Thirty-four-year-old Detective Andrew Smith walked into the wastewater treatment plant in the city where he worked, and where one of his best friends, Fred Fergusson, was plant manager.
What in the world was Fred calling him to the plant for that sounded so mysterious? Fred had called him on his cell phone instead of calling the station. He said he might have a case for him, but wasn’t sure. When Detective Smith asked what in the hell he was talking about, Fred only said, “You’ll have to come and see for yourself. Maybe you better come when you’re off duty. It may be nothing.”
Andy checked in at the security desk and Fred came out to meet him.
“Why did you call me on my cell phone, and why now, after my shift is over?”
“Because it may be nothing. I didn’t want to call the desk and get embarrassed by something that is probably only a prank. But yet, well, you’ll have to come and see for yourself.”
“As long as I’m here, I would like to see a little of the facility, if that’s okay.”
“Of course. We can take a detour to my office.”
As they walked Fred said, “This plant processes on average between ten million and twelve million gallons of raw sewage per day. And that’s on a dry day, I mean no precipitation. It can handle a lot more, if the storm sewers overflow into our sanitary system.”
“Twelve million gallons per day?!!!”
“Ohh, that’s not so much. Some big city plants handle well over ten times that much, I bet. This might amaze you, Andy. The raw sewage entering here is ninety nine percent pure.”
“Well, that isn’t so amazing, when you consider the volume of water from people showering, and so on.”
“You’re right. It’s that one percent we have to remove. Well, here we are at my office. Would you like some coffee? I made a fresh pot.”
“Have a seat at the table.”
Five minutes later, Fred and Detective Andy were seated at a table in Fred’s office. Fred slid a shoe box across the table and took the lid off. Then he got up and brought a large magnifying glass over to the table.
“Have a look in this box, Andy.”
Andy leaned over and looked inside the box. He saw what appeared to be a toy, or model, human skeleton, about six inches long. It was a complete skeleton, fully articulated. Carefully Andy took the little skeleton out of the box and set it on the table.
“When wastewater enters the plant it goes through a thing we call a ‘bar screen’ to filter out large solid objects, such as diapers, pieces of plastic, even dentures and two by fours. This morning, this skeleton was observed by plant workers coming up on the conveyor. They cleaned it up and brought it to my office. The reason they didn’t just throw it away is that it looks real – it doesn’t look like a novelty, or toy skeleton.
“They might not have found it at all, except for the fact that it was tied to a large piece of fabric, that appeared to have been torn from a pair of jeans.”
“Tied to it, you say?”
“Yeah, almost like we were supposed to find it.”
Andy was studying the object on the table. “It is a life-like skeleton.”
“Too life like. You’ve seen toy skeletons, Andy. The ligatures look real. And look at those bones through the glass.”
“Yes, I am doing so. The bones do appear to be real, the healed fractures, the curvatures… wait a minute, I see light through several tiny holes in the ribs, as if it had been brutally stabbed.”
“That’s not all, Andy. There are scratch marks on several of the long bones, and on the skull. Also, there are the two long bone breaks that have healed, that you mentioned. And the sutures in the skull are life like, with some closed and some not. And look at the teeth, detective.”
“I see what you mean – the teeth look real and several of the molars are missing. There is what looks like a dental bridge. Of the rest of the teeth, several have fillings. I was thinking of a fetus, but not with fillings in the teeth.”
“Besides, Andy, I’m no expert, but this skeleton does not have the proportions of a fetus.”
“Now this is interesting, Furgy. I’m sure there must be a rational explanation for this find, but I’m going to have it looked into – if for no other reason than curiosity.”
“Do you think it possible that someone would go to this much trouble to make a novelty skeleton look so real?”
“I don’t know, but we’ll find out, one way or another.”
Andy determined that he would submit the skeleton to a woman he knew that worked in the state forensics laboratory the next day.
He turned on the news and sat down with a pizza and some beer. The news anchor was saying something about a prison break out west somewhere:
“The thing that has authorities baffled is that the cell doors were locked all night, as usual, and were never opened. Yet, in the morning, Mark Jones was not in his cell. There was no possible way that he could have gotten out of the prison – but he was gone. Prison authorities are looking into the possibility that…..”
Detective Andy remembered the case from the news and police bulletins. Mark was a serial killer and rapist who had butchered, literally, a number of young women to death. The word “mayhem,” came to Andy’s mind. Mayhem means to inflict serious bodily injury on someone. All the victims had multiple stab wounds all over their bodies, even penetrating clear through ribs – “Just like the little skeleton,” Andy thought. He remembered thinking at the time that he had never seen or heard of anything so brutal. What was striking about the case was that all the bodies, in some cases only skeletons remained, had been thrown down manholes into sewers.
The little skeleton had been in the sewer system of his city. The whole situation struck Andy as being grotesque. “Ahh, it’s got to be a bizarre co-incidence.”
Nevertheless, Andy made a note in the back of his notebook he carried around:
When Andy presented the little skeleton to his friend at the laboratory, she looked at him kind of funny. And she really looked at him strangely, when he said he wanted the skull’s teeth compared with Mark Jones’s records.
But after taking a cursory look at the skeleton, she became more serious. “I’ll send you a report, Andy. This is most interesting.”
“Well, what is your preliminary opinion, Joyce?”
“I am almost certain this is the skeleton of a real person. I will get back to you.”
A few days later, Detective Andy received her report.
The shrunken skeleton was indeed that of Andy Jones. The dental records matched, even to the fillings and the missing molars, and bridgework. The healed breaks also matched Mark’s record. The report stated that the victim had been brutally stabbed multiple times, all over his body, before being shrunken – but how the skeleton could have been shrunken was beyond Joyce’s understanding. And how it had ended up in the sewer system was likewise a mystery.
When the authorities came from the west to pick up the skeleton and saw the report, they were as baffled as everybody in the police department.
It turned out that the fabric that the skeleton had been attached to was from a prison issued pair of trousers.
The skeleton was taken back to the family for burial.
A nationwide investigation was launched, but went nowhere.
Andy went back to talk to his friend Fred to see if they could trace how the fabric and skeleton got into the sewer but Fred said it was impossible.
“Unless you want to scrutinize every manhole, sewer inlet, toilet, drain and industrial inlet in the city,” Fred said.
“No. I don’t think that would yield any clues.”