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The Corpse Under the Bed

There is an urban legend about a German couple who are staying at a motel in the United States. They notice an unpleasant smell and complain to the management. The room is checked and a rotting corpse is found hidden in the mattress. While this is an urban legend, it is also true. It hasn't just happened--it happens all the time.

On an such matters, I always turn to the authoritative Urban Legends Reference Pages. They have written an extensive discussion of this practice of hiding dead bodies in motel rooms. The article is well worth reading and helpful, but not necessary, in reading what follows here.

Motel Deaths at the Movies

There are two movie that I know of that relate to this. The first is in the Robert Rodriguez section of Four Rooms called "The Misbehavers". There, the legend is used directly. Throughout the movie the little boy, Juancho, keeps complaining about a smell. This is in keeping with the Urban Legend article's repetition of the humorous, though deeply disturbing phrase, "Because of complaints about the smell".

Junkies Deal with Death: Drugstore Cowboy

The second movie has no direct connection to this urban legend, but the characters in the movie deal with a situation that is very similar. In Drugstore Cowboy, Nadine dies of a Dilaudid® overdose, and the crew puts her body above the room (just like a serial killer discussed in the article). The big issue in the movie is that Bob has to move Nadine's body out to the car (so he can bury her in the woods). This is not so easy, because the motel is literally swarming with sheriffs--all there for a convention.

Bob: I don't believe it. I don't fucking believe it. A sheriff's convention no less! Why couldn't it be a Tupperware convention?

Diane: Better yet, an undertakers'.

Junkies Who Need Junkies (Are the luckiest junkies?)

I know when I first saw the movie, my initial thought was that they could just leave her--they would be long gone by the time she was found. But when she was found, it would be no problem linking her to them and, more to the point, Bob. As he points out, "She left us with an ODed stiff, which is paramount to a murder beef in this state."

Of course, there is another side to this, and I think it is fundamental to the greatness of the movie. Bob buries Nadine as much out of respect for her as out of fear of the law. Bob is a junkie, not an animal. He's admirable, if flawed. His drug use is part of who he is, not all that he is. I don't think 2 people in 100 could tell the story of a junkie without losing that.

Real Life Junkies

In almost all cases, dead bodies left in mattresses are murder victims. My experience is that other users stay to help overdosed victims, who can usually be saved. This is how the characters in Drugstore Cowboy would have acted if they had been around when Nadine overdosed. In fact, when Bob first notices her, he bends down and checks her pulse. Of all the cases discussed in the article, only one involved a drug overdose, and it was a dealer who was transporting heroin inside of swallowed balloons that broke. Most likely, he could have been saved but his comrades didn't necessarily know that. Regardless, I don't hate the people who fled this scene, especially given that it would have implicated them in drug smuggling. It is not acceptable, of course; it is disrespectful and disgusting. But it is also understandable.

My real hatred is saved for those people who enact laws that make people fear getting medical attention for an overdosed friend; the jailers who add torture to the punishment of those unlucky heroin addicts who are arrested, not even convicted (remember "presumed innocence"?), of a minor crime; and everyone else who think junkies deserve AIDS, Hepatitis, Endocarditis, and any other disease that's going around.

The Forgotten People

I think the "body under the motel bed" legend is so appealing to us culturally because it shows us the consequences of having relationships with so many that are both estranged and in close physical contact. What's awful about the story is that you might be sleeping on top of a rotting corpse, not that your dead body might be hidden in a mattress and forgotten. It's only junkies and whores and niggers who end up that way--who cares if they die. But good respectable Germans sleep on corpses. This must be stopped!

Junkies are the best example we have of the social outsider--the people who can't fit in. Up until recently, the drug laws were designed to keep junkies out of sight. The laws marginalized heroin users, pushing them into lives that are difficult and dangerous. These people don't get stately funeral narrations; they get, metaphorically if not actually, stuffed inside mattresses. It's only when the smell gets too bad that we sigh, pull the mattress away, and find the dead body of another human being we don't give a dam about.

"Can somebody cover that up?!"

Remember the Forgotten People

So increasingly, the drug laws are designed to round up all the heroin addicts. Put them in one place so we can keep and eye on them. Concentration makes them easier to handle. Put them together in a camp, for their own protection. Then when they die, they can be properly disposed of in a crematorium. No longer will good German couples need to worry about sleeping on top of their rotting copses.

One day, we will have a clean society. Until then, the junkies will be stinking up society and infecting it with diverse impurities. The cost of diversity is this kind of infection. But in good Orwellian form, we have redefined "diversity" to mean skin color. For the old definition, see fester. Diversity needn't only be hidden in a mattress.

by Dr. H
© 2003
Last Modified: 21 Jul 10


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