First Call as a Detective

I vividly remember my very first call as a Real Detective.

It was an unusually hot afternoon, even by Toronto summer standards. You know what I mean–those days when it gets even hotter as the sun goes down. My new partner was on annual leave, which meant that I was the lone D in the division.

No worries, I thought. I’d been a uniformed officer for well over a decade and a sergeant for a number of years after that. What could possibly go wrong?

“There’s a dead body in a backyard.”


I honestly thought that the supervisor at the front desk was kidding. I muttering a few choice words at him and hung up the phone.

He called back and repeated the message.


I fumbled around, looking for car keys, a steno pad, rubber gloves, property bags–anything and everything I could think of that I might need at a homicide scene–and then made my way to the address. I saw several marked police cars in front of a house with the laneway beside it taped off.

Just like on TV, I pulled up that yellow tape and was met by a uniformed officers. She led me over to what was, in fact, a dead body in a backyard.

Something did not add up.

Even though this unfenced backyard was overrun with weeds and very high grass, it ran alongside a well-travelled laneway, which suggested that someone should have seen this decomposed body before now.

As I got closer, I could see that this was the body of a man wearing only a pair of pants. No shoes. No shirt. Given the recent heatwave, that did not seem unreasonable. The body itself was approximately six feet from the back porch of the house. The door that led to the porch was locked from the inside.

Where did this body come from?

The officers on scene were knocking on neighbours’ doors while I went back to my car to call the Homicide Squad. When I returned to the scene less than thirty minutes later, the body appeared significantly more decomposed than before.

How could that be?

The study of decomposition has historically been conducted in a controlled environment. The temperature of the place the body is located at as well as the weight, age, and over-all pre-death health of the deceased were all factors used to determine how long it would take a body to decompose. In this particular case, none of these rules applied.  

Here is what happened.

The deceased was an acute alcoholic who was overweight and lived alone in that house. The neighbours did not know him because he was a recluse who had his alcohol and whatever food he ate delivered to him. On the day his story became known to me, for whatever reason, he decided to step out onto his back porch. The door blew shut and locked behind him. He proceed to fall (stumble?) off of the deck, but then got up and walked a few steps away from the house before suffering a massive heart attack (which was the cause of death, as per the autopsy). Due to the extreme heat, his excessive weight, and the (chronically) high level of alcohol in his body, he decomposed at an accelerated rate, giving his body the appearance of having been there longer than it actually had been..

That incident was indicative of the types of investigations I would be involved in for the rest of my career as a real police detective. This is also one of the reasons why I now write real crime. Fiction. But more on that in another post.

As an aside, since my early days as a detective, the study of decomposition now takes into account numerous factors that greatly assist investigators trying to determine approximate time of death.

Until next week, I’m 10-7 for shift.

Desmond Ryan – Real Detective. Real Crime. Fiction

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