HOUSTON -- Hang out with Brian Foster long enough and you’re bound to hear a story that’ll either shock you or make you laugh.
Then again, you might have both reactions.
“It’s an odd world,” he said with a wide smile. “And I don’t know that I’m better or worse for having seen it.”
Read all about it, if you dare. A retired Houston homicide cop tells the stories of his life in a series of books about his old profession, the life and death business of murder. But in a bizarre twist that many readers will doubtless find offensive, he plays his deadly serious material for laughs.
Foster served 23 years with Houston’s homicide division, a long tenure in the most prestigious job on the city’s police force. His face frequently popped up on local television newscasts, standing outside crime scenes and recounting the details of countless murders.
All those years, through all those homicide scenes, he was taking notes about the bizarre incidents and weird characters he encountered on the hot streets of Houston. And now, he’s spilling his secrets into print.
“I had a great aunt that was a dispatcher in the bad old days in the 50’s and 60’s in Galveston,” he said. “And she told me, ‘Save your strange reports, your statements, your confessions or you’ll forget them.’ And I did. I’d photocopy them and throw them in a file drawer. And then when street animals said weird stuff, I’d write it in a ledger book and throw it back in my overhead.”
In 2006, while he still served on the force, he published his first volume of “Homicidal Humor,” a collection of funny, profane and downright offensive -- but true – anecdotes amassed during his decades of police work. The names were changed “to protect the imbeciles,” he wrote, but the book included everything from verbatim statements given by witless witnesses to a darkly comic suicide note penned by an ex-convict.
Jokes on the cover – “Our day begins when yours ends,” “If your mother told you about things like this, she’s probably on death row” – betray the book’s tone.
“I was taught early in my police career that I was to look for humor wherever I saw it, not to internalize anything I saw,” Foster said. “And so I did. It’s a defense mechanism that’s used by soldiers and paramedics and people working in emergency rooms. They have to look for something enlightening to laugh at.”
His first book was published under a pseudonym: Vonn Auld Kopp. Say it fast and you’ll get the joke.
After he retired, Foster has felt free to write two other books under his own name. But the caustic humor hasn’t change a lick, a point driven home by the third volume’s title: “The Clot Thickens.” Foster, like many retired homicide investigators, still looks back at his decades investigating murders as the highlight of his professional life.
“It was the most interesting side of life, the most human side of life you get to see,” he said. “It was kind of like being a voyeur, peeking into the lives of others.”
Still, anyone who’s toiled in that pinnacle of police work will tell you it can become a stressful lifestyle, a business that can easily take its toll on marriages and families. That’s part of the reason homicide investigators have to maintain a professional detachment from the people involved in their cases, Foster said.
“You have to shut out what you see,” he said. “You can’t internalize what you see. If you do, it’ll eat you alive. That’s not somebody’s child, that’s a piece of evidence.”
Only after his son was born, Foster said, did he begin to react emotionally to cases involving children.
“After I became a parent, anytime I made a dead baby case, I’d go home and watch him in the crib,” he said. “I’d just watch him breathe. But before that, it never affected me at all.”
The dark humor rearing its head around police work, Foster said, is a defense against reacting to the inherently traumatic nature of the job.
“You’ve got to look for humor, you’ve got to try to find a diversion,” he said. “If you don’t, you’ll wind up with blood pressure problems, strokes, crawling up inside a bottle or eating pills.”
Foster has marketed the book himself, mainly at gun shows and other venues where he figures he might find readers who laugh at what’s commonly called “cop humor.” His books have also been sold at Central Police Supply, a store near downtown Houston that specializes in selling equipment to law enforcement officers.
Now Foster’s working on a true crime book, the story behind a Galveston murder case referred to him by one of fellow retired homicide investigators. If that idea doesn’t work, he figures he’ll write more of his grimly comic series of cop stories.
“There was one guy that was laying there dead,” he recalled. “And he had a belt buckle that said, ‘Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out of it alive.’ There’s things like that that, if you don’t write them down, they’re lost forever. And that’s what I’ve done.”