Simply put, buckshot are projectiles.

Unlike a single bullet fired from a handgun or rifle, shotgun shells contain a group of small balls (pellets) made of lead, steel, or a combination of other metals. When the shell is fired the individual shot travel down the barrel (bore) and when clear they begin to spread out/scatter in a funnel-like shape. The farther the pellets travel the wider the funnel (shot pattern) becomes. It’s this scattering action that makes it far easier to hit a target, as opposed to firing single rounds from handguns and rifles. For comparison, it’s easier to hit a tin can by tossing a handful of pebbles at it than it would be to strike the can with a single rock.


Remember the old westerns where cowboys mentioned using scatter guns? They were speaking of shotguns.


Also found inside the plastic or paper outer hull of a shotgun shell are:

  • Wad – The wad keeps the shot in place within the shell. In addition, it helps to prevent them from deforming as they pass through the barrel (bore).

After traveling a ways, the wad loses velocity and falls away and down from the shot as they continue onward toward their target. However, if the shooter is close enough to the target when the weapon is fired it’s likely the wad will also strike the mark. This is obvious when shooting at paper targets since each pellet separately punctures the paper, leaving behind small pellet-size holes. As the wad tears through the paper target it creates a large, jagged hole that’s at least the size of the wad. In many cases the resulting hole is larger than the actual size of the wad.

Not to scale, obviously.

Also found inside a shotgun shell …

  • Powder/propellant powder – Unlike rifle powder that must burn slowly in order to build up the necessary pressure to send a bullet down the barrel, shotgun powders are designed for the quick explosions needed to propel a load of shot or a slug. The nature of fast-burning powder results in less accuracy than rifles, at distances; however, shotguns are ideal for hitting moving targets at close range because of the spread of the pellets/shot.
  • Primer – A primer contains a small amount of explosive mixture. When the trigger is pulled it causes the firing pin to strike the primer. When struck, the explosive material ignites and sends a stream of hot gases forward into the cartridge case. In an instant, those gases increase in temperature and pressure. It is this combination that ignites the propellant powder.

The primer pocket houses the primer.

Shotgun Pellet Sizes

Shotgun shells come in various sizes and with varying contents, including a few different sizes of buckshot. Smaller shot are used for hunting small game such as birds, squirrels, and even for shooting pests (rats).

For example:

The sizes of buckshot range from No. 4, approximately .24 (caliber) to 000 (aka “triple aught), approximately .375 to .380 (caliber)

00 buckshot (double-aught buckshot) is likely the most recognizable shotgun ammunition since its often used in TV and film. It’s also commonly used for hunting large game, such as deer, hence the name “buck” shot. 00 buckshot pellets are .330 inch in diameter.

00 buckshot is widely used for home defense due to its stopping power—eight or nine .330 (caliber) pellets flying at over 1,300 feet per second. That’s enough force to penetrate car doors. Each of those eight or nine pellets are approximately the same size as that of a .32 caliber bullet fired from a pistol.

 

 

Hunting Use

00 buck is most often used to hunt larger game, such as deer. The preferred range for shotgun hunting is typically 50-60 yards or less. Of course, this distance depends upon how tightly the shot hold their pattern as they travel away from the weapon. Tightly patterned shot, a smaller more tightly formed “funnel” may reach targets at further distances. Obviously, the closer to a target the better the chance of bringing it down. At greater distance the shot pattern grows larger which increases the chance of stray shot striking something other than an intended target—another hunter, for example.

Slugs

Not to be confused with the mostly nocturnal garden variety shell-less mollusk pictured above, shotgun slugs are used for both hunting and target shooting. Their design, a single very large projectile that provides for incredible stopping power caused by both impact and massive wound channels.

Buckshot for Home Defense

Due to the scattering pattern of shot/pellets, there’s no real need to take precise aim when firing a shotgun during a life-saving defensive action. Merely point the business end of the weapon at the threat, pull the trigger, and let the spreading action of the pellets and the 00 ammo’s incredible stopping power and penetration do its job.

Keep in mind, as with all firearms, one must train and practice firing a shotgun to understand the weapon and to become at ease with how it functions, and to experience what happens when the trigger is pulled. There is a bit of kickback when a shotgun is fired, so be prepared.

Safety, safety, safety!!!!

And my dear writer friends, please do your homework before writing about firearms. It’s extremely jarring to be well into a terrific book and then “hear” the protagonist tell us they “racked” a bullet into their single barrel .12 gauge shotgun. As a rule of thumb, bullets are for rifles and handguns. Shotgun shells are for shotguns.

 

“Hollow point bullets are designed to hit the animal they’re being shot at, let’s say a deer for example, and explode inside that body, correct?” – Prosecutor Thomas Binger, during questioning of defendant Kyle Rittenhouse in a Kenosha County, Wi. courtroom.

Rittenhouse replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

Rittenhouse, on trial for murder, was absolutely correct. Hollow point ammunition does not explode.


Prosecutor Binger’s hollow point blunder is the perfect example of someone who hasn’t done their homework before sharing their lack of knowledge with the world.

Unfortunately, this massively incorrect statement was most likely absorbed into the brains of many folks who’re following the trial, and a number of them will repeat it as fact merely because it was spoken by someone, a prosecutor, who should know better. Then the snowball effect begins, with more and more people repeating the untruth until it eventually makes it way into everyday conversation, the media and, well, crime fiction.

I’m addressing this topic only because I don’t want to see Binder’s error wind up in your books. Of course, the fact that Binder used false information in a real-life murder trial is far more than concerning than to see it appear on page 102 of Sally Sue’s next thriller. Perhaps, though, Binder picked up the morsel of untruth from a novel written by someone who didn’t care to do their homework before settling in to write. You know, the same writers who have their characters smell the odor of cordite when entering a fresh shooting scene. Hmm …


Say NO to cordite! Click here to see why.


Before discussing hollow point rounds, it’s important to understand full metal jacket and hollow point bullets (the actual projectiles).

Jacketed bullets – lead bullets that are encased either partially or completely in copper or a similar alloy. The term “full metal jacket” (FMJ) refers to complete jacketing of a bullet. The entire bullet is encased inside a jacket.

Jacketed bullets

A FMJ round typically punches straight through through soft tissue, a through-and-through wound, and that’s because its hard jacket usually doesn’t allow the bullet to deform and expand. The FMJ bullet typically retains it sleek design as it passes through the body. However, the fired FMJ bullet could become misshapen if hits something hard, such as steel or concrete, and sometimes bone.

Wounds Caused by FMJ Rounds

Soft tissues are elastic and pliable and tend to close around a wound, attempting to retain the tissue’s original form. Therefore, both entrance and exit wounds are much smaller than the explosive and cavernous destruction that TV and film would have us believe. In fact, even 9mm FMJ rounds often leave behind wounds not much larger than those caused by rounds fired from a .22 pistol. Actually, even the more substantial and plumper .45 rounds often leave wounds smaller than the diameter of the bullet, after tissues begin to shrink once the round passes through. The same is so regarding the the wound cavity where the bullet travels through the body on its way to and out the opposite side. Therefore, for a FMJ round to kill or fully incapacitate, well, it usually must strike a vital organ or blood vessel. Thus, a shooter must be accurate with their shots.

Now for the “scoop” on hollow point ammunition.

Hollow Point Ammunition

Hollow points “mushroom” upon impact with tissue or other material/surfaces

Hollow point ammunition is designed to expand, or mushroom, when it strikes soft tissue. Expand, NOT explode.  The void at the tip is the key. Upon impact, it fills with matter, and that action combined with the forward motion of the round causes the lead surrounding the void to peel back and away, sort of like peeling a banana at 1,000 feet per second, or so.

As a result, the expansion of the bullet forces the round to quickly lose velocity while creating a much wider wound channel, thus a greater chance of it remaining inside the body, the opposite effect of an FMJ round. Therefore, hollow point ammunition reduces the risk of accidental collateral damage—a round passing through a body and traveling on to strike other people when firing in self defense or defense of others), or animals, buildings, and other people when hunting.


Hollow point rounds are an excellent ammo choice for law enforcement and for civilian self-defense.


 

 

Like the rounds pictured above, many hollow point bullets are jacketed, which allows for smoother feeding into a semi-automatic and automatic weapons. Jacketing also reduces “lead shaving” and damage to gun barrels. Jacketing hollow point ammunition also aids in penetrating targets, as well as helping the bullet expand in a uniform manner.


Lead shaving – deposits of lead are “shaved” from a bullet as it leaves the chamber and barrel. Deposits are often left in the bore of a firearm which can alter the shape of a bullet and/or the lands and grooves of a barrel. Sometimes the shaving is so egregious that tiny bits of hot lead blows outward onto the face, arms, and hands of the shooter. Occurs mostly with revolvers.

The first firearm I was issued by a sheriff’s office, a Ruger .357, shaved lead horribly. So much so that it peppered my face and hands with tons of hot lead each time I pulled its trigger. In fact, after firing between 40 -60 rounds the lead build-up around the chamber and cylinder was so great that the cylinder could not rotate. The revolver was, at that point, totally useless. It would not fire until it was thoroughly cleaned and the lead deposits scraped away. Needless to say, I plead my case with the boss and was issued a new weapon.


Many jacketed hollow point bullets have factory-cut notches/thin grooves/fault lines cut into the outer copper jacket, around the tips of the bullets. These cuts are purposeful weak points help that ensure that expansion and mushrooming occurs as it should.

 

 

So no, hollow point rounds do not explode.

FYI – Prosecutor Binder’s questions about this type of ammo was a bit puzzling since it had previously been confirmed that the ammunition fired from Rittenhouse’s weapon were full metal jacketed rounds, not hollow points. Just one of many head-scratching moments during a bizarre trial.


*This post is about ammunition only. I merely used an ill-informed prosecutor’s inaccurate question/statement as fodder for an article that could benefit writers of fiction, or fact. I am in no way offering an opinion of Rittenhouse’s guilt, innocence, or any combination thereof. So please, let’s avoid discussion about the case and trial, race, politics, etc.

Gun shot wounds

Experts are often asked what kind of entrance and exit wounds are produced by various types of ammunition. The rounds (bullets) in the photograph below are hollow point rounds similar in design to those fired from the pistol pictured above. This is what they look like before they’re fired.

hollow-point-and-magazine.jpg

They’re about the diameter of a Sharpie pen, and that’s darn close to the size of most entrance wounds caused by these rounds—the size of the bullet. However, the angle of impact could alter the size and shape of an entrance wound.

Before moving on and to help set the stage for the rest of this brief article, click on the video/song below.

By the way, a photo of a gunshot wound appears below. If this is something you’d rather not see then please stop here. Otherwise, well, BANG, BANG!

Pictured below is an entrance wound to the chest. The puncture was caused by 9mm round at point blank range, a close contact gunshot wound. Obviously, this was a fatal wound since I took this picture during the autopsy of the victim. Note the post-autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision (above right of the photo).

Also notice the charred flesh around the wound. This was caused by the heat of the round as it contacted the victim’s skin. The bruising around the wound was, of course, caused by the impact when the bullet struck the victim.

To illustrate how a bullet fragments and expands when hitting a solid surface, including bone, we fired a round directly into the range wall. Keep in mind, this was a controlled experiment conducted by professionals inside a facility designed for such testing. Please DO NOT try this yourself. Again, DO NOT point any weapon at any object you do not intend to shoot. When at a firing range ALWAYS point weapons downrange at designated targets.

The next picture is of a round after it was fired from a distance of two-feet directly into the wall inside the specially-designed firing range (see top photo). The round passed through the self-healing wall tiles, striking the concrete and steel wall on the the other side. Hitting the solid surface head-on caused the bullet to expand and fracture into a daisy-like shape, a result that often creates the large and flesh-torn exit wounds we sometimes see in shooting victims.

Below are other rounds we recovered after they’s struck hard surfaces at various angles. All were fired from the same gun. The bullet at the far right was fired directly into a massively thick pile of foam rubber. It maintained its shape. The object at the top of the photo is an ejected brass casing.

 

Once inside the body, bullet slivers/fragments can break away from their base (shrapnel) causing further internal damage. The size of an exit wound depends upon what, if anything, the bullet hits while inside the body. If the bullet strikes only soft tissue the wound will likely be less traumatic unless, of course, it compromises a major blood vessel. If it hits bone, expect much more damage.

Easy rule of thumb—the larger the caliber (bullet size), the bigger the hole.

Bullets that hit something other than their intended target, such as a brick wall or a metal lamp post, could break apart and send pieces of flying copper and lead fragments into crowds of innocent bystanders. Those flying fragments basically become smaller bullets and are just as lethal as any intact, full-sized bullet.

FYI – Bullets don’t always stop people, nor do they always kill. I’ve seen shooting victims get up and run after they’d been shot several times.

Bullets Don’t Always Kill: Sometimes being shot does no more than to make the person really mad, so LOOKOUT!

Always keep Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion in mind when writing shooting scenes. “The size of the force on the first object must equal the size of the force on the second object—force always comes in pairs.”

Therefore, if the blast is enough to send a victim flying backward through a door, then the same force is there in reverse and your shooter would also fly backward through the opposite door. Therefore, when the police arrive at the scene they’d find a person-size holes in each door and two unconscious people, one in the backyard and one in the front.

So that’s a big NO! People don’t fly twenty feet backward after they’ve been struck by a bullet or shotgun blast. They just fall down and bleed. They may even moan a lot. That’s if they don’t get back up and start shooting again. Simply because a suspect has been shot once or twice does not mean his ability, or desire, to kill the officer is over. This is why police officers are taught to shoot until the threat is over.

As a police detective whose job was to solve murders, I found it especially helpful to immerse myself into the lives of the victims rather than merely going through the motions of filling in the blanks of police reports. I had to make it personal. To try my absolute best to see the case through their eyes. I needed to know them and everything about them. I practically had to BE them until the point where they exhaled for the final time.

I needed to know a victim’s family and friends. I walked the paths they traveled. I learned their routines. I spoke with and interviewed their friends and family, yes, but I also made the effort see those friends and relatives from the victim’s perspective.

It’s Personal

To know the family and friends and acquaintances from the point of view of the victim is a telling and sometimes eye-opening experience. Getting to know people on a personal level is key that unlocks many “doors,” and doing so, more often than not, helps to crack those hardened exteriors people often develop toward police officers. Showing that you do indeed care about them and their loved one as people and not as items on a checklist goes a long way.

Caring About the Victim

I cared about the victims, each of them. I learned their habits. Their likes, hopes, and dreams. I grew to know their coworkers and their bosses and the people in the stores where they shopped for food and clothing, and the places where they purchased gas for their cars. I knew what they liked to read and to watch on TV. I held their dogs and cats and their babies. I hugged their parents, their spouses, and their young children. I played ball with their kids. I sat with the family, listening to stories about the past and of lost futures.

I had to know the victim, personally.

If a victim once stopped in a donut shop in the mornings, well, I sometimes retraced the route and did the same. Along the way, I saw joggers, dog-walkers, letter carriers, delivery people, children on their way to school, bus drivers, cab drivers, and I saw the grumpy old men and women who spend their days peering at the street through gaps in dingy lace curtains. I saw garbage collectors, street sweepers, patrol officers, ambulance drivers, FED EX and UPS drivers, animal control officers, the man who waters his lawn at precisely 9 A.M., and the woman who wore a big floppy hat while tending to her roses each day at the crack of dawn. I spoke with each of those people.

Clues. tiny clues are often the ones that bring a case to a close. And those people, the lawn waterer and window-peepers, etc.—all had an opportunity to see something, and often times they did. But had I not taken the time to to stop and say hi and to ask a few simple questions, well, those little tidbits and tips may have gone forever unspoken.

I visited the homes of murder victims. I examined the rooms where they slept. I saw where they cooked and ate their meals. I looked into the refrigerators to see their contents, searching for anything that could help me better understand the unfortunate and poor soul whose heart no longer beat with metronome precision.

True Crime

I even used this method when researching and writing “Murder on Minor Avenue, a true crime tale published by Prometheus books. The story was about the extremely brutal murder of a young woman named Tina Mott.

While conducting the research for the book, a process that lasted nearly a year, I found myself delving deeper and deeper in Tina’s life until I felt as if I’d known her. I learned so much detail about her short time on the planet that I knew her likes and dislikes, her hobbies, and even her emotions.

Tina wrote poetry and it was through her writings, works I studied, hoping to use them to pride me with insight, when I began to set her story to page.

I tacked photos of Tina on my bulletin board. I even had one of my desk. In the image on my desk, she was at a birthday celebration for her, a small event hosted by friends. In the picture, she was smiling and obviously happy.

Images like those helped to take me into her life, and together with the poems and interviews with friends and family, well, she was no longer a stranger whose remains went unfound for a year.

Instead, I knew Tina even though we’d never met. She was a person. A good-hearted young woman, a brand new mother with feelings and emotions. She laughed. She cried. She hurt. And she loved life. And then she died at the hand of her boyfriend, another person I came to know during the research.

I experienced both his good and his dark side. He, too, was real person. A real and extremely evil person.

This is the same way I approached all murder cases. I came to know the victims as people.

Details!

Examining detail is often the key to successfully bringing a homicide case to a close. Think of the intricately woven tales created by Agatha Christie. While real life murders are often spur of the moment crimes that require little or no planning, each of Christie’s tales were tightly-plotted puzzles that needed solving. Or were they?

Many of Christies characters were stereotypical bad guys, yes, but those types of people do indeed exist in the real world. And like Christie’s make-believe killers, it is their traits that sometimes fool inexperienced investigators who overlook them as suspects simply because the things they do and say are simply too obvious. Then there are the men and women who seemingly could not, not in a million years, commit a crime such as heinous as murder. Again, the cop who lacks experience could overlook those people as well.

Therefore, while working to solve a homicide case, it is paramount that investigators leave their predispositions locked away in an imaginary safe. Actually, officers should never pre-judge anyone. Instead, they should start fresh at each and every crime scene and with each and every suspect, witness, and victim. Isn’t that exactly how the great writers of our time produce such wonderful books, over and over again? They do so by starting with a fresh story on page one, chapter one.

As Christie’s characters worked through their convoluted and fictional crimes—bad and good folks alike—, they often made the same mistakes real-life officers tend to experience as they wind their ways through along the journeys leading to the ends of their cases. Christie wrote in this style because she, too, was working out resolutions to the clues and traps that she herself had planted while writing.

Human Nature

In Five Little Pigs, Christie’s story clung tightly to the cause and effect of human nature. It’s a character-driven book where Poirot solves a cold case and he does so  through his and Christie’s understanding and examinations of a person’s emotions and passion. Like Poirot, through Christie’s eyes and typewriter, a real-life police investigator who has the ability to “see” human nature is an investigator who’ll find success in their field.

Sure, DNA and fancy lights and chemicals and laboratories are nice, but they’re nothing more than icing on the cake when compared to the detective who knows and understands people, and human nature.

Was Agatha Christie a panster and not a plotter?

If one were to stop and ponder for a moment they’d see that homicide and other detectives are both plotters and pansters. The former due to department guidelines and standard methods as to how a scene is approached—911 call, first responder arrives, detectives and CSI arrive, coroner is called, speak to witnesses, collect evidence using Sirchie evidence collection tools and products, yada, yada, yada.

The latter, a panster, due to the actual investigation part of the case where improvisation is a must, investigators assume the roles of actors. They must have the ability to become “one of the guys” in nearly every situation they encounter during the course of their investigations. They have to “walk the walk and talk the talk” in order to fit in and to help make people feel at ease around them. Drop the stiff cop persona. Be a human.

Detectives who follow along a more plotter-type course of investigation are perhaps science-based linear thinkers and, sure, their style produces results.

But it is the panster detective, the cop who’s not afraid to step outside the box, who’s the investigator that people will open up to most quickly. They’re the cops who turn over all the stones, just not in any particular order. They easily adapt to fast paced and quick-changing cases.

Christie knew and understood that humans are flawed. No one, including her characters, is perfect, and it is this, the fallibility of human beings that helped her her tales ring so wonderfully true and believable.

Agatha Christie was indeed the queen of writing believable make-believe.

Another example of flawed human character, in a writing style that follows the footsteps of Agatha Christie, can found in Bellweather Rhapsody, a multi-layered character-driven novel by Kate Racculia.

 

The story begins with North Carolina farmer Paul A. Plow and his wife standing on the well-weathered front porch of their clapboard-sided home—the house they’ve lived in for the past forty-seven years, the dwelling that saw its last coat of whitewash just prior to the birth of Girly Jean, the oldest of four grown daughters, the one who now teaches third grade at the Boiled Beaver Elementary School.

Paul Plow and his missus stood watching a faint cloud of orange-tinted dust gently rise on the horizon past the last row of tobacco, the line of head-high plants standing precisely one mile from the edge of the side yard where green grass met hard-packed Carolina clay.

They weren’t expecting anyone, especially anyone who was so obviously in a hurry to reach their destination. To top off the mystery, the width of the dust cloud indicated the approach of more than one hard-riding someones or somethings. He’d seen a similar occurrence when the rodeo was in town and their horses busted (his word, not mine) out of their corral. He’d also seen a dust cloud like this one on one of those Nat Geo shows where a pride of lions, while hunting for dinner, chased a herd of wild animals across the plain.

Didn’t matter. The rodeo was not in town nor was he watching television. This was the real deal and it was happening right then.

Too far away to hear hoofbeats or the chatter of riders.

Growing closer and closer and larger and larger, the dust cloud grew in size and showed no signs of slowing.

This was serious. And to top it off, since childhood he’d been plagued with a serious case of Equinophobia, the fear of horses.

The situation was dour. Times ten.

The farmer went for his rifle. Told the wife to go inside.

“Grab the pistol and a few extra rounds. Just in case,” he said. Then he told her to hide in the cellar until he called for her.

It started as a light tapping but quickly grew into a thunderous roar as the dust cloud doubled then tripled in size. From inside the roiling and boiling and billowing floating pillow of airborne soil, the farmer heard snorts and the hard-breathing of hard-running large beasts.

Quarter horses, Paints, or Appaloosa, probably. Maybe some of each. Killers, rapists, and robbers rode a variety. Whatever they could steal.

One thing was certain … if they didn’t soon slow down they’d most surely run smack dab over the house. He wanted to yell or fire a warning shot. Wave. Something.

Anything to get their attention, but onward they came … and hard, hard, hard.

Hoofbeats.

Clippity-clopping at machine gun speed.

Churning.

So close now the farmer felt the dry earth trembling beneath the stone foundation that held the house high enough off the ground to allow Roofus, the family’s three-legged dog, to sleep out of the weather.

Maybe the animals were even larger than he first thought. Morgans, Percherons, Drafts. Hell, the way the earth was shaking … well, it was a crazy idea, but the picture of a large team of crazy Clydesdales came to mind.

Whatever and whomever, somebody meant business.

Time to take cover and prepare for the inevitable.

Suddenly the hoofbeats silenced and the cloud stopped. Its leftovers slowly drifted up and onto the porch. Then the dust settled and standing there before the farmer were … three muscular zebras. No riders. Just three totally and unexpectedly out of place black and white striped zebras.

Needless to say, there are no zebras in North Carolina.

Unforeseen? Yes. Unanticipated? Definitely. Not in the cards? You bet.

Like. A. Bolt. Out. Of. The Blue.

But this article is about plot tip and twisted endings, so what the heck do zebras have to do with writing? Well, I’ve traveled this far outside the box, so before we answer that question let’s first go even further “out there” and examine what zebras have to do with medicine, especially medicine in the U.S. (You’ll see, it’ll come together in a moment).

Zebras and Medicine

Chest pains could indicate cardiac issues. Likewise, those same pains could indicate trouble with the gall bladder, blood clots, etc. Statistically, though, the more likely cause of chest pains is related to the heart.

Therefore, the general rule of thumb is to begin with the more obvious (cardiac, in this case) before moving on to other issues. In other words, if you hear hoofbeats don’t expect a zebra. In other words, we expect the obvious. Then, after ruling out the common cause, well, he trouble could be the unexpected.

When writing fiction, especially a tale with a twisted ending, writers often achieve successful scenes by concocting scenarios that seem typical on the surface (the approaching hoofbeats to conjure-up a mental image of galloping horses). However, when the dust settles, the hero and readers are faced with a surprise, or twist. In the case above, the unexpected twist was the sudden appearance of three zebras.

What we’re talking about is simply another gadget for the writers’ tool kit—base-rate neglect. For example, when a detailed description of something entices us to overlook the statistical reality of a given situation. In our case, the chances of the approaching hoofbeats coming from a group of zebras is practically nonexistent.

As they say in medical school …

When You Hear Hoofbeats, Don’t Expect a Zebra

Unless, of course, the cloud of dust you’ve just written into your story does indeed contain three zebras—The Unexpected!

When the dust in your craftily-devised scene settles, readers will want to hear more about your striped beasts and why they’re now standing at the front door of Paul D. Plow’s ramshackle farmhouse.

What does Paul Plow know that we don’t, if anything?

One thing is for certain, though, we’ll want to turn the page to learn more about the zebras, about Boiled Beaver Elementary School, and if the missus will leave the cellar or decide to move her things down there to escape Paul and his weird phobias. Rumor has it that he’s also afraid of dust and sunlight and moonlight and bees and artichokes and space aliens.

Plot Tips 

  1. Devise ways to make your hero NOT succeed. However, when she does come out on top your reader should be caught off guard as to how the success was achieved.
  2. You want your readers to say, “I should’ve seen seen that coming but didn’t and doggone it, it makes perfect sense. But wow!
  3. Do not trick readers. Give them a reason to believe your twists.
  4. No stereotypes. Be original.
  5. If your hero has a problem, and he should, make it worse so your reader will worry about him/her.
  6. Got to have secrets to help develop suspense.
  7. Use reversals to break the expectations of your readers. Changing directions keeps ’em guessing!
  8. Increase tension by leaving issues unresolved at the end of breaks and chapters.
  9. Place your hero in danger. Send him/her to a bad location where trouble is certain to occur. If the job is too dangerous to accomplish in the rain, then have the scene take place during a hurricane.
  10. Conflict around every corner. Everything’s an issue to overcome—family, friends, the job, that stupid hurricane and … three crazy zebras!

 

 

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard or read a tired old cliché about the FBI v. local police departments, well, I’d be the proud owner of all my wants and desires (material things) with the entire kit and caboodle paid for in coins. You know the ones, and maybe you’ve used them in one or more of your own tall tales (It hope not). After all, there are so many and they’re tossed about in fiction about as often as words ending in “ly” unnecessarily and tragically appear in some stories.

There’s no good excuse for using these  threadbare, boilerplate, absolutely false, rubber-stamped, buzzwordesque, and  overused phrases, because the correct information is no further than a mere keyboard click away. Yet we see and hear these same old exhausting tunes everywhere!

So, where to begin? How about …

The White Horse Syndrome

In your latest book you’ve brought to life who you believe to be the coolest protagonist ever, an FBI agent who rides into a fictional town on a beautiful and powerfully muscular solid white horse to save the day by solving your cleverly-created murder. Her first order of business—take charge of, well, everything. First, she gives the local homicide detectives the boot. Next she tells the chief to stay out of her way because this is a job for the feds and, by the way, she’ll need the chief’s office as her home base … so, “GET OUT!” Then the cocky and totally obnoxious special agent scouts the area for just the right person to fall in love with before the case is solved. Then and only then is it time to get down to the business finding a murderer.

Of course, you’ve gone the extra mile to get your details right by binge watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Andy Griffith Show. You’ve tossed in a great crime scene, some fingerprinting details, DNA evidence, bloodstain patterns, a car chase followed by a requisite huge explosion, the agent saves the town sweetheart and her dog from certain death, she defies all orders from her boss because she’s determined to be the hero of the tale, and, here it comes, the big payoff … she shoots a pistol from the hand of one bad guy while simultaneously rendering another unconscious with a limply-delivered karate chop to the back of the crook’s neck. AND THEN, before the odor of smokeless powder (NOT CORDITE!!) clerk the air, the agent catches the meanest and baddest villain ever concocted by a writer in the history of the written word.

Sound familiar?

Okay, this is the point where you should click on the video below. It is the soundtrack for the following text. So hit the play button and hang on!

Well, those super cool fictional FBI details are all fine and Jim Dandy, with the exception of one minor detail …  FBI AGENTS DO NOT INVESTIGATE LOCAL MURDER CASES!! And they don’t come into town and take over any local cases. They don’t have that authority or jurisdiction.

Okay, this one will be difficult to grasp, but here goes … FBI agents do not have a crystal ball that sounds off every time a child is abducted or a murder is committed. I know, what a shock. So take a moment to settle down and catch your breath before reading more of this crazy way-out information.


For the FBI to become involved in a local murder case, local law enforcement needs to invite the FBI in.


Yes, the FBI does investigate crimes against children—online predators and human trafficking and kidnapping, and parental kidnapping, But there’s no rule or law stating that the FBI must be called in to investigate kidnapping cases. The fact that they can investigate them doesn’t mean they work ALL abduction cases. Each state has its own kidnapping/abduction laws. Local detectives work kidnapping cases all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

Keep in mind that there’s not an FBI field office located in every single town in the good old USA. They don’t have satellite headquarters situated next to your corner Piggly Wiggly or Billy Buck’s Feed Store. Sometimes agents are several hours away from a town. In fact, they’ve probably never set foot in many of your towns. Nope, they probably don’t know that Dinglebopadoodle, Rhode Island even exists.

Again, unless the local cops give ’em a call, the FBI has absolutely no means of knowing when Bubba Jenkins got all licker’d up and kilt T-Bone Roberts over cheatin’ during a checker game. Nor would the feds know when creepy human-trafficker Paul Pedophile used the promise of a never-ending supply of Goobers, Sno-Caps, Raisinets, and Junior Mints to lure little Daisy Sue from her front yard while she was in the middle of hopping and scotching in the driveway. Someone would have to actually call the FBI to report these crimes.

In the case of Bubba Jenkins and T-Bone Roberts, well, the feds would simply refer the caller to their local authorities. They’re not going to be involved in local murder cases unless they’re invited in by a city chief of county sheriff.

Even in cases involving serial murders, local authorities handle the investigations. The way the FBI becomes involved is when the local law enforcement invites them to participate because they need the FBI’s resources, expertise, etc.

However, when the investigation leads to other states—victims killed in similar manners that point to a single killer—it’s best that the FBI take the lead since they have nationwide jurisdiction. Besides, to have a local detective trekking from state to state to track down a killer would take a vital resource away from local department. The FBI is far better suited to handle such a task. However, local detectives can and do travel to other jurisdictions as part of their investigations.

The FBI might open an investigation into the disappearance of hopscotching little Daisy Sue; however, they’d likely coordinate activities with the local police who, by the way, would probably have detectives already working on it. The more folks working to find the child the better the chances of finding her. Like investigating a serial killer, tracking an interstate-traveling child abductor is best left to the FBI since they have the resources and jurisdiction to work in all U.S. states. Still, local police can and do work kidnapping cases that cross state lines. I, for example, have investigated a few of those cases, including one that originated in Virginia and ended in Washington state. The child was unharmed and returned to her family. The suspect arrested and convicted.

The FBI’s Magic Database

I can sum this up in a single word … NO. There is no magic database where an FBI special agent enters the name of a person—any person in the world—and instantly receives every single detail about the person—address, phone number, cars owned, blood type, underwear and shoe size, name of pets, number of freckles on their face, friends, favorite meal and drink, etc. It’s just not so.

Various types of records are kept in various independent locations—courts, medical facilities, military, schools, individual law enforcement departments/agencies, etc. Those databases are not linked. A person’s mental health records are not tied to other databases. Driving records are not cross-linked to hospital records, and so on.

Information contained within these systems is only as accurate as the data entered. If the person entering the data makes a mistake, well, that’s the information that shows up when a search is conducted. The National Computer Information Center (NCIC) is a massive database containing tons of crime data; however, the accuracy and timeliness of this information is dependent upon the numerous law enforcement agencies from around the country who enter the data. Many agencies enter incomplete information, if any at all. It could take weeks or months for a loan enforcement officer/agent to compile needed information on a single suspect, not a matter of minutes or even hours.

FBI Special Agents are Bullies and Don’t Play Well With Others 

My goodness, what load of BS. This misconception has been written into books and TV shows so often that even cops have begun to believe it, and that’s unfortunate, because when agents show up at a local department they’re often given the “stink-eye” by officers and detectives. This unwarranted misconception sometimes leaves agents with the task of building the trust of local law enforcement when that trust has not been violated.

I’ve worked and trained with agents of various federal agents and agencies over the years—FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, DEA, Border Patrol, ICE ( INS back in the day), Homeland Security, Department of Defense (DoD), DCIS, and more, and not once encountered an issue. In fact, when standoffishness occurred it was from local officers toward the agents. So yeah, thanks to the books, TV shows, and films that caused this imaginary trouble.

I once assisted a pair of FBI special agents on a civil rights investigation as a result of a white police officer who shot an African American male after the subject aimed a loaded pistol at him. The agents were pleasant, professional, and warm and compassionate toward the subjects of their investigations. In private they were funny and had a ton of interesting stories to tell.


 Stink Eye – to look at someone in a disapproving way:
“The people waiting to use the computers were giving me the stinkeye.”
 ~ Cambridge Dictionary

What’s that? You want to know what cases the FBI does work?

Hmm … I’m not sure if you’ll be able to handle the truth. After all, you see so many all of the above in so many books.

Yes, I’m sure you’re frightened, but you’ll be fine.

I know,  your editor said that IS what FBI agents do.

Wait a minute. Let me fini—

Wait—

Please don’t cry.

I know she told you about the white horse—

Yes, and the explosio—

Ah, so that’s where you guys are getting the cordite information ….

Well, I’m sure your literary agent and/or editor has a long history in law enforcement (big eye roll here).

Anyway, see for yourself. These are the cases the FBI works. No, I didn’t make this up. It’s fact.

WHAT THE FBI INVESTIGATES:

  • Public corruption
  • Civil rights
  • Organized crime
  • White collar crime
  • Violent crime such as mass killings, sniper murders, serial killings, gangs, crimes against children, Indian Country crimes, jewelry and gem theft, assisting state and local agencies in investigating bank robberies
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
  • Terrorism
  • Counterterrorism

DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT

It’s important for writers hoping to offer a bit of realism in their stories to at least know the basics of criminal investigations, including “who does what?” For example, absent in the list cases investigated by the FBI is MURDER. No, typically the FBI does NOT investigate local murder cases, nor do they ride into town on white horses to take over bank robbery or abduction cases. Instead, they’re available to assist local and state agencies. However, if a local department is not equipped to handle a bank robbery, for example, the FBI will indeed take the lead upon request.

In a case of child abductions there does not have to be a ransom demand nor does the child have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours before the FBI will become involved. When the FBI is alerted that a child has been abducted they’ll immediately spring into action and open an investigation. They will do so in partnership with state and local authorities.

So there you have it, writers—details to help add an extra level of zing to your next twisted tale.

*Resource – FBI and, of course, my personal knowledge and experience.

Next up … the FBI’s forensic laboratory.


It’s the year 2021. Since last year we’ve all endured COVID, working from home, quarantine, wildfires, flooding, more COVID, lockdowns, shutdowns, layoffs, tornados, earthquakes, masks, vaccines, the loss of loved ones, riots, a mess overseas and, well, you know. Pick a disaster and at least some of us have been there. Some lost jobs and others found new employment. It’s been a stressful time for all of us. Even Denene, my wife, has a new job having recently accepted a position as Director of Microbiology and Immunology at college of medicine. Perfect timing, I know.

Anyway, to get to the point, while reading current novels and blogs and news articles, I’ve once again run across the misuse of various cop-type terms and information. As a result, I decided to compile and post a bit of information to help set things straight.

I hope this helps somewhat in your quest to avoid a writing disaster, and to …

Write Believable Make-Believe

 

Defendant: Someone who’s been accused of a crime and is involved in a court proceeding.

Defense Attorney: A lawyer who represents a defendant throughout their criminal proceedings.

Departure: A sentence that’s outside the typical guideline range. Departures can be above or below the standard range; however, the most common departure is a downward departure, a sentence reduction solely based on the defendant’s substantial assistance to the government. For example, a defendant who spills the beans to law enforcement about the criminal activity of someone else for the sole purpose of obtaining a lesser sentence. In jailhouse/layman’s terms, “a snitch.”

Diminished Capacity: A defendant is eligible for a downward departure (reduction of sentence) if they can successfully prove they suffer from a significantly reduced mental capacity, a condition that contributed substantially to the commission of the offense of which they’re charged with committing. Merely having been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense is typically not considered grounds for diminished capacity.

* This applies to the defendant only, not the defendant’s attorney, judges, or police officers. Their sometimes reduction in mental capacities is fodder for another article.

Duress: The federal sentencing guidelines allow for a downward departure if the defendant committed the offense because of serious threats, coercion, or pressure. An example is the person who’s been forced to commit a bank robbery by crooks who’re holding his family hostage until/unless he carries out the crime. The courts could/would show leniency by granting a downward departure (or complete dismissal) based upon the fact he was under severe duress at the time of the robbery.

Extreme Conduct: Here, an upward departure from the guidelines range may be appropriate if the defendant’s conduct during the commission of a crime was unusually heinous, cruel, and/or brutal. Even degrading the victim of the crime in some way may apply and earn the defendant a longer sentence that’s typically called for within the sentencing guidelines.

Brutally maiming and murdering federal agents simply because they dared to ask questions (revenge), well, that may be a crime that warrants an upward departure from the typical sentence.

Felony: An offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or longer.

Felony Murder: A killing that takes place during the commission of another dangerous felony, such as robbery.

To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.

Hate Crime Motivation: An increase of sentence if the court determines that the defendant intentionally targeted a victim because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or even due to their sexual orientation.

Heat of Passion/Crime of Passion: When the accused was in an uncontrollable rage at the time they committed the murder.  The intense passion often precludes the suspect/defendant of having premeditation or being fully mentally capable of knowing what he/she was doing at the time the crime was committed.

Indictment: An indictment is the formal, written accusation of a crime. They’re issued by a grand jury and are presented to a court with the intention of prosecution of the individual named in the indictment.

Misdemeanor: A crime that’s punishable by one year of imprisonment, or less.

Obstruction of Justice: Obstruction of Justice is a very broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.

For more about obstruction, see When Lying Becomes A Crime: Obstruction Of Justice

Offense Level: The severity level of an offense as determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much or how little prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime.

To learn more about these guidelines, go here … So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?

Parole: The early and conditional release from prison. Should the parolee violate those conditions, he/she could be returned to prison to complete the remainder of their sentence. Parole, however, was abolished in the federal prison system in 1984. In lieu of parole, federal inmates earn good time credits based on their behavior during incarceration. Federal inmates may earn a sentence reduction of up to 54 days per year. Good time credits are often reduced when prisoners break the rules, especially when the rules broken are serious offenses—fighting, stealing, possession of contraband such as drugs, weapons, or other prohibited material.

Federal prisoners who play nice during their time behind bars typically see a substantial accumulation of good time credit and will subsequently hit the streets much sooner than those who repeatedly act like idiots.

Due to earned good time credit, federal prisoners who follow the rules are typically released after serving approximately 85% of their sentence.

Writers, please remember, there is no parole in the federal system. People incarcerated in federal prison after 1984 are not eligible for parole because is does not exist. I see this all the time in works of fiction.

By the way, this regularly occurring faux pas (incorrect use of parole in novels) brings to mind the dreaded “C” word … cordite. I still see this used in current books. Your characters, unless in works of historical fiction, cannot smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes because the stuff is no longer manufactured. In fact, production of cordite ended at the end of WWII (1945).

After all, you wouldn’t write that the only means of entertainment in a modern home is listening to old-time radio shows, or that today’s foods are kept cool in iceboxes chilled by a 25 lb. block of frozen water. Why wouldn’t we incorporate those things as standards in modern fiction? Because it wouldn’t be believable. After WWII, radios were soon replaced by television. Likewise, iceboxes and the icemen who delivered the ice to individual homes were forced out of service by electric refrigerators.

So why in the world would a modern writer so freely accept newfangled refrigerators and television, but remain stuck in 1945, or so, when cordite use in ammunition became a thing of the past? It’s over. Done. NO CORDITE in modern ammo. It’s not sexy to write something so horribly inaccurate.

Please, please, please, step into 2021 and stop using “stinky information” in your books.

Please read this:

Once Again – Cordite: Putting This Garbage In The Grave!

 

Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing are, of course, excellent guidelines.

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The renowned author also offered another fantastic bit of advice when he wrote, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

So, totally ignoring Mr. Elmore’s sound advice, I’ll open today’s article with the weather followed by descriptions of people and places that are definitely “purposely overwritten, and suddenly so,” I said.

The need to break a few more of Leonard’s rules were also far too irresistible to pass up.

The horribly overwritten description of the incident, one that’s quite true, went something like this, but with far fewer words that readers tend to skip.

The Night Was Dark, But Not Stormy

It was a quiet summer night, a night when the temperature hovered at the 80-degree mark long after the sun disappeared behind the stands of trees, rolling hills, and urban sprawl that formed the barrier between land and orange- and purplish pink-streaked sky. It was after lightning bugs began their winking and blinking neon-like displays across fields and backyards. Mosquito trucks rolled slowly along, fogging neighborhoods with clouds of stinky insecticide. Humidity-filled air coated the skin and filled the lungs like butter pecan syrup oozes across the surfaces of hot IHOP buttermilk pancakes. Flashes of heat lightning illuminated the distant sky, backlighting clouds and the bats that flew in looping circles around the streetlamps that had begun to switch on throughout the city.

In short, it was a typical southern summer end to a sweltering day.

The evening shift had been reasonably quiet with no real crimes to speak of, when suddenly a sweat-drenched, frightened, nervous, and wild-eyed young man, a teenager, appeared at the lobby window. He was panting as if he’d just finished the last leg of a marathon; his body was rail thin with long and slender arms and legs that protruded from his torso, resembling the wet and steaming spaghetti noodles that limply hang from the holes in the bottom of a colander after all the hot water is drained.

He rambled on and on about a body in the woods. He stammered and stuttered about seeing a man shot to death. Between bouts of uncontrollable sobbing and using a bare forearm to repeatedly swipe at his runny nose, he told of helping three of his friends drag the dead man into the woods. Then they left him there to be eaten by wildlife, or to rot, whichever came first.

An officer took the teen’s information, filled out a report, and then I was called to investigate.

I first bought the young fellow a cold soft drink and then asked him to take a seat in my office where a window air-conditioning unit hummed in the background as it sent artificially chilled air into the room. I handed him a wad of paper towels so he could mop the perspiration from his face. He reeked of sour body odor. Bits of leaves, tree bark, and lint clung to his short hair like teensy Christmas tree ornaments.

I began the interview.

He told me he was sixteen and was a member of a small gang. Actually, his “gang” consisted mostly of a few of his cousins and close friends whose gang activities centered around committing minor B&Es and selling drugs for a local dealer.

Recently, though, the dealer coerced the boys into doing a bit of “collecting” for him. This duty involved strong-arming people into paying their debts. Sometimes, he confessed, the collections involved extreme violence, such as beatings with bats and metal pipes.

This night, the collection of money owed took an ugly turn. Four of the boys drove out into the county to the home of a young man who owed the dealer what he considered a considerable sum of money. He’d been given crack cocaine to sell but failed to turn over the proceeds to the boss. Actually, he, a former crack addict, had relapsed and smoked the entire amount all by himself. So the dealer sent “his young and dumb enforcers to collect, “or else.”

Since the man had no cash the four collectors were faced with a dilemma—fork over the cash themselves, or kill the moocher. Those were their instructions—return with $300 or kill him. So they grabbed the man and forced him into their car. Then they drove him to a remote area of the county where they made him get out of the car in the middle of road. Once outside they forced him to his knees.

The teen sitting across from me wept as he told of the man begging them not to hurt him. Then one of the teens produced a pistol and placed it against the back of the man’s head. The man began to cry, begging for his life to be spared.

The gun-wielding man pulled the trigger twice.

As a group, the four teens dragged the body across the asphalt pavement, down into a rocky and weed-filled ditch, and then into the woods. They pulled and tugged the body across leaves and sticks and fallen branches and over small spindly young trees and bushes. They stopped to rest a couple of times. Then, after they’d caught their breath they continued onward until they’d dragged the dead man nearly 200 yards or so into the forest. Then they drove back to the city where they split up.

I called for a team of officers to help conduct a search. The teen rode with me, guiding us to the spot where they’d hidden the body.

We found the dead man after searching until the sun came up the next morning. He was on his back. His eyes and mouth were open, wide. It was as if he’d seen the bowels of hell and at that point died with pure fear freezing his facial muscles in an expression of absolute horror.

Flies buzzed around the wounds on his head. A couple flew into his mouth and then crawled back out. Black ants, and I’ll never forget this as long as I live, walked on the dead mans eyeballs. They stepped first one way and then other, randomly zig-zagging about. It was an odd sight to say the least. They looked like miniature ice skaters on two tiny frozen and morbid ponds. A wasp stood at the opening of the left ear canal. Its rear end undulating up and down as if the insect was practicing its twerking moves.

So when people ask me about the things I remember most about working death scenes, well, I recall the weather, the suddenness of it all, the vivid descriptions of the people and places, the dialects of the people I questioned and how many times their statements ended in a manner that when written deserved to end in exclamation points. I think of the backstories of the killers and victims—the prologues to murder.

And, I think about the bugs and their lack of respect for the dead!!

We are pleased to announce that renowned toxicologist Dr. M. Fredric Rieders has joined the 2021 MurderCon stellar lineup. This is an unbelievable opportunity to learn from one of the world’s leading toxicology experts! His session, “Forensic Toxicology: Homicidal Poisoning,” is an entertaining and educational discussion of the history of homicidal poisoning with case discussions of real poisoners and elaborate M.O.’s.

There’s still time to sign up, so hurry!

https://writerspoliceacademy.com

 

About Dr. Rieders

Dr. M. Fredric Rieders serves as Treasurer and a Director at NMS Labs in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

NMS Labs, Inc. is a US and internationally (ISO) accredited private, independent clinical diagnostic toxicology and forensic science laboratory serving justice and public health since 1970. Dr. Rieders was CEO from 1988 – 2008 and interim CEO from January – July 2020.

Dr. Rieders is a Fellow of The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) where he was Chairman of the AAFS Opioids and Emerging Drugs Crisis Committee from 2017 – 2019. He remains active as Chair of the Information Sharing Sub-Committee and as a member of the Toxicology Section.

He is a Member of the American Public Health Association (APHA) where he participates in the following Sections: Alcohol/Tobacco and Other Drugs; Environment; Aging and Public Health.

Dr. Rieders is a member of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT), The International Association of Forensic Toxicologists (IAFT), the World Association of Medical Law (WAML), and The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) where he serves on their Strategic Planning Committee, Foundation Board and Advocacy Committee. He served on Pennsylvania’s Commission on Wrongful Convictions where he worked with the Forensic Science Subcommittee on recommendations to improve the forensic science investigation system. Dr. Rieders has qualified as an Expert in Forensic Toxicology and testified in numerous criminal, civil and arbitration proceedings.

He earned a Chemistry degree from Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College) in 1980, and a PhD in Pharmacology/Toxicology from Thomas Jefferson University in 1985 where he was active as volunteer faculty and lectured in Toxicology. He is past President of the Jefferson College of Graduate Studies Alumni Association where he was honored as Distinguished Alumnus. Dr. Michael F. Rieders was the 2015 honoree of the Jefferson President’s Award which is given to Jefferson’s strongest supporters, truest servants and closest friends. He continues to serve on Jefferson’s Institutional Advancement Pillar Board.

Dr. Rieders served as a Term Trustee on the Arcadia University Board from 2009 – 2012, and as a volunteer faculty member serving as a course director and lecturer in Toxicology at Arcadia’s Master of Science in Forensic Science (M.S.F.S) program. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Advisors and Fellows at The Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Sciences at New Haven University and is on the Board of Trustees of the Fredric Rieders Family Foundation in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, as a Director and Chief Scientific Officer. Dr. Rieders is a member of The Vidocq Society, the premier US cold murder case investigation organization which examines cases and assist law enforcement agencies in identifying leads that may help solve homicides. He was awarded the Dr. Halbert E. Fillinger, Jr. Medal and Lifetime Achievement Award by The Vidocq Society in 2013.

He was an editor of the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences publication Science Technology and National Security, and wrote a chapter in Forensic Aspects of Chemical Terrorism and recently published an article on his work with NASA: “Management of a Potentially Toxic Accidental Trialkylamine Ingestion during Spaceflight” in Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine.

Dr. Rieders was featured as a Forensic Scientist in the BBC film, “How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World of Forensic Science” and Smithsonian Channel’s “Forensic Firsts: Proving Poison”. He is a frequent guest speaker and presenter at numerous conferences and seminars. Dr. Rieders is an avid advanced open water scuba diver, a sushi chef and enjoys gardening, photography and international travel.


WELCOME TO MURDERCON

MurderCon is a killer event that features renowned experts who train top homicide investigators from around the world.

Writers, please take advantage of this opportunity to learn from those who are the best in the business of crime scene investigation. I say this because this incredible event may not come your way again.

Sign up today while there’s still time.

*2021 Guest of Honor – Andrew Grant

Register here

 

 


It was five years ago when Emily, my second cousin and daughter of my first cousin Shelley, was assigned to write a paper about D-Day for history class. Wanting to do her absolute best, Emily set out on a fact-finding mission for the project that included visiting various online sources. I understand she wound up writing a very nice report, but Emily’s narrative incorporated one tiny bit of unexpected and puzzling information.

Obviously, the subject matter surrounding the entire D-Day campaign is of an extremely serious nature because so many troops lost their lives on that day. But, in spite of the gravity of the real-life story, it was that one small tidbit of “information” in her paper that sent her mom into a spell of side-splitting laughter. I’m posting this because as writers we’ve all been in Emily’s shoes at one time or another.

In her detailed summary, Emily covered the overall basics of the invasion by penning facts found in most research sources. Things such as—On June 6, 1944, thousands of troops began the Battle of Normandy. The day, of course, is known as D-Day. The invasion began when Allied troops stormed the beaches in the early morning hours. More than 4,000 troops lost their lives in the invasion, with many more wounded. However, approximately 156,000 successfully completed the operation. Within a week, over 325,000 troops were in place along with 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of much-needed equipment.

But my young and well-intentioned second cousin wanted to delve a bit deeper into the incredible accounting of such bravery and intricate battle planning, so she included an unexpected “fact” about the paratroopers who were dropped that day. Later, while proofreading the paper, her mom came to the part about the paratroopers and stopped in her tracks to do a bit of head-scratching. For some reason, she said, the sentence didn’t quite seem to make sense. So she studied it again to be sure she hadn’t misread it. But no, it was what is was.

The line in question in Emily’s intricately-crafted and well-researched paper was, “Thousands of uneducated soldiers were also dropped in order to draw fire and confuse the enemy.”

Shelley asked her daughter to clarify the part about airdropping uneducated men onto the beaches. It simply couldn’t be correct. Emily told her the information was solid, but that she re-worded it so as to not plagiarize the material. Shelley then asked her daughter to show her the site from where she’d gotten the material. And then it all came to light. Here’s the line that Emily so studiously transposed to avoid plagiarism (I’m paraphrasing).

“Thousands of ‘dummies’ were also dropped in order to draw fire and confuse the enemy.”

I can see how the tactic easily confused the Nazis, because that single word scrambled poor Emily’s thinking. Now, whenever I write something that’s just a wee bit askew of an actual meaning, well, those bloopers will forever be known as “Emily moments.” Sorry, cuz …

*By the way, Emily’s away at college now, a top student, working hard at her biology/pre-med studies. She’s also extremely active in her school, and in the community, including volunteer work at a local zoo.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 11.02.55 AM

Emily


Sign up today to reserve your spot while there’s still time!!

Forensic Psychiatry, Murder, LAPD Lipstick, and Memorable Characters  

Presenters

Guest of Honor – Charlaine Harris

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD 

Kathy Bennett

Robert Bruce Coffin

 

Schedule

Schedule (Times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

 

11:00 – 12:20

Forensic Psychiatry and Crime Fiction: Correcting the Top 10 Myths 

Instructor,  Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D.

 

In this illuminating session, acclaimed forensic and perinatal psychiatrist, Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D., describes common misunderstandings about her field of forensic psychiatry when it appears in crime fiction. These include: 

-confusion between forensic psychiatry and psychology 

-misunderstandings about forensic hospitals 

-how confidentiality works in forensic evaluations 

-psychiatrists testifying about their patients 

-whether people look left when they are lying 

-how malingering is determined 

-how forensic psychiatrists get paid 

-what insanity means legally 

-what incompetency means legally 

 

12:20 – 12:50

Break

 

12:50 – 2:10

Murder for Real—Adding Realism to Your Mystery Writing 

Instructor, Bruce Robert Coffin

 

Former detective sergeant and award-winning author Bruce Robert Coffin shares his years of experience as supervisor of homicide and violent crimes investigations. This workshop is filled to the brim with behind-the-scenes law enforcement information. This class, taught by one of the best in the business, is certain to help writers create stories that rise to the highest levels.

  • The CSI effect. What is it and why it doesn’t fly in high-end writing?
  • Evidence gathering (the real deal).
  • Cold Cases. What are they and how are they investigated?
  • First response vs. CID (two worlds-two goals)
  • Dealing with the media.
  • Hierarchy and chain of command.
  • Job stressors and how cops cope (or don’t).
  • Telling lies (everybody does it).

2:20 – 3:40

A Badge, a Gun, and Lipstick: A Female Perspective of Working Patrol on the Mean Streets of Los Angeles 

Instructor, former LAPD Senior Lead Officer Kathy Bennett

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in a high-speed chase and then be involved in a shoot-out at the pursuit termination? Do you think the cop who gave you a traffic citation was wrong? Do you know what it’s like to tell a mother her only child was killed in a traffic collision? Well, Kathy Bennett experienced all these things and more. In her presentation she’ll reveal candid information of the life of a street cop. Kathy is also happy to answer those burning questions you have but were afraid to ask. 

3:50 – 5:10

How to use Research” and “Making Characters Memorable” 

Instructor, Charlaine Harris

Author extraordinaire Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse novels were the basis of the television series “True Blood,” reveals the secrets to using research to craft unique characters. This is a rare opportunity for writers at all stages of their careers.

 

5:10

Final words


Presenter Bios

 
Guest of Honor Charlaine Harris is a true daughter of the South. She was born in Mississippi and has lived in Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas. After years of dabbling with poetry, plays, and essays, her career as a novelist began when her husband invited her to write full time. Her first book, Sweet and Deadly, appeared in 1981. When Charlaine’s career as a mystery writer began to falter, she decided to write a cross-genre book that would appeal to fans of mystery, science fiction, romance, and suspense. She could not have anticipated the huge surge of reader interest in the adventures of a barmaid in Louisiana, or the fact that Alan Ball would come knocking at her door. Since then, Charlaine’s novels have been adapted for several other television series, with two in development now. Charlaine is a voracious reader. She has one husband, three children, two grandchilden, and two rescue dogs. She leads a busy life. www.charlaineharris.com is her website.

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD is a forensic and perinatal psychiatrist. She has practiced in forensic hospitals, general hospitals, court clinics, community mental health centers, and correctional facilities. Dr. Friedman has served as vice-President of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL), and as Chair of the Law and Psychiatry committee at the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP). She has received the AAPL award for the Best Teacher in a Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship, the Red AAPL award for outstanding service to organized forensic psychiatry, the Manfred Guttmacher Award for editing the book Family Murder: Pathologies of Love and Hate, and the Association of Women Psychiatrists’ Marian Butterfield early career psychiatrist award for her contributions to women’s mental health. She has published more than 100 articles (including in World Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry) as well as book chapters. Her research has primarily focused on the interface of maternal mental health and forensic psychiatry, including notably child murder by mothers.  

She currently serves as the inaugural Phillip J. Resnick Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, where she also has appointments in the departments of Pediatrics, Reproductive Biology (Obstetrics/ Gynecology), and Law. Dr. Friedman also serves as honorary faculty at the University of Auckland (New Zealand). 


Kathy Bennett worked for the LAPD for twenty-nine years. Eight years were spent as a civilian employee, and she served twenty-one years as a police officer. While most of her career was spent in a patrol car, Kathy also worked at the police academy as a firearms instructor, promoted to the position of a field training officer, then worked in the “War Room” as a crime analyst. She promoted again, this time to the position of Senior Lead Officer—where she was in charge of a basic car area within a geographic division. She’s done a few stints undercover and was honored to be named Officer of the Year in 1997.

In her spare time, Kathy started writing romance books. However, she decided she wasn’t really cut out to be a romance author—she’d never write the romance but was always killing off one or more characters in the book. After a few years she realized she’d better write what she knew: Authentic Crime told in Arresting Stories. So, this retired cop started killing off fictional people…and she likes it! 

Kathy lives in Idaho with her husband and soul mate, Rick (also a retired LAPD officer.) They have two entertaining and energetic Labrador retrievers, and one cat who isn’t nearly as energetic or entertaining…but she’s loved just as much. Kathy likes to garden, exercise, and spend time with their daughter and her family. Kathy says, “Life doesn’t get much better than the one I’m living. Welcome to my world, and I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to contact me and say “Hi”.

Kathy can always be reached at [email protected]

Her website is www.kathybennett.com


Bruce Robert Coffin is the award-winning author of the bestselling Detective Byron mystery series. A former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive.

His novel, Beyond the Truth, winner of Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award for Best Procedural, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction. His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016.

Bruce is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Murder Books blogs.

Bruce is represented by Paula Munier at Talcott Notch Literary.

He lives and writes in Maine.

www.robertbrucecoffin.com

 


This is a truly must-attend event for crime writers!!