involuntarily has he wrestled with me. I wrestled to maintain my composure.
“Are you alright?” asked my wife as she stared at me from across the room.
I dropped my head and nodded silently as my son scrambled to get the upper hand.
“What happened?” she asked gently as she approached the two of us.
My voice was strained and hoarse, barely above a whisper:
“You don’t wanna know, honey… you really don’t wanna know.”