It’s is with great pleasure that I announce that the Writers’ Police Academy will soon begin work on a new anthology. This new collection of mysterious stories (details below) comes on the heels of the successful publication of the 2019 book, After Midnight: Tales From The Graveyard Shift (published by Level Best Books), edited by Phoef Sutton with a foreword by Lee Child.

Description of AFTER MIDNIGHT

The curtain rises on this collection of twisted tales, revealing the words of bestselling thriller author Lee Child. Child sets the stage for a series of mysterious and strange goings-on that occur between the hours of midnight and dawn … the graveyard shift.

Contributing authors in this first anthology produced by the Writers’ Police Academy include bestselling mystery and crime authors, top television writers, true crime experts, and more.

Contributing Authors

Heather Graham
Phoef Sutton
Robin Burcell
Allison Brennan

Ry Brooks
Carrie Stuart Parks
Lisa Klink
RJ Beam

Joe Bonsall
Katherine Ramsland
Denene Lofland
Michael A. Black

Emilya Naymark
Mike Roche
Les Edgerton
Shawn Reilly Simmons

Rick McMahan
Marco Conelli
Cheryl Yeko
Howard Lewis
Linda Lovely
Lee Lofland

Also published by Level Best Books, the 2020 WPA anthology is titled People Are Strange: Tales From The Graveyard Shift. Phoef Sutton returns in 2020 as editor. And, like this year, we’re offering a chance for YOU to have YOUR story in this amazing collection of tales.

I know, you’re anxiously awaiting the name of the superstar, mega-famous author who’s writing the foreword. So, without further ado …

Yes, your story could appear in a book with a foreword written by …

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Lisa Gardner!

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa Gardner, a #1 New York Times bestselling thriller novelist, began her career in food service, but after catching her hair on fire numerous times, she took the hint and focused on writing instead. A self-described research junkie, she has transformed her interest in police procedure and criminal minds into a streak of internationally acclaimed novels, published across 30 countries. She’s also had four books become TV movies (At the Midnight Hour; The Perfect Husband; The Survivors Club; Hide) and has made personal appearances on TruTV and CNN.

Lisa’s books have received awards from across the globe. Her novel, The Neighbor, won Best Hardcover Novel from the International Thriller Writers, while also receiving the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle in France. She was also recognized with the Daphne du Maurier Award in 2000 for The Other Daughter. Finally, Lisa received the Silver Bullet Award from the International Thriller Writers in 2017 for her work on behalf of at-risk children and the Humane Society.

For a bit of fun, Lisa invites her readers to enter the annual “Kill a Friend, Maim a Buddy” Sweepstakes at LisaGardner.com. Every year, one Lucky Stiff is selected to meet a grand end in Lisa’s latest novel. Past winners have nominated spouses, best friends and even themselves.

Lisa lives in New Hampshire where she spends her time with an assortment of canine companions. When not writing, she loves to hike, garden, snowshoe and play cribbage.


Full “People Are Strange” contest details coming soon!

ATTENTION EVERYONE!!

Please watch this short video to learn the name of the Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon’s 2020 Guest of Honor!

After clicking the play button, please also click the arrow at the top left to view in full screen since I have no clue how to resize the video. Thanks.

This is exciting news!!

Jail Cell

Writers are a curious bunch of folks who should never let walls, doors, locks, or the word NO stop them from producing the best stories possible.

The tellers of both tall and short tales, in fact, go to great lengths to find detail—the perfect setting, great, believable characters, and those wonderfully juicy tidbits of information that stimulate a reader’s senses.

With pen in hand and minds wide open, a writer will do whatever it takes to reach the last page of their work-in-progress, including hopping on a plane, train, car, or truck to travel to wherever information can be found. They walk, they talk, they telephone, they email, they read blogs and books, they ride with cops, attend court proceedings, and they attend awesome events such as the Writers’ Police Academy. Again, they do what it takes and they do it all in the name of pleasing readers.

Many stories include prison and/or jail settings, as well as the residents and/or employees of each. So what do writers do? They meet with jail officials and arrange to tour their facility. Sure, it can sometimes be a very steep uphill battle to get a foot in the door to some places of incarceration. But, as it’s been said, where there’s a will …

Suppose, though, that you, a writer, find yourself incarcerated for a long, long time … perhaps even for the remainder of your life. What would you do? After all, your passion is the written word. You have so many stories to tell, especially the one that landed you behind bars. You’ve gotta write!

So how on earth would you obtain the information you need for your book(s)? The internet is often not available. No modern library (in many lockups you’d be fortunate if there’s anything more than a few tattered paperbacks stacked in what used to be a mop closet). You’d have very little, if any, contact with people on the outside. And, if your story involves law enforcement, forensics, etc., you can pretty much rule out the assistance of cops and CSI experts.

What would you do?

Well, one such writer, a prisoner, once reached out to me back a while back, via my publisher. He sent a three page handwritten letter, complete with a very nice, well-written one-page introduction that explained the reason for his incarceration—murder. He went on to say that he’d been sentenced to life for killing a woman (a close associate of a well-known outlaw motorcycle club) during a heated argument. He also said he feels no ill will toward police. In short, he did what he did and accepted full responsibility for the act, but the circumstances hadn’t stopped his desire to write.

Interestingly, this fellow, the convicted murderer, subscribes to Writer’s Digest Magazine, which is where he read an article I wrote (published in the September 2014 issue). Yes, WD is delivered to prisons.

My article is what prompted the lifer to write me with an unusual research request. A request that I strongly considered. It was a consideration that went against the very grain of my being. However, I was inclined to help because his story could’ve very well been a good one … a life-changer for someone on the outside.

There was a small problem, however, with delivering my information to this prisoner. You see, he had no idea where I lived at the time and I didn’t want him to know (return addresses are required on all inmate mail at this and other facilities). In fact, the bio in my book about police procedure states that we reside in Boston. This is a book the inmate has in his possession and he mentions it his introductory letter to Writer’s Digest.

howdunit_PPI

Non prisoners may also my purchase!

Therefore, when the inmate wrote my publisher he was under the impression that I lived somewhere in New England.

20141105_113239

As many of you know, we’re frequent re-locators (and that’s putting it mildly), so imagine my surprise to see a return address that just happened to be that of a state prison located very near where we lived at the time I received the letter. Very. Very. Near.

I finally came up with with a means to give him the information he needed, via an online source. I used the internet instead of snail mail to prevent him from learning our home address. After all, he had family and friends and “business associates” on the outside.

Anyway, the point of this long-winded story with no real end is that writers should never settle for an “okay” book when overcoming small obstacles is all that stands in the way of producing a really great story.

What are some of those barriers?

  • Too chicken to make contact with cops and/or other experts. Believe me, cops love to talk about their work and, if you let them, they’ll talk about it until the cows come home. So please don’t hesitate to approach a police officer. Of course, you may have to extend an offer of a cup of coffee to start the ball rolling, but after that, hold on because your mind will soon be filled with real-life tales of car chases, shootouts, drug raids, puking drunks, and struggles with the biggest and baddest bad guys who ever walked a dark alleyway. Of course, you should probably avoid weird and scary opening lines, such as, “Hi, my name Wendy Writer and I’m wondering if you would please tell me how to kill someone and get away with it?” Or, “Hi, my name Karla Killer and I’d really like to hold your gun so I can see how heavy it is.”
  • Procrastination (I was too busy to attend the Writers’ Police Academy. Maybe next year. In some instances, “next year” may never arrive. After all, we can’t do this forever!)
  • Fear of rejection by agents and editors. Settle for nothing less than a big fat YES, and don’t stop working and writing and bettering your craft until you reach your goals.
  • Television (Please STOP using TV as a source of information!! Easy isn’t always best).
  • Allowing life to run you instead of you running your life.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if a murderer who’s serving a life sentence in a pretty harsh prison setting is willing to go the extra mile for a scrap of important information needed for his book, then why shouldn’t all writers at least make some sort of effort to “get it right?”

How about you? Do you go the extra mile for the details in your tales?

Speaking of details …


It’s almost time to announce the name of the 2020 MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy guest of honor. In the meantime, here are a few hints …

Over 3 dozen bestselling novels.
Rarely appears at writers conferences.
Numerous books adapted for film and TV and each feature big name actors.

Oh, and don’t forget, in addition to naming the 2020 guest of honor, the The Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon will also soon announce an exciting, unbelievably thrilling, and closely guarded secret. Yes, you’ll lose your mind over this one! Hint … Reacher.

AND, we also have a couple of fabulous extra-special guest speakers in the lineup!

We’ve added some pretty cool hands-on classes, all related to murder investigations. Practical exercise workshops are extremely realistic where you’ll learn to use the equipment and the techniques and tactics utilized by investigators at actual crime scenes. In fact, MurderCon attendees will have the opportunity to properly collect and process evidence, all in a realistic residential setting which, by the way, happens to be a crime scene. Yes, you will be the police investigator and it’s up to you to solve the case. This is realism at its best!

Again, MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie provide the same training that’s taught to law enforcement investigators from around the world. The classes offered at this one of a kind event include sessions taught in Sirchie’s elite Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program that, according to Sirchie …

“Our Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program provides law enforcement professionals and crime scene investigators with hands-on training using forensic tools that will help to execute the best crime scene investigation mission possible.”

2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon.

Mark Your Calendars! August 6-9, 2020.

In response to a huge number of messages, yes, there will indeed be a 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. In fact, the 2020 event marks a full dozen years of bringing excellent and exciting programs to writers, readers, and fans of crime fiction and real-life crime-solving from around the world.

To celebrate the 12th annual WPA, we’re offering a prize that’s an over-the-moon opportunity of lifetime. I’m talking never before made available opportunity. Something that’s practically unbelievable. It’s heart-pounding. It’s nerve-tingling. It’s mind-blowing! It’s phenomenal! It is absolutely staggering! And it’s … well, it’s a secret for now.

Details as to how you could be the lucky and extremely fortunate person to win this rare opportunity are coming soon. I’m excited for you!

To add to the excitement, I’m extremely pleased to announce that the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon will once again take place in Raleigh, N.C., hosted by the global leader in crime scene technology … Sirchie.

Attendees entering Sirchie headquarters.

About Sirchie

“Sirchie,” according to Dyer Bennett, Sirchie’s Vice President of Product Development and Training, “is a 90-year-old organization that’s a global leader in finding ways to fulfill law enforcement needs, including training in all types of state-of-the art forensics. In years past, Sirchie has supported the WPA by providing instructors and training materials.”

“Each year some 700 law enforcement professionals visit Sirchie’s Youngsville, N.C campus, just outside of Raleigh, NC, to attend renowned, extensive training courses. Most of the attendees come from sheriff’s departments and municipal and state police forces. However, they also welcome officers and agents from a variety of other state and federal agencies, including state prison systems, airport security, FBI agents, Treasury, and Secret Service agents. International students come from countries ranging from Italy to Mexico and Argentina to Qatar.”

Sirchie and the Writers’ Police Academy, a Partnership of Writers and Law Enforcement

“Currently, Sirchie offers over 30 courses on campus annually on a variety of forensic topics. Their initial training programs primarily focused on fingerprinting and crime scene evidence collection. Now the subject matter includes all types of evidence collection, analysis, and preservation. For example, advanced courses in clandestine grave recovery, blood stain analysis, death investigation, reconstruction of a shooting, chemical and DNA testing of blood and semen, testing of substances suspected to be drugs, and arson investigation. Of course, they still provide in-depth instruction related to crime scene investigation and fingerprint analysis. One of the most popular courses still is the five-day Crime Scene Technology course that covers a variety of CSI techniques.”

Bennett had this (below) to say about the Writers’ Police Academy’s special event, MurderCon held at Sirchie’s elite compound in Youngsville, N.C. a suburb of Raleigh.

“We train attendees the same way we train law enforcement. Writers who’ve attended prior WPA courses can expect the learn-by-doing philosophy to continue. Every course will have a hands-on component.”

“If they take the arson course, they’ll analyze burn patterns with an expert who has thirty years of ATF experience in arson investigation. If they take the clandestine grave course, they’ll learn the proper way to excavate bones and remains in the field. If they take a drug analysis course, they’ll be taught not only how to test a suspect substance, but the measures needed to protect themselves from exposure. The same, of course, is true of courses related to biological testing and blood spatter documentation and analysis. Fingerprinting and crime scene photography will definitely be hands on. They’ll see and do what officers see and do.”

“The difference from prior WPA events,” said Bennett, “is that at Sirchie the focus is entirely about homicide investigations and the science and forensic technology and analysis used to solve the crime. When attendees graduate from MurderCon, they’ll have the knowledge to describe what really happens—and doesn’t happen—in a homicide investigation.”

“When MurderCon attendees leave, they’ll know what it feels like to conduct an investigation. Having first-hand experience will allow them to portray crime scene details realistically; and it will let them share with their readers how it feels to investigate a homicide.” ~ Dyer Bennett, Sirchie

So please do mark your calendars with a bright red circle. Believe me, you do not want to miss this all new and wonderfully exciting program.

Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. August 6-9, 2020.


Two of the many in-depth workshops offered at the 2019 MurderCon event:

A Bloody Mess: Search, ID, and Document Blood Evidence


 FBI Special Agent (ret.) David Alford, instructor.

David Alford (above) is a retired FBI Special Agent with 21 years of experience investigating violent crimes, terrorism and other cases. He was one of the founding members of the FBI Evidence Response Team (ERT) and conducted crimes scene searches on domestic and international violent crimes and bombings, including the Polly Klaas kidnaping and murder, the Unabomber’s cabin and the 9/11 Pentagon scene. He worked in the Denver and San Francisco field offices and completed his career at Quantico in the FBI Lab ERT Unit. During the 6 years in the FBI Lab, he was primarily responsible for overseeing and teaching basic and advanced crime scene courses throughout the US and many other countries.

Buried Bodies

Buried Bodies. Instructor ~ Dr. Meredith Tise, above center wearing light blue shirt, holding a metal probe used to examine ground at a suspicious grave site.

Dr. Meredith Tise earned her PhD. In Applied Anthropology from the University of South Florida. She currently works with the Pinellas County (FL) Sheriff’s Office and consults with the Medical Examiner’s office in Largo, FL, where she assists in remains recovery and analysis. Dr. Tise was part of the team who researched and unearthed 55 graves containing the remains of boys buried at the Dozier School for Boys, about 60 miles northwest of Tallahassee.


Police Magazine Showcases MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie

MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy is an event that’s well-attended by writers, readers, fans, editors, agents, translators, and law enforcement professionals, all from around the world and from nearly every state in the U.S.

The event has been featured in hundreds of popular blogs, magazine articles, on local television affiliates, social media, the AP wire, and in 2019 the WPA was the focus of a wonderful article in Police Magazine written by the magazine’s editor, David Griffith. In the article, CSI: Helping Authors Keep It Real, Griffith captured the true purpose of WPA, to help writers by providing the details that help bring better realism to their stories.

In one section of the piece Griffith wrote, “One of the most notable attendees was Charlaine Harris, author of the books that inspired the TV series ‘True Blood’ and ‘Midnight, Texas.’ Harris has the kind of resume that would allow her to contact just about any law enforcement agency in the United States and get a response to her questions, but she prefers coming to MurderCon to learn the details that can give her law enforcement scenes credibility. ‘I would be embarrassed to interrupt real officers while they are working,’ she says.

Also mentioned in an earlier Police Magazine article, “Prior guests of honor, including best-selling authors Tami Hoag and Lisa Gardner, have enjoyed the event so much that they’ve returned as attendees.”

 


The release of the Writers’ Police Academy’s first anthology, After Midnight: Tales From the Graveyard Shift marked a wonderful milestone for each of the contributing authors. The already successful book is a compilation of tales written by dear friends who, during the past eleven years, helped push the WPA to the top of the ladder. With a foreword written by superstar Lee Child and edited by Phoef Sutton, well, it just doesn’t get any better.

In addition, we were we especially thrilled to include the stories of two contest winners, Ry Brooks and Emilya Naymark. Next year, we’re pleased to say, we’re publishing a second anthology. Details to be announced in January. I will say this, though – we’re opening spots for an additional contest-winning tale, for a grand total of three available spots!

Writers’ Police Academy anthologies are published by our dear friends at Level Best Books.

 


Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

Finally, speaking of Lee Child … remember the mention at the top of this article of the rare, phenomenal and absolutely staggering and mind-blowing opportunity for one extremely fortunate person? Well, here’s a clue.

Jack Reacher

“The curtain rises on this collection of twisted tales, revealing the words of bestselling thriller author Lee Child. Child sets the stage for a series of mysterious and strange goings-on that occur between the hours of midnight and dawn … the graveyard shift.” 

I’m pleased to announce that the Writers’ Police Academy’s first anthology, AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT, made its debut August 2, 2019 at MurderCon, in Raleigh, N.C.

Now with its second printing already underway, it’s time for you to grab a copy so that you can begin your own deliciously mysterious trek into the creative minds of some of the WPA staff members, instructors, speakers, and sponsors of the Writers’ Police Academy. It was this collection of talented authors who penned this wonderful collection of twisted tales, not only for your entertainment but in support of an event that’s designed to help writers.

For over a decade the Writers’ Police Academy has delivered thrilling presentations, from helicopter landings to police pursuits to attendees performing PIT maneuvers.

We’ve launched live-action scenarios such that include recreations of current events such as the Boston bombing and active school shooter situations. Why, we’ve even detonated C-4 charges during explosive building entries. Exciting? Absolutely!

Over the years, the WPA has donated well over $100,000 to various criminal justice educational programs, such as scholarships for students, funding Skills USA trips and events, and providing funds for police academy equipment, tools, and officer training.

It’s extremely expensive to produce the Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon and to do so we, of course, charge a modest registration fee. But those dollars evaporate quickly once the bills start rolling in—charter buses, massive hotel expenses, reception costs, meeting spaces, facility and vehicle rentals, instructor fees, ammunition, travel expenses, attendee meals, equipment and training material, etc. Therefore, we depend heavily on raffle donations and sales, auction items, and the donations of generous sponsors, all to supplement financing the event.

This year, with the help of our wonderful publisher, Level Best Books, proceeds from the TALES OF THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT anthology will go toward helping fund future WPA events.

Contributing authors in this first anthology produced by the Writers’ Police Academy include Heather Graham, Phoef Sutton (Phoef currently writes Hallmark TV mysteries and previously wrote the hit TV series CHEERS and BOSTON LEGAL), Robin Burcell, Allison Brennan, Carrie Stuart Parks, Lisa Klink (Lisa wrote the  STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE television series), RJ Beam, Joe Bonsall of the Grammy-winning Nashville recording artists the Oak Ridge Boys, Katherine Ramsland, Denene Lofland, Michael A. Black, Mike Roche, Les Edgerton, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Rick McMahan, Marco Conelli, Cheryl Yeko, Howard Lewis, Linda Lovely, Ry Brooks, Emilya Naymark, and yours truly, Lee Lofland .

The foreword was written by Lee Child. Yes, THAT Lee Child! The book was edited by Phoef Sutton and Shawn Reilly Simmons.

So please do help us help you by purchasing a copy of this absolutely fantastic collection of short stories. It’s available, of course, on Amazon and Amazon Kindle, and through Barnes and Noble and directly through the publisher, Level Best Books.

Order today by clicking this link!

As always, thank you for your support.


Here’s a small snippet of what Lee Child had to say about AFTER MIDNIGHT and the Writers’ Police Academy.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

“I’m sure every year writers go home with more than the instructors thought they taught them. I think it’s a truly wonderful resource.

So do plenty of other writers. They put this book together, working for free, with all the money they would have earned for these stories going to fund the Academy into the future. Because it’s an expensive proposition. Any convention wants to be bigger and better every year, and the Academy started from a super-high level in the first place. So in buying this book you’re helping a vital resource keep going. You should come check it out. Tell them you’re writing a novel. They’ll believe you.

But most of all in buying this book, you’re getting some really good short stories, some by big names, some by soon-to-be names—and best of all, some by cops. Because there is a little reverse osmosis going on. What happens when a cop wants to know more about being a writer? They’re up close and personal for days. I’m sure every year plenty of them go home with more than we thought we told them. Some of them got to work. A couple have their first-ever professional publication right here. We say thanks for the welcome to your world, and now, welcome to ours.” ~ Lee Child

The rules were simple. Write a story about the above photograph, using exactly 200 words, including the title. Not 201 or 199. Exactly 200 words.

Each story needed an original title and it was mandatory that the image be the main subject of the story. We offered no clues as to the subject matter of the photo or where it was taken. That, we left to the imaginations of the authors.

Stories then began to pour into our mailbox, were screened (words counted, etc.), and the top 14 tales were delivered to bestselling author Heather Graham for final judging. Here are her top picks, starting with the the winning story penned by Ry Brooks.


 

First-Place Winner

ASHES

By Ry Brooks

 

Nothing of the warehouse remained but its spindly scorched bones. To Sullivan, determining the cause seemed impossible. Flammable chemicals, stored in plastic barrels, had fueled the flames to unimaginable temperatures more like cremation than ordinary fire.

Arson? But the building was underinsured, and the owners had no motive. As he probed among the detritus, he heard a muted wailing. Sully moved in the direction of the sound, which came from under a scalded sheet of metal roofing. Gently lifting the obstruction, he discovered a small brown puppy among some old rags, singed but alive. He bent to wrap it in his scarf, and at that very moment, one of the charred uprights crashed down, right where he had stood moments before.

Startled, he squatted down to gather his wits and that is when he noticed the rags also covered a body. Apparently it was a homeless person, who perhaps had made a campfire for warmth. When the flames got out of control, his instinct had been to shield the little dog with his own body, sacrificing himself for another.

The dog squirmed, and Sullivan hugged the puppy close, whose life had been spared and had then saved his own.


 

Second-Place Winner

THE FALLOUT

By Chelle Martin

It had been a beautiful day full of warmth and sunshine. Family and friends were jumping about, unaware of any danger. But the world as we knew it came crashing down in an instant when a cold, dark mist fell upon us with a powerfully pungent, yet sweet odor.

Tranquility warped into pandemonium as families scrambled for higher ground or desperately burrowed for shelter.

The cloud seemed to last forever. Once it had lifted, our surroundings appeared black and white from the dust that had settled. My comrades who had been directly hit, lie dead and dying around me. I coughed and staggered onward, searching for other survivors.

One, two, we gathered together and moved on to a drier place. Would we survive? Sadly, the youngest and oldest were most affected by the onslaught. The chemicals were just too strong for their systems to ward off.

The ground shook violently beneath our feet, but we clung to the uprights around us for balance.

A large creature approached and spoke in a strange language as flood waters slowly began to rise. “Hold still and be a good boy, Rex. This flea and tick bath will finish off any survivors.”


 

Third-Place Winner

NURSING YOUR DATE

By Teela Davis

What an awful, boring, insufferable first date. Why did she still do these?

The movie was tolerable, but now a walk?  She huffed, and not just a walk, a walk to the ‘haunted factory’. Did the creepy romantic thing ever really work out for guys? In all honestly, she just wanted dessert, and sleep!

“So, you know the legends here?”

“What, vengeful ghosts?” She barked a laugh, already rolling her eyes.

“Hah, not ghosts,” he grinned, dropping her hand once inside the crumbling monolith.

Relieved, she wiped her palm on her skirt, why was he so sweaty?

“Actually, there is a long list of unsolved murders here.” His cold tone made her take a step back, almost causing her to trip on debris.

“Oh?” Her hesitation made him nod. A knife flashed in his hand and she met his gaze as he advanced closer. Ugh, how typical…

“Yup, and I want to add to it.”

“Oh,” she chuckled darkly, done playing, “don’t worry, you will.” He stepped closer but paused, clearly confused.

“Wait, wha-” The sentence died in his throat just as she launched herself at him, teeth tearing into his flesh.

Finally, she laughed, dessert!


The following finalists are in no particular order …

 

THIS IS IT

By A.R. Kennedy

They walked up to the destroyed building in silence. Each wondered how they would find the missing woman’s pendant in the wreckage.

The tip had come in that the killer had marked the woman’s gravesite with her four leaf clover pendant. She had worn it everyday since her fifteenth birthday. For luck, she told people who asked.

In silence, they traversed the site in search of that pendant. Lisa fell, tripping over one of the many obstacles in her path. She slowly got up.

“You alright, Lisa?” her partner asked.

She put her hands in her pockets and shrugged. “Could be worse.”

Her partner, Joel, knew she was right.

Twenty minutes later, they finished their inspection.

“Well, we didn’t find it. Did you think we would?” Lisa asked.

Joel paused, wanting to answer honestly. “I didn’t think I would find it.”

“I guess this is it, Joel,” Lisa said as she headed to their car.

Joel nodded because he knew it was. He pulled his gun and motioned for her to take her hands out of her pockets.

The tarnished four leaf clover hung from her fingers.

“You’re right,” Joel said. “This is it.”


 

BABY SHOWER

By Cassy Muronaka

“Oh, getting coffee? Me too, Jeannie?” asked Bob, junior salesman, giving his ceramic mug and winning smile to Jean, senior saleswoman.

Taking it, she immediately was flagged over by her boss, Jerry, who announced she was not getting her anticipated promotion, despite being number one in sales.

“Politics, you know. New owner, Porter, canned it.”

Then Jerry asked her to work late again.

At noon, Jean wrote on the company’s internal message group, “Girls: time to meet at the picnic tables. Surprise baby shower, Brenda!  No boys allowed!”

The tables were a fair distance from the building, enough for the women to comfortably inhale plenty of champagne with the potluck lunch. Jean wasn’t the only woman who needed relaxation.

When Brenda opened the baby gifts, she said, “You are all so generous.” She hugged Jean. “I know you’re responsible for organizing all of this. Thank you so much.”

It was then that the building exploded and caught fire. As Jean watched the brand-new sign reading “Porter Industrial and Mining Explosives” fly off the building and into the parking lot, she smiled at Brenda and said, “Yes, I’ve been planning it for a long time.”


 

CLOSE THE DOOR

By Pamela Raymond

“Aunt Lydia has a melancholy side. I’ll give her that. But this?” My sister held a black and white photo of a charred lot, encased in an ornately fashioned wrought iron frame.

“Why would Aunt Lydia give a 10 year old this grisly photo?” My sister was not amused.

“Mommy. Hang it over there!” The little girl crawled on to her bed and motioned above the headboard. “The picture will like it here.”

“Pictures don’t care where they hang,” Katherine muttered.

My phone rang two weeks later. Jumbled, shaken, Katherine spoke so quickly, I could barely understand her. “My daughter. She keeps. The picture. CLOSE THE DOOR!” The line went dead.

By the time I got to the house, a smoking pile of embers existed where a home used to be. I found Katherine sitting in an ambulance. She mumbled over and over, “That picture.”

In the chaos, the little girl wandered to me.

She pulled the picture from her soot smeared robe. “Mommy wanted me to close the door and leave the picture in the fire. Mommy should have been nicer to the picture.”

The look in her eyes chilled me to the bone.


 

UTOPIA, CALIFORNIA

By Phoef Sutton

There is no crime in Utopia anymore.

Officer Mingus drives the streets of this small California town like she has a hundred times before. Her police dog Vlad rides shotgun. Vlad is trained to sniff out meth and heroine and other illegal drugs. But there are no drugs now.

Utopia is peaceful.

Officer Mingus misses the turn onto Grevelia Street since there are no road signs. No landmarks. Only the occasional blackened chimney. The wildfire that ripped through town two weeks ago had wiped it from the face of the earth, leaving nearly ninety dead and hundreds more still missing.

Turning into a driveway, Mingus stops the patrol car and gets out. Vlad goes rooting around, reveling in the smells of destruction and incineration, while Mingus searches through the ruins of her own house. She had been there with her husband when the fire alarm first sounded. She had rushed out.

Brian had stayed behind.

She finds her bedroom and digs through the debris, until she uncovers Brian’s skull. Shaking it, a small caliber bullet falls out. She tosses it away and crushes the skull with the butt of her gun.

She is free now. Fire cleanses everything.


 

THE BRIDGE

By Ferd Crotte

My old knees shake as I pick my way through the loose rubble, struggling for balance and understanding. I find an unsteady purchase and pause to curse the utter devastation before me.

I repeat the calculation — seventy-four years since the bridge last stood. Seventy-four years since I felt my father’s hand, holding mine as we walked the bridge’s long expanse. Seventy-four years since the bomb.

The crumbled city was dead to radiation, and access was forbidden. Now it’s open, though no less dead. A primal scream explodes from me, but no one hears. The ruins are silent. The rage is my own.

An unwelcome wind scatters a flume of ashes by my feet. Was that my father? The ashes dissipate, and again he leaves me.

I’m told the bridge was beautiful, and my father helped build it with his own hands. I’m told he was a peaceful man. Am I my father’s son?

I take a wary step into the rubble, then another. It’s why I came — to cross this broken bridge of time. I try to remember the feeling of his gentle hand. I need to find my father’s peace.


 

FUMES

By Lynn Long

“Willie Nickels died today in the gas chamber…” Click.

Gordon Chandler twisted the radio knob in his Plymouth, sucked the life from his Chesterfield and tossed the butt.

“I hope the bastard’s lungs burned just like that poor girl’s did,” Gordo exclaimed to the roadrunner perched on the warehouse ruins. The carbonized columns stood like trees in a charred forest. Uninterested, the bird vamoosed. He rolled his window shut.

Gordo knew every detail. He cast the tire prints. He found the dented, orange gas can. He interviewed neighbors who recognized the can. He discovered the blackened remains in the ashes. The detective had done everything but strap Nickels down and drop the pill.

Nickels deserved to drown in a cyanide bath. The onetime pimp ran the city. Nothing happened without his permission. Graves were full of people who didn’t get the message. No one could touch him. Few tried.

Gordo tried. He poured the plaster in Nickels’ driveway. He planted the gas can. He flicked his Chesterfield into the gasoline spread around the abandoned warehouse, not knowing a runaway had sought refuge there.

Exhaust fumes whispered through a garden hose, poisoning the air. His eyelids fluttered.

“If only…”


 

AFTERMATH

By Elizabeth Haines

Despite the hospital slippers, my feet are freezing.  I wait for the nurse, a thin cotton shroud, the blue and white print bleached and faded, tied behind my neck.  After a moment, I realize the music playing faintly in the background is a Beatles’ song, twisted into a requiem.  I used to dance to this song, barefoot in a forest that no longer exists.

If we’d heeded the warnings, we would have been deep underground when the bombs came, but the woodland flowers were blooming and the alarms had always been false before now.  We were surprised when the high whistling sound surrounded us, coming from everywhere and nowhere.  We survived, if we can call it that, because we weren’t anywhere near ground zero where the trees were burnt to sticks.  Once we regained consciousness in the hospital, we learned our fate.  The news reported we “woke up dead.”

The nurse, outfitted from head to toe in a disposable covering, comes in to explain my options.  I remember seeing the drone footage of the remaining trees.  They looked like black obelisks in a graveyard.  My feet are still freezing.  I tell her I want to be cremated.


 

THE TELL

By Lynette Eason

Moonlight touched the steel post at the edge of the bombed ruins. This was his playground and he’d lured Karly here, incensed by her televised scorn.

“Come alone,” he’d texted. “Or she dies.”

She spotted a dark stain at the base of the post. And the next—a matching blemish. Each one the same. Representing every victim he’d suspended before using the blade’s edge to spill their life-blood.

Nausea churned. Neck hairs spiked.

From somewhere, he watched.

Her weapon offered minuscule comfort.

A footstep behind her.

She spun. “You?” Her sister’s fiancé? “Why?”

“I followed my calling.” The knife gleamed its intent. “I released their evil.”

She lifted the gun. He froze. “Shoot me and you’ll never see your sister again.”

“She’s alive?”

“Yes. I’ll show you.” He started towards her, fingers flexing on the handle.

Karly fired. Once. Twice. Again.

He fell, choking, gasping.

She stepped closer. Very little blood stained his shirt. Good. His evil would go with him. “You lick your lips when you lie.”

She turned to go.

A hand clamped around her ankle.

Terror surged. Realization hit.

Very little blood.

Because he’d worn a vest.


 

HELP WANTED

By Lisa Wheelan

Leonard helped the old woman across the pile of rubble.

“Are you sure this is the place Mrs. G?”

“Yes Leonard”

“But it’s just a busted-up building.”

She pointed to a far corner with her crooked finger “over there.”

Dementiaville, here we come, Leonard thought, time for a new job.

They made their way over crumbled concrete and broken steel. He found a spot where she could sit, laid his uniform jacked over it and eased her down.

“What are we looking for Mrs. G?”

“You’ll know when you find it. Please begin.” She gestured.

Leonard began moving chunks of concrete to the side.

“How long have you worked for me Leonard?”

“Almost ten years.

“We’ve been through a lot haven’t we”

“Yes, Mrs. G.”

“You know a lot of my secrets, don’t you?”

“I keep my mouth shut.”

“I’m sure you will.” said Mrs. G.

“How much more do” …. Leonard stopped.

“You find something?”

“It’s a jacket…like mine. I think it’s a body.”

“That would be John, he left my employment ten years ago.”

Leonard’s last thought…such a big gun for such a feeble old wom.…


 

ESCAPED MEMORIES

By Tammie Fickas

Dirt and concrete dust puffed as Edward Maximillian, Max to his friends, not that he had ever had any, shuffled through the ruins. Years had lumbered on since the night a raging inferno raced through the Emsdon Home for Boys, destroying the building. The hateful place was anything but home. That night played in his mind like an old movie. The thrill of the employee’s fear filled him, excited him. It always had.

Paper caught in the rubble, fluttered with the breeze. Max’s own face stared back from the poster.

Escaped prisoner.

Armed and dangerous.

You will never amount to anything, Edward Maximillian.

Max leaned against a rough, charred wall stud. Death lingered here like the spirit of the headmaster who never made it out of the building alive. Max could almost smell it. A misshapen sneer stretched his lips. Oh, how he hated that man who made his life miserable. Satisfaction danced in his heart as he relished his revenge.

Who will never amount to anything?

Not far off, police sirens wailed through the night. Max took a long, last look, then loped toward the thick forest, once again disappearing like a dream at morning’s first light.


 

HANDS

By K.P. Gresham

She said the bastard was buried beneath the support beam. But which one?

Then I remembered.

That first night. Laughing, he’d ripped away our virginity and put his hands places we didn’t even know we possessed.

With adulthood, payback time arrived. As always, I took the lead. We worked fast. Her job was to get the account passwords. My job was to kill him. I torched the warehouse while she buried him.

We both came through. After he was dead, her codes and keys got us into the house, the study, and the wall-mounted lockbox.

Then we saw the little opening beneath the safe’s keypad. It required a hand print.

So, here I am, back at the burned out warehouse—his favorite hunting ground.  Shovel and saw in hand, I walk over fallen trusses and crumbled cement blocks to where the dumpsters had once stood—the first hiding place where we’d been cornered. That horrible first night.

Sweat pours over me as I unearth the body. His face is finally as ugly as his soul. I uproot his arms and begin to saw below the elbow.

“Time to put your hands to good use, Daddy.”


2019 Golden Donut Contest image – Mare Island Naval Shipyard – Vallejo, California.

The Mare Island shipyard was the first U.S. Navy base established on the Pacific Coast. The base was purchased by the Navy in 1853 and remained open until it officially closed all operations in 1996. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) first opened its doors eleven years ago as a means to help writers breathe life into their stories. Not that books weren’t already fantastic, it’s just that many were missing intricate details, the things that make scenes come alive and dance and sing and undulate on the page. Missing were the smells, tastes, touches, sounds, and the sights seen and experienced by cops, witnesses, and victims of various crimes, and their family and friends. Emotion and anticipation and aftermath were, well, not there.

It wasn’t the fault of the writers that they’d not once set foot inside an actual murder scene, or driven like a bat out of hell through city streets and alleyways while pursuing a dangerous killer. Many authors, believe it or not, had not once ever shot someone. Nor had they been stabbed, cut, or shot at. They’d not trekked through acres of wooded land to search for an armed serial killer or prison escapee.

Honestly, it’s impossible to perfectly describe something we’ve not done or seen. Imagine trying to write a scene about heart surgery when you’ve not, as they say, been there/done that. I wouldn’t know where to start other than a Google search. Sure, the process is there but it doesn’t do a thing to activate the senses. Therefore, the scene would come across as flat and lacking true emotion. The same is so when writing about cops and crime scenes.

So yes, those spots of intricate detail were missing from many a good crime book that had the potential of being great ones.

Back to the WPA, though, the hands-on event where writers participate in actual police training and live-action scenarios. During the action-packed weekend, writers fire weapons, drive patrol cars in pursuits, exchange gunfire with bad guys, handcuff criminals, and much, much more. It’s a weekend that stirs emotion and adrenaline, and writers leave with a treasure trove of first-hand knowledge of the world of cops and criminals.

This year, the WPA has gone a step further, dedicating the entire event to murder investigations. Aptly named, MurderCon, the special event will expose writers, readers, fans, etc., to insider information, tactics, techniques, and tools of the homicide investigation trade. And, to sweeten the pot, MurderCon takes place at Sirchie’s headquarters and training complex, a secure facility tucked away in the countryside near Raleigh, N.C. Sirchie is the world leader in crime scene technology.

The WPA is NOT a typical writers conference

I’ve said all of the above to bring me to this particular question. What happens when writers and police instructors and other law enforcement and forensics experts come together? Well, the result is amazing to say the least. Writers learn from the experts and the experts learn from the writers. It’s a meshing of ideas and thoughts and experiences that lasts a lifetime. The experience of attending the WPA has even been described as life changing. It’s that powerful.

The stories generated from the meetings of writers and WPA law enforcement and forensics professionals are unique. They’re detailed. They’re packed full of real-life emotion. Adrenaline courses throughout the pages. No longer are many fictional cop tales lacking true heart-pounding scenes.

Like the odor of swamp water and crab boils pour into the room after opening the covers of a James Lee Burke novel, blue lights winking and blinking and flashing, wailing sirens, and hearts pounding and thumping behind steamy-hot, perspiration-soaked Kevlar vests now emanate from mystery, thriller, suspense, and romance novels that feature cops.

It was my goal to help writers “get it right” and it warms my heart to see the end result of the WPA and all of the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of instructors, staff, and volunteers who’ve made the WPA what it is today … a real life-changer.

When Cops and Writers Come Together AFTER MIDNIGHT

It was a long time in the making, but this day finally arrived. For a while now, I’d hoped to bring together WPA instructors, supporters, and special guests and speakers, all in a single place where they could join forces to reach out the world, as a single entity.

My desire was to have this group meet during the hours known as the graveyard shift, that time of night—between the hours of midnight and dawn—when most mysterious and strange goings-on occur.

Well, a date and location for the meeting was set and the group finally came together, each arriving separately in a plain unmarked vehicle with dark, tinted windows.

A lone hoot owl sounded in the distance, beyond the spot where the light of single lantern spilled out across a row of marble and granite markers. This was the designated meeting spot and it was there where the group came together.

Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher series, presided over the meeting and called it to order, silencing the nervous chatter. He quickly stated the group’s mission and then instructed each participant to compose a story, a tale of mystery and suspense with a twisted ending and a carefully woven plot. Then he enlisted the assistance of Phoef Sutton, another bestselling author who’s also known for his work on the award-winning television shows CHEERS and BOSTON LEGAL, and a slew of Hallmark Mysteries. Sutton was given the task of editing the stories told by the carefully selected group of writers and law enforcement folks.

Several months later, boiling up and out of the cauldron, came a much-anticipated anthology, AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT, published by Level Best Books.

Today, AFTER MIDNIGHT is now available to you, both as a Kindle book and in paperback. And thanks to the generosity of everyone involved in the project, proceeds from the book benefit the Writers’ Police Academy.

Here’s how to order your copy. Click on your preference. (Amazon will merge the two on a single page as soon as possible).

AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT


The Authors and Their Stories

To learn more about the stellar cast of AFTER MIDNIGHT authors, click the links below.

Lucky Cop by RJ Beam
The Brass Ring by Michael A. Black
Sunshine Berkman by Joseph S Bonsall
Ride Along by Allison Brennan
Neighborhood Watch by Ry Brooks
The Bookends Murder by Robin Burcell
Gentrified Homicide by Marco Conelli
Prime Rib from Brahma by Les Edgerton
The Devil in the Flesh by Heather Graham
Justifiable Homicide by Lisa Klink
Rookies by Howard Lewis
LeishMANIA by Denene Lofland
The Sheriff of Macabre County by Lee Lofland
Code Murder by Linda Lovely
Baddest Outlaws by Rick McMahan
A Confluence in Stow by Emilya Naymark
Shared Secrets by Carrie Stuart Parks
The Case of the Staring Man by Katherine Ramsland
Panther Bait by Mike Roche
Disco Fries and Homicide by Shawn Reilly Simmons
3:45 in the Peacock Room of the Channel Grill on 6th Street 
by Phoef Sutton
Hostage (A Love Story) by Cheryl Yeko
With a Foreword by Lee Child

 

 

This year, the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) spread its wings a bit with the introduction of our first publication, an anthology titled AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT.

Book Description

The curtain rises on this collection of twisted tales, revealing the words of bestselling thriller author Lee Child. Child sets the stage for a series of mysterious and strange goings-on that occur between the hours of midnight and dawn … the graveyard shift.

Contributing authors in this first anthology produced by the Writers’ Police Academy, include bestselling mystery and crime authors, top television writers, true crime experts, and more.

In addition to the stellar lineup of top authors, the WPA announced an exciting contest, a chance for two talented writers to have their stories included in this “killer” book.

Once  the contest closed the task of judging the entries began. To give you an idea of the process and superb quality of stories received, here’s a statement from the publisher, Level Best Books.

“A large number of very good stories were submitted for the two available spots. We certainly could have filled another whole anthology considering the quality of stories we received. All of the submissions were read blindly by a panel of three judges, who were anonymous to each other during the process.”

While all stories were exceedingly good, the judges selected two to include in the AFTER MIDNIGHT anthology.

And the winners are …

 

Ry Brooks and his story
Neighborhood Watch

and

Emilya Naymark for
A Confluence in Stow

After Midnight Anthology Details

  • Title:  AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT
  • Publisher – Level Best Books
  • ISBN:   ISBN: 978-1-947915-11-4
  • Publication Date:  August 1, 2019
  • Edited by Phoef Sutton
  • Foreword by #1 Internationally best selling author Lee Child

About the Editor

Phoef Sutton is a New York Times Bestselling author and winner of two Emmy Awards for his work on the classic television comedy CHEERS. Phoef also won a Peabody Award for the popular legal drama BOSTON LEGAL starring James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen. Lately, he’s been writing television movies for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.


The Authors and Their Twisted Tales

Lucky Cop by RJ Beam (bloodstain pattern expert, WPA and police academy instructor, author)

The Brass Ring by Michael A. Black (author, retired law enforcement expert)

Sunshine Berkman by Joseph S Bonsall (singer with the Oak Ridge Boys – the voice on the hit song Elvira, and more – author, banjo picker, and longtime support of the WPA)

Ride Along by Allison Brennan (Bestselling author)

Neighborhood Watch by Ry Brooks (AFTER MIDNIGHT contest winner)

The Bookends Murder by Robin Burcell (retired law enforcement and bestselling author)

Gentrified Homicide by Marco Conelli (retired undercover detective, author, WPA instructor)

Prime Rib from Brahma by Les Edgerton (Bestselling author and writing teacher/coach)

The Devil in the Flesh by Heather Graham (international bestselling author and 2019 MurderCon Guest of Honor)

Justifiable Homicide by Lisa Klink (television writer – Star Trek Deep Space Nine)

Rookies by Howard Lewis (WPA staff, martial arts expert, author)

LeishMANIA by Denene Lofland (Bioterrorism and microbiology expert, author, founder and host of the WPA)

The Sheriff of Macabre County by Lee Lofland (retired law enforcement, author of Police Procedure and Investigation, founder and host of the WPA)

Code Murder by Linda Lovely (Author, editor, WPA staff)

Baddest Outlaws by Rick McMahan (retired ATF Special Agent, law enforcement instructor, WPA instructor)

A Confluence in Stow by Emilya Naymark (AFTER MIDNIGHT contest winner)

Shared Secrets by Carrie Stuart Parks (forensic artist, former WPA special guest presenter, author)

The Case of the Staring Man by Katherine Ramsland (author of over 1,000 books, professor of forensic psychology, TV consultant and on-air personality, longtime WPA presenter and expert)

Panther Bait by Mike Roche (Secret Serve Special Agent, author)

Disco Fries and Homicide by Shawn Reilly Simmons (publisher/editor Level Best Books, author)

3:45 in the Peacock Room of the Channel Grill on 6th Street 
by Phoef Sutton (bestselling author, renowned and award-winning television writer, editor of AFTER MIDNIGHT anthology)

Hostage (A Love Story) by Cheryl Yeko (author, WPA staff)

With a Foreword by Lee Child (author of the internationally bestselling Jack Reacher series, longtime WPA supporter)

Lee Child ~ Writers Police Academy

 


Book Launch Party and You’re Invited!

Please join Level Best Books and the Writers’ Police Academy to help celebrate the launch of this thrilling new book, AFTER MIDNIGHT.

The launch party takes place at the Friday night reception at MurderCon, and books will be available for purchase at the event and soon by preorder. This will be the first of the Writers’ Police Academy’s new series of books. Stay tuned for more!


BIG NEWS on the WAY!

Also, here’s an important BOLO. Be On the Lookout for an exciting announcement coming from the Writers’ Police Academy and Level Best Books. There’s something very extremely cool brewing behind the scenes!

 

Regarding DNA and saliva, I’d like to note that it is indeed possible to expel DNA when coughing or sneezing. However, the fact that it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s always found, just that it could be. And, if found, it could be the DNA of someone other than than a suspect or victim, such as cop or lab scientist who was involved in the collection or testing of the evidence. Here’s why …

First, in the lab, to tell the difference between saliva and sputum, scientists look for epithelial cells. These cells have a nucleus, and within a nucleus DNA is found. Saliva is almost always present in the mouth, especially when we are awake. When we sneeze saliva and the DNA contained within is expelled.

FYI – Lab scientist/techs scan collected sputum samples for the presence or absence of white blood cells. White blood cells, not red, indicate infection. The presence of epithelial cells from saliva indicates the sample is contaminated with saliva, which would result in improper test results. Sputum is tested for respiratory tract infections. 

By the way, red blood cells (erythrocytes) have/contain no nucleus nor do they contain mitochondria. Therefore, red blood cells do not contain DNA because there’s no nucleus in the cells.

Those of you who attended the WPA when world-renowned DNA expert Dr. Dan Krane presented a fantastic session on DNA evidence, may remember when he mentioned how DNA evidence is sometimes contaminated, such as using fingerprint brushes or gloves from one scene to process evidence in an entirely different location. DNA could be transferred using those items. He also pointed out instances where coughing or sneezing could distribute DNA to the surface of an item being processed. (Dr. Krane is a former colleague of my wife, Denene)

On with DNA and Sneezing

As an example of evidence contamination via sneezing, when discussing the Jon Benet Ramsey case, Dr. Krane says, “The DNA in tests could be there because of a contact that was weeks, months, even years before the crime occurred. It’s not possible to make inferences about the tissue source here. We can’t say that it came from semen or saliva or blood or anything. What if one of the medical examiners sneezed on one of these articles of clothing and it came into contact with the other one? There are just so many possibilities.”

Additionally, from another source, “It is extremely easy to contaminate biological samples; this can occur by failing to change gloves or clean instruments properly, failing to wipe down benches properly between testing, or by sneezing or even talking over a sample (Buckleton et al 2005:277).”

And, from the National Institute of Justice:

Contamination

Because extremely small samples of DNA can be used as evidence, greater attention to contamination issues is necessary when identifying, collecting, and preserving DNA evidence. DNA evidence can be contaminated when DNA from another source gets mixed with DNA relevant to the case. This can happen when someone sneezes or coughs over the evidence or touches his/her mouth, nose, or other part of the face and then touches the area that may contain the DNA to be tested.

To avoid contamination of evidence that may contain DNA, always take the following precautions:

  • Wear gloves. Change them often.
  • Use disposable instruments or clean them thoroughly before and after handling each sample.
  • Avoid touching the area where you believe DNA may exist.
  • Avoid talking, sneezing, and coughing over evidence.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth when collecting and packaging evidence.
  • Air-dry evidence thoroughly before packaging.
  • Put evidence into new paper bags or envelopes, not into plastic bags. Do not use staples.

From the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Heath/The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):

4.2. Contamination

For DNA studies, one of the greatest laboratory barriers is the contamination of genetic material from other sources (e.g., from the examiner and other biological evidence). Contamination may occur during the sexual contact (e.g., if there is more than one perpetrator), during the period between the sexual contact and the FME, during the FME, and in the laboratory. In order to avoid it, examiners should take special precautions to prevent cross-contamination between evidences. For this purpose, it is important:

  1. to work under aseptic conditions to avoid microbial contamination;
  2. to always use disposable supplies to ensure individual protection (e.g., gowns, powder-free gloves, mask, or other protective clothing) and to avoid direct contact with the samples;
  3. to ensure that the room where FME takes place is regularly cleaned before and after patient use;
  4. to avoid sneezing, coughing, or talking over the samples;

Dr. Krane is one of the world’s foremost DNA experts, testifying worldwide as an expert witness in well over 100 criminal trials, in which DNA evidence was presented, such as the Jon Benet Ramsey case. He’s been involved as a top expert in other high-profile cases such as the DC Snipers, OJ Simpson case, and the infamous Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton “blue dress,” to name only a few. Dan also developed software that’s used in genetic analyzers, the devices used by scientists who conduct DNA tests.

My other source, in addition to our good friend Dr. Dan Krane, is, of course, my resident renowned expert, Dr. Denene Lofland.

Denene received a Ph.D. in Pathology, with an emphasis in microbiology, from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. As a former biotech company director, Denene managed successful clinical projects that resulted in regulatory filings of four compounds and FDA approval for two new antimicrobial drugs for the treatment of pneumonia and cystic fibrosis. The drugs are currently on the market.

Denene supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance. Her areas of expertise include medical microbiology, bioterrorism, and new drug discovery development. She has published numerous articles in a variety of peer reviewed scientific journals, contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook standard used in colleges and universities, published an article about anthrax in Police One magazine, and she has an upcoming tale in the Writers’ Police Academy’s anthology, After Midnight, Tales From the Graveyard Shift (edited by Phoef Sutton with foreword by Lee Child) ~ Level Best Books, publisher

Currently, Denene is an Associate Professor of Medical and Molecular Sciences at the University of Delaware. She also taught medical microbiology to medical students at a medical college in California. In her early days, prior to becoming a mad scientist, she managed the lab in a large, major hospital.

Over the years, I was fortunate to have the experience of witnessing Denene and her teams, and Dr. Krane’s team, perform numerous DNA testings using both gel electrophoresis and DNA Sequencers/Genetic Analyzers. I was once treated to conducting a test of my own in one of Dr. Dan Krane’s labs, an entire DNA test from extraction of sample to final result. I ran the test on the DNA of a strawberry, but hey, the process is the same as when using human samples. The strawberry was innocent, by the way.

Again, the fact that DNA is present in saliva, it doesn’t mean DNA is always found when someone sneezes or coughs, or talks over evidence (it’s even been found in traces of saliva found on a public phone receiver), just that it’s possible and that it does occur.


DNA Testing: The Process

The first step in the testing process is to extract DNA from the evidence sample. To do so, the scientist adds chemicals to the sample, a process that ruptures cells. When the cells open up DNA is released and is ready for examination.

extract-dna.jpg

DNA is actually visible to the naked eye. The slimy glob in the center of the circle below is DNA.

new-picture-11.jpg

DNA is tested in devices like the one below. They’re called genetic analyzers. This particular device is located in one of Dr. Dan Krane’s laboratories.

new-picture-1.jpg

DNA is loaded into wells inside the genetic analyzer. There are 96 wells in the gray, rectangular block shown below (inside the analyzer).

new-picture-2.jpg

An electric current separates the DNA, sending it from the wells through narrow straw-like tubes called capillaries. During its journey through the analyzer, DNA passes by a laser. The laser causes the DNA loci (a gene’s position on a chromosome) to fluoresce as they pass by, which allows a tiny camera to capture their images.

The image below shows DNA’s path through the genetic analyzer (wells are on the left; capillaries are the arcing lines leading to laser and camera on the right).

new-picture-3.jpg

Capillaries

new-picture-4.jpg

Doctor Stephanie Smith points to the row of eight capillaries, one for each well in the corresponding line of wells (12 rows of 8 wells).

At the end of the testing, the equipment produces a graph/chart called an electropherogram.

Peaks on the graph depict the amount of DNA strands at each location. It is this unique pattern of peaks and valleys that scientist use to match or exclude suspects.

Or, in the case of paternity testing, to include or exclude someone as a parent.

The image below is an electropheragram showing the DNA of a strawberry.

new-picture-8.jpg

Electropheragams are printed and it is this document that’s examined by experts for use in the ID/comparisons of sample contributors, such as suspects and victims.

Remember above when we discusses sneezing, coughing, and/or talking over DNA evidence? Well, here’s a DNA test result (electropheragram) of a contaminated sample, a mixture of DNA found on the body of a rape victim. The evidence was contaminated to the point that it was impossible to tell/prove whether or not Contributors 1 or 2 were involved in the assault. Notice that the peaks in the mixture do not quite match either suspect’s DNA.

Electropheragram showing tested DNA of two subjects, and a mixture of DNA collected from a victim. Results showing a mixture make it difficult to point to any one suspect, or if someone other than the suspect and victim contaminated the sample.

The image below shows a clear match between the DNA of the victim and suspect. The suspect was clearly in contact, in some way, with the victim.

 

DNA Facts:

Identical twins have identical DNA.

Humans are genetically 99.9% identical. Only 0.1% of our genetic makeup is different.

It takes about eight hours for one cell to copy its own DNA.

Red blood cells do not contain DNA.

DNA is used to determine pedigree in livestock.

DNA is used to authenticate wine and caviar.

Detergent and Alcohol will not destroy DNA.

DNA can be transferred from article of clothing to another, even in a washing machine. This is called secondary and tertiary transfer.

DNA testing is not 100% accurate.

*My thanks to Dr. Stephanie Smith and Dr. Dan Krane for allowing me to hang out in their labs to take the above photos.

*Thanks, too, to the good folks at crimescenewriter for the idea for this post. 


Have you reserved your spot at MurderCon? If not, there’s still time to do. Sign up today to attend this rare hands-on training event!

In the meantime, here’s a peek at the 2019 MurderCon instructors and speakers. The lineup is stellar!

MurderCon Instructors