The Exclusionary Rule keeps police officers in check while conducting searches. It prevents prosecutors from presenting illegally obtained evidence.

The rule states that any evidence siezed during an improper search cannot be used, no matter how incriminating it may be (see Fruit of the Poisonous Tree below).

And, if this improper evidence the key piece to the entire case—the smoking gun—the prosecution may be forced to drop the case, sending a very guilty crook back on the street. The defendant may also have grounds for a civil suit against the officers involved, as well as the police department and the city.

The Exclusionary Rule is basically the Supreme Court keeping watch over search-warrant-serving cops.

There are exceptions to the exclusionary rule, such as:

When officers rely on a warrant that later turns out to be invalid. For example, officers search a house and find a large cache of illegal weapons along with a guy who’s in the process of grinding off serial numbers from an AK-47. Later, the court learns that the address on the warrant was incorrect because the detective accidentally typed River Avenue instead of River Road. Or, the landmarks used to identify the property to be searched were improperly recorded.

“I meant the blue house on River Road, the first one on the right past the old oak tree, not the first one on the left. It was an honest mistake. Oops!”

The warrant may still be ruled valid and the seizure of the guns may still be legal. Or, the warrant may be ruled invalid but the seizure of the weapons could possibly stand. This is so because the officers were acting in good faith, believing they were on the property based on a constitutionally sound warrant (This is a weak example, but you get the idea).

However, if a police officer lies to the judge or magistrate, or if the judge or magistrate showed bias toward the officers when issuing the search warrant, the warrant is invalid and the exclusionary rule is in effect. The evidence recovered by the police may not be used. In fact, it will be tossed out of court, and possibly the officer too …


Did you know??

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree – Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against a defendant. Evidence illegally obtained is “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.”

Suicide by Cop was a theory that developed after the young man whose life ended shortly after he sent several bullets flying in my direction. He’d left his hometown possibly to avoid a sexual assault trial centered around a serious crime he’d been accused of committing. The trial was on the horizon, therefore, some believed he’d decided to skip town. So he packed clothing into a military duffel bag and loaded it and a small amount of fishing gear into a station wagon he’d borrowed from his father. Then he headed southeast from the upper mid-West state where he and his family lived.

If his wish had been to die at the hand of police officer, well, that wish came true a few weeks later when he and I met alongside I95 in Virginia. He’d just robbed a bank and during a police pursuit, crashed his car into a culvert at the end of an entrance ramp leading onto the busy highway. The pursuing officer was a rookie I’d trained in defensive tactics and officer survival during his time at the police academy.

Long story short, since many of you know the details, he came out of his car with gun in hand and after a few moments, came up shooting. After I’d returned fire, hitting him with all five of the rounds I fired, he leapt to his feet and charged with gun in hand, pointed at other officers who’d arrived after the initial shooting began.

I and a sheriff’s captain tackled him and handcuffed him. He died a few minutes later. I was the only officer whose rounds struck the robber and four of the five rounds I fired caused fatal wounds. The fifth, a shot to the side of the head, caused extensive damage but most likely, according to the medical examiner, would not have ended his basic life functions.

Whether or not he’d planned to kill himself by using my, or another officer’s bullets, will forever remain a mystery. He took those thoughts to his grave.

I’ve told this story again to bring to light an aspect of suicide by cop that’s often buried with the victim of police gunfire—the psychological trauma experienced by the officer who was forced to fire the fatal rounds that brought about the conclusion to someone’s quest to die.

It’s within our nature to feel guilty about our actions. After all, most of us are taught at very early stages of our lives to know right from wrong, and killing another human is certainly one of things that is so, so very wrong.

Along with the guilt comes a sense of anger at being used as a source of suicide. Killing people is not part of the reasons men and women sign up to become police officers. Most want to help their fellow citizen, not harm them. I used the word “most” in the previous sentence because as we all know, there are certain individuals in this world who are broken somewhere in their internal wiring and will kill for the sake of killing. Those people, unfortunately, come to us from all walks of life. But I think it’s safe to say that 99.99999% of all police officers would prefer to not kill, for any reason.

So to place an officer in a position where it’s either kill or be killed, or to prevent another innocent person from being seriously harmed or killed, well, the act forces them to totally goes against the grain of why police officers do what they day. Those officers often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt.

In the minutes, hours, days, months, and years, and decades after these shootings, it’s not at all uncommon that officers second-guess their actions. “What if I had” begins to play on a never-ending loop through their minds.

In my own situation I often think that perhaps I could’ve/should’ve somehow, during intense gunfire, attempted to circle around the man’s car and then try to capture him alive. This scenario was not an option nor was is feasible, but I still wonder. After all, I’d disarmed several people during my career and I’d done so without having to fire a single shot.

It’s a ridiculous notion that I could’ve left my position to try and take the man down. If I had there’s no doubt I’d have been killed in a matter of seconds after I took the first steps toward his car. But those “what-ifs” still bounce around inside my skull. I’m sure the same is true for the many, many officers out there who’ve been in similar situations.

Once these emotions and feelings set in, and they do, they firmly take root. The officer often starts reliving the incident, replaying it over and over and over again in their thoughts. They become overly irritable, anxious, they can’t sleep and when they do nightmares take over, and then come the flashbacks, in living, bleeding color.

Of course, in the meantime, the officer must deal with internal investigations by outside agencies and investigators who quite often drill them with questions that insinuate the officer meant to kill the suspect out of some sort of vendetta. They make the officer feel dirty and less than human.

Let’s not forget the administration who’s already hard at work seeking ways to prevent lawsuits against the agency and the county, city, state, etc. So the officers review the use of force policies over and over again, hoping to find that they’d done everything by the book, and even though they know their actions were wholly proper, they still worry. But the city/county/state/department lawyers are only after one thing, to protect their client whether that means helping the officer, or not.

Then comes the media with their agendas and clickbait headlines. The TV news media plastering their images and the images of their homes and families across every TV screen this side of Jupiter. The stories they offer add even more salt into open wounds …

“The victim was  only 22, in the prime of his life, when he was brutally gunned down in the street by Officer So-and-So.”

“With only 6-months to go before earning his degree from ABC Community College, Officer So-and-So, ended what could have been.”

“Teenager’s Life Taken By Veteran Cop”

“He Only Had a Knife!”

Those reporters don’t bother to mention the 63 rounds the 22-year-old fired first, all while the officer was begging him to stop shooting and to put down the gun. Nor do they mention the teenager was shooting at cops after they’d caught him robbing a convenience store.

Suspension from duty after an officer-involved shooting is inevitable, and it’s demeaning, to say the least. No matter the reason, it seems to the officer that they’d done something wrong, maybe even criminal. To add insult to injury, their weapon is taken away. Even though it’s for forensic testing, this is a huge deal to the officer. A weapon is a police officer’s safety line. It’s there for them each and every day. It provides comfort for them during extremely dangerous situations. It’s a part of them. And to have that taken away, especially during a situation that’s already an 11 on a scale of 1- 5, is traumatic within itself. It makes them feel even more vulnerable. It seems like a punishment.

So yes, having to hear and experience those things while undergoing a investigation into every single move the officer has made since the day they first set foot onto the floor of the basic academy, and while dealing with all the zigging and zagging of emotions, takes a huge toll on the officers.

Suicide by cop brings to mind the title of a blog article I once wrote—I Only Killed Him Once, But I’ve Died Many Times Since That Day. I wrote the piece in my typical staccato form of poetry and I did so because this is sometimes how the experience feels to me … like individual daggers striking my nerves, one at a time, day after day after day after night after night.

It’s true, suicide by cop shatters the lives of the officers involved. Not to mention the lives of the officer’s family, and the family of the person killed by the unfortunate cop who was forced to pull the trigger.

 

Arrest and Patrol Car

All officers hear it, and it’s most likely said many, many times each and every day all across this great land of ours.

It’s a phrase that’s spoken by the wisest of the wise—the soothsayers of the legal world. The top legal minds of the entire universe..

That famous line is typically delivered in a sing-songish manner. Gently and soothingly. Almost like a lullaby.

I’ve heard it more times than I could possibly begin to count. And, I can still hear those kind, soothing words today, and they are …

“I. Know. My. Rights, you fat pig! You gotta let me go ’cause you didn’t read me my rights! Now take off these cuffs … NOW!!!!”

Miranda

When is a police officer required to advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings?

I’ll give you a hint, it’s not like we see on television. Surprised?

Television shows often have officers spouting off Miranda warnings the second they have someone in cuffs. Not so. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I chased a suspect, caught him, he resisted, and then we wound up on the ground fighting like street thugs while I struggled to apply handcuffs to his wrists. And yes, words were spoken once I managed to get to my feet, but Miranda wasn’t one of them. Too many letters, if you know what I mean. Words consisting of only four letters seemed to flow quite easily at that point.

When Is Miranda Required?

Two elements must be in place for the Miranda warning requirement to apply. The suspect must be in custody and he must be undergoing interrogation.

Writers, this is an important detail – A suspect is in police custody if he’s under formal arrest or if his freedom has been restrained or denied to the extent that he feels as if he’s no longer free to leave.

The fellow wearing the handcuffs in the photo below is not free to leave. Therefore, should the officer wish to question him he must advise him of his right to remain silent, etc. However, if the officer decides to not ask questions/interrogate, then Miranda is not required.

arrest-take-down.jpg

I’ve arrested criminals, many of them, in fact, and never advised them of their rights. Not ever. And that’s because I didn’t ask them any questions.

Sometimes officers receive a stack of outstanding arrest warrants for a variety of cases and it’s their job that day to go out and round up those folks. Those officers have no clue as to the circumstances of the crime or case details, therefore they’d not know the appropriate questions to ask. All they know is that the boss handed them a pile of warrants and told them to fetch. This, by the way, is often one of the mundane duties assigned to rookie officers, along with directing traffic and writing parking tickets.

So, the warrant-serving officers locate the person named on the warrant and haul them to jail for processing. The officer who had the warrant issued may or may not question the arrested person at a later time. But the arresting officer, the one who played hide and seek  with the crook for a few hours on a Monday morning is most likely out of the picture from that point onward. So no questioning = no Miranda.

Interrogation

Interrogation is not only asking questions, but any actions, words, or gestures used by an officer to elicit an incriminating response can be considered as an interrogation.

If these two elements are in place officers must advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings prior to questioning. If not, statements made by the suspect may not be used in court. Doesn’t mean the arrest isn’t good, just that his statements aren’t admissible.

Officers do not have to advise anyone of their rights if they’re not going to ask questions. Defendants are convicted all the time without ever hearing that sing-songy police officer’s poem,  You have the right to …

Miranda facts:

Officers should repeat the Miranda warnings during each period of questioning. For example, during questioning officers decide to take a break for the night. They come back the next day to try again. They must advise the suspect of his rights again before resuming the questioning.

If an officer takes over questioning for another officer, she should repeat the warnings before asking her questions.

If a suspect asks for an attorney, officers may not ask any questions.

If a suspect agrees to answer questions, but decides to stop during the session and asks for an attorney, officers must stop the questioning.

Suspects who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs should not be questioned. Also, anyone who exhibits signs of withdrawl symptoms should not be questioned.

Officers should not question people who are seriously injured or ill.

People who are extremely upset or hysterical should not be questioned.

Officers may not threaten or make promises to elicit a confession.

Many officers carry a pre-printed Miranda warning card in their wallets. A National Sheriff’s Association membership card (same design and feel of a credit card) has the warnings printed on the reverse side.

Fact: The Miranda warning requirement stemmed from a case involving a man named Ernesto Miranda.  Miranda killed a young woman in Arizona and was arrested for the crime. During questioning Miranda confessed to the slaying, but the police had failed to tell him he had the right to silence and that he could have an attorney present during the questioning. Miranda’s confession was ruled inadmissible; however, the court convicted him based on other evidence.

Miranda was released from prison after he served his sentence. Not long after his release he was killed during a bar fight.

His killer was advised of his rights according to the precedent setting case of Miranda v. Arizona. He chose to remain silent.

*Some individual department/location policies requires their officers to advise of Miranda at the point of arrest. However, the law does not require them to do so.


 

The Writers’ Police Academy is pleased to present MurderCon, one of the most exciting opportunities ever made available to writers. In fact, the event is a rare one-of-a-kind event that’s never been offered before and may never be offered again.

MurderCon, presented by the Writers’ Police Academy, is a special hands-on training event for writers of all genres, with a specific focus on solving the crime of murder. It’s a unique juncture of fiction and fact at a major source of modern crime-scene investigation technology, Sirchie.

Attendees receive the same instruction that’s offered to, and attended by, top homicide detectives and investigators from around the world. First-hand experience will provide writers with the tools needed to portray crime scene details realistically, and to share with their readers the experience of what it’s like to investigate a murder.

MurderCon’s incredibly detailed and cutting-edge workshops, taught by some of the world’s leading experts, has never been available to writers, anywhere.

Yes, MurderCon is a “Killer” event, and you’re invited to attend!

Sign up today! Not a single crime writer should miss this event. It is that important to your work!

Interrogation classes at MurderCon taught by renowned expert, Paul Bishop.

Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop is a nationally recognized behaviorist and expert in deception detection. He spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department where his high profile Special Assault Units regularly produced the highest number of detective initiated arrests and highest crime clearance rates in the city. Twice selected as LAPD’s Detective of the Year, he currently conducts law enforcement related seminars for city, state, and private agencies. Paul has written numerous scripts for episodic television and is the author of fifteen novels, including the award winning Lie Catchers and five books in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series.

* Paul’s appearance at the 2019 MurderCon event is sponsored by bestselling author Kendra Elliot.

The entry team is briefed and are in position at the front door. A second team stands ready at the back door. Other officers cover each of the windows to prevent someone from slipping away.

It’s an impressive sight, all those highly-trained police officers dressed in all black and holding enough firepower and break-and-rake tools to overtake a small country. On command, a well practiced entry team moves like an intricately designed machine.

First, the distraction, a technique used to be sure the team members at the front door are able to make a safe entry into the home. CRASH! A side window is broken by an officer swinging a crowbar. Shards of broken glass are raked away from the window frame and sill. BOOM! A flashbang is tossed into the bedroom. The cover officer aims his weapon at the inside and clears the room (Never insert the gun barrel past the window frame. You don’t want some thug grabbing it and taking it away).

Now, with all attention diverted toward the crash and explosion, the battering ram hits the front door. A second CRASH! The house is suddenly flooded with heavily-armed police officers who mean business. They’ve come for the wanted suspect and they’ve caught him with his “pants down.” Seriously, sometimes you really do catch them that way!

People scream. Men run. Woman yell. Babies cry. Dogs bark. Cellphones ring. TV roars. Radios crackle. Handcuffs click. And finally … silence.

That’s how a search warrant execution can go. They’re dangerous. Exciting. Adrenaline flows like the whitewater portion of a swift-moving river. Heart pounding against the inside of your chest. Pulse pushing against the neck.

Ah, yes … the excitement.

But not so for me on one summer night …

It was to be the largest heroin bust I’d ever made—the mother-lode. I had all details perfectly spelled out on the warrant and we were ready to make our move. I absolutely wanted no mistakes. None. So the team was briefed, re-briefed, and briefed again. Besides, we’d worked together for so long that we could practically do a safe entry with our eyes closed. Still, you never know.

Sometimes I preferred to surprise the bad guys by simply knocking on the front door (with the rest of the entry team hiding around the corner). Occasionally you get lucky and the suspect opens the door, thinking it might be Aunt Susie or one of their regular customers dropping by to re-up their supply.

I decided to go for the door-knocking this time—the polite kind, not the cop-knock where you slam the butt of your fist or end of a flashlight sharply against the door. Always use command presence, even with a door-knock, right?

Knock, Knock, Knock (gently, with my knuckles).

Footsteps approached.

Since I’m highly allergic to bullet holes I stood slightly to the side of the doorjamb.

The heavy door opened slowly with a creak of the old hinges.

I was tense, prepared to grab my dangerous suspect and pull him outside.

In the opening of the doorway, however, appeared an elderly lady. White hair, round glasses perched on the end of her bird-beak nose. Faded housedress. Pink slippers.

A tiny smile split her ruby-red lips, painted with a smear of the bright red lipstick reaching a bit too high above the upper lip. A short strand of pearls hung around her neck, appearing out of place against the old paisley housedress.

The stopper was instantly pulled on the boiling adrenaline. I felt it swirling away at the bottom of the bowl.

“May I help you?” she said.

“Is Mr. Drug Dealer at home?” I asked.

“No, he’s out with some of his little friends.”

“Are you related to him?”

“No. I’m his grandmother’s live-in nurse. Her companion, actually. Madam is here, though. Would you like to see her?”

“Is anyone else in the house, besides the two of you?”

“No, it’s just us. Could I help you?”

Well, I decided to go ahead with the search, figuring I could always pick up Mr. Drug Dealer another time. So I stepped inside and explained the purpose of my visit. Madam’s companion then led me to Grandma so I could repeat the whole story again, to her.

Grandma was at least 190-years-old and shriveled like an over-ripe prune. She sat propped up in a hospital bed in a room that smelled like a mid-summer construction site Port-a-John. Ms. Companion apparently had not been attending to a few needs.

The companion/nurse asked if I’d like a nice, cold glass of iced tea?

“No thank you,” I said and then moved on explaining the search warrant to Grandma. She said she understood and asked then if I was hungry.

“No, Ma’am.”

I told her that we needed to begin our search.

“No one is going to do any searching in my house,” she said “without first having something to eat. No man has ever left my house, hungry, and tonight will be no exception”

She called for the companion and told her to set the dining room table, buffet style.

“No Ma’am, we can’t eat. We’re here to—”

“Nonsense. You gather all your little friends in the dining room and tell them to grab a plate. Mary! Is the table ready, yet? Fetch some  homemade rolls, too. And the real butter. Don’t forget the butter!”

“No, Ma’am. Really, we  need to …”

She held up a skeletal version of a hand. “Hush. Now you go have a bite to eat and then you boys can go about your little searching, or whatever it is you want.”

“Ma’am, really we can’t …”

One of the team members walked into room holding half a hot, buttered roll in his left hand (at least he’d kept his gun hand free). The other half of the roll crammed inside his mouth, lumped inside his right cheek. Between chews he nodded toward the dining room. “Food’s getting cold.”

The bread smelled delicious.

He raised his eyebrows and nodded again.

I knew when I was outnumbered and accepted the cold glass of iced tea that Madam’s companion held in her liver-spotted hand. I hadn’t eaten all day and was famished.

And that was the beginning of my search warrant for the mother … um…  well, the Grandma-lode of heroin, which we did find, by the way, along with cocaine, animal tranquilizer, LSD, hash, syringes, and more.

Mr. Drug Dealer was assigned a bond of one-million dollars. Yes, it was a somewhat large scale operation that he conducted under the noses of Madam and her companion. The two women were clueless.

True story …

*Break and rake is a technique used to draw attention away from the point of entry (POE). It’s a great distraction that often prevents suspects from arming themselves or from escaping custody. Catching suspects with their “pants down” (off-guard) is often the safest way to effect an arrest in a dangerous environment.Having a snack while serving a search warrant is definitely not recommended. Unless, of course, homemade bread is on the menu.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tickets are still available to this one-of-a-kind, opportunity for writers to attend hands-on homicide investigation training, training that’s typically available only to law enforcement. Hurry while spots are still available. Crime writers should not miss this rare event!

MurderCon registration

Killers, both fictional and the real-life murderers who live and walk alongside us as we carry on with our daily activities, will seemingly do anything to cover their tracks in order to avoid capture by the police. They flee the country. They lie. They stage alibies. And they sometimes use fire to conceal their crimes.

Setting aside fictional characters for a moment, let’s examine the very real case involving Gwendolyn Bewley, a 67-year-oldCleveland, Ohio woman whose charred remains were found on the kitchen floor inside her burning home. At the time of death, the body was in such poor condition that the medical examiner was unable to determine the actual cause of death.

Investigators thought it likely that Gwendolyn Bewley might have been strangled to death before her killer arranged paper and pieces of cardboard on and around her body before setting them ablaze. The purpose of the fire, they believed, was to destroy any possible evidence.

In the weeks prior the deadly fire, a man named Timothy Sheline moved next door to Ms. Bewley, into a home owned by his brother. Sheline’s broad criminal history included a 1989 aggravated arson conviction.

A couple of days after the fire and the discovery of Bewley’s body, police saw Sheline driving a car that Bewley had rented. They learned that one day after the fire Sheline had called Bewley’s sister to inquire about a lockbox Bewley kept inside her home. After further investigation, police discovered that Sheline had been using the dead woman’s credit cards to obtain cash. They also found her computer in his possession.

He was arrested and charged with unauthorized use of the car. He was also charged with the use of Gwendolyn Bewley’s credit cards.

Due to the lack of adequate cellphone tracking at the time of the arson, detectives were unable to tie Sheline to the scene of the crime. The alibi he offered appeared to be legimate. But investigators, having that “cops’ sixth sense” kept the file open, hoping to someday tie Sheline to Bewley’s murder.

Ironically, during Sheline’s trial for the use of the credit cards and unauthorized us of the car, prosecutors questioned the son of a woman who dated Sheline several years earlier. He described to the court how Sheline stole money from his mother and when she found out and confronted him about the missing cash, he set fire to her house. The blaze killed their family pet.

As time had passed, the team of investigators working this case grew to include local detectives, the State Fire Marshall’s Office, and the FBI, and it was, in 2014, approximately seven years after the initial crime occurred when new technology to cull data from cellphone towers became available. Experts received the break they’d been hoping for and  immediately called on forensics expert Eric Devlin, who was able to successfully track Sheline’s cellphone. He discovered it had pinged off a tower less than two-tenths of mile away from Bewley’s house shortly before the time of the fire.

By utilizing that brand new cell-tracking technology process detectives were able to prove Sheline’s alibi was bogus. He was not out-of-state at the time of the murder as he’d claimed. The finally had the last piece of the puzzle needed to place Sheline behind bars for Bewley’s murder, the full “MOM”—motive, means, and … opportunity. He was in the area which meant he did indeed have the opportunity to commit the crime. The discovery shattered Sheline’s alibi.

Fire had not been enough to prevent this killer from serving the rest of his life in prison, where he now sits, day-in and day-out—24-7-365.

Arson Investigations Are Tough Work

Arson investigations are not fun. Not at all. Especially when they involve a murder where the killer used the fire to conceal the crime. Arson scene are extremely messy, smelly, and the evidence is unpleasant to handle and process, especially when the victim is badly burned. It’s horrid, actually, and the experience is one that is unlikely to leave the mind.

I’ve always said that it takes a special person to work an arson case. It also takes a special writer to effectively set those scenes to page, one who’s willing to do a bit of homework.

There’s science and a distinct discipline behind the solving arson cases. There’s an art to it, actually—to be able to iron-out the details and bring them all together to form a conclusion as to how fires start and the patterns that expose their sources.

That part I liked—the puzzle-solving that involves the combination of investigatory skills and experience along with modern forensic tools and equipment. After all, those puzzle pieces are in place at the precise moment the first ember begins to glow. They’re all there, ready for bagging and tagging, as long as everyone involved in the case does their part, correctly.

So how should authors approach writing about such complicated crimes? For starters, please do not rely on the internet to help you with developing sensation and emotion because you won’t find anything remotely close.

Sure, you’ll read about burn patterns and the tools used to delicately search through charred rubble in a search for evidence. But that’s not enough to take your readers inside a burning home where a murder victim was left behind to be destroyed along with a thirty-year old couch and the family photographs.

Why Attend the Writers’ Police Academy?

When we designed the Writers’ Police Academy, the very first one, we did so with writers in mind. We examined what it is that’s often lacking in so, so many books—real life experiences. The experiences that bring to mind the odor of burnt gunpowder (NOT cordite), the gut-wrenching feeling that occurs when a little one dies in your arms after being abused by a drug-addicted, extremely high parent. Yes there is a specific reason behind each and every session offered at the WPA, and typically each one has to do with something we’ve seen written incorrectly in someone’s book. We also keep writers up to date on the latest technology and procedures.

Bullets and Heartbeats!

The sound of bullets pinging and popping into the fender of a car you’re crouched behind as a crazed gunman lobs round after round in your direction. The sensation of your heart thumping against the inside of your chest wall as you search for an armed robber inside a dark abandoned warehouse.

Feeling the searing, unbearable heat that singes your eyebrows and warms your skin to temperatures you’re almost certain could fry eggs. The sight of what used to be a teller at a downtown bank, reduced to a blackened lump that resembles an adult-sized lump of scorched and charred charcoal. Fingers and toes separated from limbs due to ligaments and tendons having been burned away.

Seeing orangish-red flames undulate and spread across what was once a bedroom where a grandmother lay sleeping after enjoying an afternoon with her family. Those same flames push you back and back and back, choking off your oxygen and filling your throat and lungs with what feels like cotton soaked in molten lava.

You try and try and try until you succumb to the painful reality that there’s no chance whatsoever at saving the life of the elderly dear woman. You stand there gasping for fresh air while choking back tears, tears that when they’re finally released create tiny, curvy creeks in the soot staining your face.

But, unless you’ve, as they say, been there done that, you can only imagine what it’s like to experience these horrors.

So, that’s how and why we bring the Writers’ Police Academy to you each year. We want your stories to evoke emotion from your readers. We want your readers to know that you’ve done all you could possible do to entertain them in the ways they should be entertained. They’ll know this when they suddenly realize they’ve been reading your latest book until the wee hours of the morning, nonstop. Page after page after page.

We do our job so you can do yours. It’s as simple as that.

This year we’ve gone way over the top of what even we imagined eleven years ago when the WPA was nothing more than a wild idea in my mind. We’ve teamed up with a giant in the field of forensics and crime scene investigation, Sirchie, to offer to you, MurderCon, a special hands-on training event for writers of all genres, with a specific focus on solving the crime of murder.

Included in the MurderCon program is a one-of-a-kind class called Burn baby, Burn!!! Arson Investigation.

This is an outdoor session with live demonstrations of actual burns. Attendees will experience the effects of burning various pieces of evidence. Participants will learn the fundamentals of fire science, recognition of fire behavior including burn patterns and aftermath, and how fire is utilized by perpetrators during the commission of violent crimes and murder to attempt to conceal and/or destroy evidence.

Yes, you will receive instruction that not only covers the knowledge portion of fire and how it’s used to conceal crimes, we’re taking you on an adventure. A journey that delivers to you the sensations of touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight.

You’ll also experience a bit of emotion as you witness actual burns while using your writers’ imagery to picture what it must be like to be a victim who’s trapped inside the flames and heat and smoke. You’ll hear their cries (in your minds) and their pleas for help. You’ll sense what it’s like to be the officer on the outside looking in, helpless against an inferno. And you’ll imagine the body of a murder victim burning along with floorboards and window and door trim.

Burn Baby, Burn is a hands on training event that’ll surely help you breathe life into what should be an emotional rollercoaster ride for your readers.

This exciting session is taught by Ken Andrews.

Ken has over 30 years of fire investigation experience, including 28 years as an agent with the ATF and as a private consultant. He is an International Association of Arson Investigator’s (IAAI) Certified Fire Investigator and Certified Fire Investigation Instructor.

Ken was a member of ATF’s elite National Response Team (NRT) and an ATF Certified Explosives Specialist for 18 years. He has conducted investigations related to fire and explosions involving vehicles and residences as well as large industrial and commercial scenes. Ken has also instructed fire and explosion investigators nationally and internationally. During his career with ATF, he was a regular instructor at the National Fire Academy, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, Thailand.


To register for MurderCon and to learn more about the exciting 2019 classes and workshops, please visit our website at …

https://www.writerspoliceacademy.com


BIG NEWS!

Writers’ Police Academy Anthology Full Details Released Today!

Writers’ Police Academy Anthology Full Details Released Today!

Details also include a short story contest that lands you in a published book, with foreword by Lee Child. Yes, YOU could have YOUR story published in this thrilling collection of tales written bestselling mystery and crime authors, top television writers, true crime experts, a Nashville music legend, and more.

Contest winners receive an invitation to sign copies at a book launch party taking place at MurderCon. Launch party and reception sponsored by the publisher, Level Best Books, and the Writers’ Police Academy.

AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Edited by Phoef Sutton – 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.

About the book – 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.

https://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/after-midnight-tales-…/

 

Property crimes take up a huge portion of a patrol officer’s day. First, there’s the initial response, making sure the suspect isn’t still on the scene (or arresting the dummy if he is).

Then comes the report, questioning the witnesses, and sometimes having to stand there while people belittle the officer with snide remarks, often made quite loudly and rudely, even before they’ve had the time to remove the ink pen from their shirt pocket to begin note-taking. Starting with the standard—“I pay your salary.”

Next comes a crowd favorite that seemly plays on an endless loop.

  1. “Where were you while my house was being robbed?” 

Houses aren’t robbed, by the way. Only people can be robbed. So please do make note of the following.

  • A burglary is normally defined as the breaking and entering into a building, (usually during the nighttime) for the purpose of committing a crime, such as larceny. A robbery is the taking of property from one person by another, by violence, force, and/or intimidation, such as being held up at gunpoint.

ROBBERIES REQUIRE A FACE-TO-FACE TAKING OF PROPERTY FROM ONE PERSON BY ANOTHER, BY FORCE, THREAT, OR INTIMIDATION.

And on it goes. On and on. Those lovely little comments that are often shouted while you’re trying to help the victims property crimes, and others.

2. “If you’d spend more time on the street instead eating doughnuts all day then this wouldn’t have happened.”

3. “Aren’t you going to take fingerprints? They take them on CSI shows. I seen ’em do it.”

Okay, first, the doughnut thing is really, really old and tired, folks. Most present day officers eat well, exercise, and enjoy fruit or other healthy snacks. Many departments conduct regular health assessments and require physical fitness testing. So it’s probably a good idea to move on to something more modern or risk having your material appear dated.

Next, where is it that officers should “take fingerprints? Home, back to the office, on a date? Fingerprints are lifted, processed, developed, etc., and then those pieces of evidence are “taken” back to the department where they’re then sent to the experts for comparison.

4. “Why don’t you do your job instead of sitting in your car waiting for speeders. Can’t you find real criminals?”

FYI – Speeders are indeed law-breakers since driving above the posted speed limit is illegal. Many departments assign a group of officers to work traffic details, such as speed limit enforcement(running radar). This means that other officers are assigned to duties such as responding to criminal complaint cases.

5. “I’ll have your badge for this.”

6. “I play golf with the chief, you know. And he’s going to hear about this.”

7. “Find some DNA.”

8. “There ain’t no Mickey Mouse crap like this on CSI. No, sir. Not on COPS, neither”

And that, my friends, is what police officers all across country experience every day, day-in and day-out. But wait, it gets better.

Next comes the actual evidence collection. Now, keep in mind that this is a residence where people come and go all the time. And they touch things. In fact, they touch EVERYTHING. So what does that mean? Yep, there are fingerprints on nearly every single item in the house.

Contrary to the top-notch experts on fictional TV shows, officers cannot tell which of those prints belong to a bad guy merely by looking at them. No one can. In fact, chances are, the burglar’s (not robber’s) prints are not on file anyway.

Please keep in mind that in order to locate a suspect using fingerprints found at a crime scene, a copy of the suspect’s fingerprints must be stored within a database used by police, such as a department’s database or the national database maintained by the FBI.

Officers know deep down in their hearts that in spite of taking the time, sometime for several hours, to process, develop, and collect a bunch loops and whorls taped to evidence cards, well, they’ll soon learn that the fingerprints they’ve spent the better part of a morning or afternoon to collect are probably of absolutely no value whatsoever. But they do it anyway … time and time again. Over and over and over. Why? Because residents demand it. Sometimes, though, you do get lucky and get a match.

So, if fingerprints aren’t the number one way to catch a burglar, what is? Well, there’s no one answer to the question. Actually, solving a property crime, such as B&E, involves a lot of steps. And the sum of those steps equals “good police work.”

Solving Property Crimes

So what are some of the things officers should do to solve property crimes?

  • Responding officers should always document the scene as they found it, not after everyone has walked through and fumbled with each item they pass.
  • Question all witnesses.
  • Check for points of entry and exit. Are there toolmarks? Are those tools still on the scene?
  • Is there broken glass? Blood on the glass (DNA?).
  • Footprints outside? (or, in the carpet or on the tile flooring)
  • Lights on or off? (suspect may have touched the switches)
  • Glasses on the kitchen counter? (suspects sometimes help themselves to food and drink)
  • Check the wall behind the toilet for fingerprints. Sometimes male criminals use the restroom at the scene and while doing so they place a hand on the hall.
  • Likewise, the underside of a toilet seat is another likely spot to find prints. Unless, of course, the burglar is totally uncouth and doesn’t lift the seat.
  • Look for the “evidence trail.” Offenders sometimes drop things during their exit. It’s not unusual to follow a trail of dropped evidence and then find the suspect sitting at the other end (not like a trail of breadcrumbs, but close).
  • Were there serial numbers on the missing items, and were they recorded?

ALWAYS recored the serial numbers of your valuable items. This is handy for insurance claims. Even when using a moving company to relate, it’s a must to record serial numbers in the event they, and they do, lose items.

  • Who would benefit from this crime? A real thief (drug addict, perhaps), or someone who desperately needs to collect some insurance money?
  • Have similar crimes occurred? If so, where and how close to this scene? Talk to other officers. Compare notes.
  • Talk to informants and street people. They know a lot and they often enjoy spilling the beans, especially if telling what they know earns them a few dollars.
  • Check all pawn shops and drug dealers who’re known to take property in exchange for “goods.” Sometimes they’ll hand over stolen property to get the cops off their backs. After all, it’s bad for business to have police officers hanging around their turf.

In some areas, pawn shops are required to submit a daily list (to the police) of each item purchased.

  • When officers finally do make an arrest, and they usually do, they should always ask the offender about other crimes in the area. Sometimes, officers solve several cases by merely asking a simple question or two.

And then there’s the number one tactic … common sense. Using it goes a long way toward solving a case. It’s also a great tool to use when writing cops.

So, if you’re writing a scene where your cop protagonist does something that doesn’t exactly seem right, or, if your common sense tells you it’s wrong, then I’d suggest doing this …


MurderCon registration is still open. Please do yourself and your readers a huge favor by attending this fantastic and rare opportunity. There’s never been anything like and there may never be again.

 

https://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

It would have been a day sometime way back in the 1970s when I nervously held a fingerprint brush for the time, hoping to solve the big crime of the century, the breaking and entering of private residence where a thief stole a well-used VCR player.

I recall that it was a messy process due to the fact that I’d mopped on the deep black powder much as a rookie house painter would apply a coat of Benjamin Moore primer to the side of an old barn. Even Boss Ross, when using his trusty landscape knife, applied less oil to a canvass than I did fingerprint powder to that broken window pane and surrounding wood trim.

Still, I managed to develop and collect a couple of usable prints. Unfortunately for me, this took place long before the rapid fingerprint matching system that’s now in place. In those days we collected the print, sent it to a fingerprint examiner who used hand and eye to match the print to a known suspect, or not, and would then send us a report that was basically a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Yes, it was a match to someone, or no it was not. Their typical catchall response was, of course, “inconclusive.”

I honestly believe they had an admin temp assigned to open our paperwork, file it in a holding bin for several months, and pull the evidence out to rubber-stamp each submission with that dreaded “INCONCLUSIVE” text seen so often as their response. I’ve actually lifted prints at crime scene and sent them to the FBI and, in the meantime through other methods, arrested a suspect, testified about the case in court, and had the person go to jail and get out again before receiving a response. INCONCLUSIVE, of course.

But things changed over time, as they do. Techniques became better and better. Crime scene technology and equipment became more user-friendly and delivered more accurate and speedier results. Nowadays, fingerprint comparisons are performed almost within the blink of an eye—even quicker than that irritating FBI temp could whip out the stamp and ink pad.

Thanks to modern technology, law enforcement is now able to lift prints from the skin of humans, from wet surfaces, and much more.

The company that leads the way in these advanced fingerprinting techniques is, of course, Sirchie, the host of the Writers’ Police Academy’s 2019 special event, MurderCon.

I’ve mentioned before that MurderCon instructors are some of the best in the business … in the world, even. But what I think I haven’t stressed to you enough is that these highly-skilled men and women are the representatives and trainers of the company that actually invented/invents these tools, equipment, and processes that you, as MurderCon attendees, will see and learn to use with your very own eyes and hands. And what you’ll see and do are the precise actions and materials taught to top law enforcement investigators from around the world.

Yes, the folks teaching the MurderCon workshops are delivering their material straight from the source of its existence. It simply doesn’t get any better, starting with fingerprinting.

Sirchie, the History

Sirchie was founded in in 1927, in Philadelphia, with the purpose of providing fingerprinting materials to law enforcement. Then, approximately thirty years ago, the company decided to provide instruction and hands-on training to the investigators who often called Sirchie to say they didn’t understand why a product wasn’t working the way it should. So, after conducting a bit of research, Sirchie officials discovered the problem wasn’t the products, it was that they were being used incorrectly by the investigators in the field.

This was the start of Sirchie’s renowned training programs. Their initial instructional courses primarily focused on fingerprinting, of course. After all, their company name at the time was Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories.

As the company began to develop more and more products and technology to aid crime scene investigators, they began to add other classes and courses.

Today, Sirchie offers 18 unique Crime Scene Technology courses at their Youngsville campus, the site of the 2019 MurderCon special event. This high-level of instruction includes all types of evidence collection, analysis, and preservation. They also offer 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, footwear analysis, and arson investigation to name a few.

Of course, Sirchie wouldn’t be Sirchie without fingerprinting in their lineup. Therefore, also included in their course material is in-depth, advanced instruction related to fingerprinting. The latest fingerprinting techniques allow latent fingerprints and palm prints to be discovered and collected on a variety of challenging surfaces.

As their product line expanded, Sirchie recruited numerous subject experts to join their training staff, such as a leading expert in blood stain analysis. Another is known as a driving force in successful efforts to identify criminals by matching crime scene fingerprints and now palm prints across data bases.

MurderCon attendees will be treated to hands-on sessions taught by a hand-picked group of Sirchie instructors.

Advanced Fingerprinting at MurderCon

During MurderCon’s highly-detailed fingerprinting classes, the same taught to police investigators and other crime scene investigation professionals (I cannot emphasize this enough), attendees will learn and experience the proper use of oxide, metallic, magnetic, and fluorescent powders for discovering latent fingerprints at crime scenes. Attendees will develop latent prints on a variety of surfaces including paper, glass, plastic, and even textured surfaces, and practice lifting developed latent prints using tape, hinge lifters, gel lifters, and Accutrans.

In addition, class participants will develop latent prints on porous surfaces, including paper and cardboard, utilizing iodine fuming, DFO, and ninhydrin. WPA attendees will learn the proper process sequencing for the maximum retrieval of latent prints and review the chemical principles of how they work. The class will be treated to special demonstration of using cyanoacrylate (superglue) on non-porous paper (carbon).

So, as you can see, attending MurderCon to learn crime scene investigation is akin to attending a light bulb conference featuring classes taught by Thomas Edison and British chemists Warren de La Rue and Joseph Swan.

It’s highly advanced law enforcement training offered to writers, readers, and fans, all made possible by the combined efforts of the Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie.

Fun Sirchie Fact – DNA-free Fingerprinting

Did you know that it’s possible to lift DNA-free fingerprints?

Well, Sirchie has made it so, and this is a super cool detail for a book!

DNA Free Fingerprint Lifting Kit with Fiberglass Brush ~ Sirchie image

Sirchie provides DNALP100 DNA-free latent fingerprint lifting kit with fiberglass brush for use in lifting latent fingerprints from crime scenes.  This fingerprint lifting kit is certified DNA-free through independent testing.

Why are certified DNA-free products important?

  • Advances in collection methods allow for processing of touch DNA
  • Prevention of cross contamination
  • Proper sterilization techniques allow for certification of items to be free of DNA

Sirchie’s DNA-free products can help in the preservation of the integrity of the investigation and aid in the efficient pursuit of justice.

This fingerprint lifting kit is treated using a scientifically proven DNA destroying process, that penetrates and decontaminates throughout, not just the surface.  Each lot is certified through third party testing to ensure each batch processed is DNA free.

All items are packaged to prevent contamination before use, and are meant to be used only once. These DNA free items provide the investigator with the tools to eliminate DNA cross contamination, but still process the scene with the tools that they require.

 


 

Registration to this unique training event opens tomorrow, February 24, 2019 at noon EST. Please be ready to sign up at that time. This wildly popular event often sells out, sometimes within a few hours after registration opens. Believe me, you do not want to miss this extremely rare opportunity!

https://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

One of the most dangerous aspects of working as a law enforcement officer is not the suspect who’s standing ready to fight, the armed robber who’s decided to stop running and turns square-off with the cop who’s been in pursuit for several blocks, or even heading to a shots-fired call. Instead, the most perilous, threatening, hazardous (you pick the synonym) situation officers face is the unknown—what they can’t see. It’s the what or who is waiting for them behind a doorway, a dark alley, or somewhere within a stairwell that sends the scary-meter off the charts.

The Fatal Funnel

The entrance to these areas of “the unknown” is often called the “fatal funnel.” For example, a murder suspect was seen entering a backyard garage at the end of dead-end street. The garage is a large building and the owner tells officers that it’s packed full of antique furniture, lots of boxes of all sizes, four old cars, a tractor, lawn care equipment, and an assortment of cabinets, shelving, and other typical garage bits and bobs.

There’s only one way in and that’s a side door made of solid metal. There are a few windows, of course, but unfortunately they’re blocked by stacks of cardboard boxes.

The door, then, is the point that separates the officers from access to the concealed killer. It’s the sole point of access to the interior of the garage. It is where the wide expanse of the outdoors narrows to a single point. The doorway and immediate area leading to it is the fatal funnel.

Unfortunately, for the officers, that doorway must be breached, and they must go inside to bring out the criminal. It’s their job. It’s their duty.

The Two “Cs”

“Cover” and “Concealment” are terms drilled into the minds of rookie officers during their academy training. They’re also stressed during briefings and training sessions for SWAT and High-Risk entry teams. All officers should keep those words and their meanings at the top of the “things I must do” each and every day” list.

A cover is an object or barrier that has the capability of likely and hopefully stopping projectiles such as bullets, rocks, bottles, etc.

Concealment is something that prevents officers from being seen. It’s any place where an officer could hide to prevent a suspect from knowing their precise position, and what he/she may be doing (reloading, calling for backup, moving into a more tactically advantageous position, etc.).

Doorways are the danger end of the fatal funnel. It’s the point where an officer can be easily seen. It’s where they’re the most vulnerable to attack, and it’s the place where  it’s difficult to move out of the path of incoming projectiles. This is the place where an officer is most likely to die during a high-risk entry.

Author Lee Goldberg learns safe building entry procedures while at the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy

It’s why officers are taught to never stand in front of a doorway during a high-risk incident. After all, the advantage in these situations is definitely in the hands of the suspect. They know where the officers are positioned but it’s up to the officers to learn the bad guy’s location.

Prior to entering the home/room, the first officer to enter should take a quick peek inside using just a small portion of the head to penetrate the doorway. With firearm at ready, the shooting hand also penetrates the doorway simultaneously with the head. This action enables the officer to address an active and immediate threat. The officer should then have an idea of the layout of the room that’s immediately beyond the doorway. They may also learn the location of the suspect and other possible threats, such as animals, boobytraps, etc.

Two officers preparing to enter the fatal funnel – 2016 Writers’ Police Academy

After the quick peek it’s time to pass through the fatal funnel. It’s the decision of the first officer whether he/she goes right or left. The second officer entering must go in the opposite direction. If the first officer goes right, the second officer enters to the left. Each officer then clears the corner nearest to them.

Room clearing instruction at the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy

The eyes should be in the direction of the muzzle of the gun. Where it goes the eyes should follow. Peripheral vision is a MUST to detect movement and activity in all directions. Again, though, the immediate focus of the eyes is where the weapon is pointed.

Each area of each room must be searched in the same slow and methodical process, and each doorway within a house is its own fatal funnel.

Two techniques used to safely enter a building or room are “Criss-Crossing” and “Buttonhook.”


It is the goal of the officers to safely locate and apprehend the suspect. However, that’s not always the outcome, such as the recent shootout in Houston, where five narcotics officers serving a search warrant immediately came under fire the moment they entered the fatal funnel of the home to be searched. After the first officer entered and was shot, it was up to the remaining officers to first go in to bring out the injured officer, and then to apprehend the shooter(s). As a result, four of the officers were shot (two in the face) and a fifth suffered a knee injury.

When the first officer entered the house, he was attacked by a large pit bull. Then one of the suspects, 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle, opened fire, striking the officer in the shoulder. The officer fell and the second suspect, 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas, tried to grab the officer’s service weapon. She was shot and killed by the officers who were on the way in to rescue their fellow officer. Tuttle was also killed during the shootout.

The officers obtained the search warrant because they knew black tar heroin was being soldfrom the house.

I’ve been the first officer through the fatal funnel, many times, and I can assure you that the feeling associated with doing so is practically indescribable. The adrenaline released when the decision to “go in” cannot be compared to any other. It’s a combination of fear and courage that, when teamed together, instantly forces your feet to move forward without hesitation. Your heart pounds and your vision and hearing become razor sharp. Your muscles are hard but fluid, and your mind is focused on nothing but the task at hand.

Once, when entering a house, I was attacked from the rear by man holding a steak knife in his hand. He’d been concealed behind a large piece of furniture to my right (I’d chosen to left after a quick peek). The second officer entering the room quickly stopped the attack and the third officer took the second man’s place and continued going to the right  while the attacker was pulled from the room. We located the main suspect hiding in a room at the back of the house. After clearing all the rooms and cuffing everyone inside, we located a fairly substantial supply of crack cocaine.

Looking back, I think about all the times I could’ve been shot, like the officers in Houston. Would I do it again, if in that position? Absolutely.

It’s what cops do. It’s part of the job.

Fatal funnel and all.


Sadly, on the same day I posted this article about the extreme danger associated with the fatal funnel, the Virginia State Police announced this sad news. I trained at the same academy as did this brave young trooper:

Trooper Lucas B. Dowell was a member of the Virginia State Police Tactical Team that was assisting the Piedmont Regional Drug and Gang Task Force with executing a search warrant at a residence in the 1500 block of Cumberland Road/Route 45, just north of the town limits of Farmville. The Tactical Team had made entry into the residence shortly before 10 p.m. Monday when an adult male inside the residence began shooting at them. The Tactical Team members returned fire, fatally wounding the male suspect.

Trooper Dowell was transported to Southside Community Hospital in Farmville where he succumbed to his injuries.

Along with, “It was a dark and stormy night,” another opening line, “Once upon a time,” is a long-favored-beginning to a tale. Since both are so inherently popular, why not start this blog article with both? Here goes.

One upon a time, on a dark and stormy night, I was on patrol in the county and had ventured out to one of the far corners of our jurisdiction, a place where the police weren’t often seen due to the fact that the area was sparely populated and that crime basically didn’t exist there. Well, if we’re to exclude, that is, the occasional liquor still that a hunter stumbled across while trekking to a tree stand where he’d sit for hours—shoes dowsed with store-bought fox or deer urine to help mask a human scent—in the numbing cold to wait for an unsuspecting deer to pass by.

There was only one business out there in “Johnsontown,” as it was called due to nearly each resident in the area belonging to the same family. Johnson’s Country Store, a small clapboard-sided building, sat at the junction of Johnson Road and State Road 614.

The outside of the store was ten years past needing a coat of paint and its tin roof a few years more overdue for replacing. Even the hand-painted advertisements on the store’s facade were badly faded—Coca-Cola, Marlboro Cigarettes, and some sort of motor oil—were practically nothing more than a memory.

A rusted RC Cola thermometer dangled by a bent nail beside the front screen door. A couple of feral cats lived beneath the building and came out once in a while to raid the garbage cans or to aggravate the old black lab that slept in the sunshine at the base of the cinderblock steps.

The owner of the establishment, old man Jim Johnson, wore bibbed overalls and flannel shirts. He chain-smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes, even while pumping kerosene from the blue metal tank nestled against the front of the building. His father ran the store before Jim took charge and his grandfather before him.

During the warm months, farmers and their help visited the establishment to purchase pork and beans, Vienna Sausages, Saltine Crackers, and an ice cold Coke from a cold box inside the store. Sometimes they bought bologna sliced from a fat tube encased in red waxy paper, and a chunk of “country” cheese sectioned from a hoop that was kept covered in a round wooden container.

The workers settled on the two homemade wooden benches out front where they ate their lunches with their fingers or by using a Buck knife to spear the canned tubular chunks of processed meat. They’d use the same knife to scoop the beans from the can directly into their mouths, tilting their heads back to get the last drop of reddish bean juice from the small cans.

In the wintertime, the dirt and gravel lot would be filled with mud-caked four-wheel-drive trucks. Their drivers—deer hunters—stood telling tall tales and comparing the animal carcasses strapped to the top of aluminum boxes that contained a knot of antsy yipping and yapping hounds who were anxious to get back to spooking deer from their hiding spots and then chasing them until a hunter, dressed in bright orange, could draw a bead on one to bring it down.

The hunters hunted for meat. Nothing wasted. What little scraps were left, after butchering and, of course, sharing with the elderly neighbors who were unable to hunt, was fed to the hunting dogs. The hides and bones were transported to a local business that processed the remains, turning them into a by-product to include into factory processed animal feed. The same was so when the farmers killed hogs in the fall. As they told it, the only thing left after butchering, processing, and sharing, was the squeal. Waste not, want not.

Inside the Johnson Country Store was a large potbelly stove that, on extremely cold days, glowed cherry red from the flames and hot coals inside. The man seated closest to it, well, it was his job to keep the firebox filled with hunks of axe-split hickory and oak. He did so between hands of gin rummy … a penny a point.

The plank countertop ran over half the length of the narrow store. Behind it were worn wooden shells stocked with canned goods, laundry and body soaps, aspirin and other medicines, toilet tissue, and the usual essentials that included bottle openers, blue enamel pots and cast iron pans, aprons, and box matches.

On the counter sat three one-gallon glass jars. One containing pickled eggs that floated in a pink briny liquid. Another with pickled hot sausages. The third, the favorite of the hunters and card players, contained pickled pigs feet that were also surrounded by that pink pickling liquid.

I arrived at the Johnson Road junction at a bit past 3 A.M. and was a bit surprised to see a car in the lot. Totally out of the ordinary at that time of the morning. Actually, it would been unusual to see a car there at any time after the store closed at 8 P.M., on the dot, without fail.

I aimed my spotlight at the vehicle and saw two heads inside, one adult and one child (or a super small man or woman). I pulled closer, called in my location, the car’s license number, description of the vehicles, and that I’d be out of my car speaking with the passengers. I requested registration information as well as if the car, or driver, were wanted. Another deputy working a different part of the county called to ask if I needed backup. I said no. A state trooper working the county overheard the conversation and said he, too, was available if I needed him.

I turned on my emergency lights and walked up to the driver’s window. The driver, a young woman, already had the window down and her license in hand, ready for me to examine. Her tiny passenger, a little girl of four or five, or so, wore a pair of kids pajamas , a thick coat, and had a wool blanket nearby. They were from another state, passing through, the woman said, while escaping a husband (and father to the little girl) who was extremely abusive. The swelling on the woman’s face face and the child’s arms were evidence of the alleged issue.

She told me that she was heading down south to stay with family while starting a new life. She’d already made the arrangement for a place to stay and a job lined up working for a cousin’s business. But, while on the way, a thumping noise beneath car had grown louder and was soon accompanied by shaking and bumping and knocking. So she’d taken an exit off the highway, hoping to find a garage or repair shop that could assist. After driving several miles into nowhere, her front right tire went flat. Why she’d continued to drive into the abyss was a mystery, but desperation sometimes causes one to do the unusual.

Not wanting to stop in a dark, foreign area, she drove slowly, pushing her limping car until they stumbled upon the store lot, peering between fat raindrops that hammered her windshield, hoping to find a payphone to call for assistance. Unfortunately, there was no phone at the store, nor was there a house within shouting, seeing, or walking distance. In fact, unbeknownst to her, the closest human dwelling was well over five miles away.

While waiting for daylight to arrive, her car ran out of gas and the temperature inside the automobile quickly equaled the cold outside. The woman and child were freezing, and hungry. I learned they hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. They had no money.

I had them climb inside my patrol car where it was warm and then drove out to a nearby all-night truck stop, a place that served breakfast round-the-clock. After we finished our meal I paid the tab and then I picked up some bottled water and a few snacks. I also bought a pair of pink gloves. Tiny ones. Then I borrowed a gas can from the station manager, filled it, and drove the pair back to their car where I poured the gas into their tank. I took the spare tire from the trunk and exchanged it for the flat. The spare was in not much better shape than the one on the front right, the flat. But it held air and that’s all that mattered at that moment. Fortunately, the rain had stopped.

I asked the woman to follow me back to the truck stop. Once there I filled her gas tank and paid for a new spare tire, out of my pocket, and I asked the attendant to swap it for the wonky spare I’d installed. He placed the spare back into the trunk.

Next, I led them to a nearby hotel and paid the room fee for the night. I gave the woman an envelope containing $80. It was all the cash I had on me at the time.

I wished them well and drove away.

In my rearview mirror I saw the little girl waving with a little kid’s hand covered by a pink glove. Money well spent.

It was 6 A.M. so I drove back to the Johnson County Store where old man Johnson offered me a cup of coffee. The fire in the potbelly stove was just beginning to spread a bit of warmth. Mr. Johnson and I took a seat by the heater in two rickety wooden chairs, where we shot the breeze until his first customers of the day began to roll in.

Soon the store was filled with men wearing orange hats and vests who were chattering away, planning their first drives of the day. Outside I saw the metal dog boxes in the beds of the pickups. Bursts of steam spewed from the slatted openings—the animals’ hot breath meeting the cold outside air.

My shift was over and it was time to go home. The night had been long and the next would bring a new memory. In the meantime, I’d decided to put together an emergency kit to keep in the trunk of my car.

One of the first items I purchased for the kit was, of course, a pair of tiny pink gloves.

 

The abandoned factory sat just across the county line. Its towering and crumbling red brick smokestacks stood like fingers pointing to the sky. Portions of the building’s red brick facade and stacks appeared as if they’d been devoured by mounds of deep green kudzu.

A vast asphalt parking lot and an array of driveways surrounded the enormous building, a place where hundreds of employees once buzzed about like bees in a hive.

During its heyday, rows upon rows of workers sat side-by-side at long metal tables, operating industrial sewing machines. Others were charged with dying operations, driving forklifts, and pushing the buttons and dialing the knobs of machinery that clicked and clacked and whirred as they transformed tiny threads into enormous rolls of various types of cloth. Floor sweepers maneuvered back and forth in the corridors and spaces between equipment. Their nonstop to-and-fro movements were much like the mechanical and mindless ducks in a shooting gallery.

An in-house machine shop contained every tool imaginable for the repair of equipment from the smallest of contraptions to the hulking and huffing and puffing metal machinery, some the size of buses. There, highly skilled professionals wore heavily soiled overalls and displayed a shift’s worth of jet-black grease stains on their faces and hands. They went about the business of fixing and mending and fabricating at a never-ending pace, round the clock, seven days per week. Likewise, the factory workers tended to their never-ending tasks that, too, were divided into three round the clock shifts.

A constant flow of tractor trailers arrived empty and left filled with goods, heading to other factories where the materials would be transformed into an assortment of consumer goods.

Then, without notice, came the layoff notices and one by one workers were let go, machinery slowed, lights ceased to flash, motors stopped turning, and the factory quickly began to die. Paint peeled, roofing sagged, and pipes leaked. Weeds sprouted through cracks in the parking lot and driveways. With the end of truck traffic the wild plants and stalks flourished and propagated and spread and grew and grew and grew.

Rats and roaches replaced workers. Raccoons and opossums took over office spaces.

Vandals arrived to break windows and leave behind painted symbols and signs. Teenagers held spooky nighttime seances. Others smoked pot and drank beer and cheap wine and told stories of ghosts who roamed the empty hallways and cavernous spaces.

We received a call from a concerned citizen who’d reported seeing what appeared to be a person inside the factory, using a flashlight to find their way. It was just after midnight and the caller said “something just didn’t seem right.” She was absolutely correct.

Inside the factory, using our bright Maglights to help find our own way, we stepped into a room big enough to contain two high school gymnasiums. Inside the sprawling space we waded through an assortment of monstrous machinery and rows of metal racks. The roof sagged and  dripped oily water. Rust coated the steel supports that crisscrossed the upper spaces. Field mice scurried along tabletops and among the broken glass that littered the floors. Roaches as big as my thumb scattered and slid into cracks and crevices when the powerful beams of our flashlights illuminated them.

And that, in that huge room among the mice droppings, dripping water, massive insects, and eerie echoes, is where we found the boy. His body hung from a thick and long, black extension cord that connected his neck to a steel beam that supported an upper floor. Two loops of cord around the neck were held in place by a granny knot.

The boy, barely a teenager, wore a dark t-shirt, shorts a bit too big for his narrow frame, dirty white socks, and one black Converse tennis shoe. Its mate, the left one, was on the floor beneath the body. Also under the boy’s body was old office chair. The seat was on its side with its wheels two or three inches from the left shoe, which was also on its side.

His eyes and mouth were open, as if locked in a silent, terror-induced scream. His skin was cool and firm to the touch. There was no flashlight and without it there was no way the boy could’ve found his way through the pitch black darkness to find the room, find a chair and cord, attach the cord to a rafter, and so on. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face inside that place without the assistance of a light of some kind.

The knot that held the cord closed and tightly to the boy’s flesh was positioned on the right side of the neck. According to his mother, the boy was left-handed and to use his right would have been extremely awkward, unlike many left-handers who are fairly fluid with the use of both. Still, a knot on either side of the neck is not a particularly strong indication of left- or right-handedness. A point to consider if all else failed.

The victim’s friends said he’d been hanging out with a group of older teens who sold drugs They said the boy was not a user, not even pot. However, an autopsy indicated the presence of cocaine and pot. The examination also showed bruising in various spots on the body, including the areas around the wrists and forearms, as if someone had held him there, tightly. The signs pointed to a beating and a murder.

Still, the medical examiner ruled the death as a suicide. I knew better. Remember, the call came in as a report of someone seeing a light inside the factory. There was no flashlight to be found and common sense told me that flashlights don’t grow legs and flee crime scenes. So, in spite of the official ruling and based solely on the witnesses claim of seeing a light, and common sense, I continued to investigate and it didn’t take long to learn the truth.

The boy sold drugs for a known dealer. While selling those drugs he caved to peer pressure and began using. Then he became hooked. His habit grew to a point greater than he could afford so he started using the drugs he was given to sell. Then, as is often a problem, he was quickly unable to pay his dealer and went deeper and deeper into debt.

So they killed him. And they left his body swaying in an abandoned warehouse among rats and mice and roaches and raccoons and opossums and rust and broken glass, dripping oily water, and eerie echoes.

A few days after the boy’s funeral, teenagers, those who went to the factory at night to drink and to smoke pot and to tell tall and spooky tales, had a new ghost story to tell, one of a new spirit roaming the factory corridors. Many claimed to have seen the dead boy hanging from the rafters, especially on Halloween nights. Passersby sometimes said the boy appeared at the windows, peering out from behind cracked glass.

As a result of those vivid imaginations we’d sometime receive calls of people seeing what appeared to be a person inside the factory using a bright flashlight to find their way. And we’d investigate. Of course, we never found a single ghost, but each time I went, even though it was just a memory, I did indeed see that poor boy hanging from the rafters. It’s one of those things you never forget.

The cause of death, by the way, was changed to Murder, a fact I never doubted, not even for a second. So remember, writers, sometimes it’s “the thing” that isn’t there, such as a the flashlight in this case, that’s the key to solving a crime.