by Leslie Mazoch
Staff Photographer
Brownsville Herald

"Big John" Hernandez, the Forensic Specialist at the Brownsville (TX) police department, showed me, at my request, a binder filled with images of dead people he's had to photograph over the years. Most of the people didn't resemble humans, but I could make them out when Hernandez pointed to where the eyes, ears, nose and mouth were supposed to be.  I felt woozy at page three and the possibility of fainting two pages later. I closed the book, put my head down, and he brought me a cup of water.

Thirty days later I witnessed, for the first time, a mutilated body like the ones in Hernandez' collection.  School kids walking home found a person floating face down in a pond underneath a bridge just around the corner from my home.  The police say she was a mentally unstable women who had been missing for three days.  As I'd seen in Hernandez' photos, calm waters are surprisingly destructive to human flesh.  She was purple, coming apart in some places, and bloated up like a balloon, her skin stretching beyond what I thought was possible.  I knew my paper wouldn't run the type of photos that the Matamoros (Mexico) papers do - the bloodier the better - so I didn't have to photograph as closely as i did.


"Somehow it's easier to look when it's real," I said to Hernandez, as we looked at the body from a distance. "You examine the pictures more closely," he responded.

The police at the scene let me photograph wherever I pleased, which was not the case when I was a new face in town.  This was the second time my efforts to establish a positive relationship with the police, fire, or EMS have paid off. The first being when the Fire Dept. called my cell for a house fire.

The writer at the scene, who had access to see just as much as I did, asked to see the photos we weren't publishing. I acquired the tight shot of the woman's face. She was purple, with blood lines running up and down her skin, no eyes, her tongue exploding out of her mouth and brain matter oozing from her nose and ears.

I had a hard time getting the woman's face out of my mind as I raced to photograph the assignment this spot news delayed me for: a candle light dinner at an assisted living residence to kick off Grandparent's Day.  That was the first day I was thankful for the fluff.

Leslie Mazoch

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