I wrote this article back in 2018. It’s a good time to revisit because, well, you know …

Those of you with medical elements embedded into your twisted tales will perhaps be interested in the following information. For all others, well, break out the gloves, masks and hand sanitizers, and, as an added precaution, you may want to stock your pantries because things could get ugly.

Did you know:

  • At least five microbes are resistant to nearly all available antibiotics.
  • 1 in 6 Americans—48 million people—get sick from contaminated food each year.
  • The Centers for Disease Control’s AMD program (Advanced Molecular Detection) uses next generation sequencing and bioinformatics, and experts in epidemiology, lab sciences, and bioinformatics to provide new insight into microbes. AMD provides sequencing machines that can read the DNA or RNA code of a microbe as well as supercomputers with the capability, via advanced software, to intelligently detect patterns.
  • CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) program is designed to protect Americans from microbial threats. AMD utilizes microbiology and bioinformatics to assist scientists and health professionals in their quest to find and stop infectious disease outbreaks.
  • During the period of time between 2007-2012, construction occupations, both supervisory and line-level workers, accounted for the highest number heroin and prescription opioid–related overdose deaths. The occupation groups with the highest number of drug-related deaths caused by the use of methadone, natural and semisynthetic opioids, and synthetic opioids other than methadone, were:

  1. construction,
  2. extraction (e.g., mining, oil and gas extraction)
  3. health care practitioners.
  • The three most common methods of committing murder in the U.S., per year, are:

Clearly, firearms, by far, lead the other means of killing.

Zoonotic Diseases

  • Yes, studies indicate that people who have strong bonds with their pets often enjoy increased fitness and lower stress levels. And, the level of happiness achieved by pet owners is high. However, since pets can carry germs known as zoonotic diseases (diseases caused by harmful viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi), pet owners should make certain their beloved animals are healthy.
  • Zoonotic diseases cause anything from mild to serious illness and even death.
  • According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) “Zoonotic diseases are very common, both in the United States and around the world. Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people are spread from animals. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from harmful germs spread between animals and people. Because of this, CDC works 24/7 to protect people from zoonotic diseases.”
  • To help fend off zoonotic disease, avoid contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucous, feces, or other body fluids of an infected animal.

  • Have your pet examined by a veterinarian, regularly.
  • Use caution and wear protective clothing (gloves, face masks, etc.), when in contact with areas where animals are or were at some point. The same is true when handling objects or touching surfaces that have been contaminated with germs—aquarium water, hamster habitats and play areas, dog and cat bedding and litter boxes, chicken coops, plants, and even soil, leftover pet food, and water dishes.

Please, always wash your hands often and thoroughly, even after petting or otherwise contacting animals, including your own pets. You never know what could be hiding in that soft fur and on those adorable faces.

*Source ~ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

You’ve all heard police officers chattering away on their police radios, on news reports, and while arresting Ray Buck Jenkins, the town drunk. And when they do they use their own special form of communication, the sometimes brain-jarring language called “cop-speak.”  But when they’re conversing with their own kind inside the privacy of police station gyms and patrol cars, their lingo and terminology becomes even more bizarre, such as …

U-Boat: an unmarked police car.

Under-Belt: The belt that holds up an officer’s pants, just like the belts worn by citizens (through the belt loops). The duty belt is attached to the under-belt using belt keepers.

Un-Sub: an unidentified subject. Other terms include, suspect, actor, perpetrator, and a**hole.

Weekend Holiday/Getaway: When arrest warrants are served on Friday afternoons, after courts close, there’s no one around to conduct bond hearings. Therefore, offenders typically must remain in jail until the following Monday when judges and court employees return to work.

It’s an unofficial favorite tactic of some law enforcement officials to purposely serve arrest warrants after the close of the Friday business day to make certain that, instead of partying, the subjects spend the entire weekend behind bars. And, to add insult to injury, doing so on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend means the person will sit in a cell until the following Tuesday. It’s sometimes a tool that’s used to keep people “on ice” and out of the way while police continue an investigation. Feds love this tactic. *Also known as a Holiday Weekend.

Weeney-wagger: a male subject who exposes his “bits and bobs” in public.

Whale: a black and white unmarked car. Some say they resemble killer whales. To me they look like unfinished patrol cars.

Whiskey-Tango: White trash.

Sorry to offend, Cousin Junior, Jr., but that’s what it means, behind the scenes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot/William Tom Frank: WTF

Wobbler: a case initially charged as a felony but is later reduced to a misdemeanor by a lenient prosecutor. Or, a felony offense that’s reduced as part of a plea agreement.

Working the Bubble: a street cop who’s on temporary desk duty, such as behind the bulletproof glass separating the precinct lobby from the interior of the station.

Yankee 9er: former soldier turned cop who refuses to let go of military-speak, especially so when transmitting over police radio air waves. “Incoming! Incoming! We’re taking rounds from male subject. Sounds like he’s firing a fitty. This is a real soup sandwich, sir! A Charlie Foxtrot!”

Translation – “Somebody’s shooting at me with a bunch of bullets. Yep, I’m in a real jam. Send backup, please.”

  • Fitty: M2 .50 caliber machine gun
  • Soup Sandwich: an assignment that’s gone absolutely wrong.
  • Charlie Foxtrot: a real “cluster ****”

Phonetic Alphabet

Listed below are common uses of the phonetic alphabet, both by members of the military and by police officers. Of course, they’re interchangeable, but officers without  military background may say, well, anything.

(Black text for military and blue for non-military/police).

A – Alfa (or Alpha)

Cops without a military background may use Apple, or Adam

B – Bravo

Cops – Boy

C – Charlie

D – Delta

Cops – David

E – Echo

F – Foxtrot

Cops – Frank

G – Golf

H – Hotel

I – India

Cops – Ida

J – Juliett

Cops – John

K – Kilo

L – Lima

Cops – Lincoln

M – Mike

Cops – Mary

N – November

Cops – Nora

O – Oscar

P – Papa

Cops – Paul

Q – Quebec

R – Romeo

S – Sierra

Cops – Sam

T – Tango

Cops – Tom

U – Uniform

V – Victor

W – Whiskey

Cop – William

X – X-ray

Y – Yankee

Z – Zulu

Yard Bird: fast food chicken. Also, a suspect who hides in the bushes or behind outbuildings, but suddenly makes a run for it as searching officers come close. FYI – Yard birds have been know to enjoy a meal of yard bird. Actually, some yard birds like to listen to The Yardbirds while eating yard bird.

Zebra: a term with a variety of meanings, such as the sergeant who wears three stripes on their sleeves. A cocky and boisterous sergeant may also known as “an ass with stripes.” Or, the term used by street crooks to describe a black and white patrol vehicle. “Here comes the Po-Po, driving a new zebra.”

Zip Gun: a crude, homemade firearm that is sometimes designed to use ground match heads as a propellant and fires projectiles such as broken glass, bits of metal, small nails, etc.


The Yardbirds

I recently saw a couple of questions about police scanners posted to the wonderful Q&A site crimescenewriter. The questions there were some I’ve seen often enough that I thought I’d also share and respond to them here as well.
 

The inquisitive author asked if scanners were legal to possess by private citizens, including retired police officers who reside in California.
 

Answer – Yes, the possession and use of a scanner is legal in California. However, it is a misdemeanor to use one during the commission of a crime, such as to use the messages received to aid in the escape of custody, etc.
 

In some states it is illegal to install or use a scanner inside a motor vehicle. For example (click the links below to read the statues).
 

Florida
› Indiana
› Kentucky
› New York
› MinnesotaOther states also have laws regarding scanner use during the commission of a crime, such as this one from the Code of Virginia.

§ 18.2-462.1. Use of police radio during commission of crime.

Any person who has in his possession or who uses a device capable of receiving a police radio signal, message, or transmission, while in the commission of a felony, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A prosecution for or conviction of the crime of use or possession of a police radio is not a bar to conviction for any other crime committed while possessing or using the police radio.In New Jersey it is illegal for felons convicted of certain crimes to possess a scanner, even inside their own homes.§ 11-1-11. Felons prohibited from possession of radio scanners.

No person: (1) who has been convicted of a felony violation of chapter 28 of title 21 involving the illegal manufacture, sale or delivery or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II; or (2) who has been convicted of a felony in violation of chapter 8 of this title involving the burglary or breaking and entering of a dwelling house or apartment, whether the house or apartment is occupied or not, any business place, or public building, with the intent to commit larceny; shall carry, transport, or have in his or her possession, or under his or her control outside of his or her own home, any operational police radio, police scanner, or any other device capable of monitoring police broadcasts. Every person violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not more than five (5) years, or a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both.

And, Michigan:

750.508 Equipping vehicle with radio able to receive signals on frequencies assigned for police or certain other purposes; violation; penalties; radar detectors not applicable.

Sec. 508. (1) A person who has been convicted of 1 or more felonies during the preceding 5 years shall not carry or have in his or her possession a radio receiving set that will receive signals sent on a frequency assigned by the federal communications commission of the United States for police or other law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical, federal, state, or local corrections, or homeland security purposes. This subsection does not apply to a person who is licensed as an amateur radio operator by the federal communications commission. A person who violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.

(2) A person shall not carry or have in his or her possession in the commission or attempted commission of a crime a radio receiving set that will receive signals sent on a frequency assigned by the federal communications commission of the United States for police or other law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical, federal, state, or local corrections, or homeland security purposes.

As you can clearly see, it’s best to check local laws before purchasing a scanner for your home.

Another of the questions related to the terminology used when speaking of a scanner—do I call it a “police scanner” or simply a “scanner?”
 

Answer – Today, most scanners are capable of receiving radio traffic from a variety of sources, such as police, fire, EMS, marine, air, and even weather. Therefore, the use of “scanner” is a better fit. Still, many people still refer to the electronic devices as “police scanners.”
 

When I worked as a police investigator, and during my time as a sheriff’s deputy, our in-car radios weren’t set up to receive radio traffic from EMS, fire, and nearby law enforcement agencies outside of our jurisdictional territory. Therefore, many of us, including me, installed scanners inside our vehicles which allowed us to monitor the activities of other departments.

 
It’s not that we were nosy, though. Instead, we’d sometimes, for example, hear an officer’s call for help, and if we were close enough to assist we could do so, and would. Also, by listening to nearby agencies we’d often hear of pursuits heading in our direction, fleeing felons, descriptions of stolen cars and wanted persons, locations of fires, car crashes, explosions, and other valuable information.
 

By the way, there are apps for phones that offer similar service. Most are free. Not all locations are available within the online versions, though. Therefore, if the goal is to monitor broadcasts in your area, a scanner might be the best option.
 

The final question about scanners was about what a listener would hear regarding a missing person broadcast.
 

Answer – As always when dealing with law enforcement, it depends. These days, such as in Virginia, the state where I worked as a law enforcement officer, scanner listeners may not hear much at all. This is due to the use of in-car mobile computer terminals (MCTs) which is basically a silent dispatch system and car-to-car exchanges of information, all without the use of a radio. However, when officers are away from their cars they still rely on portable radio communication (walkie-talkies).
 

Police radio transmissions, while fascinating to hear, can be dangerous for the officers on the street. This is so because not only are you able to hear what the officers are doing and possibly where they’re located, well, the bad guys could also be listening, and they do. Therefore, they could easily flee, hide, and even use those radio transmissions to ambush police officers.
 

To combat the problem of criminals listening to police radio calls, many departments encrypt their transmissions which basically winds up sounding like conversations among space aliens who’re speaking with a mouth full of marbles while underwater.
 

We’d always used encrypted channels for tactical reasons during special operations, but the general day-to-day channels were open for all to hear. Since 911, many agencies abandoned the use of 10-codes, opting for plain speak (“Okay” in stead of “10-4.”). This transformed police radio “speak” into simple, everyday conversations. Everyone could then understand what was being said.
 

FYI – Virginia State Police 10-codes are exempt from the Commonweath’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They are not public. And, when they are used they differ from many local departments. For example, the 10-code for a “fight in progress” call in Bumble Stump County’s sheriff’s office may mean “abandoned vehicle” to the state police (the two examples are totally ficticious).
 

Anyway, see how a simple question—Is it legal for a retired California police officer to have a scanner in his car—can evolve into a rambling blog article.
 

In summary, yes, it’s legal to possess and use a scanner … except when it’s not.
 

 

Serial killers may attack anywhere at any time. However, depending upon whether or not the murderer is organized or disorganized, those two factors can affect location and timing.

The set up, or initial place(s) where the killer(s) first meet their intended victim(s) varies. However, the majority of initial contact locations are areas known for vice activity, such as places frequented by prostitutes and/or drug users and dealers.

Secondary target areas include outdoor locations such as public parks and vehicle parking areas, etc.

A third choice location, but not the most favored, is the victim’s home, either by forced entry or by ruse. Also, indoor public locations such as bus stations, shopping malls, and places of business.

Breaking this down even further, we know from past experience and knowledge, that initial assaults by serial killers tend to most likely occur in outdoor public locations. Again, public parks, etc. The next prime attack location is a victim’s home. And, if the killer knows his victims, his own home may be another choice spot to kill.

Organized Killers

Organized killers are typically of above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Having carefully plan their crimes, organized offenders frequently go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings may be premeditated.

Killers in this group are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they perpetually appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They quite often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims. They’re often under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol when they commit their crimes.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

This is the killer who uses a sudden and quick attack to overpower their victims.

Race

White offenders are far more apt (over double) to meet their victims in an outdoor public place (a park or somewhere similar), while African American offenders tend to prefer a less conspicuous location. African American offenders, however, are more prone to choose a meeting place that’s in vice areas (locations where prostitution is known to exist, etc.) than do white offenders.

Location

Serial killers tend to commit murder in public locations. Their next choice is typically the homes of the victims.

For example, in the late 1980s, serial killer Timothy Spencer (the Southside Strangler) raped and killed four women—Debbie Dudly Davis, 35, an account manager, Susan Elizabeth Hellams, 32, a neurosurgeon, and Diane Cho, 15, a high school freshman, and Susan M. Tucker, 44, a federal employee.

Spencer committed those brutal murders while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He killed the first three women on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

Officials had not yet linked Spencer to the murders, so they granted him a furlough to visit his mother’s home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Susan Tucker’s body was found shortly after the time Spencer returned to and signed in at the halfway house.

Police learned that Spencer entered the women’s homes through windows. Then he raped, sodomized, and choked them to death using ligatures. He’d made the ligatures in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

All four were discovered nude or partly clothed. Their hands were bound, and either rope, belts, or socks were tied around their necks.

Spencer had left no evidence behind other than DNA evidence. At the time DNA testing in criminal cases was new.

Spencer later was also implicated in the murder of lawyer Carolyn Jean Hamm, 32, in Arlington, Virginia. He was also thought to have raped at least eight additional women. However, he was never tried in those cases because he’d already been sentenced to death.

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

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

In the spring of 1994, I served as a witness to Spencer’s execution by way of the electric chair. His death was gruesome.

 

I’m sure most of you have heard of the “dark web,” the creepy and ooky, mysterious and spooky part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines. It’s the place where interested parties can buy credit card numbers, usernames and passwords, guns, phony money (counterfeit), login information to bank accounts, and fake IDs and intellectual trade secrets. Heck, even a lifetime Netflix premium account sells for under 10 bucks in this secret place.

In addition to the holiday gift items listed above you could also hire criminals to attack computers for you. Yes, if you’re stuck as to what to get that hard-to-buy-for “someone special,”  well look no further because there’s something for everyone on the dark web. If corporate espionage and IP theft are your thing, they’ve got it. Drugs? Yep. Actually, the list of “things” for sale on the dark web is practically endless, including “Help Wanted” ads for the folks who kill for a living.


SINGAPORE – A man, 47-year-old Allen Vincent Hui Kim Seng, went on the Dark Web site Camorra to hire a hitman to murder his former lover’s boyfriend, Mr Tan Han Shen.

Hui Kim Seng was caught by police before the murder took place and, as a result, he later pleaded guilty to one count of intentionally abetting Camorra Hitmen to kill Han Shen. He was sentenced to five years’ jail on September 18, 2019.


Ordering a Hit is as Easy as Ordering a Book From Amazon

Yes indeedy, all one needs to hire an online hitman is to let your fingers happily dance across the keyboard using, of course, the Tor browser. You continue your search until you land on, as did Allen Vincent Hui Kim Seng, the Camorra Hitmen site.

Once you’ve reached the Camorra website you’ll then need to open an account, after which you’ll type out your request(s)—I want someone to torture and kill my boyfriend/spouse/girlfriend/neighbor/boss/ex/priest/girl who rejected my request for a date back in junior high school , etc.

The next step in the process is to send a predetermined payment fee, in bitcoin, along with a photo of the intended target. Then it’s goodnight Irene … or Sally, or Billy, or Ralph or, well, you get the idea.

Murder For Hire By Internet—Science Fiction or Reality?

In 2018, Russian police investigator Lt Col Yevgeniya Shishkina was shot dead outside her home near Moscow. A few months later police arrested two people from St Petersburg in connection with the murder—a 19-year-old medical student, Abdulaziz Abdulazizov, and a 17-year-old teenage boy.

As a result of their investigation police discovered that the two suspects were hired to carry out the killing of the high-ranking officer. They were allegedly paid a sum of one million rubles (just over $16,000 U.S. dollars). The person suspected of hiring the pair goes by the pseudonym Miguel Morales. It was he who was being investigated by Lt Col Shishkina, and it was he who ordered the hit. “Miguel Morales” is an owner of a drug-dealing site on the dark web called Hydra, which, according to police, is where the order to kill was placed.

Hydra is Russia’s largest online illegal drug-trading platform that’s comprised of dozens of individual sites.

It was in August 2018, when the 17-year-old, the younger of the two suspects, allegedly a posted on the Hydra platform, looking for “work.” A few weeks later he received a reply, a request for a private messaging address. Soon, details of the contract killing were allegedly discussed.

Officials believe the 17-year-old split the money received—400,000 rubles for himself and 600,000 to his partner, Mr Abdulazizov. It was to be Abdulazizov’s job to do the actual killing. To do so he used a car-sharing service to travel from St Petersburg to Moscow, where he picked up a pistol and ammunition from a “drop box” placed in a predetermined location, a wooded area in a Moscow suburb. Then he booked a hotel room near Lt. Col. Shishkina’s home. He waited there for further instructions.

Then, using the Telegram messenger app, the 17-year-old sent Abdulazizov the name and geolocation of Lt. Col. Shishkina. Meanwhile, Abdulazizov used his downtime learning how to load the weapon by studying YouTube videos.

On the day of the murder, at 6.30 a.m., Abdulazizov allegedly told investigators he ran around the back of Lt Col Shishkina’s home where he quickly approached the officer from behind, and fired twice at close range. She died minutes later. It was said that she passed away in her husband’s arms.

Abdulazizov and his teen accomplice were arrested on March 12, 2019.

This case is only one of a few known online murder-for-hires. The question, though, is how many have occurred that remain undetected?

So all you mystery, thriller, and suspense writers out there, this little tidbit of information should send your brain cells into a tizzy. And all this time you believed that only you could think of a murder scheme as bizarre as online hitmen.

As they say, truth is stranger than … well, you know.

Writers generally fall into one of two categories, panthers or plotters. Writers, you share these traits with killers, and this could be the reason your books are so devilishly delightful.

The Plotter

plotter starts each writing project with a plan, and before typing the first word of a new story they know how and why each action happens. They have a clear picture of their characters and setting. Plotters generally know where they’re going and how they’ll get there. They also know where and when they’ll stop along the way.

Plotter’s offices are decorated with multi-colored stick notes (red for character A, blue for character B, yellow for character C, etc.), and photos of celebrities cut from People magazine to use as inspiration for characters. Neatly organized stacks of notebooks filled with research material stand at ready on the surfaces of uncluttered desks. Pens are lined up next to keyboards, like sardines in tin cans. A predetermined word count must be reached each day.

A great example of a true plotter is top bestselling author Jeffery Deaver. Jeff once told me that he conducts extensive research and plotting for six months or longer prior to writing the first word of a new book. He’s extremely meticulous and organized, and records massive amounts of notes. Yet, he weaves this factual material into a story without even the slightest hint of an information dump.

Roadside Crosses

I often tell the story where, while reading Deaver’s Roadside Crosses, I learned about the use of a hard drive enclosure to retrieve data from a computer that had been rendered useless after having been immersed in ocean water. And, ironically, not long after reading the book my personal computer crashed and would no longer work. Obviously, I had a ton of material I couldn’t afford to lose so I purchased a hard drive enclosure and was able to recover all of my files. This detail in the book was real, but Jeff had smartly included it in a work of fiction without it seeming as if I’d attended a lesson on electronic devices. He’s a brilliant writer.

The Panster

A pantser is someone who powers-up the Mac, enjoys a long gulp of coffee, and then hands over the entire book to their characters, and it is they, not the writer, who do the majority of the walking and talking and thinking, all with very little help. Pansters are not much more than stenographers who works for their characters. They are the vehicles that transform characters’ ideas and actions into words on a page.

A panster’s writing journey, like that of the plotters, begins at point A. However, the panster often has not a single clue in advance how they’ll reach point B. The convoluted paths traveled will often be as much as a surprise to the author as it will be to the reader. They know where they’re going, but not how they’ll get there.

Still, no one is all-in as a panster or as a plotter. Things change as stories evolve and the writer must adapt. And both methods work well for both types of writers. I’m a panster and my wife Denene, the scientist, is a plotter.

Billy Bob Thornton is a Pantser

Billy Bob Thornton used the panster approach when writing the script for the movie Slingblade. Thornton has said that he likes to write late at night, generally between the hours of midnight and six in the morning. He says he writes in the “stream of consciousness fashion” and doesn’t rewrite. He writes his projects all at once. The actor/screenwriter/director wrote Slingblade, for example, in nine days.

Thornton had the character Carl in mind in advance, basing him on a blend of two people he knew from his past, a black man and a white man. He incorporated the look and mannerisms and walk from the black man, and the situation from the white man. The white man, according to Thornton, was fed in his backyard, like a dog. This combination of the two real-life men was the starting point for Carl’s character and story. The rest of Thornton’s tale flowed from there, without the benefit of notes, planning, or plotting.

Now, what does this have to do with murderers? Well …

Organized Killers

Organized killers, the “panthers,” have above average to average intelligence. They’re often thought to be attractive. They’re neat and tidy and are often married or living with a partner during the times they committed their crimes. They hold jobs, are typically educated, and are skilled at their profession. They look to be in control. And they often have above average knowledge of police and forensics procedures. They enjoy reading and hearing about their crimes, with a particular affection for seeing their crime scenes in the media. It is not unusual at all  for an organized killer to make contact with the media, or even the police.

Organized offenders carefully plan their crimes. They go the extra mile to prevent leaving evidence behind. Their killings are often premeditated. Killers in this group, the “plotters,” are antisocial and often psychopathic—they lack of empathy and other emotions. They’re manipulative of others. The tricky thing when dealing with organized criminals is that they often appear quite normal, and they’ll do their best to use charm to their advantage.

They’re not insane and they definitely know right from wrong, but they lack conscience and feel or show no remorse for the deeds.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, is an example of an organized killer/criminal.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a renowned expert on serial killers and she details Rader’s crimes in her book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Denis Rader the BTK Killer. As part of her research, Dr. Ramsland spoke with Rader by telephone once a week for an entire year. Each week, Rader called her from the El Dorado Correctional Facility and the two of them talked for an hour or so. Also as part of her process of delving into Rader’s mind, Dr. Ramsland played chess, by mail, with the killer.

As many of you know, Dr. Ramsland is a regular presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Disorganized Killers

Disorganized killers/criminals, “the pantsers” of the criminal world, typically do not plan their crimes in advance. They often leave evidence at the scenes of their crimes, such as fingerprints, footprints, DNA, tire tracks, or blood. They’re also known to simply leave the body as is, making no real attempt to conceal it or to prevent leaving telltale evidence such as semen or saliva. Their crimes are sometimes chaotic.

Disorganized killers tend to be younger in age. They’re unskilled workers who have no problem depersonalizing their victims. They may be mentally ill. They’re often of below average intelligence who lack communication and social skills. Many come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. They may have been sexually abused by relatives, and they may present with sexual detestation. They’re loners who often travel on foot to commit crimes due to a lack of transportation. These are the neighbors of their victims.

Jack the Ripper, for example, was a killer who made no effort to conceal the bodies of his victims.

*No, I do not actually believe writers are potential serial killers. Then again, we still don’t know the identity of Jack the Ripper. For all we know, he/she was the author of great works of fiction and his/her killings were part of a gruesome research project.

Okay, today is quiz day here at The Graveyard Shift. So sharpen your pencils (we’re not high tech), take a seat at your desks, and then you may begin.

Miranda. Yes or No?

  • Johnny I. Lawbreaker was arrested at the scene of a burglary. A man walking his dog, a toy poodle named Ralph, saw Lawbreaker enter the home through a side window. The witness called the police and within a minute or two a patrol car showed up and the two officers nabbed the crook as he climbed feet first from the open window. In his right hand was a money bag filled with cash. The bag was clearly labeled with the homeowners first and last name.

The officers handcuffed Lawbreaker and hauled him to the local jail. He was allowed to post bond and later appeared in court to answer to the charges of Breaking and Entering and Larceny. Prior to his testimony Lawbreaker appeared confident and even occasionally smiled at jury members, the arresting officers, and the DA. After the prosecutor finished her opening statement Lawbreaker, having waived his right to an attorney, was representing himself, stood an addressed the court by saying, “Your Honor, I’d like for you to dismiss all charges because the officers never read me my rights, and the law states that they must. They violated my constitutional rights. Thank you.”

The judge, the Honorable Tommy T. Toughasnails, said, “Motion denied. Madam prosecutor, you may continue. “Law breaker was flabbergasted. He wondered how the judge could allow such a flagrant violation? After all, he thought, it’s right there in the constitution—When a person is arrested, police officers must immediately advise them of their rights.

Question – When making arrests, are police officers required by law to advise suspects of their rights? If so, is there a specific time and/or place to do so (at the spot of the arrest, for example?) At the police station/jail?

The One Phone Call

  • Police arrested Steve Legalbeaglewannabe and are now inside the department booking area. The prisoner rants and complains and hollers about his constitutional right to a phone call. “I want to call my wife and I demand that you take me to a phone right now! You idiots are violating my constitutional right to make a phone call. I ain’t no fool. I. Know. My. RIGHTS!”

Question – Is Leagalbeaglewannabe correct? Is there a constitutional right to be allowed that “one phone call?”

Those Lyin’ Cops

  • Ronnie Wrongway tells the judge that he shouldn’t be convicted for his crime of selling a million pounds of fentanyl to an undercover cop because the plainclothes cop lied to him, stating that he was not a police officer when Wrongway asked. During the trial the drug dealer aimed a grubby and stubby index finger at the officer and declared, “He, that fibbing cop right there, violated my constitutional rights when he lied to me. Cops must always tell the truth; therefore, I demand that all charges against me be dismissed.”

Question – Is it written in the constitution that police officers must always be truthful when dealing with criminals? Must charges be dismissed if an officers lies to a suspect during an investigation?

I Ain’t Pressing’ No Charges

  • Betty Blackeye calls the police to report an assault committed by her boyfriend. She tells the dispatcher that that Billy Buck came home from work, caught her in bed with two clowns from the circus that was in town for the week, and the next thing she knew … POW! Billy socked her in the eye. He tried fighting her two lovers but each time he bopped them in the nose they simply fell backward for a second, after releasing an odd squeaking noise, before quickly bouncing back upright.

So officers drove over to nab Billy Buck with plans of charging him with assault. When they arrived they observed Betty’s recently and badly bruised eye. However, Betty had a change of heart and began crying and begging officers to let the love of her life go. “I LOVE him,” she squalled. Between sobs she said she didn’t want to press charges, but the officers handcuffed Billy and took him to jail anyway. He was charged with assault.

Question – Was it legal for officers to arrest Billy Buck even though Betty withdrew her complaint?

Peekaboo, I See You

  • Donnie Doper called the police to report a break-in at his home. He told police that a rear door was forced open and the crooks stole his Crockpot, a socket set, and a shotgun. Police officers arrived and Donnie invited them inside to have a look around. While touring the home and taking notes one of the officers spotted a 5 lb. bag of cocaine on the kitchen table. Beside it is a set of scales and a stack of plastic bags. They arrested Donnie and confiscated the drugs and associated items.

Donnie argued that the officers illegally seized the drugs and paraphernalia because they did not possess a warrant to do so. And, since the seizure was illegal then so was his arrest. He demanded that charges be dropped.

Question – Was Donnie’s arrest illegal? Do police need a warrant in this or similar circumstances?

Last year in the U.S., according to FBI stats, over 14,000 people were murdered. That’s more than the total number of residents who live in the wonderful city of Half Moon Bay, California, one of my favorite places. The seaside there is absolutely stunning, and the downtown is charming. But a murder rate that exceeds the population of any town, even tiny places such as Hartley, Delaware (population just shy of 75 residents according to City-Data.com) is number that’s far too high. Even one homicide is one homicide too many.

Assault Rifle?

When the total number of murders is mentioned, many people, if not most, automatically think of “assault rifles” as the weapons that likely sent most of those 14,000 plus people to an early grave. But are their thoughts accurate, or are they merely brought on by other forces, such as what we see reported in news stories and social media, and books, TV, and/or film?

Well, here’s the reality.

Of the 14,123 people murdered in 2018, 297 were killed by the use of a rifle of any type, including dear old dad’s hunting rifle or the .22 rifles like Junior uses to plink tin can from the fence at Grandma’s farm.

Also, 235 folks were killed by shotgun blasts.

Handguns are the Murder Weapons of Choice

Handguns, not rifles, are the weapon of choice when it comes to killing. Actually, there’s no comparison. In 2018, 6603 people were shot and killed by criminals who used a handgun—revolvers or semi-automatics—to illegally end the life of another. I say “illegally” because these numbers do not reflect legal homicides (self-defense or the defense of others).

Knives/Edged Weapons

Just over 5 times the number of people killed by rifles—1515—were slain by killers wielding edged weapons, such as knives, daggers, axes, hatchets, swords, etc.

Hands and Feet

Remember all the times people demanded to know why deadly force was used to stop an unarmed person? Well, here’s the reason (in most cases). In 2018, 668 people were killed by attackers who used nothing more than their hands, fists, and/or feet as weapons of death. It’s true, hundreds of people are beaten or kicked to death each year.

Clubs, Hammers, and Other Blunt Objects

Believe or not, blunt items such as hammers, bricks, frying pans, baseball bats, etc. were used to kill more times than were the total number of all rifles used to commit murder. Yes, a whopping 443 people were slain by people swinging items such as hammers and baseball bats.

Rounding out the 2018 Murder Weapon Chart Were:

Asphyxiation – 90

Strangulation – 70

Narcotics – 78

Fire – 72

Drowning – 9

Poison – 5

Explosives – 4

And the ever popular “Pushing or throwing someone out of a window” – 4.

Of course, there were a variety of other murder weapon categories, but those listed above are the most popular among killers.

I guess if there’s a point to be made in all of this, it would be that when seeking out the perfect murder weapon killers tend to reach for items that are most convenient to them, and that may not be a firearm. After all, the concrete garden gnome in the backyard can kill someone just as a dead as would a rifle.


*This post is intended as a means to provide factual information. As always, discussions related to gun control, race, religion, politics, or other hot-button issues are not permitted. I welcome comments and questions, but let’s leave the other for places/sites other than here. Thanks!

It was just over 100 years ago—Sunday May 4th, 1919-when Lafayette County, Missouri Sheriff Joseph Caldwell Talbott, Deputy John McDonald, and Deputy Constable James Stapleton were shot and killed while transporting three auto theft suspects to jail.

Because the office of sheriff was left vacant, a special election was quickly scheduled to fill the position. Sheriff Talbott’s wife, Minnie Mae Talbott (pictured above), tossed her hat in the ring, which was unheard of at the time for a women to even remotely think she could win an election. But Minnie Mae was determined.

Twenty-five days after the three lawmen were gunned down in the line of duty, on May 29th, 1919, Minnie Mae Talbott won the office once held by her husband (by over 700 votes) and was officially sworn into office on June 8th 1919.

Minnie Mae Talbott was the first woman elected to the office of Sheriff in the United States. Just as remarkable, she was elected to office by an all-male electorate.  After all, women would not gain the right to vote until August 1920.

Sheriff Talbott and her five children resided in the jail complex where she often took it upon herself to prepare meals for the prisoners housed there. She did what she could, running the jail on a budget of a mere $80 mer month.

Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbott earned a groundbreaking spot in the history books. She served as Lafayette County, Missouri’s 16th sheriff, an office she held for only two years. She decided not to run in the next election due to her declining health. Therefore, she moved to Colorado, hoping the change would aid in her battle against consumption. She remarried there and and remained in Colorado until her death in 1962.

Joseph L. Forsha was elected and succeeded Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbot as the county’s 17th sheriff.

Female Sheriff in Charge of the Last Public Hanging in the United States

On August 14, 1936, just before 5:30 a.m., Rainey Bethea was led to the gallows in Owensboro, Kentucky. He’d been convicted of robbing, raping and murdering 70-year old Lischia Edwards.

News of Bethea’s public hanging, the last in the U.S., reached from coast to cost. The news was especially hot because the sheriff in the area, the official charged with carrying out the execution, was a woman—Sheriff Florence Shoemaker Thompson.

Sheriff Florence Thompson, a mother of four, was appointed to her position when her husband, Joseph Everett Thompson, the current sheriff, died of pneumonia. The local judge needed to move quickly to appoint a new sheriff to succeed Everett Thompson and his wife Florence was the logical choice for the job. This was so due to a practice at the time called “widow’s succession,” where a politician who died in office was succeeded in office by his widow.

Not one who favored wearing a uniform, Sheriff Florence Thompson often wore dresses while at work. To make her position noted, though, she pinned the sheriff’s star to her dress for all to see.

On the day of Bethea’s hanging, a mere four months after Thompson took office, a crowd of 20,000 people gathered to see the county’s female sheriff pull the lever to send the condemned man to his death. But she did not, opting to hand over the job to a former police officer who showed up in an extremely intoxicated state and practically botched the execution.

Journalists went nuts, ridiculing the sheriff for not having the guts to carry out the execution. One newspaper even falsely reported that the sheriff had fainted at the time the of the execution (yes, fake news existed in those days as well).

Thompson was re-elected in November of 1936 when she received 9,811 votes. The two who ran against her split a mere 3 votes between them. Obviously Sheriff Thompson was a popular woman. She served until 1938 when she decided to leave office. However, she was immediately appointed as a deputy by her successor.


Rainey Bethea’s last meal consisted of fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream. He elected to wear a new pair of socks at this execution, but no shoes.

The pursuit ended when the fleeing felon crashed his car in a roadside ditch. Both he and a passenger hopped out and began running toward an open field. The passenger turned right at a stand of maple trees. The driver hooked left, aiming for the rear of an elementary school. He carried a pistol in his left hand.

The dispatcher called to the officer to report that the driver was wanted for killing two police officers in a nearby town. The pursuing officer, D.O. Nut, chased the suspect, picking up speed and gaining on the armed man. His partner ran after the passenger.

Officer D.O. Nut felt his heart pounding against the inside of his ribs, its intensity mirroring the rapid rat-tat-tatting of a Thompson Sub-Machine gun. He felt his muscles quivering and he sensed a sudden burst of energy (no way he could run this fast and this far on a typical day).

In spite of his wide open mouth that sucked air as hard as his lungs would allow, he seemed fine, as if he could keep up the pace all day long. His vision was sharper than usual and his mind processed information at lightning speeds. He was invincible.

He caught up to the the cop-killer, an extremely large, muscular man the size of a pro wrestler, and quickly took him to the ground where he aptly placed cuffs around his massive wrists and then pulled the struggling behemoth to his feet for the long walk back to the patrol car. Piece of cake.

Adrenaline is definitely bad to the bone!

The officer suddenly felt a bit dizzy due to the change in blood circulation and oxygen. The temperature was a bit cool out, yet he felt somewhat warm and was perspiring far more than normal.. It was nearly an hour later before the odd feelings subsided.

That’s how it is for a police officer, the rollercoaster ride of adrenaline rushes and crashes/dumps, over and over again throughout a typical shift. From 0-100, time and time again. Guns, knives, fists, pursuits, yelling, screaming, crying, hostages, suicides, murders … STRESS!

The Adrenal Gland

Adrenaline, a simple stress hormone, aka epinephrine, is produced within the adrenal gland, a small gland that’s perched on the tops of our two kidneys. But as tiny as it is, the gland is the powerhouse behind our incredible “fight or flight” responses to fear, panic, and/or perceived threats.

Adrenaline is produced by a very specific layer of tissue within the adrenal gland—the medulla (the middle tissue). The gland also synthesizes many other hormones but that’s for another day, possibly. For now, let’s maintain our focus on adrenaline and how it’s so very important to police officers, victims of violent crimes, and the everyday Joe or Jane.

The Adrenaline “Rush”

An “adrenaline rush” occurs when the Sympathetic Nervous System is involuntarily activated by the brain when it detects that we’re involved in a high stress event, such as imminent physical danger.

When we’re frightened by a life-threatening situation such as an armed robber or serial-killer-maniac, the brain senses the danger and immediately sends an instant message to the adrenal glands. When the adrenal gland receives the alarm, and it’s an instantaneous reaction, it leaps into action and quickly dumps a massive surge of adrenaline into the bloodstream.

Once adrenaline is released and snakes its way throughout the body, it begins to work its magic—releasing glucose into the bloodstream to generate extra energy, speeds up our heart rates and increases the thumping power of the heart’s contractions, and it dilates the blood vessels.

To increase our intake and exchange of oxygen, adrenaline also widens the bronchioles, the smaller airways in the respiratory tract that lead to the alveolar ducts and finally to the extra-tiny alveoli (in the lungs) where gases are exchanged with blood.

Alveoli, by the way, are tiny air sacs located in the lungs at the end of the bronchioles. The alveoli are where the lungs and the bloodstream exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Speaking of Alveoli

I apologize for rambling but, since we’ve brought up the alveoli I’d like to take a brief moment to mention their part in breathalyzer testing. I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the day but it’s cool information that could someday be needed in a work of fiction, so here you go.

As blood is pumped throughout the body it passes through the lungs where it is is oxygenated. As a result, when a person consumes alcoholic beverages some of the alcohol eventually crosses the air sacs (alveoli). When it reaches those sacs alcohol is released into the air. This occurs because because alcohol evaporates from a solution because oxygen is volatile.

Therefore the concentration of the alcohol in the alveolar air corresponds to the concentration of the alcohol in the blood. When the alcohol in the alveolar air is exhaled (deep lung air), it can be detected and accurately measured by breathalyzers and other breath alcohol testing devices such as those used by police officers.

The ratio of breath alcohol to blood alcohol is 2,100:1, meaning that 2,100 milliliters (ml) of alveolar air contains the same amount of alcohol as 1 ml of blood.

Whew! That Was Confusing, Right? And I had to endure a week of classroom training about this stuff back during Breathalyzer certification training. Fun times!

Okay, Now Back to Adrenaline

We’ve all experienced an adrenaline rush at some point during our lives. Like when the car nearly crashed into you on the freeway, or during your PIT maneuver training at the Writers’ Police Academy as your car was struck by one driven by Tami Hoag or Craig Johnson, a controlled collision that caused your vehicle to wildly spin out of control.

Fight or Flight

Now, with our bloodstream loaded with adrenaline, we’re ready to either stand and fight or put our feet in action to make a speedy retreat. Fortunately, we don’t have to develop this plan before we act because our autonomic nervous system does it for us. It’s this automated control center of our nervous systems the start the process for us. All we need to do react in whichever method—to run away or stand and fight—our bodies tell us.

If we’re forced to fight during the time when adrenaline is surging through our blood vessels, well, Mr. Bad Guy had better prepare for a wild ride because fear can bring out the grizzly bear in each of us. It is this physical response that can aid in fending off those who mean to do us harm.

Adrenaline is indeed a remarkable thing. Once it’s sent on its way through the bloodstream, it can turn the meek and mild into supercharged versions of themselves.

The Tractor and a Child’s Superhuman Strength

An uncle of mine lost his legs after a farming accident when a tractor he was driving slipped on a hillside and overturned, pinning him beneath it. His young son, just a small boy, witnessed the accident and miraculously lifted the tractor from his father who then managed to pull himself away. The boy then released his hold on the tractor and it fell to the ground. Unfortunately, both of my uncles legs were crushed and had to be removed.

He went on to live a productive and active life, though, and never let his handicap slow him in any way. He even enjoyed joining in a game of softball once in a while. He was a killer with  bat and could easily slam a ball into deep center field. Then he’d “run” the bases by using his hands to thrust his torso forward and back much like the movements of a chimpanzee scampering along the ground. My goodness, my uncle was fast, too. He’s gone now, but his story and love of life and family left a lasting impression on many people.

But, my uncle would have succumbed to his injuries had it not been for his son’s quick thinking and and adrenaline-charged super strength. And it is that same “rush” that helps cops survive each and every day.

But those ups and downs can take a toll on the body.

Short term, immediate post adrenaline “dumps” often result in:

  • Nausea
  • Mild to Extreme Muscle Soreness
  • Urge/Desire to have sex. Hypersexual.
  • Winding Down Process – hyper activity such as extreme pacing,  jitteriness, shouting, and incessant babbling.
  • Exhaustion
  • Nightmares and Loss of or Restless/Tossing and turning during sleep
  • Sporadic Adrenaline Rush brought on by a minor incident or thoughts

Long term effects include:

  • weakened immune system
  • ulcers
  • cardiovascular troubles
  • Stress-induced DNA damage that can lead to premature aging, promotion of tumor growth, miscarriages in women
  • depression
  • exacerbated anxiety