Did you know that not all sheriff’s deputies are police officers? How about that some sheriffs in the U.S., and their deputies, do not have any arrest authority? Is it possible that you, as writers, haven written scenes incorrectly based on not knowing the above facts? Well, there’s a super easy solution to fixing this lack of basic knowledge … Do Your Homework!

It takes a minimal amount of effort to check the policies, procedures, laws, and rules and regulations in the area where your story takes place. Of course, if your town is fictional then you’re the law-maker in charge. But if the setting of your latest tale is Doodlebop, Alaska, then you should conduct a bit of research to learn how things operate in Doodlebop’s town limits and surrounding areas. After all, what happens in Doodlebop, Alaska is most likely quite a bit different than the goings-on in Rinktytink, Vermont.

For example:

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S. Even the slang for carbonated beverages varies from place to place (soda, pop, soda pop, Coke, drink, etc.).

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Big. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass and Mistake.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour…well, get out the bottle of white-out because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can set up shop. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her guvment vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now I’m giving a big roll of my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality, even if only for a few pages. Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But for goodness sake, give them something to work with,—without an info dump—a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

Saying This Again

If you’re going for realism, and I cannot stress this enough, please do your homework. Remember, no two agencies operate in exactly the same manner, nor are rules and even many laws/ordinances the same in states, towns, counties, and cities. Actually, things are never the same/uniform across the country. Therefore, it’s always best to check with someone in the area where your story is set. Again, rules and regulations on one side of the country may not be the same on the other. And the middle of the country may also be totally different from the other localities.

For example, there are 3,081 sheriffs in the U.S., and I can say with certainty that neither of those top cops runs their office in a manner that’s identical to that of another. Each sheriff has their own set of policies, rules, and regulations, and each state has their own laws regarding sheriffs and their duties.

The same is true with other agencies, including the offices of medical examiners and coroners. State law, again, dictates whether or not they utilize a coroner system or that of a medical examiner.

*By the way, three states do not have Sheriff’s Offices—Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii.

Location, Location, Location!

As when writing about a sheriff’s office, if your story features a medical examiner, or coroner, you should narrow your research efforts to the area where your story takes place.  Here’s why …

In some locations, typically rural, a medical examiner does not always go to the scene of a homicide. Instead, as is the case of many areas within in the Commonwealth of Virginia, EMS or a funeral home is responsible for transporting the body to a local hospital morgue where a doctor or local M.E. examines the victim. If an autopsy is to be performed, though, it is not the local medical examiner who’d conduct it. Instead, the body is transported to a state morgue which could be hours away.

In Virginia, there are only four state morgue locations/district offices (Manassas, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke). Each of the district offices is staffed by forensic pathologists, investigators, and various morgue personnel, and this where autopsies are conducted, not at the local morgue/hospital.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is located in Richmond (the office where Patricia Cornwell’s fictional M.E., Kay Scarpetta, worked). This is also the M.E.’s office that conducted the autopsies on the homicide cases I investigated. The real-life Kay Scarpetta was our Chief M.E.

There are several local medical examiners in Virginia (somewhere around 160, or so) but they do not conduct autopsies. Their job is to assist the state’s Chief Medical Examiner. by conducting field investigations, if they see fit to do so, but many do not. Mostly, they have a look at the bodies brought to hospitals by EMS, sign death certificates, and determine whether or not the case should be referred to the state M.E.’s office for autopsy. They definitely do not go to all death scenes. Again, some do, but not all.

An example (one of many) was a drug-related execution where I was called on by a nearby county sheriff to assist his department in the investigation. Following the evidence, I and sheriff’s detectives located the killers. After interrogating one of the suspects he led me to the crime scene where we found the deceased victim after an exhausting search. The suspects carried and dragged the body several yards, deep into a wooded area. The local medical examiner did not attend. Instead, he requested that the body be delivered to a local hospital.

Above – Me standing on the left at a murder scene where a drug dealer was executed by rival gang members, who then hid the body in a wooded area. I was asked to assist a sheriff’s office with the investigation. The medical examiner was called but elected to not go to the scene. The body and sheet used by the suspects to drag the victim were placed into a body bag and then transported to the morgue via EMS ambulance.

Pursuant to § 32.1-283 of the Code of Virginia, all of the following deaths are investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner:

  • any death from trauma, injury, violence, or poisoning attributable to accident, suicide or homicide;
  • sudden deaths to persons in apparent good health or deaths unattended by a physician;
  • deaths of persons in jail, prison, or another correctional institution, or in police custody (this includes deaths from legal intervention);
  • deaths of persons receiving services in a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • the sudden death of any infant; and
  • any other suspicious, unusual, or unnatural death.

* Remember, “investigated” does not mean they have to go to the actual crime scene.

Again, me on the left as a sheriff’s office crime scene investigator points out the location of spent bullet casings, drag marks, and a blood trail. Pictured in the center are the county sheriff and prosecutor. The M.E. elected to not travel to the scene. As good luck would have it, we had the killers in custody at the conclusion of a nonstop, no sleep, 36-hour investigation.

After a lengthy interrogation, two of the four confessed to the murder. Of course, they each pointed to someone else as the shooter, and he, the actual shooter, placed the blame on his partners. But all four admitted to being present when the murder occurred and all four served time for the killing.

Take Two Bodies and Call Me in the Morning!

In the areas far outside the immediate area of Virginia’s four district offices of the chief medical examiner, officials rely on local, part-time medical examiners who may or may not visit crime scenes.

In those rural areas, once a death is confirmed, detectives call the local, part-time M.E. who typically defers to EMS to determine that the victim is indeed dead. They then advise the detectives to, once they’ve completed their on-scene investigation, have EMS bring the body to the local morgue where they’ll have a look at their earliest convenience..

Since most local M.E.s work full-time jobs they are not always readily available to visit a crime scene.

“Yeah, he’s dead, now gimme my money.”

The pay for local M.E’s in Virginia is a “whopping” $150 per case, if the case referred to the state is one that falls under their jurisdiction. The local M.E.s receive an extra $50 if they actually go to a crime scene. Again, many do not. Interestingly, funeral homes pay the local medical examiner $50 for each cremation he or she certifies.

The requirements to become a local M.E. in Virginia are:

  • A valid Virginia license as a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, Nurse Practitioner, or Physician Assistant
  • An appointment by Virginia’s chief medical examiner
  • A valid United States driver’s license

Once someone is appointed as a local medical examiner their term is for three years, beginning on October 1 of the year of appointment.

The four district offices employ full-time forensic pathologists who conduct all autopsies. Obviously, a physician’s assistant is not qualified to conduct an autopsy, nor are they trained as police/homicide investigators. They do attend some training courses, however.

And, Again …

Keep in mind, things are never the same/uniform across the country. It’s always best, if you’re going for 100% realism, to check with someone in the area where your story is set. The rules and regulations on one side of the country may not be the same on the other. And the middle of the country may also be totally different from the other localities.

Coroners

The same inconsistencies seen in the running of sheriffs’ and medical examiners’ offices occur in individual coroner’s offices. For example, in one Ohio county, one of four coroner’s investigators respond to a scene, if they believe it’s necessary. Then, after the body is brought back to the morgue by the coroner’s team, within the next day or so, a pathologist conducts the autopsy. The same or similar is so in many, many areas of the country … or not.

Per state law, a coroner in Ohio must be an MD, but they may or may not be the person who conducts the autopsy. In the office mentioned above, autopsies were typically performed by a part-time MD/pathologist who also works at the local hospital. The same MD there now was the pathologist who conducted autopsies when I was last there. I checked today, in fact.

Pathologists in the Ohio county are paid per autopsy. At the time I was there, the office received $1,500 per autopsy, with $750 of the sum going to the pathologist performing the exam. (the sum was $750 the last time I viewed an autopsy there) with remaining $750  going to the coroner’s general operating budget. The pathologist was not a full-time employees of the coroner’s office.

Oh, yeah, there’s a difference between a coroner and a medical examiner, but that’s a topic for another article.

Fun Fact – Some California sheriffs also serve as coroners. They are not medical doctors, obviously. Coroners are elected officials and could be the local butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, as long as they won the local election.

So, from me to you, here’s your homework assignment …

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!

Believe me, your readers will love that you’ve “gotten it right.”

Speaking of doing your homework, here’s the ultimate training event for writers …



Register here!


Featuring David Baldacci – Guest of Honor

 

David Baldacci is a global #1 bestselling author, and one of the world’s favorite storytellers. His books are published in over 45 languages and in more than 80 countries, with over 130 million copies sold worldwide. His works have been adapted for both feature film and television. He has also published seven novels for young readers.

David is also the cofounder, along with his wife, Michelle, of the Wish You Well Foundation®, which is dedicated to supporting adult and family literacy programs in the United States.

David is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He lives in Virginia.

 

With special guests …

Judy Melinek, M.D. was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.


Ray Krone is co-founder of Witness to Innocence. Before his exoneration in 2002, Ray spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit.

His world was turned upside down in 1991, when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar where Ray was an occasional customer, and he was arrested for the crime. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness, later discredited, who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth. He was sentenced to death in 1992.

 


With a special presentation by Dr. Denene Lofland – A Microbiologist’s Perspective of Covid 19 and the Spread of Disease.

Denene Lofland  is an expert on bioterrorism and microbiology. She’s managed hospital laboratories and for many years worked as a senior director at biotech companies specializing in new drug discovery. She and her team members, for example, produced successful results that included drugs prescribed to treat cystic fibrosis and bacterial pneumonia. Denene, along with other top company officials, traveled to the FDA to present those findings. As a result, those drugs were approved by the FDA and are now on the market.

Calling on her vast expertise in microbiology, Denene then focused on bioterrorism. With a secret security clearance, she managed a team of scientists who worked in an undisclosed location, in a plain red-brick building that contained several laboratories. Hidden in plain sight, her work there was for the U.S. military.

She’s written numerous peer reviewed articles, contributed to and edited chapters in Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook used by universities and medical schools, and, as a professor, she taught microbiology to medical students at a well-known medical school. She’s currently the director of the medical diagnostics program at a major university, where she was recently interviewed for a Delaware public service announcement/video about covid-19.

Denene is a regular featured speaker at the annual Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference, and she’s part of the faculty for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners.

She was recently named a Fellow of the Association of Clinical Scientists, an elite 200-member association of top scientists from around the world that includes pathologists, clinical chemists, molecular and cell biologists, microbiologists, immunologists, hematologists, cytogeneticists, toxicologists, pharmacokineticists, clinicians, cancer researchers and other doctoral scientists who are experts in laboratory methods for the elucidation, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases. 

Perpetrator v. percolator

Police jargon, or slang, is truly a language of its own. It’s a collection of words that can and do vary greatly from one area of the country to another. Even neighboring counties and cities sometime have their own special slang terms that are unique.

If a writer’s goal is realism, I strongly urge the storyteller to do a little homework to avoid dialogue and terminology that doesn’t ring true, especially within a specific location or agency. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide you with the needed information.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with police officers all across the country about this very topic. Athough, my focus was on the use of three specific terms/words that I often see used in works of fiction—Perp, Vic, and Juvie. I wanted to see if cops truly used those slang terms. I already knew the answer but, as always, it’s best to do our homework if we’re aiming for facts (hint).

Here’s what I learned.

1) Perp – Not many police officers use the shortened form of the word perpetrator. Instead, they use the more common terms, suspect, actor, or ***hole. Listen to police scanners and you’ll rarely, if ever, hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” Typically, it’s, “We apprehended the suspect at 0100 hours.”

Perp is generally a specific, regional term. I’ve heard it used more in the New York and Boston areas more than any other location. Still, it’s not used by all officers.

FYI – the term perpetrator is NOT to be confused with the closely-sounding “percolator.” Confusing the two could prove to be quite embarrassing.

Yes, I once saw the perpetrator/percolator faux pas in a manuscript. Imagine reading a book written by your favorite author and you see this on page 47 – “10-4, Captain, the percolator who robbed the hot dog stand was short and stocky, and a witness said he had a tattoo on his forehead that she believed spelled the words ‘Ken’ and ‘More.’  Could be his name—Ken More.”

New Picture

By the way, you’ll probably not hear the other, more colorful term “a**hole” used on the police radio. It and other profanity are not supposed to be spoken on the air, but when the adrenaline is high and the bullets are flying, well, you just might hear anything.

“The a**hole just fired two rounds at me! Send &*%@ing backup. NOW!!”

2) Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all cops use Vic, if any, when referring to the victim of a crime. Well, TV cops do, but not all real-life cops. Actually, some real-life cops refer to their police cars as a Vic, if they’re driving a Ford Crown Victoria.

New Picture (1)

To hear a fictional officer misuse the term can be a bit humorous. And, when a reader is thinking one thing but reading another, like – “I really put the Vic to the test. Put my foot in ‘er and drove ‘er hard, first up the mountain and then back down. Wide open all the way. Didn’t let up for a minute. I finally backed off because she started to spit and sputter. Overall, it was a good ride and I’d like to try it again.”

It’s probably a great idea to provide a lead-in so readers will know your hero is referring to a car, not the unfortunate murder victim from chapter three. Ouch!

What word do cops use when referring to a victim? That’s an easy one—victim! Or … dead guy, DB (dead body), maggot snack, etc.

3) Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or as a generic word for kids.

Again, not all members of law enforcement use this term.

Most simply say “juvenile” to describe those innocent little darlins’ who are always on their best behavior.

New Picture (1)

 

The year is 1982 and I’m assigned to patrol duty in a town called Peaceful. We’re bordered by the towns Mean and Nasty. Peaceful, where I work, is the county seat.

My name is Officer Hartogold and I work the graveyard shift. I carry a gun and wear a badge. It’s my job to protect and serve.

Peaceful is generally a quiet place with very little crime. The streets are lined with green leafy trees and flowers of every color and scent imaginable. The walks are clean and straight and the air is fresh. People smile and say howdy, even to strangers who pass through on their way to here and there.

Our coffee is hot and soft drinks are ice cold. No one curses and no one argues. Kids are polite and respectful. Parents happily attend school functions and entire families enjoy meals together.

Schools are for learning and children love their teachers. The lake is full of sparkling water and fish “this big” are seen each morning leaping as high as three or four feet into the air to catch a bug or two for their breakfast. The skies are blue and grass is soft and velvety.

Everyone in the area works hard to earn a living. The local university produces top-notch graduates. Many of them move on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, writers, and other such careers. Some finish high school and proudly attend the technical school where they learn to cook, build, design computer systems, and drive big rigs. The dropout rate in Peaceful is very low, and drunk driving charges are nonexistent.

Peaceful is a nice town.

Sure, Billy Buck “Bubba” Johnson occasionally goes off the deep end and tears up his kitchen or living room, and once in a while somebody catches his wife in bed with a neighbor and subsequently uses his trusty 12-gauge to generously aerate her lover’s nude body.

And once, the president of the First Savings and Loan Bank ran off with with one of the tellers, a big-haired woman who, at the time, was married to a local peanut farmer. They’d grabbed a few thousand dollars from the vault before hitting the road. They didn’t get far, though, before the Highway Patrol caught up with the adulterous couple in Happytown, near the state line. The couple gave back the stolen loot, begged forgiveness, and then disappeared again while out on bond.

For the most part, though, Peaceful PD officers answer barking dog and peeping Tom complaints. We write a few traffic tickets, and we keep the undesirables outside the city limits (those Mean and Nasty folks can be downright ornery, especially so on Saturday nights).

Pot smokers and growers—long-hairs we called ’em—were once a bit of a concern for us. Not only was marijuana illegal, our government, and Mexico, had been spraying the weed crops with Paraquat, a chemical linked to cancer and possibly to Parkinson disease. And they’d done so since the time when Nixon was in office.  Pot was a big, illegal business and President Reagan and his wife Nancy were leading the anti-pot crusade.

Next came George Bush, Sr. and Desert Storm, a war that sent a lot of police officers back into active military duty. Some never came home and we eventually filled their positions, sometimes with more former soldiers who managed to survive their deployments.

Occasionally we’d hire a recently discharged soldier whose mind was infiltrated and battered by ghosts and demons from the battlefield. Deep down we knew the odds were in favor of someday finding at least one of those guys sitting inside his patrol car with the barrel of his service weapon jammed tightly against the roof of his mouth.

The poor fellow’d have the hammer cocked and a trembling index finger hooked around the trigger. His face peppered with tiny pearls of sweat and his eyes leaking tears that dropped onto his Class A uniform shirt from a jawline so sharply chiseled that looked as if a stone mason had carved it from a slab of granite. Tough as rusty nails they were, until war turned their emotions and minds to mush.

Sometimes we were able to talk them down, and sometimes the situation ended with bagpipes, a riderless horse, and handing a folded flag to a sobbing, heart-broken spouse.

We kept a close eye on the long-hairs and the people they hung out with, making sure to snag them if we saw them driving while stoned or selling the stuff to little kids. Our narcs where forever finding  and destroying grow operations, but the dopers always popped back up in new locations. As always, drunk drivers added their own special dangers and problems, so we watched for them too.

Then, practically in a flash, crack cocaine entered the picture and things really went sour. That’s also the time when bad guys started carrying semi-automatic pistols instead of cheap pawn shop revolvers. We, however, still had six-shooters sitting in our holsters, which meant the crooks were far better outfitted than the police.

Therefore, to “keep up with the Joneses” we made the switch to the newfangled semi-autos. What a learning curve that was, to go from carrying 18 rounds (6 in the gun and 12 in speed loaders) to 16 in the pistol and an extra 30 in spare magazines worn on our gun belts. The training was a bit intimidating at first, but we got the hang of it. Still, a few of the old-timers opted to keep their old wheel guns in lieu of the semi-autos. Change is tough, especially when it comes swapping a tool you’ve counted on for so long to keep you safe.

With the influx of crack came a drastic increase of criminal activity. Property crimes increased enormously as abusers and addicts began to steal nearly everything that wasn’t nailed down so they could fund their intense, overwhelming cravings for the drug. Assaults were up. The number of robberies increased. Murders and other shootings became commonplace. Shots-fired calls became a regular thing. Stabbings increased. Rapes. Car thefts. Break-ins. They all topped the stat charts.

Small time drug dealers hung out on street corners and in front of “drug houses,” selling to “customers” as they drove up. Curbside service was the preferred method of transaction for the sellers because they only carried a small amount of crack on them that could easily be swallowed or dropped if they saw us coming. Or, they could simply run away before we had time to stop the car and get out. The main stash was inside one the nearby houses, but pinpointing which one required significant surveillance and manpower. Unfortunately, our manpower was usually tied up working on keeping the ever-growing crime rate at a manageable level.

We were simply outnumbered. Crack was ruining our beloved Peaceful.

Not long after crack took hold, criminals began to resist our attempts to arrest them. Prior to crack, it was a rarity to encounter someone who seriously fought with police officers. Yes, there were some, but not every Bill, Chuck, and Susie.

Next they started shooting and lashing out at us with knives. They punched, kicked, and bit and threw rocks and bricks. They tried to hit us with cars as they made their escapes. Then they killed an officer. And then another.

Crime in general grew worse over the years. Criminals grew weirder with each passing week. Along with tho increases in the overall bizarreness came the change in people.

Politicians stole and cheated and lied. Police chiefs and sheriffs were arrested for corruption. Infrastructure started to fail. Kids were texting and driving and crashing their cars. Children were abducted, raped, and killed. Both male and female teachers were caught having sex with students.

Riots, drive-by shootings, property destroyed, mass shootings. School shootings. Arson.

Long gone are the days when I could pull up beside the Billy Buck “Bubba” Johnsons of the world and tell them to get inside my car because they’re under arrest for a crime they’ve committed. And they’d do it, without question. Not today. No, sir. Now you have to chase bad guys. Then when they’re caught you have to wrestle with them while a mob of bystanders kicks and punches you and tosses rocks at your head. And it never fails that a few screaming looky-loos will have their cellphone cameras shoved in your face hoping to record someone delivering a solid kick to your skull. Then, when you are assaulted or beaten those same looky-loos cheer and clap for the man or woman who caused your blood to gush onto the pavement.

Just a few short weeks ago, practically out of nowhere, came “the virus,” and within an instant the entire world changed, again. As a result, cops today are faced with even more challenges. But we’ll save those issues for another day.

In the meantime, someone ought to write a book about this stuff. I’d bet a dollar to donut that it would sell.

Speaking of donuts … A few months ago I offended someone with my use of “donuts” as the spelling of the round sweet treats with the hole in their middles. And the person said I was ignorant to do so. And, that since I was no more than a dumb cop, it was not surprising that I didn’t didn’t know the proper spelling of the word is “doughnut.”

Well, in the old days, back in Peaceful, Dunkin’ Donuts was a pretty popular donut shop. Of course, in 2019 they dropped “Donut” from their name and are now known as “Dunkin’. I wonder if they realize that they’ve also spelled Dunking incorrectly?

Shouldn’t somebody contact these folks right away to tell them their company names are also spelled incorrectly?

Boston Donuts – Leominster, Massachusetts
Casper’s Donuts – Pueblo, Colorado
Country Donuts – Elgin, Illinois
Cravin Donuts  – Tempe, Arizona
Crispy Donuts – Shreveport, Louisiana
Curry’s Donuts – Wilkes-Barre (Kingston), Pennsylvania
Daily Dozen Doughnuts – Warren, Michigan
Daylight Donuts – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Dipping Donuts – Leominster, Massachusetts
Dixie Cream Donuts  – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Donut Bank  – Evansville, Indiana
Donut Bistro – Reno, Nevada
Donut Cafe – Worcester, Massachusetts
Donut Connection – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Donut Country – Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Donut Crazy – New Haven, Connecticut
Donut Delight – Stamford, Connecticut
Donut Dip – West Springfield, Massachusetts
Do-rite Donuts – Chicago, Illinois
Donut King – Minneola, Florida
Donut King – Massachusetts
Donut Mania – Las Vegas, Nevada
Donut Palace – Van, Texas
Donut Professor – Omaha, Nebraska
Donut Stop – Amarillo, Texas
Donuts, donuts, DONUTS!

“When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.”

Will Rogers


By the way, there’s still plenty of time to enter your story in the Writers’ Police Academy’s annual Golden Donut Short Story Contest. The winner receives the prestigious Golden Donut Award and free registration to the 2021 Writers’ Police Academy! And, to sweeten the pot, New Arc Books will soon publish a collection of these fabulous 200-word tales. Your story could be included!

All you have to do is to fire up your imagination and write a tale using the image below as the main focus of the story. And, the stories must be told in exactly 200 of your very best words.

The contest judge is Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine!

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?