The announcement of a huge prehistoric ossuary discovered near La Brea Tar Pits is one of those stories that delights through a balance of incongruous details. The fact that the bones were located under the old May Co. parking lot lent a vague irony to the announcement — who knew that beneath the late department store's perfume counter lay a killing field of saber-toothed tigers, mammoths and ground sloths? Maybe it would've been funnier if all the tusks and fangs had been unearthed beneath Canter's, a few blocks away, but we take our laughs where we find them. (Still, you've got to wonder what Ice Age wonders lurk across the street, at the former Orbach's clothing store, currently the address for the Petersen Automotive Museum.) The L.A. Times thought so much of this local story that it did not run it in the soon-to-be extinct California section, but up front in Section A.
It's also true that for once the uncovering of bones was a happy event and not tied to a mass grave in Iraq or Bosnia. Or, for that matter, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For, on the page preceding the Tar Pits story jump, was one related to a different kind of bone story — one with which we're more familiar. The Associated Press item mentions that bones from six bodies had been found in the desert outside Albuquerque. At this point they are assumed to belong to a group of 16 missing prostitutes from the area.
Homicide Sergeant Carlos Argueta acknowledged the difficulty in
identifying the remains, which were scattered across a 100-square-foot
patch that had been recently bulldozed by construction workers. First,
there is the daunting scientific task of simply matching the remains of
the day to missing persons. Second, there is a societal and
institutional indifference to the fate of women who were transient
narcotics users or hookers.
Still, Argueta said, the investigation would continue because “this was someone's daughter.”
particular quote has been cropping up a lot lately, and seems to have
replaced the worn-out justification of all criminal investigations —
namely, that they are done for “closure.” An exact-phrase Google search
for the expression turns up more than 800 examples of this quote which,
even if you winnow out the redundancies, are a lot. The variations
include, “This was someone's daughter, sister or wife” and “This was
someone's daughter, mother or friend.”
With all due respect to
Sgt. Argueta, a TV-themed moralizing lurks behind the phrase, as though
we have to be told it's okay to care about homicide victims when they
are lowlifes. It's the kind of soft-focus line you hear intoned over
crime-scene imagery on Dateline NBC, 48 Hours or many
Lifetime Channel docudramas. How about if we just investigate homicides
and pursue murderers because their victims were human beings? Not
necessarily that they are anyone's daughter, or were once cute kids who
went bad. Let's leave speculation about who was responsible for
parenting a corpse to the paleontologists, as they dust centuries-old
mud off a mammoth's pelvis.