It's funny how you perceive something one way and it turns out to be something else. This is what I came away with yesterday after an interview with Detective Austria from the Portland Police Bureau Homicide Division.
Located in the Justice Building in downtown Portland, the 13th floor (yes, I said 13th) was like any other business; cubicles, large open windows in all directions, and people going about their daily routine. Only these men and women were occupied with catching and prosecuting murderers. In addition to investigating homicides, the Homicide Detail investigates Officer Involved shootings/use of deadly force, felony assaults, kidnapping, custodial interference and missing persons. As you can imagine, these are very busy people. It was humbling to say the least.
Detective Austria was an amazing man; 17 years with the bureau, skilled, confident, kind, soft spoken. Originally from Hawaii, he has worked his way up through the ranks of the PPD to become one of two lead detectives in the division. I was honored to be speaking with him about his craft. This man is a professional through and through.
Over the next few days, I'll try to lay out what is involved in a homicide investigation based on my interview. I am taking some literary license here and will be dramatizing it a bit, hoping to get all the details right based off of our conversation. From a creative point of view, this process helps me absorb the information so I can incorporate it into my writing. The following is what went on "behind the scenes," so to speak, and didn't get included in my novel, THE BELL STALKER, although some of it will be used to correct a few errors I made. I'm hoping it will be an amazing journey and I'm delighted to have you along...
Dispatch receives a phone call from a cell phone somewhere in the SW Portland.
"911. What is your emergency?"
The woman on the other end of the line is distraught. "My friend... John, my friend... he's dead... in my apartment."
"Stay calm, ma'am. What is your address?"
Between sobs, the woman gives the address and the dispatcher recognizes it as a high rise in the Park Blocks of downtown Portland. She signals her partner to radio the closest uniformed officers to respond to the scene and keeps the woman on the line.
"Ma'am, how do you know he's dead?"
"There's blood everywhere... he's... he's all cut up... Please hurry... Please."
"Where are you right now?"
"I'm in the apartment... in the kitchen."
"We have dispatched officers to your location. I need you to get out of the apartment. Is there a neighbor you can contact?"
"Yes... no... I don't know."
"Leave the apartment now and knock on a neighbor's door. Can you do that?"
"Yes... yes, all right."
There is shuffling over the line and the dispatcher hears a knock. After several seconds, she hears muted voices over the line.
"Ma'am, are you all right." A few seconds more. "Ma'am?"
"Yes. I'm all right. I'm next door with my neighbor."
"Good. Now I want you to stay on the line with me until the officers arrive. What apartment are you in?"
A muted conversation, then, "11B."
"Thank you. I will make sure they find you as soon as they arrive."
(Note: We didn't talk a lot about what the first officers on the scene do since it wasn't vital to my story, so this may be a bit sketchy. Thanks for your patience. Some of this is based on previous experience.)
Three cruisers pull up outside the building and uniformed officers get out. The first officer on the scene pushes the button on his radio.
"Dispatch, what do we have?"
"Female reports body of friend "John" in her apartment, 11D. We have sent her to a neighbors, apartment 11B to wait. Female reports the body is covered in blood and cut up."
"Roger, dispatch. Call the manager and have them let us into the complex."
"Already have. The security guard is waiting at the front door for you."
A guard stands at the glass door of the high rise, alert. Five more cruisers arrive. The lead officer goes through the door with two others close behind him.
"Elevator?" he asks the guard. The man points down the hallway toward the back of the building.
When five more officers arrive, the lead orders two to the front and two to the back of the building, and the other to take the stairwell to secure the area. The original three officers take the elevator to the eleventh floor.
The long hallway is lighted by dim sconces when the elevator doors open. They can see an open door at the end of a line of them. Unholstering their guns, they make their way slowly to the apartment.
Once there, they lean against the door jam and call through the open door.
"This is the police. If anyone is in there, come out with your hands up or we will shoot you." There is no response.
They enter the apartment and scan the scene. There is a small open kitchen to their right with the light on. Otherwise, the apartment is dark. Making their way down a hallway, they enter a sunken living room lighted only by the kitchen. Laid over the couch and across the coffee table is a man about 6' tall in dark clothes.
The lead officer signals the two others to search the rest of the apartment. He approaches the man and reaches to feel for a pulse, but then realizes the man's throat is missing. Stepping back from the body, he is careful not to step in the pool of blood around the corpse, making certain he does not touch anything. The other two officers come back and report that the apartment is clear. The lead officer posts one outside the door of the apartment and takes the other with him to question the witness.
"Ma'am, I need to ask you some questions. What is your name, address, and phone number." She mutters them through her sobbing. "Please tell me how you happened to find the body."
"I was coming home from a late night at work. My door was unlocked when I got to the apartment and I thought my roommate had forgotten to lock it. I went in, turned on the kitchen light, and then saw the body..." A moment of breakdown. "Then I called 911."
"Do you know who the victim is?"
Terrified eyes. "Yes," she whispers. "It's my friend John. John Ian. But it's impossible. He called me when I was downstairs in the garage. He called me."
"That's ok, ma'am. When the detectives arrive, they will ask you some more questions. In the meantime, just remain calm."
He has the officers with him put up police tape and cordon off the hallway and the apartment. He then calls Homicide to speaks with the detective on duty filling him in on the details. Homicide is already on their way.
To be continued...