FORENSIC FILES

The Sounds of the Sea by W.C. Gordon

Technology in law enforcement is really beginning to amaze me. Gone are the days when we would just kick in a door and run through the house. I’m on my way to a call of an apparent suicide now. This guy lives on the 9th floor of an ocean-front condo. The neighbor calls and says she heard a loud pop. Cops show up for a welfare check and the front door is locked and nobody is answering. Normally, that would be the end of it. We wouldn’t return until the neighbor called back to complain about the stench and there were flies on the inside of the window trying to get out. Then you would force entry and find something resembling a human form melted into the couch, or bed, or whatever. Not in today’s law enforcement arena. Today we fly a drone up to the 9th floor and into the open slider on the balcony. Today we see a dead guy with a gun on the couch without having to go inside. Well, you ultimately have to go inside but it saves some headache doing it this way. For instance, if the guy was suicidal but not enough so to kill himself. Then the cops walk in and, BAM!, you have a suicide-by-cop scenario. That’s a lot of paperwork and typically a lot of zeros at the end of a check for the family. Now, a drone can go inside and assess the situation before the cops do. If the not-totally-suicidal-guy shoots the drone, it’s far less paperwork and cost.

It’s a pretty South Florida evening and I decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The heat and humidity have given way to a cool ocean breeze and a little exercise won’t kill me. At the 4th floor, I decide that I could be wrong and there has been enough death in this building today, so into the elevator I go. I check in with the officer at the door of the apartment and sign the crime scene log. I look at the Halligan tool rested next to the threshold and inspect the damaged lock. The officer says, “It was locked when we got here.” I nod my head, smile, and say, “The property manager probably has a key but it looks like you guys wanted to use your own.”

I walk into the residence and find the decedent lying on the couch. He’s leaned back against the cushions with his feet up. At least he got comfy. Gun rested next to his left hand and GSW to the left temple. Hmmm, a lefty? A watch is on his right wrist so I suppose that’s consistent with being left-hand dominant.

“How long ago do you think he did it?” asks a new officer in training. His Field Training Officer nearby just shakes her head.

“I’d say approximately three hours ago. If I had to be more specific, I’d say at 6:02 pm.”

The new officers’ eyes open widely as his FTO roll their eyes. “Wow, you can tell that just by looking at this guy?” I hate to burst his investigative bubble but I can’t help it.

“No, the neighbor called at 6:03 pm and said she heard a loud bang about a minute earlier. We call that in the detective bureau a ‘clue.’”

“Was there a note?” I ask the new officer.

“What kind of note, Sir?” The FTO is getting visibly annoyed at this point.

“What we like to call in detective work a ‘suicide note.’” The officer shakes his head in the negative.

Suicide notes are great to have but are increasingly rare at these types of scenes. More common are suicide texts or emails. The soon-to-be-dead will send a farewell electronic message and then do the deed without realizing that their electronic device will typically lock itself. That leaves me with the task of using a dead finger or face to unlock the phone. Difficult, if not impossible, in late stages of decomposition or if the decedent blew their face off. I explain all of this to the new officer and he looks slightly disturbed.

Okie-dokie, time to inspect. No blood spatter on the wall so likely no exit wound. A .38 Special so not a shock that it isn’t a through and through. A ragged entrance wound. Scorching of the skin. Some dark smudging. No stippling. Some deformity from the overpressure. Definitely a contact shot. His head is tilted to the right slightly which caused blood to pool in his ear. I notice something odd about his ear. With my gloved hand, I poke at a little foreign object. You have got to be kidding me. The blood disguised the color. I tip his head to the left and inspect his right ear. An earplug? This guy put orange foam earplugs into his ears before shooting himself. He’s ok with dying but not with tinnitus. Now I’ve seen it all.

After a cursory search of the residence, I call the medical examiner and tell them what I have. I leave out the earplugs. They decline to come out and have a look for themselves. They dispatch the body snatchers, I mean the removal service, and that is that. In and out in less than forty-five minutes which gets me a mandatory four-hour overtime call out. Back home and to my glass of Eagle Rare.

W.C. Gordon is a cop, veteran, and author of the novel The Detective Next Door. His writing is influenced by his personal experiences in the military and in law enforcement, which he then mixes with bourbon and dark humor. He lives at his home in South Florida with his wife and dog.