I’m an voracious reader which means I’m rarely without a book close at hand. It’s an addiction. I have to have my word fix every day. I have books in my office, on my nightstand, in the kitchen (I sometimes read while I’m cooking dinner, between stirs and seasonings), in my truck, in bed, etc. Actually, my day ends with a bit of reading before closing my eyes to sleep.

I like different genres, especially literary and historical fiction, but a good mystery/thriller/suspense story is hard to beat. After all, who doesn’t love a well-written and convoluted whodunit?

Recently Read

I recently completed Ordinary Grace, a beautifully-told emotional tale by William Kent Krueger (highly recommended). It’s a literary novel that will linger in your mind for quite a while after devouring the final page.

Krueger’s Ordinary Grace takes us into a world where a boy becomes an adult far before his time. It’s murder, betrayal, and lies that send him on a convoluted path that bypasses what should have been a childhood filled with innocence.

And, speaking of innocence …

When Fiction and Real-Life Collide

I’m currently deep into John Grisham’s new book The Guardians, a tale about a group of lawyers who fight for the wrongly imprisoned—innocent men and women who’re serving hard time for crimes they didn’t commit. Along his journey, the lead character finds the paths leading to justice for his clients are pockmarked with danger.

The writing and voice in this novel are stellar.

As I plow through The Guardians, nearly every page reminds me of Ray Krone, a man who served 10 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Some of you may recall that Ray wrote of his horrible experience here on this blog in an article titled Ray Krone: A Decade On Death Row. 

Ray’s story and Grisham’s fictional tale run parallel to the current state of courts in the U.S., where criminal suspects, due to massive caseloads, are pushed through the system at near blinding speeds, rates that move more quickly than the science that’s often used to place them behind bars.

Bite-Mark Evidence

In Krone’s case, his conviction was based solely on bite-mark evidence, “science” that, like hair comparison, has been found to be unreliable. In fact, approximately three dozen or so exonerations have resulted from a re-examination of cases whose basis or, basis in part, for conviction were on the forensic comparison of bite marks.

For example, the cases of William Richards in California, who spent 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder, and Keith Allen Harward in Virginia, who was sentenced to 33 years behind bars for a rape and murder. And then there’s our friend Ray Krone, an innocent man who was was 35-years-old at the time of his arrest, and didn’t walk as a free man again until the age of 45. All based on what many now call junk science.

Grisham’s book is an eye-opening read. It’s also a tale that’ll keep the reader turning page after page, hoping the attorneys will find a way to have their clients’ cases re-examined (a larger than massive uphill battle). And with the turn of every page I can’t help but think of Ray’s ordeal, sitting behind bars waiting to be put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Imagine being confined in a concrete and steel box without sunshine or fresh air, with no control whatsoever of your own life and how you’ll live it. Grisham, I think, captures a great deal of this, including bite-mark evidence, in the book.

I also wonder how many more innocent people are in circumstances similar to the characters in Grisham’s book, and those who, like Ray Krone, wake up each day one step closer to the electric chair, gas chamber, or cocktail of drugs designed to kill. And, even more horrible is to wonder not if, but how many innocent people have already been executed.


“Cullen Post travels the country fighting wrongful convictions and taking on clients forgotten by the system. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated.

They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another without a second thought.”

“‘Ordinary Grace’ is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.”

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Winner, Edgar Award for Best Novel
  • Winner, Anthony Award for Best Novel
  • Winner, Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel
  • Winner, Barry Award for Best Novel
  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2013
Murder on Minor Avenue

Murder On Minor Avenue

(excerpt from Chapter 14 of Masters Of True Crime: Chilling Stories Of Murder And The Macabre)

James responded to his brother’s question by immediately shooting him to death. No hesitation. No brief thoughts of the “good old days.” No moment of brotherly love. Nothing. Just a couple of rapid trigger pulls, and his brother was dead. Then James quickly fired a round at Alma and another at Charity, his own mother. When their bodies hit the floor, he quickly blasted a round, point-blank, into each of their skulls.

James then killed two of the kids in the kitchen in the same manner, first a round or two to drop them, and then one to the head to be sure they were dead.

The third child made a futile attempt to escape through the back door but was gunned down before she could reach the safety of outdoors. Her body came to rest backed up to a full-length mirror hanging beside a bathroom door in the narrow hallway. The grisly reflection clearly showed an exit wound in the little girl’s back. It also doubled the appearance of the large pool of blood surrounding her head, oozing its way along the baseboard.

Charity Ruppert, the family matriarch, lay dead on the cold linoleum—her midsection a mangled mess. Her right hand rested above her right breast. The left stretched above her head, as if reaching for something just out of her grasp. Her slacks and dress shoes were painted in blood spatter. Her eyeglasses lay beside her on the floor, tangled in her wavy hair. The expression frozen on her face was one of surprise and disbelief. Her eyes stared blankly skyward.

Alma almost appeared to be sleeping, lying partially on her right side with her cheek against the cool floor. Her glasses were still in place. Her right leg was curled gently beneath her, and her left leg was extended straight to where her foot rested in one of her dead children’s blood-matted hair. Her husband’s face was a few inches away, in a puddle of their daughter’s blood.

James reloaded his guns and calmly made his way to the living room, where he began firing at each of the five remaining kids, as if he were in a field taking target practice at a row of tin cans. And to be certain that no one but him would ever receive a dime of the insurance money, he walked around the crumpled bodies of the dying children and fired a single shot to each of their heads.

Standing in the center of the living room, James surveyed the aftermath of his actions. An overturned wastebasket with its contents—wadded papers and cigarette butts—scattered across the space. The corner of a TV Guide rested against the black tennis shoe of one of the dead boys. A caricature of Bea Arthur’s face stared back at James from the cover of the magazine.

A child’s Disney book lay in the center of the carpet. Mickey Mouse’s wide smile and trademark ears were out of place among the carnage. A little girl’s body lay in a corner, her feet clad in black and white saddle oxfords, tangled in a heap of boxes that had once been stacked neatly against the wall. She’d apparently been trying to escape but had backed into the corner, trapped, where her uncle took aim and shot her. Her body fell to the floor, face-up beside a bouquet of fresh Easter flowers. Her head was a bloody mess.

Charity Ruppert’s once neat-as-a-pin living room was now cluttered with the corpses of her precious grandchildren.

With his entire family now out of the way, James was ready for the final stage of his plan: to prove he was mentally incapable to stand trial for the murders, the only way that he could legally claim the inheritance.

James moved about the house, carefully positioning each of his guns on various pieces of furniture. Two revolvers on the coffee table and another on the arm of the couch, along with a box of bullets. A rifle beside the refrigerator, and four boxes of bullets as well as several loose rounds of ammunition on the kitchen table. Yes, everything was just right. Perfect, actually. Only a person not fit to stand trial would do what he’d just done.

It was time to call the police.

*Also available as an audiobook.


I’ve been speaking and teaching at the Writers Police Academy for six years. Those who’ve come regularly heard me announce the sale of Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. Last year at WPA, I was proofing the manuscript. This year, it’s ready, and I’ve asked my publisher to do a special pre-publication launch at WPA. Some attendees have shared in my journey. In fact, I first met WPA organizer Lee Lofland in Wichita, the town that BTK terrorized. So, this is a full-circle experience.

I got involved with this book serendipitously. Someone else had started it, collecting letters from Rader for five years. I saw her on Facebook in 2010, so I asked her about it. She had one of my books and knew who I was. She told me she needed a writer to take over and invited me to submit a proposal to the victims’ family trust, which owned the rights. She also introduced me to Rader. I did not go looking for this project, but when it was offered, I jumped in.

I had just published a book, The Mind of a Murderer, which describes a dozen cases from the past century of mental health experts who took the extra time needed to learn about an extreme offender from the offender’s point of view. So, I had role models.

Confession is what I call a guided autobiography, structured with what we know from criminological research. Rader pondered the things I showed him and selected the factors that he believed weighed most heavily in his violence. He provides a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an organized, predatory serial killer who designed his killing career on specific role models. He confided the details about his compulsion to kill and how he successfully kept his secrets while living as an ordinary family man. Within steps of his wife and children were “hidey holes” filled with numerous incriminating items.


I open the book with the most challenging thing: figuring out Rader’s code system, which was also a test for me. The introduction shows my early first steps. Finally, collecting all the information into an accessible yet educational structure required intense focus and a lot of uninterrupted time. Rader wrote long letters about his life, experiences, and fantasies. We read a few books and articles, and discussed how the concepts applied to him. In the end, I summarized our enterprise, but the content is primarily from him.

For me, it was the chance to immerse in the mind of an extreme offender. Whenever he named other serial killers or described movies or books that had an effect on him, I researched the subjects and watched the movies. If he described places that had meaning for him, I visited them. Together, we expanded the story from mere memoir to experiential narrative. We also watched some television shows, like The Americans and Bates Motel, and discussed them by phone each week. This, too, gave me information about Rader’s perception.

I was most fascinated with Rader’s description of  “cubing” (his word for the more clumsy academic phrase, compartmentalization). He talks about how he developed “life frames,” but more interesting for me was bumping up against these boundaries whenever I asked difficult questions. Rader, I found, is unique even in the world of serial killers. Many people have assumptions about serial killers and they expected Rader to fit the mold. In some ways he did, but in other ways he’s an outlier.

When I entered into this project, I knew it would deepen my awareness of what I write about, research, and teach. I did not know that I would be heavily immersed for five years, but I expected that working so closely with someone like Rader would affect my thinking and theorizing. It did. I see better how he experiences the world and I have deepened my description of certain aspects of the criminal mind. I view Confession as a significant complement to the work I have done, especially to The Mind of a Murderer.

I look forward to sharing with the WPA attendees.


*  Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at DeSales University, also teaches the forensic psychology track. She has published over 1,000 articles, stories, and reviews, and 59 books, including The Mind of a Murderer, The Forensic Science of CSI, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Ivy League Killer, and The Murder Game. Her book, Psychopath, was a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s list. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, judges, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including CSI andBones.  She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today called “Shadow-boxing” and consults for numerous crime documentary production companies. Her most recent book is with serial killer, Dennis Rader, called Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. She will also publish The Ripper Letter, a supernatural thriller based on Jack the Ripper lore.

Dennis Rader is currently serving several life sentences in a Kansas prison.

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When Jessica Fletcher comes knocking

As writers, most of you go the extra mile to conduct research for your books, and your fans certainly appreciate the effort. But how far do your characters go on their own to be sure they don’t do something silly? I know they’re serious about getting their facts straight because several of them—Jack Reacher, Monk, Joanna Brady, and many more—have shown up at my door to ask questions about police work and how detectives conduct investigations.

Some characters, however, such as Cabot Cove’s beloved super sleuth, Jessica Fletcher, take the “get-it-right” approach to an even higher level by purchasing her own research books. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a bit of dialog from Murder, She Wrote: Death of a Blue Blood. It’s a conversation between Jessica Fletcher and Scotland Yard Inspector George Sutherland.

“Did Father Christmas treat you well this year?” George asked as we looked over a tray of holiday socks that had been set outside a clothing store.

“Yes, indeed. Someone gave me a lovely tartan shawl,” I said, holding up a corner of the scarf. “Thank you again.”

“You’re very welcome again. And thank you again for the leather fishing belt.”

“Made in Maine,” I said, laughing. “I couldn’t resist when I saw the silver trout on it. We’ll have to go fishing together one day.”

“I think I would enjoy that.”

“I did buy myself a present when I was in New York City.”

“And what did you get?”

“A book called Police Procedure and Investigation.”

“I would have thought you knew all that by now.”

“There’s always more to learn. Plus, I love having my own library of reference books. The Internet is wonderful, but it doesn’t match the feeling of paging through a book and finding something you didn’t even realize you needed. I hope that experience never goes away.”

I’m extremely flattered that Jessica Fletcher has called on me in past, but it’s an added thrill to know that she and her writers, Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain, often turn to my book and this blog when concocting a new crime-solving adventure. And it never gets old seeing my name in the acknowledgements of the Murder She Wrote books. After all, I’ve been a Donald Bain fan since, well, since his book, Coffee, Tea, or Me? found its way into the hands of many teen boys back in the mid to late 60’s.

So yes, I’m extremely proud that my own book has a home in the Bains’ office. I’m also proud of the personally signed copy of Coffee, Tea, or Me I received from Donald Bain not so long ago. How cool is that!

As for Jessica Fletcher, well, I truly think these two make a nice-looking couple. Don’t you?

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Here’s another great couple.

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Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain

Donald Bain has written more than 125 books, among them 43 in the “Murder, She Wrote” series on which he has collaborated with his wife, Renee Paley-Bain, for the past 15 years.