A Day in the life of… DI Eleanor Raven

Eleanor Raven is the protagonist of The Safe Word and The Vault.

Born in 1982 and educated at Ryerson University, she was promoted to the rank of Detective Inspector for Toronto PD homicide division in 2011.

imagesI always start my day with a good breakfast, as I find lunch is a frequent sacrifice. I like a mixture of oats, granola, berries and a cup of black coffee. Generally, I listen to the local news and flick through yesterday’s paper. I’m out by the time the current edition arrives. Toronto is a city of weather extremes and at the moment it’s hovering around the 4-6 C mark, so trousers are a must (I only own one skirt!), lined, flat-heeled boots, jacket and overcoat. The city does not allow police officers to carry weapons off-duty but as cleaning and maintenance are time consuming and essential, I bring mine to and from duty in my handbag, when I remember to un-holster. I carry a Glock .19 and have never discharged my weapon, apart from on a firing range.

toronto rain

I usually get to my office by 7 30 am, at the latest. This gives me sufficient time to catch up with paperwork, check any reports or results that have been processed over the past twenty-four hours and drink my second cup of coffee as I review the murder board. Once my partner, Detective Whitefoot, arrives there’s not much in the way of reflective time. So, the half hour before he gets here is mine. The murder board is more than just a way of organising photographs, maps and names, it’s a method of sifting the evidence and allowing your unconscious brain to play around with the facts, create a plausible scenario or link people with motivation. I drop my mind into neutral and just wait for the processing to take place.

Laurence’s arrival is a kick-start. He hasn’t created a routine yet and has a tendency to flap around, particularly if he hasn’t dropped Monster off at k9. Today is one of those days and Laurence, who doesn’t seem to recognise the need for routine in others either, will spend ten minutes calling the dog, who is just doing his rounds. Monster makes his way through homicide, takes the back stairs down to the canteen, where I assume he is given his second breakfast, and then comes back. It’s not rocket science and it concerns me that my partner, whom I depend upon to save my life, hasn’t worked out that Monster needs fifteen minutes to carry out his own business.

dog

It’s a slow day. With likely court appearances on the horizon for the Toby Adams case, I am getting my files and notes in order. It seems likely that the DA will be select three of his known murder victims to secure a first-degree conviction for Adams.

At 2.28pm we are called to attend a potential homicide in the Kensington Market region of the city. The patrol officers have already accessed the locked apartment and discovering the occupant in an advanced state of putrefaction, called it in. The body is male, probably over fifty, naked, apart from a pair of underpants and is sprawled between the bedroom and the kitchen. The cause of death appeared to be a gunshot wound to the jaw. The weapon, a small caliber handgun is discovered several feet away from a blood covered wooden chair. A quantity of dried blood has pooled below the chair and several footprints led from it to the victim. Although I have responsibility, as a senior investigating officer, to determine whether the manner of death could be considered suspicious, in this case the forensic investigators and the medical examiner all agree that, unless contradictory evidence is uncovered at the post mortem, it is likely that the victim took his own life. Having placed the gun near to his temple and pulling trigger, the bullet entered just below his cheekbone. He was probably unconscious for several minutes, when most of the blood loss took place. Regaining consciousness, he then staggered towards the bathroom where he collapsed and succumbed to shock.

bloody hand

I arrive back in my apartment at 9.43pm. I run my bath, pour a large glass of wine and let the day’s events percolate.

In Search of Character…Carl Tanzier

I am a great fan of the HBO series, ‘Autopsy’, which focuses on strange deaths and the purveyors thereof…One of my favourite episodes covered the life of Carl Tanzier, aka Carl von Cosel, who provided inspiration for the ‘Collector’ in my latest novel, ‘The Vault’.

tanzier1

Carl Tanzier, 1877-1952 was a strange, obsessive, fantasist of a man, employed as a ‘radiologic technologist’ in a Key West Hospital tuberculosis ward. He had, according to his cv, ‘nine degrees’ in various disciplines and had a personality and vocabulary that inspired belief in his curative and resurrective powers.

Elena de Hoyos was a patient on the TB ward in the terminal stages of the disease. In her early twenties, she possessed the pale, consumptive beauty that was to capture Tanzier’s heart and take them both on a journey that was to transcend the confines of mortality (and morality), at least on a physical level. Despite professing undying but unreciprocated love to Elena and attempting to save her life with x-ray technology of his design, she passed away aged twenty-two. Distraught, Carl persuaded her family to allow him to build a mausoleum to house Elena’s remains; a vault that only he would possess a key to….

Mausoleum

That Tanzier visited the mausoleum every evening for several years was not a cause for the family’s concern; after all he had been a devoted suitor and claimed that she would visit him there in ethereal and conversational form. What did set off alarm bells was when the visiting abruptly ceased. Nana, Elena’s sister, accessed the mausoleum and was outraged, if not particularly surprised, that Elena’s body had vanished. Demanding entrance to Tanzier’s house, she was led up to Carl’s bedroom, where Elena, wearing a wedding dress, lay in the bed. It must have taken considerable mental processing to work out that the ‘doll’ was actually her sister’s mortal remains held together with wire, coat hangers and an amalgamation of rags, silk, wax and Plaster of Paris. After the police removed the body, several individuals claimed to have seen Tanzier dancing with a woman, in his candle-lit front room. The police, acting in the best interest of the local population, put Elena’s body on show at a local Funeral Home, attracting nearly seven thousand visitors over the three days it lay there!

elenaautopsy

Tanzier was released from prison a free man, as the charge of ‘tampering with the dead’ was beyond the statute of limitations. Added to the fact that the general public, far from being disgusted, were enchanted by the man’s claim of wanting to take Elena on ‘an airship into the stratosphere’ where radiation would enervate and resurrect her. An ‘eccentric romantic’ he was sent to live close to his ex-wife, who could keep an eye on his antics; Elena having been reburied in an unmarked grave. However, the generous public sentiment may not have been quite so warm, if they’d learned of the presence of a paper pipe that had been fitted into Elena’s pelvis, as an aid to intercourse.

Far from rehabilitated, Tanzier lived out the rest of his life with a doll made from Elena’s death mask. Ironically, his own mortal remains lay undiscovered for three weeks on his kitchen floor, next to her effigy.

elena

Postmortem

In 2002 I applied for a work placement at Mid Staffs General Hospital Pathology Department and spent two weeks learning how to prepare tissue for display on slides, use a microscope and observe postmortem examinations. In my alternative life, the one where I got A’s in every subject and regarded study as a joy, rather than ‘what asshole’s did’. I would have been a pathologist. I am now way too old to pursue a career in medicine but fifteen years ago I gave it a shot. Medicine is a vast multi-disciplinary area but lacking anything resembling bedside manner, I was drawn to pathology. The peeling back of layers from macro to micro, in order to nail the culprit(s), scores very high on the job satisfaction stakes for me forcepsThe body on the gurney was that of an elderly woman who had been brought down to the morgue following a road traffic accident and a brief stay on the ITU. She had arrived covered lightly in a white sheet but that was gone now. The pathologist read the case notes, tutted, shook her head and then said, “Bless’. There was nothing empathic about the surroundings though. An eye-aching fluorescence bleached all humanity from the proceedings that and the combination of industrial white tiles and stainless steel. fst085039This wasn’t the first dead person I had seen, just the first that I hadn’t glanced away from. I had wondered when the last traces of her humanity would be lost. It wasn’t at the opening of the chest cavity. The woman’s indifferent expression to the violence made the process quite bearable but I found myself wincing at the snaps, cracks and slurps and as the viscera were removed the sulphurous compounds made me gag. I had been absolutely determined to not respond physically but controlling millennia of automated responses to death weren’t so easily fought off. I had been standing up to this point but surreptitiously dragged a stool forward and perched. The dissection of the organs and tissue sampling had been far quicker and more brutal than I’d anticipated and as I was shown the thickened heart muscles, the blackened lungs and damaged kidneys I felt as though I was back on solid ground. Intellectual curiosity is no slave to atavistic fears. If you haven’t had experience on how healthy tissue, organ and bone look like in comparison to unhealthy specimens, there is no glaring difference. I could see that her heart had a ‘toughened’ quality (Here I was only allowed to see not touch. I had been able to physically examine organs that had been preserved in formaldehyde in the histology labs but these chemical processes hardened the tissues, giving a false impression of texture and flexibility.) heart2The chambers of the heart were small, the walls inflexible and the superior vena cava narrowed. This must have compromised oxygen flow to her upper body. Her lungs were blackened and I would have suggested a smoker but apparently it was evidence of her age and a result of having always lived in an industrial city. The elderly lady had never regained consciousness after the accident and her kidneys had begun to fail very shortly after admission. They had probably been bruised on impact and, combined with her head injuries, had begun to stop producing sufficient urine, a notable jump in her blood pressure being the result. The spleen was undamaged, as were the intestines but when placed on the dissecting table directly below me, the smell was stunning. There had been no evidence, or possibly time, for bacterial infection to spread but the viscera was examined for integrity. One small puncture and septicaemia sets in quickly. The bowel contents were squeezed out during the examination and the smell of week old faeces hits the nose, palate and brain like a hammer drill. There was nothing so far to determine the exact cause of death but the chief suspect was next. lung tissueFor me the transition between a recognisable human being to cadaver happened the moment woman’s face was peeled back from the skull, rolled over on itself and tucked under the calvarium. The Stryker saw, which initially had been a clear monotonous shriek was becoming muted and thickened and the cold sensation that had started in my thighs was spreading like an anaesthetic. I felt heavy and cold and saw, through a ‘fish eye’ lens my unsuccessful lunge for the door. “How’re you doing up there?” said the pathologist, peering over the Perspex divide. “Good,” I replied optimistically. She nodded and smiled. brain sliceOnce down I felt fine. I lay for a moment or two, observing the ceiling, declined a call for help and then made it back onto the stool. I lay my head on my knees for a couple of minutes and then sat up. The moment had passed and I felt a sense of relief that the collection of systems arranged on the dissection table was now an object of study, rather than a reminder of one’s inevitable mortality. The brain had been removed and was being sliced laterally. It was a muted pink and seemed to have the consistency of blancmange. The slices cut through the pons, hippocampus, medulla and frontal cortex exposing the likely cause of death. A vessel had been ruptured, as the brain bounced between the front and back of the skull, forming a clot the size of a marble in the parietal lobe. Over the course of a few days the bleed applied pressure within the skull and combined with her failing kidneys and compromised respiratory system her elderly body could no longer fight on all fronts. Case closed. It was a privilege to witness a post mortem and its influence is always there when my story takes me into the autopsy suite. It is, for me, as important to understand how your victims die as to why they died.