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"The Case Of the Golden Butterfly." It’s a sensational name for a murder case, but when you think about it, all of my cases have been sensationalized. This particular one didn’t need a flashy name, though, as I haven’t worked a case since without this one forcing its way into my mind. More than anything, I remember my own poor performance.
The case started with a phone call, alerting Rusty, my reluctant partner, to the location of a brutally-murdered woman. We inspected the crime scene, where I quickly found what few clues were there. My discoveries had identified the victim, making me feel confident in my detective work as we drove to her house to speak with her family.
At the house, I met the victim’s daughter and husband separately. I had to inform each of them about the murder, then I had to ask them some questions. At the end of those two interviews, it was clear that I had messed up. They had both tried to hide things from me, forcing me to get tough. But my reactions were always backwards, mistaking their grief-filled truths for lies, and then reacting poorly when they tried to hide something from me.
I had never had an interview go this wrong before. Looking back, I don’t think I took the interaction seriously enough, and my entire investigation would suffer because of it. My rise through the ranks of the LAPD had been speedy and publicly-celebrated, but for the first time it felt that it may have been too fast. It had only been days since I was a uniformed beat cop, and now, as a homicide detective, my inexperience may have become a liability. Even worse, despite my failure ,the case was far from over. I had to carry on, hoping that I hadn’t missed any leads.
After talking to neighbours, collecting evidence, and catching suspicious behaviour, I ended up with not one, but two suspects in custody. I had plenty of good evidence, but no direct connection to either of the men I had brought in. My only hope was to break one of them with my questioning.
I can see now that I carried my earlier failure with me into the interrogation rooms. As my first suspect spoke, I over-analyzed every word and rationalized every physical movement. I looked at my notebook before silently staring at the man, hoping he would twitch. When I finally spoke, I made yet another error, destroying my confidence completely.
At that point the pressure became too much. I continued to doubt my instincts, creating alternate motives in my head for every scenario. I became mediocre, and the suspects knew it. After two weak interrogations, I was no closer to the truth. It was my responsibility to charge one of these men with murder, and I still wasn’t sure which one did it. I looked over the evidence one last time, and went with my gut.
I arrested the husband, and left the room thinking that I made the best decision. I learned how wrong I was when the captain found me, irate over my handling of the case. He had made big promises to the press, and I hadn’t fulfilled them. Of course, what he says to the press is his own foolish business, that’s not what bothered me. What did, though, was my final judgment being cast in doubt, making me unsure that I had caught the woman’s killer.
The case was closed, and it was completed with a notation about my “unbecoming” police work. I may have been ashamed of the way I handled this case, but the next murder won’t wait for my confidence to arrive. I’ve had to learn from my mistakes, bringing this knowledge to each subsequent case.
Weeks have passed, and I still think about “The Golden Butterfly” before every new case. I consider going back to it, briefly, before I’m swept up in the next active case. Because this world, the one with no do-overs, the one where you have to carry on after failure, is a dangerous one, and I need to stay focused on what’s happening now if I want to avoid having another case haunt me like this one.