Writers of various genres are forever devising clever ways to send murder victims to their graves with undetected causes of death. One such favored method, poisoning, has proven quite reliable on the written page. Here are a few of the deadly toxins that thrive naturally. Why, even your spouses could get their hands on them. Yeah, keep that in mind the next time you decide to argue when you know you’re absolutely wrong.

Belladonna, often called nightshade, is a popular ornamental plant. It’s name means “beautiful woman” in Italian. A single six or seven drop dose of the plant’s toxic parts (roots, leaves, and berries) can cause death within a few hours. Victims could also suffer miserably for a few days before succumbing to the plant. Symptoms include, increased heart rate, rapid pulse and respiration, a loud heartbeat that can be heard from several feet away, fever, convulsions, and coma.

Jimsonweed, also known as thorn apple (pictured above), is a very deadly plant that’s sometimes abused as a hallucinogen. In fact, prison inmates working on roadside cleanup crews often harvest the plant’s tiny black seeds that, when consumed, produce the unusual high that’s associated with this prickly plant.

For example …

Once, while working as a corrections officer inside a maximum security facility, I overheard a young inmate who was vocally imitating the sounds of a motorcycle engine. And, amid the vrooms, zooms, growls, roars, and revving and snarling motor noises, were brief chuckles, giggles, and an imaginary argument with an imaginary fellow biker the man referred to as Buck. Buck, however, was, as I later understood, was fully-clothed, including  a helmet. And, I also learned that Buck was quit the acrobat and trick-rider.

Obviously, one of the major side effects of Jimsonweed consumption is delirium, and this guy’s hallucinations were working overtime as I rounded the corner of the open-stalled bathroom area.

The incarcerated man was totally nude and seated (you know where). Apparently the seed-induced trip caused him to perch his naked bottom atop an imaginary big old Harley, because he held his hands as if they were gripping handlebars, throttle, and brake controls, and he was pushing his fictitious bike to its limits. His body leaned forward over “the handlebars” to reduce wind friction, I supposed, and he did so while laughing like a madman, in short bursts of chimp-like squeals and screeches.

When he saw me his lips split into a tight grin as he wiggled his stubby and grubby fingers in my direction. The gesture was a childlike bye-bye wave aimed at me just before throttling the steel toilet into high gear. He shouted a few words to Buck (above the engine sounds) and he leaned further toward the front tire, crouching low while turning the throttle as far as mechanically possible. I assumed that he and Buck were riding off toward the horizon to avoid capture. They were doing 180 mph, or more. A guess, of course, because I didn’t have a radar unit handy. Not much need for one inside a prison, you know.

Their speed didn’t work, though. No match for my shiny, black fake leather shoes. Yes, miraculously, I was able to catch up to the pair—the inmate and Buck—on foot.

I easily apprehended the desperados and carted both to the medical department. Buck was released and soon disappeared. The prisoner, after a short stay in the infirmary, spent a few weeks in “the hole.”

In addition to delirium, other jimsonweed side effects are blurred vision vertigo, blindness, involuntary movements, convulsions, coma, and death.

Lilly of the Valley, aka Our Lady’s Tears, is found throughout the United States and Canada. The plants toxicity level is quite high, a level six, and causes an immediate reaction to the unsuspecting victim. Even the water in which the plant’s cut flowers is kept is deadly. Symptoms include, hallucinations, vomiting, clammy skin, hot flashes, coma, and death.

There are street gangs and there are street gangs, but the violent, international MS13 gang takes a backseat to no other when it comes to cruelty to other humans. In fact, to join MS13, prospective gang members must endure a brutal 13-second beating (a “beat-in”) by other gang members. Females are fortunate. They have the option of being beaten or gang-raped. Another step in the initiation is to kill a rival gang member or someone randomly selected by the gang.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS13)

The gang name is derived from La Mara, a street gang in San Salvador.  The word “Mara” translates as “gang” in English. Salvatrucha comes from the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in the Salvadoran Civil War.

To become full-fledged members and to earn the title of “homeboys” (after a “probationary period of sorts), “chequos,” or mid-level MS13 members are “jumped in.”

Jumping in is a two-step process—chequos must commit at least one murder of a rival gang member. Afterward, they’re voted in, if approved, and this is when gang leaders would very slowly count to thirteen while other gang members beat the chequos. This, the beat-in, is not a fraternity hazing. Instead, the beatings are often extremely severe.

When the beat-in is complete, members often display the familiar devil horn hand sign, a gesture they borrowed from fans of heavy metal music.

MS13 clique leaders are known as “palabreros.” Loosely translated, the word means “those who have the word.”

As a full-fledged member, the new homeboys join the other gang members during their everyday routines of selling drugs, smuggling weapons and people, prostitution, car theft, extortion, armed robbery, and murder. Lots of murder.

MS13 has attempted to get a foot in the drug-dealing business but they’ve faile to do so on a large scale. The gang has no formal leader and operates in pockets within Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and Central America.

Members of those pockets (cliques, or “clicas” in Spanish) tend to show their loyalty to those smaller groups rather than the overall “organization,” which translates into enough disorganization to make organized drug-dealing nearly impossible. Therefore, they stick to more localized crime. However, the gang is very large and extremely deadly. Murder is a priority.

There is an attempt at organization, though, between the leaders who’re currently incarcerated and those on the street. Together, they try to control the major “hits,” such as the orders to kill police officers and other officials. Still, they are not formally organized, with most activity occurring within the smaller clicas.


“Of the 506 gang members arrested or charged in connection with crimes, 207 were charged with murder and 100 others were accused of conspiracy or racketeering, and “dozens of others” were accused of sex trafficking, attempted murder, sexual assault, extortion, and drug trafficking.” ~ from a report by Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. (February 28, 2018). The report was based on a study of just over 500 MS13 gang members arrested since 2012.


The extreme activities of MS13 have helped make what some call the Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—the most violent place in the world that’s not currently at war.

Leaving the gang, for whatever reason, proves to be impossible in some cliques because the penalty for desertions is immediate death.

MS13 has between 50,000 and 70,000 members

 

To name only a scant few of the MS13 horrors, in 2017, MS13 gang members were responsible for:

  • Venus Romero Iraheta, 17, tortured and killed a 15-year-old girl because he didn’t approve of her boyfriend, also an MS-13 gang member. Gang members filmed the torture and stabbing death.
  • Two MS-13 gang members (Miguel Alvarez-Flores and Diego Hernandez-Rivera) who, by the way, were illegally staying in the U.S., were charged with kidnapping, torturing and shooting a teenage girl. According to court records, the gang members killed the girl because she insulted their satanic rituals and a shrine.
  • Three MS-13 gang members were charged with the murder of 17-year-old Raymond Wood, who’s body was been mutilated by the gang members. They stabbed Wood sixteen times, ran over his body, and then removed his hands.

*Please don’t be alarmed. The following image is not of a real hand. It’s a staged photo. But please do imagine the very real fear experienced by those who’ve faced death, torture, and dismemberment at the hands of MS13 gang members.

  • Hector Lazo, 18, and Pedro Rivera, 23 were arrested for the murder of 37-year-old Nelson Rodriguez. Officers said Rivera shot Rodriguez in the back of the head while simply walking in the street.
  • Two teenage boys and an 11-year-old girl were shot at an apartment complex by two MS13 gang members. The shooting of the two boys was gang-related. The shooting of the girl was accidental.
  • MS13 gang members are responsible for the deaths of eleven people on Long Island. The victims were hacked to death with machetes. Their bodies were then horribly mutilated by gang members using those same edged weapons.
  • Best friends Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas were brutally murdered by MS13 gang members. It was the day before her 16th birthday when Nisa Mickens’ brutally beaten body was found in Brentwood, N.Y. The badly beaten body of 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas was discovered in a nearby wooded backyard.

To kill the two girls, MS-13 gang members used bats and machetes. Cuevas was the target of the hit because she had apparently feuded with some gang members on social media. Mickens, who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, was so badly beaten around her head and face that she was barely recognizable.

Machetes are often used to kill because laws aren’t as strict as those governing firearms. And, because of the massive damage they’re able to inflict when used against a human body.

  • Three Long Island MS-13 gang members were arrested for the attempted murder of a 19-year man. During the attack, the gang members used a machete to slash the victim’s stomach. Then they shot him.
  • New York Police charged three MS-13 gang members with the assault and attempted murder of a rival gang member. The victim was brutally beaten and shot in the head. The victim is now a paraplegic as a result of the attack.
  • MS13 gang member Carlos Gonzalez is wanted in connection to the death of his 25-year-old girlfriend Maritza Lopez. Police found Lopez dead in her bedroom closet with gunshot wounds to the chest and head.
  • MS-13 has directed its members to “take out a cop.” The gang member suspected of putting out the hit order is a tall, light-skinned Hispanic man with a thin build and a tattoo of three dots next to one of his eyes. The order is the assignment of any and all members. They simply want a cop, any cop, to die. The purpose of murdering a law enforcement officer is to send a signal to police, telling them to back away from arresting gang members. Killing cops is what they do in other countries when they feel police are closing in.

*Top photo – FBI

Prisoners are constantly scheming and devising ways to beat the system, and death row inmates in South Carolina found a way to essentially put the brakes on executions. How’s that for ingenuity?

Officials in South Carolina, bless their hearts, believed condemned killers should have the option as to how they’d die—lethal injection or electric chair. Well, it goes without saying that given the choice of being fried like a chicken for a Sunday dinner or to lie down on a padded gurney where a medical person injects enough drugs to initiate a very long nap in the great beyond, the folks residing on death row picked the injection over the suped-up jumper-cable-powered chair. A no-brainer.

No Access to Drugs

Unfortunately for the state but a stroke of good fortune for the prisoners, in 2011, South Carolina was permanently denied access to the drugs to perform lethal injections. Therefore, by opting for lethal injection, a process inmates knew could not be carried out, those prisoners prolonged their lives for eternity. They were condemned to die but the state had no means to make it happen. Until …

State officials recently held a vote to eliminate lethal injection as an option for execution, making the use of the electric chair mandatory. The results of the vote … Yes=26. No=12. The proposal now goes to the House where it expected to pass easily, meaning it will soon be time to fire up Old Sparky. The prisoners will no longer have a choice. They will be electrocuted until dead.

South Carolina is one of only nine states that allow electrocutions. A couple of states have ruled the use of the electric chair is unconstitutionally cruel. I’ve witnessed an execution by electrocution. It’s not pretty, but it works.

Execution: It was April 27, 1994 at 11:13 pm. when I looked into the eyes of a serial killer and then watched him die.

Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.

spencer.jpg

Timothy W. Spencer, The Southside Strangler

Other women in the area were killed by someone who committed those murders in a very similar manner. Was there a copycat killer who was never caught? Or, did Spencer kill those women too? We’ll probably never learn the truth.

Spencer was, however, later tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the aforementioned murders. I requested to serve as a witness to his execution. I figured if I had the power to arrest and charge someone with capital murder, then I needed to see a death penalty case through to the end.

On the evening of Spencer’s execution, corrections officials met me at a state police area headquarters. I left my unmarked Chevrolet Caprice there and they drove me to the prison. We passed through the sally port and then through a couple of interior gates, stopping outside the building where death row inmates await their turn to die.

Once inside, I was led to a room where other witnesses waited for a briefing about what to expect. Then we, in single file, were led to where we’d soon watch a condemned man be put to death.

The room where I and other witnesses sat waiting was inside the death house at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center. At the time, the execution chamber was pretty much a bare room, with the exception of Old Sparky, the state’s electric chair, an instrument of death that, ironically, was built by prison inmates.

Old Sparky, Virginia’s electric chair, was built by inmates.

State executions in Virginia are carried out at Greensville Correctional Center.

The atmosphere that night was nothing short of surreal. No one spoke. No one coughed. Nothing. Not a sound as we waited for the door at the rear of “the chamber” to open. After an eternity passed, it did. A couple of prison officials entered first, and then Spencer walked into the chamber surrounded by members of the prison’s death squad (specially trained corrections officers).

I later learned that Spencer had walked the eight short steps to the chamber from a death watch cell, and he’d done so on his own without assistance from members of the squad. Sometimes the squad is forced to physically deliver the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber. I cannot fathom what sort mindset it takes to make that short and very final walk. Spencer seemed prepared for what was to come, and he’d made his peace with it.

Spencer was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a brutal serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and was the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration were scattered across his forehead and bare scalp.

Spencer scanned the brightly lit room, looking from side to side, taking in the faces of the witnesses. I wondered if the blonde woman beside me reminded him of either of his victims. Perhaps, the lady in the back row who sat glaring at the condemned killer was the mother of one of the women Spencer had so brutally raped and murdered.

After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. His arms and legs were securely fixed to the chair. He looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing, as if he’d just settled in to watch TV, or a movie.

I sat directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated only by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so. His face was expressionless. No sign of sadness, regret, or fear.

The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap was lined with a brine-soaked sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.

I wondered if Spencer felt the presence of the former killers who’d died in the chair before him—Morris Mason, Michael Smith, Ricky Boggs, Alton Wayne, Albert Clozza, Derrick Peterson, Willie Jones, Wilbert Evans, Charles Stamper, and Roger Coleman, to name a few.

Morris Mason had raped his 71-year-old neighbor. Then he’d hit her in the head with an ax, nailed her to a chair, set her house on fire, and then left her to die.

Alton Wayne stabbed an elderly woman with a butcher knife, bit her repeatedly, and then dragged her nude body to a bathtub where he doused it with bleach.

A prison chaplain once described Wilbert Evans’ execution as brutal. “Blood was pouring down onto his shirt and his body was making the sound of a pressure cooker ready to blow.” The preacher had also said, “I detest what goes on here.”

I wondered if Spencer felt any of those vibes coming from the chair. And I wondered if he’d heard that his muscles would contract, causing his body to lunge forward. That the heat would literally make his blood boil. That the electrode contact points were going to burn his skin. Did he know that his joints were going to fuse, leaving him in a sitting position? Had anyone told him that later someone would have to use sandbags to straighten out his body? Had he wondered why they’d replaced the metal buttons buttons on his clothes with Velcro? Did they tell him that the buttons would have melted?

For the previous twenty-four hours, Spencer had seen the flurry of activity inside the death house. He’d heard the death squad practicing and testing the chair. He’d seen them rehearsing their take-down techniques in case he decided to resist while they escorted him to the chamber. He watched them swing their batons at a make-believe prisoner. He saw their glances and he heard their mutterings.

Was he thinking about what he’d done?

I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?

The warden asked Spencer if he cared to say any final words—a time when many condemned murderers ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to family members of the people they’d murdered. Spencer opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, offering no apology and showing no remorse. Whatever he’d been about to say, well, he took it with him to his grave.

He made eye contact with me again. And believe me, this time it was a chilling experience to look into the eyes of a serial killer just mere seconds before he himself was killed. All the way to the end, he kept his gaze on me.

In those remaining seconds everyone’s thoughts were on the red telephone hanging on the wall at the rear of the chamber—the direct line to the governor. Spencer’s last hope to live beyond the next few seconds. It did not ring.

The warden nodded to the executioner, who, by the way, remained behind a wall inside the chamber and out of our view. Spencer must have sensed what was coming and, while looking directly into my eyes, turned both thumbs upward. A last second display of his arrogance. A death squad member placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face, then he and the rest of the team left the room. The remaining officials stepped back, away from the chair.

Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.

Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, the executioner sent a second burst to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.

The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.

It was over and an eerie calm filled the chamber. The woman beside me cried softly. I realized that I’d been holding my breath and exhaled, slowly. No one moved for five long minutes. I later learned that this wait-time was to allow the body to cool down. The hot flesh would have burned anyone who touched it.

The prison doctor slowly walked to the chair where he placed a stethoscope against Spencer’s chest, listening for a heartbeat. A few seconds passed before the doctor looked up and said, “Warden, this man has expired.”

That was it. Timothy Spencer, one of the worse serial killers in America was dead, finally.

Timothy Spencer was put to death on April 27, 1994 at 11:13 pm.

 

Unusual facts about Spencer’s case:

– Spencer raped and killed all five of his victims while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He committed the murders on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

– Spencer was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

– David Vasquez, a mentally handicapped man, falsely confessed to murdering one of the victims in the Spencer case after intense interrogation by police detectives. He was later convicted of the crime and served five years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. It was learned that Vasquez didn’t understand the questions he’d been asked and merely told the officers what he thought they wanted to hear.

– Spencer used neck ligatures to strangle each of the victims to death, fashioning them in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

– Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.

 

 

Kratom, a tree native to southeast Asia—Thailand and Malaysia—can reach towering heights of 50 feet, or more. Its trunk, when fully grown, is an impressive 15 feet in diameter. Its leaves, well, the chemical compounds in kratom leaves behave like those found in opioids including morphine. This is not your average shade tree.

Users of “Biak-Biak,” as kratom is called in Malaysia, introduce the drug into the body by smoking, chewing, or brewing the leaves into a tea. Interestingly, chewing the leaves produces a milder effect than other means of consumption. And, the effects achieved when chewing the raw leaves is that of a mild stimulant.

Kratom tree

However, when ingesting kratom in higher dosages (extracts, powders, etc) it produces an effect quite similar to that of opium-like narcotic analgesics.

Kratom is a listed as a controlled substance in Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar (Burma). And, it is listed in Schedule 9, the most highest level, of the Australian National Drugs and Poisons Schedule. It is not, however, illegal in the U.S.

Kratom is legal in the U.S.

The DEA, the same DEA that lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, took a look at kratom and decided to not include it in either of the five drug schedule categories. Shoot, even Robitussin AC, a peach-mint or grape/menthol cough syrup, is on the list of “dangerous” drugs, but not kratom, a substitute for opium.


Schedule I

Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:

heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:

Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin

Schedule III

Schedule III drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs abuse potential is less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but more than Schedule IV. Some examples of Schedule III drugs are:

Products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine), ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Some examples of Schedule IV drugs are:

Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, Tramadol

Schedule V

Schedule V drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes. Some examples of Schedule V drugs are:

cough preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine or per 100 milliliters (Robitussin AC), Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, Parepectolin


 The DEA briefly considered placing kratom in the Schedule 1 category but opted not to due to public outcry from people who claim the drug helps as a treatment for pain, anxiety and drug dependence.

Others say it’s safer than opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

Yeah, well, so is Lyrica, a drug prescribed for fibromyalgia and epilepsy. Lyrica warning labels list minor side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, difficulty concentrating, swollen arms/legs, and weight gain.

Kratom leaf

Possible side effects from using kratom include vomiting, sweating, itching, psychotic episodes, delusions and respiratory depression. The FDA has identified 44 reports of death involving kratom since 2011.

There are a large number of Kratom vendors in the United States. The drug typically enters the U.S. in shipments from Asia and from western European countries. These deliveries slip past U.S. Customs, an agency that confiscates all kratom it locates.

Kratom is sold in various forms, including raw leaves, and extracts, capsules, and powders. Vendors include convenience stores, gas stations, and even delis.

Will the DEA eventually add Kratom to the drug schedule? Will the drug be made illegal? Who knows? In the meantime, though, we can all rest easier knowing our nation’s supply of cough syrup and constipation-inducing Lyrica is kept safely under lock and key.

Today, as your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the day, pause for just a moment to consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless, superheroes? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are they believable?

Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite (NO!), uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get the ideas for blog topics? Well, I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book. I read tons of books including books penned by readers of this blog. Therefore, and unfortunately so, I have a near endless supply of fodder for articles—the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).

For example, while pouring over the pages of a wonderfully written book, a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks.

Wonderfully Written Book

So I backed up to re-read the last few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes. Nope, there it was as plain as day, one of the most impossible, unbelievable means to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail because the book is very new). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to realism.

Now I have a problem. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll have the courage to pick up another book written by this particular author. Why? Because he/she didn’t bother to check facts. The writer didn’t attempt even the slightest effort to use common sense. Actually, I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.

Common Sense Works for Lee Child: Writing Believable Make-Believe

One of the best thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes a ton of over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes you believe it, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books. His answer was (click here to read the entire interview), “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before.

I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk.  But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg—90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”

So how does Lee make all that wacky action work? He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.

Between a rock and a hard place

I cringed when I read the opening line of the first draft of the new series. She’d named me Biff Steele, as if Rod Manly hadn’t been bad enough in the previous books. But names, however cheesy they may be, are not the worst thing that could happen to me. At least my author does her homework, unlike my best friend’s creator.

My pal, poor guy, has lived a really tough life. Not only does he have a name worse than mine—Rocky Hardplace—his psycho-behind-the-keyboard author lives her fantasies through him—killing, bombing, fighting, shooting, and sex … so much sex. Too much sex. SEX, SEX, SEX. It must be all she ever thinks of, day and night. Well, that and how to solve crimes using the dumb stuff she sees on TV shows. Doesn’t she realize that most of those characters are also products of poor research and fantasy?

My writer understands the huge differences between the written word and the on-screen action seen on TV and film. Live-action stuff quite often needs over the top excitement to capture and hold the attention of a viewing audience. TV watchers see events unfold in vivid color. They hear the excitement pumping throughout their living rooms via high-dollar surround sound systems.

Readers, on the other hand, require a carefully planned and plotted mental massaging of each of the senses in order to bring movement and stimulation to what’s nothing more than carefully arranged blots of ink on a page. There are no images within a murder mystery; therefore, the writer must somehow form detailed pictures inside a reader’s mind.

We, as characters who’ve traveled the paths inside the minds of readers, know that each person has a different perception of what they read, and that’s because they draw upon their own past experiences. And this is where Rocky Hardplace’s writer really goofs. She has no experience in the world of cops and robbers so she makes up what should be realistic information, and some of it is totally absurd.

Unfortunately, the poor woman has Rocky tromping about his fictional city while doing some pretty ridiculous stuff—shooting a revolver that spews spent brass, knocking out bad guys with nothing more than a tap to the back of the neck, shooting guns from the hands of serial killers, and her wacky-ass notion that FBI agents ride into town on white horses to solve every murder and kidnapping case. And the cordite … puhleeze!

Thankfully, as I said earlier, my author does her homework. She reads books such as Police Procedure and Investigation, and she’s a regular reader of this blog. She also attends the Writers’ Police Academy.

Yes, my writer is a fictional hero’s dream author. I rarely ever do stupid stuff in my quest to save my city from crime and corruption (Have you ever noticed how much of this stuff goes on in books? I’m thankful that reality isn’t nearly as bad).

My author dresses me nicely. I carry the best guns money can buy. I’m an expert in ten different martial arts styles/systems. I have only super intelligent girlfriends. My work partner is smart, but remains at one level below me. I drive a really cool car. I live in a wonderful beach house. I have a flea-less dog as a best friend. And I have just enough flaws and quirks to keep my fans interested. Yes, my world is perfect.

If only I could convince her to change my name. Biff Steele … yuck.

In 2016, the number of murders in the U.S. rose by 8.6% over the 2015 tally. Overall, violent crime increased over 4%.

Since there’s a lot of talk about assault rifles being a favored weapon of choice among killers, let’s take a moment to examine the number of people murdered with rifles of any kind (Remember, most rifles described as assault rifles are merely everyday rifles wearing fancy do-dads—no extra firepower, etc.).

Each of the above rifles is a Mini-14. They are the same rifle with the same firepower.

In 2016, 17,250 people were murdered. Of the 17,250, 374 victims were shot and killed with a rifle of some type. In comparison, 1,604 people were killed with knives or other edged weapons. Hands, feet, and fists were the instruments used to beat to death 656 people. That’s right, victims were beaten to death far more often than were shot and killed with rifles.

Illinois, for example, saw a total of 941 murders in 2016. Of the 941, only 14 were killed with some type of rifle.

61 were killed with an edged weapon. 62 with “other” weapons. 19 by hands, feet, etc. 780 by handgun or other type of firearm. 762 of the total killings in Illinois occurred in Chicago, by the way.

 

Murders by Rifle (a few random states)

Alabama – 0 by rifle (3 total murders)

California – 37 by rifle (1930 total murders)

District of Columbia – 0 by rifle (136 total murders)

Georgia – 20 by rifle (646 total murders)

Nevada – 2 by rifle (209 total murders)

New York – 2 by rifle (628 total murders).

Texas – 51 by rifle (1459 total murders)

Wyoming – 0 by rifle (19 total murders).


Also in 2016, 57,180 police officers were assaulted. 118 of those officers were killed.

 

Over 32% of the attacks against officers occurred while responding to disturbance calls, with 13.2% of those assaults taking place between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m.

 

62 of the 118 officers were killed with firearms.

19 officers were within five-feet of their attackers when they were killed.

45 of the individuals who killed officers had prior criminal records.

*Source – FBI UCR reports

Stolen passwords. Forged emails. Corrupt files. And … someone hacked into your model JXC3 Dell-Apple SonySung hack-proof computer and swiped your manuscript—the tale about the FBI agent who singlehandedly saves everything under the sun—and sold it to PenguinHouse-Putnam-Holt-Brown for twelve-thousand-million-zillion dollars!

But how could such a thing happen, you ask? After all, you had all the available security measures in place and all were working fine, or so you thought.

Computer hacker

Someone though, most likely a nefarious computer expert from the dark side, somehow bypassed your passwords, the fingerprint and iris scanners, the facial recognition software, and the voice reader, all to take your extremely original story.

I know, it’s difficult to understand. The expert kid at the computer store, the one you overheard telling a coworker about a really tough homework assignment that had to be completed before his dad would loan him the family minivan, said the machine was equipped with the best anti-everything protections that money could buy. A pimply-faced coworker, whose voice was locked in teen change-mode with pitches ranging from deep floor-rumbling bass to a canary on helium, agreed. Foolproof security.

The price of the computer was a meager $899, but with all the add-on security options, though, the price tag came in at just under $11,000. No way anyone should’ve beaten the high-end system. Yet they did.

So what can be done to stop the hacking, the bypassing, the backdoor entries, the stealing of such valuable and original manuscripts?

Heartbeats

Yes, the human heart is the solution to computer security. By using low-level Doppler radar, scientists at a University in Buffalo have developed a system that measures the human heart (no two hearts are identical) and uses those dimensions as your personal identifier. The systems takes about eight seconds to scan your heart and then it continually monitors the beating organ to be sure no one else has stepped in to take over the computer operation. If so, the device shuts down (the computer, not the heart).

The same system is thought to be useful for smartphone operation/security, and at airports to assist with security checks. The system is currently capable of detecting and monitoring a person up to thirty meters away.

What’s next, a heart database? Are we a mere heartbeat away from the government having the capability of monitoring our lives by, well, listening to our heartbeats as we walk or drive past a county “Heartbeat Police Car?”

The Human Heart: A New Sheriff in Town

Will we soon see Heart Police? Will their gun belts be equipped with B/P cuffs and portable EKG machines?

How about heartbeat line-ups?

In the world of make believe, the place that exists in the minds of writers and readers alike, THIS is how the story begins … for the savvy writer. So go full screen, crank up the volume, and hit the play button. Oh, and please do watch to the very end (after the credits). You know how I like twists and surprises!

 

For details – Writers’ Police Academy

 

It’s the year 2525 and yes, man is still alive. Things are different, though, in that scientists  have unlocked the secrets of altering and editing genes.

Experts began gene-altering for the purpose(s) of having the ability to switch on the “good stuff” and turning off “the bad characteristics.”

With this process in full play, the U.S. government (they control all gene altering) hired numerous “gene editors” who were once former employees of major publishing houses.

When the Great Book Plague struck in 2500, well, book editors and agents were left twiddling their thumbs. This transition was a no-brainer. Gotta pay the bills, right?

Red pencil

So, with red pencils in hand and the luxury of never, not ever, having to respond to emails, the former literary folks hopped into their teleporters and zipped over to the DARPA headquarters situated on WIP123, the meteor tethered to the spot where New York City once sat. There, the editors and agents were divided into two groups—one responsible for gene drive and genetic remediation technologies, while the second … vivo therapeutic applications in mammals.

I know, a huge leap from the written word to dealing with live mammals (some of you will recall that literary agents are mostly solitary creatures who often avoid contact with other humans, especially writers). But, upon closer examination, the change is not all that drastic. Think about it. Book editors and agents are tasked with finding the good in a manuscript. Then, using a red pencil they trim away all the bad, leaving behind a desired product.

Genetically altered turtle

The same is true when altering the genes of living things—trim away the bad and leave the good.

This entire process started way back in the year 2017, when the U.S. government awarded DARPA grants to seven teams—The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North Carolina State University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, Riverside.

DARPA invested $65 million in the Safe Genes program through 2021.

Those scientists were tasked with collecting empirical data and developing an assortment of versatile tools that would work to support bio-innovation and combat bio-threats. 

The idea was for the seven teams to devise and develop biomolecular “instructions” that provide actual and reversible control of certain genes in living systems. They were also to go even deeper by devising drug-based countermeasures to provide the ability to prevent disease, as well as offering treatment options.

Edited “Tweet”

Gene editing is designed to protect the integrity of the “good genes” in populations of organisms, as well as providing a means of detecting and eliminating unwanted engineered genes.

And …

Okay, enough Sci-Fi. This is happening right now. Today. In the United States.

Those seven teams mentioned above are currently hard at work devising means to switch on and off genome editing in bacteria, mammals, and insects.

Angry mosquito in need of intervention

The plan is to limit or protect against future biological threats, reverse mutations caused by exposure to radiation, develop an “off switch” in mosquito species relevant to human and animal health, gradually improving mosquito performance (little or no malaria), regulating invasive species, target species that spread Zika and Ebola (for example).

The program could go a longs ways toward making the world safer, I guess. But at what cost? Well, other than providing an income for all of those out of work editors and agents … in the year 2525.

So, what are your thoughts about our government having the capability of altering genes to force living things to behave according to the desires of government officials? I know I don’t mind at all. In fact, I signed up as human guinea pig to help further the research. And, you know, I haven’t seen a single thing go wrong. Not one side effect.