Coming February 1st – Homeless Homicides by William Barrons

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February 1, 2016 will be Bill Barrons 90th Birthday and iCrew Digital Publishing is proud to release his newest book in the series, San Diego Police Homicide Detail, featuring Detective Matt Morgan.

Homeless Homicides

By William Barrons

Chapter One of Homeless Homicides

ONE

“Sonia, here’s your new Detective and he’s big enough to count for two, I’d say,” said the smiling Lieutenant Brian Alan as he handed me over to Sergeant Sonia Tuason.  I had to grin at his comment about my above-normal size.

Tuason was the longtime Leader of the renowned Team Three in the San Diego Police Homicide Detail, I had heard.  She was dressed in a fine gray business suit with a knee-length skirt.  I had heard from the Lieutenant that she was always dressed to the nines.  He said she set a good example for other Detectives of how to appear to be an important person.  I saw that her suit coat was just loose enough that her shoulder-holstered pistol was well hidden.

“Welcome aboard, Detective Matt Morgan,” she said as she extended her hand to me.

“Thank you, ma’am.  I sure have heard a lot of good things about this Team,” I said.  “Even Chief Leslie is a former member of this Team, I’ve been told.”

“Right you are,” Lieutenant Alan said.  “Besides Police Chief Jack Leslie, Assistant Chiefs and Commanders Paddy O’Dean and Kevin Williams plus myself; well, we were all once on this Team.  With you Matt, Sonia will still only have four of the five Detectives allotted to each of our five Teams, but she does just fine.  See you around Matt,” he said and went into his Homicide Detail Co-Commander’s office.

“Matt is short for Matthew?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am and I prefer being called just plain Matt.  As you may know, Morgan was originally a Welch name and my middle name is the English name Abbott from my mom’s maiden name.  But in checking the family origins, it turns out I’m pretty much almost everything European.  I came to San Diego in the Marines and I’ve loved it far, far more than the Ohio I was born in.  By the way ma’am, I just turned twenty-eight on the first of this month of July and here it is the 6th already.”

“Gosh, you’re awfully tall Matt,” she said.

“Well, being six foot five and weighing two hundred thirty pounds has proved to be an asset for me in the Marines and as a Police Officer here, too,” I told her.  “I was raised pretty much on an Ohio farm and I obviously got fed pretty well when I was growing up…and up…and up…and up.”

Nearly everyone smiled when I put it that way and she did, too.

There was no need to tell her about my exercise routine to keep in top shape.

“Well as you said, here it is Wednesday, July 6th of 2011, already and I’m finally getting another Detective on my Team,” the Sergeant said.

She sure didn’t look anything like you’d think a Police Officer should look, being about a foot shorter than me and quite slender.  I had heard she was born in the Philippines, came to the States as a baby and had been a sharp Detective and a good Team Leader.

Then the Sergeant introduced me to Detective Charles Fredericks.  He was the oldest member of Team Three and in his forties.  I knew Fredericks had just bought a large set of wood- working tools from Lieutenant Alan’s mother.  She was a widow and was marrying a widower in the real estate business, who lived in La Jolla.  Fredericks figured to retire before too long and intended to use those tools to make furniture then, I was told by the Lieutenant.

Detectives Ray Snyder and Joe Salah were each in their mid-thirties and had been with the Team somewhat more than a year each.  The Sergeant was nearing forty so I was the youngest on the team, at twenty-eight.  All of them seemed friendly and of course, I knew they had to have a lot on the ball to be selected for this work.

“I saw your record,” Detective Fredericks said.  “It says you went into the Marines immediately upon graduating from a Toledo, Ohio, high school.  After Marine boot camp here, you went to Camp Pendleton north of here for grunt training.  You stuck with it for four years and in that short time, you became a Platoon Sergeant.  You served on three tours in Afghanistan; that had to be no fun for you, but you made it out alive even though you earned a Silver Star, five Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart twice.

“I saw you took countless courses in criminology on the internet during your service in the Marines,” Fredericks continued, “and then when you were just twenty-three, you went through our Police Academy.  You graduated from that with the highest accolades, it said in the report.  So, you’ve been a Cop here for about five years.  Is all that right, Matt?”

“Right on the button, my friend,” I said.  “I’m a lucky fella in that those two wounds weren’t serious.  I’m lucky too in finding the right woman to hook up with.  My wife and I have a condo across the street.  I’ve heard ours is much like Commander Williams’ except mine is in the building next to his.”

“You can’t live closer to your work than that, Matt.  But why’d you buy a condo instead of a house?” Detective Ray Snyder asked.

“Well Ray, I was on Patrol duty here when a guy was being foreclosed on and evicted from his two-year-old condo across the street.  He had said something about burning the whole building down if he couldn’t have it anymore.  In the two years he lived there, the appraised value of it had dropped nearly fifty per cent from what he paid for it.  You know, that was in 2008 and 2009 when the real estate market went down the toilet.

“The bank insisted on having a couple of off-duty Firemen there at eviction time as well as a few Cops, including me.  So the guy moved out peacefully after all, didn’t cause too awfully much damage and I got an amazing deal on the place.   And oh yes, we like cave dwelling more than mowing lawns,” I said while smiling at him.

The Lieutenant and I were both Jet Ski enthusiasts and that was how we met.  He told me he had met his gorgeous red headed wife Gracie there at Mission Bay, just as I had met my beautiful brunette wife Carmen there.  But our friendship was to be kept under wraps of course, because, as a Police Force is much like the military, he well over-ranked me.  The Lieutenant lived merely half a mile from Headquarters, in Golden Hill, with his wife and year-old twin boys.

Detective Joe Salah seemed to be a quiet guy but he finally spoke up.

“Matt, did you hear about some homeless guy getting his throat cut there in North Park yesterday?” he asked.

“Yes Joe I did.  It so happens, as a Patrol Officer, I dealt with that little Abraham Jackson quite a few times.  Have any suspects in that homicide been identified yet?”

“Oh, you actually knew the guy?”  Salah seemed surprised.

“Yes I did.  He was a little Black guy, an alcoholic, he had not a single tooth left, he stank from booze and dirt; yet, he had something of a personality.  He seemed to have the notion he was doing okay, as long as the alcohol level in his blood was high enough.  I thought of him as being just a hopeless and unclean bum with no thought of harming anyone.  But ma’am, we have no suspects yet?” I asked as I turned to the Sergeant.

“Not yet Matt,” the Sergeant said.  “That case has been assigned to our Team but so far, we’ve not had any clues except for the murder weapon to go on.  The Medical Examiner says it was a very sharp knife someone pulled against his throat that killed him.  They found that knife next to his body and none of us has ever seen one like it.  It’s theorized that someone came at him from behind him at around midnight in the alley behind 30th Street and killed him.  His pockets were all turned out as though someone robbed him.”

“Sergeant Tuason, if robbery was the motive for killing little Abe, it was a terribly stupid move for that guy never had more than the cost of another bottle on him,” I said.

“Well Matt, let’s get you settled in your grandiose cubicle here,” Tuason said and led me to one of the six such cubicles in the Team’s section of the Homicide Detail area.

My assigned cubicle had a pretty good desktop computer on a five-foot-wide steel desk, a file cabinet, a multi-line phone and a couple of chairs.  Everything was dusty and had accumulated dirt from use over some years.  I’m a clean and tidy kind of guy and it wouldn’t be long before all of that was corrected.

My wife worked for the Navy on the North Island Naval Air Station.  She did “classified” work, including some kind of “hacking”.  She’s an outstanding computer expert and she had taught me a lot.  She and I earned practically identical annual incomes so we were doing okay financially.  We had a little office in our condo but she absolutely could not do any Navy work at home nor discuss it with me; that’s how secret it was, whatever work it might be.

My first decorative move would be to put up a framed photo of my gorgeous wife Carmen, our two-year-old son Michael and my mother-in-law Rose.  There was no need to put up pictures of my folks; my dad had been killed in an automobile accident – as had my wife’s father – and my mentally unstable mom was God only knew where.  My grandpa who mostly raised me – actually, he was my dad’s grandfather – had finally succumbed at the old age of ninety-two.  He had been a Marine Platoon Sergeant in World War II and his bravery record was what urged me to join the Marines as well.

“Would you like to investigate the murder of that homeless man, Matt?” my new Sergeant asked me.

“Yes ma’am.  That would be a good way to begin my Detective career because I liked that pitiful fellow a little.  He was awfully crippled with alcoholism and yet he seemed to be rather content with his hopeless situation in life.  Please show me how to get into his file and I’ll read up on the case.”

She showed me how to bring up the barely started Abraham Jackson file and told me he was killed with a knife neither she nor anyone else on the Team had ever heard of before.  Then she left me alone.  That knife was pictured in the file.

The poor soul was found in a pool of blood on the side of the alley behind 30th Street by a dumpster truck driver.  That was the truck’s earliest stop, at 7 o’clock in the morning of Tuesday, July 5th.   He called 911 to report the find and proceeded to emptying dumpsters in the alley into his big truck.  But within a couple of minutes, the first arriving Officers of course made him park his truck so the Crime Scene Investigators could check the load he had already picked up and also to search other dumpsters nearby for clues.

Their searches found the man’s incredibly shabby wallet.  In the wallet was his California ID card and not another thing.  Importantly, they also found a most unusual knife next to the body and a photo of it was in the file.  It proved to have Jackson’s blood on it, but no fingerprints on the handles.

My grandfather had one exactly like it among his collection of old woodworking tools.  It’s called a drawknife and was used until maybe the 1940’s to scrape bark from logs and to carve and shape such things as round or more usually, octagonal posts out of square lumber.  The blade had a handle on each end, in sort of a “U” shape, so that a man could “draw” the knife to him against a piece of wood to shape it.  Those handles on a deluxe model would be swung inward to cover the edge of the blade for safety when not in use.  I had used my grandpa’s drawknife to round the edges of a four inch square by eight-foot-high piece of cypress that my grandpa put a birdhouse on top of.  I think that was the one and only time I got to use a drawknife.

Sergeant Tuason was surprised when I called her over to explain what sort of knife it was and how it was used so that it cut Abe Jackson’s head nearly off.

Poor Abe had not a penny on him.  But the ID card and his fingerprints proved who and what he was – a long time homeless man bothered now and then by the law for about half of his forty years.

He swore to me that he had not once tried any illegal drugs.  “Legal hooch is plenty for me,” he’d say with a smile as though he was wondrously innocent.

The photographs in the file of his body lying in the pool of blood on the alley bricks were plenty sickening.  But I easily recognized his toothless, dark-skinned face.  Many corpses have their eyes and mouth wide open as though in astonishment at discovering they had left heaven and hell behind instead of finding one or the other place ahead of them.  But little Abe looked in the photos as though he was peacefully asleep with all his troubles over and done with.

If Abe had anything like a family, the records didn’t reveal them.  Nor did I, in talking with him, have any recollection of a relative being mentioned.  I had asked him that very thing and he only shrugged his shoulders in answer.  He had been born in some little Louisiana town, the file showed, but he had apparently arrived in San Diego about the age of sixteen and nothing further in his background was shown on the record.  He hadn’t done any work whatever in at least twenty years.  I recalled he spoke with a southern accent.

He would eventually be buried in an unmarked grave by the county and it seemed no one would give a good goddamn about the passing of such a completely unimportant human being.

But I would personally and professionally lament the death – the cold blooded murder – of pathetic little Abraham Jackson.

It seemed it would be a definite challenge to solve such a homicide.  I had been given the task of finding his murderer and I would dedicate myself to getting a small measure of justice for the short, hopelessly homeless, Black drunk of a man with the likeable personality.

Although I was a Cop that didn’t appreciate drunkenness in anyone, he had smiled his toothless smile at me and called me his “Great-big-huge-giant-friend.”

Sergeant Tuason told me it was the policy of Team Three to dress as though we were highly successful bankers or lawyers.  I confessed I only had a few good suits since I had worn my Police uniforms for years and usually dressed casually when off duty.  She suggested I check with thrift stores to find expensive shoes and clothing left behind by recently died customers of high priced shops.

Okay, I’d get right on that project, but I’d rather buy my clothing new, thank you.

Receiving permission to go out to the site of the homicide, I got in my big bright red Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor and headed to North Park.

My car had formerly been an unmarked – and shiny black – Assistant Police Chief’s car and I bought it at auction, while competing with taxicab owners.  Cabbies loved to buy used Ford Crown Vic’s because of the enormous trunks and the great passenger space.  Also, because they absolutely needed to be reliable, Police Departments maintained their cruisers well.

Sadly, I had heard the Ford Motor Company was going to stop production of the Crown Victoria sedans that Police Departments all over the country – and taxi companies – had loved.

Of course the siren, spot lights, flashing red and blue lights front and back and the Police computer had been removed before the auction.  But the wiring remained so I had the lights and siren replaced, knowing I was going to become a Detective.  And I had it painted a glossy fire truck red.  In an emergency, when I had the lights and siren going, it would surely convince almost anybody that it was from the Fire Department and not a Cop car.

My petite wife’s car was a big black Chevrolet Suburban which is great for hauling our stuff.  She keeps it clean inside and out and polished, as though it belonged to some big shot politician.  Both of our cars have a safety child seat in the back.  I sometimes have charge of that delightful son of ours when I have a day off.  Otherwise, my stay-at-home mother in law – who lives with us – delights in tending him when both my wife and I are at work.  She also has a child’s seat in the back of her new Chevy Malibu, which is truly a nice car.

As a Patrol Officer, I had become familiar with every street and the few alleys in North Park, as well as most of the businesses there.  The place of Abe’s death wasn’t marked exactly.  But I found it was the only spot on the brick alley pavement for quite a ways that was clean of sand, dirt and dust.  Of course, his pool of blood had been washed away from next to a tar-covered telephone pole.

Little Abe Jackson had died an awfully undignified death, much like his undignified life.

Standing there next to the spot on the bricks where his body was found, I tried to imagine what had happened.

Abe wandered about the area at all hours, with his eyes ignoring all around him, but looking for coins on the ground.  Often, he had a hand out to almost everybody, to beg in the off chance an occasional sympathetic person would actually slip him a buck or two.  I had donated to his alcoholism myself a couple of times and his reaction was to light up as though he had been given a tremendous gift.

As I guessed what had happened, I imagined some guy must have seen little Abe shuffling along the alley in the middle of the night.  He came up behind Abe.  With both hands, the killer swung that drawknife over Abe’s head and pulled it mightily against his throat.  With blood gushing over the pitiful man and the knife, he threw the hundred twenty pounds of a dead human being down next to that telephone pole.  Then he wiped his prints off and threw the drawknife right down on the bricks, next to the human being he had just murdered.

Homicide is never, ever pretty.  This one was especially ugly, it seemed to me, for Abraham Jackson was about as harmless to others as a human being could be.

Why would someone want to kill him?  There had to be an answer for this one as there had to be for every deliberate homicide.  Maybe he offended someone.  He might have lifted a few dollars from some homeless bum like himself, when the other bum was sleeping.  No, I doubted Abe would steal from someone as bad off as himself.

What then?  Well, it’s more than a little obvious that homeless men and women don’t much add to the beauty of any neighborhood.  Many upstanding, hardworking, classy citizens don’t want them tainting their neighborhoods.  No surprise there.  People would just rather the homeless men and women bums and the mentally ill would go away someplace else and stay there.  As a Police Officer, I had seen plenty of that sort of resentment and disgust with people of little Abe Jackson’s ilk.

But would any such citizens stoop to cold blooded, deliberate murder to solve the problem of the pitiful homeless?

Some religious organizations went all out to feed such down-and-out people.  Some of them went further and tried to help them get into the mainstream of civilized life, one way or another.  But the numbers of men, of women and even of kids living on the streets seemed not to diminish.  There are a reported eight thousand or more homeless folks in San Diego.

Had someone decided that murder was the answer to the problem of so many homeless people spreading out all over the city?

I thought it could be a possibility.  A Homicide Detective most certainly has a right and a duty to be suspicious of people; naturally, not of everyone, but in general in any case, the “persons of interest” can be unlimited.

After looking over the spot where Abe breathed his last, I spent about four hours driving around North Park.  When I saw a homeless guy or gal, I’d stop and ask them if they knew Abe, that he had been murdered, and did they have any idea who might want to do him in?

An odd thing was, many of them didn’t recognize me without the Cop car or a Police uniform.  My transformation into a business suit puzzled some of them so much they had to scratch their foggy heads that I was the same man who had questioned them before – a few of them, many times before as a Patrol Officer.

The world of the homeless sure is different from the way ordinary folks live.  Most of them are dirty both of body and of clothing.  They of course have rare chances to bathe or even to wash their hands and faces.  They often tote their entire worldly goods around with them, pretty much wherever they go.  Some of them are quite ingenious in that regard, using bikes, kids’ wagons, shopping carts, etc.  Of course most of them have an income of some hundreds of dollars a month, one way or another; but that money each month quickly flies out of their hands – often into the hands of alcohol sellers, drug peddlers and con men.

Sometimes, much of their monthly income is pretty much squandered by staying a night or two in a cheap motel where they can actually shower, watch TV and sleep in an honest to goodness real bed.

Of the forty or so homeless I talked with that day, quite a few had known little Abe with the toothless grin.  That is, many knew who he was but some of them never knew his name or they forgot it.  But none of them admitted to me that they had any idea who would murder the little Black man.

Reporting to my Sergeant back at the office, I told her what I had tried to accomplish with zero results that day.  She didn’t ask me if I had any theories of why Abraham Jackson got murdered and I didn’t volunteer my hazy guesses.

I had parked my Ford in the Headquarters parking lot and found that an inconvenience.  It was almost as close to the office if I parked in my stall in the condominium, straight across Broadway.  Anyway, I drove over there and took the elevator up to the top floor.

My wife Carmen was already home and she and her mother had dinner almost ready.  Little Mike ran his wobbly run across the floor to hug my leg as I came in.  He could swim like a fish already; in fact, he swam better than he walked.  I hauled him up, hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Mike was learning to talk pretty well – both in English, in Spanish and even Chinese.  His Mexican grandma Rose Morales spoke to him mostly in her native tongue and his mom and I spoke to him in English.  At the tender age of two, he seemed to enjoy the mental gymnastics of using three languages.  Of course his mother of Mexican descent knew Spanish perfectly and I had to know that language fairly well as a Police Officer.

Carmen had also taken courses in the Chinese Mandarin language and so I assumed her work had something to do with finding out what the Chinese navy was up to.  But she would never confirm that, of course.  She also taught our son Chinese and I was amazed at how he absorbed it so easily and seemed not to be confused about using three languages.

We had a nice kitchen island where we ate breakfast and lunch.  But dinner was always served rather formally at the dining table.  Luckily for me, I had a “cast iron stomach” as both my wife and mom in law loved – guess what? – yes, Mexican food.  I learned to like it also even though I couldn’t tolerate the really hot stuff.

When I was asked about my work day, I told them of my thrill to finally become a sworn-in Homicide Detective and that I was assigned my first case to work on.  But I stopped there for homicide is a nasty subject to bring up at the dinner table.

In asking Carmen how she did that day, she hardly ever said more than, “It was a rough one,” or something like, “it was a slam dunk today.”

Almost all of the people she associated with at her office were good-looking young men but I did not allow myself to worry about her fidelity; nor did I give her any cause for such concern in my regard.  We stayed very much in love with four years of happy marriage and hopefully, a hundred more to come.

She told me her fourteen months’ older sister, Vicky, had filed for divorce a week before from her cheating and abusive husband.  They had only been married about nineteen months. They lived in Norfolk, Virginia, where her husband was stationed as a Navy cook and was about to go off to sea.  Vicky worked as a waitress in the city of Norfolk and she said she made more money than her husband did.  Luckily, the soon to be divorced couple were childless.

Mike was cranky and didn’t eat much because he had another hurtful tooth coming in.

Arriving at the office Thursday morning, I was surprised that Sergeant Tuason had beat me there.  Okay, she’s an eager beaver like myself figuring I suppose, that if you are always early you are never late.

“Matt, we’ve got another North Park homicide of a homeless man,” she said in greeting me.  “Guy’s name was Ruskin Nichols.  Ever hear of him?”

“Ruskin Nichols?  Oh yes.  I’ve heard his negative rants time and time again.  So he was killed, ma’am?”

“Yes and I think one of Medical Examiner doctors might still be on the scene so why don’t you rush out there and you can discuss the case with him first hand,” she said.  “I understand he had an old beat up pickup truck and it’s parked on Ohio Street near where that street begins and goes north from University Avenue.”

“Thanks Sergeant; I’ll get right over there.”

Practically running across Broadway to jump into my fire-truck-red Ford, I made good time out to the scene of the homicide without using my flashing lights or siren.

Sure enough, the Medical Examiner’s big white van was backed up to the run down old and forever dirty pick up I saw was Nichol’s.  Over the truck bed was a camper shell and under it was the damnedest mess anyone could possibly accumulate.  He slept on what looked like a pile of really dirty trash without the slightest semblance of order.

If executives of the Ford Motor Company could see the condition of the Ford 150 pickup they had so carefully made ten years before, they would nod their heads in shame.

Squeezing my Ford Crown Vic in next to the van, I stepped out and greeted the young pathologist Doctor George White who I’d dealt with a few times.

His specialty comes from the Greek word “pathos” which meant disease.  But for the thousands of years prior to fairly recently, to have almost any disease meant death anyway.  There are even vaccines to prevent some diseases now and that’s a revolution in human and animal health right there.

“Hi Doc; nice to see you,” I said as I shook his hand.  “I’m now a certified Homicide Detective and I’ve been given this case as well as that of Abraham Jackson who was found dead yesterday morning.  Right off, can you tell me how Nichols was killed?”

“Congratulations on your promotion Matt,” the doctor said.  “Good to see you again.  It looks like, just off hand, that he had that little bloody saw there pulled back and forth across his throat.  Come over here and see for yourself, Matt.  See?  He was sleeping on his back with his head pretty much against the tail gate here and he had the swing-up back window open like it is now.  So someone simply leaned in, sawed his throat and goddamn nearly took his head off.”

“Damn, that sure is a bloody mess, Doc.  I talked yesterday with a lot of homeless bums here in North Park but he wasn’t one of them this time.  I sure have heard his constant rants a lot.  Now it seems someone decided to put an end to his completely miserable life.  Ever see a saw like that one Doc?”

“No I haven’t Matt.  Do you know what the hell it is?”

“Yes, that’s called a keyhole saw.  You could use that narrow, angled blade to cut small circles in a board with; although I never could believe you could actually cut a keyhole in a door with one.  My grandpa back in Ohio had a collection of old tools like that.”

“Damn, that must have hurt terribly when he sawed those vicious teeth across his neck.”

“Yes and I’ll bet the Crime Lab won’t find prints on that handle as they didn’t on the handles on a drawknife used on little Abe Jackson.  Well, I’ve heard Nichols’ complaints about everything and everybody in the world and nobody will hear them again,” I said.

“Oh, so you knew the man?” the doctor asked.

“Yes and this fellow was the most negative person I’ve ever known in my life.  You see his license plate there is from Arizona; technically, that was an illegal practice since he lived in California.  But since he had no address in this state, he got away with it.  You can smell him from a block away.  I never saw him in anything but a filthy athletic shirt, dirty shorts and worn out sandals, at any time of the year.  Every inch of his skin, including his face, was always dirty.  Only the devil himself would know when he last bathed, shaved or even washed his hands and face, let alone change and launder his clothing.  His teeth were a disgrace.

“You’ll find he’s only about five feet tall Doctor and easily that much around the belly.  He complained constantly about how everyone and everything in the world was against him.  I think he enjoyed being unhappy and unpleasant both.  That gave him something to talk about and he talked about nothing else.”

“Then he had a degree of mental illness; eh Matt?” Doctor White asked.

“Oh yes indeed, but if he was examined by a psychiatrist, the judgment would possibly be he was not quite nuts enough to be confined…because he was so habitually filthy.”

“So you’ve had run-ins with him, eh?”

“Yes and I know other Officers also did, all over the city.  He would park this awful truck on the street somewhere and sleep in it, knowing that was illegal and that he’d get tickets for doing that.

“I suggested to him one time that all he had to do to park legally and sleep peacefully was to make friends with some homeowner.  Maybe for a few dollars a month the homeowner would let him park in his driveway at night to sleep, to use his toilet and maybe also allow him once a week or so to shower.  He could use a regular pay laundry for his clothes.

“But you know what?  He scoffed at those ideas as the most foolish suggestions he had ever heard!  As I said, the man was absolutely and totally negative in just about everything,” I told the MedEx doctor.

“So the man will not likely be missed,” the doctor said as though his death meant little.

But of course, even though he was a rotten, “mentally challenged,” filthy bum, it was my duty to find out who had so brutally ended his life.

It was difficult to open the driver side door of the truck.  I recalled seeing him struggling to climb into it and get seated, since he was so obese.  His legs were amazingly thick.  But then, he took his time getting in since he was bewailing his travails at me until he finally slammed his door shut.

He told me he didn’t even have a bank account – several banks had refused to give him one and he growled at their unfairness – so he got some sort of disability check in a post office box.

“Whatever he did with his money, he sure didn’t spend it on just about anything but fattening food and sugary Coca Colas.  Obviously, he was a glutton and he actually told me he could not understand why he couldn’t lose weight.  Apparently, he did not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs – he told me that and it was about the only thing he said he did not do, that I thought reasonable.

“Matt,” the doctor said, interrupting my thoughts about Nichols, “the temperature didn’t get below about 70 degrees last night so it must have been warm for him in there.  Touching his skin – damn, it’s dirty! – touching him, I’d have to guess just now that he expired around midnight.”

“That was the reported time of death of little Abe Jackson, too,” I reminded him.

“Yes, you’re right.  Maybe there’s a pattern beginning here, eh Matt?”

“Could be Doc.  Well, I’m going to check through what we might jokingly call some of his possessions, to see if I can find out if he has any next of kin.”

Going around to the other side of that stinking truck, I opened the passenger side door only to have a bunch of trash spill off the seat and the floor out onto the pavement.   There were all sorts of fast food wrappers and smashed soft drink cups.  There were newspapers and even naughty girlie magazines.  It was not likely that he had any experience at all with real, live females; just the fantasy kind.

In the riot inside his glove compartment, I found a letter to him from a sister in Phoenix, Arizona.  In the letter she begged him to come stay with her and lead a decent Christian life.  She pleaded with him to change his ways or he’d “go straight to hell and suffer eternal fire and damnation forever and ever and ever,” was the way she put it.  I had to guess Nichols didn’t much want to hear that sort of “holier than thou” nagging so he stayed away from her.

Probably his sister would be the one to be notified of his passing into the unknown.  I could find no Last Will and I hardly expected him to be so responsible as to take care of that little matter.  But then, it didn’t seem he had anything to leave to anyone except for that impossibly awful and junk-filled pickup.

Of course, many homeless folks get that way apparently through no fault of their own, but simply from very bad luck.  They lose a job, can’t get another job, can’t pay their rent or even buy food so they have to sleep on the streets and accept whatever handouts might be available.

Some percentage of the homeless have ruined their lives with drugs and/or alcohol.  Some whom I’ve dealt with as a Police Officer seem to enjoy the total freedom from having to earn their bread since it’s given to them so freely by well-meaning do-gooders.  The little welfare check some guys get each month from one source or another, keeps them to an extent in the booze or drugs of their choice.

Some of the more ambitious homeless, sift through trash cans all over to find cans and bottles they can recycle for a little money.  Some of them do find a day job now and then.  I’ve known homeless men who lived on the streets but actually worked at a low-paying steady job and were saving money – stashed in a bank, believe it or not – to get a car and a decent place to live.  But responsible men like that on the streets are extremely rare.

Back in our Headquarters office by 11:00 o’clock, I reported in to Sergeant Tuason and told her my findings.  Neither she nor anyone else there had ever heard of a keyhole saw, let alone used one as I had as a kid on grandpa’s farm.  These days, electrically powered jigsaws replace keyhole saws splendidly.

“What in the devil do you make of someone using antique tools to murder with, Matt?” she asked.  Detectives Fredericks, Snyder and Salah also had their eyebrows up with wondering.

“It’s interesting that the perp left the keyhole saw in plain sight, right there beside Nichols that he had just killed.  He also left the drawknife used to almost decapitate Jackson right next to the body where it was easily found.  I suppose he wears latex gloves when he…hell, he might wear those gloves not just to prevent his fingerprints from showing up but just because of the dirt he’s dealing with.

“All of us know,” I said to the whole Team Three, “that not very many ordinary citizens have great sympathy for the homeless sleeping on our streets and wandering about, begging.  It could be that someone has begun to take the drastic action of homicide to cure homelessness.  What do the rest of you think?”

“Oh crap,” Fredericks said, “I can’t believe anyone would be nuts enough to think killing a homeless guy now and then would have any effect on the problem.  That’s just not reasonable.”

“Not reasonable, Chuck?” Tuason put in.  “When in heck did almost any homicide occur because of reasonableness?  It doesn’t seem likely to me either, but our new guy on the Team here just might have a good insight on this.  As a Cop, you’ve dealt with a lot of the homeless people, Matt?”

“Oh heck yes.  In my five years on Patrol, I’ve had to break up fights, prevent rapes – that’s a matter not much is known about – and gone through the homeless camps looking for items taken in burglaries.  I always tried to keep a cheering smile on my face in trying to keep them moving away from places where they had no business to be, but it’s a really sad duty.”

“What was that about preventing rapes, Matt?” Joe Salah asked.

“Don’t you know, a woman caught in the awful circumstance of not having the stability of a home, is just dreadfully easy sexual prey?  She feels badly about herself usually anyway, so if she’s raped, she may oftentimes feel deep down as though she doesn’t deserve any respect from anyone anyway.

“What I’ve tried to do, as other Officers have, is to assure the males hanging around females in their camps is that they’ll have to answer to the law for rape.  At least, that has got to make a few of them believe even the worst of females deserve some male respect.”

Almost the entire remainder of that Thursday was spent by me in learning how to make up and maintain a file on homicide cases.

William Barrons

About William Barrons

Born 1926, in Cadillac, Michigan, the oldest boy of fourteen kids. Survived the Great Depression and joined the Marines the day after I turned 17. Could hardly wait to go fight those nasty Nazis and Japanese. Served 2½ war years in the Marines. Got married, went to college, had kids, re-joined the Marines in 1949 - in time for the Korean War. Became a Marine Second Lieutenant but was a Platoon Commander only for a short while as my sick wife nearly died and I had to resign to care for my family. Became a Telephone equipment engineer with AT&T in Chicago. Then was a kitchen and home remodeling designer for 22 years. Retired at age 69 and began to research and write novels. At age 89, I’m still at it!