I have a special guest for you today. Carl Lamberth spent 30 years of his life writing….not novels – police reports!
During his time as a police officer he wrote every kind of police report there is. From simple traffic crash reports as a young uniform officer in the Patrol Division to the more complex and detailed homicide and other major crime investigative reports during his almost 12 years as a plain clothes investigator in the Criminal Investigations Division.
Over to you, Carl…
My career in law enforcement began in 1977. Right out of college I was hired by my hometown police department. I retired in 2007 with 30 years of work experience in many areas within this police department. When I started writing novels I decided to incorporate my experiences in police work into my stories. Each novel has a crime drama element to it. My second novel in particular has a detective element to it as the story evolves.
Like all new cops, I started as a rookie officer in the Uniform Patrol Division of the department…a street cop. By the mid 1980’s I was promoted and transferred to the plain clothes Criminal Investigation Division assigned to the Major Crimes Unit.
As a detective (or Criminal Investigator – which was the department’s title for officers in this unit), I was assigned to work major crimes, which included burglaries, robberies, rapes, serious assaults, and murders.
Although the normal assigned working hours for Criminal Investigators was between 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday; as would be expected assigned criminal cases for investigation would require at times unusual and long hours in order to track down and locate victims, witnesses, or suspects. Also, as part of our work assignment, investigators were each placed on an “on-call” schedule for a week at a time, subject to being called out after hours to investigate any major crimes occurring in the city during non-office hours.
I will never forget my first call out.
On a wintry night, the second day of my on-call week around 3:00 AM, I was awakened by the phone ringing. Dispatch advised me to respond to a crime scene where a garbage dumpster behind a store was on fire.
The body of an unknown male was found inside the dumpster burned beyond identification. This discovery was made after the fire was extinguished by the fire department.
Not having a lot of arson experience, I contacted the State Bureau of Investigation for assistance and one of their arson investigators responded to assist in the crime scene. That night, I heard the term “crispy critter” for the first time; SBI agent’s slang name for this unknown victim.
One thing I learned as a cop is that all police officers develop a warped sense of humor. This twisted wit serves as a kind of emotional defense mechanism to help deal with the constant tragedy and violence most cops see on a routine basis. This humor may pop up at any time to help cope with a horrific situation or scene.
The only time you will not see this joking around is when children are involved.
To make a long story short, there was no foul play involved in the burning body found in the dumpster. The victim was a homeless person who accidentally set himself on fire while smoking in the dumpster he used for shelter. More than likely he was smoking a cigarette and fell asleep, or passed out from alcohol use. The cigarette set him and the trash he was using for warmth ablaze.
As the SBI agent put it, “Smoking in bed can be dangerous!”
However, my most interesting “on-call” response came on an Easter Sunday afternoon. I was called out to a homicide scene of an elderly woman found murdered in her house. When the victim didn’t show for sunrise church service, her best friend who lived one street over checked on her.
She found the back door unlocked. Upon entering the house, she discovered her friend lying dead in the living room–stabbed numerous times.
I arrived to a scene of numerous uniform officers who had secured the residence. When my supervisor and our unit’s crime scene technician arrived, an initial check and survey of the residence was made.
I observed a complete–and I do mean complete–and total ransacking of the house. All cabinet drawers were standing open, furniture turned over and moved, closet doors were opened, etc.
The unknown suspect or suspects were obviously looking for something.
The victim was lying supine in a rather large pool of blood near the front door, in the foyer/front entrance way. The front door was locked. There was blood spattering along the walls of the long L-shaped hallway, which led from the living room area to the bedrooms. Small amounts of blood were also noted in the victim’s master bedroom, on the carpet and one wall.
We decided to request the assistance of the State Bureau of Investigation mobile crime lab to assist in the crime scene investigation. Upon arrival, the SBI crime scene technician made the decision to ask for additional crime scene help from the main crime lab in Raleigh, NC.
A major crime scene analysis was undertaken in hopes of finding any and all physical evidence. The crime scene investigation would take several days on site to complete.
Keep in mind, this was back before DNA evidence had become a tool for law enforcement. Our biggest hope was to find latent fingerprint evidence or other trace evidence left by the suspect or suspects.
As it turned out, most latent print evidence would be accounted for as belonging to the victim, or people who had legitimate access to the residence. All blood evidence was typed as the victim’s. Physical evidence would not lead to the identity of the murderer or murderers.
The autopsy report revealed the woman had been stabbed 8 times with a large knife, estimated to be 7 to 8 inches long and at least 1 inch in width.
She was stabbed 3 times in the back and 5 times in the front chest area, several stab wounds penetrating the heart.
Based on the on-scene Luminol testing for blood, a scenario was developed as to what probably happened that night.
The first stab wound occurred in the victim’s bedroom, probably as the victim attempted to exit the room, escape her assailant.
She ran up the hallway and hung a right toward the front door, where she apparently fell to the floor, transferring a small amount of blood onto the carpet and receiving a carpet burn on her left knee. She got up and made her way to the front door when her assailant caught up to her, stabbing her two more times in the back.
She fell to the floor, on her back. Her attacker then stabbed her 5 times in the chest; a very gruesome end to a sweet lady on Easter Sunday.
Note: During our search of the residence we did observe a dress the victim planned to wear to church on Easter morning. Neatly laid out on the bed in the guest bedroom, she would instead be buried in the dress.
Our investigation would reveal street rumor beliefs that this woman kept a large amount of money in a home safe; money she obtained through the previous sale of a local community grocery store after her husband died.
In truth, however, although the woman was somewhat wealthy and lived in one of the nicer homes in the neighborhood (which had slowly deteriorated through time into a lower economic community), she did not have a safe, nor keep large amounts of cash at home.
A motive of possible robbery was established.
The victim had a grown son who still lived at home. He had a criminal record for various drug related offenses and was rumored to be hooked on cocaine (powder cocaine was prevalent back in those days as the drug of choice). Obviously, he became our first suspect. However, it would be determined he had an ironclad alibi for the time of his mother’s murder.
Our attention then turned to known drug associates of the son. Nothing concrete could be developed on any of them. We were back to square one.
One thing I learned about murders is there are basically two types: the “smoking gun” type, which means a known suspect is developed if not immediately at least within the first 48 hours due to witnesses or other facts. The second is the “who-done-it” type in which no immediate suspect is known or developed within the first 48 hour period.
This case definitely fell into the “who-done-it” category.
Two months into the investigation we still had no suspect or suspects. However, we would soon believe our luck had changed with a development in another murder case…
Would this be the break we were looking for?
Stay tuned for part II.
To quote someone who knows a thing or two: “Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.” – Napoleon Hill.
I didn’t give up and here I am – a published writer!
And I’m writing again…but not police reports – novels!
Connect with Carl on Twitter @CarltonLamberth