The room was very dimly lit. As I stepped into the house I could sense the presence of death. That’s a hard thing to get used to. It’s a sixth sense that develops in cops over time. Something’s not right. The hair on the back of your neck stands up and your body tightens. The fight or flight response is just under the surface. 

When I first saw the victim I was shocked. I had never seen someone caught in the throes of death like that before. There seemed to be a scream on her face, frozen there for all time. Her eyes looked away, lost. Who had done this to her. Why would anyone do this to another person? What kind of rage or anger could drive a person to such horror, didn’t they realize what they were doing to another human being? Worse yet, what if they did realize what they were doing and did it anyway. That’s a monster in the realist sense of that word. 

As I looked around the room I was struck by the simplicity of how otherwise normal the scene was. On any other day I could be walking into this room for a cup of coffee and a friendly conversation with this woman. I could imagine the Christmas tree in the corner of the room during the holidays and the sound of kids running around getting ready for school. It was surreal. 

There is something disconnecting to examining a crime scene. The separation from what happened to the victim and the antiseptic approach of documenting the scene; the cops milling around, that one drinking a soda, that one taking notes, another snapping photographs, all the while the victim lays there in the middle of the room like another piece of furniture, silent, unmoving.

As a new investigator being in the center of this situation was a constant challenge to my inner person. I was here doing my job. At home my family was doing what families do at home, completely unaware of what I was part of. The victim and her family were caught up in the most intense and painful event of their lives. Yet there was a matter of factness to it all. That was the strange part of it. The senior cops, detectives and investigators took the whole thing in stride. I supposed the look on my face gave away my youthful inexperience. “Don’t sweat it, you’ll get used to this kind of thing” was advice I got from almost every veteran there. I remember being horrified at that prospect.

If I am going to get used to this what kind of career have I chosen for myself. 

As I continued to work the scene the strange feelings didn’t go away, but they did get pushed back a bit. I did my job and moved on. At the end of the day, as I stood in the door way getting ready to leave I took in the scene again. I shook my head and went home. I didn’t mention too much detail, but I told my wife what my day was like, not your routine cop stuff for sure. As I went to sleep that night I thought I had made peace with it. Which made the next day even stranger.

I got to work early, there was a million details to attend to in this type of a case, even for a junior member of the team. The rest of the Unit was heading out for their assignments, interviews and other types of details.

About 10AM I got a call to go to a neighboring police department. They had a guy there that might have some information on the case. I was told to go and check him out. I got to the PD and was introduced to their detective, a dusty old guy with years of experience. We went to an interview room and spoke to this man with the information. 

As the conversation got moving, I noticed that the man’s answers were not matching up to the questions. He seemed to want to tell us something different than what we were asking. Over a period of time it became clear to me and the dusty guy that this young man was involved in the case. The more we talked and let him tell his story, the more it became obvious that he wanted us to know what he did and why. He was intense, his story was more intense. The mood of the room changed. As he spoke I pictured the victim in her own living room. I became completely involved in the action as he related it to us. I began to see my role as the victim’s advocate, the person who would stand up for her against this demon. We challenged this man and the more we did the more enjoyment he seemed to get from his actions. I was outraged at some level that he was proud of what he had done. He spoke of his actions in terms of his “work”. We talked with him for five hours. He explained in his own twisted logic what he had done and why he did it. I pursued him for every detail. I felt a sense of urgency to get it all.

To tell the victims story, to speak for her when she could not. 

When we were done talking, when all the details were out there on the table, all three of us were exhausted. We had gone on this horrific journey together and I felt I was changed somehow. As I drove home that day I realized the change in me was the result of coming face to face with real evil. I had looked into the eyes of something I had never seen before, and it looked back. I also understood what my career meant. To represent someone who cold not speak for themselves and to stand for them and their family was humbling. I found my place that day. I found my calling and I was grateful. 

I have been CHASING JUSTICE throughout my career friends. My goal is to be THE VOICE for the voiceless. Do watch for my new talk show on America Out Loud, appropriately named CHASING JUSTICE… premiering April 2018. Reach out with your own stories and thoughts on justice… 

Joseph Pangaro is a retired Police Lieutenant from the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, NJ. During his 27 year career, Lieutenant Pangaro served in many capacities. After nine years as a patrol officer, he was transferred to the detective bureau where he served for 12 years. During that time, Lt. Pangaro prepared and executed hundreds of search warrants, testified in numerous high profile criminal court cases and excelled in the area of criminal investigations including; homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, fraud, burglary, juvenile investigations, economic crimes, vice crimes, quality of life crimes and other crimes of violence. He has acted in undercover capacities and worked with numerous local, county, state, and federal agencies. Joseph Pangaro served as a sergeant in the detective bureau, supervising a group of highly motivated and active officers in the unit as well as the “Quality of Life” unit.

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