A Trip To The Morgue

I like to kill people. Not literally, although there are times when I wished murder was a socially acceptable option to convey displeasure. I write mysteries and someone always dies.

Several months ago a friend sent me information about the Mad Anthony Conference for writers in Hamilton, Ohio. I know the name refers to Mad Anthony Wayne, but I don’t know why he was mad. Perhaps he was just crazy or did crazy things.

The program looked interesting. What cinched the deal for me was the pre-conference event the day before, called Murder and Mayhem. It included a trip to the Butler County, Ohio morgue. My previous experience with morgues was through novels by Patricia Cornwell, whose Kay Scarpetta is a medical examiner, and television shows.

First surprise, bodies in Butler County are not kept in drawers. They are on gurneys in a large refrigerated room, still in body bags. If you die in Butler County, you are more likely to be autopsied than anywhere else in Ohio. Even so, there were only two bodies in residence that day.

Another surprise – the coroner’s female investigator does not wear stiletto heels and a low-cut top a la CSI. She wore sensible shoes and a button-down “uniform” shirt.

Cornwell mentions a Stryker saw in her novels. Kay Scarpetta uses it to get through bones. The saw in Butler County looked more like the sawsall Jim keeps in the garage. It’s a large version of our electric knife in the kitchen.

The coroner keeps tissue from body parts a minimum of five years. It’s stored in plastic containers on a shelf until the pathologist has time to process it onto slides. I guess professionals know where each piece comes from, because the tissue pieces were mixed together in a preservative.

Our visit didn’t last long. The nice man driving the van picked us up and dropped us off for lunch.

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