Poetic justice is a literary device in which ultimately virtue is rewarded and vice punished. In modern literature, it is often accompanied by and ironic twist of fate related to a character’s own action.
Origin of the term: English drama critic, Thomas Rymer, coined the phrase in The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider’d (1678) to describe how a work should inspire proper moral behavior in its audience by illustrating triumph of good over evil.
In the South, we have a similar way of articulating poetic justice. “What goes around comes around.”
I was on duty on graveyard shift in the criminal investigations division. It was a Wednesday night in 1983, a monumental year in my life. My son, Paxton, would soon celebrate his third birthday. We had a big party planned later in the month. Relatives were driving in from out of state. I am thankful God does not allow us to know what will happen the next moment in life. We have no guarantee of tomorrow, no crystal ball. Over the next few months, the events that lay ahead would have frightened me had I known.
On October 21, 1973, I received my honorable discharge from the Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I served four long years in the Corps and was proud to serve my country. The Marines literally saved my life. I was a high school dropout on the verge of being killed on the streets of Cedar Grove or ending up in prison. Daddy had to grant permission for me to join because I was only 17. By the time I reached my 18th birthday, I had been to eight foreign countries and learned I was blessed to live in the United States of America. I finished high school during my second tour of duty at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba. When I returned to Lejeune, I enrolled in Onslow Community College studying criminal justice. I married Debbie Bass and instantly became the father of her three year old daughter, Tondra.
We loaded my old 1967 Chevy pickup with camper attached with our humble belongings and headed to my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Every time I drive through the northeastern portion of our state, I hear Tondra’s voice. “Daddy, I love those snowball bushes.” It was the first time she saw cotton fields in full bloom.
Debbie and I should have never married. We were too young and headstrong. We were more like brother and sister and argued constantly. She was domineering and I was a passive introvert. That all changed when I became a cop. I saw many things that changed me. Firsthand life and death events does that to most young officers. Our marriage fell apart in year four and we divorced. I was single for four years until I fell in love the moment I met Robbin. We bought our first house way out in the country. I loved living in the old farmhouse with only one neighbor. The years I served on the streets of Shreveport had jaded me. I lost faith in fellow man. All I saw was death and bloodshed. I became anti-social and wanted to stay in my little country home far away from others. When I went to church and mingled with non law enforcement men and women, I was uncomfortable. We could not relate. I felt it was a waste of time and effort to meet people outside my law enforcement family. I limited my social life to being with only cops and their families. I hunted and fished with cops I trusted with my life. I refused to go to movies, the state fair, festivals or any event where I would need to interact with society.
I finished taking a recorded confession from a rapist in the city jail. I hammered out the final page of my supplemental police report on my new I.B.M. Selectric III typewriter and made copies. I made a fresh pot of coffee for myself and the other night shift detectives scattered around the big office complex working the phones, interviewing witnesses and victims or discussing their current cases among themselves.
I needed to call my rape victim to inform her the bastard gave a full confession and I had it on tape. I was reaching for my desk phone when it rang. I jumped a little and silently laughed at myself as I answered. The police radio room informed me street officers were at the Days Inn on Monkhouse Drive working an armed robbery and requested a detective. I took the assignment and grabbed my gear. As I drove my ugly unmarked Ford along I-20 to the robbery scene, I thought back to the time Debbie, Tondra and I answered a knock on the front door of our newly rented crappy little house in Caddo Heights. When we opened banking and utility accounts, the Shreveport Welcome Wagon was notified. I opened the front door to a lovely, well dressed, blue blood lady welcoming us to Shreveport. She handed Debbie a large wicker basket filled with cookies, banana bread, fruit and discount cards to several retail stores. It was a kind gesture and touched our hearts. As I drove now, I thought of another welcome wagon in western Shreveport. Travelers’ first impression of our lovely city was nice. I-20 exits on the west side of our town looked welcoming to the unknowing eye of motorists coming from Texas and beyond. Each exit offered aesthetically pleasing national motel franchises. They did not realize these safe looking motels and restaurants could be death zones for them. They did not realize a crime infested ghetto was within walking distance. If these uninformed motorists stopped for fuel, food or overnight lodging, they risked their lives. Nearby was our nice regional airport. Guests arriving by air, rented cars and booked rooms in the motels down the street for convenience. They too were clueless of the potential dangers. I dubbed this area, the Real Shreveport Welcome Wagon.
I pulled to the poorly lit parking lot in the rear of the motel and saw flashing lights of a fire rescue unit bouncing off the trees lining the west boundary. The crime scene was plain to see. The attack took place in a ground floor room facing the rear lot. Uniform officers stood outside the door watching fire medics render first aid to the victims. The lady was having her fingers wrapped with a thick bandage while other firemen treated a laceration to the male victim’s forehead. I.D. units rolled up and started unpacking their crime scene forensics equipment to process the scene. When the firemen left, I met with the victims. His name was John Mosley; hers was Ellen. They had been married 41 years with several children and many grandchildren. He owned a successful lumber company in Monroe, Louisiana. They had been to a Dallas, Texas eye specialist for Ellen to have cataract surgery. They were in route home when they decided to get a room for the night. Ellen was tired and wanted a good night’s rest. They selected the Days Inn which was easy to locate and near the interstate. Ellen was in the room unpacking an overnight bag while John made his last trip from the car to the room with a large suitcase. As he opened the door, two men suddenly appeared from behind and confronted him with handguns. They forced him into the room and locked the door behind them. He was forced to the floor and pistol whipped even though he was doing everything the armed men asked of him. One struck him on his forehead with the gun causing a large gash. The other grabbed the lamp from the nightstand and yanked off the electrical cord. They tied him up with the cord then ordered his wife to put their small dog in the bathroom and close the door. She was made to lie on the floor next to John and tied also.
The suspects turned up the volume on the TV to mask Ellen’s cries. They took their time going through the Mosleys’ personal effects, taking anything of value. They dumped the large suitcase on the bed and went through it. They even took the new set of electrical shears Ellen used to groom the puppy. They took John’s billfold, wedding ring, college ring, watch and Ellen’s purse. They took Ellen’s diamond studs from her ears, her Rolex watch and pulled the skin from her knuckle where she wore her engagement and wedding ring set for the last 41 years. She had never taken off the rings. She had gained weight and the suspects did not care when she cried in pain as they snatched them from her finger. When the suspects finished, they locked and closed the door behind them. It was at least an hour before John could free himself from the bonds. He untied Ellen and ran to the front desk for the clerk to call the cops. The suspects had pulled the phone line out of wall to disable the phone.
I spent the next couple of hours interviewing and consoling the Mosleys. It broke my heart to see the pain in their eyes and hear the hurt in their voices. They were good people and did not deserve to be hurt and humiliated this way. My blood began to boil as I gave officers additional information on the suspects. Once I.D. finished dusting for fingerprints and taking photos of the victims and their room, I helped the victims move to a new room. The street officers were still present. A rookie on the team had done a great crime scene search. In his diligent efforts searching for a direction of travel, he found a small trail in the bushes that served as a buffer between the motel parking lot and the on ramp to I-20. The officer saw fresh tennis shoe prints in a small muddy section. One set was clearly made by the suspects after they parked their car on the side of the onramp, climbed the small hill toward the motel and found the little foot path. The other set was probably when they left the scene in route to their car.
I put out a nationwide broadcast for police departments along I-20 to be on the lookout for two armed men using onramps to access motels and rob citizens. The senior officer on the scene missed the trail but the rookie saw it. I made a mental note I would write a recommendation to the chief for a departmental commendation. His finding did not solve my case but it did help understand the M.O. of my suspects. A bonding occurred between the Mosleys and me that night. Not sure how to describe it but things like that often happened to me. I connected quickly to the couple, gave them my business card and even my home phone number. John realized we would not likely catch these bastards but he never gave up hope. The next night when I reported to duty, I had a message to call a detective with the Bossier City P.D. I learned an hour before my robbery of the Mosleys, the same suspects robbed a couple at the Best Western in Bossier. It too was located near the interstate. The events in Bossier matched my case to the T.
I suspected the robbers were traveling town to town going east on I-20 robbing people. During the next few weeks, I received reports of similar previous robberies in Dallas, Fort Worth, Abilene and El Paso, Texas. Then the trail ended. I had no suspects and no notifications of additional offenses or of their apprehension. Like clockwork, every Friday night around midnight, John called me at work. He always asked the same questions. “Hey Pat, John here. Any news? Have they caught those men yet?” Each time I sadly told him no. I hated to give him this bad news every time. He always ended the call with the same words, “Pat, I wish I had been able to shoot those S.O.B.’s that night. I always have a pistol in my pocket, but that night I left it in my car. What a fool I was. I hope someone takes them out before they hurt or kill another person.” I always responded with the same word. “Mr. John, I hope someone takes them out and I hope it’s soon.”
Weeks came and went. John and I continued to talk on the phone every Friday night. Not sure why he selected to call me at that time, but he knew I was on duty. I will never forget the last night he called me. After this night, I would call him. We had a crude saying in investigations. The State hospital, Louisiana State University Medical Center, was well known for its affiliation with Louisiana State University. We refereed to it as L.S.U.M.C. or on weekends, the Gun and Knife show. Every stabbing and gunshot victim from the ghettos ended up there. L.S.U.M.C. had the best trauma unit in the Tri-state region. The nursing staff was well trained in treating victims of violent crimes. That Friday night I was standing in the emergency room taking recorded statements from two separate shooting scenes. The halls were packed with friends, family and witnesses. I was filling up my legal pad as I scribbled details from the victims before they were rushed to the operating rooms for surgery. Both victims were seriously wounded and the doctors gave them a 50-50 chance of survival. The recorded statements may turn out to be their dying declarations.
I stepped into the crowded hall and advised the witnesses I was leaving. I would see them at the police station where I would interview them and take their statements. I waited outside the main entrance of the police department and gathered 20 some odd witnesses into a big group and led them into the offices of the criminal investigations division. I instructed them to take seats in the giant conference room and not to talk to one another about the shootings they had witnessed. As I reached the door heading for my little hole in the wall office, I heard them begin to discuss the shootings anyway. I loaded my recorder with a new blank tape for the first witness as he entered. My desk phone rang.
“Hey Pat, John Mosley here. How are you doing? Ellen is still having nightmares about that dammed night and it pisses me off big time! Do you have any leads on our case? My scar is healing but the doctor tells me I will always have this big ass scar. I think I look like Frankenstein! I bet you don’t have any good news for me now, do you Pat? Pat, you know I’m a business man right? I take the New York Times each day and I read it from cover to cover. Do you read the Times, Pat? I bet you don’t have the time do you? Anyway, yesterday I was reading in the Times and I spotted a little story I want to read to you.”
I wanted to go outside and smoke a full pack of my Marlboros. I wanted a full swig of Macallan Scotch on the counter of my little farm house in the country. I wanted to be sitting on my screened porch listening to the crickets and hoot owls. I did not want to listen to John ramble, asking me question after question and not allowing me to answer. I respected him and our bond. I was respectful and listened to his every word.
“Seems on the back page of the Times, they carry crime stories across the nation, Pat. I saw it. I know I did, just a minute. Hey Ellen, do you know where I put my reading glasses? I know I had them just this morning when I read this. Oh, thank you my love. I forgot I put them in my shirt pocket. What would I do without you, my love. Thank you Ellen, I’m on the phone with Pat and I want to read him that story I told you about. Now where is it, let me see. It’s right here, oh yeah, here it is, Pat. Now listen to this story, son. You still there, Pat? You are mighty quiet tonight? Everything OK, son?”
Yes, Mr. John. I’m right here. Go ahead and read the story to me. The witness whispered he was going outside for a smoke. I almost hung up on John to go with him but I stayed on the line.
“OK, now listen up son, here I go…Florence, South Carolina news. One robbery suspect in the hospital and the second suspect in custody according to the Sheriff of Florence County. The robbery occurred at the Holiday Inn near I-20 late last night. The Sheriff states a couple had just checked into their motel room and were unpacking when two armed men forced their way into the motel room. A struggle ensued and one of the suspects was wounded. The second suspect fled the scene on foot. The case is still under investigation at this time.”
Mr. John, that sure sounds like our boys. I will call the Sheriff right now and call you back.
“Pat, it may not be them but it sure sounds like those two bastards. Doesn’t it?”
Yes sir. Let me call you right back. I hung up before he could continue.
It was around 2:00 A.M. Florence time when the Sheriff’s dispatcher answered my call. I told her who I was and a little about my robbery investigation. It was important to reach the Sheriff tonight. I asked her to call him and give him my direct number.
He called one minute later. He had a deep baritone voice with a thick Georgia accent. We verbally exchanged our credentials and I told him about my case. He gave me details of his case.
“Well detective, I think we got your boys over here. They are from Atlanta and both have done serious time in the Georgia State Pen. They got out last year and started their robberies. This is what happened here at our local Holiday Inn. A young couple checked in and were assigned a room in the back. They had their three month old baby girl with them. The baby needed her diaper changed and the mother placed her on the vanity top in a little carrier. She was about to change the baby when her husband came crashing into the room. He was knocked to the floor and was pistol whipped by one of the two armed men. They locked the main door and the second suspect approached the mother. She stepped into the toilet room and locked the door. The suspect outside the door yelled for her to come out. She refused. She heard her husband being beaten by suspect #1. Suspect #2 told her if she didn’t open the door, he would shoot her baby in the head. Her purse was in the toilet room with a 9 mm automatic pistol inside. She opened the door and shot him four times in the center of his chest. The second suspect bolted from the room on foot. We rolled on the call and found a late model white over red Cadillac Coupe Deville parked nearby on the I-20 onramp. The suspects waited in the bushes until the couple entered their room. When the husband made his last trip to the room with bags, they rushed him at the door and began to beat him. It pretty much ended when the mother unloaded on suspect #2. He is on life support. I just spoke to his doctor. They are keeping him alive. He lost too much blood and he’s brain dead. They are trying to find patients in need of transplants so they can part him out before they unplug his sorry ass. His only value is he has organs that may save someone else. The bottom line is he is dead and gone.
The second suspect turned up several miles down the interstate trying to hitchhike back to Atlanta. He was the registered owner of the red Caddy. They took turns driving and the one shot was the driver that night. That suspect had the car keys in his pocket at the time he was shot. The suspect on foot was stranded. We have him and his gun. We impounded his car. It’s full of loot from all over the south. Looks like they traveled up and down I-20 from South Carolina to west Texas robbing folks.
I faxed a copy of our latent fingerprints from my crime scene to his office. One of his fingerprint experts was on duty and quickly matched both men to my crime scene.
I called John and gave him the details from the Sheriff. When I finished, I went to my unit for my smokes. I knew I had 20 people waiting but I needed time to work through this in my mind. I leaned against my ugly unmarked detective unit and mentally went into that Holiday Inn room with the mother. I saw the little baby in a carrier on the vanity, her mother standing there in shock as her husband crashed into the room and was beaten. I saw her close the door to hide and how the bastard made his last mistake on earth when he threatened to kill her baby girl. There is no love greater than a mother to her child. She did not want to hurt anyone but this dirtbag gave her no choice. I thought of I-20 and the time I drove from Camp Lejeune to Shreveport when I was released from service in the Marines. I thought of snowball bushes and smiled. I thought how strange that John Mosley found the news story in the New York Times. I knew it was possible for the Florence County Sheriff’s office to find my nationwide broadcast about my robbery but I was pleased how this turned out.
What goes around comes around, doesn’t it? Case Closed.