Jun 08 2009
/ Photo by Jason Clapp (CLAPP Photography) /
When I was 21 I was briefly under suspicion in a murder investigation.
At the time I managed a sandwich stand on the downtown mall in Eugene, Oregon. Business was slow that afternoon, as it often was, and I was sitting in the portable booth writing. I looked up and saw a man in a gray suit standing at the order window, so I set my pen and paper aside and asked if I could help him. He flipped open his wallet and flashed a badge, saying he was an investigator with the Eugene Police Department. That got a stunned silence from me. I heard a noise behind me, so I turned around. A second plain clothes policeman was standing at the back of my little sandwich stand blocking the back door, presumably in case I decided to bolt.
I think I just repeated my question, “Uh, what can I do for you?”
The first police officer asked me if I had been in Ohio in the last year. No, never.
He asked several other questions about my activities in the past year, where I had lived, how long I had been in Oregon. Not knowing what was going on, I was doing my best to answer his questions.
Just then a customer walked up. Glad for any interruption, I asked the policeman if I could serve the customer. He studied me for a moment, then nodded. I took the customer’s order, made his sandwich, occasionally glancing back at the second police officer who was watching me carefully from the back of the booth.
When the customer paid and left, the first police officer handed me an enlarged copy of an Ohio drivers license and he asked me point blank if that was me.
I again said, no, I’d never been to Ohio.
He tapped on the person’s photo and said, “You have to admit, he does look a lot like you.”
I looked carefully at the photo, and said, “Yeah, I guess he does.”
I started looking at the rest of the information on the driver’s license. “But he weighs like 30 pounds more than I do.” I said triumphantly. Even more convincing, “And he has blue eyes. Mine are brown.”
He didn’t even hesitate. He said, “Being on the run from the law for several months can cause you to lose weight. From the stress. And you can be wearing colored contacts.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream at that logic. Under the circumstance, I figured the safest reaction was no reaction at all.
He asked if I knew of anyone who could verify where I was the previous year. I had been finishing up college and living with my mother in Southern California at the time. I gave them my mother’s work number and the second police officer left to call her.
Handing the copy of the driver’s license back to the policeman still with me, I finally asked, “So what did this guy do.”
“Oh.” Long silence. “Uh, maybe I better stop talking now.”
The policeman almost smiled. “Yes, I think that would be a good idea.”
For the first time I started having visions of jail…
My mother must have finally convinced them that I wasn’t their murder suspect. The second policeman returned and said she had confirmed everything I said. One of the policemen handed me his card in case I needed to contact him for any reason.
I immediately locked up the sandwich stand, found a telephone and called my mother. As you can imagine, she was shaken by the experience. She told me it took the policeman several minutes to convince her that it was not a prank call when he told her that her son was a suspect in a murder investigation.
Whew! One of those life moments that make for a good story after the fact, but at the time I was just glad not to end up in a room with iron bars on the windows.