What police work is really like, Episode II: Hannibalette
So there I was, minding my own business, ordering breakfast with a few other officers. It was 6:30 a.m. on a school day. Our shift had just started, all was quiet. Then the radio came to life.
Fatal accident. On a quiet residential street. Less than two miles from where we stood.
We ditched our orders and headed to our cars. As we left the parking lot, I wondered, How do you have a fatal accident on a street with a 30 mph speed limit? Did someone run over a kid or something?
About twenty seconds later, the dispatcher piped up again. It wasn’t an accident. It was a shooting.
We punched it. A minute later we turned the corner onto the street. An old car with doors thrown open was awkwardly parked in the street near a fire truck. Half a block away, a young man stood next to a firefighter. We drove to them.
The young man was shaking in terror and covered in blood. He spoke only Spanish and the firefighter couldn’t understand him. I asked him what happened and he yelled, “She’s in her house! Over there!”
At that point, I had to make a decision. Should I believe anything he said? After all, he could be the murderer himself. But he looked literally almost scared to death. I went with my gut and listened to him.
He pointed down the street. I told him to show me, and we jogged toward a house. As we passed the old car, I glimpsed a shattered body lying in the back seat. Blood covered all the windows. The shaking young man gave me a description of the suspect. Hispanic female, 40ish, short and dumpy, armed with a pistol. She had shot the young man’s friend in the head as they sat together in his back seat.
He pointed out the house and backed off. Officers surrounded the house. My partner, who had almost 20 years on the street, pointed at me and said, “Good luck, brother. God bless.” For some reason, I’ve never forgotten that moment.
My partner and I pounded on the door and stood to the side with weapons drawn. I was nervous. This wasn’t the first murderer I had pursued, but it was the first one I had pursued rights after they killed someone. I didn’t know if she would answer with a gun, shoot at us through the door, or what.
A teenage boy opened the door. I asked him if any women were in the house.
“Just my mom,” he said.
“Where is she?”
“She’s in her bedroom.” He pointed down the hall, just as a short, dumpy Hispanic woman in her 40’s walked into view. We ordered her out of the house. She came outside with a confident look on her face. We handcuffed her. Her dress was clean, but her bare feet were covered with blood.
I walked her to my patrol car. She didn’t say a word. I opened the back door and turned her toward me to sit her down. And then I saw something I had never seen before, and haven’t seen since. The sight froze me for a moment.
A small piece of brain, about the size of my pinky nail, was in her hair, just above the center of her forehead. Everything else was clean, but this piece of brain was clearly visible. I had seen brain matter before several times in shootings, accidents and on a bridge-jumper scene. There was no question about what it was.
I stopped putting her in the back seat and called other officers over. Several crowded around. We stared in amazement at the piece of brain, and one officer took photos for evidence. The woman looked at us in confusion. She didn’t speak English or understand what we said, but apparently she figured out something significant was on her head.
I put her in the back seat and went to the old car in the street. The man in the back seat wasn’t just dead, he was more like. . . destroyed. He had been shot three times in the head with a .357 at close range. For those who think bullets always make a clean little hole going in and a clean little hole going out, I hope you never see what they actually do. The car’s entire interior was covered with blood and tissue.
The terrified friend of the victim told us the story. People who watch CSI and other stupid “cop” shows might think murders are committed by criminal masterminds with a plan that is just barely foiled by astute investigators. If this doesn’t show you how convoluted and stupid murders and murderers can really be, nothing can convince you.
The survivor and his friend had met the woman at a bar the night before. They went back to her house and stayed up all night drinking and snorting cocaine. It was a good time all around.
But sometime in the morning, one of the men (aka “the victim”) finally made a sexual advance on the woman. She got angry and said no. The victim called her a bitch. She said, “Oh yeah? Well I got something for you, wait here.” She went to her bedroom and came back loading a .357 revolver.
At this point the survivor, who on the relative scale stands out as a genius, jumped up, said “I don’t want any part of this” and walked outside to his car. The victim followed a minute later. As soon as the victim got into the front passenger seat, the woman ran outside and jumped into the back seat of the car. Her hand and a large object shaped suspiciously like a .357 revolver were under her t-shirt.
She told the victim, “You’re a coward. If you were a real man, you’d sit back here next to me.”
Of course, the victim had to prove he was a real man. So he said, “Bitch, I’m not afraid of you!” and got in the back seat. The woman told the survivor, “Take me to my friend’s house down the street.”
So our survivor knows he’s got a pissed off, drunk, cocaine-ravaged woman with a pistol under her shirt sitting directly behind him. What does he do? He follows her orders and drives down the street. And remember, of the three people in the car, he’s the genius.
The survivor drove away from the house. Parents were standing at the curb with their children, waiting for the school bus. The woman continued insulting the victim. “You’re a queer, you’re a coward. I should have killed you.”
The victim’s famous last words, no doubt spoken in a confident, masculine manner, were, “Bitch, if you’re going to kill me, just f**king kill me!”
The woman pulled the pistol from under her shirt, put it to the victim’s head, and fired until it was empty. Her first three rounds shattered the victim’s skull. The recoil made her hand rise, and she put the last three through the car’s roof. The woman did this just as they were passing the school bus.
Blood splattered on the car’s windows. The survivor screamed, slammed on the brakes and turned around. The woman pointed the empty pistol at him. He scrambled from the car and ran. The woman got out, covered in gore, stuck the pistol under her shirt and walked home.
Neighbors who were outside with their children saw her drenched in blood, but didn’t know exactly what had happened. They asked her if they should call an ambulance. She answered, “I don’t give a damn, call whoever you want,” and walked into her house.
Someone did call 911 to report. . . an accident. The neighbors heard gunshots. They saw a terrified, blood-covered young man flee from the car. They saw their neighbor walk back to her house covered in blood and who knew what else, with something under her shirt, acting strangely. But they reported an accident, not a shooting. It wasn’t until a fire truck arrived that anyone knew it was a murder.
In my experience, when good people who aren’t used to violence see horrible violence, they don’t believe what they’re seeing. They think it has to be something else. I once arrived on a scene where a bank robber and police officer had just fired over thirty rounds at each other in the street in front of expensive townhomes. Two witnesses told us, “I didn’t think it was real. I thought someone was filming a movie or something.”
So, back to the arrest. After the piece of brain was photographed and I put the woman in the back seat, one of our sergeants talked to her and got her ID info. She was an illegal alien from Central America. The sergeant asked her, “Why’d you kill that guy?”
Her answer was, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t kill that guy. I’ve killed people before, but I didn’t kill that guy.”
At that point I finally got it. Short, dumpy, way older, drunk, high on coke, and a murderer? I mean, what guy could pass that up in a bar?
A little while later the homicide investigators showed up. I told them about the piece of brain in the woman’s hair. An investigator said, “Oh man, I gotta see this.”
I took him to the car and let the woman out. She was smiling. I looked above her forehead. The piece of brain was gone. I looked on her hair and face, turned her around, checked her all over. No piece of brain. I leaned into the back seat and searched for it. No brain. My partner tore out the entire back seat. No brain.
I’m pretty sure she ate it. We never found it. Whatever she did with it, she was real proud of herself.
She went to jail. Later that week, we found out the woman actually posted bail. The judge knew she was illegal, knew she would jet right back across the border, and still set her bail at only $30,000. I didn’t expect to ever see her again.
Months later her trial came up. I figured I was wasting my time going since she wouldn’t show up, but I went anyway. To my amazement, she was there.
The first day of the trial went baaaaaddd for her. The jury saw brutal crime scene photos. They heard the survivor’s testimony. They saw a picture of the woman with the piece of brain in her hair, and heard me testify that it was there when we put her in the back seat but then disappeared. They must have had the same suspicion I did about what happened to that piece of brain. I don’t even know what the woman’s defense was, other than “I didn’t do it.” When we were released for the day, I thought, This woman is screwed for sure.
As I left the courthouse I saw the woman. She was at a bus stop with her daughter, staring at me. I shook my head and walked to my car. There was no way she would show up the next day. It would be insane for her to come back.
The next day she came back. And was convicted of murder. And sentenced to life in prison.
I don’t know what shocked me more: the murder, the cannibalism or her appearance in court. Either way, I’m glad I helped put her away. And I’ll never forget her.
That was one hardcore, dangerous woman.
Filed under: Cops, What Police Work is Really Like | 8 Comments
Tags: crime scene, investigation, murder