TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE 13

Sometimes the whole truth about a crime never reaches the police. At least, not in an official way.

I was on my way to Headquarters minutes before the end of my shift when a shooting was reported on the police radio. I picked up the dash microphone and told the dispatcher that I was responding. The shooting was in my assigned area of responsibility and even though the normal policy at that time would have been to send detectives from the succeeding shift, I responded anyway.

I was not the first officer to arrive. Several uniformed officers had gotten there first, and there was one other detective who’d also extended his duty, rather than go home. We weren’t surprised to see each other; we were among those who often worked late.

We worked in a very busy area.

A uniformed officer directed us to the rear door of an old and dilapidated duplex in the middle of an extremely tough part of the city. We ran up the stairs to the second floor kitchen where a bright light glared overhead. Two portly young women in nightgowns sat at the kitchen table. One was weeping, the other sat with her head down, her chin tucked into the palm of her extended hand. She looked dazed.

 

brokenglassThe officer began explaining the crime scene to us while we continued walking through the kitchen. The floor was covered with broken glass shards. Two very small children – no more than three or four years old – tried coming into the kitchen from their bedrooms, which were located to the side. From the cuts on their feet and blood stains on the floor, it was evident that they’d already been successful.

Just beyond the kitchen, in a dark living room, lay a dead man. He was face up, his arms extended and close to his sides. His jaw was open and a smashed pair of glasses lay askew on his face.

“He took a couple in the ‘ten spot,’” one officer said. The “ten spot” meant the center mass area of his chest; it’s what the firearms instructors called it, because it is marked that way on the silhouette targets.

The officer finished explaining his part in the investigation, and the other detective on the scene and I began doing our parts.

The children were playing in their bedroom, which was next to the living room; about ten feet from the dead man’s remains. They unexpectedly broke free and into the living room and got as close to the body as they could.

“Johnny Mack, he dead?” one of the girls asked while leaning as close to the body as she could.

“Johnny Mack dead,” her small companion said immediately.

“Yeah baby, Johnny Mack is dead,” one of the women called out from the kitchen. “You know that. Now get back in your room!”

The police photographer arrived and took photos. A detective lieutenant came by and we explained our investigation to him. He nodded while we spoke, and walked back down the stairs.

Suddenly, a commotion arose from the back yard as a car pulled into the parking lot. Men’s voices could be heard, shouting that the killer was in the back seat. The other detective and I began to go down the steps when a uniformed officer told us that it was the suspect, that he’d left the apartment immediately after the shooting, but had called for the police to come to where he was and pick him up.

Some neighbors were aware of the situation, and came out of their homes to yell at the man.

I went back to the kitchen and saw that the little girls had succeeded in leaving their bedroom once again, and had sliced the bottoms of their feet even more on the broken glass laying on the kitchen floor. Neither of the women had moved from their chairs, or said anything to the children. I looked beyond the kitchen and saw that a dark colored kitten had gotten up on “Johnny Mack’s” chest, sat down, and was licking the body’s face.

That was all I could stand.

Grumpy cat doesn't get on dead bodies.

Grumpy cat doesn’t get on dead bodies.

In a loud voice I instructed the women to tend to the children, call to the cat so it would get off of the dead body, and at least pretend like they were concerned with everything that was going on. The once crying woman, who had obviously been feigning her grief, began muttering something about “mothers” and “ho’s” and what-have-you while she got up, stepped gingerly on the broken glass, and went to the girls.

We finished our part with the crime scene. The photographer was packing up his camera, the medical examiner’s people were bringing a gurney into the kitchen, and headed toward the body. I had grabbed a broom and swept a clear path through the broken glass, for them to do their job.

The women gave their statements about what had happened in between moments of us clearing out the kids and getting the cat off of the dead man.

“Frank said, ‘Johnny Mack,’ don’t keep comin’ up on me! Don’t keep comin’ up on me!’” one of the women explained.

Frank was the shooter who’d run from the place. Johnny Mack hadn’t listened and Frank shot him at point blank range. He stumbled into the living room where he fell, and died. Frank ran. The police arrived. Frank and Johnny Mack had been jealous lovers of one of the women, and it came to murder.

That’s what we were told, but that ain’t exactly how it happened. Not by a long shot – pun intended.

We instinctively knew we were being lied to while we investigated, and figured we’d question people at police headquarters and get to the bottom of it all.

We did not.

The women both said they were playing cards at the kitchen table when Johnny Mack – who was the lover of one of the women – came over to visit. They were sitting and chatting and drinking refreshments when there was a knock on the door. It was Frank. He’d followed Johnny Mack because he was jealous, and the two men had a confrontation, which ended in Mr. Mack’s shooting death.

The officers were checking the records of Johnny Mack and Frank while I and the other detective spoke with the women. Johnny Mack, who was in his mid 40’s, had a lengthy felony record going back to his youth. Burglaries. Robberies. Prison time.

“He’s a drug dealer,” one of the uniformed officers said softly. He later said he’d known Johnny Mack from investigating in the area. “He was a really bad guy.”

I looked at both of the women, who’d overheard the officer’s remark, and neither would look back at me.

“Well,” I said. “What’s about Johnny Mack and his drug dealing?”

Neither woman answered. One of them shrugged.

“And how come Frank came over and broke up your card game and murdered Mr. Mack?” I inquired further.

They said nothing.

The crime scene investigation was over with, the body had been hauled away, and we left the women with the broken, bloody glass on the bloody floor, and the bloody children.

Outside in the back yard a small group of officers, uniformed and plain clothes, stood talking and laughing among themselves. The lieutenant was still there, smiling, relaxed. It was case closed.

“Good job,” he said to all of us.

Good job my ass. These men had collided; one had killed the other as nonchalantly as two-year-olds throwing temper tantrums in a sandbox. When they were done “fighting,” it was all over, and no one cared. If anything, they were bored and felt imposed upon by our presence. We dragged the bloody mess away, along with a killer, and it was just another shooting-killing in the neighborhood.

No big.

The women showed up at the District Attorney’s office the following morning. They were wearing informal dresses, the kind of things one would wearing while doing work out in their garden. One of them carried a royal blue velveteen Royal Crown whiskey bag for a purse. You could tell she was proud of it when she sat at the D.A.’s desk.

Frank was charged with manslaughter – using too much force in self-defense. Johnny Mack was being sliced up in the morgue. Out in the hallway a middle aged African American man dressed in a long black, leather coat and a wide brimmed hat approached me.

“Johnny Mack was the father of one of the girls, and Frank is the father of the other,” he said without being asked any questions. “They used to come get the welfare checks from the mothers on the first of every month, so they could cash and keep them.”

He seemed disgusted.

I was mildly surprised, having heard virtually every hideous story imaginable.

“First one of them to get there got the checks, the other one got nothing,” the man said.

This time they got there at the same time. Bang-bang.

“What about the women, and the girls?” I asked.

He laughed. “The women got what they deserved, if you ask me.” He turned and walked away.

A lot more was going on with that story. A whole lot more.

I’d decided to let him go. There was no proof of what he told me, but I was 100% certain that he’d known and told me the truth. Later, I told the other detective on the case who said he’d talk to the women about it, and let me know if they verified the story. Nothing more was ever said to me.

I was in the hallway outside the D.A.’s office when the women left together, after giving their statements. Their backs were toward me. They were giggling. The one with the Crown Royal purse playfully swatted the other with it.

They continued walking together, down one of the darkest hallways I’d ever seen.

 

 

ROb2This is the 13th 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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