“Whatever Happened To…?

My apologies to anyone who may have been expecting, “The Girl of My Dreams—Part III.? I’m afraid there isn’t one. Part of the reason I ended “Part II? so abruptly with numerous questions left unanswered was to illustrate the fairly routine lack of closure associated with this job. Additional apologies for the delay in completing this post, as I hadn’t meant to delay the explanation this long.

I’ve long since become accustomed to this particular aspect of the job, so I suppose it affects the people I know even more. For every “remarkable? or unusual case I work, I may mention the particulars to a few people. If these few people are curious enough, they naturally ask me about the outcome of the case down the road.

I always feel like I’m somehow disappointing friends, family, and police officers when they ask questions like:

“What was the little girl’s cause of death??

“Whatever happened to the parents??

“Isn’t it a homicide if she died because of neglect??

It’s at that point I’m forced to admit that I have no idea what the ultimate outcome was on a case.

Here’s why:

Once I’ve done the scene investigation and prepared the paperwork, my role in the investigation is for the most part completed. Unless the case requires some immediate follow up work at the time of the autopsy, I’m pretty much done with the case as soon as I inform the respective agency as to what our findings were. The dynamics are a little different on a homicide case, requiring more work to collect evidence and more conversations with the respective agency about the particulars of the case.

So beyond the day after the autopsy, there’s a very good chance that I’ll never have any involvement with a particular case again. Many of our cases require further investigation such as toxicology and histology. These additional tests mean that it could be months before the pathologist determines a cause of death. During this span of time, I will likely have brought in several dozen more cases.

When a case is finally closed, it’s basically a clerical matter that is handled in the front office and nothing that I ever see again unless I go and check. Unless I’ve remained in contact with the investigating agency or seen an update on the news, I may never know the final determination on a case.

I’m not sure if I ever knew what the little girl’s cause of death was. I don’t remember her name, but I recall enough of the details that with a little effort I could pull her case and find out. But then I think, in the grand scheme of things, “What difference would that make??

Of course, that only explains why I don’t know the cause of death. As for what happened to the parents and whether she died from neglect—I can’t explain those at all. I can only assume that the case workers from child welfare arrived shortly after I left. Whether or not anything positive came from their visit is a separate issue. Neglect isn’t a pathological finding discovered at autopsy and is generally an issue for the judge, jury, and attorneys to sort out. To a certain degree, I’d rather remain blissfully ignorant on both issues.

So how do I answer those questions from friends and family? I typically don’t. I’ll offer something along the lines of, “I forgot all about that one,? and politely pretend to be as curious as they are as to what the answer might be. Depending on the case, that may or may not be a true statement, but it’s a lot easier that explaining all I’ve written here. I’m pretty sure no one wants to hear the sad truth–that for every case that sticks out in my mind, there are a hundred that I forget completely.


6 Responses to “”

  1. March 27, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    I can certainly relate to being ‘blissfully ignorant’ on some issues. If you did not, it might drive you crazy. Coming from a home with siblings who are police officers and a couple of MD’s, it is how it is………….

    But for the record most people either find your line of work fascinating or they dislike it. I find it very interesting!

  2. 2 Lori
    March 27, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Well, it’s probably just as well that you don’t retain all of them. During my brief tenure as a counseling psychologist, I heard enough stuff to keep me in nightmare city for a long time. There is so much “bad stuff” out there…it’s so very disturbing.

    Thanks for the clarification. Your writing style is riveting…I really got sucked in on that one.

  3. March 27, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    The hundred you forget completely–that would probably be called “professional distance.” It’s likely a good thing that all these cases don’t stick with you, or you’d never get any sleep. I’m just glad enough of them do to keep you writing. I really enjoy your site and stories. Thanks for the update.

  4. 4 Steve
    March 27, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    Well, good for you! No one person can be expected to do everything.

    Like the soldiers in Iraq now… they do what they do, and they do it well. Just like the soldiers in the Korean War did. The soldiers in the Korean war, are just now, getting to go back and see the fruits of their labor… and most, are amazed 9 in a good way) by what they see.

    All we can do, is chose our path, ask of the universe every now and then ‘is this right?…Is this OK?”, and if the answer is yes… then continue.

    It is a pleasure to read the writings of a person who does much good, yet knows, that one person cannot know everything. You do what you can. If you try to do what you cannot… then you end up as a “cautionary tale.”… which is I suppose, one way to be remebered… but not the best.

    I love reading what you chose to write, it gives me a glimpse into a world I only write or think about, and do not actually KNOW. And what you chose NOT to write, does the same.

    Do keep doing, what you do.

  5. 5 Mike
    April 4, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    While i can see your point of “blissful ignorance” in our particular agency, we usually are involved until the very end of the case. We actually close our own cases, and issue certificates. I think that for myself, in some cases giving the family some answers can be just as beneficial. I especially gain some measure of comfort in knowing that my part, however small, played some role in the eventual prosecution of an offender. The downside is when that case doesn’t go the way you’d like. Lost court cases can cause you to ask yourself difficult questions, regardless of the reason for the unsuccessful prosecution. Keep up the good work and interesting postings.

  6. 6 Cindy
    April 6, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    I understand what you are saying. However,
    why not publish a story or two on your blog that you actually know how it was resolved? I would assume there must be a few.


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