*The story you are about to read is true. Mostly. I added some bits of speculation and my memory sucks, but this basically really happened*
This morning, I was reading about elephants in Thailand, which filtered through my brain and combined with other thoughts into one long-lost memory of…murder.
My hometown is a tiny town in the middle of Wisconsin, a tranquil place on the Wisconsin River, full of paper mills and cranberry marshes. In reality, it doesn’t even qualify as a town. Legally and in all other ways, it’s just a quiet little village of 2,000 people where we knew every street, every house, every person from one end to the other. Even adding in our larger next door neighbor, the total population barely topped 20,000.
There was no crime in town. The most intense thing the cops had to watch out for was kids ringing doorbells, then running away – maybe with the flourish of a flaming bag of dog poo. That’s what I was told, anyway. I wouldn’t know for sure, because I was a good boy.
The place was quiet, it was safe and in that small-town cliché fashion, we never had to lock our doors when we weren’t home. That all changed in my senior year of high school, though. In September of 1982, we had a whodunnit worthy of Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher and Scooby-Doo all rolled into one.
A woman was found dead in a field near one of the town’s two hotels. Her head had been crushed by some kind of a blunt instrument, but no one was sure exactly what may have done the damage. No significant attempt had been made to hide the body beyond some casually tossed weeds, forming a thin layer of camouflage. The field was open, within a stone’s throw of the hotel and situated near two of the town’s major cross streets. As laid-back as the town may have been, the steady flow of traffic and pedestrians in the area ensured the body would be discovered within a couple of days, if not hours.
She had been dragged to the field, but not any great distance. Thick wooded areas that surrounded the town were only a few blocks away, so any real attempt to hide her wouldn’t have taken a great deal more effort. Whoever left her body had left it in a tremendous rush and seemingly without any forethought.
Small town police may not have the most experience in dealing with major crimes, but they have an advantage no city cop has. Everyone in the town knows everyone else. Outsiders may as well have neon arrows over their heads while they walk through town. While the victim was a recent addition to the town’s resident population, the two unknown men she was seen having drinks with at the hotel bar were not. It didn’t take long to locate people who had seen the three of them together, along with one additional piece of critical information.
There was an elephant in the hotel parking lot that night.
After putting some pieces together, investigators found that a traveling circus had stopped in town for the night on the way to Minnesota. When they tracked the circus down, it had already left its Minnesota site, but left behind were some barrels of elephant poo. Pity the poor man who dug through that and found the shoes of the victim, which had been missing from the body.
The rest of the investigation was pretty simple, because the two elephant handlers spilled their guts about three seconds after being taken into custody. I’m filling in the blanks here with my own speculative details, because the news reports didn’t get into much depth, but Ellery Queen-style, here’s what happened:
The two men met up with our victim at the hotel bar that night. It was a quiet bar, a weeknight in a sleepy town and the trio drank a bit too much after a long day. With every visit the woman made to the restroom, the men were locked in debate over which of them would get the shot at some belly bumping. Unable to make a bro pact and waiting for some kind of deciding signal from the woman, they kept working every angle. That meant using all the tools at their disposal which, of course, meant that “hey, we have an elephant outside” inevitably came up.
The three of them stumbled out of the bar to the trailer where the caged, lonely elephant sat, trying to sleep a bit before another day of transport and abuse. She wanted to get closer, wanted to touch the giant creature, and with the hazy pliability of drunk horny men, they agreed. One of the men no doubt had a key ring with 23 keys, able to open every door and container in the circus, so unlocking took no longer than the time it took for an inebriated tally of all 23 keys. Eventually, the right tumblers tumbled, the lock opened and they were able to climb inside. To prevent falling in the hay filled trailer, she took off her heels and approached the elephant, feeling the course skin and bristles even through her dulled sense of touch.
At this point, who can speculate what may have set the elephant off? Maybe the two handlers started to argue, creating tension that the poor animal wasn’t used to. Maybe it was just a disruption of its sleep that finally pushed the pachyderm over the edge. Maybe he was just shifting position because of a cramp. Whatever the cause, the elephant head butted the woman with the base of its trunk and head, crushing her skull against the side of the trailer.
The rest of the story consisted of frantic, panicked reactions, getting rid of the body, getting back on the road as quickly as they could and, undoubtedly, praying no one noticed the elephant in the room.
There you have it, a murder investigation, but not actually a murder. A sliver of the bizarre from my childhood memories, uncovered in my brain this morning for the first time in almost 30 years.