Never start a story with the weather.

I’ve heard this many times over the years.

Even Elmore Leonard kicked off his “Don’t-do-it” list with a rule about the weather.

  1. Never open a book with the 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.”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Same for places and things.
  10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

Elmore Leonard said it’s taboo!

Now, with that said and with an absolute clear understanding of the rules—NO Weather!—let’s get on with the show … today’s true story. And it starts like this … with the weather.

It was a dark and stormy night in our county. Rain lashed against my windshield in sheets, driven horizontally by gusts of wind that played a violent to-and-fro game of tug of war with the red oaks and pines flanking the county road. It was a sideways kind of rain that TV weather reporters often battle during live hurricane coverage of the really big ones. Their on-camera backdrops are airborne lawn chairs and garbage cans, toppling trees, and waves crashing onto houses far from the shoreline.

Yes, it was that kind of storm.

I was hard at work that night, patrolling county roads and checking on businesses and homes, when my headlights reflected from something shiny a ways into in the woods. I stopped, backed up, and turned onto a narrow sloppy-wet dirt path that led me to a clearcut section along a power line, and eventually to the source of the reflection. It was a car parked approximately thirty yards off a dirt road next to a river. I used my spotlight to examine the vehicle and the surrounding area.

The driver’s door was open and to my surprise, the body of a woman was lying half-in and half-out, with the outside portion getting soaked by the deluge of water falling from the dark sky. I couldn’t tell if she was alive, but instinct and experience said, “Not.”

I turned the spotlight to scan the woods on both sides of the clearing. No sign of anything or anyone, but you never know what danger lies beyond the light’s reach. Again, it was dark and stormy making it one of those scenarios where every single hair on the back of your neck and arms immediately leaps to attention. Spooky, to say the least.

So, despite the downpour, thunder, lightning, and those hyper-vigilant hairs (the cop’s sixth sense was in full overdrive), I had to get out to investigate. So I did.

I again scanned the area carefully, using my Maglite, the old metal kind, making certain this wasn’t an ambush. And, after yet another look around, I cautiously plowed forward while the winds drilled raindrops into my face and against my lemon-yellow vinyl raincoat, the one I kept in the trunk of my patrol car just for times like this one. The fury of those oversized drops of water was like that of small stones striking at a pace equal to the rat-a-tat-tatty rounds fired from a Chicago typewriter.

The plastic rain protector I’d placed over my felt campaign hat worked well at keeping the hat dry, but the rain hitting it was the sensation of hundreds of tiny mallets hammering all at once, as if an all-xylophone symphony decided to perform a complex syncopated piece on the top of my head. At a time when I truly needed the ability to hear a single pin drop, well, it simply wasn’t happening. So xylophoned from above machine-gunned from all sides. It was unpleasant weather during an unpleasant situation.

It was a fight to walk headfirst into swirling, stinging winds that tugged and pulled and pushed against my raincoat, 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 surrounding the car was extremely muddy, and with each step, my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, soggy soil until it felt as if gooey, slimy bricks were attached to the bottoms of my feet with large suction cups.

These, during a dark and sorry night, were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.

Likely, Mr. Elmore Leonard had not had the opportunity to encounter such a situation. Otherwise, rule number one, “the weather rule,” might have met its demise before it ever met the page.

It was one-on-one—me and the victim.

I know it sounds like a bit of overwriting when describing the weather on this night; however, you must experience it as I did. You should know and see in your minds that raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted the victim’s face, gathering and pooling at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers that followed the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.

She was a dead woman crying in the rain.

Passenger door,

Open.

Bottom half in,

Top half out.

 

Lifeless hand,

Resting in mud,

Palm up.

Face aimed at the sky.

 

Rain falling,

Mouth open.

Dollar-store shoes,

Half-socks.

 

Youngest daughter—the seven-year-old,

Called them baby socks.

Her mother’s favorite,

Hers too.

 

Hair,

Mingled with muck,

And water,

Sticks and leaves.

 

Power lines,

Overhead.

Crackling,

Buzzing.

 

Flashlight,

Bright.

Showcasing

Dull, gray eyes.

 

Alone,

And dead.

A life,

Gone.

 

Three rounds.

One to the head,

Two to the torso.

Kill shots, all.

 

Five empty casings,

In the mud.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

 

Wine bottle.

Beer cans.

Empty.

Scotch.

 

“No, 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 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,

Pouring across her cheeks.

Meandering

Through her dark curls.

 

Droplets hammer hard

Against her open eyes.

Pouring into tiny rivers,

Filling the puddles below.

 

She doesn’t blink.

Can’t.

She’s a dead woman crying,

In the rain.

 

Tire tracks.

A second car.

Footprints.

Two sets.

 

One walking.

Casually?

A sly, stealthy approach?

The other, long strides.

 

Running, possibly.

Zigzagging toward the woods.

Bullet lodged in spruce pine.

One round left to find.

 

Cold water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt.

 

Blood?

Still visible?

in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

 

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Cop’s best friend.

A shoe in the underbrush.

Attached to man.

 

Dead.

Bullet in the back.

The fifth round.

Coming together, nicely.

 

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

A special wine for a special occasion …

 

A good man.

Sure he is.

Police car,

Parks at the curb.

 

Morning sunshine.

Tiny face,

Peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

The scent of frying bacon in the air.

The door swings open.

Worried husband.

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

 

Husband, devastated.

Children crying.

“Yes, I have news. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

 

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher,

He hangs his head in shame.

 

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But …

Another man.

 

A second lover.

Anger.

Jealousy.

Revenge.

 

Handcuffs.

Click, click.

Murder’s the charge.

No bond.

 

Single, unique plant seed,

Stuck to the brake pedal.

The single bit of evidence,

That tied him to the scene.

 

Got him.

Prison.

Life.

No parole.

 

A “good man”, a preacher, left the little girl’s mama to cry in the rain.

 

 


A couple of days ago, raindrops squiggled and wormed their way down the panes of my office windows.

And, as it often happens on rainy days,

I think of the crying dead woman.

Of her kids,

Her loving husband and,

Of course,

Baby socks.

 

For years, comic book fans scanned the back pages to view ads telling them how they could, for a single dollar, receive a 7-foot-tall Frakenstein’s Monster with glowing eyes, or a genuine invisible space helmet for the low, low cost of $2.98. And then there were the ads for 32-page books on how to achieve a “He-Man Body” for only $1.00. A bowl full of amazing Sea Monkeys—instant pets—for $1.25. A 7-foot nuclear submarine big enough for two people, a steal for only $6.98. Readers could even enter a contest to win a live miniature monkey.

But a favorite ad that captured the imaginations of many youngsters was the one for X-Ray Spex. Why, with a pair of those it was promised that we, like Superman, could amaze our friends with our newfound ability to see through walls, skin, and clothing. That’s right, for the low, low sum of just $1.00 (plus $.25 for shipping and handling), anyone and everyone could see the goings-on beneath the clothing of, well, anyone. This was huge! There were to be no more secrets. And the coolness didn’t stop with a peek at Sally Sue’s knickers and Billy Bob’s Fruit of the Looms. With these high-tech glasses, kids everywhere had an inside track to the bones and organs inside the human body.

Okay, these were obvious scams. The life-size monster was a large poster. Sea monkeys were miniature shrimp that only lived for a brief time. The submarine was a cardboard contraption that would dissolve if immersed in water. And the X-ray glasses … nothing more than plastic glasses filled with cardboard inserts with a picture of the things you could see if you had X-ray vision.

Things have changed, though, thanks to a company called MaXentric Technologies and their device, DepLife™, which provides first responders with the Supermanish capability of seeing through walls at distances of up to 30 feet.

This truly is an amazing bit of technology that uses radar to detect movement through solid structures, including drywall, siding, and stucco. DepLife can clearly distinguish between living things (people, etc.) and inanimate objects such as ceiling fans and robotic vacuums.

Law enforcement finds the device particularly useful when confronted with suspects who have barricaded themselves inside buildings during hostage and other incidents where situational awareness is key to saving lives. DepLife also provides crucial real-time information while investigating human trafficking cases.

The device works by transmitting radio wave pulses to hit objects inside structures. Those waves then return (reflect) back to the radar unit. The series of pulses occurs numerous times per second, enabling it to detect the smallest of movements, including human breathing. The capturing of these specific movements tells the device that it has indeed detected life.

The images captured by DepLife are streamed from the radar unit to a user interface that’s similar to the tablets we all use. Signals are transmitted by locally generated WiFi. The image seen by officers is a crossrange birds-eye view of the interior of the building. The software uses icons to depict the presence of life.

DepLife software uses icons to depict the presence of life. This is NOT an actual DepLife image. However, it is similar in style to what’s seen on the monitor.

To learn more about DepLife and MaXentric Technologies, click here.

If you’d rather stick to the old-style comic book X-Ray Spex, click the image below.



It’s ALMOST TIME!

2024 Killer Con registration opens in January 2024.

Be ready to sign up because this is a KILLER event that’s not to be missed!

Visit a homicide scene and solve the case using tactics, tools, and techniques learned throughout the event.

2024 Killer Con Guest of Honor is internally bestselling author Charlaine Harris.

Click the link below to visit the Killer Con (Writers’ Police Academy) website to view the schedule of events, classes, instructors, and special guest presenters.

2024 Killer Con

After serving 25 years in prison (a plea deal) for brutally murdering Tina Mott and mutilating and dismembering her body, Timothy Bradford was released this week into the public. Since he served his full sentence, he is free and without supervision by authorities.

Hamilton, Ohio – June, 1996

It was at 622 Minor Avenue, in the upstairs apartment, where Timothy Bradford slashed the throat of his girlfriend, Tina Mott, killing her.

Bradford claimed that he and Tina had gone fishing earlier in the day and after returning home the couple decided to play a game of Monopoly. At some point during the game, Bradford claimed Tina became angry and charged him. He said he tried to defend himself and while doing so accidentally killed her with a fishing knife he held in his hand.

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622 Minor Ave. I captured this photo from across the street while standing in the front yard of the Ruppert house, the scene of the largest family homicide in the U.S. Details of the Ruppert murders are below.

Then, after killing Tina, the mother of their young child, Bradford attempted to cover his tracks and conceal the identity of his victim by placing her body into the bathtub, where he slowly and methodically dismembered her, using a combination of 19 knives, a hacksaw, and a meat cleaver.

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Bathtub where Timothy Bradford dismembered and skinned the body of his girlfriend, Tina Mott. I took this photo during a walkthrough of the property.

He also used a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the teeth. Bradford later scattered most of Tina’s remains in a nearby field and lake. He flushed some of the skin and internal organs down the toilet drain in their apartment.

Two young boys found Tina’s skull while fishing.

Skull2

Marks on the skull indicated the use of a serrated knife blade to scrape away flesh and tissue.

Skull4

Tina Mott

Tina9

While conducting interviews in the area, Tina’s former next-door neighbors told me that after her death they sometimes see her shadow pass by the windows of her apartment. Another neighbor firmly believed that Bradford consumed portions of Tina’s flesh after cooking it on a grill outside on the balcony.

The upstairs apartment where Tina lived and died burned in April 2020. The fire started on the balcony.

*Tina expressed on numerous occasions how spooky it was to live across the street from the Ruppert house, a place where several people were murdered.


Here’s part of Bradford’s confession to police.

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Per a negotiated plea agreement, Timothy Bradford was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and abuse of a corpse.

Bradford’s booking photo at the time of his arrest

He was sentenced to 12-25 years for his crimes—Voluntary Manslaughter, Misuse of Credit Cards (He used Tina’s credit card after he killed her), Theft, and Abuse of a Corpse. He entered Ohio’s state prison system on September 24, 1997, just over a year after he murdered Tina Mott. He was denied parole at all hearings

Bradford was mandatorily released on December 6, 2023, after serving his full 25-year sentence.

Timothy Bradford’s inmate photo.


The Ruppert Murders

Hamilton, Ohio – Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975

James Ruppert was an excellent marksman so there was no better way to execute his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and each of their eight kids than to shoot them point blank as if they were nothing more than a row of empty and discarded tin cans. And that’s precisely what he did, starting with his brother Leonard.

Next came Leonard’s wife, Alma, followed by James’ mother, Charity. And, before either of the children could escape disaster, James shot and killed each of them, including four-year-old John, the youngest of the Ruppert brood.

Charity Ruppert, the family matriarch—her midsection a mangled mess, fell to the cold linoleum floor, dead. 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. Mouth gaped open. The expression frozen on her face was one of surprise and disbelief. Her eyes stared blankly skyward.

The massacre lasted no more than five minutes.

Hamilton One 142

Leonard Ruppert, his wife, Alma, and their children.

After slaying his family, James positioned his weapons throughout the house, staging the scene much as would a Realtor who carefully and meticulously places items in preparation of showing a house to potential clients.

Then, when he was satisfied that everything all was in order, James called the police and calmly stated, “There’s been a shooting.”

Hamilton One 168

Ruppert crime scene photo – living room

Officer Bob Minor was the officer who responded to the call. Officer Terry Roberts would arrive a few moments later, as backup.

Ruppert home

Officer Minor, no stranger to gruesome homicide scenes, had never witnessed anything close to the carnage he saw inside the Ruppert House—the once neat-as-a-pin living room cluttered with the corpses of Charity Ruppert’s precious grandchildren, and a kitchen so full of dead bodies that Minor couldn’t make his way through without stepping on an arm, leg, or a torso. There was so much blood, Minor later told me, that it had begun to seep through the floorboards, dripping into the basement.

Ruppert7

Ruppert crime scene photo – kitchen

James Ruppert was originally found guilty of eleven counts of 1st degree murder. However, on appeal, a three-judge panel found Ruppert guilty only of the murders of his mother and brother. They ruled him not guilty by reason of insanity for the nine other deaths.

Ruppert was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life for each conviction. The two sentences were to be served consecutively. He entered the Ohio state prison on July 30, 1982.

Ruppert was denied parole at each hearing since the day his incarceration began. His next parole hearing was scheduled for February 2025, just shy of his 91st birthday. However, James Ruppert, inmate A169321, died on June 4, 2022

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James Ruppert inmate photo in 2015

James Ruppert inmate photo in 2020

*     *     *

I wrote about each of these murders and the story, Murder on Minor Avenue, was published in the true crime anthology, Masters of True Crime, Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre.

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Masters of True Crime is also available as an audio book.

“I. Know. My. Rights!”

Officers hear those four familiar words many, many times each and every day all across this great land of ours.

It’s a phrase often spoken by the wisest of the wise–the top legal minds of street corners, sour mash-guzzling patrons of back road honky-tonk juke joints, and professional crack and meth smokers everywhere. It’s forcefully uttered by masked basement keyboard warriors who’re out for their weekly brick- and moltov cocktail-throwing adventures, and by pickup truck cowboys out hee-hawing it up after a night of suds-swigging and two-stepping at Myrtle Mae’s Bar and Grill in the strip mall next to the Sizzler turned Bingo Parlor that closed some six years ago.

More times than I care to count, the person delivering the line is a scrawny, wiry sort of guy who prefers to go shirtless, exposing a set of bony ribs that could replace any xylophone in any symphony in the world. They’re the hoodlum wannabes who guzzle three six-packs of cheap beer followed by six shots of Jack Black as a warmup to their serious drinking. Of course, members of all sexes/genders dive in to offer their own spectacular versions of the diatribe and, like the aforementioned folks, they, too, come in all shapes and sizes and from varied backgrounds.

Lately, though, the famous words have been adopted by the likes of soccer moms, college students, sovereign citizens, kids, grocers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.

But no matter from whose lips it crosses, the message is the same, and it’s shouted and screamed and yelled into the faces of law enforcement officers. Of course, the phrase is often followed by a series of threats, such as …

“I. Know. My. Rights, you fat dumbass son of a whore doughnut-eating pig! No offence to pigs, mind you. You work for me. I pay your salary. I’m gonna have your job and I’m gonna sue you and your mama and I’m gonna take your houses and cars and your pension and your mother’s Social Security checks. You gotta let me go. This arrest is illegal ’cause you didn’t read me my rights! Now take off these cuffs … NOW … afore I open a can of whupass on you like you ain’t never seen!!!!”

Well, Mr. Canary-Chest TinyPants, your legal analysis is incorrect, and your threats of violence against well-armed and well-trained officers do very little to intimidate them. Especially when you’ve shown the world the physical attributes you have to back up those strong promises of ass-whuppins.

So let’s examine TinyPants’ claim regarding Miranda and when it’s required.

Miranda

When is a police officer required to advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings?

I’ll give you a hint, it’s not like we see on television. Surprised?

Television shows often have officers spouting off Miranda warnings the second they have someone in cuffs. Not so. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I chased a suspect, caught him, he resisted, and then we wound up on the ground fighting like street thugs while I struggled to apply handcuffs to his wrists. And yes, words were spoken once I managed to get to my feet, but “Miranda” wasn’t one of them. Too many letters, if you know what I mean. Words consisting of only four letters seemed to flow quite easily at that point.

When Is Miranda Required?

Two elements must be in place for the Miranda warning requirement to apply. The suspect must be in custody and he must be undergoing interrogation.

Writers, this is an important detail – A suspect is in police custody if he’s under formal arrest or if his freedom has been restrained or denied to the extent that he feels as if he’s no longer free to leave.

The fellow wearing the handcuffs in the photo below is not free to leave. Therefore, should the officer wish to question him he must advise him of his right to remain silent, etc. However, if the officer decides to not ask questions/interrogate, then Miranda is not required.

arrest-take-down.jpg

I’ve arrested criminals, many of them, in fact, and never advised them of their rights. Not ever. And that’s because I didn’t ask them any questions.

Sometimes officers receive a stack of outstanding arrest warrants for a variety of cases and it’s their job that day to go out and round up those folks. Those officers have no clue as to the circumstances of the crime or case details, therefore they’d not know the appropriate questions to ask. All they know is that the boss handed them a pile of warrants and told them to fetch. This, by the way, is often one of the mundane duties assigned to rookie officers, along with directing traffic and writing parking tickets.

So, the warrant-serving officers locate the person named on the warrant and haul them to the station, or jail, for processing/booking. The officer who had the warrant issued may or may not question the arrested person at a later time. But the arresting officer, the one who played hide and seek with the crook for a few hours on a Monday morning is most likely out of the picture from that point onward. So no questioning = no Miranda.

Interrogation

Interrogation is not only asking questions, but any actions, words, or gestures used by an officer to elicit an incriminating response can be considered an interrogation.

If these two elements are in place officers must advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings prior to questioning. If not, statements made by the suspect may not be used in court. Doesn’t mean the arrest isn’t good, just that his statements aren’t admissible.

Officers are NOT required to advise anyone of their rights as long as they’re not planning to ask questions. Defendants are convicted all the time without ever hearing the police officer’s poem, You Have the Right to …


Miranda facts:

  • Officers should repeat the Miranda warnings during each period of questioning. For example, during questioning officers decide to take a break for the night. They come back the next day to try again. They must advise the suspect of his rights again before resuming the questioning.
  • If an officer takes over questioning for another officer, she should repeat the warnings before asking her questions.
  • Officers may not ask questions if a suspect asks for an attorney.
  • If a suspect agrees to answer questions but decides to stop during the session and asks for an attorney, officers must stop the questioning.
  • Suspects who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs should not be questioned. Also, anyone who exhibits signs of withdrawal symptoms should not be questioned.
  • Officers should not question people who are seriously injured or ill.
  • People who are extremely upset or hysterical should not be questioned.
  • Officers may not threaten or make promises to elicit a confession.

Many officers carry a pre-printed Miranda warning card in their wallets. Here’s a copy of the reverse side of my old Virginia Sheriffs Association membership card (same design, size, and feel of a credit card). I could not begin to count the number of times I’ve used it to read the words to crimincal suspects.

Miranda Card

Fact: The Miranda warning requirement stemmed from a case involving a man named Ernesto Miranda.  Miranda killed a young woman in Arizona and was arrested for the crime. During questioning Miranda confessed to the slaying, but the police had failed to tell him he had the right to silence and that he could have an attorney present during the questioning. Miranda’s confession was ruled inadmissible; however, the court convicted him based on other evidence.

Miranda was released from prison after he served his sentence. Not long after his release, he was killed during a bar fight.

His killer was advised of his rights according to the precedent-setting case of Miranda v. Arizona. He chose to remain silent.


Some individual department/location policies require their officers to advise of Miranda at the point of arrest. However, the law does not require them to do so.


Full event details TBA

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

Many of us had our first real look at a sheriff’s office back in 1960 when Andy Taylor and his fearless deputy, Barney Fife, patrolled the roads in and around Mayberry, N.C.

Television took us inside the Mayberry jail, the courthouse, and it even allowed us to ride in the county patrol car. And, for many people, Andy Taylor’s Sheriff’s Office was thought to be the standard.

The things Andy did, well, that’s what a sheriff was supposed to do—fight crime, run the jail, serve the people of the community, spend quality and quiet time with his family and friends—Aunt Bee, Barney, Opie and Miss Ellie and later, Helen, and pickin’ and grinnin’ with the Darlings. Simply a wholesome way of work and play.

But that’s the TV depiction of the life of a county sheriff. Real sheriffin’, however, is a bit different. So, let’s take a brief look at a real-life sheriff and her/his office to see how things differ from the fictional Mayberry department.

First, like Andy, a sheriff is only one person, an elected official who’s in charge of the day-to-day operations of their office.

Because there is only a single sheriff for each jurisdiction, it is in error to call or address the other employees of the agencies as “sheriffs.” This is a common mistake I often hear.

“The sheriff came to my house to deliver a jury summons.”

“Look, here comes a sheriff is driving down the street. Bet she’s going straight to Junior, Jr’s house about them pigs he keeps in the backyard.”

“Two sheriffs went next door and arrested Jim Billy Buck for bustin’ Larry John, Jr.’s jaw with a rusty claw hammer.”

“There are three sheriffs eating donuts and drinking coffee at Delirious Daisy’s Donut Diner.”

So, only one sheriff per office, and, since the sheriff has many responsibilities, they need help to fulfill their duties. Consequently, the sheriff appoints deputies to help with the workload.

Therefore, the drivers of those marked “sheriff’s” cars, the three donut-eaters, arresters of the claw hammer assaulter, jury summons server, and others who work at a sheriff’s office, are typically deputy sheriffs, not the actual sheriff. Unless, of course, the boss happens to be driving one of the marked units, is inside the Donut Diner with two sheriffs from other counties, and decides to serve a jury summons in person (not likely).

Deputy Sheriff

In most locations, deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, meaning they can be dismissed from duty without cause or reason.

Sheriffs in America

There are 3,081 sheriffs in the U.S.

In many areas, the sheriff is the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the county.

Sheriffs are constitutional officers, meaning they are elected to office by popular vote. Police Chiefs are appointed/hired by a mayor or other officials of a city, such as a city or town council or police commission.

In most states, Sheriffs are elected to four-year terms. Other states require different terms of office, such as a six-year term in one state, a three-year term in another state, and a two-year term in three states.

Generally, sheriffs do not have a supervisor. They don’t answer to a board of supervisors, commissioners, or a county administrator.


Fun Fact – The Los Angeles County Department, the largest sheriff’s department in the world, employs nearly 18,000 budgeted sworn and professional staff. The number of LASD employees is greater than the combined populations of Wyoming counties Sublette and Johnson.


Sheriffs are responsible for:

1) Executing and returning process, meaning they serve all civil papers, such as divorce papers, eviction notices, lien notices, etc. They must also return a copy of the executed paperwork to the clerk of court.

2) Attending and protecting all court proceedings within the jurisdiction.

3) Preserve order at public polling places.

4) Publish announcements regarding the sale of foreclosed property. The sheriff is also responsible for conducting public auctions of foreclosed property.

5) Serving eviction notices. The sheriff must sometimes forcibly remove tenants and their property from their homes or businesses. I’ve known sheriffs who use jail inmates (supervised by deputies) to haul property from houses out to the street.

6) Maintain the county jail and transport prisoners to and from court appearances. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting county prisoners to state prison after they’ve been sentenced by the court.

7) In many, if not most, areas the sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement of their jurisdiction. Some towns do not have police departments, but all jurisdictions, apart from Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut, must have a sheriff’s office.

  • In Alaska, there are no county governments.
  • Connecticut replaced sheriffs with a State Marshal System Connecticut.
  • There are no Sheriffs in Hawaii. However, Deputy Sheriffs serve in the Sheriff Division of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

8) In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroners of their counties.

California sheriff’s public display of water patrol and rescue equipment, and a tent with “Coroner” labeling.

9) In most jurisdictions, sheriffs and their deputies have arrest powers in all areas of the county where they were elected, including all cities, towns, and villages located within the county.

10) Sheriffs in the three counties of the state of Delaware do not have typical police powers. Yes, there are only three counties in the state of Delaware.

Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs shall not have any arrest authority. However, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs may take into custody and transport a person when specifically so ordered by a judge or commissioner of Superior Court.

In Delaware, the duties of the county sheriffs and their deputies are:

Sussex County – Serve paper for the courts and holds Sheriff’s sales for non-payment of taxes, mortgage foreclosures plus all other court orders.

New Castle County – Provides service of process for writs issued by the Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas, Court of Chancery, Family Court and courts from other states and countries along with subpoenas issued by the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and Industrial Accident Board.

Kent County – Service the Citizens of Kent County by performing many functions for the State of Delaware Courts (Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas, U.S. District Court and the Court of Chancery).  The Sheriff’s Office serves legal notices to include (subpoenas, levies, summons, etc.)  Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office auctions real estate in accordance with the Delaware Code.


The above list of sheriff’s responsibilities is not all-inclusive. Sheriffs and deputies are responsible for numerous duties and assignments in addition to those listed here.


Is It Sheriff’s Office or Sheriff’s Department? What’s the Difference?

Black’s Law Dictionary defines the terms as:

DEPARTMENT: “One of the major divisions of the executive branch of the government … generally, a branch or division of governmental administration.”

OFFICE: “A right, and correspondent duty, to exercise public trust as an office. A public charge of employment… the most frequent occasions to use the word arise with reference to a duty and power conferred on an individual by the government, and when this is the connection, public office is a usual and more discriminating expression… in the constitutional sense, the term implies an authority to exercise some portion of the sovereign power either in making, executing, or administering the laws.”


A Sheriff’s Office is not a “department” of county government. The functions and operation of an Office of Sheriff are entirely and solely the responsibility of the elected Sheriff. The Sheriff is a statutory/constitutional officer who has exclusive powers and authority under state law and/or state constitution. Therefore, a sheriff’s powers are not subject to the directives and orders of a local county government, whereas the heads of county departments are subordinate to the local administration because each department is a division of county government.


In 1889, Sheriff Joe Perry was sworn in as sheriff in St. Johns County, Florida, and he held the office for 26 years. Perry is the longest serving sheriff in Florida history.


National Sheriffs’ Association

The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) officially came into being when the organization filed Articles of Incorporation in 1940. However, over 50 years earlier, in 1888, a group of sheriffs in Minnesota and surrounding states joined together to form the Inter-State Sheriffs’ Association. The NSA today is the result of the early group.

The NSA is involved in and provides resources, various programs, training classes, and courses to support and assist sheriffs, deputies, and others in law enforcement and criminal justice.

As of February 15, 2023, NSA has 13,628 active members.

I am one of those members and have been for many years.


Office of Sheriff, Its Historical Roots

“In England, the sheriff came into existence around the 9th century. This makes the sheriff the oldest continuing, non-military, law enforcement entity in history.

In early England, the land was divided into geographic areas between a few individual kings – these geographic areas were called shires. Within each shire there was an individual called a reeve, which meant guardian. This individual was originally selected by the serfs to be their informal social and governmental leader. The kings observed how influential this individual was within the serf community and soon incorporated that position into the governmental structure. The reeve soon became the King’s appointed representative to protect the King’s interest and act as mediator with people of his particular shire. Through time and usage, the words shire and reeve came together to be shire-reeve, guardian of the shire, and eventually the word sheriff, as we know it today.” – National Sheriffs’ Association



It’s Coming. It’s Unique. And IT IS EXCITING!

Full event details TBA

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

So you want to be a detective?

Many people secretly long to clip a badge to their belts and then set out on the never-ending quest to save, well, everyone. But, there are a few things you should think about before giving up your day job to begin the hunt for your first serial killer. I’m betting you just might change your mind once you know that …

Don’t Shake Their Hands!

1. Bad guys and gals are rarely as attractive and well-groomed as those you see on TV. Instead, they often have poor hygiene and smell like really old gym socks.

Some love to flirt with detectives, batting their eyelashes and blowing kisses through breath laced with last night’s vodka and onion dip. Many do really disgusting things when you’re not looking. Like the guy who, when left alone in the interview room, inserted an index finger into a nostril and began working it around like an anteater uses its long, wiggly tongue to forage for termites. When finished with that ghastly task he stuck his hands down the front of his pants, rummaging around down there for a few seconds. Then, when the detective came back inside to continue the questioning, the little darling wanted to shake hands and be all “touchy-feely.” Thank goodness for video cameras. And you wonder why cops don’t shake hands with suspects? Well, now you know.

Roaches and Mice

2. Detectives spend a great deal of their time inside the homes of criminals and victims of various crimes. It’s not unusual, while questioning someone, to see insects suddenly and almost magically appear on your clothing. You then look around to see if you can locate the source of the unexpected attack of creepy-crawlers, and to your horror the walls, ceilings, countertops, and furniture seem to be undulating with a huge sea of brown, antenna-twitching roaches.

When using a flashlight while conducting a search of a closet, for example, it’s not unusual to see and hear hundreds of startled roaches falling from the ceiling to the floor and onto the head and shoulders of the searcher. The sound is much like raindrops hitting a cardboard box, or similar material, during a sudden springtime downpour.

Mice, not wanting to be excluded from the party, peek out from behind a greasy, grime-caked stove topped with a mound of dirty pots and pans. Dozens of tiny rodent footprints crisscross throughout the congealed lard at the bottom of a cast iron frying pan.

Lucky you, the mother of the little darling you think just killed someone offers you a nice, cold glass of iced tea, straight from the refrigerator that’s speckled and spattered with tons of roach feces. The spooky part of the tea offering is that, for a moment you actually considered accepting it because the house has no air-conditioning and it is nearly 100 degrees inside that sweet little abode. But the heat doesn’t stop eight bony, underfed cats from running, playing, puking up hairballs, and spraying and defecating on the furniture and well-worn linoleum floors. Oh, and the icing on the cake is the vast number of fleas that find their way onto your legs to begin gnawing away at your flesh.

Stray Body Parts

3. Investigators are the lucky folks who have the pleasure of enjoying a nice dinner at home with the spouse and kids, and minutes later find themselves standing in a room where some poor soul’s brains drip from his bedroom ceiling. This, because the victim didn’t have the decency to sleep with a man’s wife somewhere other than the married couple’s bed. And the wife, well, she’s blubbering “I’m sorrys” all over the place while her husband is escorted, in handcuffs, to a waiting patrol car.

Meanwhile, detectives have the pleasure of bagging and tagging evidence in the bloody bedroom, taking care not to step on bits of the victim’s skull, teeth, and a left ear. After all, even for you, an experienced homicide detective, it’s still a bit disgusting to get home at 4 a.m. and find a murder victim’s blood on your shirt sleeve, or a piece of the guy’s head stuck to your shoe. Even worse, your spouse makes the gruesome discovery the next day while tidying up.

Puke

4. One of the perks of becoming a detective is that you no longer have to deal with drunks, the little darlings who can be a real pain in the keister, right?

A number of criminals who commit the crime du jour are indeed intoxicated on cheap wine, liquor, or beer, or a combination of the three, or they’re high on something that promotes the undeniable urge to eat a human face.

Unfortunately, they’re often in the same condition when detectives pick them up for questioning. So, combine a lot of drinking and drug use with fear and nervousness and what do you get? Yep, last night’s chili dogs, fries, pickled pigs feet, and chocolate ice cream all over your brand new suit. Not to mention the overflow that spatters your desktop and case files.

Fighting in a Suit

5. Ever try fighting while wearing a suit and shiny shoes? How about wrestling with a 300 lb. angry mom while attempting to get a pair of handcuffs on her wrists, all while rolling around in a muddy driveway? Then, as always, junior and his three sisters jump on the pile, trying to stop you from taking the dear family matriarch into custody. After all, all she did was use a dull meat cleaver to hack grandpa to death.

I’ll be the first to say this … never underestimate the strength of women. They will slap you three ways into Sunday, if you’re not careful.

My jaw still aches today from the times when …

Cars Without Guts

6. Detectives drive really cool cars, like my old dark blue Chevrolet Caprice, the one that would reach  its top speed—80 mph—when I held the accelerator to the floor on a three-mile downhill grade. It’s not cool to be in pursuit of a wanted suspect, a guy running from you, and have every patrol car in the area, and a news reporters and cameraperson driving an old VW, pass you as if you were sitting still.

Investigators often get hand-me-down cars, like old patrol cars minus the markings—the cars that are no longer good enough for the streets. Knobs, buttons, and dials are often missing. Radios don’t work. The carpets and seats are stained with urine and puke, so much so that the cloth now feels like dirty canvas. Glamorous, wouldn’t you say?

So, there’s six reasons why it’s really cool to be a detective. And you thought all they did was sit around all day shining those pretty gold badges. Sure, they wipe them down, regularly, but not for the reasons you thought. Nope, they’re actually cleaning off vomit, roach dung, and blood.

Nice day at the office, huh?


SAVE THE DATE!

 

 

“Stop, or I’ll release the cow!” Officer Harold “Moo” Collins, the department Cow-9 handler, yelled as the burglary suspect headed toward a wooded area after breaking free from the two patrol cops who’d apprehended the thief.

The man could’ve been a track star, because at the sound of Collins’ voice he hit second gear and all that was seen of him after that point were the bottoms of his Chuck Taylors, one at a time as each foot lifted from the pavement, and two arms furiously pumping back and forth like the mechanical drive rods on each side of a speeding steam locomotive. He was in “feet don’t fail me now” mode.

“That’s right. Nobody wants to tangle with my attack cow, right Clarabelle?” said Collins as he opened the rear door to his patrol car to send the highly trained and aggressive Holstein-Friesian bovine in hot pursuit of the fleeing felon. “Find him, girl!” he said after delivering a playful pat to the animal’s hip.

“Don’t worry, she always gets her man,” he said to his two forlorn and ashamed peers who’d failed to hold on to the slippery stealer of other people’s property.


I know, the scenario above sounds a bit silly and farfetched. I mean, come on. Police cows?

However …

Just last week in Boone N.C., a town named after American pioneer Daniel Boone and that’s home to Appalachian State University, local officers and sheriff’s deputies were in engaged in a vehicle pursuit of a man who fled from a traffic stop. The man eventually abandoned his vehicle and ran into an undeveloped area containing wooded bits and a pasture. Due to the suspect’s high speeds and reckless driving, the pursuing officers were not close enough to him at the time he hopped out of his car to see which direction he’d traveled on foot. So they began a search but were unable to immediately locate him.

But help would soon arrive.

Yes, you guessed it. Their help came in the form of a herd of cows who were not at all pleased to have a potentially dangerous criminal hiding out in their neighborhood. They simply would not stand for that sort of nonsense and they meant to do something about it.

The pack of bovines approached the officers and were quite vocal and insisted that the cops follow them. So they did, and the cows led the parade of officers straight to where the suspect was hiding. The man was arrested, again, and transported to jail where he was charged with felony fleeing, eluding arrest with a motor vehicle, driving with a license revoked, and disorderly conduct.

Afterward, the department released a statement expressing their gratitude to the cows for their much-appreciated assistance. But they didn’t stop there, deciding to take things a step further by examining the possibilities of adding a Bovine Tracking Unit to their team.

First, though, they’d need to study the logistics of doing so, such as how they’d transport the Cow-9s to crime scenes, the costs associated with training the animals and veterinary care, and who’d fabricate their extra-extra-extra large ballistic vests. Then, there’s the problem of where in the patrol car to store the large pooper-scoopers needed for, well, you know, and what to do about the methane.

Since the animals’ assistance with locating the suspect was such a “moooooving” experience they thought they owed it to the cows to see if they could work it out.

 


The statement about adding a Bovine Tracking Unit to the department was a tongue-in-cheek comment. But hey, you never know. After all, a Vietnamese miniature potbellied pig called Harley was once used by Portland police to sniff out drugs.


Enter the Writers’ Police Academy’s 2023 Golden Donut Short Story Contest

Here’s a fantastic opportunity to get your writing in front of a top publisher!

Yes, Bookouture, a dynamic digital publisher of bestselling commercial fiction and a division of Hachette UK, is the official judge of the 2023 Writers’ Police Academy’s Golden Donut 200-word Short Story Contest.

So sharpen your pencils and fire up the computers. It’s time to put your imaginations to work.

The contrast rules are simple. Write a story about the photograph below using exactly 200 words, including the title. Each story needs an original title, and the image must be the main subject of the story. No clues as to the subject matter of the image or where it was taken. You decide. Let your imagination run wild. Remember though, what you see in the image absolutely must be the main subject of your tale.

Contest winner receives the Golden Donut Trophy!

*Proceeds are used to help with the massive expense of producing the 2023 Writers’ Police Academy. 

GoldenDonutShortStoryContest


About Bookouture

We are a dynamic digital publisher of bestselling commercial fiction and a division of Hachette UK. We also publish commercial non-fiction under our Thread imprint.

Our unique publishing model and transformative campaigns have created unrivalled international author brands. We connect stories, authors and readers globally, publishing books that reflect the diversity of the societies we live in.

Our submissions are always open as we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to share their story. Over 60 million copies sold worldwide.

www.bookouture.com


NEW, FROM WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY ONLINE 

DIGITAL PUBLISHING ACADEMY

 

Are you interested in entering the world of digital publishing but don’t know where or how to begin? Well, I’m pleased to announce and offer an exciting Writers’ Police Academy Online course—Digital Publishing Academy. This class is a unique opportunity for writers to learn from and chat with a top industry professional, Commissioning Editor Susannah Hamilton of Bookouture, a division of Hachette UK. So, if you’ve wanted a foot in the door to a leading publisher, here’s your chance!

About the Course

 

Digital Publishing Academy

Date: June 24, 2023

Time: 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EST

Registration: $15

Bookouture Editor Susannah Hamilton will talk about all things digital publishing, including what works well in digital, a look at the different stages of editing, and a brief foray into crime and thriller genre nuances for the digital market. Susannah will also give a brief overview of how Bookouture, a division of Hachette UK, works for its authors. There will be a Q&A at the end.

Click the link below to reserve your spot!

writerspoliceacademy.online

About Susannah Hamilton

 

Commissioning Editor Susannah Hamilton has over ten years of experience in the industry, and joined Bookouture in November 2021. Susannah’s list includes Kindle top 100 bestselling authors, such as Casey Kelleher, Elisabeth Carpenter and Amanda Lees, who have reached the charts in both the UK and the US. Susannah manages every element of the publishing strategy and process for her authors, supporting them every step of the way.

 

Short of stationing armed guards at each entrance and surrounding properties with moats stocked with aggressive crocodiles, protecting public buildings, such as shopping malls, schools, and churches, against attackers and mass shooters has become extremely challenging.

In all fairness to the folks in charge of security in venues and buildings designed for gatherings of large numbers of people, screening every single person who enters a crowded shopping mall and its adjacent parking lots and garages would be nearly impossible. They face a huge problem that comes without a single, solid solution.

The responsibility of keeping the public safe from the harm caused by a shooter is a daunting task, as is detecting that lone person among hundreds or even thousands of people who’re focused on shopping. Then there’s the job of protecting the innocent kids who’re seated in classrooms while learning the lessons of the day. And there’s the store clerk who’s at risk of being robbed by an armed suspect. The list of potential targets and victims and why they are targets and victims is long and grows longer.

Better proactive approaches to the problem of mass shooters are needed in addition to the typical reactive responses. Stop the threat BEFORE the damage is done.

Sure, digging moats around schools and adding several dozen angry and hungry crocs to the water is indeed a proactive option that would certainly deter an evil person from carrying out their plan to hurt innocent people. However, it goes without saying that the croc/moat idea is not feasible.

Realistic plans that work and work well are greatly needed. After all, we’ve seen horrific mass shootings occur within the past few days and we simply do not know when or where the next will happen. Sadly, it’s not a question of “if” another shooting will takes place. The question is “when.”

So, a University of Miami School of Education and Human Development associate clinical professor called Brian Arwari decided he’d take matters into his own hands. He devised a plan that could stop would-be shooters in their tracks, preventing a deadly scenario without firing a single shot, and without crocodiles, razor wire, or dozens of heavily armed officers positioned throughout school corridors and cafeterias.

Specifically, Arwari is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Sports Sciences at the university. To assist him with the project, he called upon graduate engineering student Luis Carlos Diaz to help him bring his idea to fruition. It was a three-year process.

Together, professor and student developed what they named Lightguard, or The Lightguard Security System, devices working on the theory that a person’s nervous system seesaws between relaxed and steady and fight or flight mode.

When activated by a quick push of a button, Lightguard produces thousands of lumens of flashing light in random patterns. The intensity of the flashing lights temporarily impairs an attacker’s vision to the point that they’re basically blind for up to 20 seconds.

Partial visual impairment could last even longer. The process can be repeated as long as necessary to allow the assailant’s targets to escape the danger, or until rapidly responding law enforcement arrives to take over.

These extremely brilliant, strong lights that flash in random patterns instantly send the attacker into flight mode, switching off their desire to attack and making them desire to flee as quickly as possible.


Assailants loose control after a sudden and unexpected event. In this circumstance, pre-planned behavior immediately stops ~ Lightguardsecurity.com


Lightguard mechanisms are installed in “choke points,” areas of a building where the attacker is forced to walk through, such as a narrowed section of a foyer or corridor in a location prior to contacting students, customers, etc.

Not only is Lightguaurd an option for public facilities, they can also be be used in private homes, stores, gas stations, and other businesses.

Multiple devices may be installed in as many locations as needed and, when activated, they automatically alert law enforcement and others who are considered crucial to the required emergency response.


The flashing pattern causes disorientation and nausea, which helps disable the aggressor ~  Lightguardsecurity.com



BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

“Oh, cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night
Blinded by the light”

~ Bruce Springsteen

Have you ever sat in a room designed especially for killing people, looking into the eyes of a serial murderer, watching and waiting for some sign of remorse for his crimes, wondering if he would take back what he’d done, if he could?

Have you ever smelled the searing flesh of a condemned killer as 1,800 volts of electricity ripped through his body, nonstop, for thirty seconds?

Have you ever witnessed a legal homicide carried out by a “man behind the curtain” who, during his career, caused the death of 62 humans who were convicted of their crimes and then received the ultimate punishment, execution. No? Well, twenty-six years ago this month, I sat in a chair just a few feet away from a serial killer and I watched him die a gruesome death. Here are the details.

Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.

 

Other women in the area were killed by someone who committed those murders in a very similar manner. Was there a copycat killer who was never caught? Or, did Spencer kill those women too? We’ll probably never learn the truth.

Spencer was, however, later tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the aforementioned murders. I was selected to serve as a witness to his execution. I accepted, figuring that if I had the power to investigate and arrest someone for capital murder, then I needed to see a death penalty case through to the end.

On the evening of Spencer’s execution, a corrections official met me at the state police area headquarters where I’d parked my unmarked Chevrolet Caprice. It was around 8 p.m. when I climbed into his van, a vehicle typically used for transporting inmates. It had been freshly washed and waxed and the interior was immaculate. The light scent of pine cleaner lingered in the air.

My driver du jour was an always-smiling, short and portly, white-shirt-wearing lieutenant whose skin was the color of caramel. His round head was bare and slick, with the exception of a few small tufts of white hair that brought to mind the fluffy clouds of a summertime sky. He was a friend and sometimes colleague who headed up the prison’s “death squad.” I’d known him for several years and enjoyed his company since his sense of humor was a great match for my own … quirky.

I’d worked with the lieutenant in the past when he approved my request for the loan of several prison K-9s, the nasty, snarling ones that enjoy biting, and their handlers, to assist with a large drug and weapon eradication operation in the city.

During the ride to the prison we occupied our time with small talk and banter about the usual—cop and corrections stuff, and our lives dealing with the worst of the worst. I put them away and he babysat them for the next one to 100 years, or, until the end, which was soon to be for Timothy Spencer.

The lieutenant eventually turned the van onto the long and straight paved road that led to the maximum security compound. The van’s headlamps illuminated a few yards of swampland that flanked the road on both sides. Beyond that … eerie and inky blackness as far as imaginations allowed.

During the approach we passed two groups of people, those who supported the death penalty and those who did not. Many of them carried signs. Some held candles. On the “against” side, a man played a guitar while others swayed from side to side while singing. Some prayed. A minister held both hands above his head while addressing four or five young people, possibly teenagers.

Numerous media vans lined the roadway, with the telescopic antenna standing tall, with cables winding around the poles. Network reporters faced cameras and bright lights while speaking into handheld microphones. One reporter interviewed a visibly angry woman.

A few members of the anti death penalty protestors approached our van and shouted and shook their fists toward it. Others aimed middle fingers at the dark tinted windows. Deputy sheriffs and state troopers, all of whom I knew personally, herded the agitated folks back to their “For” and “Against” roped-off areas.

Finally, after traveling a mile from the main road, bright lights appeared in the sky above the tree line. It was like approaching a sports stadium at night. Then, as if out of nowhere, the prison came into view. It was massive. More inmates lived there than the number of residents in the nearest town.

What looked like miles of a double row of very tall, razor-wire-topped fencing surrounded  individual concrete pods designed to house over 500 inmates each. Each housing unit is separated from the others by its own set of fencing. Six 52-foot guard towers were positioned around the perimeter, with heavily-armed officers standing ready as the last means of stopping an escape attempt. The officer in tower one, the nearest to the front gate, stood out on the catwalk holding a rifle, a mini-14/.223, i assumed. It was execution night and everyone was on high alert.

We entered the prison’s interior grounds through the sally port and then through a couple of interior gates, stopping outside a building where I then was escorted to a briefing room where the other execution witnesses sat waiting. The Virginia Department of Corrections’ eastern regional manager stood at the front of the room. Once I was seated he began to explain to our small group what it was we were about to see.

When he was done, we, in single file, were taken to “L” Building, nicknamed “Hellsville” by the inmates. Building “L,” is where death row inmates are brought from death row to await their hour to die. It’s  the building where the electric chair and the lethal injection gurney sit quietly until their next time in the spotlight rolls around.

We were seated in a small theater-style room, and much like waiting for a famous play to begin, we all knew the name of the leading man. He was a solo performer who would be dead when the curtain finally closed at the end of the evening.

The room was packed full, a small group consisting of members of the press, two or three attorneys, a few others who’ll remain nameless to respect their privacy, and me, the only cop in the place.

The room where I and the other witnesses sat waiting was inside the death house at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center. At the time, the execution chamber was pretty much a bare room made of concrete blocks painted a bright white. Sitting center stage was Old Sparky, the state’s electric chair, an instrument of death that, ironically, was built by prison inmates.

Old Sparky, Virginia’s electric chair.

As part of our duties as official witnesses, we observed a test of the chair which indicated that the chair was in proper working order. To do so, officials placed a resistor across the arms arms of the chair and then connected it to the two electrical cables that would soon be attached to the condemned prisoner. When they switched on the system for the test, a light on the resistor resistor emitted a bright orange glow, then gradually a duller glow. Satisfied that the system was working, we waited.

Timothy Spencer was put to death on April 27, 1994 at 11:13 p.m.

The atmosphere that night was nothing short of surreal. No one spoke. No one coughed. Nothing. Not a sound as we waited for the door at the rear of “the chamber” to open. After an eternity passed, it did, revealing the handful of prison officials who entered first, and then Spencer who walked calmly into the chamber surrounded by members of the prison’s death squad (specially trained, uniformed corrections officers).

I later learned that Spencer had walked the eight short steps to the chamber from a death watch cell, and he’d done so on his own, without assistance from members of the squad. Sometimes the squad is forced to physically deliver the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber.

I cannot fathom what sort mindset it takes to make that short and very final walk. Spencer, though, seemed prepared for what was to come, and he’d made his peace with it. His face was absent emotion. No frown. No tears. No smile. Nothing. He was a man who seemed more like a robot than a human with a beating heart, a thinking brain, and a conscience.

The man who’d brutally and killed so many women, was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration peppered his forehead and bare scalp like raindrops on a freshly-waxed car.

Spencer looked around the room and the area where we sat. His eyes moved slowly from side to side and up and down, taking in the surroundings and the faces of the witnesses. I wondered if the blonde woman beside me reminded him of either of his victims.

Perhaps the lady in the back row who sat glaring at the condemned killer was the mother of one of the women Spencer had so brutally raped and murdered.

Spencer blinked a bit when looking at the bright overhead lights. Other than that tiny movement his actions were totally and absolutely unremarkable. Had I not know what was about to take place, I’d have assumed he was settling into an easy chair to watch a bit of television before retiring for the evening after a long day at work.

After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. As they secured his arms and legs tightly to the oak chair, he looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing.

I sat directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so.  Not even a remote sign of sadness, regret, or fear. Either he was brave, heavily sedated, or stark-raving mad.

The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap, like the leg connection, was lined with a brine-soaked sea sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.

I wondered if Spencer felt the presence of the former killers who’d died in the chair before him—Morris Mason, Michael Smith, Ricky Boggs, Alton Wayne, Albert Clozza, Derrick Peterson, Willie Jones, Wilbert Evans, Charles Stamper, and Roger Coleman, to name a few.

Morris Mason had raped his 71-year-old neighbor. Then he’d hit her in the head with an ax, nailed her to a chair, set her house on fire, and then left her to die.

Alton Wayne stabbed an elderly woman with a butcher knife, bit her repeatedly, and then dragged her nude body to a bathtub and doused it with bleach.

A prison chaplain once described Wilbert Evans’ execution as brutal. “Blood was pouring down onto his shirt and his body was making the sound of a pressure cooker ready to blow.” The preacher had also said, “I detest what goes on here.”

Yes, I wondered if Spencer felt any of those vibes coming from the chair. And I wondered if he’d heard that his muscles would contract, causing his body to lunge forward. That the heat would literally make his blood boil. That the electrode contact points were going to burn his skin. Did he know that his joints were going to fuse, leaving him in a sitting position? Had anyone told him that later someone would have to use sandbags to straighten out his body? Had he wondered why they’d replaced the metal buttons buttons on his clothes with Velcro? Did they tell him that the buttons would have melted?

For the previous twenty-four hours, Spencer had seen the flurry of activity inside the death house. He’d heard the death squad practicing and testing the chair. He’d seen them rehearsing their take-down techniques in case he decided to resist while they escorted him to the chamber. He watched them swing their batons at a make-believe prisoner. He saw their glances and he heard their mutterings.

Was he thinking about what he’d done?

I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?

The warden asked Spencer if he cared to say any final words—a time when many condemned murderers ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to family members of the people they’d murdered.

The warden asked Spencer if he had any last words. He replied, “Yeah, I think …” He let the word “think” trail away, keeping his thought to himself. Those were the last words spoken by Timothy Spencer, the Southside Strangler. Whatever he’d been about to say, well, he took it with him to his grave.

He made eye contact with me again. And believe me, this time it was a chilling experience to look into the eyes of a serial killer just mere seconds before he himself was killed.

Some of the people in the room focused on the red telephone hanging on the wall at the rear of the chamber—the direct line to the governor—Spencer’s last hope to live beyond the next few seconds. It remained silent.

The warden nodded to the executioner, who, by the way, remained behind a wall inside the chamber, out of our view. Spencer must have sensed what was coming and, while looking directly into my eyes, turned both thumbs upward. A last second display of his arrogance. A death squad member placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face, a mask with only a tiny opening for his nose. Then he and the other team members left the room. The remaining officials stepped back, away from the chair.

Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.

Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, the executioner sent a second jolt to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.

The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.

It was over and an eerie calm filled the chamber. The woman beside me cried softly. I realized that I’d been holding my breath and exhaled, slowly. No one moved for five long minutes. I later learned that this wait-time was to allow the body to cool. The hot flesh would have burned anyone who touched it.

The prison doctor slowly walked to the chair where he placed a stethoscope against Spencer’s chest and listened for a heartbeat. A few seconds passed before the doctor looked up and said, “Warden, this man has expired.”

That was it. Timothy Spencer, one of the worse serial killers in America’s history was dead, finally.


Outside the prison, Wayne Brown, operations officer at Greensville Correctional Center, delivered a statement to the press. “The man known as the Southside Strangler was pronounced dead at 11:13 p.m., ” said Brown.


Strange, but true facts about Spencer’s case:

– Spencer raped and killed all five of his victims while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He committed the murders on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

– Spencer was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

– David Vasquez, a mentally handicapped man, falsely confessed to murdering one of the victims in the Spencer case after intense interrogation by police detectives. He was later convicted of the crime and served five years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. It was learned that Vasquez didn’t understand the questions he’d been asked and merely told the officers what he thought they wanted to hear.

– Spencer used neck ligatures to strangle each of the victims to death, fashioning them in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

– Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.


Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia—the man who executed Timothy Spencer—described his opinion of the death penalty when he said, “If I execute an innocent person, I’m no better than the people on death row.”

Givens, after executing 62 people, now strongly opposes the death penalty.

And then there are the cases of the men and women on death row who’ve been exonerated based on evidence that proved that didn’t or couldn’t have committed the crime of which they were accused and convicted. Such as Ray Krone, a friend of this site who spent nearly a decade on death row before DNA evidence proved his innocence.

Ray detailed the experience in an article for this blog. To read his story please click here.

 

Sewage. Now there’s a topic that typically wouldn’t pop up during intimate dinner tête-à-têtes, nor would we expect to hear grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles discussing it at a family holiday party. And it is not a subject that’s often, if ever, found among the paragraphs of a crime novel.

However, sewage, aka wastewater, has a role to play in combatting substance abuse, a subject of significant importance that’s often the center of conversations since it affects the lives of so many. So maybe a discussion or two about the benefits of wastewater might be a good idea.

And, since drug use and abuse is sometimes featured in fiction, perhaps it’s also time for writers to add sewage to their research pipeline as a means to help flush out sticky plot points.

Therefore, to help get the creative flow started, it’s time everyone to meet Sammy Sewage of the Wastewater Police Department (WPD).

Sewage, the New Undercover Narcotics Agent

 

Like Agent Sammy, law enforcement officers in all cities, towns, and counties are familiar with the obvious and well-known areas of their jurisdictions where drug abuse and sales are prominent, and they respond appropriately with extra patrols, undercover operations, arrests, etc. Additionally, knowing where problems exist allows officials and community services to establish and provide support and prevention services for residents.

But what about the areas where illegal drug activity is not evident? These are often the locations where there’s very little crime, if any, and as a result police presence is often minimal, on an as-needed basis. Without police on-hand to spot the issues they often go undetected until something serious occurs, such as a death by overdose. In these areas of veiled drug abuse, structured community assistance for the users and addicts is often nonexistent. Once those zones are identified, though, prevention efforts may then be implemented within those areas. The issue at hand is how to discover these unknown trouble spots.

Therefore, some municipalities are turning to an unlikely colleague to help sort out the drug problem in their areas—sewage. Yes, good old number one and number two are the latest crime-fighting duo.

By testing sewage samples collected from various wastewater substations, authorities can detect cocaine and opioid use, as well as other drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine. Even the presence of nicotine can be detected. In addition, test results indicating a heavy presence of Narcan consumption is a strong indication that more people are overdosing than what is known and reported by responding EMS services.

Based on the data derived from sewage monitoring, officials can implement public health intervention programs in the areas where they’re most needed. The information is also used to inform citizens about the importance of proper disposal of medications. Flushing medications down the drain is not a method that should be used by anyone.


It’s possible to differentiate between drugs that were flushed and those that were ingested.


Wastewater treatment plants do a wonderful job of filtering sewage. In fact, they’re so good at their job that once all the “stuff” is removed the leftover liquid is so thoroughly processed, cleaned, and sterilized that it’s suitable for releasing into waterways, or usable as drinking water.

However, what these plants cannot do is remove 100% of the prescription drugs that are placed into toilets and flushed. Some of these medications, such as steroids, hormones, and antidepressants, cause serious reproductive problems when aquatic animals consume them. In addition, some of the filtered and treated water that still contains those chemicals could make it into drinking water.

A 2020 study of wastewater testing conducted by Mathematica and researchers at Montana State University (MSU) showed the effects on Montana communities after major raids and drug seizures by police, and the results were clear. After a large drug bust the levels of drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, substantially decreased in the wastewater. Fewer drugs available = fewer drugs consumed.

In addition, researchers were also able to compare levels of certain drugs detected in wastewater with the amounts of the same drugs sold in area pharmacies. The testing showed a much higher level in wastewater than the total sold by pharmacies; thus, indicating the extent of black-market drug sales and abuse in the areas tested.


Regular testing provides data on seasonality of drug use, and which drugs are most frequently used in specific areas.


Did You Know?

Examining human waste in public wastewater systems played a large role in determining and monitoring the presence of COVID-19 virus, and at what level for each area of a municipality. Those test results helped officials determine the COVID “hotspots,” enabling them to best position COVID testing sites and vaccination locations.



NEW, FROM WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY ONLINE 

DIGITAL PUBLISHING ACADEMY

 

Are you interested in entering the world of digital publishing but don’t know where or how to begin? Well, I’m pleased to announce and offer an exciting Writers’ Police Academy Online course—Digital Publishing Academy. This class is a unique opportunity for writers to learn from and chat with a top industry professional, Commissioning Editor Susannah Hamilton of Bookouture, a division of Hachette UK. So, if you’ve wanted a foot in the door to a leading publisher, here’s your chance!

About the Course

 

Digital Publishing Academy

Date: June 24, 2023

Time: 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EST

Registration: $15

Bookouture Editor Susannah Hamilton will talk about all things digital publishing, including what works well in digital, a look at the different stages of editing, and a brief foray into crime and thriller genre nuances for the digital market. Susannah will also give a brief overview of how Bookouture, a division of Hachette UK, works for its authors. There will be a Q&A at the end.

Click the link below to reserve your spot!

writerspoliceacademy.online

About Susannah Hamilton

 

Commissioning Editor Susannah Hamilton has over ten years of experience in the industry, and joined Bookouture in November 2021. Susannah’s list includes Kindle top 100 bestselling authors, such as Casey Kelleher, Elisabeth Carpenter and Amanda Lees, who have reached the charts in both the UK and the US. Susannah manages every element of the publishing strategy and process for her authors, supporting them every step of the way.

About Bookouture

We are a dynamic digital publisher of bestselling commercial fiction and a division of Hachette UK. We also publish commercial non-fiction under our Thread imprint.

Our unique publishing model and transformative campaigns have created unrivalled international author brands. We connect stories, authors and readers globally, publishing books that reflect the diversity of the societies we live in.

Our submissions are always open as we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to share their story. Over 60 million copies sold worldwide.

www.bookouture.com



Here’s another fantastic opportunity to get your writing in front of a top publisher! Yes, Bookouture is the official judge of the 2023 Writers’ Police Academy’s Golden Donut 200-word Short Story Contest.

So sharpen your pencils and fire up the computers. It’s time to put your imaginations to work.

The contest rules are simple. Write a story about the photograph below using exactly 200 words, including the title. Each story needs an original title, and the image must be the main subject of the story. No clues as to the subject matter of the image or where it was taken. You decide. Let your imagination run wild. Remember though, what you see in the image absolutely must be the main subject of your tale.

Contest winner receives the Golden Donut Trophy!

GoldenDonutShortStoryContest