Tuesday, August 3, 2021

ISDP Redux


A little over five years ago we called a wrap on our wildly popular I Smell Dead People™ feature, along with the annual Norman Bates Award™ competition. It wasn’t for lack of compelling material. From a simple premise (a person follows a repulsive smell only to discover cadaverous remains) came stories that illuminated the human condition in all its highs and lows. However there were simply too many incidents to catalog and each one took some unraveling. Also, I needed to free up some time to write what would become the fictional adventures of Nick Zollicker.

This week the lurking thrall of ISDP finally broke through my studied indifference. The first item to grab me was a headline in the august Times of London: “Russian admiral’s wife and son found stabbed to death.” The bodies of Rear Admiral Leonid Lobanov’s elderly wife and middle-aged son were discovered in a St. Petersburg apartment after neighbors complained of a bad smell.

No big deal, right? Standard unnoticed deaths. Wrong: “The pair had been stabbed and slashed several times in the torso, neck and face. They were in a sitting position on a sofa.” And here’s the kicker: the bodies were discovered eight days after the Rear Admiral “died under the wheels of a suburban train near Ruchi station in the northeast of the city, two miles from the apartment where they all lived.”

That’s potentially the basis for a typically dark Russian tale of depravity and intrigue. The only question is whether it should be written in the style of Dostoyevsky or John le CarrĂ©.

The second item to leap out at me came from the execrable Star Tribune of Minneapolis. [Why so harsh?—Ed.] [It’s Minnesota’s answer to the Los Angeles Times.] [Oh.—Ed.] The headline wasn’t anything special: “Murder charge: St. Paul woman shot ex-husband, buried him in their back yard.” It was the subhead that raised the relevant possibility: “A neighbor told police about a bad smell coming from near Karina Her’s garden sometime shortly after July 5 and persisting for a week.”

So—do we credit the neighbor with an ISDP find?

Karina Her

Enthusiasts know that to qualify as an ISDP incident, the body in question must be discovered by someone smelling it. Suppose an out-of-state relative requests a welfare check on an elderly family member and the responding police officer detects the telltale scent wafting through an open window. Sorry—no dice. The ISDP Rules Committee sets and maintains very high standards.

From the Star Tribune story (along with this one from WCCOChannel 4) it is unclear whether the neighbor’s complaint led directly to the discovery of the husband’s body. After all, the victim’s stepdaughter apparently implicated her mother in a 911 call. The sequence of events is critical to determining whether this is a true IDSP event. (See how much work this takes?)

Finally, this item from the Overpromising and Underdelivering file: “L.A. Woman Says She Slept 3 Feet From Her Neighbor’s Corpse for Weeks.” At first glance it looks like Reagan Baylee deserves a Norman Bates Award nomination. But it turns out her neighbor’s corpse was in a different apartment.  

Ms. Baylee’s emotional and highly personal account, as befits the Age of Social Media, overshares to the point of TMI. (Check out her TikTok video for the full effect.) Still, she supplies some telling details and her story has an excellent plot twist. (Which neighboring apartment was the gruesome odor really coming from?)