Its been a year now and I’m ready to tell the story. It’s rather lengthy, much like these past months, so pull up a stump and I’ll tell you a tale…
Labor Day Weekend – nothing grand or exciting in our home. We sometimes plan a cookout or a backyard bonfire, but mostly its been a time to prepare for the first day of school, garden work, or some early Fall cleaning. With the last one graduated, the weekend was a little more relaxed and so we took off for dinner at our favorite restaurant about fifteen minutes from home.
We were just finishing up when I got a text from our neighbor’s daughter. It wasn’t specific and I was pretty sure that I knew what she wanted so I decided to wait to message her back until we were leaving. A few minutes later, I received a second text from her Mom – “Call me ASAP – it’s an emergency!”
Holy Cow! Who gets a message like that and doesn’t panic?
I vaguely remember muttering something to my husband and daughter as I sprinted for the front of the restaurant where I knew I would be able to hear better when I called. My heart was pounding out of my chest while imagining every possible worst-case scenario. Had something horrible happened in our neighborhood? To a friend/neighbor? Was our house on fire? I DO remember telling myself to breathe – stay calm – no matter what, stay calm! (yeah, right) I also remember that it took everything I had to dial the phone because my hands were shaking so badly.
I can still hear her voice. “Take a deep breath, Julie! Someone has broken into your home and it is completely trashed. I’ve already called the police and they are on their way.”
I could hardly believe her words! WHY would someone rob us? And, in broad daylight yet?
The drive home was surreal. By this time I was strangely calm and was driving as fast as my driving skills and the law would allow. My husband was eerily quiet and our daughter (the one with the debilitating anxiety) was about to claw through the roof. Most of the trip was trying to talk her down and prepare for whatever we might find.
Upon turning the corner onto our street, we were met with police cars, the entire neighborhood, and chaos.
From the original conversation with our neighbor, I was under the impression that “the perp” had broken in through the lower level door in the back of our home and that it was our downstairs family room that was trashed. I was wrong.
Instead we were met with smashed in front doors and windows and more broken glass then I’ve ever seen.
The officers were already there and had cleared the house. (I would later learn that they had gone in with guns drawn like something out of a movie shouting “clear” each time they would check out a room or closet.) They had also begun their analysis of the situation and so they were in the process of beginning to compile questions for us while we stood there completely stunned by what we were seeing. We were not permitted inside at this point and could only catch glimpses from the front yard through the broken doors and windows as the officers moved in and out.
“Do you have any idea who may have done something like this?” “Have you noticed anything unusual around your home recently?” “Has anyone made threats of any kind at any time?” No, no, and no!
To the neighbors who had gathered:
“Were any of you sitting outside on your porches?” “Did you hear anything?” “Did you notice anyone on the street whom you didn’t recognize?” No, no, and no!
“Can we go inside yet?”
“No, I’m sorry — there’s quite a bit of blood.” “We’ve called for the detectives.”
As if the whole thing wasn’t surreal enough, now we had entered the realm of absurd and frightening. WHO in the world would do something like this and WHAT had happened in there?
By this time my husband was silent and pacing, our daughter was in full-blown hyperventilating, breakdown mode and, in hindsight, I’m really not sure WHAT I was feeling at that point. I do know that we spent the next hours, while waiting for the detectives to analyze the scene, assessing what we COULD see.
We have (had) a full-length glass storm door that was annihilated. The word shattered doesn’t begin to describe it and unless you’ve seen tempered glass explode, you can’t even imagine.
Our front door, which was a solid wood, two-inch thick antique that we had brought in from my grandparent’s house, was broken through. Not as in broken “into,” but as in sporting a hole right through the wood!
The front window, which is a double, was apparently broken OUT, as the glass was all over the porch, in the gardens, flower pots, and also the fish pond.
Through these openings, we were able to see just some of the chaos that had occurred inside.
“Okay, you can come in now!”
I remember walking gingerly over a carpet of glass in my flip-flops and making a beeline upstairs to grab some shoes. There was actually glass all the way to the top of the stairs.
The officers asked us to begin checking for anything that may be missing or out of place. After searching, we couldn’t identify a thing, just ransacked. My good camera was still sitting on the fireplace mantel. The money bag from my small business was on the desk. All of our electronics – tablets, laptops, TV(s) – were just as we left them. Meds were where we store them.
By this time it was obvious that the officers were becoming a bit “concerned.” If not a robbery, then what? It was also now dark and so analyzing details required flashlights, making for an even more challenging assessment.
At some point, one of the detectives said, “Hey, what do you make of this?” He was shining his light on the bottom edge of the hole in the door. There were a few short, light blonde hairs suspended there as if having been rubbed off when scraping across the opening. Animal hair? Had to be – certainly not human. When checking the broken window, it was discovered that there were a few more of those same hairs along with the blood.
A dog! A light brown to blonde dog! Someone or several someone’s had actually brought a DOG along to break into our house and do………….what? What had they intended to do? Was the plan to rob us by breaking in and sending the dog in first? Did someone get cut in the process and then they had to quickly abort their plans? Did they run out in a hurry, leaving the dog behind and then he, in his panic, followed them by crashing through the window?
I had this horrible image of dogs that are trained to fight – the kind with the spiked collars and death bite that can’t be released and I just wanted to cry. Dear God, what would have happened had we been at home? My husband’s chair is directly inside our front door. I still shiver when I think about the possibilities…
By this time it was late and the officers had finished, taken all of their samples, and given us these words. “We aren’t sure what is going on here. Nothing about this makes sense given the evidence so far. That said, we’re not sure if we’re dealing with a botched robbery or something more sinister. We have calls in to all the hospitals to keep an eye out for anyone coming in with serious cuts and we’ve even called local vets to watch for any dogs with injuries as well. We’re sending the samples off to the lab for analysis and will let you know as soon as we know. In the meantime, we want you to be extra vigilant tonight! Anything out of the ordinary – any noises or activities or even something that doesn’t feel right – call immediately. We will be around. You might not see us, but we will be watching.”
(I would spend the night in the room at the top of the stairs sitting in my chair with a shotgun leaning against the wall to my left and the box of shells to my right.)
And then they were gone. It was now almost 11 at night and we were left standing in the middle of a first floor that crunched when you walked from the layer of glass, front doors we couldn’t close because of the buildup of glass and even when we were able to do so, there was a gaping hole so what was the point, a shattered front window, upturned furniture, and blood – all over the place.
I had been calling our insurance agent for several hours by this point, to no avail. I called their office numbers, their home numbers, their cell numbers, their emergency numbers. My messages became more and more desperate and in the end were little more than screeching, foaming at the mouth, full-blown rage steeped in colorful metaphors not suited for tender ears. Apparently they were all on vacation and emergencies are only allowed to happen when they’re not on vacation.
They are no longer our insurance agents.
I finally located a teeny tiny little number in a corner of a company insurance bill that ended up reaching someone in Cucamonga who transferred me to someone in Timbuktu who transferred me to Narnia. The guy in Narnia was very nice and told me that I could “go ahead and call any emergency recovery/restoration company I liked, but at this hour, it might be best to wait until morning since it’s a holiday.” Face palm…
They are no longer our insurance company.
By now we’re pushing midnight and out of options. Of COURSE we had no desire to stay the night in a house in that condition – with a first floor that was uninhabitable, not to mention bloody! What to do? We couldn’t just walk away and spend the night in a hotel because the house was wide open! So, my sweet husband traipsed out to the shop and found a few panels to board up the place himself. We barricaded the front door and nailed down the windows and went upstairs to try and get some sleep.
Things always seem less sinister in the light of day and this was no different. It was apparent, however, that we had a serious mess on our hands! While we were still (obviously) concerned about what had happened and why, the focus turned to what was needed to get cleaned up. A phone call to the chief detective assured us that we could proceed and so we placed a call to a cleanup/restoration company that had been recommended.
Amos was the representative for the cleanup company – the guy who comes out, does the assessment, and quotes the job. He was a rather unique individual who described himself as a “castoff from the Amish community” and could out talk a cackle of biddy hens at feeding time. After he came up for air, he assured us that they could clean up the mess, haul away all of the debris, sanitize, etc. They would also be available to contract for the restoration should we choose and would work with us through our insurance company. He then noted that fees for the EMERGENCY cleanup would be double because, after all, it was a holiday.
Another face palm…
(Apparently, emergencies of any kind must occur ONLY on days not designated as holidays, else you will pay out the wazoo!)
They showed up in hazmat suits! (Seriously, they did.) It took them HOURS to just get the glass up both inside and out and, even then, they weren’t able to get it all. They scrubbed things. They vacuumed things. They loaded debris in their truck. They took my little vintage tray that had gotten a dent in it. They took the piece to an antique spandrel that I had laying on the mantel to replace and that had nothing whatsoever to do with the task at hand.
John was along too. He was Amos’s sidekick and HE was the keeper of THE BLACKLIGHT!! The blacklight was brought along to identify any and all blood and it was explained to us that ANYWHERE it was discovered would have to be removed – ANYWHERE! (This, apparently, was why they were in hazmat suits.) WE had been walking around in it for 36 hours, but they were in hazmat suits. John also explained that, in addition to carpets, upholstery, etc., walls would have to be cut away as well should any blood be found there. That is, unless our wall finish would allow for the chemical they needed to scrub it away. What?? You’re going to cut holes in our walls on top of everything else? “Yes, ma’am, we’re required to do that when blood is involved.”
And so they went at it, but no one more diligently than John with his blacklight. Before I was able to retreat upstairs so as to be out of the way, I heard him say, “Wow, check this out!” His light was shining on the half wall that divides our living room and dining room. In the wide beam of the light, we could see a very large swath of a faint red spray in a splattered pattern down the wall. John seemed quite taken with this and so I stared right along with him. “Do you see that? That’s quite a blood splatter!”
I should’ve known in that moment what we were dealing with. I maybe even should’ve said something and I probably would have if he would’ve taken even one step toward cutting that wall out, but I just slowly backed away and left him in awe of the splatter of red wax from my tart burner that had spilled down that wall the Christmas before last.
By this time my forehead was bruised from face palming.
The guys continued and I retreated to my office upstairs. My husband was busy elsewhere and our daughter was up and down the stairs doing those things that teenagers do when they’re bored out of their minds. She startled me, however, when she burst into the room, eyes wide and said, “MOM, they’re gonna…………..” RRRRIIIIIIIIIIIPPPPPPP! “……..cut the sofa!”
And so they did – right down the middle. To this day, I don’t know why they didn’t just take the whole danged thing!! (I loved that sofa…)
It wasn’t long after that I heard John begin to creep up the stairs. He would have conversations with himself about the things that he and the blacklight were seeing and I think he just wanted someone with whom to share his excitement. He sheepishly poked his head around the corner to my office and asked to show me a few things that he had found.
NOW, the police department AND the detectives had assured us that NO ONE had been in the upstairs of our home, nor had they been in the lower level, as the door was still locked. When I questioned John about this, he said that he was “finding blood EVERYWHERE!”
With the blacklight, he showed me bloody footprints in the upstairs hallway carpeting, bloody hand prints on the walls in the hall, and blood on the knobs to the wall cabinet in the upstairs bathroom. I could absolutely see what he was showing me! It was very visible with the light. “There you go,” he said. “They were probably looking for drugs since they were looking in the bathroom cabinet.” “It’s a little strange, though,” he said, “the footprints look rather small and the hand prints are down lower on the wall.” “I’ll bet it was a WOMAN!”
He was in his element. A true detective wanna-be.
I asked him if they would be passing this information along to the police or whether that was something we would need to do. His response was that they would pass the information along to the insurance company and THEY would pass it along. (which made absolutely NO sense whatsoever to me!)
When they finally left, the glass was cleared as much as it could be, although we continued to find it everywhere and in everything for weeks. They had scrubbed and treated any and all blood and, thankfully, no walls needed to be cut. Our carpets, however, were another story, in that we were left with random holes cut in them every couple of feet all over the first floor, up the stairs, down the hallway, and about eight inches into my office. It was ever so lovely.
In the midst of all this, the insurance adjuster came along. I truly couldn’t then, nor can I now say a single negative thing about him. He was helpful and understanding and was a bright spot when we desperately needed one. He was, however, doing exactly what it is that insurance adjusters are trained to do and sometimes that isn’t identifiable until down the road. But, that’s a story for another day.
Late that night, I got a text from the detective with whom we’d been working. “What kind of animals do you guys have down there?” “Well, we’ve got them all – after all we’re backed right up against this wetland and so it’s a haven for wildlife.” “What about deer?” “Yes, we’ve got them. You’re going to tell me it was a deer, aren’t you,” I joked. “No, just working on theories.” “Well, I’m going to blow your theory right out of the water,” says I.
I proceeded to tell him everything about what JOHN had uncovered with his blacklight that very afternoon – that there was SIGNIFICANT blood on the stairs and bloody footprints in the hallway and on the upstairs walls and in the bathroom – that JOHN said they were probably looking for drugs since they were trying to access the cupboard – that JOHN said at least one of the perps was small, probably a woman. He wasn’t sure if they had been in our bedrooms, but if they had come up the stairs, they had probably at least run in and back out again. That’s what JOHN said.
There was some hesitation before I got this message – CALL ME, NOW!!
I let him blow off some steam before explaining what had happened. He was beyond livid! For several reasons:
- His team had been all over our house and had spent HOURS checking to be sure of their findings. There was NOTHING to indicate that anyone had been in the upstairs or downstairs. He was not so arrogant as to say that mistakes can’t be made, but not by a whole team of detectives – not with the claims that John was making.
- In the world of criminal investigation, identifying blood by way of a blacklight requires the use of a chemical called luminol. Alone, a blacklight will show any number of things, including sweat, oils, etc. (and purple hair dye from one’s teenage daughter who touched the knobs on the cupboard just hours before all of this went down) Whatever it was that John was identifying as blood was anything but.
- Even IF the findings were valid, the cleanup team had just scrubbed away every last ounce of evidence. (which is a crime in and of itself)
- The cleanup team had just proceeded to further victimize the victims by creating additional fear and uncertainty in an already frightening and confusing situation.
I’m pretty sure that the call to the cleanup/restoration company from the chief detective was an experience not soon to be forgotten. I doubt very much that there was a man left standing and I would guess that John has been stripped of his blacklight privileges forever.
We’ve never heard from them again (except to send the bill) and that is okay with us.
Early the next morning, the detectives, en masse, arrived at our door and took up positions on and about our half of a couch.
“We think we’ve got this figured out.”
At this point we were tired, frustrated, more than a little angry, and the realization of what we were faced with was beginning to settle in. We needed answers!
“In the world of criminal investigation, when things aren’t obvious, we step back and let the crime scene talk to us. Nothing about this particular incident makes sense given everything we know — the timing, the method, nothing missing, the lack of motive. That said, we believe that all evidence points in one direction. ”
“Are you ready for this?”
“We’re pretty sure you’ve got yourself…………………a DEER!”
“Are you sure?”
They went on to explain that, while it sometimes takes a YEAR to get samples back from the crime lab, they had been able to speak with someone from the state police lab who shared some information with them. He asked them to put the hair sample under a microscope and tell him what they saw. When it was mentioned that the hair had a “herringbone” pattern to it, he emphatically stated that that was a deer – that the herringbone pattern was exclusive to deer hair and no other animal.
HOLY COW!!! (and another face palm)
As we spoke some more, they said that, when looking at the whole scene, nothing – NOTHING – else made sense. Why would a person break in and take nothing? Why would they bring a dog? There were definitely things that could’ve been taken even in a quick grab and go and yet nothing. Why would someone break through the front doors with the force that they did and then exit through the window just beside it? And do so smack in the middle of the day in the front of the house in a busy neighborhood? There was no motive and no evidence that pointed to anything other than that.
While we walked through it in our minds, given the things that were apparent, it began to make sense. No human could’ve hit those front doors with that kind of force. The glass from the storm door was 15’ up the stairs and 20’ backward clear out to our front walk. A human could never have broken through that solid wood door without a tool of some kind. The fact that there was glass in every square inch of our first floor indicated that the deer, in its panic, was showering it everywhere as it was thrashing around in an effort to get out. The outwardly broken window was the final exit.
In through the doors, a lap or two around the first floor, and out the front window.
The whole thing could’ve happened in less than a minute and probably did.
Hearing the news was a huge weight off of our shoulders. (the neighborhood as well) It didn’t lessen the work we had ahead of us, but it eliminated the sinister element and that was most important in the end.
“We consider the case to be closed if you do. We’ve never had to investigate anything quite like this before!” And then they were gone.
We were “famous” for a while. Neighbors stopped by. The local newspaper did an article. Everyone had their theories on WHY a deer crashed through our door. We just wanted to get back to normal – then and now.
I don’t think anyone realizes how much damage one frantic deer can do inside a house! The mess was complete and we ended up replacing and/or repairing almost our entire first floor. It would be four straight months of work before we could actually sit on furniture other than lawn chairs in our living room and new doors and windows didn’t arrive until after the first frost! I remember how thrilled I was when we rolled out the new rug on our new floor a few days before Christmas and hung the curtains late Christmas Eve.
While that completed the worst of it, we still aren’t completely back to normal. The trim isn’t finished and that eats at me. Everything we had to move from the first floor to the downstairs level in order to make room to work is still down there and cluttering up that space. My water garden out front has to be completely replaced because, between the glass and the deer, the liner is torn. With all of the time and energy directed to restoration, other things had to be neglected and so we’re still catching up a year later.
It’s okay, though. This crazy, mixed-up experience has been a confirmation of sorts and, as with all things, lessons to be learned.
- Health is everything! In the middle of this chaos, my sweet hubby had to be hospitalized for about a week. It was frightening, but it was instantly apparent how insignificant things like not having floors and doors became during that time.
- There are no “things” in this life that are of importance. Yes, I am a keeper of family heirlooms and antiques and I would be sad if something happened to them, but I would get over it. I am thankful that our losses, in that respect, were minimal.
- You can do whatever it is that you have to do if you put your mind to it! I am now a master with a caulking gun and can lay flooring like a pro. Getting faux finished walls back to where you want them is worth the extra time and effort and gel stain on painted cabinetry is a beautiful thing.
- Life goes on! Even in the midst of glass and paint and lumber and blood, the world keeps turning and we have to do our best to jump back on no matter how long it takes.
We grow through our challenges — this, I know — and, for the past year, we’ve had more than a few! However, I can proudly say that we’ve faced them head-on and met them as well as we could.
I also think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll never forget this experience, nor the holiday, because Labor Day, for us, will always be the day the deer surmised that his life (and ours) wasn’t exciting enough and decided to just “drop in” and change all that.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds… James 1:2-4