Nepal, December 1978.
All was going well on the narrow mountainous highway. For a change, Lemming was ahead and leading by about 50 metres. I saw a local bus cross his path and go straight over the edge down to the river below. Blue immediately pulled up. It was only then did I see a car on the road that had collided with that bus which had a full load of passengers. It was now 50 metres below, lying on its roof with the back end in the river. It had done a complete somersault. The bus driver bailed out before his bus went over and made himself scarce.
The crew and punters from both buses clambered down the steep escarpment to the crashed bus. Its engine was still running and in gear. The drive shaft had separated from the differential and was flapping all over the place. Blue and some of the punters climbed into the crashed bus searching for passengers and shut down the motor.
Everybody pitched in and small parties of punters and crew were carrying mangled people up to the roadway. Many of the injured had compound fractures to shattered limbs. The most haunting thing of all was that none made a sound, no crying or screaming. In later years as a police officer, I attended a few similar scenes of mass casualties where screaming and crying was the norm. One man on the riverside, sitting against the bus, was alive but with a terminal head injury. It was obvious that he was beyond help. We of course were unaware of how many had been flung into the river or if any were trapped beneath the bus.
After helping with several makeshift stretcher carries to the road, I came across a tiny woman with a crushed leg who had only one concern – that of a lost thong that she was searching for. I pulled her onto my back and climbed the steep escarpment to the road. I can only imagine what pain my rough handling caused, but not a whimper came from her.
Fortunately, amongst our punters were Kiwi and Dutch nurses who worked on the injured and dying in the makeshift medical centres of the downstairs areas of the two buses. While this was going on a truckload of English tourists on a kayak expedition stopped alongside Snot – and incredibly they all were doctors. They quickly stepped in and worked alongside our nurses with one directing us to unload their surgical box. After digging through their stuff, we dragged out a trunk size box marked ‘surgical’, now tooled up they really went to work.
At around the same time a jeep pulled up near Lemming and a group of Chinese doctors poured out, immediately getting in amongst the injured Nepalese. When the police and military turned up in their smart clean uniforms, not one ventured off the road to help. The Top Deck crowd, with some locals, carried out the entire rescue. The officials did however commandeer an open truck to carry the injured and dying to the hospital in Pokhara.
Once all the patients were safely on the road or inside our buses, we gathered seat cushions from the wrecked bus and placed them in the bed of the truck for the injured. As we busied ourselves with the seats, police officers ran up waving their arms and yelling at us. I had no idea what their problem was until one said in English “No, evidence, no, evidence.” He got a short blunt reply while we continued our work and they went back to being spectators. I returned to the riverbank and checked on the bloke at the bus with the idea of organising a carry to the road, but he was dead as expected. I’m glad we didn’t put him through more pain by dragging him up that hill.
After everything possible was done for the injured, we loaded them onto the truck and away they went towards Pokhara, we were never to hear of them or the crash again. The two lots of doctors climbed back into their vehicles and went their separate ways, as we did. We had an appointment with a BBQ on a Himalayan beach.
That night at Trishuli Beach, I found dried blood all over my hands and forearms. Al pointed out a similar mess on the back of my head, neck and back. It must have come from the tiny woman with the smashed leg and the missing thong. I hadn’t realised the extent of her injuries and that she lost so much blood, mostly over me.
I sat in the river and got to work washing the blood off, while next to me the sack of beer cooled. Dried blood was a bugger to get off, and I was red raw by the time I was finished. Some of the lads got the fire started for our BBQ but things were pretty flat, unlike other nights where laughter, shrieking and skylarking were the norm. Everybody did their bit and we settled down to a pretty subdued evening – after the dramatic events of the day, no one was in the mood for a party.
In the mid to late eighties the small station of Forster, New south Wales had two detectives and five General Duties police officers, we had at least one person on day shift seven days per week, one on afternoon Sunday to Thursday and two on afternoon shift Friday and Saturday nights. Working alone on day shift at that time involved various administrative duties, typing the station roster, taking and collecting the mail and recording all incoming correspondence. In addition to that fielding telephone calls, walk in enquiries and responding to radio calls.
On one particular day at around 11am while working alone I received a radio call from Newcastle radio, an indicator that it was a 000 emergency call. I was directed to the Marina at Cape Hawke Harbour to investigate a body floating in the marina and the small beach used by the tenants from the adjoining Caravan Park. I was there within a few minutes, easily led to the correct location by a small crowd of onlookers at the waters edge. It was also obvious what they were looking at, the body of a female floating face down in a metre of water some 5 metres from the waters edge.
I removed my boots, rolled up my trousers and waded in, as I closed in on the body, the back the woman looked a little familiar. I half rolled her over and recognized her from a job that I had done the previous day. I pulled the body closer to the shore line, leaving it face down in the water. A thought came to me that the cop shop humour would have me checking the body for blue swimmer crabs and if successful reset her to catch a few more. But, with an audience crabbing was not on my agenda, I got down to business by calling the detectives and the Police Scientific Unit.
The day before I had taken a report from a Mrs Jausevic of an assault upon her by her son, a 26 year old who lived with her. The victim was identical in stature to my body, even dressed in the same floral dress. I had taken her statement and sent her to her own Doctor for an examination of the bruising to her forehead and neck. Something my floater also clearly exhibited. I was pretty sure that the son, John was a dead set suspect in the murder of his mother. I had attempted to locate the son several times the day before without success.
I felt pretty bad that to a large extent, my lack of success had probably resulted in the death of Mrs Jausevic. The Scientific guy arrived, he was known to us all as Quincy, a comparison to the American TV program about a medical examiner. Quincy and I had a closer look at the victim, he took a few photo’s and we removed her from the water placing her on a prepared tarp, there he carried out a further examination. I had to keep the crowd at bay, ghouls the lot of them. If I had not been spoiling their morning, they would have been standing right over the body taking in every detail.
The detectives also rocked up and I told them of my suspicions, we were all confident of a quick clearup of a murder. The body was placed into the van used by the body snatchers, these are local funeral directors who are also known as contractors, they collect and deliver corpses to the morgue at Taree hospital.
The Detective Sergeant at Forster, ‘Falso’ was accompanied by his offsider and two D’s from Taree. Due to the serious and complex nature of this type of investigation, he took charge, he decided that we would take the body to her GP, with who she met the previous day, confirm her identity and the injuries on her forehead and neck. While that was happening I took the other detectives to her home and there we found the suspect, he was promptly arrested and taken to the body snatchers van parked outside the Doctor’s surgery. The Doctor confirmed the identity of the victim and also the injuries that he had examined and those that were apparent on her corpse.
The suspect who denied any knowledge of the demise of his mother, appeared to be off with the fairies, not quite realizing the seriousness of his situation. He was also shown the body of his mother, he was asked to confirm that the body was that of his mother, he sat on the tail gate of the van stroking her hair.
“So peaceful, so peaceful, at rest.” He said quietly as he very carefully caressed her hair.
“Not my mother.” He blurted.
He was told in not uncertain terms to stop playing about, he continued to maintain that she was not his mother. We had a little scrum and decided that he was bullshitting us, crooks who find themselves arrested for murder are prone to being a bit loose with the truth. He was taken to the Station and the deceased travelled on to the Taree Morgue.
At the station I informed the coroner of the death and commenced the reports for him so that a post mortem could be carried out. I also found from the suspect that he had a sister who lived at Rainbow Flat a village that stood half way between Forster and Taree. One thing that we did need was a positive ID from somebody who had known the deceased for a longer time. The ID from the Doctor, who had seen her only a couple of times and me, only once was not sufficient.
The detectives were preparing to interview the suspect with the view to charge him with the murder of his mother while I attended to the initial coroners brief. That meant heading out to the suspects sisters house, taking her to the morgue and obtaining a statement to confirm the identity of the deceased. A final and essential requirement for the initial coroners report.
This was always a very stressful situation, firstly to inform somebody that a loved one had passed away and afterwards to have that person, physically confirm the identity of the deceased person. This task wasn’t new to me and I found over the past five years that people reacted differently, some withdrew and went quiet, others yelled and screamed not believing the news saying that it was a mistake. Others would immediately start to blame anybody, including the police messengers for the death of their loved one.
With some trepidation I knocked upon the door, death messages were part and parcel of the job and with my experience I was confident, but they were never easy. I was a little taken aback as the door opened, I instantly recognized the woman at the door.
“Hello Mrs Jausevic, I just want to let you know that we have arrested your son for the assault and that he is at the Forster Police Station.” I stammered.
She was just as I had seen her the day before, floral dress with matching bruises and such a sweet old lady who was very much alive and very keen for a chat, however I couldn’t hang around. I broke my neck getting to the Police truck for an urgent run back to the Station. I was talking ten to the dozen on the radio taking care on what was said. The d’s were requested to do nothing further with the enquiry until I returned as I had some further evidence. That was enough to stop any charges being laid, I hoped. I didn’t want to broadcast for all and sundry to hear that our murder victim was alive and kicking.
The Detectives were at first a little pissed at the revelation that the murder that was, now was not. But soon after at my expense they thought it was the funniest thing in ages, I never did hear the end of it. I charged John with the assault upon his mother and he was bailed. I still had one outstanding thing to clear up, the body of an elderly woman in the morgue.