BO DIDDLEY

– Being a new homicide detective is a daunting experience. You felt good when you scored well on the detective’s exam and even better when you got your assignment of choice, homicide. But then suddenly experienced people who seem to be light years ahead of you are everywhere. Homicide “teams,” long term partners, view you with varying degrees of skepticism. You are an inexperienced, unknown entity. You have no homicide history. You jump from partner to partner because the other half of the team is on furlough or taking a compensatory day off. There is little or no continuity to your day-to-day assignments. With no formal training program you find yourself drifting from one partner to another, forming uneasy alliances for only a day or two.

Then suddenly one morning at the 8:30 roll call you are the odd man out. You’ve been there a few weeks and what the hell, it’s the day shift and the boss decides you can work alone for the first time. The question is of course, just what are you going to do?

Detective James Qunicy Vurpell, III, not so affectionately known as “Jimmy the Turd,” is the abrasive unit secretary universally disliked by the rest of the unit. The Turd has an idea. “Here kid, take this and do a little PR,” he says as he hands me a Xerox note from a death investigation the previous evening.

A homicide team had been dispatched when Bertha Tidwell was found dead in her bed. It was the previous night, late in the shift and absent any grossly overt signs of violence the team made an initial call of “natural death.” Neither of them was in any mood to work overtime. They typed a half page that would serve as unofficial notes on the case until they returned to work the following afternoon.

Vurpell handed me the note from the previous night. “The family’s calling with all sorts of tips and clues on this ‘murder’ case,” he said in his squeaky little voice. “Take a ride over there and tell them it’s not a murder. These people think that every time someone dies unexpectedly it’s because someone killed them.” Grateful for something to do, I grabbed the single sheet of paper and a set of car keys.

Out in the lot, I read that family members living with her had discovered Bertha dead in bed. They had thought she was out of the house, but found her when someone checked her bedroom. The ambulance crew estimated that she had been dead for several hours and the responding beat car made a routine notification to homicide. Bertha had already been removed from the scene when homicide arrived but they spoke briefly with the family. Bertha had diabetes and suffered from some vague heart problem. That’s all they needed to know. It was getting close to midnight… they would have just enough time to get back to the office, type a note for the morgue man, and leave on time. Neither of them was looking for overtime that night.

I arrived at the South Ridgeway address and observed that if it were after dark I probably would not have been there alone, even with a revolver strapped to my belt. I rang the bell and was greeted almost immediately by the extended Tidwell family. It was my first experience with the homicide mystique. The family was almost apologetic for interrupting what must be a very busy day for me. Surely I had bigger murder cases to work but they were never the less grateful for my presence and they promised not to take too much of my valuable time. It was infinitely more respect than I had received from Vurpell back at the office. For the first time since my promotion I began to feel like a real live homicide detective.

They told me that the previous day when they gathered for breakfast they noticed that Bertha had apparently left. Her bedroom door was hooked from the outside and her car was gone. Also gone was Bertha’s 26 year old nephew Charles Gastrum, known to the family as “Bo Diddley.” Bo had just joined the family unit from serving a prison term in Texas. Aunt Bertha must have taken him out job hunting. As they continued it became obvious to me that Bertha was the family matriarch. It was late evening before anyone dared unhook Bertha’s bedroom door to look for her. On the bed they found Bertha dead, her nightgown pulled up around her shoulders. The ambulance, the police car, the homicide detectives all seemed so quick and efficient the night before that the family hardly had time to collect their thoughts.

This morning however they felt compelled to offer clues to Bertha’s murder. Midway down the bed was a watery bloodstain. In her bedding near the foot of the mattress were a knife and a pair of men’s boxer shorts, size 46. Her purse was on her nightstand but her car keys and wallet were gone. Bertha never let anyone drive her car. The garage was well secured, locked from the outside and empty. There were no signs of forced entry. And Bo Diddley was missing. Bo wore size 46 boxer shorts.

Feeling more emboldened by the minute I called the crime lab and asked if they would process the scene. Within an hour lab techs had photographed the scene, and bagged and inventoried the bedding, knife and boxer shorts. I gathered recent photos of Charles Gastrum and interviewed each member of the family individually.

It was early afternoon before I returned to the Maxwell Street station armed with copious notes, pictures of Charles Gastrum and a crime lab case number. Vurpell went ballistic.

“That’s the trouble with you new kids!” His normal squeak was now a shrill shriek. “Everything’s got to be a murder. You don’t have a goddamn ounce of common sense. I don’t know where they find you, much less why they send you to us. This is a homicide unit for christsake!”

The other dicks in the office looked my way in sympathy. They hated the Turd and suddenly, in a strange way, I felt I was becoming a member of the group. Never the less I felt myself turning red and I had no idea how to respond. The phone interrupted the Turd’s tirade.

“Homicide, Vurpell,” he answered, his tone had returned to his normal irritating little high-pitched squeak. It was Pat Bughford calling from the morgue. Pat was our morgue man on days. He handled the paperwork on all the Area Four bodies from the night before, observing autopsies, inventorying additional evidence, and phoning the results back to the office, thus freeing other detectives for duties on the street. Area Four, “the murder factory,” was the only area that could justify a full time morgue man.

Vurpell cradled the phone on his shoulder. “Ya, go ahead Pat… Tidwell from last night… Ya I got it,” he said as he grabbed the half page note from the night before. “Ya…What? …death by strangulation… possible rape pending microscopy. Okay Pat, thanks.” he said as he hung up the phone.

Vurpell never looked up from his desk. “Ya gotta a homicide kid,” he squeaked. “Find someone to help you do a format report.” He dismissed me by swiveling his chair away. End of conversation.

A format report! Any vindication I felt instantly faded into a sense of helplessness. A format report was the first official homicide report written in any murder case. It was detailed. It was complex. It outlined every known element of the case and served as a reference report for each subsequent report. It would run a minimum of six single spaced, typewritten pages and many times it would exceed twelve to fifteen pages… and I had never done one.

Suddenly I had comrades. Every homicide dick in the office crowded around me with compliments and comments of support. It was us against him… united against the common enemy, the Turd. I was one of the group… Area Four Homicide! A fraternity that Detective Vurpell would never be allowed to join.

Bill Felston was elected to help me with the report. Death Investigation reclassified to Homicide/Murder. Victim: Bertha Tidwell. Wanted for Questioning: Charles Gastrum AKA Bo Diddley. It ran eight pages. A stolen auto report was initiated on Bertha’s car. We requested a national stop on Gastrum and the car. We logged three hours of overtime. For the first time I began to feel like a real homicide detective. The Turd could go to hell. He would never experience this feeling behind his desk.

The hunt for Bo Diddley was on although it didn’t last long. But it did turn into a long story. Stay tuned next week: Part II, Ya Gotta Extradition, Kid

– Jim Padar

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About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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