Wednesday, April 16, 2014

North American Smellscapes: Blame Canada

How do you know it’s springtime in the resort town of Whistler, B.C.? When you smell the skunk cabbage, eh?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

ISDP: The Ones That Were Missed

Wow, that was close. We were deep into a scientific meeting in Florida and nearly missed a timely posting of this month’s edition of FN’s wildly popular I Smell Dead People feature.

The first few items on the docket are reminders that malodor, like life itself, can be fleeting. Despite the passing stench, some decaying corpses are simply not noticed. Case in point: one Pia Farrenkopf who would have been 49 years old this year. She apparently died in 2008 but her remains were discovered only last month.
A contractor found the body in question in a garage last Wednesday after the $54,000 in Pia Farrenkopf’s bank account dried up and her house in Pontiac, outside Detroit, went into foreclosure, according to local media.
And in Germany,
police broke down the door of an apartment in Oberursel am Main at the request of the building’s management. It had been called to management’s attention that a resident’s mailbox was overflowing with uncollected letters.

Upon entering the apartment, police discovered the partially decomposed corpse of a 66-year-old-woman sitting on the couch in front of a television that was still on. The woman was dressed in pajamas and nearby police found a TV guide open to listings for last September.

Police determined she had been dead for over six months.
And in Anchorage, Alaska, one lady noticed what a married couple apparently missed for months.
The former Christine McAlpine came to clean the rental house she once shared with her husband to get it ready to show to another family.

Only, she detected a foul odor, according to Anchorage Police cited in published reports.
The odor led her to a storage space under the stairs where she found the body of her ex-husband, Samuel E. McAlpine, 37, who had been missing since March 17, 2013. Having failed to sell the house after the divorce, they rented it out. Another couple, who had been renting there since April 1, 2013, had recently moved out without noticing, or at least without reporting, any bad odors.

That makes the unnamed rental couple eligible for the 2014 Norman Bates Award™.

There was a close call in Tucson, Arizona, last month. An initial report of a suspicious odor lead to no action, but olfactory persistence saved the day.
Last Sunday a Pima Animal Care officer was called to Fletcher’s home, the 3500 block of East Guthrie Mountain Place near the junction of East Skyline and Sunrise drives, in reference to possible abandoned animals and an odor coming from the home, a search warrant stated.

The animal control officer called Pima County sheriff’s deputies, but “at that time, there were no odors emitting from the house and deputies did not notice, or did not note anything suspicious,” according to a search warrant.

Pima Animal Care called the sheriff’s department again two days later, on Tuesday, and that time deputies “noticed a strong odor of decomposition emitting from the house and flies on one of the windows,” the search warrant stated.
On entering the house sheriffs found the body of a woman who had died of multiple gunshot wounds. The house belongs to a salvage-yard owner and the woman may have been his live-in girlfriend. The suspect, 56-year-old Myron Fletcher, had recently admitted himself to a mental health center. He has since been booked into Pima County jail on suspicion of first-degree murder.

Remember, folks: Always trust your nose©.

[Hat tip to ISDP fan David B.]

For ISDP events of the immediately detectable kind, we turn to Edinburg, Texas where the body of 33-year old man was discovered.
Garza’s body was found in the later stages of decomposition after a person in the area investigated a foul odor emanating from an abandoned gas station at the intersection of East University Drive and North 21st Avenue.
Foul play is not suspected.

And finally, from the Orlando Sentinel: “Body found in home near Florida Mall after report of foul odor.”
Deputies are on scene at a home on Morning Drive near Florida Mall in southern Orange County after a decomposing body was found inside.

The man’s body was found after a witness reported a foul odor coming from the home just before noon on Wednesday, deputies said.
The dead person was evidently murdered:
The Orange County Sheriff's Office on Thursday identified the man as 60-year-old Harry Lieble, pictured below, and ruled his death a homicide.
Police are searching for a 40-year old man who has been named as a person of interest.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

American Smellscapes: A Devilish Scent

Image by W.L. Wagner @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

I’ve never met Gail M. Williams but we have something in common: we pull over and investigate roadside plants that catch our eye. Sometimes we get an olfactory surprise.

Williams, writing in the Plainview Daily Herald, recounts some episodes of vehicle-based botany in southwest Texas. The one that stands out for me is Nyctaginia capitata (shown above). It’s commonly known as Scarlet Muskflower (see where this is going?) or Devil’s Bouquet (we’ve arrived!). Her guidebook says the flowers have a “strong and rather offensive odor” and she confirms that.

N. capitata is found mostly in southern New Mexico and Texas, although it apparently has been introduced near Dallas. I’ll be in Dallas later this month but doubt I’ll get a whiff—Devil’s bouquet doesn’t flower until late spring.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Literary Smellscapes: The Moscow Women's Barracks of the State Security Departments

Outside the anonymous, cream painted door, Tatiana already smelled the inside of the room. When the voice told her curtly to come in, and she opened the door, it was the smell that filled her mind while she stood and stared into the eyes of the woman who sat behind the round table under the centre light.

It was the smell of the Metro on a hot evening – cheap scent concealing animal odours. People in Russia soak themselves in scent, whether they have had a bath or not, but mostly when they have not, and healthy, clean girls like Tatiana always walk home from the office, unless the rain or the snow is too bad, so as to avoid the stench in the trains and the Metro.

Now Tatiana was in a bath of the smell. Her nostrils twitched with disgust.

It was her disgust and her contempt for a person who could live in the middle of such a smell that helped her to look down into the yellowish eyes that stared at her through the square glass panes. Nothing could be read in them. They were receiving eyes, not giving eyes. They slowly moved all over her, like camera lenses, taking her in.

Colonel Klebb spoke: ‘You are a fine-looking girl, Comrade Corporal. Walk across the room and back.’
Ian Fleming
From Russia with Love (1957)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

FN Review: The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert

I bought this book on a lark while ordering audio cables on Amazon. It’s a goofy, hand-illustrated, little board-book by Master Sommelier Richard Betts. His conceit is that he will help you follow your nose to a wine you like, minus all the pretentious verbiage associated with wine-tasting.

The core concept, which I like, is to begin with your favorite fruit aroma: red versus black fruit in the case of red wine, and ripe/tropical versus pear/apple for whites. He also covers woody, earthy, and “other” notes. Every so often there is a scratch and sniff sample to try—which could be more than a gimmick in this context. After sniff-reading my way through it, however, my reaction is “meh.” The scent samples leave a lot to be desired. While the peach, for example, comes through ripe and clear, the pear is weak and nondescript. The dill is a fail, and “flowers” smells like the courtesy soap in a budget motel.

Oh well.