Monday, September 11, 2006

Corpus Delecti by Pat Hart

British serial killer John George Haigh, The Acid Bath Murderer, misunderstood the Latin legal phrase “corpus delecti” to mean that he could not be charged with murder unless the police found a body. So, with this misnomer tucked in his breast pocket, and the knowledge that all his victims had been dissolved in the 40-gallon vat of sulphuric acid in his basement, he foolishly boasted to police about his exploits. But, since the actual meaning of “Corpus delicti” is "the body of the crime," and the coppers found a human gallstone and a set of false teeth, Haigh was indeed charged and ultimately hanged on 8/10/49.

After committing a murder, once the murderous venom has seeped away and the hatred, lust, vengeance, or greed that fueled your deadly action has been quelled; you are left with the practical undertaking of not getting caught.

Hopefully, you’ve already prearranged an airtight alibi.
"I was in labor!" Is a good one, but a little tricky to arrange, especially for those last minute crimes of passion.

However, assuming the alibi holds, your next big problem is the unavoidable, and undeniable by-product of homicide: a corpse. Generally, the corpse, a cumbersome mass of guilt, is about the same size and shape as yourself. It is also completely inert and unable, even if it wanted to, to assist or participate in its disposal.

One option is to let the body be found by the cops. But first you have to scour it from head to toe, hopefully, removing any microscopic smoking guns, and then act your ass off at every turn of events.
“Oh my, he’s DEAD! Boo hoo, boo hoo. How awful and he was so afraid of heights--d’OH! Are you sure you didn’t mention he fell off a cliff? I’m psychic! I swear! I see a one armed man…”
Somewhere Sarah Bernhardt weeps.

Option two is to dispose of the body, which is an every changing challenge. It gets stiff, it gets floppy, it starts to smell and attract bugs. And the whole time it’s sloughing off hair, fibers, and other offal that some nerdy science girl is going to find with her halogen flashlight, pick up with a pair of tweezers, put in a tiny manila envelope, make a gigantic poster of it and present it at your trial, inspiring everyone, even your own attorney, to draw their finger across their necks and say: CRRRCK.

Obviously, the best thing to do is to convince your victim to climb into the giant hefty bag you’ve arranged on a dolly before you kill him. But barring that, what’s a homicidal maniac to do?

Once you decide to dispose of the body yourself you really only have two routes from which to choose. Keep the body close, in your control, or get the body as far away from you as fricking possible and try not to leave a trail of bloody breadcrumbs leading back to you.

Jeffery Dahmer apparently opted for the close at hand approach then lived hand to mouth as he--well, enough already. But the main problem with keeping the body close is that it is a lifelong commitment. At some point you’re going to have to sell the house with the dirt floor basement, or someone's going to wonder what’s the deal with that creepy old trunk you’ve been hauling around for years, and, once you’re over forty, you’re likely to forget why you never put a pool in until the backhoe guy knocks on the door holding a femur.

Or you can choose to dump the body in a place that no one would ever find it, but then you lose control of discovery. Undoubtedly, the week after you ditch the body in that secluded little glen you found, the Webelos will hold their annual Flora and Fauna Frolic and 85 seven-year olds and their moms will be overrunning the area like ants on a dropped ice cream cone.

It’s a dilemma. Any bright ideas out there? Any sure fire ways to get clean away?


Anonymous said...

Wow, Pat, you're both informative AND creepy!

Your blog should be required reading for potential murderers. Maybe they'd have second thoughts if they realized how much work this whole thing is and how long it lasts.

And I think cleaning up my office is a big chore!


Joyce said...

Very funny, Pat!

It's a good thing that most criminals are dumb and don't think of these things!

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by the local Pittsburgh case of the 50-something man who was discovered to be keeping his mother's remains in his freezer. How did she die? Was he really keeping her in the Fridgidaire because he couldn't afford her funeral? Or because he wanted to continue collecting her Social Security check? Or--well, the mystery writer in me is full of imaginative ideas!

Good one, Pat!

Annette said...

One of my all time favorite movies is Fried Green Tomatoes where they barbecued their murder victim and, if I recall correctly, the cops unknowingly "helped" eat the evidence.

And you all wonder why I'm a vegetarian!

Anonymous said...

Details, details, details...and here I thought coming up with the perfect crime was going to be easy! Thanks, Pat, for your giving me something else to think about as I go back over my WIP. Hmmm....

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a sicko joke:
What's the name of Jeffrey Dahmer's roommate? Stu. (That's "stew" for those of you who don't get it.)
From another vegetarian.
- Gina