Podcast: If It Looks Like a Duck, and Quacks Like One–Look and Listen Again…

In an amazingly good book of short stories called “Sticky Fingers”, author J. T. Lawrence writes about a veteran police detective who’s investigating the murder of a husband seemingly by a much abused spouse who’s been beaten so severely her lips are double their normal size. One eye has been punched, totally shut and perhaps permanently lost, broken teeth, so many broken ribs the medicos haven’t been able to determine the exact number…a fractured pelvis, etc., etc.

All she’s been able to mouth in the E. R is “I killed him”–and as the cop is trying to maintain himself in the midst of such physical horror, he can’t help but wonder how many, many times this woman with “one beautiful eye” had been beaten before. How many ribs have been broken on top of how many ribs…how many times has she had one eye, or both, punched to near blindness?

When a nurse refuses to give the woman additional morphine, despite the fact she is groaning in agony, the detective, a big man, gets into the nurse’s face and orders him to increase the dosage, which the male nurse reluctantly does and leaves the room. The cop shakes his head in disbelief at what he perceives to be the utter nonchalance of the medical profession in the face of so much man’s inhumanity to woman.

He knows she did, indeed, likely kill her husband. After all, his mangled body is found frozen in the couple’s refrigerator. Her blood and his blood are found congealed on the living room floor.

It sure as hell appears to him to be a righteous case of a woman, beaten to the point of near death, who did all she could do to survive. As a cop would say, she “stopped the threat.”

He perceives her as a survivor. Perhaps she’s a survivor with only half of face remaining, but a survivor nonetheless.

When he gets back to his station, in an obviously dour frame-of-mind, another detective asks him what’s up? What’s wrong?

He updates his fellow cup, who, for whatever reason, doesn’t really show a lot of sympathy or offer any commiseration which really galls the detective.

In point of fact, the fellow cop actually appears to have a bit of a smirk on his face as he suggests the detective pull out the woman’s file and study it, which he does, and at a nearby diner, where they serve great coffee and terrible food, he reads it.

And, he sees that the woman had for some time been seeing a local psychiatrist. At that point, the detectives interest very much piqued. He drives over to and is able to speak to the psychiatrist in his office. When the detective explains to him that the woman’s husband had almost beaten her to death, the psychiatrist says, nothing at first just shakes his head.

Finally, he says “No, that’s not what happened.” The detective is taken aback. “What?”

“Have you ever heard of Munchausen’s detective?”

“Vaguely. What is it?”

“Munchausen’s” the psychiatrist says “is a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. Some will secretively injure themselves to cause signs like blood in the urine or cyanosis of a limb. Cyanosis is the condition occurring when the blood supply is cut off to a particular part of the body and the skin takes on a dusky blue color. She’s done this before with two other husbands, Detective. Despite the fact she inherited millions and has never had to work, she does it for one reason and one reason only. Money, money, money.”

When the detective had gotten back to the hospital, he was told the woman, breathing tubes and all, had checked out. No forwarding address given.

Sometimes, when dealing with some people, you’ve gotta learn to dig a little deeper, perhaps, than you’re used to, it would seem. Have you ever experienced a subject whose seemingly ironclad, locked in stone story crumbled upon further investigation and scrutiny? What did you learn from it? And have you passed your knowledge along to fellow cops?

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