Archive for the ‘True Crime’ Category
The job is fantastic. Everything you wanted and more. Excitement, fulfillment, serving mankind, and all the action you could ever hope for. However, dreams sometimes come with a price, a cost that is all too often quite steep…
Yes, everything you’d always wanted out of life. The perfect wife (or husband), two beautiful, healthy children, a nice home with a not-so-bad mortgage, a fairly new vehicle—a mini-van for hauling the kids to ballgames, scouting events, and family vacations, and an always-by-your-side dog the kids forced you to rescue from a local shelter. Work is going great, too. You’ve just reached the five-year, unofficial, no-longer-a-rookie status. And along with that milestone came a permanent day-shift assignment.
No more graveyard shifts. More awake time at home with the family. Normal meals and meal times. No more Denny’s Lumberjack Slams with a side of hash browns at 4 a.m., or the not-quite-finished-because-of-the-shooting, three piece, extra-crispy meals with the Colonel. Yes, things were looking good for you.
You feel good. You’re well-rested. You’ve finally watched your favorite TV show at its actual air time, not as a recording after everyone else has seen it and talked about it for days.
You feel so good, actually, that you volunteered for extra-duty. Running a little radar on your off time would be an easy assignment, and the extra money would come in handy during the holidays. Besides, little Sally Sue needs braces and Jimmie Joe had already been dropping hints about attending a Boy Scout summer camp. It would only be a few hours each week. Not so bad.
Your supervisor likes what she sees. You’re a hard-worker. A real go-getter. She writes a letter recommending you for the Emergency Response Team (ERT). You interview and before you know it you’re in. Training is only twice a week, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, your days off. Well, there’s the bi-monthly night training exercises, and the team competitions. You don’t get called out all that often—two, three times a month at the most? The last time you were gone for two days, but that’s not too bad. Well, maybe you could cut back on the radar assignment. But…the money’s nice. After the holidays. Yes, that’s it. You’ll cut back after the holidays.
The hostage situation was a tense one. Took 14 hours before the sniper finally popped one in the guy’s T-box. That piece of crap never had a chance to think about pulling the trigger before his lights went out. At least his victim came out okay. She’d probably be scarred for life, but she’d live. Might spend a few days with a shrink, but she’d be okay, probably.
Man, that sniper is good, huh? Blew that guy’s brains all over the block wall. Sat him down in a hurry, too. Now that’s what a bloodstain pattern is supposed to look like. TV directors should see this stuff.
To celebrate a job well done the team goes to a bar for a few drinks and to unwind. You make it home at 3 a.m., drunk. Your wife and kids are fast asleep. There’s a piece of birthday cake on the counter. The frosting has hardened just a bit. Damn, you forgot your kid’s party.
You can’t sleep. Brains and blood. That’s all you see when you close your eyes.
You know she’s awake and can smell the Jack Daniels.
But brains and blood…that’s what’s on your mind.
You stare at the ceiling, knowing in two hours the clock will ring. Will the Jack odor be gone?
Brains and blood keep you awake.
The buzzer sounds and you’re up, shower, and dress. Skip breakfast.
Breath like a dirty ashtray and stale booze.
A domestic he-said-she-said, a lost kid, and an overnight B&E at a midtown mom and pop grocery store. Your head is pounding. Pearl-size beads of sweat run down your back, following your spine until they dip below your waistband. You’re dreading the overtime radar detail. Two more months. Only two more months and the holidays will be over.
A drug raid at 10 p.m. A good bust, too. Two kilos and some stolen guns. What’s a couple of beers to unwind? Sure, you’ll go.
3 a.m., again.
Pass out on the couch. Late for work. Forty minutes late, actually. A written warning.
A week later you’re late again, but this time the sergeant smells the Jack on your breath. Suspended. Ten days.
Your wife goes shopping with her friends. You watch the kids. She comes home late, really late. The stores closed hours ago.
Back at work. Another shooting. This time you fire a few rounds at the guy. He runs. You chase. Her turns and fires, so you pop off a couple in return. He drops, bleeding on the pavement.
The kid dies. He’d turned thirteen just four days ago.
Suspended pending an investigation.
Your shrink prescribes a couple of meds to help you sleep.
Brains and blood.
Pills help, some.
Jack Daniels, more.
She’s out shopping…again. This time she wears her “going out” makeup and a tight skirt and top.
More Jack Daniels and a pill or two.
She comes home drunk and smells of cheap aftershave.
You’re awake, staring at the ceiling, knowing the clock is set to go off in three hours. She’s snoring gently. You smell the Jack with each tiny exhale. The aftershave burns your nostrils.
Two more pills. No, make it four.
Sitting in the garage at the workbench where you’ve mended countless toys, appliances, and fixed the heels on her favorite shoes, you glance down at the off-duty weapon in your hand.
It would be over in a second.
You open your mouth and place the barrel inside. It tastes like bitter gun oil.
The metal is cool against your tongue, almost comforting.
A lone tear trickles down your cheek.
Brains and blood…
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* In 2008, 2009, and 2012 combined, 410 police officers committed suicide. The average age of officers who committed suicide in 2012 was 42. They’d served an average of 16 years on the job. ~ Badge of Life stats.
You’ve probably heard the old saying “it’s all fun and games until…” fill in the black. Usually the statement is followed by until someone gets hurt, or until someone gets killed.
In my world, nothing could be a more true testament to “it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed,” than writing in the True Crime genre. I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction and without a doubt, the non-fiction is the one that took its tole.
My first published book (Unholy Covenant, Addicus Book, 2000) was in the true crime genre. It was the story of two brothers who conspired to kill the older brother’s devoted wife. I was fortunate that the murder happened in my own community so there was no travel or years long research involved. I knew both families, the victims and the suspects.
Technical research was minimal because at that time, I owned and published a community newspaper who covered the story from the crime through the trial. During the first brother’s trial I sat in the courtroom every day, every hour, through every minute of testimony. I knew shortly into the trial, the story would make a good book.
It had all the elements: murder, money, greed, young beautiful bride, and deep religious overtones. The late Reverend Jerry Falwell even testified, creating a local media feeding frenzy. It was all so sensational! Just what the public craved.
It’s one thing to do research for your fiction, you know—how to murder someone 101—but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re sitting across the kitchen table from the victim’s mother asking her to share her thoughts on her daughter’s cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Some writers can do it and not blink twice. I discovered, after the fact, I wasn’t one of those writers.
The case, and book, garnered national attention. I did radio shows, television and newspaper interviews and even negotiated with a producer who wanted to buy the movie rights. I walked away from the bargaining table when he told me what he had planned—he wanted to make the victim a school teacher and the veteran detective a rookie. These are real people, I kept telling myself. They’re not made up characters.
I did agree to do a couple detective-type shows because they were based on the facts of the case, not characters created by a producer. One was for the Lifetime network and featured interviews and recreations. By this time, the book had been out a few years and the victim’s death had occurred several years prior. Yet, for the victim’s mother and brother—the pain was still there. No matter how many years had passed, each time another network called, the wounds were opened yet again. How could they ever move past the trauma of losing their daughter and sister when we kept pulling them back in?
With all the local and national exposure the case and book received, I had several people contact me with their “story”. Would I look into their brother’s death? Would I look into their son’s suicide? Here’s a story for you—I was told many times. Do you know how hard it is to tell someone who has lost a loved one to crime that sorry, your son/husband/brother/sister’s murder wasn’t sensational enough? Did it involve sex? Money? Greed? Was the victim a good person? Sorry, your loved ones death wasn’t the stuff books and movies are made of.
Although I don’t have plans to ever write another true crime book, I’m using what I learned from that experience in my fiction. Primarily, the varied emotions of the victims of crime or like in Wink of an Eye, the survivors.
In Wink of an Eye, a young boy hires a private investigator to investigate his father’s alleged suicide. The kid doesn’t believe his father would have ever taken his own life and wants to prove he was, in fact, murdered. I drew on those past interviews with the mother of the victim in Unholy Covenant to tap into the raw emotions of losing someone to murder. The longing to see them again, the need to know why, the confusion of not understanding how an investigation works…I used this knowledge to create the drive and tenacity of a twelve year-old boy out to prove his father didn’t kill himself.
I have no regrets about writing Unholy Covenant. It’s a tragic story and because it’s down on paper, Patricia’s story is immortalized. The book is in its third printing which means, fifteen years later, people are still reading Patricia’s story. For that, I’m truly thankful.
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Lynn Chandler Willis is the first woman in ten years to win the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best 1st PI Novel competition with her novel, Wink of an Eye (Minotaur 2014). Her other works, The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013) is an INSPY Award finalist and Grace Award winner for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction, and Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books, 2000) is now in it’s third printing.