Halloween, still in the not-too-distant past, got me to thinking about some of the weird incidents I’d responded to during my career. Not “normal” weird, of which there were plenty but weird weird. They were calls for which I have no earthly explanation as to how they occurred. One of those strange calls had several officers entering a quasi-dream realm that challenged our view of reality. And on one of the most horrific incidents to which any of us had ever responded.
No doubt you’ve heard about cops witnessing UFOs and other unexplained phenomena. Seems if law enforcement officers or military personnel witness strange phenomena, it adds legitimacy to the claim. After all, it’s not exactly career-enhancing for law enforcement or military professionals to run around saying they saw a flying saucer or a ghost. Still, I guess every cop has experienced something similar on occasion. Whether he or she will admit it is another story.
Well, although a woman once put a hex on me for writing her a traffic ticket (which I wrote about in my book “Is There a Problem, Officer?“), I had another experience that left me questioning reality much more than that silly sorceress had. In fact, as far as hexes go, hers was mild. She hexed me to “have a bad day.” I didn’t. I had a great day. So…
Anyway, while many metaphysical cop stories are simply unusual, some can be soul-searingly eerie. My partner and I were driving around in our patrol car one uneventful day. I was driving. A routine call came in over the radio. Someone was reporting a “person down” on a nature trail on Foster Island, which connects Arboretum Park to the parking lot of what was then the Museum of History and Industry. The trail is paved with woodchips and wends through a marshy area within view of Husky Stadium at the University of Washington.
A “person down” call was not automatically high priority. That was especially true for this call, since someone had reported it second-hand. Most often, the individual down is an intoxicated person sleeping off their drunk. Still, something told me this was different. This was bad. I needed to get there—fast.
Without my saying anything, my partner reached over and hit the lights and siren, and we raced to the north trailhead. Normally, absent additional information, officers wouldn’t risk driving “code,” emergency equipment activated and driving at higher speeds, for this type of call. Every time an officer drives fast with lights and sirens, it increases the odds of property damage and/or an innocent person or the officer getting injured or worse.
As I arrived at the trailhead, I realized several other officers had also responded “code” to that location. We all jumped out of our cars and, without conferring, dashed to the trail and sprinted toward…well, we didn’t know precisely to what or where.
The dispatcher had gotten no further information and no longer had the complainant on the phone. We had no idea, specifically, why the person was “down,” if the person was still there, or why we were running so fast. We sprinted on the path until one officer spotted something out of place. About 50 feet off the trail in the marshy bramble, we found a female with a massive gash on her head, blood saturating her hair. She was unconscious and sprawled on the damp ground.
One officer called for medics while a couple officers stayed and cared for the female. My partner and I continued to run along the waterlogged, spongy trail. Within a few hundred feet, we came upon a couple walking a baby in a stroller. I asked if they’d seen anything or anyone that seemed suspicious on the trail. They said while passing an area off in the bushes (they described the place we’d found the injured woman) they saw a man who seemed to be on his knees, patting the ground.
They thought he was spreading out a sleeping bag on the ground (it’s not unusual for transients to set up camp in this general area). They said the man appeared to be a white male in his late 30s to 40s, medium build, wearing dark clothing. They said he looked at them, stopped patting the ground, and then stood and walked toward the trail. They didn’t think much of it and continued on. They did not see the direction the man had taken on the trail, but said he had not passed them.
We relayed what they’d said about the suspect to the dispatcher, wrote down the witness information to pass onto the detectives, and continued our search. We did not find the suspect. We later learned his victim was a nurse who’d gone for a run on the trail during her lunch break. Apparently, the suspect had ambushed her on the trail, smashing her in the head with a baseball bat-sized tree branch, causing a severe head injury.
Fire department medics arrived, performed what they called a “scoop-and-run,” and then transported the woman to the local trauma center. Though she did not die of her wounds—at least not immediately—I’m not sure what had ultimately happened to her. This is often the case in police work. Once you’re finished with your part of the job, you’re done, and it’s off to the next call.
What the couple with the baby didn’t know they’d seen was the suspect pushing the struggling, wounded woman down, his hand over her mouth, trying to conceal that he had brutally assaulted and was about to rape her. After an extensive search, we did not find the suspect. The myriad trails and the fact he could have swum away in the lake, made his escape relatively easy.
Now, why all of us cops raced to the area like that, based on the limited information we had, still fascinates me. But what happened several weeks later was even stranger.
It was another ordinary day, overcast and mild, and we were on routine patrol in the East Precinct, Charlie Sector. Radio broadcasted a call of a suspicious male lurking on a path near the north end of Arboretum Park. It was an area known for criminal activity, including trespassing, lewd conduct, drug use, car prowls, and the occasional rape and robbery. A “suspicious” person in this area is not unusual.
Yet, once again, my partner and I, along with a couple other officers, for some unknown reason, raced to the area. Again, not knowing why we were responding so quickly to a call with no crime reported, just one suspicious activity—among the myriad other similar calls in this area. Often, upon officer arrival, neither the complainant nor the suspect was still in the area.
In this case, my partner and I spotted a person matching the suspicious person’s description given by the complainant. He was standing under what we called “the freeway ramps to nowhere.” These were unfinished entrance-exit ramps waiting to one day connect the highway to the neighborhood.
About 30 to 40 yards away when the man saw us, he turned and began moving in the opposite direction, trotting across a path through a marshy expanse, heading into Arboretum Park. I keyed my mic and called out his direction of travel to other officers who’d gone to the other side of the marsh path to cut off the suspect. She and another officer stopped the man who became uncooperative and tried to run. They were forced to subdue/arrest him and transport him to the precinct.
At the time, none of us were thinking about the nurse who’d been assaulted on the trail four weeks prior. I printed out the suspect’s criminal history. Page after page flowed from the printer, populated with all manner of misdemeanors, felonies, and significant mental health issues.
During this investigation at the precinct, one of the female officers, I can’t remember exactly who, got this feeling the man might be the suspect in the nurse’s assault a month ago. Other than arresting him in the same general area, she had no idea why she’d connected him to that case. Several male suspects matching the description had been arrested in that general location since that incident. We called the case detectives to pass along the information.
Detectives contacted the young couple pushing the stroller we’d met on the trail who’d seen the suspect that day. They had them look at a montage (photo array), one with the suspect’s picture included. They picked out the man as the suspect they’d seen standing over what they couldn’t have known at the time was the victim of his heinous crime.
The man was a bona fide psychotic. There was no way he should have been on the streets to hurt that poor woman. To give you an idea, aside from a long criminal history and a significant record of mental disorders, he had used several aliases, including Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
These strange incidents contained examples of fine police work. That, I was used to, but as to what mysterious force had impelled us to respond with such urgency to two routine and seemingly unconnected suspicious circumstances calls remains unexplained.
Later, when we’d speak about these peculiar incidents, we write them off to “one of those things.” We don’t know what made us respond the way we did. But we do know without that rapid response, it’s unlikely the nurse would have lived or the police would have solved this crime. She also owes it to a couple she’d never met for preventing the suspect from raping her.
Last I knew the suspect was incarcerated in Western State Hospital, found to be criminally insane. The cynic in me says, knowing the State of Washington’s history on such things, he’s probably been released by now. And, if he has been, he’s probably already committed or will commit a similar crime again. I can only hope whatever force compelled us to respond on those two occasions will affect any future responding officers in a similarly eerie yet productive way.