By Pete Moss
Dad worked rampart Homicide for many years. He was retired from LAPD by the time I was born. Mom was 15 years younger than him and his second wife. She was the daughter of a cop from Detroit.
We lived in a little Franklin Bridge. The neighborhood is called Franklin Hills by those that live there, but Los Feliz by everybody else.
I guess mom and dad had a pretty good marriage. Mom was an ER nurse and dad stayed home. Almost none of his cop friends ever came over. There was just one. Cliff.
Cliff and I were never pals, when Cliff came over, he and dad would go out on the deck and smoke and talk in low voices and I was sent into the front room to watch TV. After they were done talking, Cliff left. He wasn't my friend. By the time I was ready for kindergarten I was well acquainted with that blank stare cops use.
So I didn't get your average bedtime stories from dad. I don't recall all of them anymore. Dad was shot to death on Hollywood Boulevard when I was 8. They took him to county USC where mom worked the ER, but he was DOA. They never caught the guy who shot dad. After that mom lost all control of her speed habit and eventually lost her job and wound up pushing a shopping cart.
Allot of people in the ER had speed habits. I thought it was perfectly normal normal when you had a mom who was up at 4 AM mumbling to herself as she sorted through a drawer full of crumbs and broken jewelry. After, I went to live with with Uncle Hank in Bakersfield. I had a hard time adjusting that he and the aunt ran their house by.
I guess Mom spent a year or so with her shopping cart rummaging in the dumpsters along Western, between Beverly and Melrose, then she got run over by a Home depot truck, right before I got sick of Uncle Hank and Bakersfield once and for all and made my break back to LA.
None of it ever bothered me because I knew my mommy and daddy loved very much. Think back when you were a kid, and tell me if that wasn't the most important thing in the world. Mommy and Daddy were supposed to be in love. And mine, the few short years they had together, they were. The memory I got is of them all dressed to go out somewhere, one spring night after a mild rainstorm when LA was all shiny and clean and from our window you could see the Hollywood sign and, to the south, the lights of Palos Verdes twinkling and even the dark hump of Catalina. Mom and Dad were standing against the window, posing, really, for my benefit even maybe, and they might as well have been Zeus and Hera.
Well anyway, the years went on and I had trouble sleeping. Mom or Dad would be in my dreams. A little speed went a long way with me. What I needed were sedatives. But I had no health plan and I didn't make enough ready to afford a street dealer. I liked sleep. What was I supposed to do?
I had a little room in Long Beach. I had it all set up my way and I never let anybody come over. It was mine, all mine, my total sanctuary, my retreat. Not that my social life was over the top. But I was quiet a I read a lot and with that combination what happens is you are in the background and the chatter turns to a subject you've read about about and then you pipe up with something funny and there's usually a girl in the crowd who notices that and gets curious, like a Pandora complex is what she has, and you are the irresistible little box ordered to keep shut.
Of course once she'd opened the box all the excitement is over, meanwhile you're just starting to get to like her, but she'd gone, onto the next curio. So I lived alone.
And I had trouble sleeping. Maybe you know how it is. When you've been awake and all you want is to sleep. To close your eyes and sleeep sleeep sleeep.
And there was one of my dads bedtime stories that almost always worked, almost always induced drowsiness, but I couldn't use it every time. I had to save it, because I had to be sure it would always work. It went like this.
Dad hadn't been with Homicide very long. they got a call of a body in a van. It was on the border. Plus, it was murky how the body was discovered.
At first they thought it was suicide. But there was no note or weapon. They couldn't really figure out how the guy had died. There was no big mess, like he got blasted with a shotgun or beat to death. He was just lying there on an army cot in the back of his van with a generic plastic sleeping bag under him. He looked kind of peaceful. He did have a bump on his head, and a little bit of blood on his lips, although it wasn't til the coroner came that they noticed the blood.
Anyway, they went over the van and didn't find and vials or bottles, or weapons, or a note. So they ruled out suicide. And the van was actually kind of neat and empty, not cluttered as if the dude was living in it. So what was he doing there parked under the overpass, dead? And who was he?
Coroner said the guy had been dead for as long as 72 hours, so the case was already cold. Toxicology came back negative, it wasn't any kind of OD, or even the kind of death you get from long term abuse. Finally they x-rayed him and found metal in his skull. They opened his head and found his brain was pulverized, like buckshot, except there was no exit wound, just that bump on his head, and no entry wound for that matter, until they went back and found the hole in the top of his oral cavity. Then they tested for gunshot residue but found nothing. OK, so the corpse itself was an enigma. Did I mention there was no paper ID whatsoever?
Now the guys in forensics were getting interested. They had a challenge. Fingerprints and dental came up with half a dozen blind leads. Fingerprints returned several names, none of which had any more than minor traffic warrants. The names were John Brown and Fred Smith and Juan Ramirez. And what are you going to do with dental? To make that work you need to find the dentist who has the records. First you have to have an idea who the corpse was before you can find out who the dentist was.
So then they went to work on the van. It was a nondescript Ford work van. For that year alone there were several thousand registered in LA county.
This particular one they traced to a PO box in Palms. The box was registered to John Green. And John Green had had box for well over a decade so all the original paperwork was lost. But the PO did cough up an address that turned out to be a condo complex that was less than two years old. Of nobody recalled any John Green.
So back to the coroner. The coroner concluded that John Green had been shot through the mouth as he lay on his back. The shooter used a homemade gun powered by a co2 cartridge. The projectile was a common fishing weight, what deer hunters call a 'pumpkin ball', which split as it penetrated the upper oral sternum and then splattered as it entered the skull, making hash of the cranial matter and causing instant death.
Somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to cause and untraceable and unprosecutable death. And who was the person they'd killed?
Nobody ever found that out. There was only so much time to devote to a case of a nobody who was already cold when they came in. "Who knows?" dada would say. "Maybe that was the guy who killed JFK. Maybe his soul is still out there roaming the streets of LA, looking for someone who'll believe his story."
So that's the bedtime story I use whenever I absolutely, positively have to get to sleep. You got a better one, I'm all ears.