(When I read the first draft of this story to my best editor, my wife Dena.. it disturbed her. It’s the story of someone who made the news for a day, then was gone, and forgotten but to those responsible for handling her remains. She also told me sometimes she wonders what kind of person I would have been, had I not witnessed and reported stories like this, and even more ghastly results of homicidal minds. I just don’t know. -df)
I found her purse.
The woman was dead.
I was already out of the station on another news assignment. I had fed in some sound clips, or an on-scene report from a story downtown that could be used in newscasts until I got back in the station. The technology of the day did not allow studio quality sound to be transmitted back to the station. The Internet was still an idea in some scientists brain. So, we would come back in, process and write out stories, and turn them in to the anchor, complete with a four page carbon copy script.
Our news cars were equipped with two police scanners. One was dedicated to all of the City of Atlanta’s emergency frequencies. There were six “zones” of police operations to listen to, and one Atlanta Fire Bureau Frequency. The second scanner was used to mainly listen to Dekalb County police and fire dispatch, and a few other counties in the metro Atlanta.
I heard the call where police were sent to a location in east Atlanta. There was a report of a woman’s body that had been found outside an apartment building.
Officers found the woman’s nude body alongside a chain link fence adjacent to the two-story apartment building. Homicide detectives quickly arrived. This was the time before yellow crime scene tape. Now, police quickly seal crime scene tape around an area, and nobody but officers are let in, or out. Then, if we were extremely careful not to disturb anything, detectives would tolerate us standing close. Courtesy and respect goes a long way in those circumstances. Investigators knew that, I would cooperate with them, and if there was a clue or some evidence they needed to withhold, I would go along with it. Often, they were details that only the killer, or killers would kniow, and that would be of great value to homicide squad detectives as they interviewed suspects.
The woman had been there for a while- at least overnight. I didn’t pay much attention to the field exam of the remains. There’s nothing to be gained for your news story by being close to that kind of thing. The body can’t talk to anyone except to detectives looking at evidence. Only the detectives and their bosses would talk “on the record”. While I was waiting on someone to tell me what I already knew…that a woman’s nude body had been found in a vacant lot … and maybe a few other bits of information, I decided to poke around. There was high grass and weeds along the chain link fence line.
About 75 or a hundred feet away, I found a purse. I remember to this day that it was a medium brown, medium sized pocketbook. On the arm or in the hands of a woman you might see on the street… you wouldn’t notice it. But it stood out there is the weeds. Some other stuff was nearby…and looked like it had been thrown out as someone rifled the purse\. But I knew not to touch anything, and to watch where I walked. But instead of walking away from the potential evidence, I hollered for an officer to come look at my discovery.
Turns out, it was as I suspected, the victim’s purse.
She was not a prominent citizen, or a media celebrity. No doubt, the story of her death would be run for a few hours, then start sliding down the stack of stories until it disappeared. I know officers would have eventually found the purse. They always search a pretty wide radius around a crime scene, and yellow tape keeps shuffling feet, and sensational minds from mucking up the investigation.
And she was identified. Police had a name to attach to the person left dead in the indignity and insult of being left naked, dead for anyone to sees until someone got there with a sheet to reclaim some reverence to the dead.
A while later, I continued my 20-block trip back to WSB. But that story stayed with me. Maybe it was because I found some pieces of evidence that probably would have been found anyway.
What I did ponder for a while, was the question of what happens to someone to make them so able to leave a person naked and dead along a fence line..
The last time I checked on the story, the Medical Examiner was working to confirm her identity, and was searching for next-of-kin. But the M.E. investigator told me that she would likely be buried in a pauper’s grave provided by Fulton County.
Once upon a time, she was somebody’s baby, created in God’s image. I wonder what happened between that time, and the day her body was found in those weeds.
I never found out.