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.

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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!!

What is it that sets writers of crime fiction apart from, well, everyone else in the entire world? Could it be that …

1. The worst murder scene in the world pales in comparison with the thoughts roaming through your mind at any given moment of the day.

2. You actually do wonder what human blood smells like.

3. Somewhere in your house is a book containing photos of crime scenes and/or dead bodies. (Click the book!)

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4. You want to ride in the back seat of a police car.

5. Your internet search history has a file all its own at the Department of Homeland Security.

6. At least once in your life you’ve asked your significant other to pose in a certain way so you can see if it’s possible/believable to stab, cut, shoot, hack, or strangle them from a variety of angles.

New-Picture-14

7. You own a pair of handcuffs, and they’re strictly for research purposes.

8. The cop who lives in your neighborhood hides when he/she sees you coming with pen and paper in hand.

sex in a graveyard

9. You attend more police training workshops than what’s required of the police officers in your town.

Lecture Hall – Writers’ Police Academy

10. While other people fall asleep listening to soft music or gentle ocean waves, your sleep machine plays the sounds of police sirens and automatic gunfire.

11. Your favorite bookmark is an actual toe tag from the morgue.

12. Writers in other genres listen to classical music while working. You, however, have a police scanner chattering in the background.

13. When using a large kitchen knife to chop vegetables, your thoughts drift to using an ax to dismember a body.

14. You see a cop and instantly know the caliber and manufacturer of the pistol on his side.

15. You’ve searched high and low for a perfume or cologne that smells like gunpowder.

16. You own a police flashlight.

17. Your screensaver is a photo of a police K-9.

18. The ringtone on your phone is the theme song for the TV show COPS.

19. You think you know more about crime-scene investigations than most of the cops in your city, and you probably do.

20. You’ve registered for 2021 Virtual MurderCon, a one of a kind event that takes writers behind the scenes to learn insider information about crime-solving from top forensics and law enforcement experts. And yes, we’re pleased to announce that spots are now available! So please spread the word.

 

 

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

Have you ever wondered what real-life investigators think about your detective characters? Well…

1. On their days off, fictional detectives enjoy … wait, those guys never have any down time. None. I remember working a murder case where I left home one morning at the normal time and didn’t return until 36 hours later. When the trail is hot you have to follow it.

In the real world, the one on the outside of your book covers, all cops have regularly scheduled days off. Sure, they’re sometimes forced to work during their weekends, especially when emergency situations arise, but not for 300 straight pages days.

2. Make-believe investigators are suspended from duty at least once per story, yet they continue to work their cases. Is there a writer anywhere in this world who truly understands the definition of suspension? I’m kidding, of course. However, just in case … Suspension: to force someone to leave their job temporarily as a form of punishment. A police officer may not carry out/perform the duties of a police officer while on suspension.

The punishment (suspension) is typically ordered because the detective did something severely wrong, which, by the way, is a rare occurrence. Therefore, continuing to work a case while suspended certainly will not win him/her any favors with the higher-ups. In fact, to do so is the equivalent of disobeying a direct order, a cause for termination.

3. Imaginary detectives and pretend bad guys have the remarkable ability to render someone unconscious by striking them on the back of the head with any handy object, such as books, candlesticks, sticks, rocks, heel of the hand, fists, pillows, marshmallows, feathers, and/or guns of any type.

Writers, writers, writers (I’m slowly shaking my head from side to side), it’s time to come up with a new tactic, because this one is old, stale, and dusty. Besides, a “hit to the back of the head” rarely works in real life. I’ve seen people, me included, struck with baseball bats and they never lost consciousness. And, to add insult to injury (pun intended), the blow often does no more than to make those folks as mad as wet hens (whatever that means). If the whack is hard enough to get the job done the injury it caused would truly be a serious one. Therefore your hero won’t be popping back up right away to handcuff anyone. Instead, a visit to the hospital would be in order.

4. Marriage is practically taboo in crime fiction. Rarely do fictional law enforcement officers enjoy the company of spouses or serious relationships. Yes, some are haunted by the tormented spirits of dead husbands or wives, but not living, breathing people. I suppose it’s easier to write a tale about a person who’s single, but cops in the real world do indeed marry, and some do so four or five times since the job truly can wreak havoc on married life. For the most part, though, family life is important.

5. Pretend cops are the straightest shootin’ folks on the planet. They’re so good, in fact, that they’re able to use their sidearms to part the hair on a gnat’s far left hind leg from a distance of a hundred yards, or more.

The embarrassing reality, however, is that many cops barely shoot well enough to earn a qualifying score on the range. And the business of shooting a gun or knife from the hands of bad guys? Forget it. Doesn’t happen. Not today and not tomorrow. Even if the officer could hit such a small target, especially while it’s moving, it’s not what they’re trained to do, which is to shoot center mass.

6. A popular theme in Fictionland is to have a detective going off on his own to do something that’s totally against the orders of the chief or sheriff. In reality? Nope. To do disobey the orders of a chief or sheriff (especially a sheriff), well, the detective would quickly find himself filling out job applications for a new line of work. Simply put, cops follow the orders of their superiors. If not, they’re destined to soon become carpenters, cab drivers, appliance or auto salespeople, etc.

7. After a quick look at the body of a murder victim the pretend gumshoe is often able to determine the caliber of bullet that ended the poor guy’s life. No. It is not possible to know the bullet size based on a glance at a wound. Many factors could affect the wound size and shape—angle of impact, velocity, etc. Even when spent casings are found nearby it’s still not safe to assume those were the rounds that killed the victim. A really good guess, yes. Without a doubt, no.

8. Fictional detective I. M. Thebest decides to change jobs and he sees a job opening listed in the local paper. So he makes an appointment to have drinks with the chief of police in a city 300 miles away, where the action is greater and the liquor is cheaper, to discuss the opportunity. The two agree on the move and Det. Thebest is immediately scheduled to start work as top detective in the new city. Two weeks later he begins his new career and fits in perfectly. Magically, he knows the area and all the usual suspects and their hangouts, and the detectives who’ve worked in the department for 20 years all welcome him with open arms.

Stop. This is just too silly. No, this sort of thing does not happen in the real world. As a rule, detectives do not transfer as detectives to another department, especially as the head investigator in charge. Instead, if, for some reason they elect to switch departments they’d typically need to start over again as patrol officers. And, in most places they’d need to attend at least some training, including a brief field training program, before hitting the streets. To vary from this would be unfair to the officers who’ve paid their dues and have been waiting for the promotion or move to the detective division.


There you go, eight pet peeves of many cops who read used to read your books. Remember, though, you’re writing fiction and that means you can make up all kinds of cool stuff. However, when deviating from the reality of police work and the real world, it’s a must that you give the reader a proper reason to suspend what they know is the truth. This is especially so if you want cops to enjoy your work along with your other fans.

So, if you want your make-believe specially-skilled detective to transfer from one department to another as their chief of detectives, then a quick meeting of city council to approve the move would be all that’s needed to make it so. See how easy it is? Still, the other officers and detectives wouldn’t approve. Not at all.

Oh yeah … NO cordite, unless you’re writing historical fiction.


 

www.writerspoliceacademy.online

 

 Writers’ Police Academy Online is Pleased to Present:

 

“Search Dogs, Search Warrants, a Search for Words, and Lies”

 

When: February 27, 2021

 

This daylong live and interactive seminar features three renowned professionals who will share intimate knowledge of K-9 search and rescues and the recovery of human remains; laws and procedures governing search warrants, pursuits, and police use of force; how detectives use the words of suspects and witnesses—nouns, pronouns, extra words, missing words—to detect deception or hidden information.

At the end of day international bestselling author Heather Graham presents a dynamic workshop on the craft of writing titled “It’s All in the Words.”

Instructors include Carrie Stuart Parks, Sheri Lewis Wohl, Wisconsin Judge Kevin Rathburn, and the fabulous Heather Graham Pozzessere!

Registration is officially open. Reserve your seat today!

https://writerspoliceacademy.online


Seminar Schedule

Schedule (Times are EST)

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

11:00 – 12:20

Search Warrants, Pursuits, and Police Use of Force

This course will describe the general legal standards for the use of force by police such as warrants, including anticipatory, knock, and No Knock, warrants and pursuits. Instructor, Kevin Rathburn

12:20 – 12:50

Break

12:50 – 2:10

More than the Nose: K9 Search Teams in the 21st Century

K9 Search Teams in the 21st Century is a journey into the world of canine search teams. What does it take to be field ready? What makes a good search dog? Learn the difference between what it looks like on TV and what it’s really like out in the field. Learn how and why it’s changing from search and rescue volunteers to unpaid professionals. Instructor Sheri Wohl

2:20 – 3:40

Don’t LIE to Me!

Law enforcement uses numerous tools to identify deception in witnesses and suspects, depending on their background and training. Learn one of the more unique skill sets in recognizing deception through language–by reviewing the written statements. Understand how the very nouns, pronouns, extra words, missing words, and other clues alert detectives to deception or hidden information. Add richness and depth to your writing by utilizing and weaving content statement analysis into your manuscripts. Instructor, Carrie Stuart Parks

3:50 – 5:10

“It’s all in the Words”

A dynamic workshop on the craft of writing taught by one of the all-time great authors of suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas family fare. Instructor, Heather Graham

5:10

Final words


Instructor Bios:

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning, internationally known forensic artist. She travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals including the FBI, Secret Service, and RCMP, and is the largest instructor of forensic art in the world. Her best-selling novels in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre have garnered numerous awards including several Carols, Inspys, the Christy, Golden Scroll, Maxwell, and Wright. As a professional fine artist, she has written and illustrated best-selling art books for North Light Publishers.

 


Sheri Lewis Wohl is a 30-year veteran of the federal judiciary, a search and rescue K9 handler, and the author of more than fifteen novels, several of which feature search dogs. She is a field ready member of search and rescue in Eastern Washington and for the last nine years, has been a human remains detection K9 handler deployed on missions throughout Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Sheri has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Communications from Eastern Washington University and a Master’s degree in Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

 

 

 


 

Kevin Rathburn became a full-time faculty member at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 2000 after serving as an adjunct instructor for nine years. Prior to that, Mr. Rathburn served for ten years as an Assistant District Attorney for Brown County in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 2004, Mr. Rathburn became Municipal Judge for the Village of Suamico. Mr. Rathburn holds BAs in political science and economics from St. Norbert College (1987) and a JD from Marquette University Law School (1990).

While in Law school, Mr. Rathburn served as a law clerk to several Milwaukee Circuit Court Judges handling civil and criminal matters and the appeal of cases from local boards and municipal court in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He also completed an internship in public sector labor law with the law firm of Mulcahy and Wherry and an internship with Blue Cross & Blue Shield Insurance Company.

Mr. Rathburn is a State Certified Instructor for the Wisconsin Technical College System. He is also certified by the Department of Justice, Training and Standards Board in the areas of Child Maltreatment, Constitutional Law, Corrections Law, Courts and Jurisdiction, Criminal Law, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Criminology, Domestic Violence, Ethics in Criminal Justice, Interviews and Interrogation, Juvenile Law, Report Writing, Sexual Assault and Sensitive Crimes. Mr. Rathburn recently helped create Constitutional Law and Juvenile Law Manuals and update the Criminal Law Manual for the WI. Dept. of Justice, Training and Standards Bureau.

Mr. Rathburn has been a member of the Department of Justice Legal Context Advisory Committee since 2005. He has also served as a Commissioner on the Governor’s Commission on School Violence and the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Commission. He is a past member of the Brown County Youth Aids Committee, Brown County Council on Child Sexual Abuse, Brown County Subcommittee on Underage Drinking, Brown County Consortium on Dysfunctional Families and St. Vincent Hospital’s Child Health Team.

Since 1991 Mr. Rathburn has made presentations on a wide variety of legal topics at numerous conferences including the Wisconsin Jail Association, Wisconsin Juvenile Officers and Juvenile Intake Workers, the State of Wisconsin DARE Officers Association, the Wisconsin LETAO, the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Instructors, the Wisconsin Arson Investigators and the Wisconsin Criminal Investigator’s Association. Mr. Rathburn frequently provides legal updates for law enforcement and correction agencies. He has also provided in-service training for Unified Tactical instructors, administrators, corrections officers, dispatchers and casino security staff.

Since 2007, Mr. Rathburn has been a frequent speaker for the State Supreme Court in its training of Municipal Judges and Court Clerks. Since 2012 Mr. Rathburn has provided Basic Intake Training for Juvenile Intake Workers throughout Wisconsin. He is a trainer for the Wisconsin Child Welfare Professional Development system. Since 2016 Mr. Rathburn has been a featured presenter at the annual Writer’s Police Academy. He recently completed work with James Patterson and Maxine Paetro on a crime novel (The 17th Suspect). He has also presented to officers from England and the Caribbean Islands on multiple occasions in recent years.

In 1994, Mr. Rathburn received the Optimist Law Award for his contribution to the legal field. He also received an Outstanding Teacher Award in 2004, 2005, & 2006 from Who’s Who Among Teachers in American Universities & Colleges and from Who’s Who in Collegiate Faculty in 2007 and 2008. In 2017-18 he was included in Who’s Who in Technical College Faculty. In 2019, Mr. Rathburn received the Excellence in Teaching Award from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

Mr. Rathburn says his family is the most important part of his life. He spends as much time as possible with his wife, Beth, and their three sons, Sam, Jack, and Ben. He enjoys landscaping, gardening and walks with Beth and their dog Sophie. He spends many of his late evening hours reading and writing on legal topics. He also likes reading espionage or mystery novels and watching movies; especially westerns. He is an avid Packers fan and enjoys following the Badgers, Brewers, and Bucks


 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Heather Graham, majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, sci-fi, young adult, and Christmas family fare.

She is pleased to have been published in approximately twenty-five languages. She has written over 200 novels and has 60 million books in print. Heather has been honored with awards from booksellers and writers’ organizations for excellence in her work, and she is the proud to be a recipient of the Silver Bullet from Thriller Writers and was awarded the prestigious Thriller Master Award in 2016. She is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from RWA. Heather has had books selected for the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild, and has been quoted, interviewed, or featured in such publications as The Nation, Redbook, Mystery Book Club, People and USA Today and appeared on many newscasts including Today, Entertainment Tonight and local television.

Heather loves travel and anything that has to do with the water, and is a certified scuba diver. She also loves ballroom dancing. Each year she hosts a Vampire Ball and Dinner theater raising money for the Pediatric Aids Society and in 2006 she hosted the first Writers for New Orleans Workshop to benefit the stricken Gulf Region. She is also the founder of “The Slush Pile

Players,” presenting something that’s “almost like entertainment” for various conferences and benefits. Married since high school graduation and the mother of five, her greatest love in life remains her family, but she also believes her career has been an incredible gift, and she is grateful every day to be doing something that she loves so very much for a living.


 

www.writerspoliceacademy.online

 

The “Dark Triad” refers to a group of three of negative personality traits—Psychopathy, Narcissism, and Machiavellianism. People with these traits are often cold-bloodied and insensitive, devious and manipulative. Their actions are often “knee jerk” and impulsive, and those activities are sometimes criminal in nature.

  • Narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus, in Greek mythology, was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He was known for his beauty. A blind “seer” told Narcissus’s mother that her son would enjoy a long life, provided he never saw his reflection. However, as one version of the tale goes, Narcissus did indeed see his reflection in the waters of a spring and he loved his image so much that he killed himself. Another version is that Narcissus fell in love with his reflection when gazing into the spring water while thinking of the death of his sister.

Narcissistic people can be selfish, arrogant, lacking in empathy, and they’re not at all fond of criticism. They love to brag.

  • Machiavellianism: the word comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th century Italian politician and diplomat. Machiavelli’s book, “The Prince,” was thought of as an endorsement and approval of the dark arts of cunning and deceit. Traits associated with Machiavellianism include hypocriciy and deceit, manipulation and control, self-interest, and a lack of emotion and principle.
  • Psychopathy: According to Psychiatric Times, psychopathy is “a personality disorder characterized by lack of empathy, grandiosity, shallow affect, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irresponsibility, and disregard for the well-being or rights of others.”

In the U.S., psychopaths are approximately 1% of the population. Of that 1% males exhibit psychopathic traits more often than females—90% of all psychopaths are male. Not all psychopaths are criminals.

Psychopaths make up 15-18% of prison population. Of the overall prison population, psychopaths are three times more likely to reoffend and four times more likely to use violence when committing those new offenses.

The majority of psychopaths are not serial killers. Some are, but most are not. Instead, psychopaths are our neighbors who also happen to be crooks, con artists, rapists, spouse and child abusers, white collar criminals, gang members, and crooked lawyers, doctors, cops, and business people, to name a few.

Psychopaths are Master Manipulators

Psychopaths  use people to get what they want and they often do so by developing relationship based on lies. They often portray themselves in a grandiose manner. They tell embellished stories and tall tales about anything and everything and, those fictional accountings that are so creative and entertaining, people believe what they hear and instinctively trust the storytelling liar.

If the teller of wild tales, the psychopath, is caught in a lie they simply tell another fib to explains the “facts” and cover their tracks. They’re typically quick on their feet.

How to Tell if Someone is a Psychopath

In the 1970s, internationally renowned researcher Robert Hare (co-author of “Criminal Psychopathy: An Introduction for Police”) developed a checklist for use by mental health experts when assessing and diagnosing psychopathy. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is based on a three-point rating scale of certain characteristics:

  • 0 = does not apply
  • 1 = applies to a certain extent
  • 2 – the characteristic fully applies

The line between clinical psychopathy is a total score of 30 or more. Ted Bundy, for example, scored 39.

 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist

So, for fun, it’s time to use your calculator to tally up your own scores. Good luck! (Please do not post your scores!).

Remember:

  • 0 = does not apply
  • 1 = applies to a certain extent
  • 2 – the characteristic fully applies

The Test

Use the scores from above to rate your response to each point below. For example, if you are longwinded, verbose, gabby, and absolutely full of hot air, well, you should give yourself a score of 2 for “Glibness/superficial charm.”

You May Now Begin

  • Glibness/superficial charm

  • Grandiose sense of self-worth

  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

  • Pathological lying

  • Conning/manipulative

  • Lack of remorse or guilt

  • Shallow affect (i.e., reduced emotional responses)

  • Callous/lack of empathy

  • Parasitic lifestyle

  • Poor behavioral controls

  • Promiscuous sexual behavior

  • Early behavioral problems

  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals

  • Impulsivity

  • Irresponsibility

  • Failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions

  • Many short-term marital relationships

  • Juvenile delinquency

  • Revocation of conditional release (from prison)

  • Criminal versatility (i.e., commits diverse types of crimes)

The Hare Test must be administered by professionals. In fact, for accuracy, two different professionals should administer identical tests, independently. The average of the two test scores is the final result.

*Some experts such as Gendreau, Goggin, and Smith (Paula Smith, M.A. Claire Goggin, M.A. Paul Gendreau, Ph.D. Department of Psychology and Centre for Criminal Justice Studies University of New Brunswick, Saint John) offer that a different test, “Level of Service Inventory-Revised”(LSI-R) is overall superior to Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised for the prediction of recidivism and violence.

Hare contends, though, that both instruments are beneficial, “but for different reasons. The Level of Service Inventory-Revised is a specialized tool, whereas the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and its derivatives measure one of the most explanatory and generalizable risk factors identified to date.”

LSI–R scores

LCI-R scores are primarily used to help predict the success of parole, correctional halfway houses, prison and jail misconduct, and the revolving door of recidivism.

The LSI–R assessment is used by an assortment of professionals—counselors, doctors, psychologists, probation officers, and youth and social workers. Professionals who utilize the assessment should have advanced training in psychological assessment. They are responsible for properly interpreting and relaying the results.

The LSI–R test contains the following scales, with the number of items in each listed in parentheses.

  • Criminal History (10)
  • Education/Employment (10)
  • Financial (2)
  • Family/Marital (4)
  • Accommodation (3)
  • Leisure/Recreation (2)
  • Companions (5)
  • Alcohol/Drug Problems (9)
  • Emotional/Personal (5)
  • Attitudes/Orientation (4)

Like the Hare Test, the item responses are tallied which results in an overall score for the person tested.


Now that you’ve had a go at the test, it’s a perfect time to make note of the characteristics you found to be most interesting. To make certain fictional characters are realistic, assign to them a few of these traits to add flavor, style, and personality.


Resources – Sage Journal, Psychiatric Times, Public Safety Canada, Assessments.com – LSI-RLevel of Service Inventory-Revised, Multi-Health Systems Inc. (MHS) – Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) Profile and Associated Costs, Robert D. Hare and Matthew H. Logan, Criminal Psychopathy: An Introduction for Police.


“Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us”

by

Robert D. Hare, PhD.