The Foul Odor Call

One of the calls that I was sent to when I worked patrol that stands out in my memory was a call for a foul odor. It was a winter dayshift, the week following Thanksgiving. Rob M. was sent to the call with me. 

Rob was a great guy and great cop. He was already on the job when I arrived, and he retired a few years before I did. But, as far as the job went, he was always a complete gentleman in every sense of the word when he dealt with unreasonable people on the job. I never, ever saw him lose his temper any time I worked with him. During my time in patrol, I worked on and off with Rob and later our paths crossed again when we worked in detectives. 

Calls for foul odors or bad smells are not uncommon, but it wasn’t like you got them every week, thankfully. In many cases, once you were sent to one you always had a feeling it was going to have a bad ending and in any case I always headed to those calls with an ominous feeling, and a tin of VicksVapoRub 

On this day, we were sent to a building on the West side of Manchester which was a typical (for Manchester) three story six family tenement. These buildings, once you entered the common area,  often smelled of various types of food cooking from the apartments within. In the bad buildings they often smelled of garbage that may have been strewn around, sometimes worse. 

We got to this building late morning, and the trash cans were lined up neatly in the side alley and when we entered the building it wasn’t too bad. There were two apartments on each side with a main stair case that goes up between them. 

When Rob and I entered the front door, the inside was clean.  We stopped and sniffed the air. Sure enough, there was a faint smell in the air, similar to rotting garbage, and we both gave each other that knowing look as though to confirm what we both feared. 

Problem was, the odor, although noticeable, was slight, so we really couldn’t tell where it was originating from, but we had to investigate further to locate the source. 

The first apartment door we knocked on was I East. Eventually, an elderly guy came to the door. He wasn’t very friendly or co-operative.  He was dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt and boxer shorts. We explained to him about the call we got, and asked if everyone was OK in his apartment. He stated he didn’t know anything about a foul odor, and closed the door on us. 

We went to each apartment. No one else answered the door for us. We walked down to the first floor to decide the next step. Eventually, we decided to try to talk to the old timer who answered the door, see if we could get into his apartment. 

We knocked for a few minutes, eventually he answered the door again, and he was pretty surly. We chatted him up again, except this time I put my foot in the door so he couldn’t close it on us. Sure enough, as we talked to him, we both felt that the odor we could smell was probably emanating from his apartment. 

The old timer did not want to let us in.  He told us he lived alone, but at this point I think Rob and I were starting to fear the worst. So, finally we decided we had enough information to believe something was wrong in the apartment. This call had turned into a “check condition” or welfare check on the old timer, hence justifying entering his apartment without his permission. 

When we went in, I found the apartment was really, really hot, the temp was around 90. It was cold out, but the heat inside was very, very oppressive. That’s the reason the guy was dressed in his underwear. The apartment wasn’t too dirty, it was sparsely furnished, but for sure, this guy appeared to live a lonely and not very cheerful existence, which is, unfortunately not uncommon for many elderly citizens. 

One thing for sure, we felt the odor was definitely strong inside this apartment. So, over his objection, I started to look around. 

By this time, I was pretty convinced that someone, possibly his wife, if he had one, had died and was laying and decomposing in one of the rooms.

The sweat was rolling down my face by this time, and the smell was starting to make me a bit nauseous. I came to a room with the door closed. The odor was really strong, here, so I opened the door, and went in, absolutely expecting the worse. 

Immediately, when I walked into the room, I almost threw up. The smell was so bad, the temperature so high, it was a real act of police poise not to have lost it and vomited on the spot. 

I looked around, and found with the exception of a kitchen chair in the middle of the room, the room was empty. However, there was one thing. Sitting on the chair was a large pot. Inside the pot I found a rotting, Butterball turkey, that apparently was once frozen. The wrapper and the Turkey had blown up, the gas and odor was one of the worst smells I have ever had to endure. 

Well, I immediately removed the pot and its contents, and ran, and I mean I ran, out the door, into the alley and placed it into a trashcan that had a lid. God help the next person who came along after me and removed the cover. 

Back inside, we opened the windows and tried to air out the apartment for the guy. He was still not happy that we were there. However, our on scene investigation, revealed a few things about this gentleman-

-The night before Thanksgiving, he took the frozen turkey, placed it in a pot of warm water in order to thaw it out, placed the pot in the room and closed the door. His plan was to cook it on Thanksgiving Day.

-He then promptly forgot about it. Furthermore, he had long ago lost his sense of smell, so as bad as it was, he never noticed it, never went back inside the room after closing the door. Until we did. 

-He told us he was always cold, and that is why he kept the heat so high within the apartment. Apparently he was also suffering from some degree of Dementia. 

-After looking around taking notes, checking his food supply and so forth, I came to the conclusion that he was getting to a point in his life where he wasn’t able to care for himself, and was probably self neglecting. We were not able to locate or call any relatives that I can remember, so, we did a report and forwarded it to Adult Protective Services for them to follow up on. 

Finally, it was time to get the hell out. Sadly, there wasn’t  much more we could do for the guy, and I hated to leave him alone, but he insisted he wanted us to leave and declined any further assistance. I will say this, I was almost gleeful when i escaped that apartment and that building and started breathing the first fresh air since our arrival the previous hour. 

As I was leaving, the guy started yelling at me demanding I return the pan I threw in the trash. He said there was nothing wrong with the pan, and after a minute or two, trying to reason with him, it was time to go. 

I got into my cruiser, and as I turned the corner into the alley, I could smell the turkey in the alley as I drove away. 

After getting as far away from this building as possible, I cleared the call as Solved at Scene, report to follow and referral to APS. The foul oder call really turned out to be a fowl odor.

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