Dec 052013

If you’ve ever spent time in a morgue—and let’s face it, we all will some day—then you’ll remark on just how spic-and-span everything looks. Scrubbed, ivory-colored, tiled walls and gleaming linoleum. Shiny stainless steel pans and scales hanging everywhere you look. Ultraviolet bug lights making periodic ZAP sounds beneath the soft hiss of constantly flowing positive air. And then there’s the VIP seat. A slanted slab of stainless steel angled head-side upward with a drain at the bottom to collect any fluids. A microphone dangles downward from the ceiling; a handy way for pathologists to record their findings as the post-mortem examination progresses. Just to offset the somberness of the occasion, would it kill the pathologist to grab it and break into an Elvis impersonation once in a while?

As an amateur, I would linger sheepishly behind a glass partition to view the process and even from that distance, the experience always left me without an appetite for days. But I was a veteran now, with some dozen or so of ‘em under my belt. A triple earned you the right to post your business card on the anteroom wall. It didn’t bother me at all anymore to be out there, up close. And although it held a curious fascination, it did little to ease the grim spectacle of watching an actual human being dissected before you. All those things we find important in our lifetime; friendships and favorite movies. Sought-after promotions and food preferences. The need to love and be loved. All reduced to nothing more than organs and enzymes.

Thomas WhiteThe autopsies took two full days. An entire family murdered, but not just murdered. There’s a thin line between love and massacre and that’s the way to tell the difference between a crime of intimacy and one of randomness. On a warm August night in 2004, following an argument with his stepfather Tony, Thomas Eugene White murdered both his fourteen year-old brother, Anthony, and their mother, Diane, using a katana Samurai sword after luring each of them down, one by one, into the basement. Dragging their bodies out of view from the stairway, he then turned off all the lights in the house and waited for Tony to return home. Following the murders, Thomas smoked a joint and then lied down to sleep beside the bloodied body of his mother.

The family had been bound with garbage bags, electrical cord, and duct tape and each stuffed headfirst into sleeping bags. Tony’s white Chevy Suburban was missing. A search warrant was obtained for the small ramshackle house that Thomas kept near downtown Lansing but all it turned up were porn tapes, a dead cat, and pictures of a bushy-haired Thomas doling out communion to kids on a missionary trip to California. Perhaps the most unsettling of all though was that every wall in the house had a large hole knocked through in its center. To stand in any one place, you could see into every room of the house. Before the murders were discovered, Thomas had used his mother’s stolen credit card to buy a tent and other supplies at a local Meijer store and for eleven days he managed to remain at-large. A police fugitive team finally captured him after he was spotted lingering unassumingly at a bus stop.

With his hands shackled behind him, Thomas sat in a jail interview room with his head bowed forward and his eyes closed, refusing for close to a half-hour to acknowledge my presence. He eventually opened his eyes and looked me over and for the next six hours I was able to engage him in idle chatter about everything from insomnia to cell phones, hobbies to Japanese food. He seemed flattered to know that his crimes, along with his manhunt, had made national news. But each time I tried to steer the discussion toward the murders themselves, he’d grow quiet, a reptilian grin creeping slowly across his face.

While in the maximum security and segregation unit of the Ingham County Jail, Thomas enjoyed mixing his urine and feces together into a cup and dousing both staff and fellow prisoners with the frothy elixir. During one particular incident in which the staff had to forcibly extract him from his cell, Thomas was pelted twice in the chest with pepper spray projectile rounds. The powerful capsaicin II chemical irritant didn’t faze him. He became a spectacle, his towering figure squinting at the news cameras as he shambled into the courtroom with an entourage of deputies. After a series of dramatic courtroom outbursts, Thomas was finally barred from attending any future court hearings-including the trial itself-after deputies, while searching him prior to the transport from jail to the court, discovered he had concealed two shit patties in his jail jammies. Taking the whole Soupy Sales schtick a little too far, Thomas had intended to throw them in the faces of witnesses, including yours truly.

After being found guilty of three counts of First Degree Murder, officials wasted no time in whisking him away to the Charles Egler Prisoner Reception Center in Jackson.

In the aftermath of the trial, given Thomas’s knack for making enemies, I made a friendly wager with another detective regarding Thomas’s chances of survival in prison. “I’ll buy you lunch if he lasts longer than a year,” I said. Just eight months into his sentence, White was found dead in his cell. An apple had been shoved down his throat.

When the house went up for sale a couple of years later, I contacted the realtor, pretending to be an adjunct professor with the University.

“It’s perfect for my needs,” I said. “Anything I should know about it?”

“Great neighborhood,” he answered. “Close to everything.”

“I had a chance to get out to it yesterday. Spoke with a neighbor. They mentioned that something happened there. Can you elaborate?”

“Every house has its skeletons,” he replied, obvious discomfort in his voice.

It’s been almost a decade since the crimes. Around Easter, cute little bunny decals appear on the windows. The breeze shivers crystalline notes from the wind chimes that hang near the front door. Every once in a while, I’ll glimpse a yorkie in the window and I’m certain that the house’s current residents have no idea of the specter of evil that once occupied their home.

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John Kingston resides in Seattle, Washington. His novel, The Portraits of Gods, was released in January 2015 by Anaphora Literary Press.

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