NPR logo

Reporter Talks About Frozen Homeless Man

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Reporter Talks About Frozen Homeless Man

Around the Nation

Reporter Talks About Frozen Homeless Man

Reporter Talks About Frozen Homeless Man

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Charlie LeDuff of The Detroit News received a tip about the location of the body of a homeless man lying frozen in an abandoned building. The body lay there for perhaps a month, seen by people but not reported. LeDuff told authorities of the body's location and wrote about the story.


It's not unusual for reporters at the Detroit News to get calls about dead bodies. Murders are all too common in the motor city. But a call to reporter Charlie LeDuff recently had nothing to do with homicides or police reports.

LeDuff received a tip from a man who knew about a dead body in the elevator shaft of an abandoned building. The body was encased in ice, the caller said, except for his legs. They were said to be sticking out like popsicles. Thus began one of the more unusual stories LeDuff has ever covered, a story that was published under the headline, "Frozen-in Indifference: Life Goes On Around Body Found in Vacant Detroit Warehouse." Charlie LeDuff joins me now. Charlie, when did you get that call?

Mr. CHARLIE LEDUFF (Reporter and Columnist, The Detroit News): You know what? It seems like a million years ago, maybe three days, let's say three.

NORRIS: Three days ago?

Mr. LEDUFF: Yeah.

NORRIS: And why did the caller phone you instead of the police?

Mr. LEDUFF: Because he was a friend of the guy that actually found it who was afraid that the police would haul him in, question him, maybe consider him a suspect. He was also trespassing. In Detroit, we have thousands of abandoned buildings. This just happened to be one, very big basement of it, very large warehouse filled with about five feet of water, so they were actually playing hockey down there. So this is one of the hockey players, and he sees this legs and figures he got to do something about it, so I get the call.

NORRIS: And you went to check it out?

Mr. LEDUFF: Went to check it out, yeah, out of curiosity. But I'm also not going to call the police if it's a hoax, so sure enough, there they were.

NORRIS: Do you mind telling us what you saw?

Mr. LEDUFF: It was odd. It was two legs, blue jeans, black sneakers with fresh laces and really odd, clean white socks. Now, it was the shins and the toes were above the one(ph), and the rest of the man was probably encased in a foot or two of ice and then in the water below that.

The feet were on a pillow, really almost peaceful - except what a violent death. He fell down an elevator shaft, or he was pushed or dumped. They don't know they - he's at the medical examiner's office, and they can't conduct an autopsy till he freezes - unfreezes, so...

He was living next to - there was a - I started inquiring about him, a lot of homeless people live in this building, and people knew he was there for a month, nobody called the police.

NORRIS: A month?

Mr. LEDUFF: A month. So, I called the 911 twice, and apparently they sent someone out there, but they couldn't find the guy, and they never got a call back. And then I went back the next day, and he was still there. So I called one more time. And you know, to great risk to themselves, the firemen, firewomen, the police officers who showed up, took chainsaws and guide ropes and ladders and gave the guy a measure of dignity by taking him out of the hell hole.

So I'm trying to figure out who he is. I mean, he's somebody's baby, right?

NORRS: Mm hmm. Yeah, everybody is somebody's son.

Mr. LEDUFF: Yeah, he is.

NORRIS: You know, sometimes a story like this, as painful as it is, it can get people to wake up, pay attention to something, take action. Do you get the sense that that might happen?

Mr. LEDUFF: I hope so. I'm getting a lot of emails which, you know, it struck people, so that's good. Maybe he sparked something. We'll see. I'll stay on it, you know. We'll find out who he is, you know, he'd be more than just a media sensation. Let's get him a nice obituary. He was somebody.

NORRIS: Please stay on it, Charlie.

Mr. LEDUFF: I will.

NORRIS: Thank you. Thanks for taking time for us.

Mr. LEDUFF: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Charlie LeDuff is a reporter for the Detroit News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.