The Autopsy


Everyone knew of my special relationship with the Paramount Chief, Navropio,  and this, in turn, gave me a sort of quasi authority with the police.  Frequently, the chief would  send me petty criminal cases to try if they involved men on my staff, and on occasion,   I tried felony cases including charges of rape and assault.  My decisions were always subject to the chief’s review before any judgement would be effective.

I was often asked by Senior Officers from other agencies to assist them in matters which related to the either the chief or the police sergeant.   The first time I was asked to provide such assistance, it had been Schultz who was having a problem with poachers in his forest and game preserve.   I had gone to the palace to consult with Navropio and had been subjected to a warm but stern rebuff.

         “Are you not my adopted son?”  He had asked.

         “Yes, my father.”  I replied with bowed head.

         “Have I not told you –  what you say – I say - (except on important matters)?”

         “Yes, father.”

         “Any matter such as this,  you may deal with yourself, my son.   Now go and settle the problem with Mr. Schultz.”

Considering my unique position, it came as no surprise when Dr. DiSario frantically drove to my office early one morning needing my help with the police.

           “Bill,  you must assist me with the crazy policeman.”

           “What can I do, Vincent?  What has happened?”

            “Late last night, the policeman brought a dead man who had been murdered to the hospital morgue.  They demand that I do an autopsy before they will allow me to release the body to the family.”  He was become increasingly more agitated as he spoke.

            “How was the man killed?”  I asked, trying to calm him.

            “I don’t know.  The morgue is surrounded by armed warriors who demand that I release the body without cutting into it.  They say his spirit will not rest if he is butchered like a cow.  The police say he was shot with poisonous arrows, but I’ll be killed if I go to the morgue to find out.  What am I to do?   Can you help me?”

It was obvious to me that DiSario’s problem was not important enough to be brought to the attention of the chief.  I also knew that whatever I said, or did, would be reported to him anyway.   So I began to formulate some Solomon-type decision which would, hopefully, solve this problem with no further bloodshed.

          “Well, Vincent, as I understand the situation, the police have told you to make an autopsy on a murdered man and write a report.  But,  if you approach the morgue to cut up the cadaver, you’ll likely get killed yourself.  Is that basically right?”

          “Yes, but the sergeant says if he doesn’t have an autopsy report, the body can’t be released to the family.  Considering the heat in the morgue, you can imagine what the hospital will smell like in a few more hours?”

I impatiently drummed my finger tips on the desk. “Can you make an autopsy report without seeing the body?” I asked.

He answered with a typical Italian exaggerated shrug.  “How can I do that?  I must make an examination.  If he has been killed with poisoned arrows, I must examine his organs and check on the depths of his wounds – I must do a lot of cutting – like the Veterinary Officer does on market days.”

          “How deep would be arrows have to penetrate the torso to cause death?”

          “Well they would have to pierce the heart or some other vital organ.  But if they are poisonous, even a scratch could cause death.”  He began to get a suspicious look now.

          “Could there have been other complications that might have contributed to the poor man’s untimely death?”

          Vincent finally began to think.  I could almost see a light bulb going on over his head.

          I needled him further.  “Perhaps his death wasn’t murder at all, but a mercy killing to save him from suffering some horrible terminal illness?”

          “Yes, of course,”  he responded.   A sly, conspirator’s smile now glittered in his eyes.  “He probably had a fatal bilharzia infection or even advanced leprocy and his liver could be destroyed by worms.

I interrupted him only to place a note pad in front of him and hand him a sharpened pencil. I urged him to awaken and stimulate his imagination.   “There are many other probable causes Vincent, but you must always remember the poisoned arrows as being the primary reason for this man’s death – now write a draft of your probable autopsy report and we’ll type it here.”

I can still clearly see the scene today as I trust fading memory to paper – the tall, thin (at that time), blond, prematurely balding  Texan facing the short, fat, dark complexioned and balding Italian  doctor across my over-sized solid mahogany desk.  Vincent hurriedly scribbled a draft autopsy report that included at least a dozen contributory causes of death and almost completely clouded the issue of the alleged poisonous arrows without omitting them.  My secretary, working on his ancient Olivetti, began typing the report on official government paper.

          “Vincent, I think you have written an excellent autopsy report which will not only satisfy the police, but will get the body released to the family without you getting killed yourself.”

          “Jawn,”  I screamed when the report had been typed.

          “Sah,” came the instant reply from my messenger who had been anxiously waiting just outside the front door.

          “Get this report over to the police station and ask the sergeant if it is all right.  If he’s satisfied,  ask him to give you a release permit for the doctor.

          “Sah,”  and John was gone in a flash.

DiSario finally relaxed with a heavy sign of relief until we saw John returning  with the police sergeant at this side.

          “What now?”  Uttered the doctor in dismay as he anticipated a new problem.

Before I could reply, a grinning sergeant entered my door and spoke directly to Vincent.

          “Sir, this is the finest autopsy report I have ever read.  Never before, not even when I served in Accra under the British, have I read such an interesting and  wonderful description of a death.  I will be proud to send this report to my headquarters in Tamale.  Here, sir, is your release document.  Now you can give the body, or what’s left of it after your detailed examination, to the waiting family so funeral arrangements can be made for tonight.”

He saluted us both, turned smartly about face, and marched out.  I knew Navropio would be proud of me.


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