Donald Harstad: Code 61

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Donald Harstad Code 61
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    Code 61
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Donald Harstad

Code 61


My name is Carl Houseman, and I'm a deputy sheriff in Nation County, Iowa. I've been doing this for over twenty years now; long enough to graduate from the night shift to become the department's investigator, and senior officer, as well. Long enough to feel senior in every sense of the term. Somehow, when you finally pass fifty and realize a fellow officer was born about the same time you took the oath, you start to wonder if you might not begin to feel old pretty soon. I mean, maybe in another ten years or so. It's been my experience that cases fall into categories that are a bit different from the examples they cite at the academy. Most of the time, you have more than enough evidence to show how the offense was committed, but really have to work to identify who did it. The rest of the time, you pretty much know who did the dirty deed, but showing how is the problem. In rare instances, a case will develop both ways at the same time. That was what this one did.


Thursday, October 5, 2000


I guess I could say it started for us on Thursday, October 5, 2000. I can say that now. I sure couldn't at the time.

It was exactly 23:33 hours, and I was just leaving the scene of a minor fender bender, and was en route home when the communications center called.

“Comm, Three?” came crackling over the radio, from the familiar voice of my favorite dispatcher, Sally Wells.

I picked up my mike, suspicious already. “This is Three. Go ahead.”

“Three, we have a 911 intruder call, 606 Main, Freiberg. Female subject needs immediate assistance. Freiberg officer has been dispatched and is requesting backup.”

I sighed audibly. “Ten-four, Comm.” I took stock of my current location. “I'll be ten-seventy-six to the scene from about seven miles out on County Four Victor Six.”

“Three, ten-seventy-six. Three, not sure if this is completely ten-thirty-three, but you might be aware that the female subject indicated that there was a man trying to come in her window.”

I reached down and turned on my red and blue top lights. “Three is en route. Can she ID the suspect?”

“Contact was broken by the caller, Three. Auto callback rings through, no answer. Female subject was very excited, but described the intruder as a white male with… ” She paused, and I thought I had detected barely suppressed humor in her voice. “Ah, continuing, Three. Suspect described as white male with teeth.”

“Teeth, Comm?”

“Ten-four, Three. Teeth.”

“Ah, okay, ten-four. Still en route. Advise when the Freiberg car goes ten-twenty-three at the scene.” Teeth?

“Ten-four, Three. Will advise.”

Teeth? I distinctly remember thinking that I wasn'tgoing to hear the end of that one for a while. At least it wasn't a gun or a knife. I really hate knives.

Our usual shortage of deputies available for duty had been aggravated by an early appearance of the flu in the last two weeks, so from a total of nine, we were down to five or four effectives, depending on who called in sick next, and when the next officer came back. As senior officer, I still had to pull twelve-hour shifts, but my exalted status meant that I got first choice of which shift I would work. I'd chosen noon to midnight. It was a combination of the shift that was the most fun, and the one where you could get the most actual work done.

About two minutes later, I heard Byng, the Freiberg officer, go 10–23 at the scene.

“I was ten-four direct, Comm,” I said, letting Sally know that I had heard him and to keep her from having to tell me. That was because her transmissions from the base station were so much more powerful than ours, she could obliterate a transmission from the Freiberg officer, especially when he was on his walkie-talkie.

She simply clicked her mike button twice in close succession, in acknowledgment.

I passed the last farm before the Freiberg city limits, took the big, downhill curve at about eighty-five, and began braking as I entered the forty-five zone. I was down to forty as I made the next turn, and was on Marquette Street, the two-story frame houses of the residential area changing into the three-story brick storefronts of the nearly deserted four-block business district. I cut my top lights, the red and blue reflections in the store windows being a distraction as I looked for anybody out on the sidewalks. Still slowing, I headed down the gently sloping street that was cut short by the black line that was the Mississippi River.

I heard the static distorted voice of Byng. “Where ya at, Three?”

“Downtown.” As I keyed the mike, I saw his car parked off to my right. “Have your car in sight.” By telling him that, he could give me better directions.

“Okay… I'm on the second floor above Curls amp; Cuts. Up the stairs on the right, the blue door.”

“Ten-four.” I swung my car to the right, pulling up near the curb about thirty feet ahead of his car. “Comm, Three's ten-twenty-three,” I said into my mike as I unsnapped my seat belt, grabbed my rechargeable flashlight, turned on my own walkie-talkie, and opened my car door. Simultaneously, I heard the voices of both Byng and Sally back at Comm. She, being over twenty-five miles away and using a powerful transmitter, and he, very close but behind a brick wall and using a very weak transmitter, canceled each other out almost perfectly.

Knowing that she was merely acknowledging me, and not being at all sure of what Byng had said, I picked up my car radio mike and said, “Stand by a sec, Comm.” The feedback into my now active walkie-talkie let out a screech, and I turned its volume down without thinking. Still with the car radio, I said, “Byng?”

“Yeah, Three. Hey, why don't you come around the back way? I don't know what we got here. Neighbor says the victim has gone and thinks she heard her leave and that she went up onto the roof.”

I swung my feet back into my car, started the engine, shut the door, and said, “I'm on my way.”

“Uh, Three… You might want to check ground level… Can't figure why she'd go to the roof.”

“Ten-four.” I couldn't, either, but people do strange things when they're scared. I sure as hell wouldn't go up, but then I have a thing about heights.

I had to go almost another block before I reached a side street. Freiberg is located between two big bluffs, and is only four streets wide at its widest point. Spaces being at a premium, cross streets are few and far between. The fact that the cross streets all required a bridge to span the open drainage “conduit” contributed to their scarcity. The so-called conduit was about thirty feet wide, ten to twelve feet deep, with limestone banks and a concrete floor. It was dug in the 1890s to accommodate the vast drainage that came down off the bluffs during heavy rains. It ran the length of the town, and emptied into the Mississippi. It was not, as they say, kid-proof, and offered a nearly invisible path for burglars as well. I bumped over the bridge deck, and took a sharp right, doubling back on the other side of the stores and apartments above them. I stopped as close to the bridge as I could, and opened my car door for the second time. “Comm, Three's out'a the car,” I said, mostly to let Byng know I was now behind the buildings.

“Ten-four, Three,” said Sally. She was monitoring the conversation between Byng and me, and was starting to sound a little concerned.

The conduit was, unfortunately, between the buildings and me. The fire department had fits over that all the time, but there was just no way to put a road in behind the stores on the other side of the big ditch. Not without tearing all the buildings down and moving them into the street on the other side.

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