Jan Brogan

Jan Brogan has been a journalist for twenty years. She is a former staff writer at The Providence Journal-Bulletin in Rhode Island and The Worcester Telegram and Gazette in Massachusetts and has worked as a correspondent for The Boston Globe. Her freelance work has appeared in Boston Magazine, The Improper Bostonian, Ladies Home Journal and Forbes Magazine.

Her first novel, Final Copy, which won The Drood Review of Mystery’s Editors’ Choice award, was named one of the best eight mysteries published in 2001. A Confidential Source (Mysterious Press, April 2005 ) received a rave review in The New York Times Book Review and was chosen by The Mystery Guild Book Club as an alternate spring selection. “Yesterday’s Fatal,” published by St Martin’s Press in May, 2007, was named a “Killer Book” by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association and one of the summer’s best reads by Northeast Public Radio.

Jan’s new book, Teaser, was released this week by St. Martin’s Press.

Her website is http://www.janbrogan.com/, and you can check out her blog at www.jungleredwriters.com.

Researching Cyberspace

Many mystery authors can get all the background they need through written research.

But for me, I can’t write about a subject unless I get a feel for it. I had to play Blackjack myself at the Mohegan Sun and interview a dealer to write the scenes that seduce my protagonist Hallie Ahern into a gambling addiction. I had to walk the impound lot with an insurance investigator and attend a seminar for patrolman on car crash forensics before I could write a book about automobile insurance fraud.

So when I decided I wanted to write about the dark side of cyberspace, in Teaser, I knew I needed more than Internet articles or child safety websites.

For Teaser, which is all about social networking going wrong in the hands of young teenage girls, I wanted to see what kind of creeps were out there. The journalist in me always wants to validate that the social ill I’m writing about. And even though its fiction, I still need a sense of mission.

I turned to a detective in the Portsmouth, NH Special Investigations Unit specializing in undercover Internet and narcotics operations.

One of the first things Kristyn told me was that she hated Dateline’s now-canceled To Catch a Predator show, which she says used tactics that were tantamount to entrapment. Although sexual predators were nabbed on camera when they arrived for their date with a child, they often escaped conviction.

Laws vary from state to state, but in New Hampshire, Kristyn needed a predator to initiate a meeting with one of her 13 or 14-year old undercover screen names before she could make an arrest. She couldn’t suggest anything sexual, but had to allow the subject to initiate all the seduction.

Sometimes this happened amazingly quickly. When she first started her undercover work, she had a predator as immediately for a date and was able to make an arrest the same day. Once, she had so many date offers that she had to put the guys off because she didn’t have enough manpower to make that many arrests in one day.

But more often, ferreting out predators was a time-consuming process that required both patience and caution

To avoid any hint of entrapment, Kristyn can’t haunt chat rooms with sexual content. She has to meet predators in neutral chat rooms dedicated to benign topics like celebrity worship or reality TV shows.

But she wanted to show me what the web was really like, so she took me to a now defunct chat room on sexual fetishes. There were four rooms dedicated to adults lusting after children. At two in the afternoon, we couldn’t get into any because they were all filled.

After a wait, Kristyn’s undercover screen name finally got a space and she connected with a guy whose sexual fantasies gave me nightmares for weeks. The stuff was so rough I can’t talk about it here, but to give you an idea, within five minutes, he sent us some lovely webcam pictures of what he considered his most important asset.

I got a little more than I bargained for this time with live research. But although this particular scene was too dark for my book, it gave me what I needed. I got some of the language of Internet seduction, some of the technology and what only can be described as Internet etiquette. The crime I wanted to write began to jump off the paper. Both the predators and the victims became real to me.

The sheer volume of the predators, as well as Kristyn’s own dedication to her work gave me the inspiration to write. No matter what plot I came up about cyber-sleaze, I would not be exaggerating the danger.

To watch Jan’s Teaser video please click the link below.


Tony Hillerman

1925 – 2008


Elaine Flinn has also left us. She lost her battle with cancer last weekend.

Vivian Zabel

Research with Law Enforcement Experts

While I sat at my computer working on Midnight Hours, typing what my characters wanted to do and say, I realized I needed some expert advice to be sure what my antagonist wanted would work. Oh, yes, Midnight was a wily villain indeed and knew how to manipulate and use technology to do unethical things. However, he wanted to access the data base (NCIC) that would give information only certain people can have.

The idea would put punch in the plot and create havoc for the protagonist, Martin Rogers, and his team. Midnight begged me, threatened me, and tempted me to add the twist.

I wrote that Midnight gained access, but something bothered me. Could the data base, the National Criminal Information Center set up by the FBI, be that easily hacked? Would the state overseer agency (in Oklahoma the OSBI) not know it had been? With a deep sigh, I began researching. I contacted a friend who trained as a dispatcher and has been an administrator in a county jail for years. She told me the plot twist couldn’t happen. She told me that only certified people can access the NCIC data base. The local police department also informed me that “hacking” into that data base couldn’t happen. Therefore Midnight had to find a way to gain the information he wanted another way.

Back at the keyboard, Midnight argued, but I said, “Hush right now or I’ll change you to a frog.” With a lingering look in the mirror, a shake of a head, and a deep sigh, Midnight went to a corner of my mind to pout to plot ways to “bug” the computers in the police department. The consensus was for the technologically brilliant Midnight to physically access the department’s servers and computers. To give more information and examples would reveal too much of the plot and its twists.

I did learn more about the NCIC, and even though I didn’t use it for Midnight, I’ll be using the information in sequels. The amount of information available for law enforcement is amazing: a computerized index of criminal justice information.

I asked many questions of law enforcement officers from three different police departments and the county sheriff’s department where I live, as well as the friend in another state. I learned how inter-agency task forces could work (a must for my novel). I read articles from experts in the police procedure and investigation fields and computer and technology fields, and learned some “tricks of the trade” for using one computer to appear to send messages from a different one.

I found much of the information I needed for my novel, but I discovered more. I discovered how the Internet can be used and abused.

Midnight used the Internet to prey on disabled men and bring death, and thanks to the help from law enforcement agencies, I could portray that realistically.

However, according to a sergeant in the Oklahoma City Police Department, I didn’t have the hierarchy correct for their department. He was nice enough to tell me, that since it was my story, my book, I could arrange the department differently, that some departments in other places actually have a similar chain of command as in Midnight Hours.

In the future, I will work even closer with law enforcement agencies to be sure I have details as close to correct as possible in future novels, and maybe leave a little room for creativity.

Click here for details about Vivian’s Midnight Blog Tour and Contest.

– Views, comments, and opinions of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the opinion and views of The Graveyard Shift.

* * *

The Bulletin Board

– Author Tony Hillerman, author of the Navajo Tribal Police mysteries, passed away yesterday. He was 83. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family.

– El Paso County sheriff’s Deputy Juan Muñoz was awarded the Sheriff’s Office Lifesaving Medal Award for saving a 2-year-old boy from a burning car earlier this month.

– A former New Bloomfield, Pa. police officer was recently convicted of molesting or propositioning more than a dozen teenage girls for sex while on duty. The incidents leading to the officer’s arrest date back as early as 2000.

– USA Today reports that more than one-third of police officers murdered last year were not wearing body armor.

– The Associated Press reports that the Washington State Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a man who was searched by police solely because of his odd behavior.

The Court’s unanimous decision reinforces the rules for simple pat-downs under state law, which offers stronger safeguards against police searches than the U.S. Constitution requires.

– The Paris Review: Tehran’s all-female police units. Photos and story Here.

*Only two days left to enter the The Graveyard Shift’s 200 word short story contest! Details here.

How to Interrogate a Witch

The Graveyard Shift is an incredible resource for crime writers. Many thanks to Lee for letting me guest blog today. My name’s Erika Mailman and I’m warping the concept of the blog a tad… I’m not displaying the latest crime-fighting gadgets or talking about police procedures. Instead, I’ll discuss the “cops” of the medieval Dominican monastery, the tonsured friars who hunted witches.

Instead of the Macavity-nominated Police Procedure & Investigation, the book that guided friars in their interrogation of witches was the Malleus Maleficarum. Written in the late 1400s by two German inquisitors, this book addresses every question that a witch hunter might ask.

An exceedingly popular book, the Malleus underwent multiple printings. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press 30 years earlier made possible its widespread dissemination. It’s still in print after 500 years (I got my copy on Amazon), and a more chillingly misogynistic book can’t be found.

In pseudo-reasonable legalistic writing, the friars set about instructing readers how to identify witches, what to do with them once they’re in custody, how to interrogate them, when and how to use torture, and how to determine if the “extreme penalty” (death) is warranted.

In this post, I’ll be highlighting some of the information found in the book.

– Not believing in witchcraft constitutes heresy. The authors knew that in some communities, witch hunters would face opposition from those who argued that witchcraft didn’t exist. Their solution: disbelief in witchcraft became heretical itself. While people might stick their neck out to protect a wrongly-accused neighbor, their willingness would abate if doing so put them under suspicion.

– Women are more likely than men to be witches. The title Malleus Maleficarum, which means “The Witch’s Hammer” (i.e., the book is a weapon to hurt witches with), gives the word “witch” a feminine gender. Although medieval witch woodcuts often depict men and women in equal number, and data shows that in the 1300s both were equally targeted, the Malleus clearly finds women more culpable.

There are two reasons for this. They are “feebler both in mind and body” and therefore unable to resist the Devil’s allure as easily as men. But the second, more overwhelming reason, is that women are unspeakably carnal. The authors in Freudian slippage delighted in describing the various lustful abominations women indulge in. [Remember, friars undertook vows of abstinence.] They wrote, “To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.”

– Women steal penises. One of the strangest things women were accused of doing was stealing penises. They either pilfered the member outright, or rendered it smaller. The Malleus devotes incredible amounts of ink to this problem; no less than three full sections deal with the issue. The book earnestly reports that witches “sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many.”

The image of corn-eating phalluses would bring a smile to your face if the consequences weren’t so severe. And so terribly, terribly current. Believe it or not, a penis theft epidemic rages in certain African countries today. As recently as April, Congolese men tried to lynch witches who had stolen their members. In 2001, a mob beset five people in Benin for the crime. Reminiscent of being burned at the stake, the vigilantes doused four of them with gasoline and set them on fire; the arguably lucky fifth was hacked to death.

– They don’t recommend attorneys for these kinds of cases. Although witches desperately wanted someone to speak on their behalf-especially since so many of them lived powerlessly on the fringes of society-they would have to fight to convince someone to do so. Why? Because any advocate of theirs would be defending heresy… and therefore also a heretic. The Malleus states, “Such cases must be conducted in the simplest and most summary manner, without the arguments and contentions of advocates.”

– It’s best that the witch not know who her accusers are. For fear that the witch would demonically retaliate, the Judge suppressed the names of the witnesses. The Malleus does admit that personal feuds may lead to an accusation, and in that case the accused should be released. That sensibleness is tempered, however, by stating that “It is very seldom that anyone bears witness without enmity, because witches are always hated by everybody.”

– The judge and inquisitors must be careful to protect themselves. Lest the witch target them, the officers of the church and court took protective measures. They did not let the witch touch them, and to prevent the evil eye, she would be led into their presence backwards. They wore a necklace called Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) that contained consecrated salt embedded in wax. The witch would be shaved (everywhere) to locate any powerful amulets she might’ve hidden on her body.

– How to obtain confession. First, the witch’s friends were brought to her, instructed to tell her that she would be spared her life if she confessed. If that did not work, the Judge would “order the officers to bind her with cords, and apply to her some engine of torture; and then let them obey at once but not joyfully, rather appearing to be disturbed by their duty.” If she still resisted, “let her be often and frequently exposed to torture.”

– What to do after she confessed. Lifetime imprisonment was the proper sentencing for normal heretics. But witches were more than simple heretics; they were Apostates (people who forsake religion). As such, they had to suffer the extreme penalty, even if they were penitent and immediately confessed. Thus, the only value to confession was to avoid torture before execution.

– So… what about that promise to spare her life if she confessed? This forms the most egregious part of the Malleus Maleficarum. The book suggests that the Judge may pass the buck: “The Judge may safely promise the accused her life, but in such a way that he should afterward disclaim the duty of passing sentence on her, deputing another Judge in his place.”

* * * * *
Erika Mailman is the author of the novel The Witch’s Trinity, in which a Dominican friar uses the Malleus Maleficarum to try the main character for the crime of witchcraft.

For more, visit www.erikamailman.com.


Sue Ann Jaffarian

What do you get when you cross a cranky, post-menopausal paralegal with enough lawyers to fill the Rose Bowl? Answer: A license to kill. At least on paper.

I have been working in the legal field for 35 years. Count ‘em – 35. Currently, I’m employed full-time as a paralegal at a healthcare-related law firm in Los Angeles. My Odelia Grey mystery series features a middle-aged, plus size, corporate paralegal. When I was advised long ago to write what I know, I embraced that advice with both chubby hands and didn’t let go, because, frankly, I am a middle-aged, plus size, corporate paralegal. Deciding to write about one seemed a no-brainer.

During my very first newspaper interview, a young journalist looked me up and down and asked: “So, what inspired you to write a mystery about a middle-aged, overweight paralegal.” My first urge was to asked her if she was writing the article for the Braille Institute. But instead, I told her I received my inspiration from my day-to-day life as a tall, thin, young blond, who worked as an extra on Bay Watch.

What the young, clueless journalist should have asked was: “How does your career as a paralegal influence your career as a writer?” And while she did not ask that question, Lee Lofland did, and asked me to talk about it on The Graveyard Shift. (Thanks, Lee!)

Besides the obvious, that my legal career enables me to write with accuracy life inside a busy law firm and to infuse my main character and many of the people around her with realism, my long years in the legal field serve me very well in my career as a writer. As a paralegal I have been trained in communication – both written and verbal, research, and organization. Other skills learned over the years are flexibility, time management, and the ability to problem-solve. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a fiction writer, doesn’t it? Especially a mystery author.

Anyone who works in law, whether as a paralegal, attorney, or in some other capacity, will tell you that law is a field fraught with deadlines, those imposed internally by bosses and those imposed by outside sources. Anyone with poor time management skills or unable to work under pressure will find themselves stressed to the gills and buckling in no time. Writing, too, is a mine field of deadlines, mostly set by the publisher. How can I manage to write two books a year and still maintain a paralegal career? By knowing how to prioritize. By utilizing time management and organization to stay on track as I aim for those deadlines. And by not being too fussy about the cleanliness of my home.

Knowing how to research and how to organize and distill what I learn into usable information is another legal skill that translates beautifully into writing. Research does not scare me, nor does picking up the phone and calling experts to ask if I can pick their brains. While the other side of a legal matter might not be friendly and/or forthcoming with information, authorities and experts love to talk to writers. Do not get your research information second or third-hand. Go directly to the source. Due diligence is just as important in writing as it is in law. It’s the housework of both fields.

The key point here is not that a good writer should have good legal skills, but that we all have skills we use in other areas of our lives that should be utilized more in our careers as writers. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, I guarantee you have great skills you have not put to use in your writing. Stop a moment and take a good look at all the talents you possess, especially those you use everyday outside of your writing. Make a list of them. Study them and determine how best to use them in your writing. Put them to work full-time.

In a nutshell, don’t leave your best skills at the office. They don’t keep banker’s hours and love working nights and weekends.

Booby Trap, the fourth book in Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Odelia Grey mystery series is due for release February 2009, with The Ghost of Granny Apples, the first book in her new Granny Apples mystery series, scheduled for release September 2009. Visit Sue Ann on the web at www.sueannjaffarian.com and read her blog at www.sueannjaffarian.blogspot.com.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Inside the Archives of Rome's Crime History

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has a master’s degree in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has published thirty-one books, including The CSI Effect, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Criminal Mind: A Writers’ Guide to Forensic Psychology, and The Forensic Science of CSI. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored the book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators among Us (Morrow, 2003), and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead (Putnam 2005), a collection of his cases of historical exhumations and rigorous forensic investigation. She has been translated into ten languages; published fifteen short stories and over 400 articles on serial killers, criminology, forensic science, and criminal investigation, and was a research assistant to former FBI profiler, John Douglas (Mindhunter), which became The Cases that Haunt Us (Scribner, 2000). With FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she wrote The Unknown Darkness, and with James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead, about his various historic exhumations. She currently contributes editorials on forensic issues to The Philadelphia Inquirer; writes a regular feature on historical forensics for The Forensic Examiner (based on her history of Forensic science, Beating the Devil’s Game) and teaches both forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. Her most recent book is Into the Devil’s Den, about an undercover FBI operation inside the Aryan Nations (with Dave Hall and Tym Burkey), and forthcoming are True Stories of CSI and The Devil’s Dozen: How Cutting Edge Forensics Took Down Twelve Notorious Serial Killers. In addition, she has published biographies of both Anne Rice and Dean Koontz and penned three creative nonfiction books about penetrating the world of “vampires” (Piercing the Darkness), ghost hunters (Ghost), and the funeral industry (Cemetery Stories). From these experiences, she wrote two novels, The Heat Seekers and The Blood Hunters. Currently she’s working on a book about murders in her local area.

Behind C.S.I.: True Stories

In recent seasons of C.S.I., several episodes featured the clever and elusive “Miniatures Killer.” This offender planned murders in great detail and created tiny but exacting replicas of each crime scene. While many people ask me how much of C.S.I. is based on actual cases, they query most often about this unique series of episodes. I’m always delighted to say that the Miniatures Killer is based on reality – not on the work of an offender but on the vision of an innovative heiress who created the “dollhouses of death” as teaching instruments for police officers. As is often the case, a true story inspired the C.S.I. creators and they added their fictional spin.

Because viewers are often curious about what really happened in some incident, I collected the actual cases that inspired many episodes and wrote True Stories of C.S.I. (Berkley 2008). One of the 25 chapters is devoted to the woman behind the dollhouses, while others describe such notorious offenders as Richard Trenton Chase, Michael Peterson, and Richard Speck, as well as such headline-grabbing incidents as the “rebirthing” homicide in Colorado, the JonBenét Ramsey murder, and our modern-day body-snatchers.

I learned about Frances Glessner Lee when I was researching the history of forensic science for Beating the Devil’s Game. She was the only woman who had made a serious contribution to the field, and she did so against the wishes of her wealthy parents. Indeed, her contribution was so unique and generous she became the first woman invited into the fledgling organization, the American Academy of Forensic Science, and was made an honorary member of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police.

Frances was the daughter of John Jacob Glessner and heir to the International Harvester fortune. During the early 1900s, she aspired to study law or medicine, but her father forbade her from attending a university. Off went her older brother to Harvard, where he met George Burgess Magrath, who hoped for a career in pathology. Magrath often visited the Glessners at their thousand-acre New Hampshire estate, where he mesmerized Frances, a fan of Sherlock Holmes, with stories about death investigation. Once he became a medical examiner, he confided to her the need for solid training for death investigators. She asked what she could do and Magrath encouraged her to assist with developing a prestigious flagship program at Harvard.

In 1931, Lee provided an endowment and library for Harvard’s Department of Legal medicine. But then she did more. She knew that inexperienced police officers often committed errors when trying to determine manner of death, largely due to missing the clues, so to mitigate this, she devised a practical solution: build crime scenes on which they could practice – in miniature. She dubbed her project the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” Setting aside the second floor of her mansion as a workshop, she filled one room with doll-size furniture. Then she hired two fulltime carpenters to craft the small buildings. From cabins to three-room apartments to garages, each was fashioned to scale from her design. The doors and windows actually worked, with shades that rolled up and working locks with mini-keys.

They built three Nutshells per year, each of which cost the same as an average house in those days. Lee made the dolls by hand, using a cloth body stuffed with cotton BB gun pellets and bisque heads. She painted the faces and stitched the clothes, adding sweaters and socks knitted on straight pins. Once each doll was ready, Lee would decide just how it should “die” and proceed to stick a knife in one, drown another, or hang one in a noose. On each, she would paint decomposition.

To create each crime diorama, she blended several stories, sometimes going with police officers to crime scenes or the morgue, sometimes reading reports in the newspapers, and often injecting fiction. She preferred enigmatic scenarios, where one had to examine all the clues before deciding on a conclusion.

Once Lee had several dollhouses ready, she made them part of the weeklong law enforcement seminars she sponsored at Harvard twice a year. One day of each seminar was set aside for work with the Nutshells. Participants had limited time to look at each crime scenario, take notes, and report back to the others about the evidence they saw. By the time Lee finished her ambitious project, she had nineteen Nutshells.

In each scene, she included items that were not readily apparent, such as a subtle smudge of lipstick on a pillow slip. What might seem to be a suicide, for example, would look different when a key item was noted – a fresh-baked cake and a load of freshly-laundered clothing beside a woman’s body on the kitchen floor. Other scenarios included a bound prostitute with a sliced throat and a man hanging in a wooden cabin.

By 1949, some 2,000 doctors and 4,000 lawyers had been educated at the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine, and several thousand state troopers, detectives, coroners, district attorneys, insurance agents, and crime reporters had attended Lee’s seminars. They would continue successfully for several more years before the Nutshells were transferred to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Baltimore, MD. After Lee died, her friend, Erle Stanley Gardner (author of the Perry Mason series), wrote, “Captain Lee had a strong individuality, a unique, unforgettable character, was a fiercely competent fighter, and a practical idealist.” She is truly a role model for females in forensics today and C.S.I. is to be credited for renewing interest in her accomplishments.

Roberta Isleib

Roberta Isleib is guest blogging today while on a tour for her third advice column mystery, ASKING FOR MURDER (Berkley.) Roberta is a clinical psychologist, the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity nominated author of eight mysteries, and the president of Sister in Crime.

The Psychological Nancy Drew

Thanks for hosting me Lee-and for giving me a chance to talk about my favorite pet peeve: how shrinks are trashed in movies, TV shows, and books. Here’s an example from the movie TIN CUP:

“Meet Dr. Griswold,” golfer Roy McAvoy says to his friends. “This is Molly. She’s my shrink.”

“Ex-shrink,” Dr. Molly Griswold corrects him. “We’re sleeping together now so I can’t be his therapist.”

Dizzy, uptight but sexy, with boundaries like cheesecloth-this was the kind of model I found for a fictional psychologist when I began to write my first golf mystery, Six Strokes Under. And sports psychologists didn’t have the market cornered when it came to looking ridiculous. Shrinks of all varieties have been portrayed in the popular media as bumbling fools, lacking in scruples, or crazy themselves.

From the very beginning, I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology by including reasonable psychologists in my novels. The challenge was to dream up characters who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries. I wanted to do it right.

Dr. Rebecca Butterman, the protagonist in my advice column mysteries, works with her patients in a way similar to what I did. Only she’s a lot braver (or more foolish) than I would ever be-causing her to nose into mysteries where I’d never go. (I’d call Lee or one of his cohorts without setting one toe on the trail of a murderer.)

One of the main characters in ASKING FOR MURDER is a sandplay therapist, which I discovered I knew next to nothing about as I began to write her. So I found a sandplay expert who talked me through the whole process-I know the book’s richer for her input. I’m begging all you writers-if you’re going to include a mental health professional in your opus, do your research.

Here are a few examples of books, movies and TV shows that I think have done a good job showing my profession:

THE SOPRANOS: I overlooked a lot of fearsome violence to watch Lorraine Bracco’s depiction of Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Malfi. My God, wasn’t he the patient from hell? He tested every boundary and she held the line. In longer-term, insight-oriented therapy, the idea is to take what happens between the therapist and the patient and look at it as a microcosm of what life is probably like outside therapy. So when Tony pressed gifts on Dr. Malfi, she wisely and bravely interpreted the underlying meaning of his gestures. Of course you could question the wisdom of conducting psychotherapy with a sociopath, but that was part of the story.

STEPHEN WHITE’S ALAN GREGORY MYSTERY/THRILLER SERIES: Stephen White was also a clinical psychologist before he started writing and his main character has a private practice in Boulder, Colorado. His descriptions of the process of psychotherapy and the dilemmas shrinks face such as maintaining confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and privileged information are right on the money. Other psychology-focused series I really like are GH Ephron’s Peter Zak mysteries featuring a forensic neuropsychologist and Denise Swanson’s Scumble River series featuring a school psychologist.

ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980) based on the novel by Judith Guest, directed by Robert Redford, the shrink played by Judd Hirsch-one of my all-time favorite movies. Hirsch plays a warm, funny, insightful therapist who brings a depressed, guilty teenager back to life. Okay, so the grand revelation is not anything I’ve ever seen or experienced in therapy, but I loved it anyway. I also adored the scene where Donald Sutherland goes in to see the therapist and begins to realize some painful truths about his marriage.

IN TREATMENT (HBO): There’s a lot of buzz about this and I finally had the chance to watch an episode on a transatlantic flight. This was week 3, when Laura arrives late with a story about trying to save a dog who’d been hit by a car. Okay, I was sucked in fast, and it looked a lot like real psychotherapy. But remember that the therapist is supposed to use things that happen in the therapy as grist for the mill-this is called transference. He isn’t supposed to tell the patient “I think it’s time to quit.” I’m going to watch more, but if you pinned me to the mat, I’d say I don’t care for this guy…

And now the doctor is in-ready to take your questions and comments about favorite shrinks, bad shrinks, your shrinks (oh wait, better not go there…)

And please visit http://www.robertaisleib.com to learn more about the advice column mysteries.

For tin Cup:


Asking for Murder:


The Sopranos:


Stephen white:


Ordinary People:


In treatment:


Clinton R. Van Zandt is the Founder and President of Van Zandt Associates Inc. During his 25-year career in the FBI, Mr. Van Zandt was a Supervisor in the FBI’s internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI’s Chief Hostage Negotiator and in his current position, was the leader of the analytical team recognized with identifying the “Unabomber.” Mr. Van Zandt accurately profiled Oklahoma City Federal Building Bomber Timothy McVeigh on the day of that fateful bombing. He is a recognized expert on many topics including the review of written and oral communications, workplace violence issues, hostage and kidnap negotiations and survival techniques, international and domestic terrorism, personality assessments and behavioral profiling, and authorship identification techniques.

Should Students take their Guns to College?

As I crossed the darkened basement floor, one step at a time; I strained in the dim light to see if the escaped killer was there and hiding, ready to attack when I came into his sights. Leaning up against the far wall of the dank basement was an old cardboard fireplace, something left over from Christmases long ago. As I grabbed the faded red cutout chimney on top and flipped it back, he came at me from behind the moldy cardboard that quietly crumbled in my hand. He seemed to fill the room in front of me as I stepped back, pointing my .357 at the middle of his chest and yelled, “FBI, Freeze,” and he did. Later, when driving him to jail, he asked another FBI Agent, “Who was that guy in the basement; the one that was going to kill me?” I’m glad he understood that I would, and I am also glad that I didn’t have to. I may have been justified in shooting him under the circumstances, but I didn’t have to, so I didn’t. A tour of duty in Vietnam, years of “Shoot / Don’t Shoot” courses, and two and one-half decades as an FBI Agent went into my decision not to shoot, one that I had to make in a fraction of a second and one that I would make other times in my career.

Shootings involving FBI Agents are somewhat rare, and shootings are even rarer on college campuses, especially like the one committed by 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior Cho Seung-Hui on April 17, 2007. On that morning Cho, armed with two semiautomatic pistols, killed 33 and wounded 29 in an act of rage that still defies explanation. Although rare, we have witnessed a number of shootings on college campuses across America since August 1, 1966. This was when 25-year-old Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas, Austin. Here, some 27 stories above the main campus, he began firing indiscriminately at members of the college community as they walked across the main campus. Whitman, who had murdered his wife and mother the day before, killed 13 and wounded 31 before he was killed by police officers. Many other campus shootings would take place on college, high school, middle school and even grade school campuses during the ensuing four plus decades.

It was, however, the heartless, wanton, murderous actions of VA Tech student Cho that captured the attention of the world that cold April week in the rolling hills and green valleys of western Virginia. A major university and a nation somehow stood still together in an attempt to understand the devastation that was levied on that campus in a few minutes by one angry man with two guns. If only someone could have stopped him sooner many have said.

Some believe the answer to stopping a gunman like Cho is to allow guns on campus; guns legally carried by students, faculty and staff. Others think our colleges and universities should be islands of learning in the sea of violence that seems to grip our nation on a weekly basis. Some have suggested that had just one student or faculty member had a gun, Cho could have been stopped before his total number of victims reached 62, thus saving perhaps dozens of lives. But others believe that the ensuing cross fire between Cho and armed students could have cost even more lives. Almost everyone agrees, however, that Cho, with his mental health record, should never have been able to legally purchase two handguns, although these same people will sadly admit that if someone wants a gun bad enough in America, they can get their hands on at least one of the 280 million known firearms in this country.

Within the last decade the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a random sample of over 15,000 undergraduate students from 130 different 4-year colleges. At that time 3.5 percent of the student respondents indicated they had a firearm at college. This same study concluded that students with guns on campus were more likely to engage in binge drinking, to have DUI offenses, and were more likely than other students to be injured severely enough to require medical attention while in college. Overall the study found that students with guns on campus were more likely than those without guns to engage in activities that put them and others at risk. Statistics like these, however, do not easily dissuade someone like the 25-year-old former US Marine who is now studying criminal justice at an east coast college. He believes that if a student can qualify for a state concealed weapon permit, that he should be allowed to carry a gun on campus, something, he believes, that would have given the dead and wounded students at VA Tech at least a fighting chance.

Most believe that Cho would have known that other than campus police, no one would be able to defend themselves against his two pistols. Cho, therefore, knew that he had the advantage over the entire 30,000 campus population that day, one he used with devastating effect. A 24-year-old University of Utah student, while indicating that he felt safe on campus, nonetheless carries a loaded 9 mm pistol to class every day. “If something happens to me,” said the gun toting business major, “I want to be prepared.” Many in the State of Utah are proud that their state is one of the few in the nation that allows the carrying of concealed weapons on campus. As one state representative stated, “If government can’t protect you, you should have the right to protect yourself.” Another Utah lawmaker references a 1997 shooting on a high school campus in Mississippi when the assistant principal, armed with a pistol he kept in his truck, used the weapon to hold a student at bay after the youthful gunman shot and killed two students on that campus.

Here’s my point. I don’t see this as a second amendment, right to bear arms issue. I see it as a need and a safety issue. Let’s start with the student body members who elect to carry a 9mm pistol loaded with 16 semi-jacketed hollow point rounds, perhaps a gun identical to one of the two carried by Cho at VA Tech. Do students really need to carry a gun on campus for personal protection? Notwithstanding the slaughter at Tech, the murder rate on college campuses is 0.28 per 100,000 people, far less than the overall U.S. murder rate of 5.5 per 100,000. This means that a non-student is at least 20 times more likely to be a murder victim than a student at college. That is the way it should be. Our institutions of higher education should be places where people of all backgrounds come together to debate and discuss different ideas, and, if they’ve not learned otherwise, a place where they can be taught to disagree without using violence to make their point and get their way. Students need to fight for their ideas and beliefs, ones honed over the blazing fires of verbal discourse and debate, but their fight should be with words; not bullets.

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Graveyard Shift readers can visit Agent Van Zandt’s website www.LiveSecure.org to obtain free security related information and a free copy of his DVD “Protecting Children from Predators.” While you’re there you can also order a copy of his book “Facing Down Evil.”

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Clint Van Zandt and Lee Lofland on NPR’s Talk of the Nation

Last Friday, legendary FBI criminal profiler, Clint Van Zandt, and I appeared as guests on the NPR radio show Talk Of The Nation. Our discussion was about the aggressive tactics used by police when questioning criminal suspects and witnesses.

Click the link below to listen to the show.


Lisa St. James

Lisa St. James resides in Columbus, Ohio with her husband. She currently works as a Background Check Coordinator. Working hard to complete her first manuscript, she spends her free time serving as Vice-President for the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Sisters in Crime as well as a Junior Girl Scout Leader. Lisa has a Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science with a specialization in Crime Scene Investigation and a Master’s of Science in Forensic Psychology. When she has time she likes to surf the web and update her blog located at: http://aspiringmysterywriter.blogspot.com.

What a girl will do to earn a living

While most kids my age were watching Beverly Hills 90210, I was planted in front of the television every Sunday night watching Unsolved Mysteries. Some might say I had a morbid curiosity, but to me it was more than that. It was about finding out whodunit and why. If anyone had told me then that I would end up as a private investigator, I would have laughed in their faces.

It was already decided in my mind. I was going to be a Native American Historian. A major in history was safe and respectable. Working out west, visiting reservations, and maybe even marrying a hot Native American man. That sure sounded good to me.

Unfortunately after two years, the rose colored glasses came off. I was going nowhere with history, and having done research in the field, there really was no future except to become a teacher. I knew that wasn’t for me though. Finally, in 2002, I found the name for the stuff I had been interested in all those years ago when I was a little girl. Forensics.

Two years later I had my Associate’s Degree in Forensic Science and had finally found my life’s passion. I made the decision to continue and moved down to Beckley, WV to complete my Bachelor’s at Mountain State University. The school had hands on experience and great professors, but now I had to find an internship.

Once I learned about the internship requirement a list of private investigation firms to contact was quickly compiled. Almost like querying, I sent cold letters to about five firms to find out if they offered internships. One place wrote back and said they did not have internships, three never responded, and the last one said yes!

All set to start in May 2006 when I finished school, I actually had the opportunity to work a case in West Virginia before I got home. An insurance company had hired us to investigate a widow’s claim, who they felt should not be the beneficiary of her late husband’s insurance policy.

My job was to travel to the end of the earth (okay, so it was actually just a town near the border of WV and KY, but it felt like a scene out of the movie Wrong Turn) and get the dirt.

The first time I was there was awful. I had no idea what I was doing. Many of the neighbors were old. However I found one gentleman, we’ll call him Mr. Jones, who let it be known the widow was seeing another guy and they had been on and off during her marriage to the deceased. Mr. Jones even went as far as telling me the boyfriend’s name was John Turner and his father was Rev. Turner at one of the local churches.

Finishing my first trip there, I was quite disappointed that all I had learned was that the widow was a cheater, and that she had moved to a trailer park in the next city over. After conferring with my supervisor, we decided a new approach. Visit the local bar, grab some drinks, and see what I could learn from the towns local yokels. Okay, so I have to go back, it’s a bar, and I get to drink? Woo hoo!

A friend was allowed to go with me and together we lied our butts off! And it worked! Not one person in the bar liked the woman; they were all friends of the deceased. As we began chatting up Kitty the bartender, she revealed that the widow once told her husband that she hoped he would die from electrocution. Sadly he did.

Then we learned the widow was an awful mother and had no custody of her children. She also had no problem stepping out on her husband. As long as he had a heartbeat and the right equipment she was sold. One piece of pertinent information we learned ended up breaking the case wide open.

Apparently one night in the bar the widow was dancing with a man named Jack Stone. Her husband came into the bar looking for her. In a moment of what the widow must have deemed as genius, she took a beer bottle and whacked Jack Stone over the head and acted like it was all unwanted advances on his part.

Turns out there was a police report filed, and after speaking to the department, it was learned the widow had been committing check fraud. Needless to say, with all that information, she lost out on any chance for the insurance policy.

Speaking of cheaters, I once worked on an extremely satisfying surveillance. A wife, Mrs. Lane, contacted us from Maine and wanted us to follow her husband who was coming in the area for business.

Mr. Lane had recently been in contact with an “old friend.” Mrs. Lane knew they planned to meet for dinner to “catch-up” but had an inkling that something more could be happening.

We were provided with Mr. Lane’s flight information, car rental company and a picture of him. My job was to plant myself in the airport near the security gate and wait for him to arrive. As soon as I determined the make of the rental car, I would contact the second investigator and he would take over while I ran to my car in the parking garage and caught up.

The ten minutes from the time I started my tail on Mr. Lane from security, out the terminal, downstairs to baggage claim, and to the rental car pickup was the longest ten minutes of my life. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest.

As Mr. Lane entered his rental car, I was on my phone to the second investigator to pick up the tail. As soon as Mr. Lane was out of sight, I turned and ran back inside to make my way up to
my car.

Following him to a local mall, we patiently waited while he entered alone into a Barnes and Noble store. Long enough for my arm to start going numb from holding the video camera so long. Mr. Lane came out, with a readhead. Well, well, well.

Entering his car, they began talking and Mr. Lane was on his cell phone. Talking, talking, and answering phone calls. Mr. Lane and the mystery woman remained in his vehicle for almost thirty minutes.

However, just as we had complained to ourselves about how boring this was, we see Mr. Lane lean over and start kissing his “friend.” Bingo! We got the money shot. After they made out, they went for breakfast and a day at the local zoo. Sadly Mrs. Lane ended up filing for divorce.

What is the point of all this? I’m not really sure. But what I do know, is that for all the hard work, there’s also the reward of knowing you’re helping right a wrong. I had the chance to follow a dream and I’ll never regret it. And now I’m following another dream, writing.

As I work on my first book in a series, I know these experiences will provide great basis for my stories.

Michelle Gagnon

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, Boneyard, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she wrestles wildlife and sneaks into restaurant bathrooms.

Stranger than Fiction

I have a weakness for the bizarre. Over the years, I’ve filled a file with truth-is-stranger-than-fiction news clippings. Some of these items I work into my novels, the rest I save for my own personal edification. Many of these are brief dispatches from the AP wire, or one of the smaller local papers that tend to be a treasure-trove of the weird and curious. Here are a few recent favorites, along with commentary…

Church attendance down? Try combining religion with X-Games events:

July 21, 2008, Kokomo, Ind. (AP): Jeff Harlow, the senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church, broke his wrist when he lost control of the motorcycle at the start of Sunday’s second service, driving off a 5-foot platform and into the vacant first row of seats. He underwent surgery on the wrist Monday. Wife Becky Harlow said her husband had recently attended a motorcycle race in Buchanan, Mich.

“He had this idea that he would bring this bike out onstage and show people how the rider would become one with the bike.”


When you snooze, you really do lose…

July 21, 2008, Monroe, Wash. (AP): Police spokeswoman Debbie Willis says a break-in was discovered July 9 at a Fred Meyer department store northeast of Seattle.

Police followed a trail of cardboard and items from storage containers in a locked area behind the store that led to the two men. One was sleeping in a stolen hammock and the other on a pile of stolen pillows.

Police photographed the men before waking and arresting them. Willis says alcohol was involved.

And we thought the CSI Effect only applied to courtrooms…

July 16, 2008 Albuquerque, N.M. (AP): It looked like something out of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” And sure enough, it was. State police said Wednesday that they solved a mysterious eastern New Mexico shooting death that was similar to a shooting depicted in a 2003 “CSI” episode. In both cases a revolver was found tied to balloons in an apparent effort to make the weapon float away.

“We’re not saying it’s a copycat of the TV show,” state police Lt. Rick Anglada said. “We have no way to know he actually saw the episode. However, the lead agent kept hearing from people that there was a similar case from ‘CSI.'”

Hickman was last seen two days before his body was found. Investigators believe he filled the balloons with helium, tied the balloon bouquet to the weapon, then duct-taped his own mouth and shot himself in the back of the head.

Just imagine if Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma had known jujitsu, there might have been a totally different outcome…

July 14, 2008: Stroudsburg, Pa. (AP): A 77-year-old grandmother was recovering at home after she pinned down a rabid fox that bit her and held it until help arrived. Avis Blakeslee was attacked as she tended to her petunias outside her Stroudsburg farmhouse. She said she pushed the animal to the ground after it bit her, and held its jaws shut with one arm as she flagged down a passing driver with the other.

I have a real soft spot for the Carmel Pine Cone, they run a weekly police log detailing everything that’s happened in the area in the past week, from lost wallets to barking dogs. Here’s a recent incident. I can just imagine calling 911 for this repeat offender…

July 11, 2008: Carmel Pine Cone: Carmel-by-the-Sea: Male reported that on June 23 at 2100 hours, he entered a Dolores Street restaurant with the intention of having Italian food. He changed his mind, and used the restroom before leaving. While he was leaving, the manager took him by the arm and accused him of never eating and only using the restroom. He was escorted outside and told to leave. Reporting party felt that he was mistreated. The officer spoke with the manager, who said that the RP came into the restaurant, went to the restroom and began to leave. Manager and RP argued for a bit, and the manager escorted him outside. Manager said that the restaurant has two restrooms for patrons only and that there is a public restroom in the adjacent Picadilly Park. Manager said that this wasn’t the first time this RP has done this.

And finally, my home town rag. This falls under the category, “only in San Francisco.” Wonder how Jerry Garcia would feel about this…

July 18, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle: Stannous Flouride was in a Haight Street store when a uniformed San Francisco police officer came in and asked for the smallest Grateful Dead sticker in stock. The shopper was looking for something tiny enough to affix to a gun.

So do you have any wacky true crime stories to share? Best one receives a signed edition of my first thriller THE TUNNELS. If you don’t win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at www.michellegagnon.com and I’ll toss your name in the hat for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates, and other fabulous prizes.