Ever since I graduated and landed myself a job as a forensic photographer, I’ve found myself slowly becoming obsessed with crime that at some point, I wanted to witness it happen instead of just documenting its aftermath. I had this need of this excitement that came from being present at a crime scene as the crime happened — or just seconds after it was over. I wanted to be this fly on the wall, learning from the organized criminals and finding the flaws of the disorganized ones. Education and the experience provided by photographing crime scenes wasn’t enough for me. I needed to gain a skill no one else had. I wanted to be steps ahead of detectives. Now that I’ve finally found a career I’m absolutely fascinated about, there’s this intense desire to be special instead of being just another photographer. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.
After a year and a half of visiting the south side of Chicago and getting robbed, I’ve decided to try again and wander around the most dangerous neighborhood in New York, the Industrial area of Hunts Point. This time around, though, I knew better than to show up in my meticulous hair and decent clothing. Instead, it was necessary for me to blend in. That meant I had to go incognito and look like everybody else. I went shopping at Salvation Army the other week and bought myself a few options. I didn’t even bother washing the stains off some of them.
Before heading out, I made sure to smell bad and avoided trimming my beard. I disguised my whole body underneath unflattering baggy clothes; a white tee, a thick hoodie, an oversized military green bomber jacket, loose sweatpants, knee-lengths white sports socks and a cap I found on the train a few weeks ago.
Black men are still, in today’s day and age, viewed as the third person, as one-dimensional human beings. There’s still a lot of underlying racism going on in the world. I’m afraid it’s going to be this way forever. Sure, people will say they’re open and respectful toward all the different ethnicities, but that’s because they’re afraid of backlash and being marginalized themselves. People seem comfortable until things hit close to home. Ethnic individuals are rarely ever treated based on the content of their character but almost strictly on the prejudice society has imposed upon us; the stereotype. Then again, stereotypes aren’t made up, they are what they are because they exist and they’re common.
I’m drawn to lowlives. I want to be close to them. Not just criminals, but unsavory looking people in general. That’s why on my way to Hunts Point, I took the bus, and after my initial reluctance to sit down next to a homeless man in awful condition, I pushed myself to do so. He had a beer can in his hand and was mumbling random words. His smell was distinctively pungent and outright malodorous; the common unmistakable aroma of the homeless. The smell of sweat, urine and grime, like a haze hanging over him. I had to hold my breath to push away the nausea, but pushed myself to embrace it instead. With every breath he exhaled, toxins seemed to be released, but I wanted it. I wanted to fully experience what it’s like to be poor, sick and homeless. By the time I reached my stop, I noticed I’ve become tolerant of it. The smell was almost no longer there.
Walking around the area, I felt like I’ve traveled to a secluded area where people no longer lived. It was an enclave almost entirely cut off from the city. As I walked further and deeper into it, I saw all the rundown homes and abandoned stores. Everything was in awful shape. I isolated myself more and entered a meat factory. I walked up a few floors and looked at the view from above. I could see the city in the distance. It seemed safe, as if it was calling me, urging me to get back to safety. A faint scream quickly interrupted my contemplation. I turned around and tried to locate it. It wasn’t anywhere close. There was a warehouse on the verge of demolition half a mile away from me. It was hard to see but I noticed silhouettes moving along the first and second floor, one of them seemed to carry a flashlight that was being jerked off randomly in all directions. Crackheads, I thought — or drunk lunatics. I waited and heard another scream. It was interrupted almost immediately. I felt the need to get closer. After all, that’s why I was there in the first place — to witness something thrilling and horrific take place.
I exited the factory and walked straight to the warehouse. Right outside, a car was parked. I checked to see if anyone was inside but it was empty. I heard noises coming from upstairs. It sounded like men arguing. I couldn’t tell how many of them were there. I sneaked inside and looked for the stairs. The walls were teared down and machinery equipment was put apart and thrown around everywhere. I walked up as discreetly as possible and made it to the fourth floor.
“We’re going to get ourselves some pussy, bitch!”, a man screamed maliciously as a woman screamed for help. I heard another one laugh hysterically while another made grunting noises. I heard the woman get punched and pushed over a surface. She screamed like a banshee as her clothes were torn off. There was heavy breathing, moaning, a table squeaking. I got closer and closer to the source and hid behind the wall adjacent to the room. There was a hole in it. I looked inside and saw a battered woman lying flat on her back getting gang banged by three men: A redhead with long hair, a black man and what seemed to be a man of mixed ethnicity. They were taking turns on her. I was finally somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, witnessing something I was clearly not meant to be seeing.
When I became a teenager obsessed with preserving moments through photography, I took my camera everywhere and eagerly waited for something either exciting, scandalous or even tragic to happen, so I could document it. I’d wait by the window or hide in the corner of our porch and wait for my sister to get dropped off by her boyfriend, so I could snap some photos of them kissing in his car. Sometimes I’d follow her to the mall or record her and her friends gossiping in our living room. One time, mom and dad were out and I was in my bedroom playing video games when I heard noises coming from her room. She had sneaked one of her previous boyfriends inside her bedroom and forgot to lock the door. I liked messing with her, so I opened the door and found them half-naked in her bed. They acted casually, as if they weren’t doing anything. Those moments were basic. It wasn’t until I became fascinated with people’s suffering that I started to sneak my camera out and take pictures of critical situations; like Rosamunde’s first car accident where she ran over an old woman crossing a highway. She had hit our windshield, smashing it and flew over our car and landed on the road. She was lucky no one was speeding behind us or else she would’ve been run over. While Rosamunde screamed in shock, I got out of the car and took pictures. After that incident, whenever something bad happened, my sister would jokingly say that, in case she was attacked or raped, I’d be more of a spectator than a helping hand. To summarize this obsession with voyeurism, I’d say it’s because seeing horrible things happen is rare and seeing how people react to them is something we don’t always get to see. Happiness and sadness are typical emotions, but hysteria and fright aren’t. What makes these so unique is the fact people can’t predict their own reactions which automatically makes for interesting viewing.
I couldn’t see properly through the hole, so I moved around and got closer to the doorframe. It wasn’t the smartest move. As I got closer, I accidentally stepped on broken glass, alarming everyone. The redheaded man ordered one of them to inspect. I slowly moved away from the wall but failed to make it to the step of stairs in time, so I ran. When he heard my footsteps, the black man sprinted at me, so I jumped from the platform to the opposite one instead of going down the steps. My heart almost stopped mid-air as gravity pulled me down. As soon as I landed, my body lost balance and hit the concrete wall. When I pulled away, the guy’s hand grabbed my scalp and shoved my face back against the wall. He insulted me as the right side of my face ground against the sharp textures, causing minor scratches. I wasn’t concerned about my safety as much as I was about leaving bruises and marks on my face — or getting killed. I was dragged back upstairs and thrown to the ground. I landed right by the table, the woman’s leg hanging right by me.
“Get up, you fucking perv! You want some pussy too?! Huh?!” the redheaded guy screamed as the other two laughed. “If you wan’ it bad, come and get yourself some.” The third man pulled me off the ground and pushed me to the table. “Go ahead. Fuck the shit out of her!” He screamed.
I hesitated of course, but they weren’t going to let me go easy. He pulled his gun and pointed it at the back of my head, rubbing the barrel against my burning scalp. I started shivering as the woman looked up at me and begged me not to do it. I tried to shut her off — to shut all of them off. When their voices became muffled, my mind projected an image of Matthew standing in the corner. I guessed it was the kind of the thing he’d do. It almost felt like he was pushing me to do it just by looking at me. What happened next was completely out of character — or that’s what I want to believe. I grabbed the woman’s neck and pressed it against the table, pulled my pants down, took my penis out and fucked her. She screamed and begged me to stop, but I leaned in and kept thrusting, the men behind us mocking us and laughing at the absurdity of the situation. It took me a split second to guide my hand through the inside pocket of my jacket and reach for my pocket knife. I kept drilling myself inside her, making sure I never came to ejaculation, until the redheaded man approached to grab me so he could take over. As I pulled out from inside her, I swiftly turned, and in one motion, stuck the knife into his left clavicle. He dropped his gun and I kicked it across the room under a heavy machine. The two men lunged at me and shoved me against the wall as the woman rolled over the table and fell face down on the ground. She grabbed some bricks and threw them at one of them; she hit him in the head, causing him to collapse immediately. The third guy ran away. I did the same, only in another direction.
When I arrived back at my apartment, I realized my cap wasn’t on me. I freaked out for a moment, worried the woman might’ve caught a glimpse of my face. I disposed of all the clothes, shaved my beard, washed my knife and took care of the few scratches on the side of my forehead. Doing so, I noticed a subtle wiggling feeling in the left side of my mouth, and tasted a bit of blood. As I gargled with water to clear everything out, I was caught off guard by an intense sharp pain. I opened my mouth and realized my left first molar was cracked. Apparently, I had been severely clenching my teeth lately due to stress, and the intensity of the incident had caused me to bite my teeth together so hard causing one to crack. I tried pushing them back together to temporarily close the gap until I could see a doctor, but water kept seeping through it, triggering an agonizing amount of sensitivity. I pumped myself full of medication and knocked myself out.
I woke up the next morning unable to remember the night before. I was a little intoxicated and disturbed by the incident and my own actions. I desperately wanted to go back to the warehouse to recover my cap, but it was too risky. I wanted to forget it ever happened. I wanted to take the day off but I didn’t want to cause any suspicion, so I went to the office. I showed up to work neatly dressed, my hair and facial hair trimmed, but my injuries had left some minor scabs I couldn’t hide completely. Luckily, everyone was so caught up in their own work they didn’t even notice them. As I headed out for my lunch break, I was stopped by Jared; the victim, Henrietta, had showed up at the police station and recounted the incident to Harrison. My body was shaking when I walked inside the room and listened to her statement. She remembered everything that happened to her.
Henrietta and the redheaded man who went by the name of, Hunter, drank some beer together last night, then went to his pad in the Bronx. They had more beer in the kitchen before he persuasively maneuvered her to his bedroom, closed the door and threw her on his bed. She was repulsed by his aggressiveness and declined his sexual advances, so he grabbed her, slugged her in the chest and ripped her clothes off. She started to scream. Scared the neighbors would hear, he pulled out his gun from the drawer of his nightstand and threatened her. He ordered her to get in his car and drove her to the middle of nowhere, to the secluded construction sight where the warehouse was. When they arrived, the two thugs were waiting to get their share of the prize. She described in great detail how her legs were forced apart and how at first, Hunter only managed to achieve a minor penetration because she was pushing him away and kicking him. He then grabbed her head, ripped her hair and banged it against the table over and over again until she became disoriented and defenseless. When she gave up, each one started to have intercourse with her, switching every few minutes. Every time she let out a scream, she got punched. She included the part I was involved in the incident, but didn’t emphasize my guilt too much although it left everyone in the room completely fazed and dumbfounded. She recalled the men’s bruises and reported Hunter’s license number, but turned out the car wasn’t his. It was a stolen vehicle.
On our way to the crime scene, law enforcement put out an alert demanding all patrol units and hospital staff to pay attention and report suspicious white males with fresh cuts and scratches while we investigated the area where the rape took place.
I waited impatiently as police officers went inside the building with Henrietta, eager to get my hands on my cap. To comfort myself, I thought about the fact every crime scene gets contaminated to a certain degree by the presence of scene personnel, so finding hair fibers that belong to me wouldn’t necessarily mean anything or raise any suspicion. Still, I wanted to omit the possibility of that cap even making into the evidence bag. When it was finally time for me to go in, it was hard for me not rush upstairs, but I had to stay with David and walk through the scene as if it was my first time. I started taking pictures, slowly making my way to the table where Henrietta was raped. I could spot the red cap underneath it. I put my camera away and tried to reach it, but it was really hard. It couldn’t even make it in any of the pictures. Eyes were occasionally on me as forensics were waiting for me to finish so they can get in and start collecting trace materials and latent prints. I pretended to set my tripod by the table and as I reached the bottom to splay them outward, I slowly drifting my body as close to the table as I could. Once I was close enough, I leaned in and stretched my fingers, my middle one brushing against the edge of the cap. I almost had it when a voice echoed in my direction.
“What are you doing?” David asked, interrupting me. I turned and saw him glaring at me in mute bewilderment.
“I dropped the thread for my tripod”, I answered before my mind could even process the response. It made sense, though. I’ve also noticed that when you’re in the wrong, the only way to get out of a suspicious or awkward situation is by displaying either a certain amount of anger or irritation, as if whatever it is that you did was accidentally done in poor judgement because it was causing you a major inconvenience. If you’re caught and your reaction screams “busted”, you’re in for a good amount of trouble.
Without any further delay, I quickly pretended to grab the thread and connecting it back to my tripod. My stomach flipped wondering whether he bought the lie or not. I couldn’t afford to display any disinhibited behavior after that. Due to my own involvement in the crime, I made sure to remain completely transparent and act as normal as possible.
Five men stood in the interview room while Henrietta stood behind the one-way glass wall. She observed each men separately and managed to identify two — excluding Hunter. There was one missing as well as me. I stayed as far away from her as I possibly could and got updates from Jared. A couple of days later, we were all back in the interrogation room. Uninvited, I still showed up, unfolded an extra chair and sat down behind Harrison as he and Henrietta looked at the new set of suspects and tried to identify the remaining guilty ones.
All I could think about is me fucking her, out of anger — out of grief. I wasn’t necessarily trying to lessen my guilt and justify my involvement to make myself feel better. I felt terrible and ashamed. However, I also couldn’t bring myself to sympathize with her even though my rational mind knew how traumatic it must’ve been for her to go through what she did. But feeling for her meant I had to acknowledge and accept my guilt which would’ve put under a tremendous amount of stress. I had to be in denial to make it through it. I couldn’t involve myself in any way. To ease the angst, I kept telling myself that I was at the wrong place, at the wrong time — that I was dragged into something against my will — that fucking the shit out of her was done in order to survive, not because part of me needed to vent. It was out of my control. I’m innocent. I’m not responsible for her pain.
As my thoughts diverted in that direction, Jared barged into the room and revealed none of the suspects’ hair fibers matched the samples we found in the cap. My comforting thoughts completely vanished once he took out a folder and gave it to David. The analyzed hair fibers found in the cap had led them to a young boy in New Jersey. The boy had a clean record and still lived with his family. Besides having a strong alibi, he made it clear he accidentally left the cap on a train, a couple of weeks ago. To be on the safe side, we showed Henrietta his headshot, and she immediately dismissed him, so we checked him out. The next day, we received a call from a hospital in Harlem updating us about an individual in critical condition who they suspected was involved in the crime. It was Hunter. Apparently, he tried suturing his gaping wound himself. The suture was done improperly and caused a serious infection. They had him pumped full of painkillers which made him confused and disoriented. He stared right at me while David questioned him, and I stared right back. I could tell he recognized me once his eyes widened and gleamed with discovery.
Being an outcast meant waking up every morning and going through my day with a tormented conscience. Even when I came to terms with the person I really was, life didn’t get any less complicated because I was constantly reminded of how different I was from everyone else. Acceptance didn’t make things easier on my soul as I wasn’t able to see myself as being worthy. I’ve taken one dark path after another, my masochist brain pushing me deeper and deeper into a world of self-sabotage; it was like playing a dangerous game and getting off on putting myself through risks with permanent negative consequences. That was truly what my heart desired. I’ve tried convincing myself I was looking for stability, but that feeling always disappeared before I even knew it. I’m built like a mean machine. Showing my true colors would turn me into a hate magnet. So, I’ll just hide— or do things unobtrusively.
I used to fill the heaps of my emotional gaping holes with sex before my obsession switched to exposing myself to the worst sights of human violence. It’s like a deep, unstoppable craving begging to be fed. I’m mesmerized by the thought of trying to get a glimpse of what it would feel like to bludgeon someone to death and humiliate their corpse. It’s a different kind of lust than the one I used to have. Each crime scene gives me an intense feeling of arousal although I’ve never felt the need to go out and commit a crime myself. It was the thrill of being exposed to violence from a safe distance. It’s hard for me to compartmentalize my impulses and fascination to try and understand them. They’re just there, and I act on them.
Regardless of my nature, I’ve still been able to come a long way in life. I’ve grown, and changed, and tried to be the best person I could possibly be— even when I did all the bad things; it was always for good reasons. I won’t curse the bad I’ve done anymore because it’s part of who I am. I’m perfectly aware and capable of accepting how my reality differs from the rest of the world. To them, I’m Felix the liar, the thief, the rapist, the killer, the ruiner. And you know what? I’m fine with that.