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

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

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

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

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

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

The WPA is NOT a typical writers conference

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

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

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

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

When Cops and Writers Come Together AFTER MIDNIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT


The Authors and Their Stories

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

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

 

 

Criminal Minds: Where It Began

The FBI’s first profiles were basically shots in the dark that hit the target.

By Dr. Katherine Ramsland

They didn’t have computers when Howard Teten founded the initial efforts of what would eventually become the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. They didn’t have much in the way of a database. They faced resistance from colleagues who viewed psychology as silliness and muddle. But they had good instincts.

Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany are credited with making the earliest behavioral analyses for difficult cases.

“By about 1960,” Teten says, “I had developed a hypothesis that you’d be able to determine the kind of person you were looking for by what you could see at the crime scene.”

To compile a collection for analysis and comparison, Teten had reviewed unusual homicides from several police agencies, as well as from the California Identification Officers Association. To test himself and develop his approach, he’d set up an experiment.

“When I received the information,” he said, “I would examine all the data and prepare a tentative description of the perpetrator. Then I would look at the individual found to have committed the crime and compare the perpetrator to my description.” To check himself on the details of psychological disorders, he consulted with two psychiatrists.

In 1970, Teten offered his own first profile. The stabbing murder of a woman in her home had stymied local law enforcement. Teten considered the circumstances, looked at their documents, and said that it was the work of an adolescent who lived close to the victim. This boy would feel guilty and ashamed. When confronted, he’d immediately confess. To find him, they should just go knock on doors in the immediate neighborhood. This prediction turned out to be right.

Teten soon teamed up with Patrick Mullany, who specialized in abnormal psychology. Together, they initiated the criminal psychology program, a 40-hour course. They presented behavioral analysis as one among many investigative tools. As they acquired cases for demonstration, they were asked for assistance with a stalled investigation of a kidnapping.

Mullany describes the abduction of Susan Jaeger as their first real challenge. Despite how the TV shows and movies make this look easy, it was anything but.

Susan had disappeared during a family camping trip in Montana in June 1973. Someone had sliced through the tent fabric and grabbed the seven-year-old before she could cry out. It had been a bold abduction and the family was devastated, but the site had yielded no physical evidence to help with leads. When no ransom demand had arrived, local investigators had feared the worst. They’d called in the FBI. About 10 months later, Special Agent Pete Dunbar attended the psychology training and asked Teten and Mullany to take a look.

Mullany believed that the perpetrator was a local resident, a Caucasian male who’d spotted an opportunity. He would have an impaired history of relationships and would tend to stay to himself. He had military experience and he’d killed before, and possibly since. It was likely he’d taken Susan to kill her. He’d also collect trophies, i.e. body parts.

They looked at other murders and missing persons cases in the general area, but none was similar.

An anonymous caller had suggested David Meirhofer, a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran, but when questioned, Meirhofer had been polite, articulate, well-dressed, and helpful. He seemed an unlikely candidate to local investigators. Under the influence of truth serum, he’d taken a polygraph and passed.

Still, he had many of the traits and behaviors that the agents had described. Mullany and Teten were convinced Meirhofer was a cold-hearted psychopath who could lie easily.

“Pat and I discussed his profile,” Teten recalls, “and then advised the Montana agent that this type of personality can pass a polygraph. For this reason, he should still be considered a suspect.”

Their belief in Meirhofer’s guilt failed to find support, even with Dunbar, who’d invited them into the case. Still, they were determined to see it through.

They urged the Jaegers to keep a tape recorder by their phone, and this hunch was solid. On the first anniversary of the abduction, a man called the Jaegers to say that Susan was with him. Mrs. Jaeger surprised him when she forgave him, provoking tears. The trace failed and voice analysis indicated that this caller could have been Meirhofer, but it was not definitive.

A 19-year-old woman, Sandra Dyckman, disappeared in 1974 and Meirhofer was again named as a suspect. (She had refused a date with him.) Human bone fragments discovered on an abandoned ranch near where Meirhofer had worked launched a more thorough investigation.

In an attempt to throw him off balance, Mullany urged Mrs. Jaeger to travel to Montana and confront him.

She did so. Although Meirhofer still denied involvement, he called her again, pretending to be someone else. She recognized his voice and called him David. This greatly upset him. But the FBI had traced the call and was able to arrest him.

They now had enough evidence for a warrant to search his home, where police discovered human remains wrapped in packages labeled “Deerburger.” One contained a hand that was identified as Sandra’s.

The day before Meirhofer committed suicide, he admitted to four murders, including Susan’s. Teten and Mullany believed that his motive had been the thrill of killing for sport. They thought he’d had a comorbid condition, schizopathy – a mix of psychopathy and simple schizophrenia.

Despite doubts about Teten and Mullany’s behavioral profile, their approach was vindicated.

*     *     *

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 44 books and over 1,000 articles, and recently had a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction list. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and offers trainings on psychological aspects of investigations. She writes a blog, “Shadow Boxing” for Psychology Today, speaks widely on serial killers and psychopaths, and is a frequent commentator on crime documentaries. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, Larry King Live, and numerous cable programs.