When Gracie heard the steel doors from down the hall swing open, she already knew the news wouldn’t be good and her greatest fear had just become a real nightmare. She was pretty sure it was going to be Johnny Lee’s body even before they arrived at the morgue. When she saw Jeannie and Robert walking back down the hall with Doc Brown, the tears resumed, her heart sank, and she felt as if she’d been kicked extra hard in the pit of her stomach.
Jeannie broke away from her brother’s grasp and ran straight into her mother’s arms while crying and screaming at the top of her lungs. “It’s him Mama, it’s Johnny Lee! Somebody killed my brother in cold blood like he was some kind of animal! How can someone be so cruel and have so much evil in their heart to do something like this?”
Trembling and gasping for air, unable to even utter a sound, Gracie collapsed in her daughter’s arms. Jeannie helped her mama to a chair and began fanning her with a clipboard while unbuttoning and loosening her coat. The woman behind the glass rushed out with a glass of water to give Gracie. Billy pounded his huge fists against the wall and wailed loudly. Robert struggled to help him to a chair. As Jeannie pulled Gracie closer to her, Robert did the same for Billy.
Doc Brown looked down at Gracie and Billy, then said, “A positive identification was made and I’m so very, very, sorry for your loss. Your son Robert here signed the form that permits us to release his body to the funeral home. Angrily cutting him off, Gracie jumped up and said, “The body! Is that all he is to you? To us he was a human being and is still and will forever be a beloved and important member of our family! He’s a son, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend-–someone who is a vital part to each and every one of us! He was kind, friendly, helpful to a fault, and maybe a bit naive, but he is real! He may have been taken from us way too soon and in the most horrible way possible, but he will forever be a part of our entire family and is more than just a body!”
Extending his trembling hands, with his palms facing upward and trying not to appear so afraid, he said, “I’m truly sorry for sounding so insensitive, Mrs. Brown. Please forgive me. Even though I work long hours here, that’s still not an excuse for misspeaking like I just did. Is there anything I can do for you? Do you have any questions for me?”
Calming herself with a few deep breaths, Gracie stood up, steadied herself against the wall, and looked Doc Brown in his eyes. “I do have a couple of questions for you, though. What was the cause of my son’s death and can I go view his body now?”
Robert stood directly in front of his mother, put his arms around her, and said, “Mama please stay out here: you don’t want to see Johnny Lee like this––trust us, please.”
Gently caressing Robert’s face, she looked at him and said, “I appreciate the concern both of you have for me, but I am going back there to see my child and your brother. I need to do this for myself.”
Turning back toward Doc, Gracie added, “I’m waiting for you to answer my questions, sir.”
Putting his hands into his lab coat and nervously swinging his thin arms back and forth, Doc stared toward the floor and said, “Ma’am I believe the initial cause of your son’s death to be blunt force trauma to the back of his head and face, but there’s also more than thirty deep stab wounds to his torso. I even found a piece of the blade lodged between his ribs, and numerous abrasions and burns to his body. There’s also red clay, briars, and gravel deeply embedded into his nearly decapitated head. Huge bits of flesh were also completely ripped from his body. There are burns mainly on his hands, arms, and fingertips. Lastly, based on the deep grass stains on his jeans and the severe trauma to most of his lower body and the deep ligature bruising around both ankles, I believe he was dragged as well. The blunt force killed him–-and from what I can tell, all the other injuries occurred post–mortem or near about. Judging from the slivers of wood I found in his sweater,I believe the attack happened at another location and ended in that field. Also, when he was first brought here, there wasn’t much lividity either.”
Looking puzzled, Gracie squinted and asked, “Lividity–– what do you mean by that?”
“It means that despite the violent nature of his death, there was only some slight bloating to his body when he was brought in which means the murder probably happened shortly before his body was dumped in that field. Please forgive me Ma’am, I don’t mean to sound so crass, but he still had color, and rigor was just beginning to set in his body.”
“Rigor––what does that that mean?”
“Oh, I mean his body hadn’t gone stiff yet. His tissue and limbs were still pliable to the touch and easier to manipulate.” Gracie nodded and stared to the floor before saying, “I want to go back there and see him now, please.”
Billy, Jeannie, and Robert asked in unison, “Are you sure?”
Facing Doc she said, “I’m positive. I told you I need to see with my own eyes what they did to my beautiful son! I won’t look at him again after this and other than the embalmers and funeral home people, I don’t want anyone else to see him either. Go ahead and call the house and let them know it’s Johnny Lee so they can spread the word to the family and neighborhood.”
Holding her husband’s hand, she looked at Doc and solemnly whispered, “Dr. Brown, please lead the way.”
The receptionist gave Jeannie the phone with an outside line so she could call home to deliver the devastating news. Carefully looking around and slowly taking in every detail of the cramped and dreary autopsy room, including the strange odor, Gracie gasped and quickly turned away into Billy’s arms when Doc grabbed the metal cabinet and pulled out her beloved son’s body. She was so saddened and shocked that her son had been violently murdered and wound up in a room like this one. Staring at the blood–stained sheet caused her tears to flow even harder.
Doc looked at them both and asked, “Are you’re sure you’re ready to take a look now?” They held each other tighter, looked at him, and nodded. When he removed the sheet, Gracie shuddered and her legs buckled underneath her. Billy caught her and pulled her into his arms.
Crying loudly, she screamed, “Look at what they did to my beautiful boy! I can barely recognize him and I’m the one who brought him into this world and raised him into a man! How can somebody be so cruel and evil enough to do something like this to another human being?”
Leaning over her son’s body and grabbing his hands as tears fell onto them, she screamed, “Johnny Lee, whoever did this to you will pay for it someday! I may or may not be here to see it, but I promise you they will pay for this!” She released his hands and watched Doc Brown cover the body and close it back into the cabinet.
Exiting the autopsy room, Gracie looked at her husband and said, “I need to get the hell out of here right now and get some fresh air! I’m ready to go home!”
Rejoining Jeannie and Robert in the lobby, they quietly walked out of the building in each other’s arms. Once they returned to their car, they drove all the way home crying their eyes out.