By now, Detective Mark Hussey needs no introduction. Here's Part 1 of "The Exhumation." Part 2 next week.
Jurisdictional boundaries between counties and municipalities are a touchy thing. Cops are always trying to get out of calls that are right on the fringe of the city limits. The county sheriff will try to say, "I think it's inside the city," and the city officer will inevitably say, "That's in the county, call the S.O." One afternoon in December, a fight began between the cadre of the Polk County Sheriff's Department and the brass of the Lakeland Police Department that had far reaching repercussions, and believe it or not, I started the ball rolling.
I was finishing an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee when the dispatcher called. "Go ahead," I said, my mouth full of breakfast. "See the man, reference information."
Gotta' love these dispatchers. "Any idea what kind of information?"
"He didn't say," the idiot behind the microphone returned.
Beautiful. I found the old gentleman, standing near the coin operated rocking horse out front. He looked a little like the clown, Emmet Kelly. He was wearing three or four pairs of trousers, and a couple of light jackets. Atop his salt and pepper hair, which stuck out in all directions, was a baseball cap with the inscription, "I don't have a drinking problem. I drink, I fall down, no problem."
More of a testimonial, I thought. "What can I do for ya?"
The man got real close and started whispering.
"I can't hear that. Speak up, nobody's around," I said.
"Oh, sorry." He coughed. His breath smelled like rotting flesh. "I was walkin' in the woods this mornin' and found me a cemetery plot."
"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked, squinting into the morning sun.
"Well over yonder," he pointed to a wooded area near the railroad track, "I found a burial plot. You know a grave."
"How do you know it's a grave?" I asked nervously.
"Just looks like one. I'll show ya, Officer. Another thing," he added. "I ain't seen this guy name-a Sawgrass in a few days, and down yonder on that plot is a cap that says, 'West Virginia' that I saw old Sawgrass wearin'."
"Shit," I said through my teeth. Those winos never gave up their hats; the hat was like their trademark. They wore them until they literally rotted off their heads. I didn't like this.
He took me to a wooded area along the tracks, off Wabash Avenue. I parked the cruiser and told dispatch I'd be leaving the car. I switched the federal system over to the "radio" position, and hung the microphone out the window, in case I had to beat feet back to my cruiser.
We walked about 50 yards into some really thick brush of scrub oak and palmettos. After a short while we came to a clearing. As we walked into the open area which had obviously been well traveled and well "slept," if you will, by the bums, I observed a fresh, slightly raised mound of dirt. The dirt area was about six feet in length and about three feet across. At one end of the mound was a crudely made white cross. Hanging from the cross was the baseball cap with the inscription, "West Virginia, almost heaven."
"Whew," I whistled through my teeth. "Almost heaven or almost hell, at least they gave him a proper burial."
I must admit that by now, my adrenaline was flowing, and I was thinking as most small town cops do, that we were about to solve the crime of the century. Maybe Hoffa was buried here.
I raced back to my police car and asked the dispatcher to send me a supervisor. No way was I going to make a decision of this magnitude on my own. I didn't have to wait long.
Come back next week for the conclusion ...