Benjamin Sobieck

One of my favorite things about The Graveyard Shift is the way Lee Lofland pulls lessons out of current events. While I don’t have the law enforcement experience he can offer, I’d like to contribute to that tradition in my own way. Let’s talk about switchblades (aka automatic) and assisted opening knives.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, a man named Freddie Gray died after his arrest by Baltimore police this past April. There’s plenty to discuss about the context of his arrest and death, but I want to focus on the reason police cited for making the arrest. Gray apparently had a switchblade clipped into his pocket. Concealed carry of switchblades is illegal under Maryland law, and prohibited by Baltimore city code. However, it appears Gray may have actually carried an assisted opening knife, which is legal. The jury (figuratively) is still out on that.

What’s the difference? Why would these two knife types – one illegal, one legal – be confused?

If you’re familiar with switchblades from pop culture, you already know that they open with an iconic “pop.” What you might not know is what makes a knife a switchblade. By federal law, and most state laws, there are two distinct features:

– The folding blade is biased to open from its closed position inside the handle.
– A button or switch on the handle of the knife must be pressed for the blade to open. That’s different from the distinctions of an assisted opening knife:
– The folding blade is biased to stay shut from its closed position inside the handle.
– The blade is deployed by manipulating a part of the blade itself (a tab, a thumb stud, etc.), not a button or switch on the handle. The blade gets about halfway open before an assisting mechanism, such as a spring or torsion bar inside the knife, takes the blade the rest of the way.

This doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but the legal impact is significant. Switchblades are restricted across much of the U.S., although there are exceptions. Assisted opening knives are legal and popular almost everywhere.

To the eye, however, both types of knives look identical. They both open in flash with that iconic “pop.” As with much of firearms and knives, looks are deceiving. Function, not form, is what matters.

Adding to the confusion is the recency of assisted openers. They’ve been around only since the mid-1990s, but it took until 2009 for an amendment to the 1958 Federal Switchblade Act to specifically exempt assisted openers. Many states followed suit. That doesn’t change the fact most people can’t tell the difference, including law enforcement officers needing to make a quick decision.

For writing fiction, I think inserting “assisted opening knife” instead of a switchblade in a story makes you look pretty sharp. The switchblade is a tired trope. It isn’t 1958 anymore. With an assisted opening knife, a character gets all of the benefits of a classic switchblade with few of the legal restrictions.

If you’re new to knives and want to learn more about them in the real world, start with basic folders and reference the laws in your area. You might even check out the commemorative folding knife celebrating my new Writer’s Digest book that I’m giving away on my website, CrimeFictionBook.com, but that’s up to you.

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Benjamin Sobieck is the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books, summer 2015) and several crime fiction works. His website is CrimeFictionBook.com.

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Lynn Chandler Willis

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.

I was a street kid from Chicago Illinois and had a great deal of respect for our neighborhood cop, Joe Sheldon. Little did I know that being an actor from Chicago would lead me into a life of police work. Here’s how it all started.

I had just finished college and went to California to begin my career as an actor. I played a GI on a segment of TWILIGHT ZONE. It was the time of Brando, Clift and Dean and the studio method. I must have been a damned good GI as I got drafted a week later. After 8 weeks of basic training, we were all being assigned what our new school would be. Here come’s the part about Chicago. What else would you make an actor/ entertainer? An MP…Yep Military Police. When I asked “WHY” I was told “Because you are from Chicago and you are either a good guy or a bad guy and either way we want you on our side” So after 8 weeks of police training I was assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison Indiana and made up my mind to be the best MP the army had ever seen. While there I was the Post Soldier of the month and entered the All Army Talent try outs…Long story shortened…I was ,and I believe am still, The only MP to ever be a part of the ALL ARMY WORLD TOURING SHOW.

After getting Married and doing a lot of theatre in Chicago. Hollywood sent for me and I have been here ever since….Here is a list of the shows I have done where my Police training paid off…

8 Seasons as Sheriff Mort Metzger on Murder, She Wrote, The Law and Harry McGraw. The Stoneman, Cops n Roberts, Jessica Novack, Laserblast, Into the Glitter Palace, Barney Miller, McMillian and Wife, Good Times, Heat of Anger, Second Hundred Years, Bewitched, 10 different episodes of Police Story and I even played a singing dancing cop in a Nestles Crunch commercial with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. We shot that in downtown Los Angeles with 2 real cops on the set but the citizens would come up to me and ask directions.

Murder, She Wrote though is the role I will be identified with forever I guess for a day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t yell out “Hey Sheriff, How’s Jessica?” and you know what? I love it.

I couldn’t wait to go to work with that great lady. Angela is the Rolls Royce of our business, and the last 2 seasons I got to write 2 story ideas that were bought. I was proud of that for I always felt we had the very best writers in the business and the most loyal following…including a couple of administrations in the White House, Now for those who care…Here is how I got the role. I had worked for Peter Fischer before, but the first time I went on location with him was when I played a detective on The Law and Harry McGraw.

We were in Massachusetts at a closed resort. A small staff was trying to feed breakfast to a film crew so I pitched in serving coffee, telling jokes and having a ball. A couple of months after we returned, Creator Peter Fisher called me and this is what he said on the phone ” Ron? Peter Fischer…Tom Bosley is leaving the show to do a new series and I am creating a new sheriff. The role is yours if you want it but I have to know in the next 24 hours as I am leaving for Europe, so I have to know your answer before I leave.” I responded “OK” He said “Then you will call and let me know?”…….I responded “I JUST DID”…..And as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Dr. Denene Lofland

Microscopic Murder

What’s so interesting about microbiology? Microorganisms were here before man walked the Earth, and they’ll be here after we’re gone. Actually, you would find it difficult to survive without them. Some bacteria, called commensals, live in and on our bodies to our benefit, protecting  us from invading pathogens (disease causing germs), and they produce vitamins.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the bad bugs. They’re responsible for more deaths than cancer, heart attacks, and war. They can disfigure, eat flesh, paralyze, or just make you feel so bad you wish you were dead.

There are four major types of microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They can cause damage directly, or they can release toxins that do the dirty work for them.

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HIV virus

E.coli bacteria

Aspergillus (fungi)

Loa loa (parasite) in eye

So, how can your villains use microorganisms to kill? First they’ll need a fundamental knowledge of microbiology, such as information that’s taught in a basic college course. Next, the bad guy will need a source of bacteria. Microbiology labs all over the world contain bugs of all types.

Biological safety hood for the safe handling of bacteria

Most of these laboratories are locked, so a little B & E would be in order. Or, maybe your villain has a connection with a person who has control of the bug of interest. If so, the evil-doer could make what’s known in the trade as a V.I.P. trip. He’d fly to the friend’s lab, place the bug in a plastic vial, hide the vial in his pocket (V.I.P.), and get back on the plane for the trip home.

Once the potential killer has the bug, he has to keep it alive and reproducing. Bacteria are grown on agar plates (food for bugs) in an incubator. In general, bacteria double in number every 20 minutes. So, if you start with just a few bugs, let’s say 10, and allow them to grow overnight…well, you do the math. Once the bad guy has enough of the bug, then it’s time to deliver it to the intended victim.

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Picking up bacteria from agar plate. The brownish-red material is the agar. The grayish coloring at the top of the agar is E.coli bacteria.

Now for a true story. It wasn’t murder, just an unfortunate accident that involved a woman, some green beans, and a home canning jar. Canning jars have lids designed to exhibit a slight indentation in their centers when food is fresh. If the indentation inverts (pops up), the vegetables may be contaminated, and should be discarded.

A woman was preparing dinner for her family and decided to serve some of her home-canned green beans that evening. She picked up a jar of beans, but thought the pop-up didn’t look quite right. So, to satisfy her curiosity, she opened the jar, touched her finger to the bean juice, and tasted it. It tasted fine to her, so she cooked the beans and served the steaming hot dish to her family. The next day the woman died, but her family survived. The beans contained botulism toxin produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum lives naturally in the soil.

Botulism toxin is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known to man. About 10 ounces could kill everyone on Earth. It works by paralyzing its victim. Why didn’t the other members of the family die? The toxin is inactivated by heat.

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Dr. Denene Lofland received her PhD degree in pathology from the Medical College of Virginia, and she’s a trained clinical microbiologist. She has served as the Director of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at Wright State University, and has worked in biotech/drug research and development for many years.

Denene worked on drug development programs for the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).  She and her team developed and received FDA approvals of the drugs gemifloxacin (Factive), an antibiotic for the treatment of bacterial pneumonia, and Cayston, an inhaled antibiotic for cystic fibrosis. Both medications have been prescribed by physicians worldwide. She recently served as Manager of Operations for a company that specializes in high-level anti-bioterrorism research and development.

She also supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance.

Denene has published numerous articles in scientific and other peer-reviewed journals, and she recently contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology. She currently serves as a professor at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Touro University.

Jeannette Bauroth

Finn found a pale blue T-shirt at the back of the closet that had a corny slogan only a math teacher would find funny. It had a beer can and the limit definition of the derivative on the front of it. On the back it said Never Drink and Derive.

Pretty clever, right? At least for a math pun. What do you think, how well will this translate into other languages? Not too well into German, considering that the German words for drive and derive are “fahren” and “ableiten”. There goes the pun.

I’m a translator, and I translate books from English into German. That excerpt comes straight from my desk (from Amy Harmon’s “Infinity + One”). Puns like this are part of the reason why translating is more than just looking up words in a dictionary and stringing them together. Translating a book into a foreign language requires careful adaption to make sure that the (in my case) German version creates the same effect on the reader as the English original did. Everything that could take the reader out of the story because he or she has no idea what is meant has to be localized, with the utmost respect to author and story.

In order to do my job properly, I have to become invisible. Have you ever read a book that was not originally written in the language you are reading it in and thought: “Man, that translator did a great job”? Whenever the translator is mentioned in a review, it’s usually because he or she did a poor job. So when reviewers write that the author’s style is fantastic, that the book was so much fun and very easy to read, that the puns were clever and the mystery suspenseful, I feel that I’ve done both the book and the author justice.

When I started learning English at the age of fourteen, my teacher gave me some great advice: “Always assume that the sentence made sense before you tried to translate it.” That’s a pretty good guideline for a professional translator. It’s crucial to fully understand the original book. If I know that something is supposed to be funny but I don’t get the joke, I must have missed something. The same applies to any references I don’t get. This is where translation becomes more than just looking up words, it’s about being pretty knowledgeable about foreign traditions and cultural references.

If the text talks about cream tea, it helps to know that this doesn’t refer to a tea with cream but to a traditional English meal where the tea is actually served with milk, but the scones come with clotted cream. If a character claims that she seems to have moved to Mayberry, it helps to know about the Andy Griffith Show. But what do you do if that show never aired in Germany, and your German readers will have no idea what the lady is referring to? You get creative. After spending weeks trying to come up with TV characters that would create the same image with the German reader as Barney Fife and Andy Taylor, I took a completely different approach by referring to two different tools, a sharp one and a not so sharp one. Mayberry became the toolbox. Footnote averted.

However, I try very carefully to keep the original setting very much alive in the story. If a private eye lives in Los Angeles, I will not move him to Cologne to make it easier for the German readers to relate to him and his surroundings. But if he talks a lot about taking Advil, I might change that to Ibuprofen, though, because Advil is not available in Germany and is therefore unknown to the German readers. By changing the brand name to the agent, it becomes immediately clear that we are talking about a painkiller (my pharmacist loves these consultation visits, by the way).

The German language works differently from the English language, and we even have different gestures. Putting somebody’s head between their knees will not immediately tell the reader that this person must have felt sick – it just seems like a strange thing to do. So you either explain it in a throwaway line, making sure it doesn’t take the reader out of the story, or you find a gesture that is familiar to Germans and conveys the same meaning. However, you need to make sure that you are not doing all the thinking and interpreting for the reader — show, don’t tell.

And there is the dreaded issue of “Sie” and “du”. The German language differentiates the English “you” into a formal “Sie” for people who have either just met or have a business rather than a personal relationship, and the “du” between friends and family. When translating a book you have to make a lot of decisions – how do the characters address each other to make it sound organic, and at what point do the protagonists switch from “Sie” to “du” (assuming they met for the first time during the course of the story)? I once had to re-write an entire scene after finishing the book because it only turned out in the end that the hero and the cop who arrested him at the beginning were brothers. During the arrest, they had a conversation in front of witnesses. I couldn’t use the “Sie” because family members wouldn’t address each other that formally, but didn’t want to use “du” either to keep the element of surprise until the end as the author intended. So I had to carefully craft a conversation that avoided all addressing but without sounding unnatural as not to alert the reader that something must be up with those two.

And this is exactly why I love my job. I love the challenge, and that I get to bring new stories to the German readers.

I once read that submitting for a book for translation is like sending a child to live abroad. But with your translator, there is family abroad who will take care of your child and love it as if it was their own.

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Jeannette Bauroth is a professional English-German translator with a 10-year career and a love of books—especially humorous and romantic mysteries. She enjoys working with authors and specializes in indie publications. Together with her friend Corinna Wieja she founded “Indie Translations” (www.indie-translations.com) to help indie authors bring their stories to the German readers.

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Jeannette investigating a murder at the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.

Lisa Black

I write fiction, with some (very) moderate degree of success, but my true ambition in life is to be the next Ann Rule. It is, however, very difficult to find exactly the right story. First of all the story has to be over, the killer caught (asking a reader to invest hours in a book when they’re still not going to know who did it at the end is a tough sell, to say the least) and convicted ( no nasty slander lawsuits against the author, please!). There has to enough story to sustain an entire book—if your neighbor kills his wife because he’s jealous of her affair with the mailman and is instantly caught, that will be a tragic, but short and sadly not unusual tale. If he plots for months, tries to hire three hit men in a row, and winds up training his retriever to pull the trigger with his paw, and/or the mailman is the long-lost son of European royalty, then you might have something. On my end, there has to be an investigation that I can get access to. I would need to find cooperative family members, cops, attorneys, anyone who actually participated in at least some part of the story. I need this to take place in a physically accessible location, so I can spend enough time there to cultivate them. Trying to cover a story in another state can eat up any tiny travel budget I may have, and I—naïve child—am writing a book to make money, not take out a second mortgage. On top of all that, it can’t be something that already has a pack of writers panting after it, like OJ or Casey Anthony or Scott Peterson.

For a while I thought I had one. A very unique story (good) of a bona fide serial killer (and we know how America loves those) and eminently accessible, as it took place only two hours from my home and my supervisor had been one of the investigating parties (score!).

Edwin Bernard Kaprat III (known as “Mike”, as it is significantly cooler than “Edwin”) spent the summer of 1993 terrorizing a small town called Spring Hill, Florida, just north of Tampa. He raped and murdered four women before setting their homes on fire in an attempt to hide the evidence. The victims’ ages ranged from 70 to 87 years of age. He had escaped conviction for killing a man two years earlier, sentenced only to house arrest for using the victim’s credit cards.

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Edwin “Mike” Bernard Kaprat III

He started off at the beginning of August—not a pleasant time to be working crime scenes in Florida—with back to back killings of Sophia Garrity, 80, and Ruth Goldsmith, 70. Garrity’s was thought suspicious because a window was broken and a jewelry box disturbed, but no accelerants were found and the body had been too badly burnt to determine any physical injuries. Goldsmith’s mobile home showed no signs of foul play. It seemed coincidental to have two elderly women killed by arson so close together, but without any compelling reason to think otherwise their deaths were attributed to accidental electrical fires. Kaprat had used rubbing alcohol from the victims’ own bathrooms—alcohol does not have any petroleum and so is undetectable by machines and dogs. He’d leave a trail from the bed’s comforter to the front door, leaving the bathroom door open to get just enough oxygen to the fire to keep it going. It became a distinctive but not foolproof M.O.

On August 17 he attacked Alice and William Whitney, both in their 80s, but they were saved when a neighbor heard their smoke alarm. What seemed like an aggravated assault became more suspicious when cops noticed burn marks on the curtains. The victims lived only 4 houses away from my supervisor. They would stroll past his home twice every day to dine at a local restaurant, but never together—Alice would walk 50 feet ahead of her husband. Neighbors also never saw William outside, only Alice, so perhaps the attacker thought that Alice lived alone.

But when Ruth Goldsmith’s best friend Lydia Ridell was killed on September 2 and the police turned the victim over to see her hands bound by duct tape police, they knew beyond a doubt that they had a serial killer on their hands. The autopsy took 12 hours, several of them spent trying to freeze off the duct tape to check it for prints.

When the media did ‘man in the street’ interviews, Kaprat’s sister wound up on the newscast describing her fright at the awful murders, and how unsafe she now felt. She had no idea that the man responsible currently flopped on her couch.

But the last and oldest of these elderly victims gave Kaprat the toughest fight. At age 18 Lorraine Dawe had been among the first women allowed to compete at the Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France (skating against an 11-year-old Sonja Henie). Still strong even in her old age, she struggled valiantly. Kaprat did escape but this time when he closed one door the suction caused another to swing shut, largely extinguishing the fire and leaving investigators with enough evidence to convict. They found a fingerprint left in the soot and at almost the same time, an anonymous tip told police that Edwin Kaprat III had done handyman work at all the victims’ homes alongside his father, Edwin II.

The entire Hernando County sheriff’s office mobilized to focus on Kaprat. He was a paranoid and erratic driver under any circumstances and even with all eyes on him they lost his trail…twice. They put a tracker—which at the time was the size of a small brick and had to be followed via helicopter—on his car. Unfortunately during the hour or two in which the helicopter had to land and refuel, Kaprat drove to a dealership and traded the car in. After wondering why he hadn’t moved in twelve hours, cops manned nearly every major road entering or leaving the county. My supervisor was permitted to go home but told not to change out of his uniform until the killer had been apprehended. Fortunately, that did not take too long.

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This story fulfilled all my requirements for a great true crime book, bizarre crime, a conviction, personal access and proximity, and yet I never wrote it. I had pitched the idea to my agent, supplemented by facts and videos, and she floated the concept with publishers of her acquaintance. They were not interested. Publishers need their victims and/or suspects (preferably both) to be young, sexy, or rich (preferably all three). Those are the details that sell books. My agent, a middle-aged woman herself, felt as horrified as I did, but business is business and no publisher would take on a project they didn’t think they could sell at a profit.

At least the victims got justice in another way–Edwin Kaprat was condemned to death but never made it that far. After only a few months in jail, he was fatally stabbed by a fellow inmate.

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Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.

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Close to the Bone hits forensic scientist Theresa MacLean where it hurts, bringing death and destruction to the one place where she should feel the most safe—the medical examiner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has worked for the past fifteen years of her life. Theresa returns in the wee hours after working a routine crime scene, only to find the body of one of her deskmen slowly cooling with the word “Confess” written in his blood. His partner is missing and presumed guilty, but Theresa isn’t so sure. The body count begins to rise but for once these victims aren’t strangers—they are Theresa’s friends and colleagues, and everyone in the building, herself included, has a place on the hit list.

To learn more about Lisa and her work, please visit her at www.lisablack.com

 

Rick McMahan: Close to Home

As anyone who has attended a Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) can attest to there’s so much to do and take in that is a sensory overload.  The days start early and end late at night, much later if you linger at the bar, and by the time Lee announces the end on Sunday morning, most everyone is mentally overloaded and physically exhausted.  But it’s a blast.  Every year when it’s over, I have had a great time and have a wealth of new memories. So as time grows closer for WPA, I find myself reflecting on previous years’ events and wondering how the upcoming Writers’ Police Academy will compare.

Since I have been lucky enough to be part of every WPA to date, I thought I’d come up with my own Top10  Memories of Lee Lofland’s Writers’ Police Academy (in no ranking order).

10.  Lee’s Vision.

I first met Lee way before WPA was around…you could say the idea was a mere twinkle in his eye. Lee and I had crossed paths at conferences before, but the first time he mentioned his idea for what became Writers’ Police Academy was when we both were speaking at Forensics University sponsored by Sisters in Crime in St. Louis.  We got to the hotel early and bumped into each other at the check-in desk. Lee invited me to lunch and we talked well after our meal was done. We had talked about all kinds of things, and then Lee asked me, “You know what I think would make a great conference? Something that’s not been done, and I’d like to do?”

I told him no.

“I want to organize a writers’ conference just about law enforcement and first responders for writers.  I want this conference to be more than presentations.  I want the attendees to get a real hands-on learning experience like at a real police academy.”

I told Lee I thought it was a great idea. What I didn’t tell him were my doubts that it would work because–a) I didn’t think any police academy administrator would agree to let civilian outsiders into their facility and b) it sounded like a heck of a lot of moving parts and a lot of work to make it all come together. So when he asked if I’d be interested, I told him I would, but I really didn’t think it would happen. Yet as I’m typing this, he’s about to launch the fifth WPA.  Lee’s vision surely has surpassed what I had thought when he first told me about his idea for a “unique conference.”  Lee calls WPA a Disneyland for writers, and listening to the attendees talk, I think that’s an accurate description.

One of the most popular events at WPA (if you can get a slot) is the for attendees to participate in the FATS/MEGGETTS interactive shooting simulator. My next couple of WPA Top 10 come from my own experiences in the FATS room.

9. Shooting with Jeff Deaver.

At the first WPA, Lee asked if I would shoot FATS with Jeff Deaver (I’m old school, so all firearms video training systems are still FATS to me). The Jeff Deaver? I asked. Yup, Lee said. Sure thing—who wouldn’t want the chance to do gun scenarios with the devious mind and quick trigger finger of Jeffrey Deaver?  I had fun, and so did Jeff if his smile was any indication. Of course he was rocking-and-rolling full auto with the M4 in each scenario. We all had fun.

8. Christmas Story!

The second year, the FATS room was short an instructor, and they asked if I’d sit in and help as a safety officer for the day.  Most of the time, all I was doing was making sure the students understood how to grip the pistol and to keep their fingers away from any moving parts. And those of you who have shot FATS/MEGGETS know the pistols actually cycle like a real gun. I kept making sure the shooters kept their support thumb away from the back of the gun so that they wouldn’t get a nasty “bite” when the pistol’s slide cycles.

I didn’t know I had to worry about other body parts!

Things went smooth most of the day until after lunch we had three ladies running through some scenarios.  They had already run through one scenario and I thought things were going smooth, so as Jerry Cooper started the next one, I did my safety check and stepped back to watch scenario and the shooters. Things went from normal to “the fertilizer hitting the vertical oscillating device” super quick in the scenario with a badguy shooting shortly after they screen started rolling. Things seemed to roll along with several of the students even shouting police as they shot back.  On the screen, the badguy was pumping out rounds, bystanders were screaming and the students rounds were hitting. Total controlled mayhem.

Then I heard a voice just to my left shout—“I shot my eye out!”

I have to admit my first thought was that great movie a Christmas Story, and I was sure Ralphie and his Red Ryder were in the room.

My second thought was to get to the student and see what was going on. Taking the gun from the lady’s shaking hand, I asked what had happened.

“I think I shot my eye out,” she repeated.

Looking at the pistol and her face I didn’t see any blood. I did see a small scratch on her glasses. But nothing else. Once we got it all sorted out, I learned that the lady thought she could see the sights of the gun better if she put the gun up closer to her face. I mean like THIS close. Right at the edge of her nose close. You guessed it. When she fired, the slide cycled back and hit her glasses, shoving them up her nose. Thankfully no injuries. And even after the scare, our student, ever the Trooper, stepped right back up and went back to blasting badguys.

Still—“I shot my eye out.”

Donations for the silent auction and raffle. A few years ago, Lee was talking about how much work he had to do with WPA and hadn’t had time to start getting donations, so I offered to help out there. Now, it’s sort of a routine, that somewhere in the spring we’ll email and Lee will let me know—it’s time again. Then I’ll sit down and start emailing authors asking for them to donations. Some I may know and have met, but a great many I email through their website, and more often than not, we get a response. Doing the emails is a little time consuming, but you get to hear from a lot of people. And see how good the writing community truly is. The next couple of WPA Top 10 is about the silent auction and raffle.

7. Generosity.

Many people have never heard of WPA until my unsolicited email pops in their inbox. What’s heartwarming is that usually they email back saying how that the conference looks awesome and offering to help. Many of those same people send donations every year too. We’ve had authors donate signed books, t-shirts, character naming and even critiques all to support WPA’s silent auction and raffle. The people who donate are generous and have big of hearts.

6. Joseph Wambaugh.

I have to single out Mr. Wambaugh, the father of modern police procedures for a slot on my Top 10. One year, I started early on a Sunday morning with coffee at hand and a list of authors and started firing away emails for WPA. I had just finished sending out the first batch of emails, so I wasn’t very far into it, when my email dinged. My new email was from Joseph Wambaugh himself. Not an auto-reply. Not an assistant. But Joseph Wambaugh himself answered an email to his website at about 6am West Coast time. His email was short. He wished WPA success and offered to send an autographed book. Classy. A classic memory.

Of course there’re so many memories from the actual conference:

5. Fan moments.

Most people have “fan moments” at conferences, but I remember a really cool one the year Lee Child was guest of honor.

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After the banquet, people drifted to the bar. A couple of WPA students were already at the bar. Also at the bar was a guy with a beer and an e-reader, but it was obvious he wasn’t part of WPA. One of the WPA students asked him what he was reading. He said the latest book by his favorite author Lee Child. One of the people told him that Child was at Writers’ Police Academy and would probably be at the bar. You could tell the guy thought they pulling his leg. One of the WPA students went and told Lee Child, and a few minutes later, he wandered into the bar and sat down and talked to this guy for a few minutes. He signed the guy’s ereader. And the guy was tickled to death.

4. Code-names.

It seems that cops are not the only ones who have their own lingo, jargon, slang and code words. It seems that a few of WPA’s attendees (YOU guilty parties know who you are) came up with some personal nicknames for some of the WPA instructors. There were– (RANK) Hot Pants and (RANK) Honeybuns.

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The ranks of the parties have been withheld less they be identified.

New Picture (7)

But, no pun intended, those of you have been to previous WPA, you know what those code-names mean AND who they’re about. I’m sure more code names will be forthcoming.

3. The weather.

Lee always tells you that North Carolina in September is usually hot, but can get rainy. Most of the time, we’ve had wonderful weather for the equipment and vehicle demonstrations and display….but.  The first year Bill Lanning orchestrated a shallow grave complete with body and accompanying smells, it rained. It did not just rain. It poured buckets. Nonstop. However, the ghoulish WPA students didn’t let the weather deter them from trekking out to see and smell the shallow grave. Even though they were water-logged, the shallow grave demonstration was a hit.

2. Surprises. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Each year, Lee and his Minions come up with tons of surprises. Now, it’s probably getting harder and harder for Lee and his mischievous makers to pull off the surprise, but they’ve done it every year. What kind of surprises? Students standing around waiting to hear a briefing when gunfire erupted in the GTCC building followed by screams. An active shooter. The cops and first responders arrived—and WPA students had front row seats. Next year was the squealing tires and sirens of the car chase followed by a tense standoff and shootout.  How about Stan taking Sandra hostage in the auditorium until a well placed shot by Codename Honeybuns ended the standoff.  Then last year was the bomb squad and a suspicious package which had to be blown up on the tarmac while the students all watched. What’s in store this year? Only Lee knows. And he plays his cards close to his vest.

1.Friends.
Most of all I look forward to seeing old friends and making new friends. It’s nice to catch up with people I’ve not seen for a year. Also each year, I always meet new great people and come away with new friends. To me the best memories of WPA are the ones of the friends and the fun we have. The time leading up to WPA is like an accelerating train for me. Usually, I have to start squeezing time in to get my presentation ready, try to help out on last minute auction/raffle items until it’s a frenzy to get in the car and drive to North Carolina. By the end of this “Disneyland for Writers” (as Lee calls it) I am exhausted but have had a great time from being around so many friends. And to think it’s just three weeks away!

*     *     *

Copy of Rick at still

Rick McMahan is a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The year 2013 marks his twenty-first year in law enforcement. Rick’s work takes him to counties across central and southeastern Kentucky, including Bell County, the area featured in “Moonshiner’s Lament.” His mystery stories have appeared in various publications, including the Mystery Writers of America anthology Death Do Us Part. He also has a story in the International Association of Crime Writers’ forthcoming collection of crime fiction from around the world. In his free time, Rick enjoys writing, and he’s had short stories appear in anthologies such as Techno Noire, Low Down & Derby and the Mystery Writers of America’s Death Do Us Part edited by Harlan Coben.

Drug War
Source: Online-Paralegal-Programs.com

*Today’s article was prepared by Online-Paralegal-Programs. I have not fact-checked any of the information.

Drug Trade
Source: Top-Criminal-Justice-Schools.net

I have not fact-checked the information contained in the above infographic.

*The Good Cop/Bad Cop review of the Castle season finale is scheduled for tomorrow.

Private Security
Source: SecurityDegreeHub.com

*Today’s article was designed and written by the good folks at securitydegreehub. I have not fact-checked any of the details.

*Due to the devastating situation regarding tornado damage and loss of life in several southern states, our regular review of Castle will come to you a day late, on Wednesday. Thankfully, Good Cop Melanie Atkins dodged a bullet when a tornado passed near her house.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who weren’t as fortunate.