Lt. David Swords: Precinct 7-11
Lieutenant David Swords (ret.) is a thirty year veteran of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department. Nearly half of Lt. Swords’ police career was spent as an investigator, working on cases ranging from simple vandalisms to armed robberies and murders.
A couple of weeks ago, Lee and I were firing off a few quick e-mails back and forth when he mentioned something that caused the nostalgia data bank portion of my brain to kick in. I began to write memories of experiences of mine that had some connection to a 7-11 store in my town in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when I was a young policeman all full of piss and vinegar. You know, the good old days.
I realized later that this had been sort of a stream of consciousness exercise, which I actually enjoyed.
Lee told me I should turn these into a Graveyard Shift blog which I have done, after some thought and some editing.
Several names have been monkeyed with to protect the … well, maybe not the innocent,
but people I still have to face from time to time.
The 7-11 Store on W. Main St. sat on a street that divided two patrol districts in the west end of town. Three blocks to the east was the western edge of the downtown district. The central district that was always patrolled by the paddy wagon, which was always a two officer car (2 man car, we called it in those days.)
Because of it’s central location, the fact that it was always a 2 officer car, and the fact that there wasn’t much downtown late at night except a few bars, the wagon was used as a utility car, the hot shot unit. I liked to work in the wagon.
Anytime there was trouble in the city and no units were available,or more officers were needed as back-up, they sent the wagon.
In any event, if you were assigned to the downtown district, you were allowed to go “off your side” (out of your district) to the 7-11. It was usually the only place for coffee-to-go available to the wagon crew on the midnight shift.
That particular 7-11 was where P.D. and I were the night Randy H. shot his mother and two sisters at their house in the two hundred block of W. State St. We were just climbing into the car with our coffee when the dispatcher called us and put out the call. Of course, the coffee went out the window as we started our run with lights and siren. (K.S. did the same thing one night, without realizing the window was rolled up. What a mess.)
The dispatcher was unable to relay much information on the situation, particularly the whereabouts of the suspect, which was the one thing we most cared about. It seems the caller was one of the sisters who had been shot, so she was, of course, hysterical and of little help.
I was driving and as I turned off of S. Yellow Springs onto Southern Ave., which parallels State St., we cut the siren, not wanting to alert the suspect, if he was still around. We paralleled State St. until I turned onto Southern Parkway, which would dump us into the 200 block of W. State, where the shooting was.
As I turned the corner, there, in front of our cruiser, running across the street was … no, not the suspect. A black cat.
Both P.D. and I had the same spontaneous reaction.
Now, I don’t consider myself a superstitious man, but when you are half a block away from a triple shooting with the whereabouts of the suspect unknown and a black cat runs in front of your car, it sort of leaves you at a loss for what to do. Luckily, P.D. instantly provided the solution.
“Spit out the window! Spit out the window!”
I did. Immediately and without question.
I’m not saying there was any connection, but we lived through the night, and to this day, anytime a black cat crosses in front of my car… you guessed it. I spit out the window.
Why tempt fate?
Another night, I … oh, wait. You want to know what happened at the shooting? Okay.
After our cat curse-cleansing spit, we cut the lights, including the headlights, and rolled up about two houses from the scene. You never pull up directly in front of the house.
The front door was standing open and the sergeant had arrived by that time. We entered the door and announced “Police,” with revolvers drawn and at the low ready. I looked to the left, at about ten o’clock from where I stood, and there sat victim #1, on a couch, sitting up but sort of slumped and leaning to the left. She had a bullet hole in the chest and a cursory check showed she was dead. That was Randy’s mom.
A few years later, I went to another triple shooting, with three dead, in the other end of town, and as I walked in I saw a guy sitting on a couch, at about 10 o’clock from where I stood, sitting up but sort of slumped and leaning to the left. He had a bullet hole in the chest and was dead. Weird.
But that had no connection to the 7-11, so that is a story for another time.
The other two victims, both sisters of the suspect, were found upstairs, wounded. They both survived.
After a sweep of the house, we found the suspect was gone and a good portion of the rest of the night was spent with the boring stuff. Paperwork.
P.D. and I took a plainclothes car and two shotguns to sit on the suspect’s house for a couple of hours, in case he went home, which is where desperate men often go, but he never showed up.
We found out later that he had fled the city that night and was driving through Cincinnati when he stopped at a red light, got out and shot the guy in the car behind him and took that man’s car. Then he drove south on I-75 until he was stopped in Kentucky or Tennessee for speeding and shot himself before the trooper approached the car.
Those are the memories of that night that started at the 7-11 on W. Main St. I learned how to void the curse of a black cat from a moving vehicle, and I met a dead woman that I would see again a few years later, in the image of a dead man.
I’d like to ask a question.
As I wrote this story, I had a little more to add, but when I reached the last line, I noticed the mixture of something humerous and something tragic in the same sentence, and decided to leave it as was. It made me think of the fine line said to be between tragedy and comedy.
The use of gallows homor in police fiction interests me, since it is so prevalent in police work. Joseph Wambaugh always comes to my mind as a master of it, slipping back and forth between tragedy and comedy.
What do you think of it as a literary device? Too risky? Or necessary to a good police story?
I’m leaving you guys in great hands today (Lt. Dave Swords) as I travel to the Killer Nashville conference. I hope to see you there!
I never heard that either, Terry, until that night. I never worried about black cats, either, but under the circumstances, I didn’t feel I had anything to lose. 🙂
It was odd, though I don’t think the similarities struck me at first. That is the only time I can remember such similarities between murder victims. I suspect other officers have had like experiences. But the position of the victim was not my most striking memory from the second shooting.
Great story, and I never knew about the cure for a black cat. Then again, I’ve never worried much about black cats, but it’s good to know.
Thank you Lt Swords. I have never heard of spitting near a black cat !
I think it must have been quite eerie to have seen a victim later in the same state. I wonder how often this has happened to other officers.