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Deadhouse

Life in a Coronerâ??s Office

John Temple

Publication Year: 2007

See the author's Web site Deadhouse: Life in a Coroner's Office chronicles the exploits of a diverse team of investigators at a coroner's office in Pittsburgh. Ed Strimlan is a doctor who never got to practice medicine. Instead he discovers how people died. Mike Chichwak is a stolid ex-paramedic, respected around the office for his compassion and doggedness. Tiffani Hunt is twenty-one, a single mother who questions whether she wants to spend her nights around dead bodies. All three deputy coroners share one trait: a compulsive curiosity. A good thing too, because any observation at a death scene can prove meaningful. A bag of groceries standing on a kitchen counter, the milk turning sour. A broken lamp lying on the carpet of an otherwise tidy living room. When they approach a corpse, the investigators consider everything. Is the victim face-up or down? How stiff are the limbs? Are the hands dirty or clean? By the time they bag the body and load it into the coroner's wagon, Tiffani, Ed, and Mike have often unearthed intimate details that are unknown even to the victim's family and friends. The intrigues of investigating death help make up for the bad parts of the job. There are plenty of burdens-grief-stricken families, decomposed bodies, tangled local politics, and gore. And maybe worst of all is the ever-present reminder of mortality and human frailness. Deadhouse also chronicles the evolution of forensic medicine, from early rituals performed over corpses found dead to the controver-sial advent of modern forensic pathology. It explains how pathologists "read" bullet wounds and lacerations, how someone dies from a drug overdose or a motorcycle crash or a drowning, and how investigators uncover the clues that lead to the truth. John Temple, Morgantown, West Virginia, is assistant professor of journalism for the P. I. Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. He is the co-editor of Cancer Stories: Lessons in Love, Loss, and Hope. He was a staff writer at both the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Tampa Tribune, and his work has been published in American Journalism Review.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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PREFACE

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pp. vii-viii

I began spending time at the coroner’s office in the fall of 1999. Most of the events of this book occurred in the summer of 2000. Dr. Cyril Wecht and Chief Deputy Coroner Joe Dominick granted me complete access to the coroner’s office and its functions. They asked me only to respect the wishes of employees...

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ONE: TRACY’S FIRST NIGHT

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pp. 3-40

Fifteen minutes ago, Tracy McAninch saw her first dead body. Now here she is, a summer intern, riding with a death investigator to confront a second one. In the backseat of the aging red Chevy Blazer, Tracy tries to prepare for what’s coming: an old lady, dark patches on her neck . . . possibly murdered. That’s all Tracy...

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TWO: AUTOPSY

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pp. 41-67

This job has no doubt been around as long as civilization. Someone had to dispose of bodies, and someone had to scrutinize those bodies found dead in suspicious circumstances. Methods, however, have varied. In one Australian tribe, two men held a dead body on each end while a third tapped it with a green bough and...

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THREE: THE CRYING ROOM

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pp. 68-77

The investigative office is packed with people; Tracy has to squeeze in. Mary Ann, the photographer, and all three day-shift deputy coroners are hanging around, no calls right now. Tracy met everybody when she started the shift at 7:00 a.m.....

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FOUR: NEXT OF KIN

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pp. 78-94

A couple weeks earlier, halfway through a slow evening shift, Ed Strimlan had leaned against the metal filing cabinets in the investigative office and remarked how few people in Pittsburgh were dying lately. Most mornings the corpse cooler had held just one or two fresh bodies, never more than four. The last seven days were...

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FIVE: THE COURTROOM

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pp. 95-106

All week, ever since the homicide on Monday night, Tiffani has run into people on the street who said they saw her at the crime scene. They were among the restless crowd in the Addison Terrace projects, and they saw her working, wearing the badge. Tiffani knew this would happen. She knows too many people on the Hill to...

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SIX: DEATH, BE NOT PROUD

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pp. 107-123

Carey Welch holds open the heavy metal door as Tracy McAninch walks into the corpse cooler, shoving an empty gurney ahead of her. They’ve just returned from the garage,where they helped a deputy coroner sign over a body to a funeral home director. Tracy clanks the empty gurney up against the others, some bearing bodies,...

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SEVEN: THE TV TEAM

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pp. 124-140

The phone rings, and Michael DeRosa takes the call. Forty-year-old female, dead in Ben Avon. Alone in the investigative office, DeRosa goes searching for a partner. In the entrance hall, he runs into Ed Strimlan. “Want to take a ride?” DeRosa asks....

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EIGHT: THE FLOATER

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pp. 141-152

He was a short, pudgy man, forty-six years old and 190 pounds soaking wet. He lived on a houseboat on the Allegheny River near the Pittsburgh Zoo. He’d lived there since about the time he broke up with his girlfriend, several weeks ago.He went into the water sometime within the last few days, less than a week ago, more than a day. He may have been pushed, but his body bore no marks...

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NINE: PICKLES IN COURT

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pp. 153-161

The coroner’s office is bustling today, preparing for the inquest into the shooting death of the man in the Hill District. Deputy sheriffs are bringing in Pickles any minute now, and Smitty is getting slammed....

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TEN: ED’S LAST NIGHT

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pp. 162-167

This afternoon, Ed comes in twenty minutes early, beating even Mike to work. A day-shift deputy immediately corners him. “Mister Ed,” the deputy says. “County homicide is headed out to Oakdale.”...

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EPILOGUE

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pp. 168-172

Three years after Ed Strimlan and Mike Chichwak parted ways, they have found themselves working side by side once again. After working the day shift for a few months, Ed was promoted to a senior deputy coroner position and moved into the administrative offices on the second floor.Mike was promoted to an equivalent...

SOURCES

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pp. 173-177


E-ISBN-13: 9781604733013
E-ISBN-10: 1604733012
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110300
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110302

Publication Year: 2007