Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook, Text by Katherine Dunn, Edited by Sean Tejaratchi
The thing I like most about this book is that the scrapbook sense remains intact. The somewhat haphazard, mishmashed, jumbled "organization". The lack of chronological order, the careful block-lettered handwritten captions courtesy the creator. The spell woven, the queer suspicion that if I put the pages up to my face I could smell the musty past, conjure up a time long since dead. Therein lies the charm.
The photos are all black & white and despite some retouching/clean-up there are a lot that are kind of difficult to see/decipher. But there are also plenty that leap off the page and shout in your face. Babies and children warning. Some are not just dead. They are destroyed.
The intro by Katherine Dunn is a perfect accompaniment. All quotes below are excerpts. Clicking pictures will make them REALLY BIG and easier to see. You're welcome.
Violent death makes visible that which was never meant to be seen -- the glistening innards, the secret apparatus beneath the skin. These unfamiliar sights are not easily comprehended. Workers new to the job, rookie cops and ambulance drivers, struggle with the mess. Their eyes reel at ripped distortions that blur a formerly human identity.
Experienced death workers throw a professional switch in their brains and see the face more clearly. Their eyes methodically link dismembered limbs, realign a rictus grin, and separate identity from wreckage. Coolly. As connoisseurs. For the investigators a dead body is not so much victim as evidence, the ultimate clue to the workings of the perpetrator.
Our inquiries to the LAPD produced a blunt refusal from the head of the Personnel Division. The staff was far too busy to bother with archaeological excavations for mere historical purposes. All we know of Jack Huddleston is the internal evidence of his scrapbook, which suggests, among other things, that he spent years as a detective on the homicide detail for LAPD, and that he blamed us, the oblivious citizenry, for the contents of his collection.
What the do-gooders label "de-sensitization" has a value as well as a price. Some of us can't afford to be shocked by catastrophe. The surgeon, the burn ward nurse, emergency room attendants, paramedics, firefighters and cops, all those who scrape the still-screaming remains out of car wrecks, must cultivate their off-switch. Those who can't learn to crack wise and discuss baseball over a corpse must find a gentler line of work. The rumor is that city cops get strange from what they see, their eyes flattening or sinking into sockets as deep and hollow as rat holes.
The original scrapbook is large, six inches thick. Its stiff cardboard covers have disappeared over time and what is left are hundreds of black and white photos glued onto 18x24 inch sheets of heavy paper that is now mummy-brown with age and crumbling at the edges.
The scrapbook's creator has provided notes and captions for many of the exhibits. Some are typed on separate pieces of paper and then glued in. Many are inked or penciled directly onto the page in his own hand. Huddleston's comments are usually couched in dry cop-talk, salted with occasional flippant remarks. In several instances he has returned to the photo to add a notation of the arrest and sentencing, or execution of the perpetrator.
Nudity and explicit sex are far more easily available now than are clear images of death. The quasi-violence of movies and television dwells on the lively acts of killing -- flying kicks, roaring weapons, crashing cars, flaming explosions. These are the mortal equivalents of old-time cinematic sex. The fictional spurting of gun muzzles offer flirtation and seduction but stop a titillating instant short of actual copulation. The results of such aggressive vivacity remain a mystery. The corpse itself, riddled and gaping, swelling or dismembered, the action of heat and bacteria, of mummification or decay are the most illicit pornography.
This is the reality as opposed to the fantasy image of violence provided by cinematic fictions in which the victim dies fast if not instantly from one stab wound, one shot in the heart. That happens, of course. But anyone who's worked in an emergency room knows you also might be stabbed 20 times and still walk into the E.R. carrying your intestines in both hands and asking earnest questions, "How am I doing?" or "Does my insurance cover this?"
They say man is the animal that knows it will die, but most days we're too deliberately stupid to fear death. We fear ways of dying. We dread pain and panic, chaos and the crushing humiliation of helplessness, the red shame of spewing bowels and bladder -- the same things we fear in life. A steer in the slaughterhouse knows as much about death as we do, most days. This is a book about all those fears and the one beyond that we seldom confront.