Writers generally fall into one of two categories, panthers or plotters. Writers, you share these traits with killers, and this could be the reason your books are so devilishly delightful.

The Plotter

plotter starts each writing project with a plan, and before typing the first word of a new story they know how and why each action happens. They have a clear picture of their characters and setting. Plotters generally know where they’re going and how they’ll get there. They also know where and when they’ll stop along the way.

Plotter’s offices are decorated with multi-colored stick notes (red for character A, blue for character B, yellow for character C, etc.), and photos of celebrities cut from People magazine to use as inspiration for characters. Neatly organized stacks of notebooks filled with research material stand at ready on the surfaces of uncluttered desks. Pens are lined up next to keyboards, like sardines in tin cans. A predetermined word count must be reached each day.

A great example of a true plotter is top bestselling author Jeffery Deaver. Jeff once told me that he conducts extensive research and plotting for six months or longer prior to writing the first word of a new book. He’s extremely meticulous and organized, and records massive amounts of notes. Yet, he weaves this factual material into a story without even the slightest hint of an information dump.

Roadside Crosses

I often tell the story where, while reading Deaver’s Roadside Crosses, I learned about the use of a hard drive enclosure to retrieve data from a computer that had been rendered useless after having been immersed in ocean water. And, ironically, not long after reading the book my personal computer crashed and would no longer work. Obviously, I had a ton of material I couldn’t afford to lose so I purchased a hard drive enclosure and was able to recover all of my files. This detail in the book was real, but Jeff had smartly included it in a work of fiction without it seeming as if I’d attended a lesson on electronic devices. He’s a brilliant writer.

The Panster

A pantser is someone who powers-up the Mac, enjoys a long gulp of coffee, and then hands over the entire book to their characters, and it is they, not the writer, who do the majority of the walking and talking and thinking, all with very little help. Pansters are not much more than stenographers who works for their characters. They are the vehicles that transform characters’ ideas and actions into words on a page.

A panster’s writing journey, like that of the plotters, begins at point A. However, the panster often has not a single clue in advance how they’ll reach point B. The convoluted paths traveled will often be as much as a surprise to the author as it will be to the reader. They know where they’re going, but not how they’ll get there.

Still, no one is all-in as a panster or as a plotter. Things change as stories evolve and the writer must adapt. And both methods work well for both types of writers. I’m a panster and my wife Denene, the scientist, is a plotter.

Billy Bob Thornton is a Pantser

Billy Bob Thornton used the panster approach when writing the script for the movie Slingblade. Thornton has said that he likes to write late at night, generally between the hours of midnight and six in the morning. He says he writes in the “stream of consciousness fashion” and doesn’t rewrite. He writes his projects all at once. The actor/screenwriter/director wrote Slingblade, for example, in nine days.

Thornton had the character Carl in mind in advance, basing him on a blend of two people he knew from his past, a black man and a white man. He incorporated the look and mannerisms and walk from the black man, and the situation from the white man. The white man, according to Thornton, was fed in his backyard, like a dog. This combination of the two real-life men was the starting point for Carl’s character and story. The rest of Thornton’s tale flowed from there, without the benefit of notes, planning, or plotting.

Now, what does this have to do with murderers? Well …

Organized Killers

Organized killers, the “panthers,” have above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Organized offenders carefully plan their crimes. They go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings are often premeditated. Killers in this group, the “plotters,” are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they often appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals, “the pantsers” of the criminal world, typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

*No, I do not actually believe writers are potential serial killers. Then again, we still don’t know the identity of Jack the Ripper. For all we know, he/she was the author of great works of fiction and his/her killings were part of a gruesome research project.

There’s nothing in this world that can be compared to entering an abandoned house in mid July, in the south, to begin working a murder case. If the stifling heat, humidity, and smell of decomposing human flesh and organs don’t get to you, well, the flies, maggots, and other creepy crawlers certainly will. Without a doubt, it’s a full-on attack of the senses. But, it’s a job that falls into the laps of homicide cops—it’s what they do—and it’s a job that requires a special skill set. Not to mention a stomach made of cast iron and steel plating.

But, once you’re past the stench, gore, fly-swatting, and overall feel of ickiness, solving murder cases are a bit like writing crime novels … sort of.

Writers typically begin their stories knowing the identities of the murderers du jour, right? Protagonists typically work toward a “killer” ending to the story in which they travel, while their creators provide clues along the way that help their fictional heroes and readers solve the carefully plotted crimes.

Real-life detectives begin their journeys with an initial report that’s a written introduction to the basics—victim’s name, location where crimes took place, weather conditions, dates, times, responding officers’ names, time of arrival of the medical examiner, witness names and statements, if any, etc. This information, much like the very first Post-it note of a plotting author’s outline launches a story into a convoluted journey to the final page of a book, provides the starting points for investigations. And, those initial police reports often serve as guides that determine which direction the investigations should follow.

Remember, no two investigations are the same!

What follows the reading and studying of the initial police report or, an author’s first Post-it note, is an extremely detailed and meticulous prying, pawing, digging, and rummaging through each and every aspect of all the twists and turns and potential characters/suspects. No stone is left unturned, and no potential piece of evidence is left unexamined. For detectives, this often results in lots of long hours without sleep, meals, or time to rest. For writers, this means tons of sticky notes placed in all the right places, tons of research, police ride-alongs, and attending the fabulous Writers’ Police Academy.

When I approached a case where the suspect’s identity was unknown, and clues and information were scarce or non-existent—after collecting physical evidence—I often found it helpful to begin by first eliminating people who could NOT be involved, such as the people who had solid, unquestionable alibis. Then, I’d eliminate the folks whose innocence was proven by physical evidence (fingerprints and DNA didn’t match, etc.). It was often the last man or woman standing who committed the crime.

Writers, in lieu of using actual evidence to eliminate characters/suspects, they develop fictional evidence to do the same. And when something doesn’t seem quite right with a scene or character, well, the writers then simply removes a sticky note here and there and toss them aside. However, both detectives and writers typically file any discarded information in the event it’s needed at a later time. And, like writers, cops often find that information gained/gathered in one investigation just may be valuable in the next.

To Step Into a Murder Scene is Like …

So let’s open the door to the spooky house at the end of your street—the old Victorian that’s been empty for two years and is now surrounded by waist-high weeds. The once beautifully manicured lawn is now a graveyard for litter and other garbage left behind by transients and the kids who toss their empty fast food wrappers and plastic soda bottles over the rusted chain-link fence. Window panes are broken and many of shingles have fallen from the roof, leaving behind patches of tar paper and rusted nails.

For months now you’ve seen a homeless man going and coming, but this morning you realized that he hadn’t been around in the past two weeks. And there’s that strong odor. Like something is … dead.

So you call the police and the next thing you know your neighborhood is overrun by patrol cars and crime scene tape. You even heard one officer say something about murder.

Inside the “spooky” house, detectives are doing what they do best. They’re checking all the boxes on their mental checklist. And now their focus is on the victim.

The Effects of Death on the Human Body

Prior to the removal of a body from the crime scene, homicide investigators should note (and photograph) the presence of each of the following in his/her report:

1) Livor Mortis/Lividity (color, location, blanchability, Tardieu spots, other coloring). Are these consistent or inconsistent with the current positioning of the body?

Remember, lividity is the pooling of blood/purplish staining of tissue at the lowest portions of a dead body, caused by gravity. Livor continues to form for up to 8 – 12 hours after death. This process can be slowed to as much as 36 hours in a cool environment, including a morgue cooler.

To test for blanchability, a death investigator uses a finger(s) to push against the flesh. The pressure forces blood out of the capillaries in that area, causing the flesh to present as much lighter in color. If the pressure does indeed cause a change in skin color, the flesh is blanchable. This tells the investigator the body is still within the lividity period, meaning the victim died sometime within the past 12 hours, or up to 36 hours in cool surroundings.

You can try this on your own skin. Use a finger to apply pressure to the back of your hand. Release the pressure after a second or two and you’ll see the change in skin color (obviously you’ll use the finger of one hand to press against the skin on the back of your other hand). By the way, if you needed that instruction, well, the warning to remove Pop Tarts from their wrapper before heating are probably very important to you. And, if there was no change in your skin color, well, I hope your life insurance policy is up to date.

Tardieu spots are dark, circular areas—capillary ruptures.

2) Rigor Mortis

Muscles contain bundles of long, narrow cells. While we’re seated at our computers reading blogs and watching goofy videos, our muscles are, for the most part, at rest.

While resting, our muscles pump out calcium ions which build up electrical potential (energy). Then, when we’re ready to make that run to the mailbox to retrieve the latest royalty check, a nerve impulse causes those ions hook up with actin and myosin filaments and the muscles contract (become tighter). They remain in that state until adenosine triphosphate (ATP) binds to the myosin, and before you know it the muscles once again relax.

Got it now? No, well, don’t worry. All we need to know is that ATP has an obsession with oxygen. It absolutely has to have it to survive.

Actually, the body needs oxygen to produce ATP. Therefore, when a person stops breathing (no oxygen) the body ceases to make adenosine triphosphate. Without ATP our muscles can no longer relax. And when the muscles can’t relax, what happens? Right, the body stiffens, and that, my writer friends, is called Rigor Mortis.

3) Degree of decomposition (putrefaction, adipocere, mummification, skeletonization, etc.). Everything affects decomposition, from air temperature to animals and insects to shellfish, fish, alligators, snakes, and turtles, when the body is in water. Even soil types and clothing can affect the rate of decomposition. Interestingly, newborns who have not yet been fed, decompose slowly since the body is basically sterile. However, an injury or being fed will cause a newborn’s body to decompose more rapidly.

a) Putrefaction – the final stage of decomposition. Presents as discoloration of tissue, disfiguration, liquefaction of tissue, bloating due to gases forming in the tissue and organs.

The general order of putrefactive changes are as follows:

First to go are the larynx and trachea, followed by…

– stomach, spleen, and intestines

– lungs and liver

–  brain

– heart

– bladder, uterus, kidneys

– skin, tendons, and muscle

– bone

*The prostate resists putrefaction for a long time.

b) Adipocere – a waxy, soap-like substance that’s sometimes formed during decomposition. Normally caused by moist or damp conditions surrounding the decomposing body.

D. Insect and animal activity. Obviously, insects and animals can and do consume body parts. Animals may also scatter human remains, sometimes making the murder scene a bit more difficult to understand, at first look.

E. Scene temperature. Death investigators make note of the ambient temperature at the location of the body, and the method used to obtain it.

F. Description of body temperature. Is it warm to the touch? Is the flesh cold, or frozen.

It is extremely important to preserve the security of the body. Remember, the body is more than likely THE most important piece of evidence in a murder case. Investigators should oversee the labeling, packaging, and the removal of the remains by the M.E’s personnel, or EMS, etc. An identification tag should be attached to the body to prevent any mix ups later, at the morgue (yes, this has happened, and on more than one occasion).

Finally … No, police detectives do NOT use thermometers of any type, including rectal thermometers, to check the temperature of a dead body. It is not in their job description to do so. Yes, I once read the rectal thermometer thing in a book. So, no, no, and NO!

By the way, the image at the left is of a grilled pork chop. Had your stomach turning for a moment, huh?


*Remember, laws and procedure differ across the country. What happens in San Francisco or L.A. may be, and likely are, entirely different in Richmond or Baltimore or Dallas or Phoenix or Denver or Kansas or ….

*The black and white images contained in this post are from an actual crime scene, the largest mass family murder to occur in the U.S. It’s a case I featured in my true crime tale, Murder on Minor Avenue.

As part of my research prior to writing the story I visited the scene(s), interviewed dozens of people involved in two cases, including police detectives, neighbors, prosecutors, judges, family members, etc., and I visited the gravesites of the slain. Murder on Minor Avenue was published in an anthology called Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre (edited by R. Barri Flowers) Publisher – Prometheus Books.

 

Many writers have never, not once, set foot inside a police car, nor have they climbed out of bed at 11 p.m. to swap pajamas for a police uniform, Kevlar vest, gun belt, sidearm, and spit-shined shoes. And they’ve not headed out into the night to spend the next eight to twelve hours dealing with the city’s “worst of the worst,” and worse.

Most people have not left home with their family saying, “Be careful, see you when you get home,” and know they’re saying it because they worry the next time they see their loved one will be at their funeral service. “Killed in the line of duty” is what the bloggers and reporters will say.

Sure, you all know what goes on during a police officer’s shift—fights, domestic calls, shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, rapists, and killers of all shapes and sizes.

But what those of you who’ve never “been there, done that” cannot honestly and accurately detail the sounds heard when someone take a shot at you. No, not the actual gunshot. Its the other noises that help bring super-cool details to your stories.

To learn about those sounds, let’s pretend we’re the officer who’s just been the target of a bad guy’s gunfire. We’re chasing the suspect through alleys and paths that wind through dark wooded areas, all while knowing the guy has a gun and he’s definitely not afraid to use it.

Can’t see your hand in front of your face, so you stop and listen. And then it happens …

That eerie calm.

It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand tall and straight. Goose bumps come to attention on your arms. A lone pea-sized bead of sweat worms its way down your spine, easing through the space between your pants and the bare skin of your waistline. It feels oddly cool against your fear-warmed flesh.

If this occurred in a movie there would be, of course, background music. So let’s do this right. Hit the play button, take a sip of your coffee, or tea, and then read on to learn about A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

 

10-4, I’ll take this one …

The call came in as “Shots Fired. Suspect is armed with a handgun and caller advises he is still at the residence and is threatening to kill responding officers.”

I was working the county alone so I asked the dispatcher to request backup from a nearby city and from the state police. The trooper in our county was also working alone. Our roles differed, though. He was out on the interstate writing traffic tickets while I responded to the usual plethora of calls. Either way, we were alone when we approached whatever situation was before us, be it stopping a stolen car with dark tinted windows or heading toward a house where I knew a man was waiting to kill me.

The sound of a police radio is far different when it’s heard late at night as opposed to the same radio traffic during daylight hours. Its an unexplained phenomena. It could be that dark skies and night air create different acoustics. Or that working the graveyard shift forces dispatchers to work really hard to battle “the thing” that comes out at night to squeeze their emotions into submission. They typically lose the fight which results in a manner of speech that’s without feeling, inflection, and dynamics.

Nighttime radio traffic echoes and travels far. It’s weird and out of place among the stars and creamy moonlight. Dispatchers drone on like robots … “Robbery at …” “Wife says husband hit her …” “Lost child …” “Possible drug overdose at …” “Loud music at …” “Peeping Tom at …” “Customer refuses to pay at …” Shoplifter at …” “Dead body in river …” Dead body in park …” “Shots fired …” “Shots fired …” “Man stabbed at …” Shots fired …”

Back to the man who wanted to kill me

I acknowledged the call with a “10-4, I’m en-route.” Then I hooked the radio mic back into the metal “U-shaped” clip connected to the dashboard. Next I pushed one of the many red toggle switches mounted into the center console.

With the push of the button, a faint click occurred simultaneously with the eruption of pulsating blue light. I stepped on the gas and heard the engine come to life. Since I was miles out in the country there was no need for the siren. Not yet.

I pushed the pedal toward the floor until I was cruising along at 70 mph. Believe me, that was pretty fast considering the curvy, hilly road that was before me.

There are no streetlights in the country. It’s super dark. Blue light reflects from trees, shrubbery, houses, mailboxes, passing cars, and telephone poles. It also reflects from the white lines painted on the pavement.

Meanwhile, the radio traffic continues with updates for me and with traffic from city officers and the trooper out on the interstate … “Use caution. Driver of the vehicle is wanted for a homicide in …”

My car radio played in the background. Golden Earring’s bass player thumped the intro to “Radar Love” while I attempted to straighten the curves by hitting my marks—drive low in the curves, on both sides of the road. Never at the apex. Unless a car is coming in the opposite direction or you cannot see far enough ahead to safely do so. The guitar player’s eardrum piercing leads began just as I hit a rare straight stretch of the road.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why not join me for the rest of the ride. So climb in, buckle up, and hold on. And, let’s crank up the radio to start the blood flowing. It’ll help set the stage. Off we go!

The blue strobes mounted on top of the car make a clicking sound with the start of each flash. The wig-wag headlamps do the same. The roadway is very uneven with a few cracks and potholes scattered about. They cause the patrol car to dip and sway perilously in the vehicle groans and creaks with each expansion and contraction of its suspension. The extra pair of handcuffs I and many other cops keep handy by hanging them from the spotlight handle that protrudes from the post between the windshield and driver’s door, sway back and forth and bang together causing a constant click, click, click noise.

The cacophony of speed and sights and sounds—creaks, clicks, and whirling, blinking, and flashing vivid blue lights, together with the combination with the car’s groans and moans and squeaks and rattles, the dispatcher’s monotonous voice, and the frenzy of the music—are out of sync and in total discord. Adrenaline, at this stage of the game is that a feverish pitch. It’s organized turmoil.

I switched off my lights a ways before reaching the scene—didn’t want to shooter to know  we were there—and stopped my car on the shoulder, a bit down the road from the driveway. I called the dispatcher on the phone to let her know I’d arrived. The use of the phone was in case the bad guy was listening to a scanner. I turned down the volume on my police radio. Way down. Remember, the sound travels far. I wished backup didn’t have to do the same (travel far).

I opened my car door slowly to avoid making any noise. The interior light was not operational—disconnected in police cars to prevent illuminating the officer and/or blinding them to goings-on outside the vehicle.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to remain here, for now,” I say to you. “it’s for your own safety. Lock the doors, and no matter what you hear or see do not get out of the car. I’ll be back soon.” I open my wallet to retrieve a spare car key. “Here, just in case.”

As I slid from the seat my leather gun belt creaked and squeaked and groaned, as leather does when rubbed against other leather or similar material. To me, the sound was as loud as fourth of July fireworks. My key ring (in my pants pocket) jingled slightly with each step. So I used a hand to hold them against my leg. The other hand was on my pistol.

I walked up to the house to peek into a window before knocking on the front door. I wanted to see if I could, well, see anything. But, as I closed in on the side of the house a large mixed breed dog stepped into view, showing its teeth and upper gums. The animal, with matted-hair and a crooked tail,  growled one of those slow and easy rumbles that comes from somewhere deep inside. I held out a hand for it to sniff. It backed into the shadows.

A quick peek inside revealed a family of five. A woman with two black eyes and three crying children. Two girls, not quite teenagers, but close, probably, and a wiggling and squirming baby. A man stood near a tattered recliner and tall floor lamp. He held a pump shotgun in his right hand. At the moment, the barrel was aimed toward the floor. He yelled a few obscenities and started to pace. Then he looked straight at me, or at least it seemed like he looked at me.

My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. It bumped so hard I could hear the sound it made with each beat. It was that song’s intro all over again …

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

I’ve been driving all night
My hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby calling
Says “I need you here”
And it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump—

Then, from somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr …….. Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

A young girl. “Please, Daddy. No more!”

Sirens wail in the distance, beyond the black tree line that connects sky with earth. Sounds travel further at night, right?

The air-conditioning unit beneath the window snaps on. Its compressor humming and fan whirring. The metal casing rattles slightly. Probably missing a screw or two.

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody Approaches the Finale

I knew what I had to do and started toward the door with my leather shoes and gun belt squeaking and keys jingling and heart thumping. As I reached for the knob I took a deep breath.

The expansion of my chest pulled at the Velcro that held my vest tightly against my torso.

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …

Crying.

Screaming. 

Whir.

Thump. Thump. Thump!

Jingle

Squeak.

The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”

BANG!

BANG!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Crying.

And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

So, my friends, those are the sounds of working the graveyard shift … A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

Thanks so much for joining me. I hope to see you again, soon.

 

*This is a repeat post per request. Thanks!

 

Undercover in the 70's

“Wash your hands thoroughly, man. You don’t want none of that pot leaking through your skin and messing with your head, you know.”

“Stop freakin’ out, Ralph. Mary Jane doesn’t do that,” said Detective Captain Kangaroo. ” You’re thinking of acid. I think you’ve been a narc far too long. You got jelly brain, or what?. You’re paranoid.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not taking any chances. You do what you want,” Ralph said. “Me, I’m not taking any trips unless that boss Trans Am out there takes me there.” He nodded toward the only window in the room.

Kangaroo leaned a shoulder against the wood-paneled wall in his office—his face just inches away from Farrah Fawcett’s toothy smile. The poster was his favorite wall decoration. “Ralph, the chief complained again about that loud hippie music blasting from your car when you drive into the parking lot. He’s threatening to take out the eight-track if you don’t dial Hendrix and Joplin back a notch.”

“Hey, can I help it if he doesn’t dig it?” Ralph said.

“Maybe he’d lighten up a bit if once in a while you’d play some Andy Gibb or Paul Anka. Hey, he likes Tom Jones. What about—”

“Tom Jones? Are you bugging’ out, or what?” Ralph walked over to the window and looked lovingly toward his undercover car, the sleek black vehicle that closely resembled the one Burt Reynolds drove in his movies. “Tom Jones. Unbelievable. Next thing I know you’ll be asking me to crank up a few Partridge Family tunes and ditch my Levi 501’s for a pair of Jordache’s, or a leisure suit. Well, I’m not doing it. I’ve got an image to protect. Catch my drift?”

“Look,” Kangaroo said, “I’m simply letting you know the chief has you on his radar. He thinks you’re burning out and I agree.”

Ralph, his anxiety clearly showing, twisted the obviously black mood ring round and round on his finger. When he’d first arrived the stone color had been deep blue. Stress and nervousness had edged out calm and cool.

“This whole scene is freakin’ me out,” Ralph said. “I bust my butt out there. It’s not a kid’s game of Rock “Em Sock “Em Robots, you know. Some of those dirt bags out there are as tough as G.I. Joe, the one with the Kung Fu grip. They’d as soon kill a Smokey as look at him. Yeah, I’m the Evil Knieivel of this department. I’m a little different. I stopped playing with Light Brights and Stretch Armstrong a long time ago. I’m not one of those folks you see on Little House on the Prairie. I’m a grown man and I know my job and how to do it, and you gotta do the things I do working as a narc in these times.”

“I know, Ralph, but that he’s the boss and—”

“Well, he needs to mind his own potatoes. The man is a doofus, a real jive turkey who watches Happy Days in his office, the crazy crib with all that red shag carpet, where the Osmonds spew 24-7 from the little transistor radio he keeps on his desk. But I have a job to do and if it means doing it while riding a Big Wheel and cooking my meals in an Easy Bake Oven, well, that’s what I’ll do. But I’m gonna keep on truckin’, man.”

“Like I said, Ralph, and here’s the real skinny. I think you may have been under a bit too long for your own good,” said the captain. “You’re even starting to sound and maybe even think like them. Why, you’re practically a Deadhead. So I’m pulling the plug. Turning off your black light. Switching you from 45 to 33 and a 1/3. Handing you a chill pill.”

Kangaroo, having lost his cool, continued the rant. “So you’re getting a haircut and a shave today. I want you sporting’ a flattop next time I see you. Dig? Because you’re going back in uniform starting Monday. So why don’t you split, go back to your pad, get cleaned up, put on some decent threads, and report back to me this afternoon with the keys to the Trans Am in hand. Oh, and when you drive in, how about cranking up the volume on a little Carole King. She’s far out, you know.”

~

Okay, the above goofiness and overwritten scenario was a bit of a stretch, but how many of you were able to follow the conversation? Do you write or enjoy reading tales set back in those days? If so, perhaps those stories, and your actual lifestyle, included one or more of these things of the past.

1. Pong

2. Fred Sanford

3. Platform shoes

4. ABBA

5. Colorful metal drinking cups

6. Portable hairdryers (with the hose and plastic cap)

7. World Book Encyclopedias (I read these for hours at a time)

8. Lava lamps

9. David Cassidy

10. Mork and Mindy

11.Tupperware parties

12. No seat belts

13. Romper Room

14. Tang

15. Pull tabs

16. Banana seats

17. Milk deliveries…to your door!

18. Balsa gliders

19. Sea Monkeys

20. Madge. “You’re soaking in it.”

21. Rosanne Rosannadanna

22. Kool-Aid

23. Test patterns

24. “Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific”

25. View Master

26. The Hustle

27. Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”

28. Tiger Beat magazine

29. Tube socks

30. The movie Jaws

31. “Dark Side of the Moon” – Pink floyd

32. Mickey Mouse watches

33. Record players

34. “American Woman” – The Guess Who

35. Bell bottoms

36. Short-shorts

37. Bewitched

38. Donny and Marie

39. Carnation Instant Breakfast

40. Polaroid cameras

41. Station wagons with wood trim

42. T. Rex, “Bang a Gong [Get It On]”

43. Ant farms

44. Sears Catalogs, and the company’s famous Christmas Wish Book

45. Disco

46. Pet Rocks

47. Air Hockey

48. Pop rocks

49. Hamburger Helper

50. Watergate Salad

Finally, let’s not forget those revolving red lights used by detectives (“bubble gum machines”). They had a magnet attached to the bottom and most were powered by plugging them into the cigarette lighter socket.

Yes, I had and used one of those lights that stuck to a metal plate on the dashboard, and I remember how excited we all were when our department switched to blue lights. Still, you couldn’t see a thing with either those contraptions spinning and flashing inside the car. But we were so cool, man. Really groovy.

Okay, I gotta boogie now, so I’ll catch you on the flip side.

By the way, I’m stoked about a few new and very wicked and way-cool projects in the works. I’ll lay the sweet details on you guys very soon. Ten-four, good buddies?


Remembering …

 

Ric Ocasek, The Cars

Ocasek was not the lead singer on “Just What I Needed.” However; he wrote the song and did so while living in a basement commune. I selected this tune to feature because my band played it, a lot. In fact, it was one of our most popular and highly-requested songs. When audiences heard the first note of the intro—the E power chord—they packed dance floors. The song was absolutely a lot of fun to play for the simple reason that it seemed to put smiles on the faces of people everywhere.


Eddie Money

I met Eddie Money several years ago in California. He and I remained in touch by email for a while after and, as life goes, our messages eventually stopped. He was an extremely nice man who loved life, his family, his fans, and his music.

Edward Joseph Mahoney changed his name to Eddie Money after an attempt to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, and brother, who each served as officers with with the NYPD. However, the job simply wasn’t for him and he left police work for a career in music. Obviously the decision was wise.

Money and I once discussed that I someday use him as inspiration for a character in a book. He thought it would be a real hoot to see it happen. Again, life and procrastination got in the way.

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Was Dark, But Not Stormy

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

In short, it was a typical southern summer night.

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

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

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

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

I began the interview.

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

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

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

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

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

The gun-wielding man pulled the trigger twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In January, 1830 Edgar Allan Poe and his good friend, Dr, John Lofland, the Milford Bard entered into friendly contest to see which of the two poet/writers could write the greater number of verses. Actually, it was the Delaware Bard who challenged Poe to the contest and Poe gladly accepted.

The two men went head to head, concocting their prose at the Seven Stars Tavern on Water Street in Baltimore and, when the dust finally settled and all was said and done it was Poe who lost to Lofland. Poe was then obliged to pay for dinner and drinks, the previously agreed upon “winners'” trophy. (Phillips, Poe the Man, p. 461 and Mabbott, Poems, pp. 501-502.)

As a result of Poe awarding the prize to Lofland for besting him in the writing contest, I proudly claim that it was a Lofland, my relative, who won the first ever “Edgar Award.”

Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard

Dr. John Lofland, one of Delaware’s earliest and most prolific writers, is a well-known name to Delaware rare book collectors.

John was born March 17, 1798, in Milford, Delaware. At an early age he developed a love for books and read all he could find, especially English literature. As a pre-teen, he abandoned fiction for science, theology, metaphysics, history, and mythology.

At his mother’ s urging, he chose medicine as his career path and began his studies in 1815, under the wing of Dr. James P. Lofland, a cousin and successful physician who practiced in Milford, Delaware. He soon began formal education in 1817 at the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania.

During his school years, Lofland’s passion remained with writing, especially poetry. When he left college (he was expelled for writing a poem about a professor who was unpopular) he dove headfirst into a literary career, even though the laws at time were such that he could’ve begun practicing medicine.

Lofland developed a severe stomach ailment and was prescribed laudanum as part of his treatment. He became addicted, as did many people back in those days, since laudanum was a common drug prescribed in those days for a number of illnesses. The addiction to laudanum was another commonality he shared with Poe.

The Harp of Delaware

As a writer, Lofland’s poems were regularly published in The Delaware Gazette and the Saturday Evening Post, and he soon gained nationwide reputation for his writings.

In 1828 a collection of John’s poems was published as The Harp of Delaware by Atkinson & Alexander of Philadelphia.

As early as 1894, the work was already considered a rare book, but sold well enough to provide Lofland a substantial income for many years.

Lofland’s Connection to Politics

Edwin Rowland Paynter was born in 1768. His great-great-grandfather, Samuel Paynter, emigrated to America from England in the early colonial days, near Lewes, Del. In 1823, Edwin Ross Paynter was elected governor of Delaware. The governor’s maternal grandfather, Caleb Ross, was married to Letitia Lofland, sister of John Lofland, “the Milford Bard.”

Other distant branches of the family tree include several Delaware politicians, including an attorney general, another governor, secretary of state, and a judge of the superior court, to name a few.

The Bard’s Final Days

It’s not certain, but it is believed that Dr. John Lofland, the Milford Bard succumbed to tuberculosis on January 22, 1849. He was body was laid to rest in St. Andrew’s churchyard in Wilmington, Delaware, not far from where we currently reside.


The Slave

From The Harp of Delaware by Atkinson & Alexander of Philadelphia.

by

The Milford Bard

 

I ask’d a wretched negro why—

He sigh’d in sorrow deep,

And of the cause of his manly eye,

So oft was seen to weep.

 

He said—‘Imagine you were borne,

Across the ocean’s wave,

And from your friends and kindred torn,

To be like me—a Slave!’

 

I asked why he did not bend,

Nor at his lot complain,

Until a happier day should rend,

The adamantine chain.

 

He cried—‘No day can end my doom,

Nor ease my bosom’s strife,

Nought but the night within the tomb,

For I’m a slave for life.

 

I told him he was happier far,

Than thousands here below;

Provided for, no cares could mar,

His joy, or cause his woe:

 

‘True, true,’ he cried, as from his eye,

The trickling tears flow’d free;

‘But for my native shades I sigh,

And for blest liberty.

 

I left him and could not restrain

The tumults of my heart;

And had I the pow’r I’d break the chain,

And bid the slave depart:

 

O! you who cannot for him feel,

But still his labour crave.

O! you whose heart resembles steel,

Think but yourself a slave.

What a terrific group of friends, who are taking time out of their busy schedules to help me celebrate the release of Bad Pick tomorrow (April 16) at 3 p.m.

Authors Annette Riggle Dashofy, Gretchen Archer, Cynthia Kuhn, Julie Mulhern, and Wendy Young heard I’d had an accident that put me out of commission for awhile and organized this party to help promote my new book, BAD PICK, since they knew I was unable to do the usual book launch promotions. PLEASE join in the fun.

There will be lots of prizes AND you’ll get better acquainted with some talented fellow authors!

Directions to the party.

Looking for Classes on Police Procedures or Paranormal Stuff? Check out our April Classes. Now OPEN for Registration!

Yes, I’m once again teaching a fun and informative month-long COFFIN class. This one is called “Murder One: You Can’t Make This Up: Oddities in Police Procedure.” Please sign up to join in on the fun. Classes begin today and are open to the public.

Note: COFFIN is the name of the online workshop program through Kiss of Death. All classes are 100% online via an email loop and open to anyone.

Again, classes are open to the public!!

To sign up: https://rwakissofdeath.org/coffin 

To View Upcoming Classes: https://rwakissofdeath.org/coffin (signup is always open so signup early).

April Classes:

Murder One: You Can’t Make This Up: Oddities in Police Procedure (by special request)

Lee Lofland, founder of the Writers Police Academy and the 2019 special event, MurderCon, returns to the Kiss of Death Chapter to expand on his most popular articles of THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT, one of the top five of the thirty best police blogs. During this class, this renowned instructor will discuss thing writers miss or things writers get wrong in books. Come prepared to learn and ask questions about Death Investigations, Police Procedure, Police Tools and Equipment, Courts and Research, and more.

Instructor Bio:

Lee Lofland, a Medal of Valor recipient, is a veteran police investigator who began his law-enforcement career working as an officer in Virginia’s prison system. He later became a sheriff’s deputy, a patrol officer, and finally, he achieved the highly-prized gold shield of detective. Along the way, he gained a breadth of experience that’s unusual to find in the career of a single officer.

Killer Instincts: Beyond Boo!: Using Paranormal Creatures, Plots and Elements in Your Romantic Thrillers

NYT Bestselling author Megan Hart guides you through how to create your best monsters, figure out what perilous situations will horrify your characters most, and how to get them to fall in love while on the run from things that go bump in the night. You’ll learn how to decide what paranormal elements you want to incorporate in your suspense and thrillers to give it the edge you might not have expected.

Instructor Bio:

Megan Hart writes books. Some use bad words, but most of the others are okay. She can’t live without music, the internet, or the ocean. She writes a little bit of everything from horror to romance, though she’s best known for writing erotic fiction that sometimes makes you cry. Find out more atmeganhart.com, twitter.com/megan_hartand www.facebook.com/readinbed

My name is Detective I. Ketchem and I’ve been asked to step outside the pages of my current book to help the heroes of your stories, the poor characters whose writers sometimes forget how important it is to conduct even just a wee bit of research.

Those writers, bless their hearts, think they know everything about police work and crime scene investigation because, believe it or not, they’ve watched a few episodes of Law and Order, Hawaii Five-O, and Barney Miller.

Thant’s not proper research folks, and your readers deserve better. After all, they spend their hard-earned money by driving through forests and deserts and mountains and deep, dark jungles, searching for stores where they can purchase your books.

Those same fans stand in long lines at their neighborhood Piggly Wiggly stores, lines that snake through the pickled pigs feet and cottage cheeses, passing eggs, bacon, and tripe, before finally winding through the dips and chips and Cool Whips and beef lips, all to have you sign copies of those precious books.

Later, they proudly post cheesy posed pictures of you with your arm around them at those signings where everyone leaves smelling like raw clams and smoked hams.

Yes, fans adore you. So why let them down by inserting not-so-hot information into your tall tales. Besides, those inaccuracies could do us in before chapter one concludes on page twelve. And you need us to bring your tales to a satisfactory conclusion.

So I decided the best means of addressing the problem would be to dive right into the deep end of some of the books found out there today. After an exhaustive search, here are the tips I have for the characters in your books.

If you won’t help them out by conducting proper research, well, it’s up to the fictional heroes of your stories to do the things that keep them safe so that they may live on to star in the next book.

A List of Ten Traps That Could Kill Your Characters

1. No matter how hot or uncomfortable it is in a setting, always wear your vest. Bad guys carry guns in scenes where the settings are hot and humid! Don’t believe it, drive over to New Iberia, Louisiana and have a chat with Dave Robicheaux. He’ll fill you in on all the sticky, sweaty details.

2. When responding to a call in an unfamiliar area, always plan an escape route. Never drive into an ambush situation, especially deep in those crevices where the pages meet the spine. And, whatever you do, look behind every single cookie crumb down there. You never know…

3. Search every suspect thoroughly before placing them inside your police car. Officers in other books have been injured or killed because they skipped this simple step.

4. Don’t be shy when searching criminals. Weapons have been found in every imaginable place, and some have been found in places you don’t want to imagine. This is fiction, after all, so anything and everything is possible, including in those places where the “sun don’t shine!”

Shyness Can Be A Death Sentence!

5. Use the same caution when arresting women as you would when arresting male suspects. You’re just as dead when killed by a female character. Letting down your guard can be a series-ender. Female crooks in real life take advantage of the fact that male officers are a bit apprehensive about placing their hands in places where the hands of strangers shouldn’t be placed. So, where do they hide guns, handcuff keys, drugs, etc.? Yep, they often hide those thing right “there.”

And, to make things far worse for the male detective who’s searching a female for weapons, she often pretends to enjoy the hands-on search and even quite loudly vocalizes her feigned pleasure so that bystanders hear every blush-inducing comment.

Shoot, I once stopped a dress-wearing shoplifter who’d concealed a plastic garbage pail between her legs. And when I removed it found that it contained several packages of steaks, CDs, a small umbrella, and a cantaloupe.

So yeah, search EVERYWHERE!. Do. Not. Be. Shy.

6. When engaged in a vehicle pursuit never fixate on the suspect’s tail lights. If he runs off the page or hits a dog eared corner and crashes, you’ll likely follow straight into death. (Yeah, we dislike dog-eared pages too. Drive us nuts).

Instead, of following taillights, watch the entire vehicle and where it’s headed. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Also, all bright lights are not oncoming cars and trucks. Instead, it’s possible they’re merely reading lights. Still, use caution when heading “into the light”.

7. Always double-lock handcuffs. This is not the time to rush to the next page. Doing so before it’s time can have disastrous results. You don’t want to spend the next three chapters in some fictional hospital.

20140807_112130

To double-lock, insert the pointed end of a handcuff key into the tiny hole on the side of the cuffs.

Remember, the writer of your tale can be pretty darn devious, so don’t put it past her to give her crooks some serious brainpower. Even make-believe thugs sometimes practice escaping cuffs with only one lock (the ratchet) secured. A paperclip or bobby pin will do the job. Besides, double-locking prevents the cuffs from becoming too tight on your suspect’s wrists.

8. Never allow tunnel vision to run your investigation. The deadly blow could come from any character and from any scene. Your writer is actively dreaming up hurdles for you, and this one could be a doozy.

9. Never let your guard down. The well-dressed man with the flashy smile on page 67 just might be another Dr. Lector.

10. Don’t let your job come before family. Every story needs a dose of personality. Readers want to know and like you. So make it happen. Smile. Love your wife or girlfriend. Take the kids to the park. And definitely get an ugly dog. Readers gush over this stuff. Without it, you may as well be tromping through the nonfiction aisles of a B&N.

And, the dour detective has been done to death. You’re writers, so use your imaginations.

Finally, please, please, please stop having us smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes. It can’t happen. It doesn’t happen. They stopped making it back at the end of WWII. The stuff we smell is smokeless gunpowder, and it smells a bit like the odor of 4th of July fireworks.

 

As a police detective whose job was to solve murders, I found it especially helpful to immerse myself into the lives of the victims rather than merely going through the motions of filling in the blanks of police reports. I had to make it personal, to try my absolute best to see the case through the eyes of the victims. I needed to know them and everything about them. I practically had to BE them until the point where they exhaled for the final time.

I needed to know a victim’s family and friends. I walked the paths they traveled. I learned their routines. I spoke with and interviewed their friends and family and neighbors, yes, but I also made the effort see those friends and relatives from the victim’s perspective, not in reverse, as those people thinking about their loved one occupying a table space in the state morgue.

It’s Personal

To know the family and friends and acquaintances from the point of view of the victim is a telling and sometimes eye-opening experience. Getting to know people on a personal level is a key that unlocks many “doors,” and doing so, more often than not, helps to crack those hardened exteriors people often develop toward police officers. Showing that you do indeed care about them and their loved one as people and not as items on a checklist goes a long way.

Above all, I listened. And I listened and I listened and I listened.

Caring About the Victim

I cared about the victims, each of them. I learned their habits. Their likes, hopes, and dreams. I grew to know their coworkers and their bosses and the people in the stores where they shopped for food and clothing, and the places where they purchased gas for their cars. I knew what they liked to read and to watch on TV. I held their dogs and cats and their babies. I hugged their parents, their spouses, and their young children. I played ball with their kids. I sat with the family, again listening to stories about the past and of lost futures.

I had to know the victim, personally.

If a victim once stopped by a donut shop in the mornings, well, I sometimes retraced the route and did the same. Along the way, I saw joggers, dog-walkers, letter carriers, delivery people, children on their way to school, bus drivers, cab drivers, and I saw the grumpy old men and women who spend their days peering at the street through gaps in dingy lace curtains. I saw garbage collectors, street sweepers, patrol officers, ambulance drivers, FED EX and UPS drivers, animal control officers, the man who waters his lawn at precisely 9 A.M., and the woman who wore a big floppy hat while tending to her roses each day at the crack of dawn. I spoke with each of those people. People see the little things and those “things” no matter how small, could lead to the killer.

Clues

Tiny clues are often the ones that bring a case to a close. And those leads are sometimes offered by ordinary people not associated with the crime in question—the lawn waterer, neighborhood street sweepers, etc.—who each have an opportunity to see something, and often times they did. But had I not taken the time to to stop and say hi and to ask a few simple questions, well, those little tidbits and tips may have gone forever unspoken.

I visited the homes of murder victims. I examined the rooms where they slept. I saw where they cooked and ate their meals. I looked into the refrigerators to see their contents, searching for anything that could help me better understand the unfortunate and poor soul whose heart no longer beat with metronome precision.

Research

I even used this method when researching and writing a true crime tale published by Prometheus books. The story was about the extremely brutal murder of a young woman named Tina Mott.

While conducting the research for the book , a process that lasted over a year, I found myself delving deeper and deeper in Tina’s life until I felt as if I’d known her. I learned so much detail about her short time on the planet that I knew her likes and dislikes, her hobbies, and even her emotions.

Tina wrote poetry and it was through her writings, works I studied, hoping to use them to provide me with insight, when I began to set her story to page.

I tacked photos of Tina on my bulletin board. I even had one of my desk. In the image on my desk, she was at a birthday celebration for her, a small event hosted by friends. In the picture, she was smiling and obviously happy.

Images like those helped to take me into her life and, together with the poems and interviews with friends and family, well, she was no longer a stranger whose remains sadly went unfound for a year.

Instead, I knew Tina even though we’d never met. She was a person. A good-hearted young woman, a brand new mother with feelings and emotions. She laughed. She cried. She hurt. And she loved life. And then she died at the hand of her boyfriend, another person I came to know during the research.

I experienced both his good and his dark side. He, too, was real person. A real and evil person.

This is the same way I approached all murder cases. I came to know the victims as people.

Locking Away Biases

While working to solve a homicide case, it is paramount that investigators leave their predispositions locked away in an imaginary safe. Actually, officers should never pre-judge anyone. Instead, they should start fresh at each and every crime scene and with each and every suspect, witness, and victim. Isn’t that exactly how the great writers of our time produce such wonderful books, over and over again? They do so by starting with a fresh story on page one, chapter one.

Starting anew, without predisposition and prejudice, and without knowing the identity of a killer is one reason why I believe Agatha Christie remains so wildly popular in the mystery world. This is so because she, like police homicide investigators, did not know the name of the killer when she started her stories.

As Christie’s characters worked through their convoluted and fictional crimes—bad and good folks alike—, they often made the same mistakes real-life officers tend to experience as they wind their ways through along the journeys leading to the ends of their cases. Christie wrote in this style because she, too, was working out resolutions to the clues and traps that she herself had planted while writing.

Human Nature

As a former detective who still thinks like an investigator as I read book after book, I sometimes see subtle things in Christie’s writing that leads me to believe she was solving her own cases with each written word.

In Five Little Pigs, Christie’s story clung tightly to the cause and effect of human nature. It’s a character-driven book where Poirot solves a cold case and he does so through his and Christie’s understanding and examinations of a person’s emotions and passion. Like Poirot, through Christie’s eyes and typewriter, a real-life police investigator who has the ability to “see” human nature is an investigator who’ll find success in their field.

Sure, DNA and fancy lights and chemicals and laboratories are nice, but they’re nothing more than icing on the cake when compared to the detective who knows and understands people, and human nature.

Are Real-Life Detectives Plotters or Pansters?

If one were to stop and ponder for a moment they’d see that homicide and other detectives are often both plotters and pansters. The former due to department guidelines and standard methods as to how a scene is approached—911 call, first responder arrives, detectives and CSI arrive, coroner is called, speak to witnesses, collect evidence using Sirchie evidence collection tools and products, yada, yada, yada.

But it is the panster detective, the cop who’s not afraid to step outside the line, who’s the investigator that people will open up to most quickly. They’re the cops who turn over all the stones, just not in any particular order. They easily adapt to fast paced and quick-changing cases.

Detectives who follow along a more plotter-type course of investigation are perhaps science-based linear thinkers and, sure, their style produces results. But even they must vary from the “plot line” in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Christie knew and understood that humans are flawed. No one, including either of her characters, is perfect. And it is this, the fallibility of human beings, that helped her characters and her tales ring so wonderfully true, and believable.

Agatha Christie was indeed the queen of writing believable make-believe, and this is so because she understood the importance of adapting real-life into her work. Poirot, for example, was based upon first World War refugees who arrived Torquay, in 1916. Miss Marple assumed characteristics of Christie’s own grandmother. Others were based upon traveling companions and co-workers from her dispensing days. She based settings on her own property, holiday locations, archaeological digs, and more. Much more.

Police detectives understand the importance of knowing each of the characters involved in the crimes they investigate. They also study setting, the crime scene, victim’s home, etc.

They know the value of stepping outside one’s comfort zone to reach a satisfactory conclusion. They’re also extremely willing to conduct research and attend training to help set them apart from the average cop. Shouldn’t you, as a writer, be willing to do the same?

Research. Research. Hands. On. Research!


There’s still time to register for this extremely rare opportunity where you will attend the same training offered to top homicide investigators from around the world! This course of instruction is typically for law enforcement eyes only, but the Writers’ Police Academy, in conjunction with Sirchie, the world leader in in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions, has made it possible for to attend this, the only event of its kind in the world!

MurderCon takes place at Sirchie’s compound located just outside of Raleigh, N.C.

Please, do your readers a huge favor and sign up today while you still can.

MurderConRegsitration