Tina is convinced this building is haunted.
My dental hygienist leans close and whispers, “There’s a morgue downstairs, you know. It’s eerie.” The former caretaker told her they did autopsies down there. The building’s been around since 1931, when it was and for years its mostly empty hallways and retro color scheme definitely gave it a vibe from “The Shining.” One client told them she couldn’t come in any more because the building gave her the creeps so bad.
(That’s a view from the front lobby down the main hallway above, although on today’s visit I noticed they’ve updated the carpeting to be Tasteful Greiges.)
From two bays away, the doctor’s weary voice echoes: “Stop telling people our office is haunted, Tina.”
It turns out that the Lois Grunow Memorial Clinic is associated with death, in a way: Back when it first opened in 1931 as the Grunow Medical Clinic, one of its offices was the workplace of Winnie Ruth Judd, who was convicted of Phoenix’s “Trunk Murders.”
It’s also where Judd first met Agnes Anne LeRoi, one of the two shooting victims. LeRoi’s body was stuffed into a large trunk, while the other woman’s body was dismembered and the parts were stuffed amid three different cases. Judd boarded a train with the luggage and made it all the way to California before she was stopped at the train station because the trunks smelled awful and were leaking. It’s a fascinating true-crime story that involves an insanity defense, an eventual conviction, multiple escapes from the state mental facility (and an eventual parole, followed by an absolute discharge).
In the here and now, though, I’m reclined in the chair while Tina polishes my teeth. I had thought she meant there was a full-on morgue in the basement, which a clinical building wouldn’t have … would it?
“You don’t believe me, do you?” she says, standing up. “Well, we’re done here—and we’re going down to the basement right now.” I am so game that I am walking away with my bib still on; in less than a minute, she has the keys in her hand and we’re striding down the hallways and rounding corners. “The caretaker worked here for 50 years,” she says, “and he told me lots of stories of the way things used to be.”
We stop at a door and she rattles through the keys to find the one that opens the deadbolt; once successful, I’m carefully wending down a flight of historic-sized (aka: tiny) concrete stairs to the room where they store old hard copies of patient records. It’s smaller than I expected, and sectioned up with chain-link fences in a way that reminds me of areas in apartment complexes where residents can lock up their bicycles or other storage items in areas like giant kennels. We’re not headed to any of those spots, though.
“Look over here,” Tina says, behind me, and she pulls aside a heavy metal plate that conceals giant pipe drains that aren’t connected to anything above but empty … somewhere below us.
“This is where they’d do autopsies,” Tina declares. She gestures to other pipes jutting out of the wall, which in the middle of this concrete bunker-looking basement do look a bit nefarious, like something you’d hook up to if you were washing innards off the floor. (In my head, it went from “autopsy” to “butchering” pretty fast.) I try to imagine someone maneuvering a body down those steep and precarious stairs on a stretcher, though, which would be an unwieldy job at best and impossible at worst. I don’t think it was ever a morgue.
No matter what, it’s definitely not a spot to hang out for an afternoon—or, for Tina or the other dental staff members, even for a few minutes to get records. Most of them get creeped out down there, in fact—but I see that it’s in an excited way that, say, inspires them to show it to dubious patients rather than avoiding it at all costs. “One day, when they were down there, I crept up and slammed the door on them,” my dentist tells me today in his usual supermellow-bordering-on-deadpan delivery. “They didn’t think it was funny.”
I did—but then again, I was upstairs when he told me that.
(Oh, and my 45-year streak of having no cavities remains intact.)
Note: If you’re in Phoenix and need a dentist, I can’t recommend the Dental Art team enough. Give me a shout and I’ll wax rhapsodically for paragraphs. (He had me long before I realized that he opens his offices early in the morning to work on special needs patients like kids with developmental disabilities and autism.)
|WHAT SAM WORE: 5/13/15|
|The shirt: Polo by Michael Bastian for Uniqlo, from the store in New York.|
|The pants: Skinny fit tapered jeans from Uniqlo, New York.|
|The shoes: Boots by Steve Madden, from Nordstrom Rack.|