Chris MacWilliams is one of four detectives on the Washington, D.C., police department’s natural death squad, says the Washington Post. The unit sees more bodies than does any other on the 3,800-member force. “We just drive around the city, and nobody knows who we are,” says MacWilliams, a plainclothes officer who travels in an unmarked car. “Some days, I feel like the Grim Reaper.”
Assigned to deaths that are not suspected homicides, the squad handled more than 800 of the city’s nearly 4,000 deaths reported to the D.C. medical examiner last year: cases involving strokes, heart attacks, industrial accidents, drownings and suicides. Disbanded in the mid-1990s, the unit was reestablished two years ago. Police officials hoped it would streamline death investigations and give homicide detectives, who had been handling such cases, more time to work on killings. MacWilliams and his partners, all former homicide detectives, had grown tired of murder cases. They have found that the natural-death work is harder than they imagined. They talk about how the stink of death clings to their skin, hair and clothes, how it sometimes lingers in their nostrils for days.