The mature sun of hot July swells the gourd, and plumps the hazel shells with a sweet kernel, as some wanker once said. It also hastens physical decomposition which, in the case of those unfortunate enough to expire alone and unnoticed, quickly leads to the unmistakable olfactory signal of decay. This being the 13th of the month, it is time for us to release upon our mega fan base yet another collation of I Smell Dead People. A full moon waits off-stage to cast a lugubrious glow on the proceedings.
In Elkton, Maryland, a lady parked her car in a remote area of the Wal-Mart parking lot, climbed into the back seat, and never left. About three weeks later a groundskeeper mowing the lawn next to the parking lot “detected a foul odor and told store managers, who called police.”
Inside the 2002 Chrysler Sebring with Delaware plates police found the decomposing remains of the driver. Foul play is not suspected.
This next case raises a difficult question for the ISDP Rules Committee which some wags refer to as the Death Panel. Everyone knows that to qualify as an ISDP incident the remains in question must be discovered by scent. Thus, when police come upon a body in the course of a welfare check requested by a concerned relative, the incident does not qualify as being discovered by scent, no matter how malodorous the remains may be.
So how would you rule on this case from North Carolina?
On Tuesday just before 10:00 a.m., detectives with the Criminal Investigations Division were in the 600 block of Peters Creek Parkway conducting a follow up investigation on a missing person case. While in the area, one of the detectives noticed a foul odor in the vicinity of Peters Creek Parkway and Academy Street. The detective recognized the odor to be that of decomposition, and after a brief search, located a body down a steep embankment near the intersection.Because detectives were already searching for a missing person, the olfactory discovery of a body would not seem to qualify as an ISDP incident. But here’s the rub: the body they discovered was that of a 30-year-old man from Mr. Airy—who was not the missing person for whom they were searching. In fact, the original missing person remains missing.
Does that make the incident on Peters Creek Parkway a bona fide ISDP event? We think it is . . . definitely ambiguous.
A New Nominee for the Norman Bates Award™
ISDP fans recognize the New York Daily News as the Ur-text, the very Necronomicon of the field. Its archives teem with grotesque incidents, each described in lurid detail. Readers got a classic installment in early July with the headline “Skeletal remains of woman found in Brooklyn apartment; daughter lived with the corpse for more than a year.”
Here’s the lede:
Police digging through 3 feet of garbage in a Brooklyn kitchen finally discovered the woman they were looking for.
But the rats and roaches had found her first.And people say that noir style is dead . . .
Chava Spira, 28 years old, had been living in a trash-stuffed apartment in Brooklyn’s Borough Park with the remains of her 61-year-old mother, Susie Rosenthal. The building supervisor called police after liquid began leaking through their apartment floor to the lobby and he found the apartment door ajar. Ms. Spira was visible inside and initially unresponsive. She later threatened to harm herself and it took officers over an hour to coax her out. She is being held for psychiatric observation. Neighbors say both women were recluses who seldom left the apartment or even opened the door. Ms. Spira was known to scream incoherently across the building’s courtyard.
The truly remarkable part of the Daily News account is that Ms. Rosenthal’s sister apparently dropped off food for the women on a daily basis. She had arrived to do so when she found police on the scene. When informed that Ms. Spira had been taken away, she inquired about her sister. Police officers, who had not realized that two people were living in the unit, then began the search that uncovered Ms. Rosenthal’s remains. How, one might ask, could keen noses have missed the inevitable stink? Short answer: they didn’t miss it.
A foul odor had been coming from the apartment for a long time, [charity spokesman Mayer] Berger was told. “That stench stayed for months and months,” he said. “To have someone live with that odor for months and months is beyond me.”It’s beyond us as well, Mr. Berger. And that’s why Ms. Spira is now a nominee for the 2014 Norman Bates Award™.
But that leaves some lingering metapsychophysical questions: is Ms. Spira’s aunt, Janis Gellis, anosmic? Did she not notice the smell? If she did, what did she make of it?
Finally, a question to our loyal ISDP fans: does enabling Norman Bates Award-worthy behavior deserve its own formal recognition? Please submit your comments to the Rules Committee.
We leave you a snippet from Saira Kahn’s extended essay in The Atlantic: “Smelling Death: On the Job With New York's Crime-Scene Cleaners.”
It’s hard to describe the smell of death. It makes your eyes tear and can make the strongest of stomachs churn. It’s strong enough to creep through a gas mask designed to keep the air you’re breathing clean.