“I’ve seen everything, and everything I’ve seen!” my cousin Richard said when I asked him about his job as Chief Medical Director of the local correctional facility near Baltimore, Maryland. “I’ve taken cocaine out of rectums, I’ve taken cocaine out of vaginas… I’ve seen everything, and everything I’ve seen!”
He then proceeded to tell me about the screwdriver he’d removed from a young man’s chest in the past week.
“How’d it get there?” I asked intently.
“Another inmate stabbed him,” Richard responded matter-of-factly.
This was certainly enough to grab my attention.
“Just a couple of weeks ago, in fact, I heard about one of the craziest situations I’ve ever heard of in practically my entire career as medical director. The people in Psychiatry at the facility have been trying to figure a particular guy out for years!”
Like passing a wretched car crash on a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour, I was repelled by the imminent gore but compelled to keep looking. Listening to Cousin Richard’s professional experiences was something akin to this.
Since it was morning and neither of us had eaten breakfast, I suggested to Richard that I make some coffee and he tell me all about it. I was so fascinated it seemed obscene. I felt as if I were about to walk into the combined world of the films Silence of the Lambs or Se7en.
Little did I know I had.
I recently learned that the killer of my Aunt Catherine in 1968 had “found Jesus” and turned himself in to the authorities several months before my visit to Baltimore in 1995. I had long felt that my life was frequently something out of a Fellini movie; lately, though, it seemed to have made a neat segue into the arena of Hitchcock flicks. It only seemed apropos that this conversation with my cousin would be rearing its morbid, intriguing head about now.
Over decaf, granola, and nonfat milk, Cousin Richard proceeded to tell me about a most outrageous occurrence that transpired sometime back in the area. I forget what time of year it happened; it doesn’t matter anyway.
Cousin Richard began telling me the details of this situation as the coffee pot whistled shrilly. There seemed to be much movement in the kitchen as Richard prepared his breakfast. Cupboards opened and closed with mild whisks and slams, cups and saucers clinked, silverware tinkled. Napkins rustled, and cereal came rushing from the box like a flea’s nightmare of a tidal wave. He finally sat down and let it rip.
“A stabbing over a pair of sneakers ended in an attempted decapitation,” Cousin Richard said calmly, his mouth full of cereal. “But that was nothing compared to an incident which took place a while back,” he blurted as he gesticulated wildly with his spoon.
I put two and two together and realized that the latter incident was the “crazy situation” my cousin referred to earlier this morning. I wanted to hear about this first, then the stabbing and failed decapitation. Perhaps I had missed my calling; was it too late to become a forensic psychologist?
Cousin Richard looked into his bowl of cereal and began. “Apparently there was this guy with an obsession, but that in itself is nothing so unusual.”
I nodded in agreement.
“This guy’s problems, however, were in another league — way and beyond. He was obsessed with a young woman he knew – she was probably around 17 or 18… a young thing. He was a little older it seems. He began stalking this woman, hanging around her house. Sooner or later he had her schedule down pat, her comings and goings memorized. He had the schedule of the whole family in his mind, in fact — her parents, a brother and a sister.
“One day he breaks into their house – probably climbed in through an open window – and kills the parents, both of them, right then and there. Now is where it starts to get really weird. He puts the two bodies side by side on the floor, and decides to sit and read the paper and wait for the rest of the family to come home. So this he does, and the sister eventually comes home. He kills her, stretches the body out next to the parents, goes into the kitchen and makes himself a ham sandwich, and comes back and resumes his reading. The brother and the object of his obsession finally show up an hour or so later, and he murders both of them as well. Like the parents and the sister, he places these two on the floor parallel to the other three bodies. Then he goes to work in earnest.”
Cousin Richard finished his bowl of cereal, got up, put it in the sink, and filled it with hot water. He came back, sat down next to me, raised his cup of coffee, and continued describing this grisly, true incident.
“O.K., so he has the bodies lying together on the floor. All five of them.”
He gingerly sipped his coffee. I sat in awe of the detachment Cousin Richard was capable of projecting as he discussed this particularly grim subject matter.
“The guy then goes to the kitchen and brings out a knife, and proceeds to disembowel the bodies. Next he has sex with the bodies – each one. Now this is what none of the psychiatrists in the facility can figure out – has them all baffled: after he decided he was finished with all the bodies, he ties pink dental floss – he got it from the bathroom during one of his ‘breathers’ – he ties them all together – in a circle, with the dental floss – by their pinkie toes! I’m asking you, Alison, have you ever heard the likes of such a thing?”
I stared off into space.
He took another sip. Now that Cousin Richard was on a verbal roll, I decided after a moment to ask him to describe the incident involving the stabbing and failed decapitation he had mentioned earlier. I figured I might as well hear it all now in one sitting.
I was surprised to learn that inmates in correctional facilities congregated in large rooms together. I had never seen the inside of one of these places, and thus assumed that each person occupied a small, individual room, as I imagined was the case in prisons. Not so, according to Cousin Richard, and the following true vignette is an example of what can go awry in such environmental circumstances.
“The incident began when one guy demanded that another one hand over his designer sneakers,” Cousin Richard started out.
“Where were the guards when the arguing began?” I asked naively.
“Outside the room, where they usually are. These sorts of disturbances are commonplace – happen every day. No one pays them any mind, usually.”
“Then what happened?”
“The guy waited until the sneaker man had gone to sleep, then created a ‘knife’ out of the lid of a Pepsi can. You’d be amazed how sharp those things can be.
“One, two, three, he plunges the ‘knife’ straight into the center of the sleeping sneaker man’s heart – killed him instantly. But that wasn’t good enough, oh no. He decides to decapitate the cadaver!
“He goes on to do his busywork in earnest. Apparently he had no idea where the vertebra was – and he got more and more frantic, angrier and angrier. Soon he’s blindly hacking away, blood and bone chips flying everywhere.”
“No one saw this going on?” I asked meekly.
“He apparently hacked very quietly,” Cousin Richard responded. “But it was a real mess to clean up. I spent hours attempting to repair the damage to the cadaver for the forensics. What a nightmare.”
Cousin Richard certainly has an interesting job occupation. For myself, however, I think I’ll stick to movies for now. They’re easier to program — and turn off at the end of the day.