It was one of those September days that remind you that summer is over. It wasn’t that cold but the sun was hiding behind a grey sky. I was intent on getting some office work done, reviewing files and having a nice quiet day.
Before long my plan for a quiet day shattered. First, my secretary came in and told me a water main had broken and maintenance was on the way. Then the maintenance man came into my office and told me that the police were stringing yellow tape in the woods about two hundred yards from the back of the forensic center. I decided to go down to the scene and see if it was a signal 12 or a death scene.
I arrived at the scene and the police took me to the edge of a small creek. There, in the middle of the creek, was the body of a black male. He was face down in about a foot of water. As always, the first hypothesis is homicide. This demands the highest level of evidence collection. The first task was to document the entire scene and determine what evidence needed to be collected. Next we removed the body and examined him on the bank. Then we placed him in the coroner’s vehicle for transport to the morgue.
Processing a scene is like peeling back the layers of an onion. In the first layer I determined that the deceased had no visible trauma on his body. He was a man in his sixties with a physique of an athlete.
There was a duffle bag found approximately twenty feet downstream from the body. The duffle bag gave us the identity of the man and told us the dramatic story of his life. As we sorted through the bag we found clothing with Venice Beach logos. Then we found multiple bus tickets that gave us the understanding that he had traveled from California to Maryland and then to the Harrisburg Pennsylvania bus station. At the bottom of the bag was the key to this unnamed, unknown man.
A detective opened a tin box and there were pictures of this man over the past forty years. Several of the pictures showed him sitting with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Just by the familiarity shown in the postures of the two men in the photos they seemed to know each other. After the photos there was what detectives call hard ID, which was a California State photo ID.
The person was William Pettis, who long ago was a well-known body who worked out with Governor Schwarzenegger. Bill, as everyone called him, was said to have the largest biceps in the world at over 23 inches in circumference. He was featured in several articles in LA and his picture was part of promotional posters during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Bill never really profited from his body building fame and much of his life he lived hand to mouth. He posed for pictures at the beach and in his later years he became somewhat of a novelty in speedos.
He ended up two hundred yards from my office because he was born in this area. He had been returning to see family. His health was not the best and he was having periods of confusion. Probably as a kid he crossed that creek many times as he headed home but this time, so many years later, it proved fatal.
So many times we see the homeless or people having a rough time as something of a distraction. We look and wonder what errors and events brought them to this status outside the mainstream and even pass judgement. Many times we avert our eyes because it feels uncomfortable. After all, what can we do about it?
All humans have dignity and their stories, good or bad, need to be told. We are all on the same journey. Sometimes we get lost on the way, but even then, we carry our memories and past talents. It is my privilege to tell a little of his story.