Last week my wife Denene and I traveled to North Carolina to be with her mother during yet another surgery (you may recall that she and our daughter were each diagnosed, just weeks apart, with serious cancer). Her surgery went well and she’s now back at home.

On our way back to our own home we took a detour to visit with my brother and his wife for a few minutes. The side trip to their house took us deep in the countryside where it’s not unusual to see a black bear crossing the road, or a dozen or so deer grazing on my brother’s property.

To return to a major highway after leaving my brother’s place, we first had to trek along several narrow treelined backroads, where thick leafy canopies overhang, allowing only bits of sunlight to leak through between branches, speckling the asphalt with splashes and dots of yellow.  It was like I image it would be to travel through the twisting and turning lens of an old kaleidoscope.

Denene and I chatted along the drive with our conversation turning toward the possibility of hosting a 2020 Writers’ Police Academy. We brainstormed ideas as to how, if we decide to host a 12th event, to top earlier years and which new classes and topics we could offer.

We discussed past events and favorite sessions and activities. We also discussed that 2020 would be a year without Linda Lovely and Howard Lewis, our two key volunteers who’ve decided to move on after many years of hard work and loyal service to the WPA. Of course Denene and I are grateful to all they’ve done for us and the event over the past several years. The four of us have been together during fun times and extremely difficult hardships.

But, as it’s been said, “The show must go on.” For now, though, the head-scratcher of the day is whether or not to return to Sirchie, NWTC’s Public Safety Academy in Green Bay, or to simply call it quits after 11 wonderfully successful years. I’d love to see your preferences in the comments below.

Okay, back to the rest of the trip back home from N.C.

We twisted and wound throughout the network country roads, passing a couple of boarded-up country stores, the kind that once sold hunks of hoop cheese and slices of bologna from long tubes, hand-dipped ice cream cones, pickled eggs and pigs feet from large glass jars, live minnows and crickets, and blocks and bags of ice.

Cotton field in Virginia

Small clapboard-sided churches and fields of soybean and cotton and corn were part of the landscape, as were modest homes and barns and tin-roofed sheds cobbled together from plywood and 2x4s.

Then, we passed a house that stirred a long forgotten memory. It was a brick rancher with a gravel driveway. The entrance to the drive was flanked by two large wooden wagon wheels, one on either side. A vivid picture crossed my mind—a Virginia State Police car parked in that very driveway. Wow, how could I have forgotten about this trooper, a man who played a part in shaping me as a police officer.

Let’s Back up a Bit

I’ve worked undercover assignments in my day, most of which involved narcotics operations. My very first one took place, and it pains me to say just how long ago it was, back in the 70s. I know, I’m one of the “old guys.”

By the way, writers, that’s a term sometimes used by younger cops when referring to active-duty officers who tend to show a bit of gray hair and “donut induced belly droop” at the waistline. Old Guy is a moniker that also refers to retired cops.

I was reminded of my “old guy” status during a past WPA when I overheard instructor Rick McMahan using me as an example to emphasis a point during one of his presentations. He said something similar to, “Lee Lofland could probably tell you about how it went back then. He’s one of the old guys.”

When Denene and I passed that brick house I mentioned above, I immediately recalled sitting in a beat-up old car while two troopers placed “bugs” in the passenger side door panel and beneath the dashboard. I didn’t wear a wire in case the dealer opted to check for one, and he did. My handler, the trooper who lived in the brick house, was briefing me about my “target,” a major drug supplier who sold only large quantities of marijuana (“pot,” back in the day). Nothing smaller than five pounds, actually.

It was my job to gain the man’s confidence and work my way into his trusted circle. The goal was to become one of his dealers. I was brought in from another area to prevent the possibly of recognition. It was a tough assignment for a couple of reasons. One – No one had been able to gain the man’s trust. Two – He was a black man who generally didn’t associate with white people, and I’m obviously white. And he didn’t, as a rule, sell to white people. Didn’t trust them. Not at all. So my assignment was an uphill climb from day one.

But, at the time was hair was quite long and my daily attire was often grungy jeans, t-shirts, and Converse tennis shoes. I definitely looked the part and I walked the walk and talked the talk.

Me completing paperwork at the time of this operation.

Long story short, I did indeed manage to work my way inside the “team” and was soon given five pound packages of “pot” to sell. I was easily successful at unloading the drug because I simply turned it over to my handler, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, through the Va. State Police, kindly forked over the cash/buy money.

To my supplier, I was a fantastic “employee.” He assumed I was selling to white folks from Richmond to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, to Raleigh and everywhere in between. He even accompanied me on a couple of sales to undercover Va. State Police troopers. We arranged these sales to prove that I was not an undercover agent.

So, the day came to make the arrest. Since I was then working other assignments I was not part of the raid team. In fact, I didn’t see the man again until we came face to face in court during his trial, and if looks could kill I’d have been butchered, burned, and fed to wild hogs and hungry lions.

When I took the stand to testify about, in great detail, the operation that brought us to the point of the arrest and subsequent criminal proceedings, his high-priced, fancy-dressed defense attorney tried his best to discredit me. But, it didn’t work. Not even close. To pat myself on the back a bit, I remained calm, cool, and sharp.

Entrapment?

The attorney tried every trick in the book, including the old standby of entrapment. But this one failed miserably. You’ve probably heard someone somewhere say that undercover (UC) police officers absolutely must identify themselves as officers at some point during the operation, otherwise the, as the myth goes, the suspect’s constitutional rights are violated. It is incorrectly believed that if a UC does not identify themselves then they have entrapped the person who committed the crime in question.

Well, hogwash. This is without any doubt whatsoever, a myth of epic proportion. It’s fake news spewed by people who do not know the law.

Yet, this highly-educated and quite successful attorney, well, he sort of went there, asking me this question during his cross examination. “Did you tell my client what you were going to do with the marijuana he gave you? 

I sat in silence for a moment to allow the prosecutor to butt in, object, or whatever,  but he elected to not do or say anything.

Therefore, my response to this dumb question was the first thing that popped into my somewhat warped mind. “No I did not. And I didn’t because I don’t believe he’d have given me large quantities of marijuana to sell if he knew I was handing it over to Va. State Police Troopers for the purpose of building a solid case against him.”

Laughter then roared from the courtroom, and even the judge chuckled before asking the defense attorney if he had any further questions for me. He replied, “No, sir. I don’t believe so.” Then he turned and took a seat.

The drug dealer was found guilty and was handed a lengthy prison sentence.


Entrapment

“Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” ~ Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540(1992).

 


Again, I’d truly like to hear you thoughts regarding a potential 2020 Writers’ Police Academy—return to Sirchie, NWTC’s Public Safety Academy in Green Bay, or to simply call it quits.

So please do post your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, if we are to continue hosting this wonderful event we may need volunteers to help out, especially people with experience in planning large events with lots of moving parts. We also may need a few people to fill smaller roles during the event—help with raffle, check-in, reception, banquet, etc.

Working as a WPA volunteer involves lots of hard work and no pay (sounds tempting, I know). However, the experience is extremely rewarding in many ways. If you should consider becoming a WPA volunteer, please keep in mind that the Writers’ Police Academy is not a typical writers conference. There are no craft sessions, agent and/or editor panels, nor are there pitch sessions with agents and/or editors.

The WPA is a hands-on learning event whose focus is solely on teaching writers about law enforcement, forensics, and crime-solving. It’s an event that welcomes everyone, and it’s a place that’s free of politics. It’s fun. It’s exciting. And it truly is a Disneyland for writers of all genres, from beginning writers to top bestselling authors. Fans and readers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, etc. are also welcome to attend.

Police officers must attend training academies where they learn the basics of the job. In Virginia, for example, it is required that new officers receive a minimum of 480 hours of basic academy training that includes (to name only a few subjects):

  • Professionalism
  • Legal
  • Communication
  • Patrol
  • Investigations
  • Defensive tactics and use of force
  • Weapons, including firearms, baton, chemical, etc.
  • Driver training

The list sounds simple but, believe me, the training is grueling and physically and mentally challenging and demanding. It’s also quite stressful because if a rookie happens to flunk any portion of the academy they are immediately returned to their department where it’s likely their employment will be terminated.

Of course, academies and individual departments may add to the basic curriculum, and they often do (mine was longer), but they may not eliminate any portion of the training that’s mandated by the Department of Justice and/or the state.

In addition to the basic police academy, in order to “run radar,” officers are required to successfully complete a compulsory minimum training standards and requirements course. This course is specifically for law-enforcement officers who utilize radar or an electrical or microcomputer device to measure the speed of motor vehicles.

The Basic Speed Measurement Operator Training requirements include the following:

  1. Attend a DCJS approved speed measurement operator’s course
  2. Pass the speed measurement testing
  3. Complete Field Training

Virginia State Police Basic Training

Academy training for the Virginia State Police (VSP) is much more intense and lengthy than that of local academies.

VSP academy training includes 1,536 hours of instruction covering more than 100 sessions that range  from laws of arrest, search and seizure, defensive tactics, motor vehicle code, criminal law, and much more.

A troopers basic training is completed in four phases.

  • Phase I – The first 12 days are at the Academy at which time the students receive abbreviated training.
  • Phase II – Pre-Academy Field Training—up to four months—at which time the students ride with a FTO.
  • Phase III – Return to the academy for 26 weeks of Basic Training, completing both classroom and practical courses.
  • Phase IV – Following graduation from the academy, troopers complete an additional six to eight weeks of field training with a FTO.

What Happens After Local Officers Graduate From the Academy?

Once local police and sheriff’s deputies complete the minimum of twelve weeks of academy training (remember, some are longer), the law enforcement officers are then required to successfully complete a minimum of 100 hours of approved field training. This is on the job training, working in the field under the supervision of a certified field training officer (FTO). FTOs, by the way, must attend and successfully complete a training program that qualifies them to train officers in the field.

The mandatory minimum course for FTOs shall include a minimum of 32 hours of training and must include each of the following subject matter:

a. Field training program and the field training officer.

b. Field training program delivery and evaluation.

c. Training liability.

d. Characteristics of the adult learner.

e. Methods of instruction.

f. Fundamentals of communication.

g. Written test.

During the field training portion of a rookie’s beginning days on the street, their FTOs are evaluating their performance while at the same time protecting them and the public from harm. Working as an FTO is a tough job. I know, I’ve done it. You’re forever watching to make certain the rookies do not accidentally violate the rights of citizens, and you’re constantly on high alert, watching for the unexpected. This is because you’re responsible for everything that could happen. And, you’re watching for two people instead of one.

FTOs typically allow rookies to get their hands dirty by handling calls, getting the feel of driving the patrol car on city streets or county roads, conduct arrests, etc. They serve as a crutch, to prevent missteps. They’re leaders and they’re teachers. They are the final barrier to the officers going out on their own, a day most new officers salivate for in anticipation.

That first night alone in your very own patrol car is a highly desired moment. It the official sign that you’ve made it. You are finally a police officer. In the meantime, though, there are a lot of boxes that must be checked off by the FTO.

During the field training period, each rookie must demonstrate that they know the streets in their patrol areas. They must know local and state laws and ordinances. They must know the working of the court system and how to effectively interact with local prosecutors. And, well, below is a list of topics that rookies must know better than the backs of their hands before their FTO officially signs the paperwork releasing them from the training.

  • Department Policies, Procedures, and Operations (General Law Enforcement)
  • Local Government Structure and Local Ordinances
  • Court Systems, Personnel, Functions and Locations
  • Resources and Referrals
  • Records and Documentation
  • Administrative Handling of Mental Cases
  • Local Juvenile Procedures
  • Detention Facilities and Booking Procedures
  • Facilities and Territory Familiarization
  • Miscellaneous

Academy instructors aren’t simply any Joe or Sally off the street who may know a little something about police work because they’ve every episode of COPS, twice. Instead, academy instructors in Virginia are well-trained and must meet a minimum standard set by the state/DOJ.

Yes, academy instructors are required to attend specialized certification classes for the specific subjects they teach. And, instructors who train/teach and certify other instructors must become certified to teach those high level classes. They are then certified instructor-trainers.

I was a certified instructor-trainer for Defensive Tactics and CPR, and I was a certified instructor for Firearms, Officer Survival, CPR, and Basic and Advanced Life Support.

Advanced Classes for Officers, and Writers

Officer training never ends. Laws change and tactics and techniques evolve. Academies and agencies across the U.S. offer numerous specialized training opportunities. A great example of such educational opportunities are the courses offered at Sirchie, the location of the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy’s special event, MurderCon.

Each year, on a continuing basis, Sirchie offers advanced classes for law enforcement officers. If some of these sound familiar to you, well, they should, because they were made available to attendees of the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy. It was an extremely rare opportunity for writers to have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and train at such a prestigious facility and to learn from some of the top instructors in the world.

Classes presented at Sirchie, for law enforcement officers, are as follows:

  • Clandestine Grave Search & Recovery

    SIRCHIE is offering a 4 day “hands-on” training class on searching for and properly investigating and recovering remains from a clandestine grave site. The legal term corpus delicti me…
  • Phase 1 – Footwear Impression – Detection, Recovery, Identification Training

    Footwear impression evidence is the most overlooked evidence at crime scenes. Criminals will often wear gloves or wipe down objects that they touch at crime scenes but rarely do they remove their s…
  • Bloodstain Pattern Documentation Class

    Throughout the United States and certainly in smaller departments, the crime scene technician faces the complexities of homicide scenes without the proper support or training. Like all forensi…
  • Mastering the IAI Latent Print Exam Class

    Minimum requirements for the class: Each student must have at least 1 year of Latent print experience to be accepted in the class.  Background: Examiners who are preparing to take the L…
  • Digital Device Forensics

    With over 9 Billion wireless subscriptions worldwide as of 2016, every criminal investigation involves information that can be captured from a digital device, including phones and tablets. Understa…
  • Latent Palm Print Comparison Class

    Minimum Requirements for the class: Each student must have attended and completed a Basic Latent Fingerprint Comparison Course to be accepted in the Advanced Latent Palm Print Comparison Cou…
  • Evidence Collection and Processing Training

    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 th…
  • Drone Forensics

    This 5 day course is designed to take the investigator deep into the world of Drone Forensics. The use of Drones is growing rapidly and expanding to criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations…
  • Comprehensive Advanced Latent Print Comparison Course

    How proficient are your individual comparison skills as pertaining to latent print casework? Are erroneous exclusions a problem in your skill set? If you are a manager are erroneous exclusions a problem in your latent print work unit? This class was developed to help improve latent comparison competency and knowledge whether you are already a Certified Latent Print Examiner or if you are preparing to take the exam in the near future. A broad and exhaustive level of complex latent print exercises were carefully compiled to improve the level of expertise for examiners. You will not find another class like this one anywhere.

So Much Training and So Many Required Certifications, but …

Law enforcement officers in Virginia (I’m not certain about other states) shall satisfactorily complete the Compulsory Minimum Training Standards and Requirements within 12 months of the date of hire or appointment as a law-enforcement officer.

Take a moment to re-read the line above and then let it sink in that officers may work for up to one full year before they attend a basic police academy. That’s potentially 12 months of driving a patrol car and making arrests without a single second of formal training.

Sure, most departments would never dream of allowing an untrained officer work the streets without close and direct supervision. However, I’ve seen it done and I have personal knowledge of deputy sheriffs who patrolled an entire county, alone, for nearly 365 days prior to attending any formal police training. I know this to be so because I was one of those deputy sheriffs.

Believe me, it’s an odd feeling to carry a loaded gun while driving like a bat out of hell with lights and siren squalling at full yelp during the pursuit of a heavily armed suspect, all while not having clue what you should and shouldn’t do when or if you catch the guy.

When I think about it today I realize how foolish it was for my boss to allow us to work under those conditions.

Author Melinda Lee – WPA firearms training

Thanks to the Writers’ Police Academy, many writers have received far more training than I had during my first year on the job. Actually, many writers who’ve attended the WPA have received more advanced training than many of today’s law enforcement officers.

 

 

 

 


Here’s a recap of past Writers’ Police Academy events condensed in an ad for the 2018 WPA.

 

 

The pursuit ended when the fleeing felon crashed his car in a roadside ditch. Both he and a passenger hopped out and began running toward an open field. The passenger turned right at a stand of maple trees. The driver hooked left, aiming for the rear of an elementary school. He carried a pistol in his left hand.

The dispatcher called to the officer to report that the driver was wanted for killing two police officers in a nearby town. The pursuing officer, D.O. Nut, chased the suspect, picking up speed and gaining on the armed man. His partner ran after the passenger.

Officer D.O. Nut felt his heart pounding against the inside of his ribs, its intensity mirroring the rapid rat-tat-tatting of a Thompson Sub-Machine gun. He felt his muscles quivering and he sensed a sudden burst of energy (no way he could run this fast and this far on a typical day).

In spite of his wide open mouth that sucked air as hard as his lungs would allow, he seemed fine, as if he could keep up the pace all day long. His vision was sharper than usual and his mind processed information at lightning speeds. He was invincible.

He caught up to the the cop-killer, an extremely large, muscular man the size of a pro wrestler, and quickly took him to the ground where he aptly placed cuffs around his massive wrists and then pulled the struggling behemoth to his feet for the long walk back to the patrol car. Piece of cake.

Adrenaline is definitely bad to the bone!

The officer suddenly felt a bit dizzy due to the change in blood circulation and oxygen. The temperature was a bit cool out, yet he felt somewhat warm and was perspiring far more than normal.. It was nearly an hour later before the odd feelings subsided.

That’s how it is for a police officer, the rollercoaster ride of adrenaline rushes and crashes/dumps, over and over again throughout a typical shift. From 0-100, time and time again. Guns, knives, fists, pursuits, yelling, screaming, crying, hostages, suicides, murders … STRESS!

The Adrenal Gland

Adrenaline, a simple stress hormone, aka epinephrine, is produced within the adrenal gland, a small gland that’s perched on the tops of our two kidneys. But as tiny as it is, the gland is the powerhouse behind our incredible “fight or flight” responses to fear, panic, and/or perceived threats.

Adrenaline is produced by a very specific layer of tissue within the adrenal gland—the medulla (the middle tissue). The gland also synthesizes many other hormones but that’s for another day, possibly. For now, let’s maintain our focus on adrenaline and how it’s so very important to police officers, victims of violent crimes, and the everyday Joe or Jane.

The Adrenaline “Rush”

An “adrenaline rush” occurs when the Sympathetic Nervous System is involuntarily activated by the brain when it detects that we’re involved in a high stress event, such as imminent physical danger.

When we’re frightened by a life-threatening situation such as an armed robber or serial-killer-maniac, the brain senses the danger and immediately sends an instant message to the adrenal glands. When the adrenal gland receives the alarm, and it’s an instantaneous reaction, it leaps into action and quickly dumps a massive surge of adrenaline into the bloodstream.

Once adrenaline is released and snakes its way throughout the body, it begins to work its magic—releasing glucose into the bloodstream to generate extra energy, speeds up our heart rates and increases the thumping power of the heart’s contractions, and it dilates the blood vessels.

To increase our intake and exchange of oxygen, adrenaline also widens the bronchioles, the smaller airways in the respiratory tract that lead to the alveolar ducts and finally to the extra-tiny alveoli (in the lungs) where gases are exchanged with blood.

Alveoli, by the way, are tiny air sacs located in the lungs at the end of the bronchioles. The alveoli are where the lungs and the bloodstream exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Speaking of Alveoli

I apologize for rambling but, since we’ve brought up the alveoli I’d like to take a brief moment to mention their part in breathalyzer testing. I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the day but it’s cool information that could someday be needed in a work of fiction, so here you go.

As blood is pumped throughout the body it passes through the lungs where it is is oxygenated. As a result, when a person consumes alcoholic beverages some of the alcohol eventually crosses the air sacs (alveoli). When it reaches those sacs alcohol is released into the air. This occurs because because alcohol evaporates from a solution because oxygen is volatile.

Therefore the concentration of the alcohol in the alveolar air corresponds to the concentration of the alcohol in the blood. When the alcohol in the alveolar air is exhaled (deep lung air), it can be detected and accurately measured by breathalyzers and other breath alcohol testing devices such as those used by police officers.

The ratio of breath alcohol to blood alcohol is 2,100:1, meaning that 2,100 milliliters (ml) of alveolar air contains the same amount of alcohol as 1 ml of blood.

Whew! That Was Confusing, Right? And I had to endure a week of classroom training about this stuff back during Breathalyzer certification training. Fun times!

Okay, Now Back to Adrenaline

We’ve all experienced an adrenaline rush at some point during our lives. Like when the car nearly crashed into you on the freeway, or during your PIT maneuver training at the Writers’ Police Academy as your car was struck by one driven by Tami Hoag or Craig Johnson, a controlled collision that caused your vehicle to wildly spin out of control.

Fight or Flight

Now, with our bloodstream loaded with adrenaline, we’re ready to either stand and fight or put our feet in action to make a speedy retreat. Fortunately, we don’t have to develop this plan before we act because our autonomic nervous system does it for us. It’s this automated control center of our nervous systems the start the process for us. All we need to do react in whichever method—to run away or stand and fight—our bodies tell us.

If we’re forced to fight during the time when adrenaline is surging through our blood vessels, well, Mr. Bad Guy had better prepare for a wild ride because fear can bring out the grizzly bear in each of us. It is this physical response that can aid in fending off those who mean to do us harm.

Adrenaline is indeed a remarkable thing. Once it’s sent on its way through the bloodstream, it can turn the meek and mild into supercharged versions of themselves.

The Tractor and a Child’s Superhuman Strength

An uncle of mine lost his legs after a farming accident when a tractor he was driving slipped on a hillside and overturned, pinning him beneath it. His young son, just a small boy, witnessed the accident and miraculously lifted the tractor from his father who then managed to pull himself away. The boy then released his hold on the tractor and it fell to the ground. Unfortunately, both of my uncles legs were crushed and had to be removed.

He went on to live a productive and active life, though, and never let his handicap slow him in any way. He even enjoyed joining in a game of softball once in a while. He was a killer with  bat and could easily slam a ball into deep center field. Then he’d “run” the bases by using his hands to thrust his torso forward and back much like the movements of a chimpanzee scampering along the ground. My goodness, my uncle was fast, too. He’s gone now, but his story and love of life and family left a lasting impression on many people.

But, my uncle would have succumbed to his injuries had it not been for his son’s quick thinking and and adrenaline-charged super strength. And it is that same “rush” that helps cops survive each and every day.

But those ups and downs can take a toll on the body.

Short term, immediate post adrenaline “dumps” often result in:

  • Nausea
  • Mild to Extreme Muscle Soreness
  • Urge/Desire to have sex. Hypersexual.
  • Winding Down Process – hyper activity such as extreme pacing,  jitteriness, shouting, and incessant babbling.
  • Exhaustion
  • Nightmares and Loss of or Restless/Tossing and turning during sleep
  • Sporadic Adrenaline Rush brought on by a minor incident or thoughts

Long term effects include:

  • weakened immune system
  • ulcers
  • cardiovascular troubles
  • Stress-induced DNA damage that can lead to premature aging, promotion of tumor growth, miscarriages in women
  • depression
  • exacerbated anxiety

 

The James River, like most major rivers in Virginia, flows west to east. And like the other larger rivers in the Commonwealth, was a barrier to Union army soldiers during their quests to move deeper into the south.

On Dec. 7, 1864, a few miles south of the James River in Richmond, Union general Gouverneur K. Warren led a force of 26,200 soldiers on a mission starting out in Petersburg. The plan was to destroy a rail line that was vital to Confederate troops. However, Confederate forces, anticipating the advance by Warren and his troops, lay in wait at the point where the rail line crossed another river, some 45 miles or so south of Petersburg. They were ready for the attack.

Two days later when the Union soldiers appeared and attempted to reach the railroad bridge they were stopped by the entrenched Confederate cavalrymen. These defenders, in order to prevent the Union from crossing the river, burned the nearby wagon bridge.  Warren ended the attack later that same day.

Lots of lives were lost in or near Virginia’s waterways during the Civil War. But others have died there since. Some, for example, drowned while swimming or as a result of boating accidents.

Finding the Bodies

As a police officer I’ve been involved in the recoveries of a few bodies from Virginia waters. The experiences were unpleasant at best.

It’s an extremely eerie feeling, one that stands the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck on end, when you catch that first glimpse of a pale and bloated dead body floating in the current, or one that’s trapped among branches and limbs of overhanging brush and weeds and downed trees. Sometimes you see wildlife nibbling at the corpse, or a water moccasin nestled in the branches near an arm, a leg, or the bobbing head of the deceased.

But, back to the bridges over Virginia’s rivers. One in particular, actually. It was a wood-framed railroad bridge. A truss-type structure that was nearly 1,500 long and a mere 10 feet wide, approximately 5′ of which consisted of an expanded metal walkway that ran the distance along the west side of the tracks. When standing on the bridge one could see the river below through the gaps between the ties and through the open squares in the metal walkway. The distance to the water below was, well, it was a long, long drop.

At the base of the bridge abutments were numerous large boulders and heavy stones. Some jutted up from the swiftly flowing black water that swirled and whirled and churned around and through the spaces between the rocks. Large trees often became entangled among the stones, causing even more foamy turbulence. Broken and shattered limbs pointed toward the sky, sometimes resembling the punji stick boobytraps used by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to wound American soldiers during the war. Water rushed and swished by the obstructions, and small waves slapped and smacked against the rocks.

An accidental fall from the railroad bridge could be deadly. But when a person is physically tossed from the bridge to the rocks and trees below, well, that’s practically guaranteed death. And such was the case when I received a call to investigate a body seen half in the water and half out. The victim was spotted by a railroad employee as their train traveled across the trestle.

When I arrived patrol officers were already on the scene and they’d called for the fire department and EMS to assist with the recovery of the body. He was a young man in his late teens or early 20s (I don’t recall his exact age). The condition of his body indicated a fall from the bridge above. The gunshot would to his arm and right side suggested the fall was not accidental.

Later, autopsy results told us that it was the combination of the tree limb that pierced his abdomen, entering just below the bellybutton and exiting the lower back, and the severe trauma to the head—a shattered skull and massive swelling of the brain, that caused his death. No surprises there. The gunshot wounds were non-fatal. Also not a surprise.

I attended the autopsy.

The Footwork

I walked the trestle searching the wood and steel for signs of blood and other evidence, things that could tell me what happened and perhaps lead me to the source of the victim’s demise. But there was nothing. Stains that appeared to be blood proved to be oil or grease spilled or leaked from passing the trains.

After holding up train traffic for a couple of hours and finding nothing, not a single shred of evidence, I had dispatch call the train companies to let them know they were once again free to travel the tracks. Then I turned my focus toward the footpaths and dirt road that led to the trestle.

The road was used by railroad workers. The paths were traveled by locals who crossed on foot as a shortcut across the river. Mostly, the pedestrians were poor people who hauled bags filled with aluminums cans and other items to sell to nearby scrap metal dealers.

The trip across the bridge was a dangerous one. There were no side barriers, just two strands of thin cable stretched between a row of vertical metal posts. And no one knew when the next train would come zipping through. So being caught in the middle of the tracks with no means of protection was a very real possibility. The only option would be to jump to the river below, hoping to land in the water and not on something hard. Besides, the fall alone could kill, and it had. Several times.

Clues Emerge

I caught a whiff of smoke and followed it to where I ran across two homeless men who’d set up camp in the middle of a thicket near the tracks. They’d made a barbecue grill by laying a shopping cart on its side. They burned wood inside the basket until they had a nice pile of glowing embers below the “grill.”

They’d caught a couple of fish earlier that morning and were in the midst of grilling them when I approached. I have to admit, the fish smelled delicious, and they invited me to join them for dinner. I declined, of course.

I took seat on an overturned 5-gallon bucket and chatted with the men while they continued their meal preparations, pausing occasionally to drink from cans inside brown paper sacks. Forty ounce beers from the size and shapes of them.

I turned the conversation to the dead man, showing them a photo of his badly battered face, asking if they knew him. They didn’t know his name but they’d each seen him around a few times, crossing the bridge. They said he’d sometimes stopped to give them a few dollars. “Always had a pile of money on him,” one of the men said. “Kept it knotted in a roll held together by a red rubber band.”

The other man said he’d heard that the dead man used to live in a home that “tended to people who were sick in the head.”

So I visited the nearest place that met the description and sure enough, one of their residents hadn’t been seen for a few days. The woman behind the front desk said he’d received a check each month and was allowed to cash it to spend the money as he pleased. The state took care of his day-to-day care and expenses.

Well, the pieces started to quickly fall into place. I located the bank and teller who cashed the checks. She told me she remembered seeing another man with him that day. They seemed friendly and were talking and joking and laughing as friends do.

After questioning nearly every person I knew who used the bridge, I wound up interviewing one of the dead man’s friends who, out of the blue, confessed to the murder. It was he who’d accompanied the man to the bank.

A Crack Attack

He said he went with his friend to cash the check. Then he and his buddy set out to hand over a few of the dollars to a local prostitute. Along the way, though, he robbed his friend at gunpoint. He told me he needed some quick csh to buy crack. His body’s overwhelming desire for the drug, and “the voice”, he said, made him shoot the man. Then he dragged the kicking and screaming man to a predetermined spot in the woods near the tracks where he used a metal rod to knock him practically unconscious.

The killer wouldn’t look me in the eye when he described pushing and pulling his friend out onto the railroad bridge. Finally, after a brief struggle, he said he simply pushed the victim over the edge of the bridge. He then headed to a local dealer where he purchased three cracks rocks for $60. When he finishing smoking those he went back for three more.

He told me he was sorry for what he’d done, but there was nothing he could’ve done to stop it. The urge to smoke crack was far too great for him to set aside. He’d always done whatever it took to get the next rock.

And, he said, he probably always would. Until it killed him.

 

Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing are, of course, excellent guidelines.

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The renowned author also offered another fantastic bit of advice when he wrote, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

So, keeping Leonard’s advice in mind I’ll open today’s article with the weather, followed by the use of the word “suddenly.” The need to break a few more of Leonard’s rules were also far too irresistible to pass up.

The incident, one that’s quite true, went something like this.

The Night Was Dark, But Not Stormy

It was a quiet summer night, a night when the temperature hovered at the 80 degree mark long after the sun disappeared below the horizon, and after lightning bugs began their winking and blinking neon-like displays across fields and yards. Mosquito trucks rolled slowly along city streets, fogging neighborhoods with clouds of stinky insecticide. Humidity-filled air oozed across the skin and filled the lungs like a rapidly spreading disease. Flashes of heat lightning illuminated the distant sky, backlighting dark fluffy clouds and far away trees and tall buildings.

In short, it was a typical southern summer night.

The shift had been reasonably quiet with no real crimes to speak of, when suddenly a sweaty, frightened, nervous, and wild-eyed young man, a teenager, appeared at the lobby window. He was rail thin with long and slender arms and legs that protruded from his torso, resembling the wet and steaming spaghetti noodles that hang loosely from the holes in the bottom of a colander after all the hot water is drained.

He rambled on and on about a body in the woods. He stammered and stuttered about seeing a man shot to death. Between bouts of uncontrollable sobbing he told of helping three of his friends drag the dead man into the woods. Then they left him there to be eaten by wildlife or to rot, whichever came first.

An officer took the teen’s information, filled out a report, and then I was called to investigate.

I first bought the young fellow a cold soft drink and then asked him to take a seat in my office where a window air-conditioning unit hummed in the background as it sent chilled air into the room. I handed him a wad of paper towels so he could wipe the perspiration from his face. He reeked of sour body odor. Bits of leaves, tree bark, and lint clung to his short hair like teensy ornaments on a Christmas tree.

I began the interview.

He told me he was sixteen-years-old and was a member of a small gang. Actually, his “gang” consisted mostly of a few of his cousins and close friends, and that their gang activities centered around committing minor B&Es and selling drugs for a local dealer.

Recently, though, the dealer coerced the boys into doing a bit of “collecting” for him. This duty involved strong-arming people into paying their debts. Sometimes, he confessed, the collections involved extreme violence, such as beatings with bats and metal pipes.

This night, the collection of money owed, took an ugly turn. Four of the boys drove out into the county to the home of a young man who owed the dealer a considerable sum of money. He’d been given crack cocaine to sell but failed to turn over the proceeds to the boss. Actually, he, a former crack addict, had relapsed and smoked the entire amount all by himself. So the dealer sent “his enforcers “to collect, “or else.”

Since the man had no cash the four collectors were faced with a dilemma—fork over the cash themselves, or kill the moocher. Those were their instructions—return with $300 or kill him. So they grabbed the man and forced him into their car. Then they drove him to a remote area of the county where the made him get out of the car in the middle of road. Once outside they forced him to his knees.

The teen sitting across from me wept as he told of the man begging them not to hurt him. Then one of the teens produced a pistol and placed it against the back of the man’s head. The man began to cry, now begging for his life to be spared.

The gun-wielding man pulled the trigger twice.

As a group, the four teens dragged the body across the asphalt pavement, down into a rocky and weed-filled ditch, and then into the woods. They pulled and tugged the body across leaves and sticks and fallen branches and over small spindly young trees and bushes. They stopped to rest a couple of times. Then, after they’d caught their breath they continued onward until they’d dragged the dead man nearly 200 yards or so into the woods.

I called for a team of officers to help conduct a search. The teen rode with me, guiding us to the spot where they’d hidden the body.

We found the dead man after searching until the sun came up the next morning. He was on his back. His eyes and mouth were open, wide. It was as if he’d seen the bowels of hell and at that point died with pure fear freezing his facial muscles in an expression of absolute horror.

Flies buzzed around the wounds on his head. A couple flew into his mouth and then crawled back out. Black ants, and I’ll never forget this as long as I live, walked on the dead mans eyeballs. They stepped first one way and then other, randomly zig-zagging about. It was an odd sight to say the least. They looked liked ice skaters on two tiny frozen and morbid ponds. A wasp stood at the opening of the left ear canal.

So when people ask me about the things I remember most about working death scenes, well, I recall the weather, the suddenness of it all, the vivid descriptions of the people and places, the dialects of the people I questioned and how many times their statements ended in a manner that when written deserved to end in exclamation points. I think of the backstories of the killers and victims—the prologues to murder.

And, I think about the bugs and their lack of respect for the dead.

It’s sometimes difficult for the public to decipher the 10-Codes used by police agencies, 10-4?

To add to the confusion, there are hundreds of acronyms. To name only a few:

ACU – Asian Crimes Unit
ADW – Assault with a Deadly Weapon
AFIS -Automated Fingerprint Identification System
AG – Attorney General
AGU – Asian Gang Unit
ATF – Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
BAM – By Any Means
BOLO – Be on the Lookout
CAP – Crimes Against Persons
CHP – California Highway Patrol
CI – Confidential Informant
CIR – Critical Incident Report
CO – Commanding Officer
CODIS – Combined DNA Index System
CP – Command Post
DA – District Attorney
DB -Dead Body
DEA – Drug Enforcement Agency
DL – Drivers License
DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles
DNA – Do Not Approach
DOB – Date of Birth
DOJ – Department of Justice
DPS – Department of Public Services
DSS – Department of Social Services
ERT – Emergency Response Team
FBI -Federal Bureau of Investigation
FI -Field Interview
FO – Field Office
GIU – Gang Intelligence Unit
GSR – Gunshot Residue
IA – Internal Affairs
IED – Improvised Explosive Device
IO – Investigating Officer
KA – Known Associate
LWP – Life Without Parole
MCT – Mobile Computer Terminal
MDT – Mobile Digital Terminal
ME – Medical Examiner
NCIC – National Crime Information Center, National Crime Index  Computer
OC – Organized Crime
OCU – Organized Crime Unit
OD – Overdose
OIS – Officer Involved Shooting
OT – Overtime
PC – Probable Cause
PI – Private Investigator
RO – Reporting Officer
ROR – Released On Own Recognizance
RTD – Return To Duty
SIS – Special Investigation Section
TOD -Time of Death
UNSUB -Unknown Subject
VICAP – Violent Criminal Apprehension Program

Texting Codes

Now, in keeping up with the cool kids, cops have their own set of texting codes. Without revealing their true secrets let’s imagine some of the codes officers might use when texting among themselves. Hmm … perhaps they’re something like this …

BYOB – Bring Your Own Bullets

SOMSL – Shhh… Open Mic, Sergeant Listening

RBLGP – Running Blue Lights, Gotta Pee

MOMHHPAD – Moons Over My Hammy Half Price At Denny’s

FCADD – Free Coffee At Dunkin’ Donuts

GARSRTC – Got A Runner, Sending Rookie To Chase

NBLGIJL – Need Backup, Left Gun In Jail Lockbox

ANLKIC – Assistance Needed, Locked Keys In Car

C4MNBB – Cover For Me, Need Bathroom Break

K9BRSSAA – K9 Bit Runner, Send Supervisor and Ambulance

DPIBCC – Drunk Puked in Backseat, Cleaning Car

YBLAO – Your Blue Lights Are On (Officers sometimes forget to switch them off after clearing a scene or traffic stop).

OOSK9JCIMC – Out Of Service, K9 Just Crapped In My Car

NAGAK – Need Assistance, Getting A** Kicked

911 – HELP!

911911911911911 – HELP ME NOW!!!

911911911911911911911911!!!! – You’re moving far too slowly. I’m bleeding and he’s still hitting me and stabbing me and shooting at me!!!! Hurry up!! Ouch!!! Ouch!!!! Ouch!!!

RABWLAHCSC – Reading Another Book Where Lazy Author Had Character Smell Cordite

A gun is a cop’s silent best friend and, without fail, they’re always there when the officers need them.

They’re extremely low maintenance—a diet of fresh bullets along with a little Hoppes gun oil to wash them down, a bath for the little fella a bath every Saturday night, and don’t let them play in the rain and the dirt. That’s about it.

But pistols can be a touch on the sensitive side, so it’s a must to cradle them gently, never letting them fall to the ground, especially on hard surfaces. And please, you heroes of crime fiction, remember to gently place a hand on their little butts whenever you find yourselves in a dangerous situation. It’s soothes their nerves. Yours too.

That’s all your sidearm will ever ask of you. Nothing more, nothing less. Do these simple things and they’ll remain at your side forever.

Sidearms are Pants-Puller-Downers!

Personally, I liked the feeling of a pistol on my side. Its weight was a comforting reminder that I was not alone, even during the most trying of times. However, the constant downward pull at my belt and waistline could be a bit annoying. Shirt tails riding up on the gun side and pants going in the opposite direction. This is the reason you sometimes see detectives tugging upward at their waistband on their gun side.

And there’s that thing about the hammer insisting that it tear a hole in the lining of every jacket I owned. It was … well, it was pretty darn aggravating. But you get used to it and move on.

Above is the inside of one the jackets I wore while serving as a detective. The patch was sewn over yet another hole worn through the lining caused by the constant rubbing of the hammer of my SIG Sauer against the fabric.

But, a little patch, a needle and thread, and you’re back in business. It’s the least you can do for your little one. I had a department-funded clothing allowance but didn’t want to waste it on a new suit each time a hole appeared in the linings.

A Take-Home Home is a Huge Perk for Officers

A take-home car is another BFF. Detectives and some patrol officers often drive the same cars for so long that the foam seat cushions conforms to the shapes of their individual rear-ends.

Unlike a relationship with the gun, though, cops can get away with talking to their vehicles without anyone thinking they’ve finally stepped over into cop la-la-land. People on the outside of the cars have no idea as to whether or no the officer is speaking into a radio mic, or not.

And let’s not forget the graveyard shift sing-a-longs that help officers remain awake once the magic fall-asleep-it’s-four-o’clock hour rolls around. Or the bullet hole in the front fender that’s a constant reminder that the car “took” the one that was meant for its driver.

Yep, the three of you make a great team—the brains, the brawn, and the … well, there’s no “B” for the car, but it’s definitely an integral part of the trio. You go everywhere together. You’re inseparable. Day-in and day-out you do everything together. And it’s your two partners who’re there for you when you’re up and when you’re down. They’re around during the tough times, through fights, saving lives, weddings and divorces. Through good days and through sicknesses. When you held the kid whose mother had just died in a car crash. And when you comforted the parents whose son took the overdose. When you sat behind the wheel and wept because you couldn’t reach far enough inside the burning car to pull the crying infant from the flames.

For twenty-five years, the three of you sacrificed everything to work in the rain, snow, and unbearable heat. You put in grueling, long hours. You worked with injured body parts and during times when family members were dying. And you did it all for low pay and little recognition for your hard work.

All Good and Bad Things Must Come to an End

And then the day finally comes … the day when the three of you are no more.

You drive to work and park, not in your old space, the one you’ve parked in for years, but alongside a row of fleet cars … strangers.

You walk inside for the last time and hand in your keys. Then it’s time to slip off the holster. The instant weight loss feels horrible. Sliding the badge across the desk is worse. But you know the three of you have too many miles behind you to keep going. It’s time to say goodbye.

After all, there’s always a fish to catch or a burger to flip. A mall to guard and shoplifters to nab. Flowers to plant and birdhouses to build. And let’s not forget those customers who need greeting. Besides, that little blue vest is downright sporty, dontcha’ think?

 

Each year, somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people commit suicide in the United States. They take their own lives, leaving behind an average of six or more suicide survivors, the friends and family who deeply cared for the deceased person. And it is that half-dozen people who are left to deal with the aftermath and the very real emotional struggle to understand why their loved one chose to end it all.

Additionally, there’s another group of individuals who are unfortunately forced into the survivor category, the police officers who’re chosen as the weapon of choice for the person who elects to die in the manner known as suicide-by-cop. They, the officers involved, have their own special process of grieving with which to contend.

Shame and Guilt

In cases of suicide where a person takes their own life, the hours, days, weeks, and even years after are often filled with emotions that include shame and guilt. Shame, perhaps, because the survivors’ religions or personal beliefs view the act of suicide as a sin. Guilt, because the survivor may think they could have done something to prevent the death. There are other reasons, of course.

Outsiders may shy away from family members of the suicidal person because they simply don’t know what to say or do. Doing so adds to the sometimes self-isolation and feelings of abandonment experienced by survivors.

Then, adding to the trauma, come the police who enter the scene because the death must be investigated. It’s a necessary evil, one that unfortunately causes the family to relive the entire event. It’s an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation for the investigating officers, and a traumatic one for the survivors. Not to mention that the survivors often blame the police for the death, placing the fault squarely on their shoulders.

Why Do They Do It?

Some individuals who’ve made the choice to use a cop to do “the deed” for them are often attempting to avoid the issue of committing suicide, the act of taking one’s own life. Since suicide is often thought of as taboo, having someone else do it for you releases them (in their minds) of the stigma of suicide.

Sometimes a person sees suicide-by-cop as a fitting punishment for a sin. Others, well, they simply didn’t have the nerve to jump from a tall building or to use a gun to violently end it all. So they choose armed police officers to do it for them.

Mentally ill patients sometimes see the officer as a stand-in for a parent or other family member they absolutely despise. Therefore, they act out, using the officer as a means to thumb their nose at people in charge by forcing the authorities (the officers) to cause the destruction of the suicidal person. Sort of an “I win because I made you kill me,” scenario.

How Does Suicide-by-Cop Affect Police Officers?

Police officers who encounter individuals who’ve made the choice to use a cop to do “the deed” for them are often psychologically scarred and become depressed, and even angry that they were used as tools to kill another human.

Officers can develop various stages of PTSD, from mild to severe, and may forever second-guess the action(s) they took “that day,” contemplating the “what-ifs” on a never-ending loop that replays inside their minds day after day after day.

Officers who’re involved in suicide-by-cop situations may develop severe insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. They experience nightmares centered around the event. Flashbacks often occur, taking the officer back to the moment when the event took place.

Officers often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt after a suicide-by-cop incident.

Shattered Lives

Officers may become absolutely broken over the incident. Their lives are shattered and they don’t know how to cope with changing from a strong and emotionally sound person to someone who can’t cope with day-to-day life. Even things as simple as going outside for a breath of fresh air can become a terrifying act.

Each officer reacts differently to suicide-by-cop situations. Like snowflakes, no two are alike.

To add to the officer’s troubles, while dealing with the psychological issues along comes a police shooting review board/team who question the officers every movement and action. They interrogate the officer in an attempt to make certain he/she followed the book, or not. The officer is investigated by strangers from outside agencies. They’re placed in the same “hot seat” where they’ve seated numerous criminals over the years.

The officers are most likely suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigations. They’re stripped of their badges and guns. Civil suits pop up, filed by the attorneys representing the family of the deceased person. The public and press often side with the victim and place blame on the officer.

If the suicidal person was of a different race than that of the officer, accusations of racism often appear in the media as well as in the form of protests and marches. These actions compound the officer’s feelings of guilt which, in turn, sends depression and anxiety spiraling out of control. They’re hit from all sides with negativity.

The walls around them seem as if they’re closing in. Startle responses become hypersensitive. Paranoia sets in as the officer senses a lack of support from his department and from the general public.

Fear, anxiety, depression, and anger

Some fellow officers give the impression that the officer involved in the shooting is weak and should’ve been able to take the killing of another human in stride. However, this only serves to increase the officer’s feelings of doubt and depression.

Family life for the officers can quickly begin to crumble due to symptoms of PTSD—the flashbacks, irritability, the “I can’t concentrate and can’t seem to do anything right” syndrome. They give up and shut down, basically leaving only two options—seek professional help, or not.

Those who do not elect to accept counseling and other professional services often self-medicate by turning to alcohol and illegal drug use as an attempt to make their problems go away.

Even those who do turn to mental health professionals sometimes find that prescribed medications have adverse effects, enhancing the symptoms of PTSD. That or they’re overmedicated and plunder through life in a near zombie-like state. Sure, mental health care works for many, but a few don’t fare as well.

Many times, unfortunately, officers who are unable to cope with their involvement in a suicide-by-cop incident are unable to return to work as police officers. And, sadly, their mental instability and insecurities make them unlikely candidates for employment in the public sector.

Therefore, they oftentimes remain at home alone, broken, sad, anxious, depressed and, left to their thoughts and day- and nightmares while heavily medicated or high on illegal substances or alcohol.

They’re alone because their families were unable to deal with the angry outbursts and both physical and mental abuse, so they packed their bags and left.

And there sits the once proud officer, alone, scared, confused, and wondering a million times each day … “what if?”

And some, in a weird twist of fate, finally reach the end of their ropes and take their own lives … another suicide-by-cop.

 

 

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

 

 

A dead woman crying: murder in the rain

I’ve seen more than anyone’s fair share of murder victims. More than I’d care to count, actually. I’ve also seen a variety of methods and instruments used by killers to achieve their goal(s)—gunshots, edged weapons, etc.

Some victims were poisoned; others were killed by hanging, strangulation, fire, torture, beatings, blunt instrument bludgeoning and, well, you name the manner and instruments used to kill and I’ve probably seen the end result. Unfortunately, it’s not long before dead bodies—the victims of senseless violence—quickly begin to stack up in the old memory bank.

Sure, cops get used to seeing carnage. They have to in order to survive the job. Still, there are cases that cling to the outer fringes of the mind, remaining fresh in our thoughts for many years. These, the often thought of, aren’t necessarily the most gruesome or the most difficult to solve. Not at all. In fact, what sticks with one officer may not affect another in the same way.

A few homicides occasionally creep back onto the “replay” reel inside my brain—the killing of children, the crazy guy who hacked his sister-in-law with an ax because she wouldn’t give him money for a pack of cigarettes, the kid found hanging from an extension cord in an abandoned factory, and, of course, the case I’m about to describe to you. It came to mind recently because of rains we’ve received lately here in Delaware.

The storms came at night, bringing brilliant displays of zig-zagging lightning followed by earth- and window-rattling thunder. Windblown raindrops the size of chickpeas pounded against our windows and rooftop. This is how it was the night I saw the dead woman crying, and it was the morning after when I had the unpleasant task of doing the “death knock.”

So slip on a pair of boots and a raincoat and join me on a brief journey into my memory. And yes, sometimes tales do begin with the weather…

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It was a brutal storm that night, one that delivered a hard-driving and bitterly cold winter rain. Accompanying winds tugged hard against my long, school-bus-yellow rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.

The ground at the crime scene was extremely muddy, and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, wet soil until it felt as if bricks were tied to the bottoms of my feet.

These were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.

New Picture

Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted her smooth and round caramel-colored face. They gathered and pooled at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers following the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.

It was one on one—me and the victim.

Passenger door open.

She’s lying there,

Bottom half in, top half out.

Her face aimed at the sky.

Rain falling into her open mouth.

Cheap dollar-store tennis shoes and half-socks, the socks her youngest daughter—the seven-year-old—called baby socks.

Her wet hair, mingled with mud, sticks, and windswept leaves.

Power lines crackled and buzzed overhead.

The yellow Magnate beam, a spotlight on her dim gray eyes.

No life.

No recollections.

No dreams.

Not a flicker.

Tire tracks.

Different pattern than the rubber on her Chrysler.

Driver’s window down.

Three rounds—one to the head and two to the torso.

Five empty casings.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

Half-empty wine bottle.

Cheap convenience store label.

Not her brand according to the ladies in her church group. “Oh we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”

“Was there a somebody special?”

Eyes cast downward.

Blushes and eyelash flutterings all around. “Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”

More blushing.

A stammer or two.

A good man.

The rain comes harder.

Droplets hammer her open eyes.

She doesn’t blink.

A dead woman crying.

Footprints.

Two sets.

One walking.

Casually, perhaps.

The other, long strides.

Running away, possibly.

Zigzagging to the woods.

Bullet lodged in base of a spruce pine.

One round left to find.

Water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt material.

Blood?

Still visible in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Light finds a shoe in the underbrush.

It’s attached to the foot of an adult male.

Dead.

Bullet in back.

The fifth round.

Coming together nicely.

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

Special wine for special occasion…

A good man.

Sure he is.

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Morning sunshine.

Tiny face peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

A lump in my throat.

Scent of frying bacon in the air.

I raise my knuckles to the door.

It’s the worst job in the world,

To deliver…

The “Death Knock.”

Door swings open.

Worried husband.

“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”

Husband, devastated.

Questions unanswered.

Children cry.

“Yes, I have ideas. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher hangs head in shame.

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But…

Another man.

Another lover.

Angry.

Jealous.

Handcuffs.

Click.

Click.

Murder.

No bond.

Prison.

Today, our rains have stopped.

But I’m thinking of the crying dead woman and her kids, her loving husband and, of course, baby socks.

Special occasion?

Good man?

Yeah, right.