Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Finding A Body

In July of 1974, SSS and I were managing a small and old apartment building in the Bryn Mawr and Kenmore area on the north side of Chicago.

Now, granted, it was July, and it was hot and muggy in Chicago, about two blocks from the lake. A far cry from a basement room of a dorm in Indiana in January.


The building was only four storeys. One day, tenants on the fourth floor began to complain about a foul smell. I called the maintenance man. he came over and emptied, cleaned and sprayed the garbage cans on that floor. I could smell it myself, all the way down to the ground floor, where our apartment was. I got more calls. Again, he came out. This time, he checked the fire escape and the roof for dead pigeons and found nothing. He came to me and told me what all he had done, and said, "You've got a dead body up there. It's not my problem." And he left. That's life in the big city.

There was one tenant on the fourth floor that we hadn't seen for a few days. When he had moved in, SSS had said to me, "That guy is ill. Look how bloated he is, and how thin his neck." The tenant was also a bit paranoid, and had changed the locks without giving us a key. He had moved in across the hall from his ex-wife, and given her a key, so we had to wait until she came home from work. She unlocked the door and left. That's life in the big city.

SSS opened the door. The reek was unbelievable. The tenant was lying, wedged between two doorways at right angles to each other. The water was running in the sink, and his razor was on the floor beside him. That running water was what finally led us to the knowledge that he had been dead for approximately four days. That's how long the hot water had been messed up.

His body was swollen and black. There were maggots crawling out of his neck, and flies were all over the place.

We called the police. Chicago's finest came at a crawl. There were three officers, and at least two of them were hung over. I think it was 4th of July weekend, but can't really remember. One cop spent the whole time throwing up off the fire escape. They asked us if we had a board they could slide under the body so they could move it. They had brought a body bag, but, the way the person was wedged diagonally between the doors, and the state of decomposition of the body, they couldn't find a good way to move him. It's not as if they could just grab and pull. He would have come apart.

Meanwhile, I had been spraying Lysol, all sorts of air freshener, perfume; anything I could think of. I lit candles, burned incense--nothing helped. SSS and I eventually retired downstairs to our apartment and left the police to do their job. SSS was the only one looking out of the window when the cops carried out the bag, and he said, "I think his head fell off." I couldn't look.

The next issue was cleaning. Nasty fluids had leaked down through the floorboards and run down the walls of the apartment below, fortunately vacant. Needless to say, where fluids went, odour followed. Horrible odour. Disgusting, vomit-inducing, noisome, foul stench. Walls, ceiling, floor--were scrubbed, repainted and recarpeted. I told the owners that they should pull up the floor and clean and paint the area between the floor and the ceiling below, but they didn't listen.

Whenever heat and humidity hit, that smell would come back. By the following summer, the remaining residents were saying that the apartment was haunted, because they smelled it again on the anniversary of his death.

Oh, and the kicker? We called his mother, listed as next of kin on his lease. We had never had to tell somebody their son was dead. We sat and agonized over exactly what to say. Finally having decided, SSS dialed the phone with hands shaking. He told her what had happened. Her response (are you ready for this?)

"Send the son of a bitch to the morgue. I ain't seen him in nine years!"

That's life in the big city.


  1. *shudder* That is absolutely awful! Great story though.

  2. A friend came over just before they hauled out the body bag. He asked a typical "How's it going?"

    SSS answered,"Fair to middlin'," in a voice laden with irony. I said, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you!"

    I always thought I might write a book with that title.

  3. I think you might have the stories for such a book!