I was fairly new on the job during the summer of 1991. I was 36 years old, and had kicked around in life before coming onto the job. I wasn’t exactly young and impressionable, but still, I had a lot to learn about both life and police work. I had attended and completed two Police Academies, and completed my Field Training (FTO) period, but I was still a probationary patrol officer that summer. I was working a sector car by my lonesome, and one evening I was sent to a “check condition” call of a person who was suicidal. Pretty common call in police work.
The cop that was sent with me was an old timer who had several years on the job. He was definitely a salty veteran. When I came on the job, the culture of MPD, for the most part was, if you had no or little time on the job, you kept your eyes open and your mouth shut. Not everyone subscribed to this theory, and it was more a generational thing that the older cops subscribed to, not so much the younger cops. That unwritten rule slowly went away as the cops that had come on the job in the 60’’s and 70’s also went away, into retirement or on to other careers.
The cop that was sent with me was one of those old timers named Charlie. He worked the same shift as I did, 6PM to 230 AM. The man would never talk to me. I’d ride up the elevator with him to roll call and I’d say “HI” and he’d either ignore me or tell me where to go. I got it, and accepted it. I will add that once I had some time on the job, I never treated a rookie or young officer this way.
Once, he was working a traffic detail and I stopped and offered to get him a coffee or cold drink and he started cursing in colorful language, telling me to get away. Such was the culture of police work where I worked in 1991. So to hell with him, I thought, and I never talked to him again, unless there was a work related necessity.
So, Charlie backs me up on this call. Of course, upon arrival he refused to talk to me, same as always, and we find the suicidal subject. She was seated in a sofa chair in her living room, was very distraught and we tried to talk with her. We attempted to establish a rapport with her, then tried to convince her to go to the hospital voluntarily. We were able to learn that she took a large amount of her prescription meds, so this was a serious suicide attempt. If we didn’t get to a hospital, she surely would have died.
While we are trying to talk with her, (at the time, since she was awake, the law prevented us from forcing her to get medical care, as amazing as that sounds) Charlie, the crusty old timer who refuses to talk with younger police officers, is on his knees, at her chair trying to convince her that she has much to live for, she is loved because someone cared enough to call for her and so on. Initially, I was shocked to see this display of compassion Charlie showed for this young woman he had never met before. I learned a lot about Charlie that day. He actually demonstrated what compassion meant for a police officer, and because of that, I never looked at him the same again.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we prevailed, the young lady reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital, so we transported her to a hospital in Manchester. Again, back in the day, we could transport in our cruisers, if we decided it was prudent. So, finally after a lot of persuasion, she agrees to go to the hospital with us. We drive her, go in with her and talk to the ER personnel. She is admitted, and we go on our way.
Back in those years, if someone OD’d on meds, the medical treatment was to give the patient Liquid Charcoal. The patient could either voluntarily drink it, or have it force fed to her in a tube against her will, followed by a stomach pumping. I saw the procedure numerous times after that night, and it certainly wasn’t pleasant. Aside of that, when I left the hospital, I was very proud and happy that I was able to help this woman get the help she needed, and possibly saved her life. It’s all about helping people, right? I knew I had chosen the right profession.
I went about my business and at one point I had a lull during the shift. When it slowed down, I went back to the ER to check on her. The staff said she was doing better, and said I could go back to see her. I wanted to say HI and tell her I was worried about her and happy she decided to go to the hospital. I was glad she was feeling better.
She gave me a very cold stare, then after I spoke to her for a few minutes, she told me life is too painful for her to continue. She said all she wanted to do was go to sleep peacefully, never have to wake up and not have to feel the pain anymore. She asked me why I didn’t let her do that. She then made the following statement to me, which I have never forgotten: “I hate you for what you did to me. Get away from me.” I was stunned, to say the least. I was speechless. I certainly had no answer for her. She clearly wanted nothing to do with me, and I believed at the time she truly hated us for what we had done. I awkwardly backed away from her, turned away went back to my cruiser. It certainly was an eye opener for me, at least as far as dealing with what used to be called, MDPs or Mentally Disturbed Persons. I was shocked at her behavior, but in the months to come, I would be shocked even more when I regularly saw the capacity humans had for harming themselves or others.
I sat for a bit, and after a few minutes I informed communications I was back in service. I was immediately sent to my next call. The rhythm of the job continued on that night. During the weeks that followed I answered all types of calls and the seemingly never ending steady cadence of the job continued. There were other problems and crisis’ to solve. I found out early, that instead of spending most of my time chasing bad guys around the streets, I spent more time dealing with people in crisis and trying to solve problems that often were unsolvable for a police patrol officer. Things that were never in the brochure.
Still though, until this day, that call and her comments to me remain seared in my memory. That call was kind of a milestone in my new job. So began my new education in police work.
I think that the role of Drill Sergeants, in the Army anyway, is misunderstood by most civilians and often soldiers themselves. Just to clarify, Army Drill Sergeants are not called Drill Instructors, or DIs, at least not officially. Army basic training is not called bootcamp. It is called IET (Initial Entry Training) and is broken down into three types. They are, BCT (Basic Combat Training) AIT (Advanced Individual Training for whatever job skill they will have) and OSUT (One Stop Unit Training) where the soldiers stay at the same unit, with the same drill sergeants and go through both their BCT and AIT is combined together into one longer cycle.
The role of the Drill Sergeant is similar in each. But there are some subtle yet significant differences in each environment. I won’t go into those differences here. But I will make a disclaimer, and that is that the information I will provide is from my own experience having served as a Drill both in a BCT environment and later as a Drill Sergeant at an Army Drill Sergeant School. That would cover the late 80’s up to the mid 90’s. I transferred into the Inactive Ready Reserve in 2011, so I am sure there are many changes that have occurred since.
A few statistics. In 1988, the Army claimed that only the top 5% of the NCO Corps ever got to become Drill Sergeants or serve as Drill Sergeants. The Army always claimed that those soldiers who wear a Drill Sergeant Badge were unique among Army NCOs and as a result, highly trained leaders. I’m sure many who never served or were selected for Drill Sergeant duty would argue that. However, that was how the ARMY felt about it.
Back in those days, the Army gave you promotion points for having served as Drill Sergeant. The promotion points ended during the mid 90’s for Drill Sergeants. During the time I was a Drill, the Army had to select and force 70% of its Drill Sergeants to attend school and complete a tour as a Drill. When it came to female Drills, that number was 95%. That was because Drill Sergeant duty was never considered desirable. Becoming a Drill Sergeant was not a career path in the Army, but a stop during an Army NCO’s career. Once a tour as a Drill Sergeant was complete, he or she went back to their MOS (military occupational specialty) within which they usually, but not always remained for the rest of their career.
The unwilling Sergeant who was selected for drill sergeant duty, if he wished to remain in the Army, had to suck it up, attend and complete Drill Sergeant School satisfactorily, and finish his tour as a Drill without any significant disciplinary incidents. If he or she failed to do so, it was effectively a career ender. So, once selected, they packed their bags, went to school, and upon graduation, move himself and his family to whatever post within the Army where he or she was sent.
A word about Drill Sergeant School (DSS). This was a school for E-5 through E-7, and the instructors were Drill Sergeant Leaders (DSL) that had completed their tour at the IET level, and then were selected to teach at the school. It was a total control environment, in which the students were treated like privates. Called Drill Sergeant Candidates, they had repeated pretty much each subject they had when in basic training. The difference was that after being re-taught each subject by the DSL, the students then had to teach that subject flawlessly to complete that module and go on to the next. There are dozens of written and performance tests, and you could only fail a certain amount of these tests, and if you did, you got one chance to re-test. If you failed that, you were out.
Unlike the Basic Trainee, along with all of this, you were expected to keep your boots highly shined and uniform perfectly pressed at all times. You also pulled extra duty at the school appropriate for your rank. You stood inspections, and had better passed them. Graduating Drill Sergeant School was certainly one of the highlights of my military career.
Some time around 1989 and 1990, I worked at Ft. Dix, NJ as a DS. Dix was still an Army IET Post conducting BCT and AIT for soldiers who were mostly in support MOSs. By 1990, Dix had been downgraded by the Army, and no longer an Army Training Center. New soldiers would only be sent to Forts Jackson, Benning, Sill or Leonard Wood for BCT. Ft. Dix function as an Army Training Center would be almost eliminated, and remain open as a training area for reserve units. It turned out I was assigned, for a time, as a Drill to the last Basic Training cycle that ever went through there, and we cased those unit colors and they were sent to the other bases.
It was probably 1990 when I was working at Ft. Dix, and I had a platoon which was in their first week of Basic Training. It was their first week in the Army, trying to adjust to the new world that they chose to enter. My platoon was made up of new soldiers from the National Guard, Army Reserve and the Regular Army. Many people don’t know this, but if you join one of those components, you are placed on active duty and sent to an Army training center for your IET. The training is the same for all three components. Once successfully completed, those soldiers are sent back to the unit they will then serve in. At that point the gaining unit receives a disciplined, physically fit soldier who has started to make the difficult transition to Army life.
Drill Sergeants, I truly believe, have one of the toughest jobs in the Army. The days are long, and you must be in top form at all times. When you are near troops and wearing the campaign or DS hat, you can’t lean against a wall, you can’t slouch, talk trash, curse, drink anything other than water or coffee, eat candy or snacks, chew gum or smoke. The troops are not allowed these luxuries, therefore neither are you. You are also 100% responsible for their safety and overall wellbeing.
You do have to be ready to jump on and forcefully correct the smallest breach of uniform, safety, training or any other regulations. You must lead these trainees through physical training and do every task you teach them better than they can. You must be more physically fit than every soldier in your platoon and company. You must appear fearless and omnipotent, an expert in all things military.
From the minute you step onto the company street, at 0430 or whenever, until the time you put them to bed, it’s game on. And when you do get to bed after prepping for the next day, you might get three, at most four hours sleep. And after a week or so, it’s easy to get burned out, make mistakes or just not be at the top of your form. You must, at all times, provide an environment where soldiers learn to react to orders and instructions immediately and without hesitation.
It’s not unusual during your time as a DS to encounter some unusual situations, and you have to be prepared to deal with these situations as they pop up. You have to think on your feet, act immediately, and you’d better be right. Many situations are covered by Army Regulations, and Unit Standard Operating Procedures, all of which you have to be intimately familiar with. Many other situations require imagination and the old “adapt and overcome” type of philosophy. Like being a cop, it’s very easy for a DS to get into serious trouble by actions he or she may take, or, perhaps even more often, actions he or she failed to take.
Going back to 1990, it was about the fourth day my platoon had been in the Army and it’s training had begun. I was the “early man” that day, meaning I would be the DS to wake them up for another wonderful day in the US Army. I got up at around 0330 (yes, kiddies, thats AM) dressed, and got ready for the first part of my day. It was only training day 4, and I was already exhausted. I was hungry and knew it would be several hours before I would be able to have breakfast. I decided I had time to drive into Wrightstown to a 7-Eleven which was open all nite. After checking my appearance in the six foot mirror provided by the Army for just that purpose, I yawned a few times, then finally determined I was ready to show myself in public.
I decided to get a snack, which ended up being composed of a lousy cup of hot convenience store coffee (who knows how long it sat there) and a Drake’s Ring Ding to help jump start me. The bleary eyed clerk mumbled his thanks to the bleary eyed Drill Sergeant, as he put both items into a paper bag. This turned out to be fortuitous. I drove back to the company area. It was about 0415, and all was quiet. First call this day was at 0430, so while the minutes silently ticked away and it started to get light, I sipped my nasty coffee and swallowed my ring-ding as I sat in my car.
I then walked to the entrance of the barracks, where, with the exception of the fire guard who was already awake, the trainees were fast asleep. I slipped into my Drill Sergeant beast mode, and I noisily thrust the door open. Simultaneously, I screamed “GET UP” picking up the metal trash can (which was supposed to be emptied the night before but was not) and threw it as hard and as far as I could down the middle of the aisle. This startled the youngsters from their deep sleep and sweet dreams. After throwing the trash can I raced down the bay and admonished the platoon that they were moving so slow that if it had been an actual ambush, most of them would be dead.
After everyone was “toeing the (yellow) line” at attention on each side of the aisle, I ran up and down, acting like I was enraged at their performance. Which I might add was pretty bleak. But that was to be expected at this point. Finally, I quieted down and ordered the troops to carry on, make their bunks and get dressed for Physical Training. PT was a necessity that would turn into another hour long torture session for all but the best conditioned privates.
Eventually, my brother, who was also a Drill Sergeant showed up to begin his duty day. He had a different platoon in the company, which was in the same building, but he stopped by to visit and say HI. He immediately went to work on my platoon, which was acceptable protocol. The unwritten rule was that his interference with my platoon acceptable as long as he was in the same company as my platoon. I had 1st Platoon and he had 3rd.
Frank happened to be in a bit of a foul mood because he was running late (as per usual) and got stopped driving to the company area by the MPs for speeding. The post speed limit was 20 MPH, a speed which he protested at the time as being impossible for a normal person to adhere for more then a few minutes. He was doing a little over 30 MPH and sure enough, the MPs stopped him and an unpleasant exchange with those MPs followed. The MPs weren’t impressed by Frank’s DS hat (since Ft. Dix was loaded with DSs) we were nothing special. Nor were they impressed by his claim that he was late for first call .
So now all this (mostly) silent activity was going on, I patrolled the bay back and forth, occasionally stopping to question or comment to individual soldiers about whatever. Usually it was to say something encouraging, like telling them I couldn’t believe how screwed up they were and there was no way I was going to let any of them serve in my Army.
Now I had a private, I’ll call him Private Tom (not his real name) who displayed an unusual behavioral trait which began the first time he laid eyes on me. You see Private Tom, anytime I looked in his direction, approached him or spoke to him, would begin to hyperventilate. It always caused quite a stir, and he would eventually fall onto the floor panting, trying and failing to catch his breath. Before that day, each time he had an attack, he was sent to sick call, where he was examined, promptly returned to the platoon, the doctor declaring he was fully fit for duty. Tom only acted like this when I was around. He did not act like this when any of the other Drill Sergeants were around. Only near me.
As I walked over to Tom to give him some of my special encouragement, before I had a chance to chat with him, he started to hyperventilate. He created quite the scene, and it was starting to wear thin with the other privates, who at that point had no sympathy for anyone other than themselves. It was also starting to annoy me as well.
But, I had to take action! I had always heard that breathing into a paper bag would restore normal breathing for a person who was hyperventilating. I suddenly remembered I had the paper bag from my morning snack out in my car. I sent for it and gave it to Tom. I had him breathe into it, while I placed it and held it over his mouth and nose. Eventually, his breathing returned to normal, and after I was sure he was OK, I had a little conversation with him. At that point I figured this guy would have to keep a paper bag with him at all times, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to carry one for him.
While sitting on a bunk, I ordered him to pay close attention to me. I then folded the bag in a certain precise manner. I then asked him to demonstrate to me that he knew the correct way to fold it, and he did so to my satisfaction. I instructed him to have the bag with him at all times, and that he would carry the folded bag in a certain pocket. I told him that this bag would, going forward, be known as the M-294 anti-hyperventilation device. I told him that he must make it available for inspection, if requested by any of the Drill Sergeants or his platoon and squad leaders. I called both over, and instructed them to insure that Private Tom had his M-294 Anti Hyper ventilation device with him at all times, folded properly.
After I was satisfied he understood my instructions, I sent him on sick call again. He was of course sent back to the platoon again. But I started a chain of paperwork, in which I tried to convince the Company and Battalion Commanders he should be discharged from the Army due to his inability to adapt to military life.
Tom was with us for another week or so, but this behavior continued. I thought perhaps it would cease after he got used to the routine, and used to me, but he never did. The bag I made him carry was actually used again, and various Drill Sergeants within the company did stop him at random times and make him present the brown bag for inspection. He did get discharged a short time later, due to his inability to overcome this issue. He was a good kid, but he didn’t belong in the Army. He was certainly holding the platoon back because of his behavior. Can you imagine what could have happened when he was faced with a really stressful situation? I don’t even have to think about combat, where he could get himself or his buddies killed.
Sadly, Private Tom had to go. I don’t know whatever became of him after he was discharged from the Army, but I wished him the best when I left him to the hold over platoon, from where he would out process from the Army and head home. I sincerely meant it. None of us ever heard from him again.
By the way, even though the M-294 Anti-Hyperventilation device turned out to be an excellent field expedient method to deal with hyperventilation, don’t bother to Google it or check Army acquisition records for that device. It doesn’t exist. But, I guess you already knew that.
I don’t recall where I first heard the expression “murder police”. I may have read it somewhere in the past, but it kinda stuck with me. Eventually it came to the point in my career when I started to refer to the detectives who got called out at all hours of the day and night to investigate homicides, assaults where the victim may die, and suicides that may have a suspicious component as the Murder Police. These suspicious circumstances may have been noted or observed by the patrol officer who was sent to the scene (Lord knows we all went to so many of them) or possibly by the Assistant Medical Examiner who also responded to the scene. Additionally, fatal drug overdoses may fall into the suspicious category depending on the circumstances of the death.
The theory behind these responses is that, in police work, you only get one chance to process a hopefully undisturbed / uncontaminated homicide scene. If by some chance you or your supervisor make a mistake and DO NOT seal off a possible crime scene at the time the victim is found, it will be too late to do so if later the victim dies, and you hadn’t preserved it. The chance to gather information and evidence from that scene would be lost forever.
As far as suicides go, most suicides turn out to be exactly what they appear. But you still have to process the scene of the suicide for two reasons: 1) It helps the Medical Examiner to determine cause and manner of death, and 2), in someways just as important, it helps the family learn without a doubt how their loved one met their death. Heaven forbid, sometime later, perhaps years, a person comes forward with credible information that a death that had perviously been determined a suicide involved some foul play. As long as we processed the scene when the victim was first found and collected evidence, we will always have the ability to go back and re-examine the original investigation. One thing that I have found over the years is that sometimes family members refuse to accept that the sudden death of a loved one is suicide, no matter what tale is told at the scene.
I spent my police career split between patrol and detectives. Over the years, like most cops, I got more than my bellyful of responding to sudden or violent death scenes. Often, in cases of sudden death, family members and other loved ones are present. I decided when I established this website I wouldn’t get too dark or too graphic about the things I’ve seen, either on the job or in the military. However, I do reserve the right to change my mind, but for now, I’ll talk about some of this stuff that may be interesting without getting overly graphic about it.
My time as a Manchester Police Detective may not qualify me as a homicide expert, but certainly over the years I have been involved in many homicide investigations, so I have gathered some extensive experience. The last several years of my career I was one of a group of detectives who got called out on a 24 hour basis to death / murder scenes. When that happened, when I arrived for duty, I was given information and assignments regarding that case.
Manchester PD always had an “A Team” so to speak, of investigators and supervisors who were called in to process potential and actual homicide scenes, and to work the case. I was not one of the folks who processed homicide scenes. Beyond crime scene, detectives would identify, locate and interview potential witnesses, family members, go house to house casing the neighborhood, and when it was time, find and apprehend the suspect. Another assignment would be to investigate and create the victimology of the victim. Attending the autopsy of the victim was another necessary task.
I was trained extensively in most aspects of crime scene collection, including photography, locating and lifting latent finger prints, DNA and NH and US Supreme Court rulings regarding the admissibility of any evidence developed during a criminal case. Earlier in my investigative career, my partner and I would process our own crime scenes for serious assaults to include sexual assaults, sudden or untimely deaths, suicides and later in my career, electronic devices. But I never processed murder scenes, and that was fine with me.
All this being said, I guess I’ll get into today’s story. I’ve been asked over the years about my most satisfying moments working as a cop. If you’ve read many of my stories about police work previously, I may have given the impression that there are not very many such moments. Certainly, they can be few and far between, but it does happen. I’ve been blessed with many such moments. It may be surprising to most folks, some of my most satisfying moments didn’t come during murder investigations. Certainly having been on the team that investigated and helped convict the murderer of Officer Mike Briggs, and the shooter of Officer Dan Doherty were certainly the most satisfying points of my career. Many other satisfying moments came during lesser criminal investigations. Sometimes I was even able to help people out with day to day problems. Many are not dramatic or very noteworthy. Perhaps they would only be noteworthy to the person or persons I tried to help. But today, I’ll tell you about a murder case where I played a small role, but that role eventually led to identification and the conviction of the murderer in a case which frustrated many of us who worked on the case for several months.
This murder happened right after Christmas a few years ago. In fact, it may have been the night after Christmas. The shortened story is that the victim was at a local nightclub, and near closing time, he got into a beef with a few other guys at the club. He left, with a friend, they got into a car and headed home. It started to snow , and by the time we had detectives at the murder scene (which was outside in the street) we had a pretty good blizzard blowing and dumping snow and covering the scene.
The guys who were beefing with our victim got into a car and gave chase while it was snowing. While following the victim’s car, one of the occupants of the chase car leaned out the window and fired a pistol at the victim. In what I can only describe as a once in a lifetime improbable shot, the bullet went through the back window of the victim’s car, striking the victim in the back of the head, killing him, most likely instantly.
I was called in to work that case. At that point in my career, I was handling many of the autopsies for murders and other suspicious deaths for the PD. I was also taking younger and lesser experienced detectives with me, so that eventually they would be able to attend and function at these types of post mortem procedures.
I’d like to say a word here about the Medical Examiner (M.E.) and his / her office. The M.Es are not “partners” with police investigators as is often depicted on various TV dramas these days. Their job, as described to me by the Medical Examiner himself, is solely to determine the cause of death and the manner for death. The cause could be as simple as a bullet to the heart, an overdose or a heart attack. The manner of death could be homicide, suicide, natural, accidental or undetermined.
I’ll talk a little more about the M.E.’s Office in a future story or stories. The M.E. during one of our unsolved homicides I worked told me, when I was pressing him for certain records or to help me attain them in no uncertain terms that his job ended once his office determined the cause and manner of death. It was my job, not his or his office’s job to conduct the actual investigation. At least, thats how things are in NH, but I assume thats true in most Medical Examiner’s Offices throughout the country.
Don’t misunderstand me. One of the functions of an autopsy is to collect evidence from the decedent, analyze it and try to determine how, if at all, evidence collected contributed to the decedents death. That is why a police officer is always present, so as not to break the chain of custody of evidence. That detective would take custody of any items collected, document it, safeguard it and enter it into evidence so it can be of value to that investigation. Also, the evidence must be handled in way so it will be admissible in any criminal or civil trial that may come about.
The other job of the detective who catches the ‘post’ or autopsy is to photograph the victim before, during and after the autopsy. In some cases, you take finger prints from the decedent after the post is complete. A gruesome task to be sure, but sometimes necessary. But those things are topics for another day.
During this autopsy, the M.E. was able to locate the bullet that killed our victim. It was important that I was present when he located it, and was able to take custody of it. The bullet itself was in the victim’s brain and stopped just inside and behind his forehead. During the autopsy, the M.E. was able to form some opinions about that bullet (he is considered an expert and as such he can testify to his opinions later at trial) The M.E used rods to show the path of the bullet, and, combined with other evidence led us to believe the bullet was most likely fired by someone in the pursuing vehicle. We already had information from a witness telling us this was so. But his opinion would bolster that testimony.
The M.E. theorized that when the bullet went through the rear window of the victim’s car, it expended or lost some of its kinetic energy as it passed through. Therefore it didn’t have enough energy to go completely through and exit the front of the victim’s head. This was a fortunate break for our investigation, although certainly not for the victim. Otherwise the bullet, if it exited the victim’s forehead could have continued through the windshield and may never have been found. And, if it was found, it may have been damaged enough so as to be useless as evidence. This fact that the bullet was recovered in pristine condition was key, as I will explain. I took my photos, the M.E. had X-rays taken with and without the bullet. I took, X-ray CDs back for evidence along with the bullet and whatever else we collected.
We worked this case hard for about 72 hours, around the clock, as we always did with homicides. Often we identify the suspect in a murder case in less time than that. In this case we hit a wall. We knew who was in the car, we thought we knew who actually fired that bullet, thereby killing that young man. However, we just couldn’t prove who fired that pistol. No one was talking. We had the bullet, but no gun. Without the gun, the bullet which was recovered intact and therefore suitable for analysis, was no good to us. Of course, we held on to the bullet.
Well, as I say, the investigation slowly ground to a halt . We knew the players. We knew, for the most part what happened. Wasn’t exactly a whodunit, but we just couldn’t make that leap to make an arrest. So, the case eventually got assigned to another detective, a very good detective, I might add, and his job was to keep the case open, work on it in between his other assigned cases.
Many months passed. During that time,I was getting feedback from sources I had on the street that the victim’s father was not happy with our progress in the investigation of his son’s murder.
The information I was receiving was that the victims father, who has had brushes with the law and MPD over the years, is getting impatient and there is concern by some he may go out and track these guys down and kill them. Dad was a genuine tough guy earlier in life, may still have been, but was older. I hadn’t crossed paths with him for several years. But I did take that street talk seriously.
Anyway, the detective who was eventually assigned to this murder which was getting colder every passing week and month, kept at it. To make a long story short, many months later, his hard work paid off. He turned up the murder weapon, among other new information. His investigation was able to put that gun, in the hands of the shooter. And guess what? The final nail in the suspect’s case was that the bullet we successfully recovered and stored in evidence, during the autopsy that cold snowy morning after the murder, was proven to have been fired from that gun, therefore by that murderer.
I didn’t do any thing special during that autopsy. Any experienced detective who went to that autopsy would have done the same exact thing that I did. I worked several homicides, but this one stands out because the bullet that I helped recover and preserve played such a vital role in holding this murderer accountable for what he did. I did a lot of other work on this case, but I’ll always remember that bullet, that victim and that conviction.
Manchester Detectives had a tradition that I believe still continues. On the day the verdict comes in on a homicide case, and the day the perpetrator is sentenced, all the detectives who worked that case, if available, go to court. We wear our raid jackets or pin our badges outside our jackets. We are there to show support for any of the victim’s family who may be present. Usually silent support, to be sure. We don’t often get to talk with family members during a murder investigation, other than in an investigative function, which is never pleasant. This is our opportunity to lend the victim’s family support, and also let them know that the victim, no matter who it was, mattered to us.
Also, maybe just as important, we, or at least I, let everyone who sees us know that weare the Murder Police. I take special pride in that. We caught him. We helped convict him. If you kill someone, we are coming after you. I always like to believe that in some small, but meaningful way we help the victim’s loved ones heal, if just a bit, perhaps supply some closure for their loss, if that is even possible. I was always proud to show up. For several years, I was one of the Murder Police.
Nothing about this is glamorous. I’ve seen and learned things that perhaps regular folks should never know or see. Sometimes, I got to participate in the actual chase or manhunt. Sometimes even out of state. I made a few arrests during my career of murder suspects. I contributed to the arrest of many more murder suspects, even if I wasn’t personally present when the cuffs went on.
The work itself was always physically and mentally exhausting. Usually, I didn’t see my wife or kids for days. Went without sleep. When I did sleep I often had bad dreams. I think back about the steaming hot days searching roof tops and highways for a murder weapon. Digging up yards and cellars. Executing search warrants in the nastiest, filthiest tenements where it was hard to believe someone actually lived. Sifting through garbage, dumpsters, whatever it took. All of it had to be done in a lawful fashion, which made those tasks much more complicated and arduous. The slightest misstep could result in a vital piece of evidence being excluded as evidence forever. It was hard work. Today, when I see the cops working crimes scene here in town on TV news, I tip my hat to them but I feel like I’m glad it isn’t me anymore. I don’t miss those phone calls in the middle of the night.
But whenever the subject does comes up, I am always proud to say ”Yes, I was once a Murder Police”.
Well, here it is, another Memorial Day weekend. I envisioned myself writing and posting some meaningful tribute to those we honor at this time each year, but I can see now that it’s not to be. Don’t get me wrong, I made an attempt, several attempts. But, in each case I failed to get beyond certain platitudes that somehow ring hollow to me. Maybe, I’ll just settle for writing a brief explanation about what Memorial Day means to me, which really comes down to how it affects me. Then perhaps I can coherently weave some thoughts together and actually construct some meaningful sentences and then combine them into a few paragraphs that might, just might, capture the spirit and meaning of Memorial Day. As I have come to view it.
I will start with my alibi first. Memorial Day is about those who gave their lives in the service of our country. And, in my mind, it’s also about the families and loved ones who were left behind.
Memorial Day is not supposed to be about the rest of us. To me, it sometimes feels as though I carry a heavy weight. A heavy burden borne by those of us who served amongst those heroes who never made it home.
Ever since I returned from Iraq, no matter how many years have passed, each and every Memorial Day the same thing happens to me. As the weekend comes upon us, I get very introspective, I think, probably too much, and, at least on one of those days I drink a bit. Truth is I drink too much.
I finally make it through Memorial Day, more or less intact, and go back to living my life. Something, those we honor never had the opportunity to do. Therefore, I’d like to share some of my memories, and honor a few soldiers that I had the privilege to serve with. Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
My memories leading up to that dark day began three days earlier in the fall of 2005. We were in Iraq. Prior to that, earlier that year, my brother and I arrived in Iraq and were assigned as embedded advisors to an Iraqi Battalion. We had four small teams. One was the HQ Team, who advised the Iraqi Brigade we were part of, and then there were three other teams, one assigned to each Iraqi Battalion we advised. My brother Frank, at the time an E-7 was assigned to the 2nd BN, and I was assigned to the 3rd.
Our Commander was LTC Leon James, Regular Army, and he commanded all four teams. I liked LTC James immediately when I met him, and I remember telling him that I was looking forward to working for him over the next year or so. I do remember that he gave me kind of a weird look when I said that, didn’t respond but shook my hand when I offered it. LTC James was originally from Springfield Ma, and last I knew his mother was still living there.
Master Sergeant Tulsa Tuliau was the Senior Non Commissioned Officer in charge of the four teams. Tulsa was a huge guy, with a physically intimidating presence. Tulsa was from American Samoa and was what we in the Army would call a “Hard Charger”. Shortly after my brother and I arrived, he held an NCO meeting where the topic was TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) regarding whether standing UP in the turret was preferable to sitting on the strap and therefore being DOWN, or a lesser target. The discussion involved dealing with snipers vs dealing with roadside and suicide vehicle borne bombs. The discussion ended when Tulsa stood up, took a shooting stance while leaning forward and declared gunners should be UP always, show an aggressive stance and appear intimidating to those who contemplated attacking us. We agreed. To me, it was a sad irony that, Tulsa was soon after killed in the UP position, and several other soldiers in the unit we were attached to were also killed in the UP position. But Master Sergeant Tuliau died as he lived, a Hard Charger all the way. As time went on, I realized that there were times when it was prudent for the gunner to be up, and others when it wasn’t.
Sergeant First Class Casey Howe, had just joined our unit a short time before he was killed. He was from Michigan. The day I met Howe, I liked him immediately. I thought he’d be a great asset to our team and mission. Casey was on his third tour in Iraq when he was killed. Casey had lied to his wife, telling her that he had a safe job in “The Rear” because he didn’t want her to worry. The reality was that he was in one of the most dangerous assignments in Iraq at the time. We rolled outside the wire daily, deep in hostile territory with rarely a break. In fact, his wife later told me that on the morning after Casey was killed, when the Chaplain and others knocked on her door, she believed they had mistakenly come to her residence because she knew her husband couldn’t have been killed because he had a “safe” job. But there were no “Safe” jobs where we were. Only jobs that were less dangerous than others. All three were married, and all three had multiple daughters waiting at home, at FT. Drum.
On the Saturday before that tragic day, I was in the motor pool, pulling maintenance for our HUMVEE and crew served weapons. Tuliau had just returned from spending time with his family on leave. He stopped by to talk to me about a few issues, and then we all went about our business. Later on, a few of us met LTC James out side of the building we were living in. He smoked, (funny for a marathon runner!). Some amongst us enjoyed a cigar and all us were sipping either cold Gatorade or Near Beer. It was hot as hell, but the NCOs enjoyed kibitzing with LTC James, and it was apparent to me that LTC James enjoyed being around his NCOs.
The next day was Sunday. I don’t remember what we did that day, however, I was going to be able to sleep in a bit late the next morning. My brother and I obtained a portable radio, and a few of cans of Alcohol Free Beer from the mess hall. That evening Frank and I sat on a stone picnic table near “the house” and stayed up a little longer than normal. We enjoyed our frosty near beer, talked about whatever, but we could find nothing but Arabic music on the radio. Eventually we went back to our room and called it a night. I never went near that stone picnic table after that night.
Sometime early the next morning, LTC James, Tuliau and Howe went out with their team on a mission. Frank was also going out with his team on a mission. Frank grabbed the .50 Cal machine gun that belonged on his gun truck. He hefted it up onto his shoulder and walked over to his truck in order to set it up. As he walked across the gravel, he twisted his ankle, and fell to his knees under the weight of the machine gun. Sergeant Tuliau, saw this and ran over to help. Tuliau grabbed the gun, telling Frank “Hey big Sarge, let me get that for you”. Tuliau took the machine gun from my brother, and brought it to Frank’s truck. That was the last time Frank ever talked to Tuliau or saw him alive.
Colonel James’ team went out first. Tuliau was the gunner inside the turret of James’ HUMVEE, Howe was the driver, and James was obviously both the Truck commander and Patrol Commander.
A short distance outside the wire, the Colonel’s truck was ambushed, hit by an EFP (Electrically Fired Projectile). It was devastatingly accurate. It was set off by an infrared detector on the side of the road. Once his vehicle (in this case the targeted vehicle) was detected by the infrared device it triggered the EFP. His vehicle was hit by five separate projectiles. It was the first US Vehicle in country that was hit by a five projectile EFP.
As far as I can tell, Tuliau and Howe were killed instantly. LTC James was hit by shrapnel in the neck and throat area. The medic on scene was able to keep the Colonel alive. He was brought back to the Aid Station at our FOB by ground EVAC, and he was alive but unconscious when I saw him a short time later. After this patrol was hit, my brother’s team rolled out to the site, and he and a few of his team tried to take care of Tuliau and Howe, both of whom were still at the scene, but had died of their injuries.
I was in my rack. At one point a Major, who was part of the Colonel’s patrol burst through the doors. He was yelling my name, over and over again, and when I finally awoke from a deep sleep, I saw the Major and I noted his uniform was covered in blood. I’ll never forget what he said next:
“SERGEANT SWIRKO, THEY HIT US! THEY HIT US! TULIAU IS DEAD. HOWE IS DEAD! COL JAMES IS BAD…”
I pulled on my Desert uniform, boots, grabbed my pistol and went to work. Suddenly I was the Senior Enlisted Man on the ground. I found my self the temporary NCOIC of the team, taking Tuliau’s place. The major thrusted a broken and blood stained M-4 rifle at me, along with a bloody set of ID (dog tags) Tags. I think he had the need to get rid of them, and fast. I took custody of them, and eventually cleaned them up.
Many things happened that terrible day and the week that followed. However, as bad as it was, I had a job to do, and I didn’t have the luxury of grieving. I remember the interim commander, telling me that he needed me to advise him, and if he did anything I thought was stupid, not to be afraid to kick him in his ass with my size 12 boots.
I was present when Colonel James was loaded into a Blackhawk, heading to the CASH. I looked on while several of his soldiers who were present, openly and unashamedly wept for him as he was carried away. My brother, was also very helpful to me during those days. Without him, I don’t know how I would have accomplished the tasks that suddenly fell upon me to complete.
I also remember helping load Sergeants Tuliau and Howe into a Blackhawk helicopter. I remember the pilot of the helicopter getting out of the bird, facing us, coming to attention and then saluting us. He executed an about face and the two Blackhawks, with their door gunners at the ready gracefully lifted up, up high into the sky. I watched as Tulsa Tuliau and Casey Howe started their long journey home. It was my turn to cry, and I wept as hard as I can ever remember weeping. Sadly, Leon James succumbed to his wounds a short time later in Germany.
Our mission went on. In time, our team personnel were moved around, replacements arrived, and after helping to deal with our dead, and all that went with that, we got a new commander, and I was sent back to the 3rd Battalion Team. However, I went back to that team as it’s NCOIC. I found myself in a leadership position. I had troops to care for, and combat missions to carry out. Suddenly there were soldiers, some of them new arrivals looking to ME for guidance and assurance. ME, a citizen soldier, far away from my roots in Massachusetts and my home in NH. I now understood there was no slack for me. I did not have the luxury of feeling sorry for myself. The unit and our mission largely depended on me.
The months dragged on, day after day, week after week, mission after mission. Some missions lasted a few hours. Others took several days. Every mission was a combat mission and therefore dangerous. I did my best. I know my troops deserved better. However, we accomplished all our assigned missions from that day on. Eventually, the day to go home finally arrived, and in the spring of 2006, we all got our orders to go home. My brother and I flew to Ft. Carson Colorado where, in three days, Uncle Sam, sent us packing. Back to the Guard, reserve wherever our citizens soldiers originally came from. Uncle Sam had no further use for us, at least not at the time. Many of the other soldiers we served with in Iraq retuned to their duty station at Ft. Drum NY.
My brother and I, after leaving Ft. Carson flew to Chicago, and then to Manchester. We were both traveling in our desert Camo, which was authorized at the time. The flight crew was great to me, they brought me back to the galley with them, and when they found I was returning home from Iraq, they all took turns chatting with me. I went back to my seat, put on my earphones, turned on my MP3 player. I thought about James, Tuliau and Howe, that they were not coming home with us. I thought about their families. How much it must hurt knowing the rest of us were going home, but without James, Tuliau and Howe. And then I cried. The tears flowed uncontrollably as though a faucet had been opened. I couldn’t help myself. I hid my face. I don’t think my brother knew. But, I cried for what seemed a long time.
Well, Frank and I made it home. Our closest family members were waiting to embrace us at the airport. No fanfare. Didn’t want any. Very quiet and low key. I just wanted to be home with my family and friends. It felt so good, not wearing a helmet and ballistic body armor. Not carrying a rifle with extra ammunition. Not having to scan my surroundings like I’d had to do for so long, looking for snipers and listening for incoming rounds the way I learned in order to survive. Mostly though, it felt good to be alive.
Sometime later that year, Frank and I traveled to Ft. Drum where we met the families, wives and children of LTC James, MSG Tuliau and SFC Howe. Each wife reacted differently to us. I won’t share those moments publicly, except to say how it made me feel: I felt like a piece of shit, embarrassed that I was in one piece to meet those families, while their loved one was gone. Please don’t misunderstand me. None of them said or did anything to make me feel that way. It’s just how I felt.
In the years that have passed since, much of those feelings have not been blunted by time. I can confess to you that I know that my soldiers deserved a better leader than me. I know that the soldiers we lost were better soldiers than I could ever have hoped to be. I also know they were better men. Yet, here I sit.
Like each Memorial Day weekend since that time I struggle with the losses we have suffered as a nation throughout our history. Yet, despite the fact I know Memorial Day is not for those of us who survived, it is through my grief, my sense of loss, my pain, and, at time my tears, this is the only way I can pay my personal respect and deep thanks to James, Tuliau, Howe and all the others that have unselfishly given their lives. I owe it to them to remember and share their memories as often as I can. My future has been inexorably intertwined with the loss or absence of their own.
And, since they all died so abruptly and before their time, I feel I owe it to them to live my life, which, up until now has still been gifted to me, the best way I can. I promise guys, I won’t let them forget and I will not waste what time I have left.
I used to work with a guy, and for the purpose of this story I’ll call him Pat. Now Pat was a really sharp guy. He was generally quiet, and unless you got to know him personally, you’d never guess how funny he could be to ride with. He definitely had a dry sense of humor. If you spent any time with him in a cruiser assignment, he would amuse you non-stop with stories about his wife, children, politics, current events or whatever the two of us happened to be doing at the time.
To be sure, he was a bit cynical about life in general, police work and whoever the deity is who rules the universe. But, I guess most of us who spent any time on this job can’t help but to develop a cynical outlook about people, or for that matter, life in general. But I always thought that one of the keys to surviving a police career was to develop a sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously.
At one point, Pat decided to go to an advanced Defensive Tactics course up at the Police Academy. It was a couple of days long I think, I don’t exactly remember how long it was. But, let me say this:
I discovered early on in this job, that if you couldn’t handle yourself on the street, physically, you were, sooner or later, gonna get your ass kicked by some shitbird. He’ll try just because you are a cop and he thinks he can. In my days growing up in Dorchester and Quincy, I learned that no matter how tough you thought you were, imaginary or real, there was always someone out there that was tougher and crazier than you were. My police career validated that lesson. So, if you were going to survive life as a street cop, you had to learn how to handle yourself.
In order to help cops develop those tactics (I’ll call them survival skills) from time to time various police training organizations, to include MPD, offered training to develop use of force skills, along with the legal guidelines to establish what kind of force you can use in what situation from a practical, legal and ethical standpoint.
One technique that was often taught to cops was to utilize various “pain compliance” techniques to use on suspects who actively resist arrest. Using these various selected strikes or restraining moves on combative suspects was often effective because they hurt like hell. These strikes and restraint tactics were preferred because although painful, the techniques themselves don’t cause any serious injuries to the suspect you are trying to take into custody.
Often (unless the suspect was dusted out on PCP or had severe mental health issues) applying these learned techniques would usually, I stress usually, result in the suspect complying with your commands. As a result you were usually able to subdue and cuff the suspect before anyone else got seriously hurt.
Another good thing about employing these techniques is that if the suspect did inadvertently get hurt, or there were allegations of excessive force, all you had to show that the technique you used was taught to you at the police academy or PD, and legally, you’d be covered. So Pat goes off to one of these schools, gets his certificate and comes back to work the street. A newly improved, wiser, tougher street cop, or so he assumed.
Some time after Pat goes to this school, I find myself working with him and he tells me the following story:
Pat and another cop are sent to a loud party call late one night. Nothing unusual. Patrol units, in my city anyway, are fed a steady diet of loud party calls late at night during any typical shift. Pat and the second cop, to this day I don’t know who the second cop was, arrive at the address where the party is, or was.
Pat makes contact with the person who rents the apartment where the disturbance is. Where I work, the tenant or person in control of a residence in which a disturbance occurs can often be held criminally responsible for what goes on inside if you have a complaint. The person who answers the door that night happened to be a very large character, and Pat is immediately impressed by this guys size. Now 9 times out of 10, when we make contact with someone during a noise complaint, we try to have a pleasant chat with that person, and during that chat we work in the fact that 1) we have a complaint, 2) it’s late, and 3) the noise coming from within is unreasonable. Also, we work into the conversation, in a polite but stern manner, that if the problem persists and we have to come back for the same reason, we will make arrests.
What we normally didn’t tell people was that where I worked, the unwritten rule was, if we had to go back to the same call a second time, we’d better make sure we didn’t go back a third time. A third call would indicate to the bosses that we didn’t do our job during the first and second complaint. So, in these cases, at least during the first call, we were normally as courteous as possible, but when we left, we wanted to make sure they knew if we came back again it was trouble for them.
It was not unusual to be invited inside, offered a drink and sometimes even invited back to the party (the party they told us they would now shut down) later after we got off work. Of course we would thank whomever for the offer and always decline.
However, every so often you run into a jack ass that for some reason has a hair across their rear end for the local constabulary. They want to give you a hard time. Maybe they had too much to drink. Maybe they are just a fool. Maybe they just hate cops in general. Maybe, their idea of fun is kicking the crap out of a cop. Even better if they do it in public or in front of their peeps.
The guy who came to the door that night was all of the above. Apparently he was not going to be happy until he got dragged out of the house and taken away to jail that night. But he was going to go down swinging and get his shots in, that you can be sure of. Pat, being the reasonable and even tempered person he was, tried to reason with this guy, but the situation quickly deteriorated and before he knows it, Pat and his partner are inside the doorway rolling around with this guy in a fight for their lives. They were trying to handcuff him, but this behemoth was having none of it. To make matters worse, he seemed impervious to pain.
At one point, Pat decided to utilize a series of knee strikes against the guy he’s trying to arrest. Well, to be clear, he was already under arrest, he just decided not to go. These are strikes that Pat learned while at the Defensive Tactics course.
The theory on this knee strike is that if you strike your suspect’s upper thigh by forcefully driving and thrusting your knee into it, along with the proper follow through, the kinetic force of the strike will be unbearably painful and the suspect will involuntarily stop resisting. Even better, this strike, although very painful on the receiving end, does not cause any lasting injury. Maybe a hell of a charlie horse…
So Pat keeps striking this guy over and over again, driving his knee into the guy’s thigh as hard as he could…nothing. No effect what so ever. The battle rages on. Pat’s thinking ‘what the hell…’
Eventually, the guy is handcuffed and loaded into the wagon. No thanks to the fancy strikes he just learned at the police academy. Pat being the arresting officer and catching the paperwork on it, he drives to the station to book his prisoner and complete the paperwork that goes with that.
During the drive in, Pat is irritated and very depressed. He doesn’t understand how he could have struck that guy so hard, so many times, and the guy never flinched! By the time he arrived at the station, he’s already talked himself into joining a gym and start lifting weights. He’s now decided that it’s imperative for him to embark on a serious strength training routine. He can’t believe how weak he’s become, and even though he’s a thin guy, he always thought he was physically fit. Now however, he has come to the conclusion he is going to get his ass kicked one of these nights. He hasn’t yet decided which gym to join, but he has to do something, and he has to do it fast.
So, the wagon drops the prisoner off, and finally it’s Pat’s turn to take his prisoner up to the cage and book him in. First thing that happens is that the prisoner is thoroughly searched by the arresting officer. He orders his prisoner to put his hands, palms raised and flat against the plexiglass window. Then to take several steps backwards and spread his legs apart. Prisoners are routinely searched this way for two reasons-1) They are off balance and if they try to attack the cop it’ll be much harder for them to gain their balance and swing at the cop, and, 2) It allows the officer to thoroughly search the prisoners crotch area for weapons or other contraband.
So Pat is now in kind of a surly mood, and he started searching his prisoner. He begins with his hands, down his arms, chest, stomach, around his waist, removes the guys belt, then his hands travel down to the prisoners legs. ‘What the hell is this?’ Pat feels something unusual so he pulls the guys trousers down and guess what he finds. The guy has a prosthetic leg! Pat had been striking the guy’s prosthetic leg! Pat lets out a sigh of relief. So it wasn’t Pat after all.
Well, Pat ends his story there, except I know after being startled by this discovery, his mood improved vastly and despite the battle he just had with this guy, he’s now feigning outrage and surprise, but by the end off the booking process he and the prisoner and the booking officer had a good laugh. It’s all you can do, right?
Pat never did tell me if he joined a gym the next day…
When I was very young, I lived in a triple decker in Dorchester that my parents owned. It was down off of Savin Hill Ave. For those of you who don’t know the area, that neighborhood known as Savin Hill was also once known as Stab and Kill. I was young when I lived there. I had a friend my age, Tommy, who lived next door. He lived on the second floor of his three decker. He was Irish and he and his family spoke with a very pronounced Irish brogue.
One day, he called me a “FOOKIN BAHSTID”. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was wise enough to figure it was not a term of endearment. I immediately took my wagon home and asked my mother what “FOOKIN BAHSTID” meant. My mother was never one to be uppity, but she was taken aback when I spoke those words. Needless to say, I never used those words again after that day. At least not until my high school days. Well, such was my education during my younger years.
Unfortunately, my friend’s father was a drunk, and an ugly drunk at that. Whenever he drank, one of his favorite activities was pouring water on people who happened to be walking by his house on the street below. This didn’t exactly endear him to his neighbors. Also when he drank, he became very abusive to his wife. And, he drank often.
The police were called to his house regularly, and when they were the same scene usually played out while the rest of us neighbors watched while sitting on our front steps. The evening would begin when, after an afternoon of drinking, a loud row would begin between him and his wife. By that time, everyone in the neighborhood would know that the old man was drunk and he and his wife were going at it. Unfortunately, this was not unusual. As the fight got louder, and it began to sound like the wife was getting a good beating, someone (I never knew who) would call police.
One thing that must be understood about this neighborhood, was that the police were rarely if ever sent for. There were certainly problems that cropped up from time to time within the neighborhood that had to be “handled”. Perhaps a bully, had gotten out of control, or maybe someone who had been labeled weird, or a person who was known to act inappropriately around women or children, needed to be dealt with. In any case, the folks in that neighborhood would never, ever summon the police. These were considered neighborhood problems, to be dealt with within the neighborhood. That’s just the way it was. Normally, cops would be considered interlopers, an unwanted / unneeded entity. That was just the way it was in the 50’s and early 60’s in those parts of Boston.
However, the one exception I remember to those unwritten rules occurred when Tommy’s father’s drunken tirade turned into what sounded like a serious beating to his wife. We all saw what the wife looked like the next day after her husband sobered up, and everyone was concerned for her well being, even if no-one would socialize with her. As a result, on some of these occasions, many occasions, the police would be called.
Each time when the police arrived, pretty much the same scenario would play out in public. A serious brawl involving husband, wife and police would take place, always ending with the old man being carted away to jail. Never without a good fight.
The police, upon arrival, would cautiously walk up the steps leading to the front door, that is until the missiles started to fly. From the second floor, at the top of the stairs, furniture, garbage, dishes and anything else that wasn’t nailed down started to rain down on the cops.
If the old man wasn’t in such an inebriated state, he might have reasoned that this behavior instead of deterring the cops, would only cause them to charge up the stairs into his apartment with a vengeance. Once upstairs, the fight would grow to include the six or eight cops that were now on the scene. The street would be full of the old Blue and Gray Boston Police cars, with their single forward facing blue light on top of their cars blinking on and off.
As the fight would ensue, inevitably, the father would be dragged down the stairs out into the street. The father always fought all the way down, and believe me, he got his shots in. However, he would get a solid, old time ass kicking for good measure from the cops. This was, at the time, universally accepted justice for fighting with the cops and beating his wife. No one on that street particularly liked cops, but everyone nodded they heads up and down both in sympathy and support for this ass kicking as the blows began to rain down upon the old man as he fought.
After all, even in Savin Hill, there were certain lines that one doesn’t cross. Not without earning or expecting a good thrashing from the police. And, everyone knew, that if you put your hands on a cop who was on-duty you’d get a good pummeling. Truth be told, most of us had no problem with that concept. We looked at those things like, ‘well, what do you expect? You fight with the cops, you get a good beating.’ In many ways, that’s how the peace was kept in neighborhoods where I grew up.
Of course, when sent for, the cops always came to the wife’s rescue. Each time they would arrest and berate the husband for putting his hands on his wife in the first place. Inevitably, the wife would always turn on the cops, and suddenly, the cops became the enemy.
So, Tommy’s Ma was now chasing the cops, who were dragging her old man down the stairs. As they were attempting to “subdue” the drunken batterer, she started to throw various items at the retreating cops! As she did so, she would unleash a long litany of obscenities and curse them for taking her husband away. “OOHHH MY JESSUSS IN HEAVEN SAVE US” she would yell skyward, in her thick Irish brogue. All while punching, kicking and hitting cops with cups and bottles. Amazingly, I never saw her getting arrested, but the old man, always lost when he fought the cops. I suspect that even more “catch-up” was played by the police once the old man got to the old Station 11. But I never knew about that stuff then. My family always treated Cops with respect, and as a result the cops treated us respectfully. But to me, watching this play out on a regular basis, was the greatest show on earth. Better than whatever may have been on TV at the time.
I watched this street show regularly, and pretty much everyone in the neighborhood had no sympathy at all for him. One elderly neighbor would always declare it was good, and Tommys father deserved what he got and more, while nodding her approval. In the end, he would be hauled away in the back of a police wagon, and the wagon would head out to drop off it’s combative, bruised passenger, so it could go on the next wagon run. In those days, their next call could be anything from a shoplifter, to a heart attack victim, a dead body or the remnants of some poor soul who jumped in front of the subway at the Fields Corner MTA Station. The filthy BPD wagons doubled as Bostons City ambulances during that time.
I was young, but watching these scenes play out, I developed a heathy respect for the police. They always came when called. They fought, restored order and even tried to instill some of their own brand of street justice. These unpleasant nasty brawls were my first exposure to cops. As more police cars would arrive sirens screaming, blue lights flashing, I saw them as the good guys coming to the rescue. I thought they were real life heroes, brave, tough, and not afraid of the bad guys. Not afraid of anything. As I look back, I realize the die was cast for me so, so long ago.
So now we fast forward through life to sometime in the early 90’s. I am working on the job in Manchester, NH, midnights in patrol. I get sent as back up to a loud party call at about 230 AM. Naturally, the officer I was backing up, Brian, arrived first, because he was closer to the call. Brian was a good guy, a boxer that came from Lowell. He had a great sense of humor, but took the job, and all that went with it very, very seriously. Over the years I’ve discovered that there are people who think they are tough guys, and others who really are tough guys.
Brian was a real life tough guy. He was tall and stocky, but not fat. He was a great guy to have on your side in a fight. Brian could look tough, even menacing when he arrived at a tense scene, but as soon as his face cracked and broke into his friendly grin, everyone around him couldn’t help but to relax and tensions often faded.
At one point during his career, he had a K-9 for a partner. One night, some years after the call I’m about to tell you about, he was sent to a loud party call on the far west side. Turned out, the party was in some type of a frat house for Saint A’s college. The frat house was located in a normally quite residential area. When Brian got out of his cruiser, he was attacked by several drunken college students. Brian was carrying an old Motorola portable radio, and it was big, and heavy, and we called them “bricks” to distinguish them from the other type of Motorola radios we used, called Sabres. Sabres were more modern, smaller than the bricks and lighter to carry.
During this attack, the drunks managed to get his radio from him and then commenced to beat him with it, repeatedly about his head and face. Brian was not very far from his cruiser, and his K-9 partner knew what was happening, and went absolutely nuts inside the cruiser. Luckily for this group of shitheads, and unfortunately for Brian, try as it may have, the K-9 couldn’t get out of the car to help Brian.
Well, Brian took a good beating that night, and because of this incident, MPD installed locks on all their K-9 cars that could be remotely unlocked and rear doors opened releasing the K-9. The officer carried a small switch on his belt and he could activate it anytime. That didn’t help Brian on that night, but a K-9 officer at MPD never found him or herself in that situation again.
Continuing on about the call that Brian and I were sent to. The call was at a six family tenement north and east of downtown. When I arrived, I saw Brian, at the top of the 2nd floor stairway. He was at the door, ordering someone who is inside to show him his hands. He shouted the command several times. I was at the bottom of the stairway, and as I looked up I could see Brian grab at someone, and it looked like he was pulled into the apartment, and suddenly he was out of my sight. I headed up the stairs taking two or three at a time. I entered the apartment through the open door and I found Brian and the guy who lives there are rolling around on the floor. I dove into the fray, no questions asked, and after a brief but violent battle, we had him handcuffed.
So it seems that when Brian made contact with this guy, the guy came to the door holding a partially filled 1.5 liter bottle of vodka behind his back, but he held it in a threatening manner.
Now, we have the suspect on the floor, and I realize there are about 10 other belligerent drunks in the apartment, along with our guy’s girlfriend. She is screaming to let her sweetie go, and the others are telling us we aren’t taking him anywhere as they close in around us. I call for help on the radio, but don’t hang around to wait. I grab our new prisoner by one wrist and with my other hand grab a fistful of his shoulder length hair. Brian takes him by his feet and away we go. Down the stairs, our prisoner’s butt and shoulders bouncing along with us. We may be fleeing for our lives, but we weren’t about to lose our prisoner .
Meanwhile, the girlfriend is in hot pursuit, throwing bottles, cans whatever at me. She tried to tackle me, so I have to let go with one hand and try to fend her off and block her blows with the other. She latches on to me, trying to separate me from my prisoner. Fists and limbs are flying and swinging about wildly, as well as cans, bottles and whatever else. During this time I am trying not to let go or drop our prisoner. I have little sympathy for him, but the last thing we need is for him to crack his head on the stairs. The four of us tumble out through the front door, down the porch steps onto the sidewalk below. We hit the ground, and hit it hard. It must have been quite a sight to anyone who may have been watching. A big pile of arms, legs and heads and swears. The other ten drunks were also in pursuit.
I can hear that wonderful sound, the distant wail of sirens closing in from all directions, but they weren’t there yet. Fists are flying, my prisoner gets sprayed with pepper spray, as well as the girlfriend who I finally subdue and handcuff after a wild wrestling match. We were still battling as the Cavalry started to arrive and join into the melee. Soon, the street was filled with police cars.
Arrests were made and order was restored, but not until after a brief but pretty rowdy battle. Finally, our prisoners were deposited into the wagon. By now, we are all coughing and gagging from the pepper spray dispensed from all directions during this shitstorm. As I was catching my breath, cleaning myself off, I realized that life had come around full circle for me. I remembered those days so long ago when I watched the cops battle with Tommy’s old man on Maryland St.
Only the Irish brogues were missing, and although we got our shots in, our prisoners were surely treated much better then Tommy’s Dad. It was over 30 years ago and maybe 60 miles away, when I’d sat on my steps in Dorchester watching this part of life play out. This time, I wasn’t a spectator. This night I lived it. I was one of the good guys. Like those cops I watched as a kid, I ran up the stairs to confront whatever trouble was occurring. I traveled a long winding road to get here. Life had come full circle, I thought. I also thought it was pretty cool at the time. And I still do.
So, after that first robbery, life went on. I had entered Northeastern University in Boston during the fall of 1973. At the time it was the biggest private university in the nation. NU was accessible by subway from Quincy Point, where I was still living. I would walk to Quincy Center, take the subway to Park St., then the Arborway Street car which, once it came to the surface stopped outside the main entrance to NU.
I previously mentioned that I was a pretty fair middle distance runner in high school, and during my senior year at Quincy High, three other colleges reached out to me trying to recruit me. They were Boston State College, long gone, now UMass Boston, University Of Maine, and Southeastern Mass University, now known as the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
However, I finally chose NU for a few reasons. I entered into its fairly young Criminal Justice Degree program. Northeastern was unique at the time in that they also pioneered the co-op work plan. If you were in the co-op program, it took five years to earn your degree, but during that time NU placed you in jobs related to your course of study, and you alternately worked in this job and attended school. That’s why it took five years. It was a good concept, and after my first semester, they found me a job as a Security Guard for Burns International Security.
Also during that time, I met a guy that was to become a close, life long friend. Patrick came to work in the same store I was working in Quincy, and we immediately clicked. He was attending the now long defunct Graham Junior College, and he was living in a dorm in Kenmore Sq. Pat introduced me to some of the finer things in life, such a certain high quality liquors (up until that time my favorite drink was a seven & seven) and good restaurants like the Continental in Saugus, and even the No Name Restaurant. Later, Patrick became my Best Man when I got married. We also drove taxicabs for the same companies. One night he got robbed and stabbed when picking up a job in the old Orchard Park Projects near Dudley Station. I was working that night and heard the whole incident unfold over the radio as he called for help.
Over the years that followed, Pat’s family suffered several tragedies. He lost his Dad, and two of his three brothers. One brother was murdered, I think it was near Milford Ma. while he was visiting. The other died in a freak work place accident. Patrick eventually got a job in Los Angeles, and relocated there. Over the years, although I missed him while he was out in LA, due to the time difference, I could always call him later at night and chat with him anytime the urge hit. Patrick was taken from us suddenly a couple of years ago. He was much too young to go. I still miss him very much. At times, I occasionally have a momentary urge to pick up the phone to call him, but that passes quickly as I remember he is gone.
So, after the first robbery I worked a couple of overnight shifts per weekend for Burns Security and continued to work part time for the chain of convenience stores. I would open on Saturday, close on Sunday nights and filled in at the store a couple of evenings during the week. All time I was attending Northeastern.
Approximately a month after the first robbery, I was at work, having opened the store again on a Saturday morning. People were in and out. Many of the regulars often stayed a few minutes if they weren’t in a hurry and we chatted about whatever. Later that morning, a young lady stopped in who lived nearby. She was about 16 years old or so, I don’t remember exactly. I knew her from the neighborhood and we were friendly.
So, she is in the store, we are chatting when suddenly the same guy who had taken the young boy hostage a few weeks earlier burst through the doors again! I probably don’t have to lay out the details for this robbery for you if you read my last story, but I will. Care to guess what he does once inside?
Correct. He grabs the girl, points the gun to her head and starts screaming and threatens to kill her. I was both astonished and speechless that this was happening again! This time however, I knew the drill. The teen was very upset, to say the least. He pressed his revolver against the side of her head and I went to work.
I opened the register, pulled out a brown paper bag and put the bills into it. Again, he told me to put my wallet into the bag. However, after my last robbery, I stopped carrying my wallet at work. I placed it, with my cash in the back room of the store, just in case. This time I told him I didn’t carry my wallet anymore at work. He then bellowed more orders, telling me to open the safe. I bent down, opened the safe on the first try, put the cash in the bag. He released the girl, grabbed the bag and fled. If he remembered me from the first stick up, he didn’t let on.
I was stunned. Not about being the victim of another armed robbery, but that the same guy came in and repeated this scenario once again, this time taking a different, random hostage at gunpoint. Thankfully, there was a (very upset) victim present who was also a witness. Otherwise, I don’t think that the police or the company officials would have believed me.
This event played out just opposite the previous one: It was like a sudden, swift, precision strike. In and out as I remember it. Maybe because I’d been through it before, I reacted quicker. I’m sure it didn’t seem that way to the victim who was standing there with a gun to her head. I remember her telling me how brave she thought I was sometime after the robbery, but you can guess that she never came back into that store to visit with me. She was a good kid, nice young lady and I’ve always felt bad about what she experienced that day.
Well, after the bandit fled, as if on cue, my hands started to shake again. I couldn’t control it. Same routine, locked the door, tried not to touch anything, tried to calm the young lady down. I called police, who responded. Shortly afterwards, two detectives arrived. One of the detectives had responded to my previous robbery, but his partner this day was someone I had never met before. We all went through the same routine as before, they checked for prints etc, but as far as I know, they were never able to lift any from either robbery.
I eventually went back to work, shrugging the robbery itself off, which, as I look back on them, amazes me today. I don’t know why I stayed, especially after having endured these two pretty violent robberies. Maybe I was too young and inexperienced to know better. I just figured that’s the way this business is. I had to support myself and work my way through college. For whatever reason, I continued to work there, and I never really thought very much about my safety or well being.
The two detectives in this case and their follow up investigation appeared to be very aggressive . The detectives’ names were Perchard and Casey. I chose to mention their names because they earned my respect as I got to know them while they worked this case.
For a week or two following the second robbery, I don’t remember exactly how long, they made arraignments to meet me wherever and whenever convenient in the evening in order to go out and look for this guy. They would pick me up in their unmarked cruiser, and we’d spend time cruising around town, spending much of that time roaming around Quincy Point. We staked out houses of possible suspects. We also visited every bar, restaurant and hangout where local miscreants hung out. Believe me, there were plenty of those places in Quincy Point. From Quincy Square, down to the Fore River bridge, or all the way down Quincy Ave to Braintree. The hope was that somewhere, I’d see the guy who robbed me.
Each time the three of us entered these local bars, there was always a scene. The cops walked around inside, many of the patrons either ignored the cops or cursed them, all wanting to act tough in front of their friends. The two cops walked around inside each bar we checked like they owned it. They had me look at each customer who happened to be present. I didn’t mind. I had a case of the ass for this guy who robbed me twice. The fact that he had threatened to kill me and the three young kids angered me more as time passed. I would have liked to run into him some time when he didn’t have his gun with him.
We walked into one bar on Washington St. and as soon as we entered the door way, Perchard walked up to an unsuspecting guy sitting at the bar. He grabbed him off the stool, throwing him face first against a wall telling him
“ I’ve been looking for you! Good to see you!”
Before I knew what happened, this guy was handcuffed and the four of us were all stuffed into the unmarked car together, headed to the station. Turns out this guy had a warrant for something, I don’t remember what. That was the end of that night’s manhunt. It got so that I started to look forward to going out with Perchard and Casey after I got home from classes at Northeastern. It was a great inside look at real police work, and while I was with them, I felt like their junior partner.
I never found out, or don’t remember, if they suspected my guy in any other robberies that may have occurred in the area. I do know that a few of the persons they suspected did not pan out. After a few weeks, my evenings with the detectives came to an end. To the best of my knowledge, an arrest was never made for either of those robberies. After we stopped going out at night, I never heard from them or the Quincy Police about either robbery. And that’s a damned shame. But this is real life, not NCIS or Law and Order. However, it was not the last time I heard from the Quincy PD while I continued to work at that store.
The following summer, after my freshman year, I gave up on college and quit. I went to work full time for the convenience store company. I eventually ran stores for that company in Hyde Park, Roslindale and West Roxbury. Of all three, West Roxbury was by far the toughest store I had managed. It turned out to be my last store.
When I worked on Hyde Park Ave in Hyde Park, during the fall of 1974, I witnessed the day to day violence that occurred during the Boston School Desegregation Busing, and my observations during that time is a separate story that I think is certainly worth telling.
Also during that time my boss moved me around to clean up and restaff stores that no one else would work in. I truly didn’t care where he sent me. I worked in stores on Dorchester Ave, Geneva Ave, Codman Square, all in Dorchester. I was robbed at gun point in Codman Square. While at the Geneva Ave store I was robbed twice, once with a sawed off shot gun. While I managed the store on Hyde Park Ave in Roslindale, I was robbed three times at gunpoint and once with a knife. On another day, a close friend of mine who was working in that store was robbed and actually ended up in the middle of a gun fight between the robber and the responding officers. He resigned his position after that day.
The Boston cops had made a couple of arrests during those robberies, and one day I found myself in the news as Mayor White and Police Commissioner DiGrazia held a press conference from inside my store.
On a sadder note, the manager of the store on the corner of Washington St and Archdale Rd. in Roslindale, which very close to my store, was shot and killed during a robbery. On another day, an innocent customer walked into one of the stores in nearby Dedham during a robbery and was shot dead. Turned out he wanted to buy some model airplane glue there so he could build a model with his young son. Working in those stores around Boston during the mid and late 70’s really was dangerous. We also had a store on Blue Hill Av near Morton St. that was firebombed and it nearly burned to the ground. Luckily, this happened at night when the store was closed and no one was inside. The stores on Archdale Rd. Blue Hill Ave. and Bussy St. in Dedham never reopened. We also had a store burn down on River St. in Hyde Park during that time that never reopened.
Each of these events are stories in themselves. One time, I chased a guy on foot, helped the police apprehend him and I helped recover the gun he used and the bag of stolen cash. Maybe I’ll sprinkle in some of these stories as I continue to write on this site.
I finally left that company’s employ early in 1976. When I was running that West Roxbury store, I demanded a raise and threatened not go back there until they gave it to me. The district manager told me not to bother coming back. I was still young, and being fired for the first time was tough for me to take. I loved that company, was a loyal and worked hard. I had a tough time adjusting to the fact that they didn’t want me anymore. In the end, as I look back upon it, they may have done me a favor by firing me. However, I learned a lot during the three years I worked for them and I was able to build on those lessons as life went on.
By the time I left, I had been working as a security guard at the Boston Globe. Also in 1974, I had obtained my Boston Hackney Carriage License (license to drive a taxi in Boston) and I worked at that job part time and full time, on and off until 1983. If you haven’t guessed, there are more stories from those days. Oh yeah. I met my wife in the summer of 74 and we were married in November of 1975. I’m sure she didn’t know what she was getting herself into!
Writing about my armed confrontation with some of my Iraqi allies got me to thinking about the times when I had a weapon pointed at me along with threats, believable threats, to kill me. It has happened to me more times than I care to think about. Surprisingly, at least to me, most of those incidents happened neither when I was in the Army or working as a cop. Also almost as surprising, I was never hurt and am still here to write about them.
As a cop, none of us ever know who or what was on the other side of those doors that no-one answered in those cases when we decided to walk away. Nor do we know what could have happened to us during those thousands of motor vehicles stops we made during our careers. How many times, as cops, have we followed a car, for whatever reason, then decided not to stop that car, again for whatever reason. What could have happened if we decided to stop that car, but didn’t? We don’t think about it, therefore we never know what could have been. Maybe it’s better that way.
The first time someone pointed a gun at me and threatened to murder me was probably 1974. I was 18, and working part time at a dairy / convenience store. This company is still around, so I won’t name it. This company, if I remember correctly, had about 1500 stores in the Northeast and Florida at the time. I was working at a store on Washington Street, in Quincy Point. I still remember the store number (3403) and I was attending college at the time. It was located diagonally across the street from the Pond St. Park and Max’s Hardware Store, if any of you remember the area.
When I was working that summer and fall, I started to be used to fill in at other stores in the area off and on. I worked in stores in places like Weymouth, Braintree, Hull, Dorchester, Cambridge and South Boston, anywhere I could get to by bus or subway.
A few times, for those of you who know the area, I filled in at a store on Bridge St. North Weymouth. While working there I met a couple of young kids who were brothers. I don’t remember their exact age, but I am thinking they were about 11 and 9. They were young, but apparently old enough so that their parents let them take the bus around town by themselves.
On Saturday mornings, when I worked in Quincy, they would often take the bus from North Weymouth and get off across from my store. It wasn’t too long of a ride. They would come into the store, visit with me for 30-45 minutes, then hop on a bus back to Weymouth. For several weeks, this became a regular thing for them. In fact, working at a local grocery store you often got to know the regulars, as well as the folks who live in the immediate area. So, it wasn’t unusual for the kids or adults to stop in to say, “HI” and chat for a bit during my shift. In this case, the difference was that these two came from a little further away to do that. But they seemed like nice kids and I was always friendly to them.
This Saturday started out no differently than any other Saturday. I opened the store at 8AM, and sure enough the two brothers came into the store late morning and hung out for a bit. But this Saturday morning was a going to be different.
I was behind the cash register counter, the kids were nearby the checkout counter, when a guy I never saw before, burst through the doors. He made a dramatic entrance. All I remember about him was he was white, maybe in his 20’s, not wearing anything to cover his face carrying a pistol. Amid great fanfare, he grabbed the younger of the boys around the waist, pulled him close, then placed the black revolver against the kids temple. The younger kid didn’t say too much, I think it took him a bit to comprehend the situation he was in. His brother however, became immediately distraught and worked his way to becoming hysterical. So many things happened at the same time as this drama I suddenly found myself in played out. I am thinking that the whole episode probably took less than five minutes from his arrival to departure. It was like I was watching a film of this incident and I was watching myself from somewhere up above. It also seemed as though this “film” had been switched to slow motion as it played on.
The robber introduced himself to me by screaming orders to me to put all the money in the bag or he would kill “The Kid”. He yelled his instructions while screaming a nasty stream of obscenities at the three of us. No need to repeat them here.
What I do remember was my reaction. It was not unusual for this company’s stores around my area to be robbed, but this day I remember thinking to myself ‘WOW ‘It’s really happening to me’. Like it was finally my turn. I also remember being very calm about the situation I suddenly found myself in. Maybe, it was more like shock, mixed in with a bit of disbelief. Of course I was concerned for my safety, and especially for the safety of the young man this guy had just taken hostage. But I remember quickly sizing up the situation, and I felt, maybe foolishly, that all that was required to survive was to cooperate and follow directions. In any case, it wasn’t like I had a choice.
I opened the register, place the bills in a paper bag. The robber then ordered me to put my wallet into the bag, but for some reason, I just emptied the cash out of it, and kept my wallet. Thankfully, he didn’t complain about that, but he was screaming to hurry up and still had the gun at the kids head and repeatedly told me he was going to kill him.
He could have fled at that point with his bag of money, but instead he ordered me to open and empty the safe. Now the safe in this case was a cylindrical safe, about a foot high which was bolted into the floor behind the register. It had a round top which, once you dialed the correct combination, would unlock and you could then lift it off and access the safe. If any of you have ever used one of those combination pad locks for lockers and such, you probably know you sometimes have to try to unlock it more than once before you get it open.
Well, in this case, I attempted to open the safe at least twice that I can remember. I failed in each attempt. Each time I entered the final number, I spun the dial expecting it to stop on the final number, causing the lugs to open. Each time instead, the dial just spun past that number. I apologized, and kept trying. All this time, the robber was screaming to hurry up, and his threats now included killing both brothers. The older brother was now crying, and begging the robber not to kill his brother. I clearly remember him pleading “Mr. Please don’t kill my brother. I have money”. He then reached into his pocket (I heard this didn’t see it) and offered to give the robber his bus fare home so he wouldn’t kill his brother. As you may imagine, this bad situation had now become highly charged and desperate. Any descriptor that I can use here would only serve to be an understatement. I also knew the robber was becoming increasingly dangerous, if that was even possible.
As I failed to unlock the safe once again, I was coming to realization that it was now very possible, even likely, that all three of us were about to be killed. The bandit, it seemed, had finally lost his patience. I think he was a very, very desperate man.
He shoved his hostage away by pushing him towards a wall, then walked behind the counter. I was stooped down, trying to unlock the safe. He stooped down to my level and pointed the revolver towards my face. I remember seeing the bullets in the chamber. He then told me, in a calm and most chilling fashion, that I had one more chance to open the safe. He said in a very calm and believable manner that if I didn’t open the safe this time he was going to kill me.
I knew instinctively, that not only my life but the lives of the two boys may well have depended on me getting that safe open. You may not believe me, and I was kinda surprised when I thought about it afterwards, but I wasn’t scared! However, I was worried about not getting that safe open. I turned my attention to the safe. During this time, the oldest of the two boys was now begging me to hurry up. My hands were actually steady. If they weren’t, I may never had gotten that safe unlocked. As I grasped the dial, the bandit placed his revolver firmly against the side of my head, pushing on it enough to make sure I knew it was there. I opened the safe that time. I guess I was properly motivated. I pulled the bills out, placed then into the bag, he snatched it, and fled the store, I don’t know which direction or if there was a getaway car waiting for him.
Suddenly, my hands started shaking. It felt like my heart, which was racing so hard and fast was now going explode out of my chest. With time, my heart and my hands calmed down. I do remember thinking later, when I ran this incident over and over in my mind, how fortunate we all were that my shakes didn’t start until after this guy fled. My trembling hands were noticeable and uncontrollable. That I was shaking in front of the kids and a short time later in front of the cops was embarrassing to me. But, that was how my body reacted to this incident, and I had no control over it. I had trouble writing while my hands shook. After some time, I calmed down. The youngest of the two boys, the hostage, was pretty shaken up at this point, as was the other brother. I locked the door, called police, and eventually made the required notifications to the company.
The Quincy Police responded, and detectives followed shortly. They took care of the brothers and got them home after interviewing them. That was the last time I ever saw them. Understandably, they never hopped on the bus to hang out with me again. Unfortunately, knowing what I know all too well about psychological trauma and how it can affect people, I can only hope this incident didn’t cause them serious problems during their childhood or later in life. But deep down in my heart, I know it may have affected them in a bad way for a long time.
Later, I looked at mugshots from various mugshot books of white males in an effort to identify the perpetrator. This robbery, wasn’t the typical “stop and rob” in and out robbery that was common in convenience stores. This guy had to be identified and locked up before he killed someone. The police took it seriously.
Reviewing the mugshots, I found one photo that appeared strikingly similar to that day’s robber. I told the cops. They asked if I was sure, I told them I was. I went back to work. A short time later, they showed up at the store dragging the guy in the mugshot I picked out with them. Apparently this guy lived in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester, and they immediately headed out to find him. They did, and brought him back my store for what law enforcement calls a show up.
The guy appeared to be really scared. I was kind of shocked to see him there myself. I didn’t know this was coming. They just showed up with him. The guy looked at me, and in kind of a pleading manner blurted out “Did I rob you today?” The detectives told him to shut up and then asked my if this was the guy who robbed me. I knew at once it wasn’t. I knew I was mistaken (although it was an honest mistake), when I looked at his photo I thought it was him.
I studied his face for what must have seen like an eternity for all involved, and I sheepishly, being embarrassed for the scene I had caused, but confidently told the detectives this was not the man. I felt like such a loser in so many ways. Although I understood their frustration, the detectives started giving me a bad time. It seemed as though they forgot who the victim was at that point, and certainly succeeded making feel bad about myself as well as my lack of ability to make an identification. Me, a person who idolized cops for as long as I can remember, they seemed to turn on me. Anyway, they left and took the poor guy whose mug shot I had picked out home, I assume.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not being critical of these detectives. Having been a cop years later, I can only imagine the pressure they must have been under to make an arrest in this case. Still though, I always felt that at least one of those detectives if not both were truly angry at me for picking out the wrong mugshot. Maybe they thought that I had backed down when confronted face to face with the suspect. That wasn’t the case at all.
In closing, I can truly say that this incident shaped the way I approached certain aspects of police work many years later when I got on the job. I learned to treat victims of crimes in a respectful and patient manner. I never pressured a victim or witness to make an identification, even when it was an important case. I learned never to trust most victim / witness ID’s (even when I believed them) without some additional scintilla of evidence being present to corroborate that identification. The exception being when the victim knew the perpetrator personally before the crime was committed.
Getting back to that Saturday…Eventually, this investigation petered out. I went on attending Northeastern, continued to work the two part time jobs. I was perplexed for a long time afterwards at the two conflicting emotions I had experienced during and after that robbery. One, where I was calm, seemed like I was watching a movie that I was in during the robbery. Followed by what was then the absolutely, almost incapacitating fear I may ever have felt after he ran out the door. In closing, I will say that was not the last time I saw this desperado. I crossed paths with him again about a month later!
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.
NOTE:If you haven’t read part I, scroll down and read that first!
After cruising around and finding the streets unusually quiet, talking and laughing about our earlier contact, 2 AM rolls around. We drop my brother off at MPD, say good night, and Jimmy and I head back out to what we assume will be an uneventful morning. There is nothing going on, either on the radio, or on the streets. Jimmy decided to drive, I rode shot gun, making me the book keeper and observer. Due to the fact that this car was used for undercover operations, it had no police radio, or blue lights or siren. I placed my portable radio under my lap, so that anyone who walked up to the window would not see it or hear it.
About 330 or so, I saw someone on a corner I figured to be selling. Drugs, that is. Jimmy pulled up to him, I rolled down my window, he walked up, looked us over and asked us what we needed. I told him I was looking for 2 Quarters, which was street language for two separate 1/4 grams of crack, packaged and sold for $20.00. At the time, this went for $10 each in Lawrence, so their business naturally moved up here, and sure enough, this guy turned out to be from Lawrence.
He said OK, told me to meet him in 5 minutes outside a nearby garage. I agreed. Jimmy drove to the lot, there were several cars parked on the lot, and we pulled up and waited. A few minutes later, I look into my rear view mirror, and I see this same guy crouched down at the back of my car, apparently thinking we couldn’t see him. I also saw he had a long piece of wood or board in his hands. I immediately tried to roll up my window, as he crept up, warned Jimmy, and when he reached my window, he started to swing at my head and face several times I ducked, he hit the window striking it, but no breaking it.
I got out of the car and lunged at him, yelling “POLICE, POLICE” as though that was going to induce him to stop for us. But, if either Jimmy or I were going to get hurt making this pinch, I wanted him to know we were cops. I wanted to be able to testify that I announced to him that we were cops, and not two shitbirds out to rob him. He turned and ran down westerly down Lake Ave with Jimmy and I in pursuit on foot. We were in plain clothes, and I realized I left my radio in the car. I as we ran I yelled to Jimmy, inquiring if he had his radio. “it’s in the car” he huffed at me. Now I knew we may have been in trouble. If this took an even worse turn, we had no way to call for help, and any bystander would not realize we were cops. Sucking wind, as I sprinted down the street, I answered, informing him, all the while panting, in between threats to the suspect about what would happen if he didn’t give himself up. All this just motivated him to keep running, and it became obvious we were going to have to catch this dude by ourselves. Why? Because both of us, foolishly, left our radios, our lifelines for support, behind. Being that it was about 4AM, there wasn’t a soul around. Certainly there were no cops that were out and about. Hell, those radios might not even be in the car by the time we get back to it.
Good thing about many bad guys, they are often not in as good as shape as many of us, so eventually we caught up with him and the three of us go tumbling down into a pile. We must have rolled down the street like bags of garbage being blown in the wind. And, that’s a pretty fair description of what we must have looked like. Going down hard on the asphalt really hurt, and knocked the wind out of me. It must have resembled Hightower and Butler taking down an opposing runner after catching a pass.
To make matters worse, for both me AND the suspect, I was angry. No, I was LIVID. This has become personal. This guy tried to rob me, knock my head off with a stick, and then ran. I am bruised and scraped, really, really pissed off, and this guy is still struggling to break away from us. He almost did break away a couple of times!
Finally, I’d had enough. I took my pistol (I don’t even remember when I drew it) rolled over on top of this guy and placed the muzzle on his upper lip, just under his nose, pressed on it hard. I told him if he didn’t give up I was going to kill him. I never intended to shoot him, not at that point, and looking back on it, I know that introducing my pistol into the struggle certainly escalated the situation, if that was even possible. But, at the time, that’s the decision I made, and it was my lawful choice. Apparently he believed me, which was the purpose of the exercise. He immediately stopped and let Jimmy handcuff him. I actually saw the imprint on his lip of the barrel of my pistol! I’m pretty sure I remember pulling his nose hairs out of my barrel!
At this point all three of us were wheezing, trying to catch our breath. We dragged him back to the car, miraculously, the radios were still there. I was finally able to call for a wagon and some back up. I recovered the stick he tried to bash my face with.
That was the end of my plain clothes assignment that night. I think I charged him with Entering into a Conspiracy to Sell a Narcotic, (We never did find any crack on him) Attempted Armed Robbery, Attempted 1st Degree Assault, and well as Resisting arrest, maybe even Disorderly Conduct, which was the least of his problems.
This event woke everyone else on the shift up. I assumed everyone had settled in for a quiet last couple of hours of the shift, at least until the tax paying citizens started to wake up, head for work school, whatever. Most of the cops were probably reading, eating, even a grabbing quick nap, with one ear listening for the radio. None of this ingratiated us to many of the others on the shift.
As we dragged our prisoner into booking, I don’t know which of the three of us looked worse. We must have been quite a sight. We got a few shots in on this guy while he fought, but I will say here that neither of us struck this guy after the handcuffs were applied. I never did that.
The Shift Commander strolls into booking, sizes up the scene before him, shook his head, and muttered something under his breath. I couldn’t be sure but I think I heard the F word at least once and the A Hole word a few times. I’m not sure if he was talking about me, or our prisoner. We figured, all in all, it was a good pinch. Apparently, no one else was impressed. For sure, no attaboys, no “are you OK”, nothing.
In the morning after finishing my paperwork, I got called into the Legal Department. I received a cold welcome, for sure. Our police work and minor injuries earned us a lecture. I was told I overcharged this guy (criminal charges) and that most of these charges would never fly. How did I know he was trying to rob me? He never actually TOLD me he was trying to rob me. Didn’t recover any drugs. Really wasn’t a felony level assault, more like an attempted misdemeanor. What did I think I was doing anyway? Yada yada yada, and he just droned on and on and eventually I just stopped listening. I tuned him out and shook my head in a combination of bewilderment and disgust. I finally left thinking, this was a high ranking boss that hasn’t spent much time on the street. Certainly no one on the command staff had any empathy for either Jimmy or myself.
As the morning wore on, and the adrenaline started to wear off. My bruises and cuts started to throb. I was tired, and decided it was time to nurse my boo boos and try to get some sleep. Of course despite all that, when I got home, I was pretty wound up. Don’t remember if my wife was home, or if she had left for work,
The lesson I took from my first shift working plain clothes, was that if anyone took this job looking for attaboys or a pat on the back from the bosses or taxpayers, this was the wrong profession. Such is police work. Looking back, I suppose in someways, sometime after three o’clock we would have been better off finding a place to hide and nap or just take it easy. Of course, we would make sure we didn’t miss any calls for back up, or calls we felt we should roll on. But, that wasn’t me, and it wasn’t Jimmy. Not saying I never copped ZZZs from time to time when it was slow on midnights, but after trying to get on the job for so many years, I wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.
In the end, we went to court a few times on this case, never went to trial. I’m sure he took a plea, but I don’t remember how much, if any time he did. After all, as I’ve heard many times over the years, selling drugs is really a non violent, victimless crime.
Oh yeah, in case anyone is wondering, it was a very long time before they let me go back on the street in a plain clothes assignment. But you needn’t worry. One nice thing about police work. Bosses come and bosses go. Some have short memories. Others take their enmity towards you to the grave. Mostly though, time passes. Sometimes, you will actually find yourself working for a boss who actually respects the work you do and likes you. I bid my time, continued to work hard. I found there was more than one way to skin that cat as time passed. As good as those first years were for me, the best (and worst) still lay ahead for me.