From the book “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest” available at Amazon.
It was a Saturday morning. The sun was bright, the weather was comfortable, and the humidity was unusually low – important in the humid climate of Pensacola, Florida. I was a young police officer, riding in my patrol car on the west side of downtown Pensacola. The first few years of an officer’s career is eye opening and full of surprises, such as the one that I encountered on October 24, 1987.
I was called to a “Suspicious Circumstances” call at an old cemetery downtown. The dispatcher said that it looked like vandalism to a grave, but that clothing was present. That was all…nothing else.
When I arrived, I saw several articles of clothing – a shirt, a jacket, and a towel – hanging from a small tree. There was also a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap lying on top of a grave. It looked like someone’s home. But all of that paled in comparison to what was obviously the reason for the call.
In history, when influential people are buried, mausoleums are often used to place the body in. Instead of a grave under the ground, the casket is placed in a building. The building ranged from plain to ornate. Most are built from solid marble. Some are decorated with other “lesser” graves of members of the family surrounding the mausoleum. Sometimes there is a bench, or a small wall, or a flag. Some stand six feet high, but others stand as high as 15 feet in height.
There was one such mausoleum in this cemetery also, right next to the side road in the residential neighborhood. But it wasn’t a fancy cemetery or a rich man’s grave. This brick mausoleum was about 3 ½ feet high and had a concrete roof. It was obviously old and was built for a husband and wife. But…one end of the husband’s side had a huge hole, big enough for a body to slip through. I stared for a moment at the sight – as if that would help me understand.
Ever so slowly and cautiously, I approached the hole. Leaning down, I shined my flashlight into the dark cavern. Empty. I have to admit I was relieved when I found their was no one home. However, as I inspected more closely, I noticed part of one side of a rotted wooden coffin visible in the dirt. Two of the handles were still intact. But the resident was gone.
It seemed almost surreal – maybe spooky. Here I was, looking into a grave that was supposed to have a dead body in it, but it was empty. The body had been stolen, removed, or…
I tried to ease my head further into the grave to get a better look, but I couldn’t without touching the leftovers of the coffin to brace myself.
As I was on my knees looking through into a creepy empty mausoleum on this quiet October morning, the silence was suddenly shattered.
“Been gone a long time” came a voice.
I jumped what seemed like three feet, hit my head on the crypt, came back down, but didn’t want to touch the coffin. I hit my head again, then spun around to see an older lady sitting on her porch across the street, about 30 feet away. Apparently, she had been amused by watching me for the past few minutes.
When my heart finally started, I said “Wh…What?”
The lady, smiling, started, “Many years ago, the husband’s body was stolen, or removed, or…left. Ain’t been back since. Then, about 20 years ago, the hole was covered back over by concrete. Recently, another fella decided to use it. Kicked the end out and has been sleeping in there when it gets cold.”
I stared at her in disbelief as I was holding the back of my head. It took my brain a few minutes to process what it has just been told.
“You mean, there’s a guy living in the crypt?” I asked, incredulously.
“That’s what I said” answered the old woman, matter-of-factly.
Trying to appear brave, I soon regained my composure and tried to look official, going through the items nearby, at the “house.” Meanwhile, my traumatized mind was trying to figure what to do. Did I have a crime? Should I take photos? Should I confiscate the resident/suspect/creepy guy’s stuff? Should I look inside the “residence” for clues? Finally, I decided. Nope. I’m leaving.
“Okay, ma’am. I can’t find anything. I guess I’ll be on my way.”
The woman smiled at me. She had been entertained for the day.
As I think back on the event, a couple of questions come to mind…
1. How did the first man (the husband) get out?
2. Did someone steal his body? Why?
3. Did the second man commit the crime of “Burglary of a dwelling”
4. How could it be a dwelling if no one “lived” there?
5. Was the wife still there? There was a wall between the two sides.
6. Most importantly, how did the second guy know that the husband’s side was empty? It had been repaired, and he kicked it in to get out of the cold. But how did he know that the one he kicked in was actually unattended?
By Mike Simmons