It was a quiet Sunday morning in Manchester. The night before was pretty busy, and I used to say that the reason Sunday mornings were quiet was because everybody was in jail from the night before, or, in the hospital or hungover. Usually, but not always, after the sun would come up in the warm weather, the streets in the inner city neighborhoods were very quiet. They were so quiet that you’d never know a short time ago calls were being received one after another. Calls about fights, thefts, assaults, arguments and unwanted parties. Wagon calls abounded, as people suddenly found themselves under arrest were waiting to be transported to the police station.
I don’t remember much about this particular Saturday overnight, or what I had done. I do know that at some point, maybe around 4 or 430 AM, I found myself assigned to a walking route in one of the rougher neighborhoods in town.
So, I gathered up my things from my locker, including the bank bag I carried in my back pocket. I left the station and took a leisurely stroll to my post, which wasn’t too far from the station. The bank bag was something that we were provided with at the Manchester police academy. It was used by cops who had a walking assignment back in the day. The bag was used to load up and store paperwork you may need during your walking shift. Things like note paper, the daily bulletin, field cards, parking tickets and so on could be neatly placed and organized inside. Once the zipper was closed it fit neatly inside one of your rear uniform pants pockets.
We had walking posts around the clock, probably until the mid 90’s, when bicycle patrols gradually replaced the walkers in Manchester. It got to the point where walking officers, and often we had five or six per shift, were considered an extravagance. This had become a “calls for service” driven organization. By 2014, as I recall, the Manchester Police were responding to around 120,000-130,000 calls for service each year. Having between 2 and 6 cops on any shift walking, didn’t make a dent in those never ending calls. Those walking the beat could be placed in cruisers and used to answer those calls.
At least the bicycle cops were mobile, and although it wasn’t the intent of the original bicycle unit, those guys and gals could be used to answer many types of calls. In fact, the last Manchester Officer killed in the one of duty, Michael Briggs, was part of a bicycle unit working 6PM-230 AM. He and his partner were responding to back up units on a shots fired call, on their bicycles.
I have to say, that during my time in uniform patrol, the time I spent walking was often the best of assignments. Of course, that was when the weather was decent. It wasn’t as much fun when it was raining hard or the temperatures overnight dropped to the single digits.
Sometime in the early 90’s, I volunteered to walk a post on midnights for a four month shift. The post was always a two man assignment due to the level of street crime present during those years. Walking that beat for 4 months was an eye-opener for me, and I learned just how harsh life in the streets could be in a city like Manchester.
It was without a doubt among the best four months I spent while assigned to patrol. My partners and I made multiple arrests most shifts, which often included felony drug arrests. On those nights we didn’t make an arrest, it was often because we made the decision to take it a little easy. I learned about one unintended benefit to making arrests while walking. If we made say, two arrests on a shift, that meant that at least 2-3 hours, if not more would be spent inside processing our prisoner and writing reports, and that helped to keep us warm (or cool) and dry. This helped midnight shifts pass a lot faster for us, especially if it was quiet. One night, my partner and I played a key role in solving a murder, although we didn’t know it at the time. Maybe a future story!
I find it ironic that today, in 2019, the businesses and people who live in and around the downtown areas are clamoring for more foot patrols. Right now, we actually have resorted to that tactic on certain days at certain times.
So, getting back to this particular morning, I was taking a slow tour of my beat. I really had nowhere special to go. There wasn’t much going on. Jo’s, not the bar’s real name, was one of the legendary local stab and jab joints in town. It closed at 1:30 AM. The diehard homeless alcoholics, who had no place to go, would stumble out at closing time. They would empty out into and across the street. There they would climb into several of the abandoned cars which had been left rusting in a vacant lot. When I think back on it, it was amazing to watch as these drunks weaved their way in and out of traffic on Lake Av which had turned into a speedway of sorts at bar break. It was miraculous more weren’t mowed down by various other drunks leaving other bars, driving their cars while shitfaced. That would be a good charge. I can hear it now. “You are charged with violation of RSA 265: whatever, TO WIT: Operating a motor vehicle on a public way while shitfaced”(at bar break).
Anyway, sometime around 530-545 in the morning, if you happened to be walking by that lot, you could hear a symphony of coughing and hacking. If you looked, you could see what appeared to be several ghostly apparitions arising from within the vacated automobiles.
Eventually each figure stretched, cursed and shook off the morning dew and hangover from left over from few hours before. These hearty souls then slowly made their way across the street and lined up outside of Jo’s awaiting it’s 6:00 AM opening. They were also waiting for 75 cent draft beers to start their day. I decided I would eventually head to Jo’s, after it opened, stop in, talk up some of the characters I found inside. Some of these patrons enjoyed talking and joking with me, others did not and let me know it. In particular, the owner of Jo’s hated when I darkened her doorway. Once, she actually lodged a formal complaint against me. Her doing so only served to motivate me to visit the bar more often. After all, I had to insure that all state liquor requirements were being followed by her and her staff.
These visits, especially my nocturnal business checks before Jo’s closed, often ended with me arresting a varied assortment of nefarious customers who had multiple arrest warrants in effect. These warrants would range from failing to appear for traffic violations to armed robbery or felony assaults. The owner did not appreciate my vigilant police work, especially if it involved removing paying customers before last call. In fact, when I was walking on midnights, Jo’s was usually the first place my partner and I stopped into, after having our coffee, of course. Priorities are important!
I did have to make sure her liquor license was displayed properly, and that she wasn’t “over-serving” her customers, which was in itself a joke. That responsibility was clearly outlined in our SOP, in the chapter titled LAW ENFORCEMENT ROLE. That was pretty much how I answered her complaint to MPD, which, to their credit closed the complaint as unfounded. In all fairness, we didn’t just single out Jo’s for our “special attention.” My partners and I regularly visited all the local gin mills on or near our route.
However, Jo’s was a legendary bar among cops around the state. I do believe that if a 4-12 Officer stood outside Jo’s and ran warrant checks on everyone coming and going, that cop would make enough warrant arrests in a single shift to keep the bosses happy for weeks. Cops often compared Jo’s to the bar in which Obi-Wan Kenobi first found and hired Han Solo. Who knows? I may do more stories about Jo’s.
So on this early morning I decided to head to Cumberland Farms, on the edge of my route. It was open 24 hrs. and I could grab a cup coffee. I could stretch that visit out for a while in order to kill some time. At least no one would rob Cumbies while I was in the store, therefore I considered these visits a legitimate part of patrolling my route.
That sounded like a good plan, really the only plan at that hour. However, before I did that I decided, on a whim, to take a stroll through my route. I decided to check a couple of blocks that contained several problem locations. These buildings consisted of everything from drug houses, abandoned tenements where drunks, homeless and drug addicts flocked to for any number of odious purposes. I thought I’d walk by, see who, or what happened to be left over from the night before.
I turned down Merrimack St. I stopped, and surveyed the block. About three quarters down the block, on the sidewalk I spotted something, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. However, it looked like it didn’t belong there. At first, I thought it was someone standing just there. Instead of heading to Cumberland Farms for my coffee, I decided to investigate further. This object caught my attention because there wasn’t a soul out walking around, and it appeared to be just standing. I sauntered down the block. As I got closer, I could see it wasn’t a person. It was too short, too skinny, but I still couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. As I closed in on this oddity, I suddenly recognized what it was that caught my attention.
Standing ramrod straight, on the sidewalk, near the curb, outside a shabby apartment building was a leg. Well, to be accurate, it was an artificial leg. At first I thought perhaps it was from a display window mannequin, but as I got close enough to examine it, I found it to be an artificial leg. It was a prosthetic leg, to be exact. I think it may have had a shoe of some kind on it’s foot, which allowed it to stand by itself. It had to have been carefully placed there by someone.
The top of the leg contained a kind of bowl shaped orifice into which it’s owner could place the remains of his / her stump. Then it could be kind of secured by straps. Being a professional observer (after all, I read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories) I judged from the shoe, it was likely someones right leg. Sherlock Holmes would have approved of this deduction, I am sure.
Well, you don’t usually stumble across prosthetic legs standing upright by themselves on a city sidewalk everyday. I figured the leg had some value, not only to the person who depended on it to get around, but it must have been worth some money as well.
I stood around and pondered my find. I wondered to myself ‘what’s the story here? How is it that this leg is standing around by itself at 530 AM this Sunday morning. How did it get here ? Where is the owner? What happened to the owner? Was the owner of this limb scouring the area nearby looking for it? Not likely I thought. Not without his / her right leg. The owner might have missed it but…’
All kinds of scenarios ran through my mind. Certainly someone couldn’t have thrown it out a nearby window or it wouldn’t be standing upright here. There is no trash collection on Sunday. No, someone had to carefully place the leg here, leaving it in plain sight. Maybe someone with a twisted sense of humor thought leaving it was funny. Perhaps it was meant as some kind of a statement. Could it have been stolen perchance? However, being that it was a prosthetic, I knew it had to be missed by someone.
By this time, some in the neighborhood, a few early church goers perhaps, were starting to stir. I finally gave up on trying to figure out what this story was. Whatever it was, I am sure it was bizarre and I’d never find out. Also, I was starting to get tired. It had been a long night. Anyone who has worked midnights in any profession knows how those mornings feel after the sun comes up.
I called for a case number for a found property report. I also didn’t feel like throwing the leg over my shoulder and carrying it back to the station. I called for a ride into the station. After a few minutes a midnight shift cruiser pulled up to me. As he did, the cop kind of shot a disinterested look towards me and my new possession. The driver had his brief case and paperwork on the front seat, which was often the universal office of the street cop riding alone. So, I just shoved my newly acquired leg into the back seat ahead of me, then slid in beside it.
The cop looked at me in the rearview mirror, and finally remarked in a nonchalant way, “That’s what you get”. One would think he’d seen many artificial legs hanging around during his career. I only nodded in agreement, knowing exactly what he meant. He then dropped me off at the station, I thanked him for the lift, and he went on his way. As for me, I walked into the station, carrying my third leg over my shoulder, past several cops, onto the elevator with a couple of days guys who came in early to work out. I tried hard not to smile or smirk during that elevator ride. From there, I headed over to the officers typing area. I carefully stood it up next to a vacant typewriter, selected the appropriate form, and started to peck away.
Dayshift personnel were starting to arrive, and none could pass by without making some kind of a wisecrack, usually at my expense. No-one excels more at shitting on each other than cops. It rises to an art form in police work.
After having to endure a torrent of not so pithy comments, when I finally completed filling out the various forms which this find mandated. I checked to see if anyone had reported a missing or stolen artificial leg overnight, or sometime recently. Finding none, I tagged it and took it to the property room.
I took care of the paperwork and all that went along with finding and logging property in. I remembered the only thing the cop who drove me in had said. “That’s what you get.” I’d been around long enough to know exactly what this veteran copper meant. It wasn’t a compliment, wasn’t exactly a criticism, just an opinion from a cop who had probably seen it all. He wasn’t overly impressed by my find. What he really meant was, that’s what I get for turning down the street to investigate, instead of heading directly for that cup of coffee.
As for me, I don’t know whatever happened to that leg, or how it got there. Never did get my morning cup of coffee. The work week went on, and I soon forgot about my unusual discovery. Like the man once said, there are a million stories in the Naked City. Well, maybe a thousand in Manchester. Another day went into the books. However, the leg wasn’t the only weird thing I ever came across during my nights on the beat.