Over the years, I've come to accept the surreal moments of this job. Most of these are experienced alone in the dark, so it's easy to pass them off as interesting fancies of the imagination, inadequate caffeine, and lack of sleep. From time to time however, one of these episodes of weirdness catapults itself to the forefront and like a pig wearing a tutu, captures our attention.
Such was the case during a particular memorable courtroom testimony. I photograph and videotape murders to allow the jury to experience the scene years later. The videotape is meant to be a silent journey through the crime scene. A sound plug in the video recorder is meant to insure this silence. Because I am a techno-phobe with little or no confidence in the obedience of electronic devices, I do not talk to anyone while filming, lest the ill-mannered little beast record me begging a patrol officer to go to a local convenience store and buy me a Dr Pepper and a Butterfinger. I just don't trust the machine when it says it's not recording sound - for good reason.
And so it was that I found myself sitting in a courtroom, two years after a murder, assuring the prosecutor and the jury that yes, indeed, I did videotape the crime scene as I found it. After a bit of fumbling with the computer, it spat out my video and the jury followed me into the scene of a homicide.
As soon as the video began rolling, I realized the damned sound was on. The wind rustled the crime scene tape as officers called for Gatorade. I was thankful that I had maintained a habit of silence. The camera walked down the driveway and silence resumed as the garage provided a buffer against the wind. Slowly the camera picked up the blood droplets on the sidewalk.
The viewer focused on this trail of blood as the silence was broken by the tones of an ice cream truck rolling in the distance. And with those tones, the viewer was thrust into the surreal. The lonesome notes of Brahms Lullaby echoed through the courtroom as the camera moved along the blood trail to her body behind the front door. This all too familiar children's lullaby continued as the camera moved up her legs and panned over her bloody body. I was in shock. In my mind I heard the words often paired with this song,
"Go to sleep,
and good night . . . "
The camera moved over her permanent slumber as I sat in stunned silence. No, I had not planned this. No, I had not even been aware of the ice cream truck as I shot the video. But there in the courtroom, the painful notes of Brahms Lullaby played an eerie tune as the viewer stood over her body. I scanned the jury and locked eyes with a woman old enough to be the victim's mother. She knew. She knew that song. Perhaps she had hummed that song to her own child. I thought about the young victim's mother sitting in the courtroom, but coward that I am, I refused to look at her. I have to be professional and cannot do that if I feel her pain.
The ice cream truck faded into the distance as the camera moved away from the body and into the house. Silence resumed, and I breathed again. But there, in the back of my mind, the mournful tones of Brahms Lullaby playing in the music box inside my favorite teddy bear will forever be paired with a mother's last sight of her sleeping child.