It’s a strange thing to read about retirement parties for people you remember as youngsters. When I read John L. Smith’s column about the retirement of Las Vegas Metro Homicide Detectives Jimmy Vaccaro and Tom Thowsen, I shook my head in disbelief.
I was working in Metro’s Crime Lab in the early 1990s when Vaccaro and Thowsen were the new guys in Homicide. We were used to the old-timers like Tom Dillard, Don Dibble, and Dave Hatch, none of whom had a spare word for the office help like me, unless they were barking orders. None of us thought much of it. Cranky, short-tempered cops were common, and those who had chosen a full-time assignment to cover Death in all its violent, brutal, and tragic forms were forgiven for skipping the niceties. When these two young, handsome detectives took the assignment in Homicide, in the office we tsked a little to ourselves. It would be a shame, my office mate Martha and I agreed, if Vaccaro and Thowsen succumbed to the stresses of Homicide, an assignment that we watched wring the life out of several detectives. Vaccaro and Thowsen were fun to talk to, and that was important. There were plenty of details about our job that were never, ever going to be fun.
A steady stream of cops trickled in all day to our office to pick up crime scene pictures and lab results. One detective, Roy Chandler, wore irresistible aftershave that made Martha and me swoon; he was also a sweet-talker. Since Chandler, like Vaccaro, had started out in Vice/Narcotics and later moved to Homicide, we reasoned that there was a chance Vaccaro might retain some of his charm. When I left the Lab in 1994, both Thowsen and Vaccaro were still charming, upbeat, and speaking to the office staff.
Smith’s column covered some of their big cases; I remember them all. Smith muses over whether or not either man can put his time with Death behind him. I suspect that Smith knows the answer, since reporters see many of the same horrors as cops. The case I never forgot was Stephanie Isaacson, a 14-year-old girl whose body was found in an empty desert lot just blocks from where my in-laws lived. She was just a couple of years older than my nieces. Someone brutally assaulted her and left her a bloody mess in the dirt with her textbooks scattered nearby. I wasn’t at the scene – I merely saw the photos and read the file. Many deceased bodies remain in my memory, but it is her name that always floats to the top.
Over the years I worked in the Lab, I was often asked if I ever wanted to become a Crime Scene Analyst (now they’re Hollywood-ified and are officially CSI – Crime Scene Investigator). Thanks, but the pictures and occasional dead body in a car in the Lab’s garage was enough for me. The men and women who agree to accept the challenge of unraveling murders are a rare breed. Justice and consequences may be concepts for some, but for them both are day-to-day reality. “If you’ve ever said you’d never kill someone, then you don’t know people,” Martha used to say. I think she’s still at the Lab, where I imagine she’s sizing up the next generation of Homicide detectives.
Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1807