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Okay, you’re at your desks with hands poised above the keyboard. Thoughts of murder, chaos, and of your 100th six-figure book deal churn inside your head like the winds of an F-5 twister that’s just touched down in a midwestern mobile home park. This. Is. Your Best. Story. And it is exciting.

Now it’s time for the call to action. The time when it’s your job duty to coax, draw, persuade, and perhaps even drag readers throughout the hero’s journey until they reach the final page of your book.

Along the way, of course, you’ll concoct dangers and thrills, twists and turns, and risks far more convoluted and sometimes more perilous than those undertaken by the average human. Readers do sometimes enjoy the fantasy of living life through the eyes of fictional characters, right? After all, being Jack Reacher or Kay Scarpetta for a few hours could be fun and thrilling.

So off you go, clacking away at the keyboard, transforming the tale you’ve spent months creating a saga, either on paper for you plotters or stored in your mind for those of you who’re pansters, that’ll sit on the top shelf in bookstores all around the world.

In your mind you picture the blurbs and promo ads sent out by your publisher and publicists. Each of them promise your fans “It’s THE book of a lifetime.” “A book you can’t put down until the final page is turned.” “Lock your doors before reading this thrilling ride into the unknown!”

“The crime of the century.”

“It’s THE PERFECT MURDER!”

Dr. Edmond Locard’s Exchange Principle

Creating a murder based upon terminological inexactitude, one that’s committed by a pretend villain in a make-believe world, a crime that’s to be solved by a fictional hero, can be a daunting task for many writers. This is especially so when the writer is clue-challenged when it comes to first-hand knowledge of actual death scenes. But help is on the way and it comes in the form of your imaginations, along with a little help from Dr. Edmond Locard.

So, whether you’re a panster or a plotter, my advice to you, the writer of twisted tales, is to carefully consider Dr. Locard’s Exchange Principle (see below) before writing the first word. Doing so could elevate your stories to levels you never thought were possible to achieve.

I know, you’ve done quite well in the past, but readers are changing. Their knowledge of forensics and police investigations is growing with each passing day and with with each new TV show featuring brilliant experts who really know their stuff. And those folks don’t hesitate to share their expertise with an eager viewing audience, an audience who’ll later pick up a book to read for enjoyment only to find that the author doesn’t know the difference between cordite and kryptonite. By the way, neither cordite nor kryptonite should appear in crime fiction set in modern times.

Cordite manufacturing CEASED somewhere around the end of WWII. I’ll say that again in case you weren’t listening, or in the event the radio was playing too loudly and caused you to miss it.

Cordite manufacturing CEASED somewhere around the end of WWII.

They don’t make the stuff anymore. It’s not used in modern ammunition. Nope. Not there. Don’t use it. Don’t make it.

So no, your cops can’t smell it! That’s not what’s hitting their noses when they enter a crime scene.

Getting “IT” Right

As a former police investigator, I’m often asked what I think would be the perfect murder and my response is typically quick and always the same … “there’s no such thing as a perfect murder.”

I say this because I’m a firm believer in Dr. Locard’s Exchange Principle, a theory stating that always, without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects take something from the other or leave something behind. According to Locard, “It is impossible for a criminal to act, especially considering the intensity of a crime, without leaving traces of this presence.”

Locard’s Principle was on my mind throughout every case I investigated. It helped me to maintain my focus on the tiniest of details so that nothing went overlooked, not even the smallest of fibers.

Therefore, writers must, and I emphasize the word MUST, consider keeping this simple rule of thumb in mind when creating crime scenes and scenes of crimes, IF you’re going for realism. You do know there’s a difference between a crime scene and a scene of a crime, right?

Crime Scenes

Crime Scene and scene of the crime are not always synonymous. A crime scene is anywhere evidence of a crime is found (a dumpster located five miles away where a killer dumped the murder weapon, or the killer’s home where he deposited his bloody clothes, where the body was found if removed from the scene of the crime, etc.). Scene of the Crime is the location where the actual crime took place (where the killer actually murdered his victim).

 

Crafting the Perfect Murder

We’ve all heard about the killer who stabs someone with an icicle, a murder weapon that melts, thus leaving no trace evidence. Well, this is far from the truth since the killer had to approach the victim and he/she had to leave the scene. Therefore, he either left something behind or he took something with him (soil on the shoes, DNA, etc.).

There is trace evidence of some sort everywhere in every crime scene—again, footprints, DNA, fibers, tiny shards of glass, blood, etc. The weak link in a case would be, unfortunately, the detective who doesn’t dig deep enough or long enough or hard enough to find the evidence. This is true in all cases. The evidence is ALWAYS there, somewhere, begging to be found. It’s up to the savvy detective to locate it.

Disposing of bodies in clandestine grave sites are a fantastic means to hide a big piece of evidence … the body. Still, the killer was at the scene of the crime, therefore he left evidence. He had to move the body to the burial site. More traces of evidence—footprints, toll receipts and images captured by cameras at toll booths, gas purchases, purchases of burial equipment, and on and on and on. And then there’s the hound dog who drags a human femur to his owner’s back doorstep. He, the killer had to arrive at and then leave the scene. Again, the evidence is there for the taking—tire tracks, footprints, a leaf, a unique plant seed, a hair, or mud stuck to the soles of his shoes, etc. The list is practically endless.

The Almost Perfect Crime

Embalming fluid

What if a killer committed the murder in a funeral home embalming room, a place that sees hundreds of dead bodies pass through its doors. It’s a place where death “evidence” is routinely and efficiently scrubbed away.

Think about it for a moment. A funeral home where tons of body fluids and DNA have the potential of co-mingling and are routinely cleaned away using chemicals that can and do eliminate the typical clues searched for by investigators.

Yep, blood, saliva, nitrous and other fluids are scrubbed from the room, and all other physical evidence (breaks in bones, gun shot and stab wounds, etc, are totally destroyed during cremation. It’s the perfect It’s the perfect spot for the perfect crime, right?

Well, not so fast. Remember Locard, “when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.” The victim had to arrive at the funeral, therefore evidence of the trip there would generate some sort of evidence trail. However slight it may be, it’s there.

Still, an inexperienced investigator could miss the clues in a funeral home setting.

To make it even more difficult for the detective, there’s this …

Cremation: The Process

Coffin materials are generally selected so as to minimize pollution generated when cremation takes place. Non-combustable coffin do-dads are removed (handles, knobs, hinges, etc.). PVC, heavy metals, solvent-based paints and other toxic resins are also removed or not at all used.

Cremation containers should be completely enclosed, rigid, leak resistant, and definitely combustible. They may be made of cardboard or particle board, wooden, or even a those nice and shiny, highly polished caskets, as long as they’re combustible and non-toxic. Metal caskets cannot be cremated.

Implants of any types which contain power sources are removed from the remains. Also removed are prostheses, jewelry, and non-combustible parts of clothing.

Cremation takes anywhere from 30 minutes in the case of the very small, to over two hours. The human body contains between 65% and 85% water by weight, so a temperature high enough to facilitate the combustion process—up to 2,000 degrees F is where the cremation process typically occurs.

Not for the Squeamish!!

Combustion in the cremator occurs in two steps

  • The primary combustion in the main chamber. It’s here where tissue, organs, body fat, ligaments, tendons, and the casket itself burn off as gases.
  • The secondary chamber, where they continue to undergo combustion (bone fragments remain in the primary chamber). Inorganic particles, usually from the cremation container, settle on the floor of the secondary chamber.  The gases formed as a by-product of combustion—carbon dioxide, water, oxygen, etc.—discharge into the sky through a stack.

When complete, funeral home employees (or the villain of your story) sweep the remains into a tray where they’ll sit to cool. This step is similar to when grandma baked a pie and then allowed it to cool on the sill of an open window before slicing it into individual serving sizes.

Once sufficiently cool, the employee, or bad guy, sifts through the ashes to remove bit of metal, if any (evidence). Any bone fragments are pulverized until all until the remains are less than 1/8” in size.

The cremated and squashed remains are then transferred to a plastic bag and placed into an urn. Or, if this step involves a murderer, the remains would most likely wind up scattered in a field down by Old Man Kelsey’s creek.

The “Other” Cremation: Human Soup

Alkaline hydrolysis, AKA “water, or green cremation”, is a water-based dissolution process that uses alkaline chemicals, heat and pressure and agitation to speed up natural decomposition. Once complete, all that’s left behind is bone residue and a liquid … human soup. This “human broth” is, believe it or not, considered sterile and is simply discharged with into local sewer system and is then treated as any other wastewater product (the stuff that goes down the drains of your home).

Leftover bone material is then pulverized and placed into an urn. Since there is more leftover bone material than with cremation by fire, these remains require a larger urn. And, by the way, due to the larger amount of “leftovers,” it would be more difficult for the villain of your story, if this setting is your thing, is someone who most likely works in a funeral home, to hide the remains created by this method of cremation.

Still, these methods of hiding and/or destroying evidence are far more effective than merely shooting Bill Imdead and then leaving his corpse on the living room floor to be found by cleaning company workers.

The perfect murder? No, but pretty darn close.

*Someone who commits a murder inside a crematorium by hastily shoved the body into the cremation chamber, and then flees the scene, leaving the body to reduce to ashes, would leave behind a mound of clues—bone, teeth, jewelry, implants complete with serial numbers, etc. Sure, the majority of the body parts would be gone, but it would still speak to investigators … if they took time to listen.


Click the link below to discover …

6 WAYS TO TRANSFORM A BORING CRIME SCENE INTO FASCINATING FACTUAL FICTION

The writer, a lovely woman who writes as Esther Neveredits and who shares her office with seven cats of various sizes and personalities, opened the first chapter of her first book with the following passage.

“Detective Barney Catchemall followed the cop killer, a man named Folsom Blue, across seven states and forty-eight jurisdictions, to a house in Coolyville, California where he shot Blue in the arm with a single round fired from his department-issued semi-automatic revolver. He bandaged his prisoner’s wound (just a nick) and then brought him back to the city where the homicide took place and where he’ll stand trial before the Grand Jury on a charge of Homicide 1.

He’d been tried for the Homicide 1 charge once before but was found not guilty and set free with a clean record. However,  the vindictive DA decided to try him again, hoping for a more suitable outcome, a conviction, which was practically guaranteed the second time around since the hardworking prosecutor personally handpicked the jury members … twelve badge bunnies. And, as soon as the paperwork was complete, he had plans to seize Blue’s oceanfront condo and his yacht. It was a good day. A good day indeed.”

So, did Ms. Neveredits have her facts straight? Yes? No?

Fortunately, and unlike Esther (bless her heart), most writers are pretty savvy when it comes to writing about cops and criminals and everything in between. And those who have questions … well, they typically ask an expert to help with the details. Or, they attend the Writers’ Police Academy where they’ll receive actual police training—driving, shooting, door-kicking, crime scene investigation, classes on the law and courtroom procedure, and so much more, and it’s all designed for writers.

But let’s return to Esther’s paragraph. What did she get wrong? The better question is how many things did she get wrong and in so few words?

  • Is there an official charge of Homicide I?
  • Are police officers permitted to cross jurisdictional boundaries, shoot a suspect, and then bring them back to stand charges?
  • Do Grand Juries try criminal cases?
  • Can a defendant be tried twice for the same crime?
  • Can a prosecutor continue to bring charges against someone over and over again until they get the results they seek—a conviction?
  • Semi-auto revolver? Is there such thing as a semi-auto revolver?
  • What the heck is a badge bunny?

Okay, let’s dive right in.

Just say no to “Homicide 1”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is Murder that’s the unlawful killing of another person. The crime is usually deliberate or committed during an act that showed total disregard for the safety of others.

“I understand that murder is a crime,” you say, but … what’s the difference between murder and homicide? Don’t they share the same meaning? Is there a difference?

Yes, of course there’s a distinction between the two, and the things that set them apart are extremely important.

Again, murder is the unlawful killing of a person, especially with malice aforethought. The definition of homicide encompasses ALL killings of human beings by other humans. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

By the way, animals (horses, dogs, pigs, cows, chickens, etc.), do not fall into the category of “all killings of human beings by other humans.” Therefore, there is no charge of murder for killing an animal. There are other laws that apply in those instances, but not, “Farmer Brown received the death penalty for murdering Clucky, his prized rooster.”

Anyway, yes, some homicides are indeed, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

Another term/crime you should know is felony murder. Some of you attended a popular and detailed workshop about this very topic at the Writers’ Police Academy.

To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.

Also, Manslaughter – Even though a victim dies as a result of an act committed by someone else, the death occurred without evil intent.

While attending a mind-numbing car race where drivers made loop after loop after loop around an oval dirt track, a quite intoxicated and shirtless Ronnie Redneck got into a rather heated argument with his best buddy, Donnie Weakguy.

Donnie Weakguy

During the exchange of words, Weakguy begins yelling obscenities and with the delivery of each four-letter word he jabbed a bony index finger into Redneck’s chest. Redneck , a man of little patience, took offense at the finger-poking and used both hands to shove Weakguy out of his personal space. Well,  Weakguy, who was known countywide for his two left feet, tripped over his unconscious and extremely intoxicated girlfriend, Rita Sue Jenkins-Ledbetter, and hit his head on a nearby case of Budweiser. He immediately lost consciousness and, unfortunately, died on the way to the hospital as a result of bleeding inside the skull. Weakguy’s death was not intentional, but Ronnie Redneck finds himself facing manslaughter charges.

To address Ms. Neveredit’s additional missteps:

Jurisdiction – A law enforcement agency’s geographical area where they have the power and authority to enforce the law. The location is typically the area where the officer is employed and sworn to enforce the law. A city officer’s jurisdictional boundary is within the city limits (In most areas tthere is small allowance that extends beyond the city limits where officers are legally permitted to make an arrest.

Sheriffs and their deputies have authority in the county and any town or city within those boundaries, state police—anywhere in the state, federal agents—anywhere within the U.S. and its territories. To learn more about the exceptions please click over to my article titled Jurisdictional Boundaries: Step Across This Line, I Dare You.

Grand Jury – A panel of citizens selected to decide whether or not probable cause exists to charge a defendant with a crime. The Grand Jury hears only the prosecution’s side of the story. The defense is not allowed to present any evidence. In fact, the defense is not allowed to hear the testimony offered by the prosecution.

A Grand Jury does NOT try cases

Grand Jury members meet in secret, not in open courtrooms. Now you know why …

Asset Forfeiture – The government is allowed to seize property used in the commission of a crime. Many police departments benefit from the forfeiture of items such as, cash, cars, homes, boats, airplanes, and weapons. These items may be sold at auction, or used by the police.

For example, drug dealers use a 2010 Mercedes when making their deliveries. Police stop the car and arrest the occupants for distribution of heroin. Officers of a joint task force seize the car and subsequently fill out the proper asset-forfeiture paperwork. The vehicle is later forfeited (by the court) to the police department’s drug task force. They, in turn, assign the vehicle to their drug task force where officers use it as an undercover car. Other assets (again the items must be fruits of the illegal activity) are also seized and sold and the proceeds are divided among the agencies who participated in the bust and prosecution—prosecutor’s office, local police departments with officers assigned to the task force, etc.

Double jeopardy – The Fifth Amendment rule states that a person cannot be made to stand trial twice for the same offense.

Badge Bunny – A woman or man who is over-the-top romantically interested in police officers and firefighters, and pursues them relentlessly. And I do mean REE-Lentlessly. They sometimes follow officers around while they’re on duty. The eat in the same restaurants. Watch officers from afar. Bring baked goods to the police department. Call in false reports that bring officers to their homes. Stand or park nearby the police department during shift changes. Make friends with dispatchers, hoping they’ll help get them closer to the officers who make their stalking hearts go pitter-patter. They drive fast, hoping an officer will stop them for speeding, an opportunity to flirt. And, well, you get the idea. REE-Lentless.

 

There’s an old cop saying, “The badge will get you a bunny, but the bunny will eventually get your badge.”

* Badge Bunnies have been assigned a variety of nicknames by officers, such as beat wives, holster sniffers, and lint (because they cling to uniforms).

Now, a final thought …

Here’s a easy rule of thumb to remember that’ll help to sort out the murder/homicide issue.

  • All murders are homicides, but not all homicides are murder.

See, not confusing at all …

WAIT! We forgot to address the semi-automatic revolver. Is there such a thing? Well, typically the answer would be no. However …

 

See, I told you the only things consistent in police work and the law are the inconsistencies therein. And that’s a fact … maybe.

 

Discovering who killed Kenny

Ah, the mind of a mystery writer. Always contemplating the simpler things in life, like car chases, explosions, and murder.

For me, there’s nothing better than to open a book and instantly feel as if I’ve been transported to another world, and I want the character’s emotions and senses to take me there. I want the black, murky waters of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana swamps to fill my gut with a sense of foreboding. I want to smell the humid southern air after a crab boil, and I want to experience the heartbreak that Dave feels when his wife dies. Those things are important to me as a reader, and they’re even more important to me as a writer. I want readers to see, feel, taste, and hear what I write.

As a reader, I also pay a lot of attention to the names assigned to fictional characters and locations because they also tell us a little bit about the author. Like the town names Hope and Despair that Lee Child used in his book Nothing To Lose.

The road leading to Hope was fresh, new, and smooth ( as smooth as the author). The road to Despair was in disrepair, filled with potholes and was totally worn out. Using those two simple words (Hope and Despair) was brilliant. Lee typed eleven letters and told us a story about two towns that some writers couldn’t have achieved in a dozen pages.

Now, speaking of appropriate settings and naming of towns in crime novels, how about the name in the photo above—Kilkenny Marina? How’s that for a great place to set a story? I suppose we’d need a few facts, first. Like, who’s Kenny? And why do the folks at the marina want to kill him? What exactly does one fish for at Killkenny? Hmm … and what, exactly, would our characters use as bait … pieces of Kenny would, of course, be a perfect means of destroying the evidence of murder, right?

A name alone can serve as a great hook. After all, catchy names can also become a familiar link between fans and their favorite stories/books—Metropolis (Superman), Bedrock (The Flintstones), Whoville (The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who), and Emerald City (The Wizard of Oz), to name a few.

Anyway, Denene and I once stumbled across this little jewel of a place—Kilkenny Marina—while exploring the back roads near Savannah, Ga.

Instead of hanging a right onto Belle Island Road in Richmond Hill (south of Savannah) I kept straight and this is the little slice of heaven we found after passing through the narrow opening in a stand of massive live oaks. A perfect setting for a mystery? Perhaps we should find Kenny to ask his opinion of the situation.

By the way, who says you have to die to see the light at the end of the tunnel? As a more practical means of having a peek at “the light,” simply visit Kilkenny Marina a few minutes before sunset and this is what you’ll see on your way out.

*UPDATE –  We never found Kenny, so we assumed the deed had been done prior to our arrival. His disappearance remains a mystery …

 

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

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

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

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

Finding the Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I attended the autopsy.

The Footwork

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

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

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

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

Clues Emerge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Crack Attack

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Was Dark, But Not Stormy

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

In short, it was a typical southern summer night.

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

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

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

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

I began the interview.

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

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

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

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

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

The gun-wielding man pulled the trigger twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dead woman crying: murder in the rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was one on one—me and the victim.

Passenger door open.

She’s lying there,

Bottom half in, top half out.

Her face aimed at the sky.

Rain falling into her open mouth.

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

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

Power lines crackled and buzzed overhead.

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

No life.

No recollections.

No dreams.

Not a flicker.

Tire tracks.

Different pattern than the rubber on her Chrysler.

Driver’s window down.

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

Five empty casings.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

Half-empty wine bottle.

Cheap convenience store label.

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

“Was there a somebody special?”

Eyes cast downward.

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

More blushing.

A stammer or two.

A good man.

The rain comes harder.

Droplets hammer her open eyes.

She doesn’t blink.

A dead woman crying.

Footprints.

Two sets.

One walking.

Casually, perhaps.

The other, long strides.

Running away, possibly.

Zigzagging to the woods.

Bullet lodged in base of a spruce pine.

One round left to find.

Water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt material.

Blood?

Still visible in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Light finds a shoe in the underbrush.

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

Dead.

Bullet in back.

The fifth round.

Coming together nicely.

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

Special wine for special occasion…

A good man.

Sure he is.

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Morning sunshine.

Tiny face peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

A lump in my throat.

Scent of frying bacon in the air.

I raise my knuckles to the door.

It’s the worst job in the world,

To deliver…

The “Death Knock.”

Door swings open.

Worried husband.

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

Husband, devastated.

Questions unanswered.

Children cry.

“Yes, I have ideas. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher hangs head in shame.

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But…

Another man.

Another lover.

Angry.

Jealous.

Handcuffs.

Click.

Click.

Murder.

No bond.

Prison.

Today, our rains have stopped.

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

Special occasion?

Good man?

Yeah, right.

 

All cops work cases that stand out above the others. The ones that seem a bit more senseless than others. The crimes that make no sense whatsoever. And these cases, well, they’re typically committed by criminals whose wiring is sometimes wildly cross-connected, or the ends of those wires are attached to wrong terminals inside a damaged mind—positives to negative posts or something of that nature.

Personally, I’ve investigated numerous murders where the killers lived in worlds all their own, including man who believed martians told him to kill. And there was another man who thought he was Jesus, the Son of God, a divine position that gave him license to kill at will.  These folks resided entirely within the confines of their unbalanced imaginations and the illnesses that fueled them.

The Briley brothers of Richmond, Va. were a pair of siblings who  assassinated  people for fun. The two, Linwood and James Briley, were responsible for nearly a dozen homicides during a seven month period.

Linwood, whom I had the “honor” of guarding once he was captured after an escape from death row, was the first of the brothers to kill. In 1971, while still a juvenile, he sat at his bedroom window with a rifle and took aim at his elderly neighbor through her kitchen window as she went about her daily routine. He shot and killed her. Just for fun.

The Brileys were nothing short of walking, talking, and breathing, evil, in every sense of the word.

But one of the most senseless and mind boggling of all murders I’d investigated over the years was perhaps a killing that occurred on a lazy, summertime Saturday morning, near the noon hour. The neighborhood kids were out in force, with a group of boys playing a game of baseball in a street marred by dozens of potholes. The asphalt road was lined with four-room houses of clapboard siding and rusty tin roofs. Front yards were mostly dirt of the southern red-clay variety. One or two gangly weeds clung to life here and there, but that was about it for vegetation.

Old people sat on front porch rockers or battered, old cloth couches, drinking iced tea from Mason jars. They were enjoying watching the children play, perhaps thinking back to the day when they played similar games in the era when the streets were nothing more than dirt paths that connected their area to downtown.

But this Saturday morning was a day I’ll always remember. It was a case that involved two brothers. Twins, they were, and the very much true story goes something like this ….

 

Dog Number Twelve: The Brothers Most Grim

 

Smoke,

Charcoal fire.

Sun,

Blue sky.

 

Balls,

Bats, gloves.

Swing,

A hit.

 

First,

Manhole cover.

Second,

Fire Hydrant.

 

Third,

Wood plank.

Home,

Old tire.

 

Kids,

Laughing, squealing.

Out!

No, safe!

 

Pop,

Apron on.

Cooking,

Hot dogs.

 

Sons,

Both alike.

Twins,

Teen boys.

 

Ah,

Delicious odors.

Wafting,

Mouths watering.

 

Lunch,

It’s ready.

Platter,

Piled high.

 

Seated,

At table.

Blessing,

Give thanks.

 

Amen,

Dig in.

Eating,

Chewing, swallowing.

 

Forks,

Clanging, clicking.

Then,

Eleven gone.

 

Only,

One dog.

Single,

On platter.

 

Mine!

No, mine!

I,

Said mine!

 

You’ll,

Be sorry.

I’ll,

Kill you!

 

Dog,

Number twelve.

Speared,

With fork.

 

Twin,

Number one.

Shot,

By Two.

 

Dead,

Eyes open.

One,

Grabbed dog.

 

From,

Lifeless Fingers.

Chewed,

And Swallowed.

 

Twin,

No more.

Alone,

In solitary.

 

Prison,

For Life.

All,

For dog number twelve.

 

 

Yeah, well, don’t let those click-bait headlines get your unmentionables all bunched up, because ALL, and I repeat, ALL killings of human beings by other humans are homicides. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

That’s right, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

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Yes, each time prison officials pull the switch, inject “the stuff,” or whatever means they use to execute a condemned prisoner, they commit homicide. All people who kill attackers while saving a loved one from harm have committed homicide. And all cops who kill while defending their lives or the lives of others have committed homicide. These instances are not a crime.

It’s when a death is caused illegally—murder or manslaughter—that makes it a criminal offense.

Murder is an illegal homicide.

For example, in Virginia:

§ 18.2-32. First and second degree murder defined; punishment.

Murder, other than capital murder, by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction, except as provided in § 18.2-31, is murder of the first degree, punishable as a Class 2 felony.

All murder other than capital murder and murder in the first degree is murder of the second degree and is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five nor more than forty years.

Therefore, those seemingly dramatic headlines that read “Shooting By Cop Ruled a Homicide,” well, they’re often nothing more than words used to affect people’s emotions, induce a reaction, or to encourage people to click over to their website, which, by the way, is how many “news” outlets pay the bills.

So please, un-wad those unmentionables and don’t be a victim of media sensationalism.

By the way, how many of you clicked over to this blog because of the headline/blog-post title? Gotcha …


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

It was a cold January night back in 1975, a night when the temperatures dipped to the mid 20s. There were no clouds in the coal-black sky, but the overhead inky nothingness was peppered with thousands of tiny off-white dots—winking and flickering wintertime stars.

The victim, a fragile 88-year-old retired school teacher, Eva Jones, was in her modest home located less than a hundred yards, just short of a football field’s distance, from the local police department. She was at home alone, typical of most evenings, when the stranger forced his way through the front door.

Minutes later the elderly woman had been choked, raped, and robbed of $40 cash, all the money she had in her possession. Her attacker then slipped away as quickly as he’d arrived.

The old woman managed to get to her phone and dialed the number to summon police. When the dispatcher answered the call she heard a female voice gasping for breathe as she pleaded for help. Since the station was within sight of her home, officers arrived right away and found the partially-clad victim of the brutal assault.

Two hours later, after being transported to the hospital, Eva Jones was dead. Before she died, though, she told police that “a negro man had torn her clothes off and had choked her.” No further details. Just the man’s race. And then she was gone, leaving police with little—practically nothing—to help with their investigation.

During the next few days police questioned several men who’d been seen in the area, nearly two dozen, or so, but they were each cleared and sent on their way. Eventually, officers set their sights on a 32-year-old man, Curtis Jasper Moore, who’d been recently released from a psychiatric hospital.

Investigators interrogated the man for approximately six hours, nonstop, but Moore never, not once, admitted involvement in the murder of the woman. During the taped questioning, the man repeatedly hummed the theme song of a popular western television show. His mind and thoughts strayed from the matters at hand, and his statements were inconsistent. Some of his words, though, were taken as incriminatory.

So police took the man to the woman’s house—the scene of the murder—hoping the visit would illicit a confession. Again, some of his words, while confusing, were thought to be incriminating, including a couple of statements that seemed to indicate that he’d been inside the woman’s home on the night of the killing. That scant bit of “evidence” was enough for police officers who desperately wanted to close the case. Public and political pressure to do so, of course, was great. They arrested Moore for the murder and rape of the former educator.

A little over three years later, Curtis Moore, the severely mentally-challenged man, was convicted of murder, rape, and robbery and was sentenced to serve life in prison. His guilt was based almost entirely on the statements he’d made to police. There was no physical evidence that connected him to the murder scene. Due to his diminished mental capacity Moore was sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Court appointed attorneys filed state appeals on his behalf but all were denied. Next, a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed. It was only then when a U.S.  District Judge ordered the confession suppressed and set aside the conviction.

The judge ruled that the interrogation was improper because the man had not been offered the Miranda warning until after at least four hours of interrogation had passed. The judge also determined that the state was unable to prove that the man understood his rights after investigators finally got around to advising him.

It took a year and half after the judge’s ruling for the appeals court to affirm his decision, and when they did, finally, the man was released from prison pending a new trial. It was three years after his conviction that he was able to set foot outside of institutional walls.

Prosectors, with no evidence on which to rely, elected to not pursue the case and dismissed it..

Twenty-four years later, the governor of Virginia ordered testing of biological evidence that was found contained in the files of a recently deceased state crime analyst, Mary Jane Burton. Burton, for whatever reason, secretly taped small swatches of biological evidence—samples she used for blood typing—to her test sheets and then placed those sheets in her permanent hard-copy files.

The Burton evidence was discovered in 2001 when The Innocence Project requested all files on behalf of Marvin Anderson, a man convicted of rape. He fought and continued fighting to prove his innocence after his release from prison based on Burton’s saved/hidden evidence..

But saving bits of biological evidence was not the norm. Actually, by preserving the samples the examiner violated the lab protocol that all evidence was to be returned to the submitting agencies/investigators. However, by breaking department rules, the saved evidence samples were indeed tested per the order of the governor and the results produced were nothing short of stunning.

The rule-breaking, highly-meticulous Mary Jane Burton and I have a couple of loosely-based connections.

  • It was Mary Jane Burton who determined the identifying characteristics of biological evidence that would later convict Timothy Spencer, the serial killer known as The Southside Strangler. Spencer was the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death based on DNA evidence. I witnessed Spencer’s execution via electric chair.

Author Patricia Cornwell worked in the state lab at the same time as Burton. Dr. Marcella Fierro, the state’s chief medical examiner, a colleague of Burton was the inspiration for Cornwell’s character Kay Scarpetta. Dr. Fierro’s office conducted the autopsy on the bank robber I was forced to shoot and kill during a shootout beside a major interstate highway. Dr. Fierro and her assistant had dinner with Denene and me at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond, Va. the night Denene received her PhD.

  • In 2008, the evidence in the Jones murder case that was found in Burton’s file was submitted to the lab for DNA testing. The DNA tests proved that, without a doubt, the murder of Eva Jones could not have been committed by Curtis Jasper Moore.

 

Instead, the DNA was a solid match to a man named Thomas Pope Jr. Pope’s DNA was in the system because he’d been convicted of abduction and forcible sodomy in 1991. He was paroled in 2003.

 

My connection to Thomas Pope, Jr.? I’ve had the “pleasure” of investigating and arresting him a couple of times over the years, including for sexual assault (not in the same area as the Eva Jones murder, though). Unfortunately, at the time I arrested Pope his DNA had not yet been entered into CODIS. Somewhere in my files, I still have a copy of one of the Pope’s arrest warrants.

 

Curtis Jasper Moore didn’t live long enough to learn  that he’d been totally exonerated. He died in California in 2006.

 

The two officers who interrogated Moore have since passed away, as well. One committed suicide in the mid nineties. The other died of natural causes. Both were elected and served many years as sheriffs in Virginia.

 

On March 24, 2010, Thomas Pope,Jr., 55, was finally convicted of the rape and murder of Eva Jones, the retired, elderly school teacher. He was sentenced to life in prison.

I imagine Pope is currently residing in a state-run prison somewhere in Virginia after nearly and literally getting away with murder because two cops flirted with disaster by allowing tunnel vision and political pressure take over their investigation. And for taking advantage of an obviously mentally ill man.