Author’s note: In order to protect the identity of the victims in this case, some names and details have been omitted or changed.
There are a million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.
It wasn’t my case. Chris had asked me to accompany him one morning as he performed some case follow- ups. In a department with over 500 sworn officers, Chris is the only detective assigned to the full- time investigation of elder exploitation for a city of 300,000 souls. Whenever he needs help, he grabs whoever isn’t busy and we tag along.
The story was familiar. The Old Man was in failing health, his mental faculties beginning the long fade into night. His wife had passed a few months before. Estranged from his son, who lived out West, he was home bound and dependant on a rotation of home health caregivers to take care of him.
With home health workers, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. The Old Man could afford a better than average service. He’d been an oilman and was comfortably, if not extravagantly, retired. The problem is that even if you pay an above average price, the services sometimes still employ below average people. It’s low- skilled, thankless work. Turnover is high and people with better prospects take better jobs.
It was a situation that was perfect for the Nurse, a petite blonde with all of her teeth and the pre- anorexic build that quickly appears when a girl spends her paycheck on Oxys instead of food. No direct supervision, with the patient confined to one bedroom of a rambling house full of small, pretty things that could slowly disappear. Bottles of heavy duty pain killers to be borrowed from. The Old Man didn’t miss them. He couldn’t remember having them in the first place.
Of course if the patient is male and alone, and you are a female fifty or more years his junior, it doesn’t take much to wrap him around your finger. Nothing so crass as actual sexual favors. Just a gentle hand allowed to linger on a shoulder. A low cut blouse every once in awhile. Maybe bring your kid to work one evening. Lord knows he hasn’t seen his own grandkids in years.
The requests for favors began. A cash advance towards next week’s pay. The kid really needed some new school clothes. The rent was due. She really hated to ask, but could he spot her a couple hundred to tide her over? Little by little, ten, twenty, fifty dollars at a time, it began to float away.
Eventually somebody reported it. The Nurse let herself be seen with some jewelry that the caregiver on the other shift knew had once belonged to the Old Man’s wife. And so Chris and I went there to try to get a statement from the Old Man. Chris had already been dealing with the situation for a couple of weeks and had been to the house once before.
“You’ll like him, Dave. He’s got an old Camaro.”
We were let in and led to the Old Man’s room by the caregiver who made the initial report. Chris hoped to get a statement from the Old Man that would support charging the Nurse with elder exploitation. Nothing doing. Again, the familiar routine: The Nurse wouldn’t do that. I lent it to her but forgot. Everything is fine. The Old Man’s mind was in the Senior zone. He wasn’t obviously suffering from dementia, but all of the cylinders weren’t firing either, at least not all of the time.
He knew the jewelry we were talking about and told us the story of how he bought it at Tiffany’s on a trip to New York. He remembered details about his Camaro too, when Chris mentioned that I also had one in an effort to keep the Old Man engaged.
“It’s a 1992 model. Bought it when I retired. Thought it would be more fun than a Caddy or a Lincoln. Has a custom exhaust on it. Yes, sir. Fun little car.”
An entertaining forty- five minutes, but it was clear we weren’t going to get what Chris needed to make a charge. We drove back to the office and Chris made contact with the man’s son, advising him to seek legal guardianship of his father sooner rather than later. The son said he’d look into it in a way that meant he probably wouldn’t.
A month or so passed and another report hit Chris’s desk. This time the Old Man was the complainant. The Nurse had been let go by the home health company in the interim, but she still had her claws in the Old Man. There had been more borrowed money, but the demands for it were less kind. In the report the Old Man alleged that the Nurse called him after his caregiver left for the night and asked for more. She was to call him on her cellphone when she was outside the house. Since the Old man was confined to his room, he would use the garage door opener to let visitors in and out of the house when he was alone. The Nurse made the call but when he opened the garage door to let her in, a rather large black male walked in instead, went straight to the bedroom, grabbed his wallet off the dresser, and ran away.
We went back to the house. This time the garage door was open when we arrived and I caught sight of the Old Man’s pride and joy. The white RS coupe was tucked away, covered with a thin layer of dust, but the tires glowed with a thick coating of Armor- All. The interior was spotless. Except for a tasteful gray pinstripe running down each flank and a couple of fat exhaust tips poking out of the back, it was in stock condition. While there’s nothing particularly special about an early ‘90s Camaro, the Old Man obviously loved it anyway.
Chris was hopeful that the Old Man would throw the Nurse under the bus this time. Unfortunately he had time to reflect and was now absolutely certain that the Nurse couldn’t have anything to do with it. The delay from the day the report was taken by a patrol officer to the time Chris got it two days later was a killer. Once again, we left without the crucial statements Chris needed.
He called the son again. This time he was ready to reconcile with his father. A few weeks later the Old Man moved back West with his family. The son called Chris the day after they got back home. The trip had gone fine and the Old Man seemed to his new retirement home well enough. There was just one problem:
The Camaro was missing.