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You know you have a winner when a reader says, “Wow, that book took my breath away!”

The Bee Gees offered a simple solution how writers can deliver those magical stories, and the answer is so very simple. Use the right words and the magic will happen. Because, after all …

“It’s only words,
And words are all I have,
To take your breath away.” ~ The Bee Gees


P.

Parenticide – Killing of one’s own parents.

Patent Fingerprints – Prints that are visible to the naked eye.

PCR (Polymerace Chain Reaction) – DNA testing procedure/technique that creates millions of copies of strands of tiny samples of DNA. The procedure was discovered and developed by biochemist Kary Mullis, who, by the way, is an acquaintance of my wife Dr. Denene Lofland.

PCR Thermal Cycler – Device used amplify, or copy, segments of DNA using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A sort of DNA “copy machine.” You’d likely see one of these devices in most labs used for DNA testing, including the labs where samples are tested in cases involving criminal suspects.

Thermal Cycler manufactured by Bio-Rad, one of the top five life science companies in the world.

The above image of a Thermal Cycler was taken in a laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. This particular device was located in the laboratory of Dr. Stephanie Smith, a DNA expert.

I took the photo while visiting my friend Dr. Dan Krane, one of the world’s most highly-respected and renowned DNA experts. Dr. Smith’s laboratory was operated under the watchful eye of Dr. Krane.

WPA attendees may remember Dan Krane from his fascinating presentation at one of our past events. Dr. Krane is often called upon as an expert in high-profile cases, such as the OJ Simpson case, the D.C. Snipers, and even the infamous “blue dress” case involving Clinton and Lewinsky. Dr. Dan Krane and Denene (my wife) were colleagues at the time I visited his laboratories. He and Denene (also an expert) were responsible for much of the DNA information in my book on police procedure.

Pedophilia – An ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. Its recurrent sexually arousing fantasies involve strong sexual urges and/or behaviors that include sexual activity with a child or multiple children who are typically age 13 years or younger. To meet the criteria of a pedophile, the person typically must fantasize about or act on those attractions over a period of at least six months.

Perimortem – Around the actual time of death.

Petecheal Hemorrhage – Pinpoint spots that appear as a result of bleeding under the skin. Conjunctival petechiae are a sign of possible compression of the neck and jugular veins due to choking and/or strangulation. Keep in mind that petechiae do not prove strangulation and their absence does not disprove it. It’s not a definite conclusion. However, the presence of petechiae is a handy red flag for police investigators that foul play could be a cause of death.

Piquerism – Sexual gratification to stab and cut. To enjoy seeing a victim bleed as flesh is pierced, ripped, and/or torn away.

Plastic Prints – Fingerprints visible in substances such as wax, caulk, or soap.

Psychological Autopsy – Procedure where experts in the mental health field collaborate with law enforcement to determine a person’s state of mind at the time they committed a crime.

Psychopathic Killer – A person who kills simply because they enjoy the act of killing.

Psychotic Killer – A person’s who’s psychosis drives them to murder.

Pugilistic Attitude – Position assumed by a victim of a death by fire. These victims often appear in a “boxer-like” position with elbows and knees bent/flexed and fists clenched. This posture is caused when intense heat contracts muscle fiber and tissue. A rookie mistake is to assume this person was “burned in place” while attempting to fight off an attacker. Not so.

 

Dead bodies always have a lot to reveal to investigators!

Putrefaction is the destruction of the soft tissue caused by two things, bacteria and fermentation of enzymes. As the bacteria and enzymes do their jobs the body immediately begins to discolor and transform into liquids and gases. The odd thing about the bacteria that destroys tissue at death is that much of it has been living in the respiratory and intestinal tracts all along.  Of course, if the deceased had contracted a bacterial infection prior to death, that bacteria, such as septicemia (blood poisoning), would aid in increasing the body’s decomposition.

Temperature plays an important part in decomposition. 70 degrees to 100 degrees F is the optimal range for bacteria and enzymes to do what they do best, while lower temperatures slow the process. Therefore, and obviously, a body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime.

A blood-filled circulatory system acts as a super-highway for those organisms that destroy the body after death. Without blood the process of putrefaction is slowed.

Therefore, a murder victim whose body bled out will decompose at a slower rate than someone who died of natural causes.

Bodies adorned in thick, heavy clothing (the material retains heat) decompose more rapidly than the norm. Electric blankets also speed up decomposition.

A body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime

A body that’s buried in warm soil may decompose faster than one that’s buried during the dead of winter. The type of soil that surrounds the body also has an effect on the rate of decomposition. For example, the soil in North Carolina is normally a reddish type of clay. The density of that clay can greatly retard the decomposition process because it reduces the circulation of air that’s found in a less dense, more sandy-type of earth.

Adult bodies buried in a well drained soil will become skeletonized in approximately 10 years. A child’s body in about five years.

People who were overweight at the time of their deaths decompose faster than skinny people. People who suffered from excessive fluid build-up decompose faster than those who were dehydrated. And people with massive infections and congestive heart failure will also decompose at a more rapid rate than those without those conditions.

The rule of thumb for the decomposition of a body is that, at the same temperature, 8 weeks in well-drained soil equals two weeks in the water, or one week exposed to the air.

Now, hold on to your breakfast …

The first sign of decomposition under average conditions is a greenish discoloration of the skin at the abdomen. This is apparent at 36-72 hours.

Next – Small vessels in the skin become visible (marbling).

Followed by, glistening skin, skin slippage, purplish skin, blisters, distended abdomen (after one week – caused by gases), blood-stained fluid oozing from body openings (nose, mouth, etc.), swelling of tissue and the presence of foul gaseous odor, greenish-purple face, swollen eyelids and pouting lips, swollen face, protruding tongue, hair pulls out easily, fingernails come off easily, skin from hands pulls off (gloving), body swells and appears greatly obese.

Internally, the body is decomposing and breaking down. The heart has become flabby and soft. The liver has honeycombed, and the kidneys are like wet sponges. The brain is nearly liquid, and the lungs may be a bit brittle.

Wrong kind of brittle, but who wants to end the post with crunchy lungs? So have some homemade peanut brittle and enjoy the rest of your day.

 

For the past fews days I’ve been offering up the individual ingredients of a word salad. I’ve presented you with formal groupings of letters that, when used properly, could add a little something extra to a crime story. However, I’ve given you these terms merely as a catalyst, a basis to help develop your scenes into 3D visions on a page.

It’s okay to have your cop character spout off a cool-sounding term, such as “marbling,” the the mottled, greenish-black appearance caused by sulfhaemoglobin molecules present in settled blood (once the heart stops beating). But simply saying the word does nothing to help form a picture. For example:

“Her leg is marbled. That tells me the victim has been dead for three to five days.”

It’s another thing entirely to describe marbling like this.

“This one’s a stomach-churner, Lieutenant. Wonder how long she’s been out here?”

“The skin of her right leg looks like a squiggly-lined roadmap of Northern Virginia. With marbling that pronounced, I’d say she’s been dead three, maybe four days, or so,” said Lieutenant Deadlooker.

I know, the writing above was not book quality, but I overwrote it to showcase that it is the definitions and imagery associated with each of these terms that should appear in your work, not so much the actual word itself.

Help your readers see what you see inside your mind. Show them that picture.

Take your world to them.

 

N.

Narcomania – An intense desire for alcohol and drugs.

Navicular – Shaped like a boat, such as certain bones in the feet and wrists. In the wrist, this comma-shaped bone is situated in the first row of carpals. In the feet, they’re located between the talus and the metatarsals.

Graphics Resource:

“BodyParts3D, © The Database Center for Life Science licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.1 Japan.”

NCAVC– A subdivision of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime is comprised of fours separate sections of the bureau—the Consultation Program, Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), Criminal Personalty Profiling Program, and Research and Development.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR THE ANALYSIS OF VIOLENT CRIME

“The mission of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) is to combine investigative and operational support functions, research, and training in order to provide assistance, without charge, to federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies investigating unusual or repetitive violent crimes. The NCAVC also provides support through expertise and consultation in non-violent matters such as national security, corruption, and white-collar crime investigations.” ~ FBI.gov.

Necrophagia– The eating of dead corpses. As crime writers who conduct massive amount of research, I’m sure you already know that both insects and some humans partake in the consuming of dead flesh.

In the insect world, beetles and flies, for example, take advantage of the free meals offered to them when they happen upon a dead body. Human diners of freshly-killed people are typically of the serial killer breed, such as Dahmer and others who seem to enjoy appetizers and entrees made from well-seasoned fresh and/or frozen friends.

Back in 2001, well-known paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley described the three ways in which anthropologists divided and categorized cannibalism.

  • Endocannibalism–  the act of consuming someone from within a tribe or specific culture.
  • Exocannibalism– the consumption of anyone outside of a group.
  • Autocannibalism– consuming parts of their own flesh. By the way, nail biting is also included in this category.

When, or if, you decide to include this term—Necrophagia—in a twisted tale of macabre mystery or romance, please don’t confuse it with the death metal group of the same name.

The ghoulish-sounding band produced jaunty little tunes such as Ready For Death, The Divine Art of TortureDeath Is Fun, A Legacy of Horror, Gore and SicknessCannibal Holocaust, and the always soothing bedtime melody, Slit Wrists and Casket Rot.

By the way, another term for those of you writing horror, thrillers, or romance stories with a bit of the dark side, is autophagia, the consuming one’s own flesh.

Necrophilia– Erotic stimulation by a dead body. Morbid attraction to the deceased. And having sexual intercourse with a corpse.

Neonaticide– the Killing of a child within 24-hours of its birth.

 

O.

Oblique Lighting – Light source positioned at an angle to an area to be viewed and/or photographed for evidence. Sometimes called side-lightling.

Open Tail– Surveillance style in which law enforcement (or others) utilize, using no means to avoid detection, such as a single police vehicle following behind a suspect car along city streets.

 

Words – Tools writers use to tell a tale. They’re important to readers. Here are some logical groupings of letters you may find helpful when concocting a crime story.

D.

Degeneration – As a postmortem term it’s the deterioration of a body part, such as the decomposition of tissue and organs.

Dentition – The number and kind of teeth, and their arrangement in the mouth. Pertaining to teeth.

Depersonalization – The manner and actions a killer takes to conceal a victim’s identity. Removing the head and hands, for example.

Disarticulation – The separation of two joints, either by surgical or criminal amputation/dismemberment.

Joe Choppemup disarticulated his wife of twenty years and then scattered her remains in a field behind her lover’s home. 

 

E.

Engram – A lasting trace left in the human mind, both conscious and unconscious, by anything a person has experienced phsycally. Like a latent fingerprint, one that’s not readily seen by the naked eye, an engram is latent image that’s stored in the mind.

Eukaryocyte – Simply put … a cell with a nucleus. Eucaryotae cells (eukaryotic cells) have a true nucleus and within contain membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria. Eukrayocyte is found in all organisms except bacteria.

Exculpatory Evidence – Evidence that proves a person is innocent of a crime.

 

F.

Fillicide – The Murdering of one’s own child.

Fratricide – The killing one’s own brother or sister.

 

G.

Gorilla – Prison term for an extremely tough male who is the aggressor during a sexual act. A giver, not a taker …

 

H.

Homicide – A homicide is any killing of one person by another, and it can be a legal act in certain circumstances—self-defense or in defense of others, homicide by misfortune (an accident), state or federal executions, etc.

New Picture

Homicide per infortunium – Accidental homicide where a person performing a legal act without any intention of harm, accidentally kills another. This is a legally excusable homicide. It is not a crime. Sad, heartbreaking, and unfortunate, yes. But not a crime.