The Christmas Day Call

I’m not going to go into precise details about the Christmas Day call, mostly because the investigation there is still active and ongoing.

I will say this: I was called to the scene of a multiple homicide to function as the representative of the county medical examiner’s office. What I observed there, besides the bodies, contained a high level of disturbing — an extremely high level. And also a potential link to John Q’s House of WTF.

Every clock in the house was halted at 4:04 — every clock, not just the mechanical ones. The digital channel readout on the cable box: 404. The watch belonging to one of the victims. The time readout on the laptop computer that had been in hibernation mode. The homicide detective on-scene noticed it, too, and remarked on it to me as we were directing the forensic photography, which is pretty much how I know I wasn’t having some advanced four-related psychotic break from reality or suffering from observation bias. And she was also unsettled by it because, seriously, digital clocks don’t work that way.

Both of the victims died of injuries similar to those of the Does at John Q’s house — a combination of blunt force trauma and blunt-object stab wounds. There had been no signs of struggle in the apartment where they’d been found, neither displayed signs of defensive injury. One (female) was found in the bedroom, likely asleep at the time of death; the other (male) in the living room, next to the hibernating computer. No defensive injuries — but the male victim had a four parallel scratches diagonally across the anterior skin on both arms, deep enough to draw blood and cause bruising, not deep enough to damage the veins or muscles, and which appeared to have been self-inflicted. The traces of skin and blood I found under his fingernails were his own.

When I spoke to the detective about my findings, she let slip that there had also been no signs of forced entry and no indications that theft had been a motive. Christmas presents were still under the tree, none of the big-ticket consumer electronics items were taken, money left out on the bedroom furniture was untouched. She came by the office to pick up my report and we ended up talking quite a bit, examining both the autopsy and crime scene photos, discussing particular bits that didn’t make a damn bit of sense. The victims had obviously emptied out their stuff on the bedside bureau when they’d gotten ready to turn in — one of the items was a pocket-sized notebook open to a page marked with four heavy diagonal slashes in a thick, rough circle. The detective wondered if there was any connection with the self-inflicted wounds on the male victim and I demurred, not wanting to bring up any half-baked theories about strange houses and murders committed in October that I wasn’t actually supposed to know anything about. Or at least not yet.

Then, two days later, McDreamy came down to talk to me about the same case. He’d been receiving visitors related thereto — friends and co-workers of the deceased. They’d both been well-like and well-respected in their particular fields of expertise — she was an EMT and he was a nurse-anesthesiologist — and a lot of shaken and disturbed people were coming to him with questions and concerns. One of those concerns was that both of them had been behaving oddly in the last few weeks — “paranoid” was the term that McDreamy said more than one person used and “isolated/not wanting to go out and do anything.” When he pressed for details, at least one of their mutual friends told him they had taken to sleeping in shifts and either staying at work until the other could arrive or else hanging out in more heavily populated staff areas at all times. Another told him that the female victim had been complaining of “unwanted phone calls” and while nobody actually used the term “stalker,” at least a few had the impression that both halves of the couple believed they were being followed. McDreamy was worried there might have been a drug issue involved, a worry I couldn’t assuage at that point, because the toxicology screens had not yet come back. (They ultimately came back clean of both prescribed and recreational drugs.) I made the determination of homicide and Dr. Weller signed off on it at the end of that week.

When I went home that night, I wrote another note to my semi-anonymous “correspondent,” outlining the situation and asking if it was possible that the female victim was an EMT on the ambulance that had responded to the call to John Q’s house. I received my response the Tuesday after New Year.

It was Yes.


~ by Dr. Nate Harada on January 8, 2012.

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