Stories From The Lancaster Police Department, Three From The Night Shift
"See the woman, corner of Woodland and White reference 10-50," the voice from the dispatcher broke the silence just before dawn one foggy mid seventies Lancaster, S. C. morning.
Okay, our dispatchers didn't talk that way. I've been reading Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station and I just can't help it.
My cruiser's lights barely cut the dense fog as I approached the intersection. Looking left then right and seeing no one, I hooked a left and drove about a block. Then I made a three point turn in the street to check the other direction. Nothing, and I reported in to dispatch. I turned around again and finally saw the middle age woman walking down the side of the road. I pulled over to pick her up.
Her hands visibly trembled as she got in the car and we drove back to the intersection. I pulled up, put the car in park, looked left and right again. No car.
"Where's your car, ma'm?" I asked.
"Out there," she said rummaging in her purse for her drivers license.
I looked across the street where I saw no car --only the two lane road, Woodland Drive. She handed me her out of state license and I tried another tact.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I was just going down this street at the speed limit when it happened," she said. Defensive now.
"And the speed limit is...."
"Forty-five, it's not my fault." The sped limit was twenty-five.
I got my flashlight, left her in my car and walked across Woodland. At the edge of the road I found tire tracks in the wet morning grass. Not skid marks, mind you. There were no skid marks, just a pair of tire tracks. I followed the tracks with the beam of my flashlight slowly down a twenty-five foot embankment and a couple of hundred yards through the low brush and tiny saplings. My light finally rested on the roof of the lady's car sitting upright but so far away I could barely see it.
I was glad that she was in my car and couldn't hear me laughing as I realized what had happened. Unfamiliar with the street, the woman had driven down White Street in the fog and right past the stop sign at the intersection. I know this comes as a shock, but people usually lie about their speed to cops. She was probably doing more like fifty-five when the road suddenly disappeared! Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds would have both been proud of this stunt.
The term "Pucker Factor" was used often during roll call the next morning.
The Department of Juvenile Justice was a small brick building full of cubicles, old desks with typewriters and walls lined with gray metal file cabinets. Some of their best customers had been making monkeys out of me and three other detectives by breaking out a window and then forcing open a Coke machine to get the change for weeks. These night burglaries happened so often we decided to set up a surveillance inside.
I was thrilled when my night came to sit in the building and wait on a couple of twelve year old desperadoes. (Insert sarcasm icon here.)
About two AM I had run through all the coffee in my thermos, used up all my change in the vending machines near the back door, and was considering taking a nap. The kids always broke the same window. I could hide in a cubicle and knew that I would hear them if they came to rob the machine. I'd just jump out into the dark hall, light them up with my flashlight, scare the crap out of them, and call it a night.
I was still considering that nap an hour later when the kids hit the window! I waited until I heard noise down the hall at the Coke machine and then jumped out into the hall with my flashlight.
I'm not sure who was the most shocked: me or the six foot three inch grown man that I saw stuffing quarters in his pocket down at the end of the hall!
"Police halt," I yelled!
Apparently the guy hated cliches.
He simply turned and ran out the back door. By the time I got outside, I had dropped the flashlight and grabbed my .38 Chief Special. I caught the guy as he rounded the corner and shoved my pistol into his face. He looked like he was considering a fight. I thumb cocked the pistol and he changed his mind.
You'd think a scare like that would have caused him to go straight. I locked him up a few years later on an armed robbery and then he went down the road for a bank job in a nearby town.
I was riding over on Patrol with Rabbit on the night I saw the woman die. Everyone called Robert, "Rabbit" for reasons I never quite figured out. It wasn't his size. Rabbit made Jimmy Stewart's Harvey look like the Energizer Bunny.
We were working the East side of town, the poor side, the black side. The house was down a dirt street and literally across the railroad tracks. It was painted white but had faded to gray. Most of the family was outside and angry when we pulled up.
Someone led us through the spotless house to a bedroom in the back. We found the tiny frail old woman lying on her back on a clean wooden floor next to a neatly made bed. A small lamp sat undisturbed on a bedside table. The wooden handle of the steak knife was buried to the hilt in the center of her chest.
While we waited on the ambulance, I watched the last tiny bubbles of life escape through the blood on her clenched lips.
The grandson sat in the den, quiet and unemotional. He rocked silently and stared at nothing. The family told us he was home for the weekend from a mental institution and had not wanted to go back the next morning. Someone said he had taken a whole bottle of some kind of medication after stabbing his grandmother. I put the empty bottle in my pocket.
The sergeant told us to take the grandson to the ER to get his stomach pumped and of course he offered no resistance as we cuffed him and put him in the car.
"Why don't we drive this guy around an hour or two before we go to the hospital?" I suggested.
"That's cold, man," Rabbit said. We drove on to the hospital.
Cold was lying on a bedroom floor on the wrong side of the railroad tracks as a family gathered, wailed and wondered why.