Last year Lisa came to me with a name and a slim file folder. The body of a fellow had turned up in a new subdivision. Well, a skeleton in an old suit had turned up. The police had almost nothing to go on. The forensic anthropologist had done the facial reconstruction. The fellow’s face had been sent to law enforcement all over the continent, but that had not brought them closer to identifying the dead man. IN fairness, Lisa hadn’t really come to come to me. She had come to the head of the history department looking for a consultant. I was the most junior professor so my mane was brought forward. I honesty could not see how I would be of any use to the investigation. Lisa handed me the slim folder and told me they had just come up with a new lead. The forensic anthropologist had sent the clothes to a textile expert in the States somewhere. The textile person had been able to remove a small pi9ece of paper that had become fused into the breast pocket of the suit jacket. It was a business card. The photo in the file showed a brown rectangle with darker and lighter brown blotches all over. There were words, barely legible, printed in brown on the brown rectangle:
Thomas B. Seligman
Brown & Tweed Advertising
KL 7849 [check 1960s phone numbers]
Lisa figured if we could track down this Thomas B. Seligman or the advertising agency we’d either have our killer or our dead man. I reminded her that I was not yet part of this ‘we’ who was looking for killers and the identity of dead men. Then I asked her why the Saskatoon Police Service was in need of a historian? I thought the good people of the city paid their taxes so that the police would keep the city safe and solve the crimes? All true and fair statements, Lisa conceded. However the city only had two police offices in the Historical Cases Unit – herself and her superior, Detective Sergeant Dave Hnatiw. For those of you not familiar with Ukrainian, Dave’s surname is pronounced ‘Natchew’. It sounds a little like a sneeze, but don’t’ remind him. This little unit took work to all kinds of consultants. The forensic anthropologist is also a professor at the university. Most of the physical evidence is sent to labs elsewhere for identification. Now, Dave thought it might be a good idea to have a historian on retainer. This case required some to investigate the business card and since documentary evidence is the stock in trade of historians, would li be willing to take this on as a trial project? All sorts of ‘no’ reasons were bouncing around in my head – I had tghree undergraduate classes and a graduate seminar to teach this term, I had my own research to do, and I’m not a Canadian historian for Pete’s sake! And, yet what came out of my mouth was ‘yes,’ it was tentative and reluctant, but it was definitely a ‘yes.’ I took the file from Lisa and told her I’d take a look this evening. She asked me to come to the station as soon as I could. I needed to fill out forms and meet Detective Sergeant Hnatiw. My Tuesday afternoons were free, more precisely I didn’t teach so I could do research or mark papers or whatever. But, I told her I’d head downtown the next afternoon.
And that was how I got into the forensic historian racket. It hasn’t taken up too much of my time in the last year. And, it’s easy work. I mean it isn’t real police work. Bad dudes with guns don’t follow me home or anything like that. I’ve only had to testify in court once. [find out what this is like] I had to speak to the validity of my investigation into the business card. It actuall led me on a merry chase through nearly fifty years of newspapers and various documents. My evidence convicted a murderer. Not a crazed killer, just a guy who was an unfortunate young man over forty years ago. So, it doesn’t always feel good, but I enjoy seeing justice served.
It had been a little over a month since I’d done some work for the police, but I wans’t surprised when I got Lisa’s call this morning. You would be surprised how busy they are with unsolved cases. She asked if I had time this afternoon to go over the details ofa new case? Unfortunately, I did not, but I could come by tomorrow afternoon. It’s unfortunate, but when the dead have waited years another day or two doesn’t seem to bother them.
I spend the afternoon in my office marking papers. It is not the most conducive place for some kinds of work, but it doesn’ have any distractions. It’s not a bad sized office, about ten feet long by eight feet wide. The window actually opens and overlooks the green space between the Arts Building and the Thorvaldson Building. Thorvaldson houses the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition and the departments of chemistry and computer science. It is named after a guy who invented a process by which concrete withstands extremely low temperatures. It’s true, there is no way I could make that up. I don’t spend too much time staring out the window contemplating cement, but it’s nice to have real, natual light. The office’s walls are lined with bookshelves, built-in cabinets and a built-in desk along the right wall (my right when I’m looking out into the hallway). And, its all covered in beech-veneer wood paneling and turquoise formica. The floor is made of space-age material tiles for the sixties, too and consist of a lovely checkerboard pattern in black, beige and turquoise. The chairs that came with the office look like something that came off the lido deck of the SS Enterprise NC-1701 C. That’s Kirk’s Enterprise – I know, I’ma nerd. Molded plastic buckets screwed to shiny metal legs. I was provided with a white one, an orange one and one in the requisite turquoise. If I told you my seventh floor office was completed and furnished in the early nineteen sixties I’m sure you would not be surprised. Sometime int eh late seventies or early eighties an new metal desk was added as were some file cabinets. All are serviceable. I did purchase my own desk chair. It is very comfy with fancy knobs and levers that increase its comfort without making it so comfortable I fall asleep. I have a university-supplied desktop PC that I use for e-mail, submitting marks and the odd game of internet poker, but my research and police work in at home and backed up on flash drives. [this will be important, I think].
I finished marking the last paper around five. It wasn’t bad. A twenty page examination of the use of police and military force in labour disputes in the nineteen thirties. For a third-year student I would have expected more primary sources, but the topic wasn’t exactly original. After turning off the computer and locking the door I took the seven flights of stairs [would it be eight?] to the main floor. If I don’t do a lot of exercise I tend to develop a lot of belly, so I walk to and from my office. And, do yoga twice a week and walk the dog for half an hour each morning and cycle or cross-country ski in weekends and walk for about forty five minutes most weekday afternoons and do strength-training three times a week. It seems ridiculous, I know, but staring down forty will do that. I realized one morning last year that I was probably more than half way through my life. I was definitely more than half-way done if I kept smoking, drinking and the most exercise I got was walking to the corner store for smokes and chips. I had to stop living like I was still a grad student and still in my twenties. I quit smoking first. Here’s some advice for you youngsters – don’t start! All those lame public service announemetns are right. It is much easier not to start smoking than to quit. After that I started exercising, just walking around the block. Then I stopped because my knees were screaming at me. Then I went to the doctor. I don’t think she remembered me. I’d com ein when I first moved to town for a check up. She told me to quit smoking and lose eighty pounds. I didn’t go back. The second time I was determined to get healthy. She ordered a battery of tests – blood work, ultrasound, pee-in-a-cup kind of stuff. And, she sent me to the physiotherapist. Now, I eat my veggies, drink my water, walk, bike, ski and feel amazing! [I think she may have to run away from someone in the near future.]