Here’s an experiment that you can try at home. Find a corpse. Put it in your basement. Leave it there for two weeks. Observe the results. Spoiler alert, this tends to produce a lot of flies. (I discovered this once when a rat died in my basement and I didn’t notice it for a while. This served as the basis for my short story, “The Rat” (rats are also featured in “The Evil That Men Do”) and gave me some very bad dreams after a peculiar adventure I had serving papers.
I was serving the usual small claims summons and complaint on someone in an old apartment complex and as I passed the first apartment in the complex, I noticed an unusually large number of flies in the window, whose curtain was drawn. There were many dead flies on the window sill, and even more buzzing against the glass. Hmmm. Weird. The person I was attempting to serve was not there, so about a week later, I returned. I noted that there were still a lot of flies in the window of the first apartment whose curtains were still drawn, many more dead ones, but still dozens of live ones. Hmmm. Weird.
After a month of serve attempts, this person never was home and I returned the papers for re-billing, I got very curious about the flies. What would explain that many flies in the window? I assumed the apartment must be empty. I can’t see living with that many flies and never cleaning off the sill of the dead ones. Perhaps when someone had moved out, they had left a large amount of food garbage behind. That would explain a lot of flies the first time I went by, but I would think the landlord would hardly leave the place unattended for a month after someone had moved out. I also didn’t think it likely that food garbage would sustain a colony of flies that large for a month.
What else could explain the presence of a large number of flies over such a long period of time in a presumably empty apartment? That’s when I remembered the rat. What would allow large numbers of flies to hatch over a significant period of time? A dead body. That would do it. There must be a dead body rotting in the apartment. That would explain the peculiar smell. Someone had possibly paid their rent for the month, and then died–that’s why the landlord hadn’t been by to check on the place. Or someone had left the corpse of someone they had killed. Having reached that conclusion, I did what every normal responsible citizen would do; I freaked out and had bad dreams about it. Then, very shortly after my last visit there, I coincidentally ran into a police officer in a hardware store where she was oddly not buying any hardware and asked her about the situation. She told me to report it on the non-emergency line, which I did. Good citizen that I am. The police kindly called me back and told me what they had found a crazy cat lady with a totally inadequate supply of kitty litter. They called human services and she and the cats are now much better off. It is good to be a responsible citizen.
Severed heads is why I gave up handling real estate disclosure matters. Seriously. I don’t t make this shit up, you know. It was quite some ways into my practice. In fact, I had been in practice so long that I was thinking that spending my life immersed in divorce and crime might not be the best choice for a happy frame of mind. I had determined to move my practice in another direction, so I was elated when I had a former divorce client call me up with a real estate sale disclosure question. I figured, what could be more mundane that that? Incest, arson, and mayhem possibly.
This was her question. She was selling her home and her real estate agent told her that she was required by law to disclose any major defects of which she was aware, so she wanted me to tell her if that included the fact that a man had recently been murdered in her home. And his severed head was still missing. I told her that I didn’t know the answer to that question off the top of my head I could go research it, but doubted that there was much precedent on point here. I told her to just not mention it and presumed it was highly unlikely she would ever be sued for that. Would you sue someone who leaves a severed head in their wake? I did use this event in one of my books. I put the head in “Below the Belt” and you’ll l never guess where I hid it.
The nice lady who asked me this question (and she was a very nice person) came by my office with a check for my advice and some home-made cookies. I thought twice about eating them. Tell me that you wouldn’t t think twice about eating food prepared by someone who woke up in bed next to a headless, handless corpse and claims she slept through all of that. But hey, they were double chocolate, chocolate chip. What’s a girl to do? I ate the cookies. I don’t do real estate sales disclosure questions anymore.
Today I was on a mission for a lawyer to the quaint Oregon town of Estacada. It is up towards the mountain from Portland on the banks of the Clackamas River and its previous claim to fame was the Safari Club which is now defunct. There is no McDonald’s in town, or Burger King or Wendy’s but they do have an A & W drive-in. While there, I picked up a coke at the grocery market where, on Mother’s Day of this year, a man walked into the store and attacked an employee at knife-point while carrying his recently murdered mother’s now decapitated head. It’s the city’s new claim to fame.
I remember thinking as I watched this on the evening national news (that’s how you get a crime to go national, tie it to a holiday), that I’d like to be this man’s comp attorney. I’ve done enough worker’s compensation law in Oregon to know that you get more money for an unscheduled (non-specific) injury than a scheduled one. For your information, something like a severed finger is scheduled- there is a specific amount of money that everyone gets for losing a finger. More nebulous injuries, such as back-injuries, are unscheduled. I’m fairly certain there is no schedule in Oregon’s worker’s compensation law for going to work only to be stabbed multiple times by a man swinging around his dead mother’s head on Mother’s Day, no less. I’m guessing the emotional trauma on that one is worth a few extra bucks.
As an odd coincidence, my first job involving investigation of worker’s compensation claims, which long predated doing that work for Norma Bates (See- “The Evil that Men Do”) was for a man who was later stabbed to death by his step-son. Weird. That was not a comp injury. That’s how we lawyers think. That’s why when I go to events where some but not all the attendees are lawyers, I ask the guests I don’t know if they are lawyers or normal people. The normal people aren’t always sure why I would ask a question like that, but the lawyers get it.