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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2000 / 12 Tishrei 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

'He wouldn't eat his eggs, and we put him to bed' -- COLUMBUS, Ohio | "The initial story we got from the father and the girlfriend was, `We don't know. He wouldn't eat his eggs, and we put him to bed, and in the morning he wouldn't get up. We don't know what could have happened. Gee.'"

The man speaking was James McCoskey, a homicide detective with the Columbus Police Department. McCoskey was the lead investigator in the killing of P.J. Bourgeois, the 3-year-old child whose brutal death we have been reporting on. He was explaining to us what happened when he and fellow officers first interviewed Patrick Bourgeois, the boy's father, and Tracy Lynn Bratton, Bourgeois' girlfriend.

"They said they had no idea how the boy had died," McCoskey said. "Bourgeois told me that when his son wouldn't eat his eggs, he sent him to bed for the night, and that's all he knew."

The child had recently returned from Lewistown, Pa., where he had visited his mother, from whom Bourgeois was estranged, McCoskey said, and Bourgeois had described the 3-year-old as "always being sad and upset" when he was sent back and forth for visits.

Detective McCoskey had been to the emergency room of Children's Hospital in Columbus, where P.J. had been pronounced dead. He had seen the boy's battered body for himself -- and he had seen the deep bite marks on the child, so severe that the impressions of upper and lower teeth were as distinct as if they had been professionally set in paraffin.

So McCoskey said to Bourgeois: "You know, I noticed some bite marks on the boy."

And Bourgeois, according to McCoskey, said: "Oh, I forgot to tell you that. [P.J.] tried to bite my finger, so I bit him back."

McCoskey, who has been a police officer for 28 years, decided not to say anything to Bourgeois about his opinion of an adult who would sink his teeth into a 3-year-old child who weighed 34 pounds. He just kept asking questions, and told Bourgeois that he might want to talk more with him later.

Which he did. As we reported last week, forensic pathologist Patrick M. Fardal of the Franklin County coroner's office determined during the autopsy of the child that P.J. had choked on his own blood -- that he had been beaten, had swallowed the blood and had essentially drowned in it. The boy's wrists and legs appeared to have been bound before he died.

So Detective McCoskey questioned Patrick Bourgeois again. Did Bourgeois know anything about why his son would have been bleeding?

"Bourgeois said that he had forgotten to mention that he and his son had had `a little tiff,'" McCoskey told us. "It seems that dad had backhanded the boy, or so he said." (Dr. Fardal told us that the child's injuries, which included a swollen and bleeding brain, indicated that the boy had been struck more than once.)

McCoskey and fellow investigators went back to the mobile home where Bourgeois, Tracy Lynn Bratton and P.J. had lived.

"Dad and the girlfriend had cleaned the place up," McCoskey told us. "But they had neglected to get down on their knees and clean up low enough. There were blood spatters near the floor -- on the bottom of the refrigerator, and on the bottom of the cabinets. They had thought they wiped up all the boy's blood, but they had missed some."

(Ed Morgan, head of the criminal division of the Franklin County prosecuting attorney's office, told us: "They had bounced that boy all over the kitchen.")

"This wasn't adding up," McCoskey said. "He had admitted that he had `gotten in a tiff' with the boy, and had cleaned up the blood. But why would the boy have drowned on his own blood? Dad had been giving us this cock-and-bull story, and we knew there had to be more to it."

So McCoskey told Bourgeois that the police knew the boy had choked on his blood. Did Bourgeois have any idea how that might have happened?

"Bourgeois said, `After we got in the little tiff, we put the tape on him and put him on his bed,'" McCoskey told us.

"I said, `The tape?'

"And he said they had done it before, to `keep the boy still.' He said he and Tracy Bratton (who would also admit biting the child) would tape P.J.'s ankles together, and tape his wrists behind his back.

"That's how they left him that night -- lying on his back, bleeding, taped so tightly that he could not move his legs or arms. The boy is left alone tied up and swallowing all this blood from where he was beaten, and he can't move at all, and he chokes to death on the blood."

Bourgeois and Bratton without question knew they were responsible for killing the child, McCoskey said; they tried to clean up the blood before emergency workers arrived, and removed the tape from the child and threw it away, to hide the evidence.

"We went back to the house and went through the trash and there it was," McCoskey said. "The tape from the boy's wrists and legs."

The police knew they had their case. The father and, separately, the girlfriend had told them exactly what they had done to the child that caused the boy's death.

The police investigators turned their findings over to the Franklin County prosecutor's office.

Which is where two key decisions were made that eventually would lead the case to where it is today -- with both killers free and out on the streets. We will report on that tomorrow.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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©1999, Tribune Media Services