Saturday, July 5, 2008

Me? Involved in a Homicide?

After a decade in law enforcement as a civilian supervisor, I’ve seen a lot of things most people don’t get to witness - dead bodies, erased files from computers, missing children, drunks, domestic violence, and thousands of cases – a few with happy endings, many not. Cases either get suspended because there are no further leads, or closed because an arrest has been made, but one thing most departments will never give up on is trying to solve their unsolved homicides.

We have a few unsolved homicides in the history of my department and I hope that someday they, too, will be solved. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the lead investigator, a retired FBI Special Agent whose specialty happens to be serial killers, on several of them. I’ve read the cases, seen the gruesome photos and worked with him to try and find that one small detail that others may have overlooked. I know how serious these cases are and how committed my department is to trying to solve them.

Imagine, then, the irony of my being personally caught up in a homicide investigation with another agency.

I was at the station working when my department-issued Nextel rang. The department issues Nextel cell phones to personnel that need to be available 24x7 and lucky me, I happen to be one of them. I answered the phone and was greeted by a firm voice advising me he was “Trooper Jones” (name changed) of the State Police Major Crimes Unit and “this number has come up as part of a homicide investigation and who was he speaking to?” Now mind you, I recognized this trooper’s name right away because the law enforcement community is a small one and everybody knows everybody else. I knew who he was, but we had never actually met.

Given the jokesters that I work with, my initial reaction was that one of my co-workers was setting me up. I immediately started running names of potential suspects in my mind. Who had I recently played a joke on? Who “owed” me? There were a few…

To play along, I didn’t give my name right away, but asked for a callback number to confirm that this was a legitimate call. You know you can do that, right? Anyone can call and claim to be the police. Our department policy is to always call back and verify the number unless we know the individual on the other end. So I followed policy. I recognized the number Trooper Jones gave me immediately as the Major Crimes Unit. Okay, I’m thinking to myself, one of my co-workers is really pulling a doozey, so my crazy mind is already spinning on what revenge I’m going to exact. A fake pink slip via Interoffice Mail? Nair in the hair gel?

When I called back, I identified myself and where I worked. The trooper seemed a bit bewildered when he found out who I was and that I was with a local police department. The tone of his voice changed which caught me off guard because surely if I was being set up, he’s “stay in character.” At this point, I realized that maybe this wasn’t a joke after all, so I briefly had him speak to my Captain who assured him I did not possess homicidal tendencies. In fact, I’m a pretty laid back person. Then the trooper started to give me more specific details about the case. Turns out a man had been murdered in his home which was also his home business since he was self-employed in the trades.

“Do you recognize the name?”

“Not at all.”

“Could you have called him seeking business?”

“Not at all.”

“Your number appears several times.”


“I’m looking at it.”

“There has to be a mistake.”

Silence. I waited for him to say, “You’re right, we mixed up the number” or “Whoops, we transposed the digits,” or “Happy Birthday from your friends at the PD.” He didn’t. He just waited for me to respond.

“I’m going to contact the Business Office,” I said finally. “They have all the call records. I’ll fax them right over to you right away if you can give me the dates and times in question.”

He gave me the dates and times and for a brief second, I had a lump in my throat. What if I had called the victim and just couldn’t remember? I hung up the phone and flew over to the Business Office where, thankfully, the records were still available. That’s one advantage of working for a Police Department -- we keep very accurate records of all calls – incoming and outgoing – made on Department paid-for cell phones. And what did those records say? That there were no calls made from my cell phone during the timeframe. Phew!

I faxed the records over with a cover sheet that said, “There must be some mix-up somewhere” and never heard back.

So how did my number end up on the Caller ID records? I believe my cell phone number was spoofed. Did you know that it’s possible to “spoof” or fake Caller ID over the Internet for as little as $10? There are numerous sites that purport “Play a joke on your friends” that can fake the Caller ID source. This was no joke, however.

I may write THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY mystery series and I may work in law enforcement, but I’d really prefer not to end up on a suspect list…This will definitely end up in one of my books someday…