TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE 18

Brainpower and stability are not synonymous. You could make that comparison between brainpower and many things: Wisdom; knowledge; behavior (look at all the crime syndicate leaders we’ve had; think they didn’t have Mensa minds?); and so on. Unfortunately, many people with the virtually unlimited ability to accurately figure out all manner of raw data, don’t always do the right thing with their conclusions. They twist it to obtain their own, wrongful desires.

What happens when some of these people have ambition and the need for power and riches or fame, or maybe to be a doctor or a lawyer, comes into play. Huh? An uncountable number of disastrous scenarios could be thought up in an instant. As comedian Lily Tomlin once said during a skit; “Everyone from kings and presidents to the scum of the Earth can be served.” Again, we could name them. When we’ve finished throwing up, we can hopefully get on with our lives.

As you go down the line you’ll find people with big, bad brains in many places. Being a cop for thirty-two years, I actually came into contact with some of these people. Judges. Lawyers. Businessmen. (Notice how I put them last, just having a little fun.) The great majority of judges and lawyers and businessmen/women are fine people. The point is, they are everywhere.

It goes without saying that if they somehow jam themselves into important positions in society, they can really hurt things. And humanity being what it is, that happens all the time.

During my time as a police officer I spent more than 25 years doing detective work – investigating all aberrant behavior in every area of life. Much of that time was spent investigating homicides, the most heinous of all crimes. Part of a detective’s duty is to attend the autopsies of murder victims. The people conducting, or at least supervising, these examinations are physicians. No one has bigger brains than the folks from that crowd. Right?

Two different medical examiners were employed in Milwaukee during my first twenty years on the police force. They happened to be women, unusual considering the time period. They were brilliant. The first was a young, extremely attractive woman who frequently socialized with top professionals of the community. She did an excellent job, and assistant district attorneys loved having her as their expert witness.

She also had a great, extremely off beat sense of humor. She pulled off some outrageous jokes, the kind that I cannot divulge in this column. But she is not the medical examiner to whom I’m referring as I proceed with this article.

Another woman, who’d served some time as an assistant medical examiner, took over the position about ten years after I started my time as a police officer. Her term was a controversial time period, to say the least. She, too, had a brilliant mind, but had neither the looks nor the personality of her predecessor. Though loaded with brainpower, she was unable to consistently do her job well. When considering the stakes of the cases with which she was involved, she made a lot of people, ah, nervous.

The the law enforcement community was primary among those who felt on edge, since some people literally got away with murder because of her incompetence. That spread to everyone who lived in the Milwaukee area, because, of course, people who were known for a fact to be willing to kill to get what they wanted were on the loose. Of course, it eventually led to her demise, which some said could not have arrived soon enough.

She was a person with enormous brainpower but little to no stability. And it was tragic watching her, because she had started out at the top of her class. And even though she had an odd personality, she was initially well regarded, and did her job well. She was credible as a pathologist as well as a witness in criminal court. And the old joke around the Milwaukee law enforcement and District Attorney’s offices was that medical examiners always seemed to be somewhat weird. The first M.E. To whom I referred was considered to be a classic case in point.

But the first examiner was extremely reliable, in both her findings and her ability to come across well as an expert in her field.

The second woman was completely the opposite. She could do the job, but soon began to falter. (I personally did not wonder why.) I watched several autopsies that she performed in order to obtain spent bullets in murdered victims, and the like. She would talk to herself in a loud voice. She had Tourette’s Syndrome and would blurt swear words, no matter where she was.

Once I was riding an office elevator with her and some county supervisors and other business people. The elevator was completely quiet until she yelled out “Shit!” After a lengthy, uncomfortable moment, I looked to see if something was wrong. She was smiling broadly, and said nothing. She decided to use the quiet, smiling face tactic to keep from alarming people around her. It had the opposite affect. No one could talk her out of using that tactic.

More than one detective who was regularly assigned to witness autopsies spoke of her eccentric behavior while working on the cadavers. She would put her fingers on her face or in her mouth – while wearing vinyl gloves smeared with blood and other dead body tissue. Her constant explosive expletives occurred non stop, even when officials from other communities were doing business at her office or in the autopsy room. She would prop herself against cadavers while taking a break. These are only bits and pieces I had heard. Many more similar occurrences had been cited.

She could do the technical part of her job, but she began making too many mistakes. Small ones that could be dealt with, but city officials were growing alarmed. She quickly gained the reputation for being odd, and unscrupulous people took advantage.

Some defense attorneys drew her into discussions about her work, and she was more than happy to say anything that came to mind. She unwittingly divulged information with more than one unscrupulous defense attorney who used it to rework their approach and get a better deal for their client. Or to somehow compromise the case and get a not guilty verdict when it was not appropriate.

Word of that activity leaked to the D.A.’s office, and complaints were being made. Ask a D.A. how much they enjoy re-trying a defendant when there’s a mistrial because one juror was wrongly convinced to vote not guilty because of something the medical examiner had said..

Ask a drunken defense attorney celebrating loudly at a strip bar on the night they twisted a trial that was supposed to have been a slam dunk win for the prosecution, and their guy got off instead. Said attorney develops a reputation for success in trials, and also gains success in expanding their bank accounts because of an increased reputation for winning.

And it happened because of the mistake of an off-the-rails “expert” in the forensics field.

By the way, I was at the aforementioned strip club very late one night, after work, and watched as the attorney I was referring to enjoyed himself after his victory in court. There was no indication of how he’d done it at that time, it seemed like just a really good lawyer won a case in court. Years later that case was named as one of those suspected of having been unwittingly undermined by the witless medical examiner to whom I am referring.

As she gained more experience and publicity, she began publicly speaking her mind about things – with bad consequences. She was on her way out of her job and she knew it. And the story goes, she began to retaliate.

A final, fatal act to her job was when she publicly suggested that homicide cases were in danger of being wrongly mishandled because of incompetent people in Milwaukee’s legal community. She supplied no verifiable proof. By this time, she was not being taken seriously by anyone in authority in Milwaukee. She soon left her job.

She dropped from public view and anyone’s knowledge of her life. Years went by. A few people claimed they saw her walking alone on sidewalks in Milwaukee’s downtown district. None of it was ever verified, but we all thought it possible.

On one night at about 2:00 a.m. officers on routine patrol were performing their nightly task of clearing areas where the homeless would camp out for the evening. She was found in a corner of a doorway at the public museum, wrapped in myriad, unmatched items of clothing, sound asleep. The young officers did not recognize her – she was before their time – and shuffled her along. They wrote her name on a Field Interrogation report, and turned it in at the end of their shift.

Older officers at the First Precinct recognized her name, and word of the incident quickly spread. It has been more than two decades since she has been in Milwaukee’s news. But it had been much longer than that since she’d been in her right mind.

 

ROb2This is the 18th in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

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