Thursday, November 20, 2014

Finding a Body

Maggie in my woods
I’m a mystery writer. I murder lots of people, albeit only on the written page. I’m close to thirty victims now including both books and short stories. The protagonist in my mystery series, Catherine Jewell, so far has found six bodies. She’s beginning to feel like she’s a jinx to her small town. I don’t blame her. Although at my age I’ve confronted death, I've never discovered a body. That is until last week.

It began as a normal morning, I went out to feed and water my two ponies and six hens and put the ponies out to pasture. As always, my collie Maggie was with me most of the time. However this morning she went out beyond the barn and kept barking towards the woods. I checked and couldn’t see anything and wondered if a hunter was out there. I headed for my morning walk in the woods where I go past my son and daughter-in-law’s house and continue my trail making sizeable loops giving me a good half hour’s exercise. When we’d been walking a while and started heading towards the back of my woods, Maggie started barking again. I thought maybe it was squirrels except she didn’t take off like she does when she spies one. We continued to the end, took a large loop, came back and kept going to the south section of my woods with Maggie staying with me. Just as the path loops on the final stretch of my trail, we stopped for a while at a log Maggie always leaps up on for her treat. We always linger a while at that spot.  When I started on, Maggie headed north with her nose to the ground which wasn’t unusual for her, and I walked on until I saw him.

It was a man crouched in a strange position on his toes with his knees bent and his arms slightly out to his sides. My first thought was it was someone playing a prank. I thought maybe it was the man I’d seen a little over a year ago sitting behind a log by my trail dressed in camouflage with only his eyes visible holding a gun. I’d asked who he was and he said a neighbor.  I challenged him when he said which neighbor. I’d never talked to him, but knew he was much older. I told him I walked there every morning and he wasn’t to hunt there. He said. “I know. You have a different dog now.” Which was true. I said he’d better be gone when I returned, and he was unless he was back now.

So I yelled at him, and told him to get out of my woods and quit trying to scare me. Then I noticed a thin wire going from the back of his head up into the tree. A dummy was my next thought. Someone was playing a trick on me because they knew I was a mystery writer. But on closer look he looked too real to be a dummy. More like a wax person in a museum. Rather than go close to him in case he was alive and could grab me, I yelled again. “What are you doing here? You’re trespassing, you know, and I want you to leave.” He didn’t open his eyes or move in any way. My final parting shot as I moved on was “I’m going to call 911. The police will be coming so you’d better leave.” As I moved on down the trail with my heart beating a little faster, I looked back and he was still hanging there.

I knocked on my daughter-in-law Pam’s door. When she answered, I told her what I’d seen. She dialed 911 and gave me her phone. I told the responder what I’d seen and then babbled on that I thought it might be a prank to spook me because I was a mystery writer. He got the address of where I was and told us to wait outside for the police to come.

After a while, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and I told him what I’d seen. Then a fire truck with two women arrived followed by an all-terrain vehicle with two young men. I told them the paths were too narrow for it to go in. While my daughter-in-law looked for boots for the deputy because he didn’t want to get his shoes dirty, I took Maggie home before I returned to lead everyone into the woods on the shortest path leading to the body while the deputy and fire men & women fanned out checking for clues, I guess.

So I got to watch a real crime scene investigation. Sort of. There was only one actual police officer. He was talking over the phone describing the scene to someone. I heard no trauma. I realized while watching the scene that the body’s odd stiff posture was the rigor mortis that had set in. I also gathered from earlier comments it might be someone local who had been reported missing yesterday.  The road mentioned for the man wasn’t very close to my place making Pam and me wonder what in the world he was doing in my woods. Sentiments expressed by my son, too, when he called later, more on the lines of “What in the h… was he doing in your woods?”

Eventually, they got ready to cut the body down and the deputy told me another deputy had arrived and didn’t want to come in the woods and get his shoes dirty, either, so I’d have to go back to give a statement. I left and made my very first statement to the police as a witness. He seemed rather amused when I told him why I didn’t believe it was actually a dead man in the beginning, but then how often do mystery writers actually discover a body? Anyway, he wanted my name, address and identification. Identification? A rather small woman my age could be a possible murderer who strung a rather large man up a tree? Of course, I wasn’t carrying a driver’s license so he wanted my social security number which I stupidly gave him. I should have told him I didn’t remember it.

The rest of the day was strange. I called one sister and told her and emailed my critique partners and an out-of-town sister with the news before going to my daughter’s to watch her daycare kids while she went to a dentist. But I couldn’t get that man out of my mind wondering about him and why he’d chosen my woods to commit suicide.

Late that afternoon when I was doing early barn chores, I walked over to see if Pam had found out anything new. She’d discovered he’d actually lived on the road just north of me with a few of the houses’ backyards actually bordering my woods. He was forty-seven years old. Also, the yellow car he’d been driving was still missing. 

While we were talking, a car drove in and two women got out. One was the man’s wife, the other her mother. The wife was devastated. She wanted to know what we could tell her. We both told her we were so sorry, and I hugged her. I told her I’d found him, and she apologized for that. Pam told her he looked peaceful so he didn’t suffer. I nodded. She told us they’d been together six years, married three of them. He was a mason, a brick layer. She said he had two children in their early twenties and her three young daughters loved him and called him daddy. She said he’d had a heroin habit, but had been clean for one month that day. Because the yellow car was missing, she suspected foul play. As Maggie cavorted around us, his young wife asked me the strangest question. “Would you be willing to take our four month old German shepherd puppy?” I told her no. My house is too small.

Why he committed suicide may be a mystery probably no one will solve. I did find out their backyard was the last one on that road that connects with my woods which made him coming into my woods not such a mystery, although without the coroner’s report which I’ll never get to see, I won’t know when he died. However, I did look up rigor mortis and have a general idea of the time frame. The car was discovered at a small restaurant a half mile down the road so that mystery is solved. His wife kept calling his cell phone, which was on him, so that’s why my dog was barking so much towards that area. She heard the phone.

So was I traumatized by this? Not seriously for several reasons. One I’ve dealt with the death of loved ones. I held my son when he died and was with my brother when he died and was also present when my daughter gave permission for her six-year old brain-dead daughter’s life support to be removed. I’ve gone to many funerals over my life time.  Another reason is that I talked to so many people that afternoon and evening on the phone, and weird as it seems, we were laughing. Not at the poor man’s death, of course, but of my yelling at him before I fully realized he was dead, and over the irony that a mystery writer would actually find a body hanging in the woods.

Will I stop walking in my woods? No! The next day I walked again, but this time I took six daffodil bulbs I dug up that morning, a garden trowel and gardening gloves. When I got to that spot, I planted the daffodils, said a prayer for him, and picked up the half full bottle of water he’d left and took it home to recycle and a piece of cellophane. Strange that the deputy never picked it up as possible evidence, isn’t it? I’ve walked every day since except during a snow storm one day.

The death of any loved one is a tragedy, and I think suicide must be the worst thing the surviving family and friends must deal with. We, who write or only read mysteries, don’t always think about the suffering the families of real victims go through. The following early evening while I was doing barn chores, Maggie wouldn’t stop barking towards the woods. I have a feeling the family were looking for the spot he died. My heart aches for them.

Three days later I found out he had a history with the police as did his wife/girlfriend, and later that night, his son and the man’s younger sister from Michigan showed up at my front door after dark. I didn’t let them in and talked to them through the door. They assured me they were clean, didn’t do drugs, but understood why I wouldn’t let them in. Apparently, the woman who claimed to be his wife wasn’t any longer. They’d been married only a short time and divorced for more than a year. His son, who has his name, said she’s the one who started him on heroin. She’s a crack and heroin addict who lost custody of her three daughters. She’d been married three times and when the funeral arrangements were being made, she showed up totally high and obnoxious. The funeral director got rid of her. The coroner said that the worse stage for an addict is when they’ve been clean for about a month. Then they sink into a deep depression. When the son asked if he could go into the woods, I said I’d rather he didn’t, and that I knew his spirit wasn’t there lingering, and other words of comfort. We talked for ten to fifteen minutes, and then they thanked me and left. Afterwards I felt a little guilty that it hadn’t been enough. But could any words have been enough over something like this? I don’t think so.

Have you ever discovered a body?
How do you think it would affect you if you did?


  1. Wow, what an experience! It was incredibly kind of you to plant the bulbs, Gloria.

    Your beginning made me think. I wonder how many people I've killed in my fiction. I wonder if I could even count them!

  2. Having been to your woods and walked your paths I can picture where this all took place. I haven’t been in your situation. I think I would be fine with it, however, I would worry about people continuing to bother Maggie by trespassing in the woods. Hopefully that will soon end.

    ~ Jim

  3. I would have needed to drink lots of laced hot tea to get over the shock of finding a body, Gloria. Although you seem concerned about his family members, you haven't let it unbalance your internal equilibrium. I doubt that many would do as well as you have with the experience. I think it will serve to put more authenticity into your writing.

    I hope your animals have grown thick winter coats. Keep warm!

  4. Kaye, last summer I'd murdered 21 people. At my local writers group, I was given a autographed box with a buck knife in it with a decorated leather sheath. It was shortly after my birthday, but I couldn't figure out how they knew I had a birthday and couldn't figure out why a 76 year old would get a knife, until one of the members, Don, whose idea it was told me to look at the handle. On it he'd made notches for everyone I'd murdered so far. We all had a good laugh over it and I'm still smiling.

  5. Jim, I think you would be, too. After my experience with the camouflaged hunter, my son put up signs all along the side of my woods bordering the side with backyards adjacent to my woods and to my knowledge it had worked until this - at least as far as I know. The signs weren't my idea because I didn't care if neighbors wanted to enjoy my woods, just not hunters, but he does feel quite protective of me at times.

    E.B. I was lucky to have friends and family to talk to about this, and yes, my ponies have their winter coats and are looking quite plump because of this. Maggie, always looks heavy, but because she's a house pet, I don't think her coat is quite as thick as it would be if she weren't. Also, she was recently groomed. Actually, under her shaggy coat, she's not overweight at all - probably because of all the exercise she gets.

  6. May your daily walks with Maggie continue, free of worry.

  7. Margaret, thank you. They have except for the last few days because of the extreme cold. My walks give me an inner peace and a place where I come up with ideas for my stories or poetry.

  8. Gloria, I'm so sorry he had to die in your woods. I suppose it was a convenient location for him, and someone in such a depressed and desperate state is not going to think very logically about his choice. You can be glad that it was winter, not summer, and that you found his body pretty quickly. Ugh. It could have been so much worse! That being said, there's a small part of me saying: how cool! You witnessed a police investigation and gave a statement. Good material for Catherine's next adventure.

  9. Chris, I actually think, and I may be wrong because who knows what a depressed person is really thinking, that he chose my woods because he thought his body would be found sooner and not have his family searching and worrying what happened to him for weeks or even months. The weather was chilly, but snow had not yet arrived.

  10. My wife and I discovered the body of our elderly next door neighbor. We hadn't seen her for days so we went over to check. She had slipped getting into a high-walled bathtub and hit her head. I had taken her around town to retirement homes and she had finally found one she liked.

    Mostly I was sad. I still miss her humor and support. She was a great friend.

  11. Warren, I think I would have felt worse if I had known him like you knew her. However, today his obituary was in the Tribune and as I read it and learned more about it, I became rather choked up. He now became more than a dead body to me.

  12. Gloria, what an experience to happen to a mystery writer. It's the Jessica Fletcher syndrome coming to life. I don't know what I would have done had it happened to me. I don't carry my phone with me on my walks, but maybe I should because sometimes I walk a nature path near my house that I always thought would be a great place to find a body. In reality, I don't think it would be a situation I'd want to be in. There was a woman I knew slightly who was murdered on her morning walk nearby. They did find the killer, although the husband was the first person they zeroed in on. It almost ruined his reputation. I guess we should be careful what we wish for to add truth to our stories.

  13. Warren, I would have felt worse if I had known him like you did her. Today his obituary was in the newspaper and as I read it, he became more real to me and I rather choked up. He was no longer a body, but a person with a life story and a family who loved him.

  14. So sorry you had to experience this, Gloria, and I just read your comment about reading his obituary. So much easier when he was just "a body" and not a person.
    I think it was a blessing to him and his family that you found him quickly and planted the flowers in the space.

  15. Polly, I had my little Tracfone on me only because my kids insist I carry one. However, I didn't use it there, but used my daughter-in-law's i-phone. I think it was because I didn't want to believe it was real. I can't say I've ever wished to actually find a body in my woods - a bear, yes, but not a body.

  16. 145Glad you were safe thru it all.Reading your third book now,Ladies of the Garden Club.
    Ron Calland

  17. And you wonder why I tell you that the woods are creepy! The minute Maggie started barking, I'd have been running.
    Don't think seeing it the way you did would have been too traumatic, but knowing me, I'd have had to go up and see. That might have done it.
    And you did exactly what I find so weird about people when confronted by the police. Feel that they should know something or assume something about you, and be surprised when they question you. I've met women your size and about your age who could kick the s..t out of a normal size man, and what is so hard about someone your age carrying a gun.
    And I'm one of those people who believe most Americans are very naive about identification. OTOH, he should have made you go get some, not ask for your SS number.
    And after the victim's 'kids' left, you should have called the police and verified what they said, just in case.
    Well, that's just me.

  18. Yikes, Gloria! That's quite a discovery! I've seen a few bodies before they were transported to morgues, but I've never been the one to discover any!

    Whenever I hear about a suicide, I wonder about the innocent people who are effected. Like the subway operator who sometimes wakes up screaming for the rest of his life because someone decided to step off the platform in front of his train.

  19. A suicide is so tragic! I think it's beautiful that you planted daffodils bulbs in his honor. I hope that your daily walks continue to be peaceful.

    When I was in college my friend and I were driving back from a party through what used to be called South Central Los Angeles at 1:00 am. First, a woman jumped in front of the car and cursed at us. After we drove a few more blocks, we saw a body of a young man on the street next to a gutter. It looked like he had a knife wound to the abdomen. I remember that there was a lot of blood. We called 911 and waited at a gas station, but the police didn't need to interview us. Since there was heavy gang activity in the area I think they just wanted us to leave so they wouldn't have two more bodies.

  20. Shari, you're right about that. When I saw his face in the obit, and read more about him, he became more real to me.

    Ron, he was never a threat to me only to himself. By the way, my fourth book just came out - The Body in the Goldenrod."


  21. Pat, I find the woods a wonderful soothing place, and as for Maggie barking, she barks at squirrels and other critters, too. As long as I'm able to walk, I will not give up my morning walks in the woods.

    As for the police and my babbling, it was a form of shock and not believing what I'd actually seen. No one would believe a 76 year old woman who didn't know the man would string him up in the woods, and it was his son and the man's sister who came to my door. All they wanted were answers and didn't expect to come in. As for a gun, I don't have one or want one

  22. What a sad story, Gloria, and I can completely understand your initial reaction. I've had two close encounters with mountain lions so I've given up on my twilight walks. Otherwise I could become the next statistic. I hope you can continue to find peace and plots on your daily walks.

  23. KM, who knows what each person who commits suicide is thinking, but you're right it would be one of the worse thing those who love them could deal with. Some people never get over the grief of it.

    Kara, I am still walking there with no feelings of horror because I know he's at peace now from whatever led him to do this. It would have been much, much worse if it had been a murder.

  24. Cindy, I would be more worried about mountain lions than an already dead body, although a murder victim might be almost as traumatic. Black bears and rattlesnakes don't worry me. Grizzly bears and mountain lions are another story. When my daughter was hiking in the mountains of California, she worried about them, too, even in the daytime. She still hikes there, but not in the areas where mountain lions are.

  25. Gloria, this is an incredible experience. You handled it with such poise, finesse, and empathy. Thanks for telling us about it.

  26. Thank you, Paula. I'm not sure how much poise I showed yelling at him, though. :-)

  27. What a sad experience, Gloria, yet one that is fitting for a mystery writer. It gave you that first-hand experience that we often crave.

    I think planting the daffodils was a touching thing to do.

  28. It was sad, Clair, but would have been much worse if he had used a gun or had been murdered. It's actually not first-hand experience that I've ever craved,and the crime scene investigation was rather lacking, in my opinion.