It was 6 o'clock in the morning, the temperature still at a bone chilling 10 degrees, when Vaslli (Bessy) Pappas turned her Chevy Impala into the Hayes Street parking lot in Northeast Washington. There, in the glare of her headlights, lay a crumpled heap.
"My mother, who always rides with me in the morning, thought it was a pile of trash, but I said, oh no, no, it can't be," Pappas recalled.
It was the body of John Frank Long, 54, one of the three men who died in the District during the night of Jan. 11, one of the coldest nights of this year.
Long thus became another cold weather statistic, logged among the thousands of other statistics that give Washington its identity as a city. To the people who knew him as he moved in and out of their lives - his neighbors, his friends, his wife - he was much more. Even to Pappas, who had never met him, he was more.
"We didn't get close, (in the car,) but the impression I got from far away with my headlights on him was that he just laid down to rest," said Pappas, proprietor of Olympia Bakery, 5201 Hayes St. NE, where Long was found.
To his neighbors, Long was the well-dressed courteous gentleman who "drank a bit." To a gas station owner, he was often a nuisance when drinking, but seldom obnoxious even while shouting nonsense phrases in the middle of Eastern Avenue to whoever would listen.
He was a teaser of children in the neighborhood, a singer of songs, a World War II veteran who at times appeared to have delusions about still being in the Army. He was at one time a loving husband and companion who held numerous and varied odd jobs.
But he did have trouble holding on to those jobs, said his wife Julia, from whom he separated permanently in 1968. Mrs. Long recalled how her husband suffered from bad dreams after he returned from military service and began to drink.
"With the problems that we had, it was impossible for us to stay together," Mrs. Long said last week. "That hurt me, I wanted to help him . . . When he was not drinking you would think he was the most educated person in the world, but then the drinking took over."
News of Long's death circulated rapidly in the Deanwood community, a triangular shaped area bordered roughly by I-295 on its western side, Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE to the south and the District line to the east.
To his drinking buddies, "on the corner," of Sheriff road and Eastern avenue NE, Long was generous with his $295 monthly VA disability checks and one of the best friends they said the ever had.
Even those who didn't know him, knew of the well-dressed man who wore the gray fedora that he tipped to ladies as he passed, the long black wool coat with a split up the black and highly polished pointed toe shoes.
"He was a nice quiet fellow, kept to himself, very clean and I remember that he said 'solid, solid,' after everything he said," said the owner of the Sheriff Liquor store at 626 Division Ave.
"'Solid, solid," was Johnny's way of saying 'hi,' that he was feeling good to be alive," said "Nudy," born Eugene Williams, although many of his drinking friends don't know that. In the brotherhood that meets daily "on the corner," nicknames become more important than real names.
"Topcat," "Nudy," "E-D-Buck," "Breed" and "Grip" are among the 16 or so men who gather at Jock's liquor store on the corner of Sheriff Road and Eastern Avenue, NE.
Theirs is a life style of "hanging out," and "checking in," a means of communicating, socializing amid a vast brotherhood that in itself, contains a clearly defined infrastructure.
"We know who to hang with and who not to," said Tom, a resident of Deanwood for 43 years who asked not to be further identified. "We're of all ages, the majority of us stick together, but we don't fool around with the gamblers or the pickpockets - Johnny didn't either. That's one way to get hurt. When they start shooting dice, I move on," he said.
"The corner is so full of guys in teh summer that you can't park your car in the parking lot of Jock's," said "Nudy," a 34-year old Vietnam war veteran who said he has lived in Deanwood all his life. When its cold, "Nudy" said, they meet in cars, in nearby homes or inside the store itself if the owners allow it.
"It's just like a family - everybody gets together to have a drink. Johnny was a part of that group. When the guys leave their homes to come to the corner, they stand and wait until someone they know comes by. If we don't see one another, we get worried and we start wondering where people are," "Nudy" said.
Tears welled up in "Nudy's" eyes as had been drinking with Long that he began to remember the last time he saw Long alive."Nudy" said he cold night, but during part of it, "Nudy" said he passed out - that part remains a mystery.
Long's 55-year old brother James (Buddy) Long, also called "Key-man" by the brotherhood, fumbled through the time-worn, ragged pages of a photo album, its pictures yellowed, before finding his only picture of his brother. That picture, its left side missing, was only a fragment of the total picture.
And like that picture, fragmented accounts are all that remain of Long's last night.
"I know it was dark, and he told me that he was going out for a drink and that he would be back in 20 minutes, but I didn't expect him to do that," said Long, who often joined his brother on the corner.
"I saw him to the door and he went down the steps. When the police came the next morning, I was surprised that it (was about) Johnny."
Neighbors said Long always took the short-cut down the hill from where they live in the 500 block of 50th Place NE. If so, Long would have walked the 35 yards to a poorly lit staircase where 46 concrete steps descend to 51st St. NE and shortly thereafter, to Division Avenue.
Long's friends said it is likely that he would have walked down Division Avenue to Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue. From there, he could have taken any number of short-cuts through parking lots, vacant lots, crossing the Penn Central railroad tracks, yards and eventually reaching Jock's Liquor store.
"Nudy," "TopCat" and James do remember seeing Long about 9:30 p.m. at Jock's, where he bought a 2.65 pint of James E. Pepper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
From there, "Nudy" said, Long joined him a couple of friends at a party in an apartment about a half block away.
"We drank, joked around. Johnny would talk mostly about the army and how he hated it, and he worried about his invalid mother, his health, and his brother 'Key-Man,'" Nudy said.
"Nudy" said that at about 12:30 a.m., Long said he had to leave despite pleading from his friends to stay with them through the night.
"Johnny had to go get a nightcap," Nudy said. "He said he wanted to visit his girl friend Cleo before he went home. Cleo lives not too far from here."
According to Long's friends who talked to Cleo recently, Long visited her sometime after he left the party, but she told them that she didn't let him in because he was very drunk and rowdy. Cleo may have been the last one to see him alive. She could not be reached for comment.
(Bessy) Pappas of Olympia Bakery said Cleo came by recently to see where Long died.
"His lady friend had to be in her 50s, clean, and neat, a simpatico woman, very quiet and grief stricken," Pappas said. "She said he had come to see where Johnny had died. She caught hell from everybody because she didn't let him in that night."
As they sat around an old gas heater in a dilapidated shack recently, several of Long's friends drank and reminisced.
"Why did Johnny drink? He had problems, just like the rest of us," "Nudy" said. "He worried a lot. And he would talk about how he hated the Army.
"Why do I drink?" "Nudy" posed, after taking a swig of Richard's Wild Irish Rose wine and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Did you ever see anybody get blown up, man? I'll just leave it at that," he told a reporter.
"It's your conscience - what you've gone through and your experiences that make you drink," said Tom. "Everybody is not the same, some of us are weaker than others."
E-D-Buck" said, "Johnny used to sing a song - 'Life ain't but a dream, there's no tomorrow, you just have to wake up and see that there's no tomorrow, sha-bop, sha-bop, sha-boom."
It is not clear why Long disliked serving in the Army. "Ollie" remembers that he told him never to go into the service because "don't nobody got no uncle named Sam."
It is clear that Long had a nervous condition while in the Army - maybe even before he entered service - that rendered him eligible for disability compensation when he separated. He was also receiving disability compensation for a detached retina in his right eye.
The Veterans Administration confirmed that Long was being treated and received compensation for his nervous condition and eye illness. The VA also confirmed that he enlisted August 7, 1943, and was discharged, honorably, but for "the convenience of the government," May 22, 1944, less than a year after he enlisted.
Why Long suffered from bad dreams, nervous anxiety and alcoholism, is a missing piece of the puzzle of his life.
The youngest surviving child of seven - only five lived to adulthood - he was born in Parmele, N.C., a small rural town about 20 miles southeast of Rocky Mount.
His brother "Buddy" said the family moved to the District and Long attended Francis Jr. High School at 24th and 6 Streets NW. But he dropped out and found a series of odd jobs before he enlisted in the Army.
Julia Long from whom he had been separated on and off for years after their marriage in 1945 remembers him before the war, when they first met at a dance in the basement of the Lincoln Theater at 13th and U Streets NW.
"The way he carried himself at the time, he just took my attention. He had a nice smile and dimples. He seemed kind of dignified. Oh, we danced, and danced, and he started talking. When he started talking, he would capture your attention - you would just wait for more," she said.
During the period that Long joined the service, Mrs. Long said "we were going together. We got married when he came back."
But Long changed somehow, when he came back, she remembers. He began having bad dreams the first year of their marriage, and started drinking more and more.
"He would be dreaming, he would get up and go into the parlor, get a rifle and say 'get back, get back.' It seemed like real life to him - like he was shooting the enemy," she said.
"I didn't like to listen to his war stories. I don't even know if he told the VA he had bad dreams or not," Mrs. Long said.
"He was quiet, kept to himself mostly until he got drunk. In the beginning, he had some kind of security job with the government. That lasted a few years. Then he got a job with a grocery store on Columbia Road NW. Shortly after that, he was self-employed doing odd jobs. He didn't do anything long . . . I don't know how to explain it. He just had a hard time holding on to jobs," she said.
"We had a little boy who died a day after he was born, and when Johnny told me that the baby had passed, that was the first time I ever saw him cry," Mrs. Long said.
Excessive drinking was indirectly responsible for the deaths of two of the three men who died within 15 hours of each other in the city during a period in which temperatures plunged to their lowest point this winter. Gusting winds drove the chill factor below zero during much of that time.
Dr. Brian Blackourne, the city's deputy chief medical examiner, said the largest number of persons who died of exposure are those who have drunk significant amounts of alcohol. Blackbourne said both Long and Samuel Johnson had drunk heavily prior to their deaths, according to laboratory tests.
Johnson, 48, 5 feet 8 inches tall, wieghing about 144 pounds, was found on the ground beside an automobile that apparently had become his home, 5 police said.
The third man to die from exposure, Emerit Miles, 54, 6 feet one inch tall, weighing about 178 pounds, had no known address, police said. According to the D.C. medical examiner's reports, Miles was found dead in a vacant house at 1450 V St. NW.
Little is known about Johnson and Miles. More than a week after their deaths, they lie in large stainless steel trays in the city's morgue despite an intensive search by police to find their next of kin.
Long was buried after a quiet ceremony last week at Harmony Memorial Park in Landover. But so far, no one has come forward to claim - and to bury - the bodies of Johnson and Miles.