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Story pick: "The trunk case"

By Annys Shin

Veteran Washington Post crime writer Paul Duggan had another gem in Monday's paper.

The headline -- "D.C. police try to unravel mystery of man found dead in car trunk" -- while clear as a bell, does not do it justice.

I prefer the name the story was given at the medical examiner's office: The Trunk Case.

I'll let Duggan explain:

It's "the trunk case," as a woman at the medical examiner's office calls it.

As in the oven-warm trunk of a 1993 Pontiac Sunbird, where the body turned up on the sweltering morning of July 22, decomposed beyond recognition. The red convertible, towed from a no-parking zone downtown July 12, had been hauled to one municipal lot and later to another, gathering dust for 10 days (average daily high: 92 degrees) until a city worker caught a foul whiff from the car and dialed the police.

They pried open the trunk . . . and groaned.

It's a great yarn, one that would have grabbed eyeballs even if it had been just a brief buried in the back of the Metro section. Lucky for us, Duggan, a master of taking everyday ugliness and shaping it into hard-boiled, yet big-hearted stories, is at the wheel, guiding us through the sad sack life of William Silbaugh, the man in the trunk.

Silbaugh's tale is a downer from start to finish, the kind that would make a good Johnny Cash song. He was no saint: he served time for molesting four teenaged boys. Duggan has written about plenty of bad characters before and he has a way of humanizing them without making excuses for them. In Silbaugh's case, he handles the material with respect, a touch of humor, and a sense of authority that evoke countless hours spent standing next to police tape, chatting up detectives, and schlepping to every forgotten corner of the D.C. metro area (and West Virginia, if need be) to nail down the smallest detail.

I give you The Trunk Case.

By Annys Shin  | September 28, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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