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The Gumshoe: Selfishness

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]N THE COURSE of my career, when I worked as a uniform police officer or deputy sheriff, the one call that always hit me in the “gut” was a suicide.  Now don’t get me wrong, it was not that I was afraid or timid to see a dead body after seeing plenty of the dearly departed in the past forty-some years, it was my visceral reaction to the “selfishness” of this desperate final act.

When I say “selfishness” I don’t include the poor individuals who committed suicide because they were genuinely mentally unstable or the accidental auto-erotic deaths. I’m talking about the folks who were of very sound mind who decided to take the coward’s way out of this life into the next!  Damn the family or friends who might find them to clean-up the mess and be left with the question “Why?”

A case in point, that for the first time prompted an emotional as well as physical response from me, occurred while I was working the graveyard shift for the City of Santa Ana Police Department, Santa Ana, California.  It was about 0200 hours (2:00 am civilian time) on a balmy southern California summer night.  The “beep, beep” on my patrol unit’s radio that signaled emergency radio-traffic alert from the police dispatcher abruptly interrupted my routine patrol.  The “beep, beep” was directly followed by the police dispatcher’s authoritative voice, “Unknown trouble, shots fired!” and she put out an address to a relatively new condominium complex located in the southeast portion of the city.

I immediately advised the dispatcher that I was en route, Code 3 (police jargon for emergency lights and siren).  I arrived at the dispatch location within minutes, turned off my lights and siren and approached the scene very quietly on foot (for officer safety reasons).

I saw a young woman standing at the front door of her condo.  This woman was in her mid to late 20’s, with long blond hair, and wearing a nightgown.  She cradled a set of twin girls that were probably no more than two years old in both her arms.  She was visibly shaking and both toddlers were whimpering.

I asked the young mother in a very calm voice if she was okay and if she could tell me what the nature of her distress was.  She could only mutter and sob the words that her husband was in the detached condo garage and that she had awoken to the sound of two gun shots from the garage.  She was able to tell me that her husband had gone into the garage earlier in the evening to do some work.

I asked her to wait outside her condo for other responding police units and for her not to enter the condo until I advised her that it was alright.  She could only nod her head while her daughters continued to whimper and squirm in her arms.

I entered the condo via the open front door which led to the living room, then to an open dining area with a patio door that led to an enclosed courtyard. I quickly crossed the open courtyard to a closed (but unlocked) garage service door.  I could see a thin stream of light emitting from below the service door.

When my back-up officer arrived on the scene, he joined me on the far side of the garage service door.  I remained on the side of the door (opposite the door knob) and I knocked with my non-gun hand with my flashlight very loudly as I announced, “Santa Ana Police! Open the door!”  There was no response after several more repeated requests.  I just knew this was going to be bad.  But then again, no one ever calls 911 for anything good.

I signaled my partner that I would push open the door at which time each of us would make rapid entry to either side of the door on my count of “one, two, and three!”

The first thing that assaulted my senses was the smell of spent gunpowder mixed with the coppery smell and taste of blood.

On the workbench I saw a male slumped over with the better part of his head exploded.  His gray matter, hair and fragments of his skull bone were scattered along the opposing wall. A stream of blood had run down the work bench and pooled on the floor at his feet.  There was a revolver next to his right hand that rested on the bench.

There was no doubt in my mind that he was dead as dead could be.  Suddenly, I just lost it when I thought of his young wife crying and his two beautiful daughters whimpering in her arms.  I approached him and I kicked him as hard as I could as I exclaimed, “You idiot!”  “What a waste!”

Needless to say, his body fell from the bench onto the floor like a sack of potatoes.  My partner looked at me and just shook his head as we both holstered our duty weapons.  I found an additional bullet had been shot into the garage rafter prior to the fatal shot that permanently shut off his lights.  (It is not uncommon to have a hesitation shot – just for practice, I suppose?)

I later found out that the deceased was a “daytime stock trader” and that he had recently lost a substantial amount of money that day.  He did not leave a suicide note, just his used-up body and worthless head.  I thought of all of the blessings he had; his young wife and his beautiful daughters. I wondered if he had taken the time to ask them if they would have wanted him alive and well. They probably would have explained to him that there was no amount of money that they would trade for his life, regardless of his financial loss.  What an empty legacy he left his widow.  How difficult will it be for her to explain his selfish actions to his daughters when they would start to ask questions in which there are no good answers?  Why was he so damned selfish to only think of himself and not them?  This, I will never know, but I am sure that wherever he is, I know that he will suffer the pains of regret throughout eternity.

My partner and I took the next several hours to clean-up the garage after the coroner took away the body.  Cleaning the garage was my own personal penitence for my selfish act of kicking him.  My partner just helped me because he knew how I felt and that neither of us wanted the young widowed wife to ever see any remnant of the aftermath of the violent death of her husband.  Regardless of how well we cleaned, we certainly could not erase her memories of this night and that was sad.

Yes, I have handled more suicides since that time in Santa Ana, California and in Snohomish County, Washington; but now I just minister the best I can for the survivors with a large degree of compassion and prayers for them. I leave my own personal thoughts about the deceased to myself – where they belong – and I don’t kick their bodies. They never feel the pain anyway – just their loved ones do.  Amen until next time, this is Gumshoe signing off for now my kind folks. Be well, be safe, people love you!

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Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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2 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Danny, this really touched me. I’ve been the left behind friend, sister-in-law, and niece of five suicides. I know the aftereffects, the emotional trauma, the financial turmoil, and the internal battles within when the why question is never answered. It closes the life for the suicide victim but opens an unclosable wound on the real victims left behind.

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