The call was made only forty minutes before LAPD officer Luis Navarro’s shift ended.
For weeks, he has been looking forward to tonight’s drive-in outing, and the thought of missing it after months of headaches and grief from Covid19 was too difficult to imagine.
He responded to the request for a welfare check and hoped it wouldn’t result in extra paperwork and overtime.
At 6487 Maple Avenue, a neighbor had made the call to the LAPD non-emergency number because she knew it was very unusual for Keith Fullerton not to stick to his daily routine.
Every day for eleven years, Keith would leave his house by ten a.m. and go to the nearby Starbucks to begin his remote workday.
He would typically return by two p.m., walk his dog and finish work out at his pool, where Mrs. Caraway would talk over the fence until he went inside for the night.
Keith’s truck still sat in the driveway, but she had not seen Keith since Thursday afternoon.
She emailed, texted, called, and went over and rang the doorbell with no response.
Each is living by themselves, she after losing her husband to cancer a few years before Keith bought his house, and he never seemed to have anyone except his dog.
Her children didn’t communicate with her much. They felt betrayed by her always being at work, pursuing her career, too busy to participate in their lives while growing up.
Keith, twenty years her junior, provided her with the feeling of companionship.
Even though their routine never changed, and their conversations almost always took place with a white vinyl fence between them, she looked forward to sitting down with her pot of hot water and sipping tea as he worked.
Officer Navarro turned onto Maple Avenue, looking for 6487. When he found it, he pulled into the double spaced driveway, radioed dispatch, and got out of the squad car.
Mrs. Caraway, waiting for the police to show up, came walking quickly around the fence dividing their properties.
“Hello officer, I am the one that called.”
“Hello, ma’am. Officer Navarro, and you are?”
“Oh, Nancy Caraway. C-A-R-A-W-A-Y.”
“So, why do you think something might be wrong?
“Well, Keith lives by himself. Well, he has a dog. A little terrier mix, Stripe. He named it after the Gremlin in the Gremlins movie.”
The officer was writing her name in his small notepad and hoping he wouldn’t miss the first movie. He looked at Mrs. Caraway and couldn’t hide his impatience.
Getting to the point, she gave the officer all of the details that led to her concern. Asking her to stay in the driveway, the officer walked up to the front door.
In this blue-collar neighborhood, north of Victory Boulevard in Valley Glen, it was usually quiet. A lot of the homes were built in the 50s in the mid-century modern style or something closely resembling it.
As the officer walked around the home looking into the windows, trying the sliding glass doors, he noticed that it needed some repair and rehab. It wasn’t terrible, but it looked a little worse for wear.
Mrs. Caraway had told him that the dog was very quiet and never barked, even when the doorbell rang or someone knocked on the door.
After exhausting all other possibilities, the officer called his supervisor to ask if he could break the glass on the front door and gain entry.
A few minutes later, Mrs. Caraway could hear the glass breaking and quickly walked onto the property.
“Stay there, ma’am, I need to go in now, don’t come in,” he said.
The home was silent inside except for the refrigerator compressor silently humming straight ahead in the kitchen.
The open concept home featured wood beams and ceilings, making the house look like a cabin.
Narrow windows lined the top of the walls with curtain covered sliding glass doors underneath.
“Mr. Fullerton?!” Nothing.
As he walked past what looked like the living room, he approached the kitchen. Everything was tidy, but a little dark.
The property’s windows faced north-south with the indirect sunlight, unable to provide enough detail.
At that moment, the air conditioner turned on. As loud as it was, the officer predicted it might be a good twenty years old. His father was an HVAC tech, and he had helped him more than once replace an old system.
Mrs. Carraway told him where the master bedrooms were in this development. All the homes had similar layouts with different facades.
He turned the corner from the kitchen into the hallway, where a skylight lit up the other two bedrooms and the bathroom.
All of their doors were open, so the officer walked into each, calling out for Keith or Stripe.
One room was a sparsely furnished office—a rug in the center, a TV on the wall, desk, computer.
The other room was set up for guests. Towels laid out on a chair, the bed made. It looked cozy. Simple.
He started walking toward the master bedroom, its door closed. He called out once again for Keith and Stripe.
This time he heard a stirring and panting. The dog had pressed its nose under the door and was sniffing to see who was in the hallway.
“Stripe? Good boy Stripe.”
The dog panted louder and whined a little.
The officer tried the doorknob, but it was locked. He tried one last time to get a response and, after getting none, broke the door in.
The first thing he noticed was how cold it was in the room. It must’ve been 65° on a summer afternoon.
Stripe walked up to the officer, sniffing him, licking his hand. Officer Navarro saw Keith lying in bed, obviously deceased.
The dog had walked up the doggy stairs to the bed and to his master’s face to lick it. It then looked at Navarro as if to get him to do something to help.
It whined a little and licked the dead body on the face again.
The officer put his gloved hand on Keith’s neck to check for a pulse, but, of course, there was none.
Petting Stripe, officer Navarro called in the discovery and requested a coroner van.
Navarro picked up the dog’s leash and hooked him up so Stripe could be taken out of the house and out of the way.
Outside, Mrs. Caraway was talking to a nosy neighbor who wanted to know what was going on.
Navarro brought the dog outside and walked up to Nancy.
“Mrs. Carraway, I’m sorry to tell you this, but Mr. Fullerton passed away.”
Nancy put her hands to her mouth.
“I knew it. I should’ve called sooner. I didn’t want to be alarmist. I thought… I could’ve saved him.”
“No, no, no. Mrs. Carraway, it looks like he went in his sleep. I think it was sudden. There’s nothing you did wrong. Nothing you could’ve done differently.”
A few more neighbors have gathered outside to watch the scene unfold. Stripe continues to pace uneasily and quietly whine as an older model beat-up white coroner’s van slowly approaches.
Officer Navarro waves it in and walks a few steps away, continuing to talk on his cell phone to his girlfriend, who is waiting for him to pick her up. Stripe follows him reluctantly as the leash grows taut.
“…few minutes, I got John to come here, his shift is just starting. Did you grab my pillow? And, the candy? I should be there in about twenty minutes…”
Some of the people that had stopped were walking away since the coroner had arrived.
Mrs. Carraway was holding court at the end of Keith’s driveway. She was telling what little she knew about him from all the hours of one way conversations they had.
At the end of the street, an animal control truck was slowly making its way to the scene.
Stripe was crying, standing in the weeds which had taken over Keith’s neglected property. Officer Navarro was still talking on the phone.
“…I told her we’d be there before 11 tomorrow. I don’t know why she’s always so anxious about it…”
“…every afternoon. He worked for some ad agency back east. He was originally from there…”
“Where are you going??! Get back here right now!”
“Vamos a hacer el tonto. Quiero un McFlurry. ¡Date prisa o te dejo aquí!”
Stripe watches his friend in an extra-large black body bag as the coroner techs struggle to get his heavy body into the van.
The dog lies down as close to Keith as the leash will allow, crying for his friend.
“Alright, come on boy. Let’s go. I’ll take the old guy off your hands, officer.”