Her new book, with the great title Close to the Bone, fits neatly into the context of my post a fortnight ago. Close to the Bone hits Theresa MacLean where it hurts, bringing death to the one place where she should feel the most safe—the medical examiner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio. Theresa returns in the wee hours from a crime scene, only to find the body of one of her deskmen slowly cooling with the word “Confess” written in his blood. The body count begins to rise and these victims aren’t strangers—they're Theresa’s friends and colleagues, and everyone in the building, herself included, has a place on the hit list.
In her last post, Lisa took us to the battlefields of World War II. Today she tells us of past battles at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office.
I try to keep my books realistic—that’s my whole claim to extremely modest fame, really, that my forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is more true to life than anyone you’ll see on an episode of CSI. But I seriously fudge reality in most books by having her spend more time out of the lab than in it, so in Close to the Bone I try to remedy that. Most of the book takes place inside the somewhat decrepit Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office where I worked for five of the happiest years of my life. It’s where a murder occurs and where Theresa stalks the killer and is stalked in return. The hulking, moody, odorous place makes, I think, the perfect setting for a bloody tale of suspense—which is probably why I loved it so.
|1950's Coroner's office|
|Gerber and torso victim|
The building featured state of the art equipment and facilities—state of the art in the 1950s, that is, by the time I worked there the place was a malfunctioning OSHA nightmare—which were shiny and new when another Sam would make it famous.
|Sam Sheppard and newsmen|
Dr. Samuel Sheppard allegedly killed his wife on the 4th of July 1953, catapulting himself into American history in the worst way possible. His was The Trial of the Century long before O.J. Sheppard. Sheppard became the inspiration for the series The Fugitive, so that most Americans not residing in Cleveland believe him to have been innocent.
Dr. Gerber believed otherwise, and vocally. Perhaps he looked down on Sheppard, an osteopathic physician instead of an M.D. Perhaps he felt affronted by Sheppard’s wealth and social connections. Perhaps he felt, taking all the evidence into consideration, that Sheppard was as guilty as all bloody hell. Whatever the reason, Gerber and the equally opinionated editor of the Cleveland Press are the reason we now have laws regarding pretrial publicity. A 1966 Supreme Court decision ruled that Sheppard’s judge had allowed newspaper accounts to bias the jury. Sheppard was retried and acquitted.
Long after his death, I bustled around Dr. Gerber’s building the day they exhumed Sheppard’s body, and later his wife Marilyn’s, for a wrongful imprisonment trial brought against the state by his son. I met his son, a nice man. He did not win—the jury unanimously agreed that Sheppard’s innocence had in no way been proven.
|New autopsy room|
And we left the building Dr. Gerber had built. Under Dr. Elizabeth Balraj we moved to a vast, shiny, efficient place that smelled a lot better. But I miss those heavy wood doors and the frosted glass window with “Autopsy” spelled out in painted gold letters, the sense of history in the worn floors and the brick-colored ceramic tiles. I still do.
You can find out more about Lisa Black and her books at www.lisa-black.com