The Birdman of Alcatraz

You mean you didn’t hear about it? No, I didn’t get caught drinking on shift. Just the rumours? But I always thought you were the chatty Betty who kept tabs on this stuff? OK, fine , I’ll tell you what happened.
In November 2018, three beggars made a new home for themselves in an abandoned building along the lake front of Toronto. I know you think all homeless people look the same, but even you would have taken note of how bad they looked.  They wore costumes of tattered third hand clothes, and what appeared to be soiled 20 year old shag carpets as their main protection against the biting cold.  These guys looked as filthy as dogs that had been swimming in an oil spill.  I know it’s not easy for street people to keep up on their personal hygiene, but it was shocking to see this. It was a sort of cartoonish decrepitness they had. Like characters stuck  in a medieval dungeon in some old time movie. So much dirt encrusted every crease of their face it seemed to add more weight for their shoulders to support. They hardly ever spoke. The three of them sitting in that cell looked like Druid medicine men. They spent their time in silence and when I was interviewing one of them later he had a confused look every time he was about to speak.  I’d ask him a question and he would then take a breath, then furrow his brow. He would look confused for two seconds while his brain tried to remember the procedure his body had to go through in order to make a sound with his mouth.

Hmm? Oh one of our patrolmen had been sent down there after reports of gunshots heard in the area. What sounded like automatic gun fire came from the approximate area of the building they had occupied. Under the pretence of the new vagrancy law that had just been passed, he brought all three into the station, hoping we could get information about the gunshots out of them. There had been 3 homicides inside of two weeks committed within a space of four blocks from where they were living. And if you want to find out what’s going on anywhere in the city, interrogate the guys living off of peoples garbage scraps. It’s not like they have anything better to do than watch who goes where, and who does what. We had practically no leads on the homicides so these guys were our most promising resource.

But like I said, these guys didn’t like talking. I spent four hours with the first guy just trying to work out who he was. His name was Raiu, but I always think of him by the nickname I gave him: the Birdman of Alcatraz. If someone had made a video of that interview they would have thought he’d had a stroke and I was doing speech therapy with him. It took a long time, but eventually I could piece together everything the three had said into a coherent story.  It was their testimonies, combined with what I had seen them do first hand, that resulted in me filing a report that ended up forcing me to take early retirement.

Just like every member of the police force I saw some screwed up things . Screwy things that would shock most people, but stuff you’re expected to deal with as a cop; gory crime scences, levels of destitution almost unimaginable to most people in one of the world’s richest countries – that kind of thing. And then there’s the crazies too. I had been a cop for 27 years and I saw everything.

There was this one time, when I was still a rookie, I apprehended a guy who had reportedly been harassing people . Two women in different east end neighbourhoods had called in about a man of the same description who had chased them home. My partner and I were sent to patrol the area where he had last been seen. It was a full moon that night and the extra light made it easier to keep our eyes on the side streets. Soon we spotted a suspicious looking character darting from one side of the street to the other. Every time he crossed the road he would jump behind bushes in peoples front yards, crouch down trying to hide himself from view, then when he thought no one was watching him he’d cross the street again. We approached him when he was kneeling behind a bush with his back towards us. When we were a few feat away from him my partner, Gary, I think you met him last year at the barbecue at house. Anyway, Gary gets his attention. The perp immediately jumped up and tried to run but I was able to grab him and pin to the ground. He fit the description we’d been given to a tee so we brought him in. On the way to the station we heard growling noise coming from him in the back. I looked to see what he was doing. He would hunch over with his head in his lap and start growling. It got annoying real quick and Gary told him to shut it. He kept making the same sound, then he started rolling around the back seat, shoving his head into fabric the way a cat rubs up against a chair leg. Anyway, we get him into the station at 10:45. For the next one and a quarter hour he refused to say a word. He would just throw a mean look at anyone who talked to him. After midnight he just started babbling nonsense. He was saying something, but either it was in a language I’ve never heard before or he was just making the sounds up. We left him and the next evening when we started our shift, one of the guys who was working in the station that morning told us what happened to him. He told an officer that he’d been placed under a spell by a black magician. The spell turned him into what he called “Wolfenstadhl” – a half man, half wolf thing. Ten years later when I was finishing a masters degree in criminology, one of the professors at York University told me he was still locked up in an asylum.

That one had weirded me out since I was still green, but I saw a lot weirder things later on and built a sort of immunity against it.

The evening which was described to me by one of them later on was, according to him, exactly the same as nearly every other.

most homeless have fairly unpredictable lives,but apart from their change of address, every one of the evenings was so similar it was mundane.

 

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