As a police officer, working the midnight shift on Halloween was always a mixed bag (pun intended). On the one hand, my partner and I didn’t mind making sure costumed kids got the chance to “trick or treat” safely in their neighborhoods, and that rowdy, adult party-goers made it home without injuring themselves or others. On the other hand, there were always the Night People as we called them, who sometimes took the advent of Halloween to a whole other level of experience. This is an account of one such event which began on Halloween Night in 1984.
On October 31, 1984 at 21:00 hours (9:00 pm) E Squad was gathered in the role call room at our precinct waiting for our sergeant to finish giving us the pre-shift briefing. While we, the fifteen street officers of E Squad, recorded various look-outs and suspect descriptions in our notepads, we listened to the radio traffic between the various officers already working the street, through a loud speaker at the front of the roll call room.
The night was already busy. D Squad, working the 1500-0100 shift, was maxed out with calls, when a building alarm call came into the roll call room from Dispatch via telephone.
After a brief conversation, Sergeant Donny Hale hung up and ordered Dan “Rambo” Courtney to hit the street and check out the burglary alarm. “Apparently some lady in a black cape is attempting to break into the veterinary clinic over on Wiehle Avenue. Try not to let her kick your ass, Rambo.”
The squad laughed in unison because Dan “Rambo” Courtney was a gangly 6’5” and weighed 160 lbs. wearing all his gear, which included more guns and knives then a sporting goods store. He looked like a heavily armed No. 2 pencil with glasses and adult acne. Dan didn’t have many friends on the squad because he still lived with his mother and she didn’t like him hanging out with disreputable people like off-duty police officers.
Ten minutes after Dan had left the precinct, we heard the emergency alarm go off on his portable radio.
“All units 10-3,” the dispatcher ordered. The radio traffic over the loud speaker went silent.
“Scout 520 are you 10-4?” the dispatcher asked, checking on Dan “Rambo” Courtney.
“Scout 520? Are you 10-4?”
“O’Donnel,” Sergeant Hale barked. “Take your rookie and go back up Courtney. We’re closer than any D-Squad unit. I’ll notify Dispatch. Take the Paddy Wagon.”
Francis “the Troll” O’Donnel was a short, stocky 20-year beat cop, who disliked cab drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, potential and former felons, small animals and most of all, rookies. Unfortunately, in 1984, I happened to be his rookie.
No one ever called O’Donnel “the Troll” to his face, but we all knew he relished the reputation of being thought of as a whiskey-drinking, ghoulish menace whose only real pleasure was found in devouring naïve and idealistic first-year police officers. Very few rookies survived a year of probation under the Troll’s tortuous tutelage, and I was pretty certain I would be no exception.
Driving the “Paddy Wagon” on Halloween night infuriated the Troll on multiple levels, not the least of which was his dislike for the origin of the name “Paddy Wagon” which had to do with Irish-American police officers in New York City during the 1863 riots, rounding up poor Irish immigrants who didn’t enjoy being drafted into a civil war they didn’t start. Beyond that, the Troll didn’t like picking up arrestees from other officers’ work.
After seven minutes of driving with lights and siren, I pulled the Wagon into the parking lot of the shopping center where the veterinary clinic was located. After notifying Dispatch of our arrival on the scene, the Troll and I sat in stunned silence, watching Dan “Rambo” Courtney being out grappled by a tiny woman dressed in a black cape and gown. In fact, the woman was sitting atop an immobilized Dan “Rambo” Courtney’s chest, holding his hands to the pavement and screaming something about “letting the cats go free.”
Seeing that Courtney was in no real apparent danger, the Troll motioned me to follow him but prevented me from offering any aid to Rambo. Instead, he walked up to where he was looking down at Courtney and began to laugh in his creepy, maniacal way.
“Hey, Rambo,” he said, giggling. “Having trouble with this big, bad cat lady? Wait until I tell the squad that you got your ass handed to you by Mary Kitty Poppins here.”
“Help me, O’Donnel. Please.” Courtney was clearly terrified, his face white with fear. “There’s something wrong with her. She’s possessed or something. Help me.”
If Courtney’s desperate plea for help wasn’t frightening enough, the woman’s high-pitched wail sent cold shivers up my spine. “Let the cat’s go free. Let the cats go free.”
Not waiting for the Troll, I grabbed the woman by her right arm to pull her off of Courtney. Instead of resisting me though, she launched at me with such viciousness and speed, I lost my balance and fell backward onto the pavement. Fortunately I was able to roll with her momentum and ended up pinioning her tiny frame with my body weight. Amazingly, however, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold her for long. Her strength was incredible.
With the three of us working together, we were able to roll the screeching woman onto her stomach and safely flex cuff her hands and feet, and then to cuff her hands to her feet so that she was completely immobilized.
We lifted her and despite her ear-splitting screams about releasing the cats, we laid her into the back of the paddy wagon and secured her so that she was unable to slide around when the van was in motion.
After closing and locking the doors, we took a moment to catch our collective breath.
“She could have easily killed me if you guys hadn’t showed up when you did,” said Courtney still visibly shaken. “I don’t know what she’s on, but she threw me around like a Raggedy Ann doll.”
“You are a Raggedy Anne doll,” said the Troll, apparently unfazed by the woman’s behavior and strength. “Go patrol somewhere where you don’t need balls, and we’ll take care of the cat woman.” Looking at me, the Troll said, “Drive, Rookie. Let’s get her to the psych ward for an evaluation. She’s too dangerous for a general population jail cell.”
I maneuvered the wagon out onto the wide avenue heading north toward the hospital and tried to recall when, during my academy training, I was ever instructed about what to do with a demon-possessed, incredibly strong, Halloween liberator of cats. I was deep into that reverie when I looked up into my rear view mirror only to see the face of the cat woman pressed against the cab window behind me, screaming, “Let the cats go free.”
Now let me explain here why, exactly, the sight of her creepy, howling face nearly caused me to lose control of my bowels and bladder simultaneously and run off the road.
The interior of the paddy wagon, where prisoners are seated, is tall enough for a person of average height to stand. In order for a person to press their face against the window of the cab in the paddy wagon, they would have to be standing. The cat woman, could not have been standing because she was flex cuffed hands-to-feet and then secured in a face down position on the floor. She couldn’t move at all.
It was impossible.
And yet, there was her face, right behind me in the window, screaming about the cats.
I slammed on the brakes, jerked right to to the shoulder of the road and jumped out of the wagon.
Ignoring the Troll’s tirade of cursing, I ran to the back of the wagon, unlocked the doors and threw them open with my service weapon in hand.
The cat woman was face-down on the floor, fully secured, and laughing at me.
“Do I scare you, officer?” she cackled. “You’d best release the cats tonight before midnight.”
“Are you going to shoot a little, hand-cuffed lady who loves kittens, Rookie?” the Troll asked from behind me. “Holster that weapon and help me think of a reason not to fire you tonight.”
“Sir, I saw her standing in the window. I could see her looking at me in the mirror. She’s dangerous.”
“I know,” said the Troll. “Let’s take her home and drop you off at the psych ward. Drive!”
I checked the woman’s restraints and locked the doors again. I drove for fifteen minutes, trying not to look in my rear view mirror; afraid I might see that hideous face again. I knew the Troll could smell my fear and was making note of it for the nightly “rookie” evaluation with the sergeant and the end of the shift.
I was almost to the hospital exit when I was forced to use the mirror.
Her face was there; twisted and horrible, screaming about the cats. But this time, the Troll could see it too.
“Stop,” he yelled. Fear was in his voice.
We jumped from the wagon and ran to the back doors. The Troll unlocked them, hesitated a moment and then threw them open.
The cat woman was fully secured in the flex cuffs and restrained on the floor, unable to move. A guttural howl emanated from somewhere deep within her and erupted in a nerve shattering screech. “Let the cats go free before midnight or you will see me again. Midnight, or else.”
The Troll slammed the doors and secured the lock. “Get in. I’ll drive. Don’t talk and keep your eyes straight ahead.”
We arrived in the hospital sally port in silence. With routine movements, we opened the paddy wagon doors, lifted the woman and carried her to an intake room where we were met by two orderlies.
“Anything unusual to report, Officers?” asked one of the orderlies.
“No,” said the Troll. “She appears to be a danger to herself and others. She assaulted an officer. We’ll file the report.” He abruptly turned and left the room.
“We will document her release to our custody at the hospital as 23:50 hours,” said the orderly. “Ten minutes to the witching hour,” he said smiling at me.
As I walked down the hall to rejoin the Troll, I could hear the cat woman howl once more…”You’ll see me again, Officer. You will.”
And we did. In November, of that same year.
To be continued.