Some tropes should be buried

This all started with a body, a dead body.

Every writer I know has faced the task of handling a dead body somewhere in their work. Sometimes it is easy. The character is killed and literally falls off the page never to be heard from again, but other times it is harder. Finding, or not finding the body, may drive the plot forward. We wind up getting stuck with a smelly gross bloated mess, but we can’t clean it up without the help of our characters.

I am no expert on writing murders, or the handling of dead bodies, but I’d like to address an old trope that has a flaw in it. In another discussion on Writers Unboxed (great site for writers by the way) there was a discussion about  ‘getting rid of a body’ and a bunch of writers wrote about ways to lose a body at a construction site of a new building, ideally in wet concrete or new excavation.

That old trope just doesn’t work anymore.

Being an architect, from New Jersey (insert your Hoffa jokes here folks), I’ve spent significant time on construction sites throughout my career I know a bit about the activities involved with excavation, asphalt, concrete and the work involved to place and move those materials.

If you are going to try to ‘lose’ a body on a construction site the body will almost certainly be found, probably sooner than later.

Large scale concrete placement involves dozens of professionals to excavate, place rebar, inspect, mix, pour, screed, and finish the work. Any organics (like a body) in the actual pour would be a major issue. No one wants their foundation to look like Han Solo is trying to escape (not that it would look like that anyway). Realistically the concrete would crack in an odd pattern and might spall creating a ‘target’ area. Those conditions would likely be tested and probably removed, broken up and re-poured under great attention and expense, placing a spotlight on the found body.

Keep in mind, while concrete is ‘flowable’ it isn’t exactly liquid. The slurry includes aggregate (rocks) of specific sizes. Think of it more as chili than soup. TV and movies always get this wrong.

Parking lots are not as complicated, but excavation is typically shallow so unless your perp plans to dig a significant hole, place new fill, compact it and get the surface composition to match they would probably be unsuccessful. The rollers would create a new depression at the body marking the location.

More realistic options might include:

  • pulling a body into the open end of a newly placed drainage pipe. (those suckers can be 5 feet or more in diameter so there is plenty of room and typically no one inspects them after they are placed and buried.
  • placing a body in a building to be demolished. This is trickier, but if they are collapsing the building it should work.
  • boiler rooms and elevator shafts both have concrete pits that are accessible. These areas are never visited unless there is a problem with the equipment above. A clean tarp would likely buy the perpetrator a few years. Any smells would be exhausted either with the elevator ventilation or boiler gasses.

Overall if you are going to write about ‘losing’ a body somewhere on a construction site please spend a little time visiting or observing an active site to get a sense of the scale and activity involved in demolishing and raising buildings. I know these sites are attractive devices for writers in many genres but the old tropes are less realistic in today’s world.

One note, if you are writing something set before 1980 many of the tests and inspections for asphalt and concrete were not yet required by building codes and were less consistently applied. There would be less technical scrutiny of a bad pour and you might, almost, get away with it. Almost.

Oh and for the record I have had no personal involvement with any of the bodies pulled from any job site that I have every visited in my career or personal life no matter how much they deserved it. Scout’s honor.

Happy writing.

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