I spend a lot of time in autopilot mode while driving, thinking about what to write next on this blog or plotting and planning for my novel. (Amazingly enough a man’s mind can do two things at once.) The M.A.S.H theme song, ‘Suicide is painless,’ came to mind and I felt it was something of a prod from the subconscious, saying, ‘Write about it.’
SUICIDE IS PAINLESS. There is nothing more depressing than being called to the home of someone who has taken their own life. You don’t have answers for family members, you are not there to counsel but to firstly make sure it isn’t a murder. Some are very obvious, others are more of a mystery and it’s up to the forensic chaps to do their bit. I can say one thing and that is I now know what lows a person can come to in their lives to want to end it all.
Case 1. A balmy sunday summer evening, the call comes through, “Body in a car on ……Road.” A loud sigh from both of us, “What happened to peaceful Sundays?” The road in question was situated about 10 kilometres out-of-town, more of a dirt track that might one day grow up and be sealed. The car wasn’t hard to miss, it was the only one parked in the middle of the track with a hose running from the exhaust pipe and into the driver’s side window. The engine chugged on and the interior had the appearance of London smog. It was my job, so while my mate stood by I opened the driver’s door and switched off the ignition. There is nothing worse than inhaling a lung full of carbon monoxide, the driver fell out and I caught him. With my mate’s help we laid him out and checked his vital signs. A quick flash of the torch in his eyes was enough, the whites were bright pink and his body felt cold to the touch. A look at his hands and face showed no bruising or signs of force used against him. An ambulance had already been called and while we waited I checked out the vehicle. Four envelopes sat on the dashboard, addressed to the police, his mother, his girlfriend and work-mates. After calling it in I received the go ahead to open the one marked Police.
A sad letter full of apologies to whoever opened it and had to deal with his remains, and the outline of why he couldn’t go on. A common story of love gained and lost. His girlfriend of 3 years had dumped him and he felt that he couldn’t live without her. I left the other envelopes where they were and replaced the police one for when the scene was photographed. The ambulance turned up, we placed the man on the gurney and helped the ambulance officer put him in the back. That’s our bit done I thought, we’ll hang on till the scene is cleared and back to work. It was not to be, a set of headlights cut through the darkness and a car came to a sliding halt within metres of us. Two men clambered out and attacked us, the bigger one screaming out for his brother. Well, grieving relatives or not it was on for young and old. They wouldn’t listen and let their fists do the talking, we let Mr Truncheon do our talking. As soon as we beat them back, one jumped into the ambulance and got stuck into the officer there, then dragged his brother’s body out onto the ground. We called for backup and managed to get the handcuffs on, before sitting on them.
It was a disgusting spectacle, I could understand grief but not at the expense of the people trying to help. Our backup arrived and took them away, my mate went to the hospital with the body and I took the driver’s ID and went to his mother’s house. She lived about a kilometre away, suffice to say that it was a sad half an hour I spent there. I needed to verify the contents of the letter and check on his movements. It seemed the person who rang about the body knew the deceased and then rang his brothers, thanks a lot. It’s bad enough dealing with a sad, lonely death without the fisticuffs.
Case 2. A crisp winters day and I had been seconded in plain clothes to the CIB, this time we weren’t the first there. It didn’t detract from the scene, a man in his 50’s lived with his aged mother at the house, a high-set Queenslander with a garage and work area underneath. I don’t remember his name, only that hanging himself with steel fencing wire left an indelible image on my brain. I kept the professional Detective look on my face, the I’ve seen it all before and this doesn’t bother me. Inside I felt sick, he’d tried to prise the wire from where it had sliced into his throat. A common reaction from many suicides who hang themselves, that last-minute, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ There was nothing peaceful about him, death leaves its mark and it read horror. We thought for some time that he may have been murdered, however after some investigation a reason was found. His mother was dying and he couldn’t handle it, along with loosing his job. I felt very sad about this, a waste of life and the realisation that had come to him when it was too late.
Case 3, An attempt. People do the strangest things, especially young girls in love. In retrospect there was more to it than a failed love affair. A suicide attempt on a saturday morning at 6 am is not the best start to a shift. We arrived at the suburban house and parked behind the ambulance, our only information was that a girl had suffered a gunshot wound. Once again you don’t take anything for granted and my female partner, Mazie and I entered the house with care. Clear, except for the several teenagers lounging around, obviously waiting to be questioned. Maisie rounded them up while I checked in with the paramedics, “Okay, what’s the go, where’s she been shot?” I looked at her head as she lay on the gurney, nothing there. No blood stains on the torso, only on her lower abdomen. The paramedic shook his head, “She shot herself in the vagina.” I was gob-smacked, I walked next to the gurney out to the ambulance, “Why did you shoot yourself there?” She stared back at me, “Because my boyfriend was sleeping with another girl.”
My mind flooded with several comebacks and the thought that maybe she should have shot the boyfriend. I left them to it and returned to the house, Mazie had secured the firearm and I went to talk with the other teens. Naturally they were all under sixteen and didn’t want to talk with me. I left them in the lounge and made a quick search of the house, looking for the ammunition. I’d checked the shell casing still in the single shot .22 rifle, it was what is known as a cap. ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.22_CB A small, pointy round that has a small amount of propellant in it.
I found another teenage boy sleeping on a top bunk in a side bedroom. By this stage I was ticked off, mainly at the futility of it all. It turned out he was the victim’s brother, a few quick questions and I found the ammo in his wardrobe, “So where did she get the rifle from?” He turned over in bed and pulled the covers up, “Well, whose gun is it?” He turned back, “From me, who else, the silly bitch wanted to end it, so I give it to her.” The situation got to me, grabbing him by his pyjamas I dragged him from the bunk and plonked him on the floor. I wanted to hit him so badly I could taste it. His sister, in desperation wanted to end it all, (although her aim was terrible) and he thought it was of no consequence – so I shook him until his teeth rattled.
Next, the girl’s mother, oh my wasn’t that a treat. Mazie had found her work contact number and rung her. Mother’s only response, “I’m too busy at work to give a shit about what she’s up to now.” Humanity never ceases to amaze me. What about this girl’s pain, both mental and physical? Didn’t anyone care? I don’t know if she received any counselling or help. She could have tried later and succeeded.
Case 4. Don’t trust anybody became my byline, this attempt brought me out from the radio room and right back into action. A man a few years older than myself and a Viet Nam veteran had been making life miserable for a lot of people over the previous month. He had his own problems but didn’t stay on his medication. The week before he had acquired a replica Luger pistol and held traffic up on the town bridge at peak hour. It was a classic attempt of ‘death by cop.’ It didn’t succeed and the lads carted him off to the hospital.
As soon as he was released he went back to his old tricks, this time threatening to kill his wife and then himself. Another saturday, I hated them. I manned the phones in the radio room and received the 000 call from the wife. After listening to her I felt that I had the expertise to talk the husband down. The patrol car came in and I went out with the sergeant, the wife met us at the front gate, told us where he was hiding and that he had a large butcher’s slaughtering knife. We found him under the house with his suitcase, she had ordered him out of the marital home. He seemed a little out of it and I managed to engage him.
We all went upstairs, the sun had gone down and the house was quite gloomy inside. He flopped on the settee in the lounge room. At this stage he hadn’t shown any signs of violence, we sat down on each side of him, and I ended up on his right. I began talking to him and his wife stood at the kitchen door glaring at us all. This didn’t help, neither did the knife on the coffee table. We all stared at it, the wife switched the light on, it caught the razor-sharp edge and it looked even bigger than it was. Quick as a flash he snatched the knife up with his right hand, pointed it at his throat and tried to stab himself.
Sarge wasn’t stupid, he only had to hold onto an empty hand, I had the pointy one. It is amazing how strong small, angry men can be. He managed to stick the point into his skin, the pain must have inspired him to greater heights as he tried to stick it into my throat. Sitting down had me at a disadvantage, Sarge managed to get him in a headlock and I disarmed him. A huge sigh of relief all round. This time he went straight down to the mental home and we had him sectioned.
Case 5. This one bothered me the most, the young man involved was sixteen and in the middle of his parent’s broken marriage. His dad had left and his mum had a new boyfriend, this upset him and sent him on a spree of bad behaviour. The last act was shooting at the neighbours from the upstairs window of his mum’s house. Another saturday ( I hated them) and we received the call. We pulled up two houses away and checked with the witnesses, they pointed out the window, it was shut. More people came forward and told of bullets richocheting near them as they walked along the footpath.
I approached the house, while three other coppers waited safely behind the car. At this stage of my career I didn’t particularly care much for my life. There was only one entry and that was the front door, the house had been raised, timber and panelling littered the stairway that led up to the lounge room. Making my way up the 13 stairs – on my stomach – I peeked into the room. He was stretched out on a recliner chair, feigning sleep and unarmed. Making sure nobody else was there I called the others up. After finding a recently fired M1 carbine in a cupboard I arrested him. He seemed to be under the influence of drugs and complied with my directions. Another day another arrest.
The following week, after a few days leave I returned to work to be met with the comment, “You don’t have to worry about going to court over the shooting last week, the silly bastard hung himself.” He’d left a note stating that being arrested was basically the last straw and he hung himself from the very stairs I’d crawled up. I know he had free will and that it was his own choice but it rankled for a long time.
I’ve come across the self harmers’, pill takers, drivers who take out trees, they all have one thing in common – despair. In some it can be obvious, in others you would never guess as to their intentions. Loved ones always say, ‘If only I’d known.’ It makes little difference in the end when someone has their mind-set on it, they usually see it through. The saddest is the one who, in such a distressed state of mind goes through with it, without really knowing what they are doing.