Words – Tools writers use to tell a tale. They’re important to readers. Here are some logical groupings of letters you may find helpful when concocting a crime story.

D.

Degeneration – As a postmortem term it’s the deterioration of a body part, such as the decomposition of tissue and organs.

Dentition – The number and kind of teeth, and their arrangement in the mouth. Pertaining to teeth.

Depersonalization – The manner and actions a killer takes to conceal a victim’s identity. Removing the head and hands, for example.

Disarticulation – The separation of two joints, either by surgical or criminal amputation/dismemberment.

Joe Choppemup disarticulated his wife of twenty years and then scattered her remains in a field behind her lover’s home. 

 

E.

Engram – A lasting trace left in the human mind, both conscious and unconscious, by anything a person has experienced phsycally. Like a latent fingerprint, one that’s not readily seen by the naked eye, an engram is latent image that’s stored in the mind.

Eukaryocyte – Simply put … a cell with a nucleus. Eucaryotae cells (eukaryotic cells) have a true nucleus and within contain membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria. Eukrayocyte is found in all organisms except bacteria.

Exculpatory Evidence – Evidence that proves a person is innocent of a crime.

 

F.

Fillicide – The Murdering of one’s own child.

Fratricide – The killing one’s own brother or sister.

 

G.

Gorilla – Prison term for an extremely tough male who is the aggressor during a sexual act. A giver, not a taker …

 

H.

Homicide – A homicide is any killing of one person by another, and it can be a legal act in certain circumstances—self-defense or in defense of others, homicide by misfortune (an accident), state or federal executions, etc.

New Picture

Homicide per infortunium – Accidental homicide where a person performing a legal act without any intention of harm, accidentally kills another. This is a legally excusable homicide. It is not a crime. Sad, heartbreaking, and unfortunate, yes. But not a crime.

 

 

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, not in reverse, as them thinking about their loved one occupying a table space in the state morgue.

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 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 (also available as an audio book – Murder on Minor Avenue), 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 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 it is their traits, like Christie’s make-believe killers, that sometimes fool inexperienced investigators who overlook them as suspects simply because they’re 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 and sometimes does overlook these 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.

Starting fresh, without predisposition and prejudice, and without knowing the identity of a killer is one reason why I believe Agatha Christie remains so wildly popular in the mystery world. This is so because she, like police homicide investigators, did not know the name of the killer when she started her stories.

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

As a former detective who still thinks like an investigator as I read book after book, I sometimes see subtle things in Christie’s writing that leads me to believe she was solving her own cases with each written word.

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 either of her characters, is perfect, and it is this, the fallibility of human beings, that helped her characters and 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.


By the way, someone asked about Amazon Echos. Yes, I do have the device and enjoy using it. Actually, Denene and I have two Echos and two Dots in our home. We use them for research, checking weather and commute times, to play music, operate our TV’s, as intercoms now that we live in a fairly large home, and to switch our lights on and off.

So yes, I highly recommend them and, since she asked (on Facebook) – Amazon is currently running a special promotion on these devices.

 

Many of you have heard me tell the story of the day I shot and killed a bank robber during a pretty intense shootout. If you haven’t heard the story in person you may have read about it here on this site in one form or another.

But there’s a part of the tale I haven’t shared, and today I’ve decided to open the door in the back corner of my mind where this story lives. I’m doing so because those of you who write truly need to hear it. I say this because these are often the tiny details missing from your tales.

“That” Day

I’ve talked about the bullets zinging past my head with some striking the metal and glass of a nearby police car. I filled you in on the slow motion and my inability to hear that began the moment the robber fired his first round. I mentioned the 68 rounds that were exchanged (I fired five with all five striking the point of his body for which I aimed—one to the head and four practically dead center of his chest).

I told you about the dog barking. Of the bad guy folding like a carpenter’s ruler each time one of my 9mm bullets struck him, and then each time he popped back up like a clown in a jack-in-the-box to fire still more rounds at me and the other officers who’d arrived.

I turned to see one of the backup officers take cover beneath his vehicle, rolling under it in the same manner as a child would while playfully tumbling down a hillside. I saw members of a state highway construction crew quickly climb into the back of a dump truck just seconds before gunfire struck the vehicle. The big truck’s metal body served them well.

I described the man’s final charge with gun in hand when I and a sheriff’s captain tackled the robber at which time I saw the barrel of his pistol aimed point blank at my face while he frantically and repeatedly squeezed the trigger, hoping to kill me. I let you know that I still sometimes hear the repetitive click, click, click of the hammer falling each time he pulled that trigger.

Then I handcuffed him, and he died.

What I haven’t described to you is what took place after I cuffed him, knowing that a man I’d shot died while wearing my handcuffs.

After He Fell

I stood watching as EMS personnel frantically did their best to keep the 22-year-old bank robber alive. Sure, they contaminated the scene with empty gauze packaging and plastic wrappings and tubes and IV stuff, and with foot and knee prints in the soil. And they moved the man to slide a backboard beneath his body, and then then I saw them start chest compressions, and rescue breathing using an Ambu bag. But they were doing their best to save a then rapidly dying man.

EMS workers doing their best to save the life of the robber.

The air was still, hot, and extremely humid immediately after the man fell for the last time. When he did, my hearing returned as did real-time motion.

Since I was a detective on my way to a court proceeding when the robbery occurred, I wore a sports jacket, white shirt, khaki pants, a tie, and dress shoes. The robber had on a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes with no socks. Perspiration dampened my shirt. Blood soaked the robber’s.

At the time, I was working a special assignment and had grown out my hair a bit to better blend in with a particular group of bad folks. At the scene, due to nerve- and heat-induced sweating, I’d pulled the sides of my perspiration-dampened hair behind my ears. Still, sweat rolled down my cheeks like tiny waterfalls. It’s one thing that, for some reason, stood out to me. One of the many little things that did and still do.

The ambulance left the scene with red lights flashing and siren wailing. I stood on a grassy hillside surrounded by bullet casings, rescue debris, dozens of police cars with blue lights winking and blinking, scores of police officers from several agencies, news media, a crowd of citizen looky-loos, one police car with the windshield and side glasses shattered by incoming gunfire, and puddles of drying blood.

I watched until the ambulance drove out of sight.

I’d never felt so alone in my entire life.

When all was said and done at the scene, I drove back to my office where I was asked to give a statement to the investigator who’d handle the shooting. Other investigators from the outside agency were on hand as well, demanding my gun for comparison. They unloaded it and immediately counted the rounds left in the magazine and the one in the chamber. I was issued another weapon since they’d keep that one until the investigation was complete.

All I wanted to do was to go home to be with my wife. I needed calm in the midst of chaos.

However, instead of allowing me to decompress, my immediate supervisor, the chief of police, told me to go to the morgue to video and photograph the dead robber, and to collect my handcuffs.

Me, immediately after the shooting. notice the shattered glass of the patrol car. Several rounds from the robber’s gun were found in numerous locations inside the car, including the seat, doors, hood, engine compartment, and even one in the ash tray. Here you can see the hair pulled behind my ears. Why this stood out to me is a mystery, but I can still sense the feeling of it as if it were happening at this very moment. An odd feeling. It truly is.

What happened next is a macabre and blurred memory that will remain inside my skull until the day I die.

I and another investigator who, at the time, was assigned to a drug task force, drove to the morgue. He had one of those huge and clunky VHS video recorders in his unmarked car.

We arrived in separate vehicles and he waited for me to pull up beside his car and park so we could enter the building together.

I still had on the same clothes, the jacket and tie. He wore his typical jeans and t-shirt with a gun hidden somewhere beneath. His hair was long and curly and he had a thick, dark beard that nearly touched his chest. He was a huge man who stood at six-feet-eight-inches. He died a few years ago in a car crash while en-route to assist an officer. My detective partner at the time has also passed away. So has another officer who was there “that” day.

I approached the doors to the morgue. Head-high square windows near the top of each door allowed a view directly to the front of room. He was there, on his back, shirtless.

Cool sweat began to flow down my back (perspiration seems to play a big role in these memories). A lightheadedness set in as I pushed open the green double doors and stepped inside using what felt like rubber legs to push me forward. The undercover guy had already begun filming the body and narrating what he observed.

Seconds later, and I do not remember walking over, I stood beside the guy I’d killed an hour or so ago, looking at what I knew would be cold flesh. His chest and face were badly bruised and covered in streaks of dried rusty-brownish blood. Chest and belly hair stuck together in clumps matted together by more of the dried fluid that trailed from four nearly perfect round holes at the center of his chest. Holes I placed there with 9mm bullets fired from my pistol.

Another neat and perfectly round hole—an entrance wound, the first shot I’d fired—was an inch or so from his left ear, just above his cheek. A trail of clotted blood went from there down to his jaw where a single drop had hardened before it could fall. I vividly remember placing my sights at that very spot, the one near his ear. It was center mass of what I could see of the man as he hid behind his car, an old station wagon that belonged to his father.

I fired my first round through the rear car window. The round struck the robber’s head near his left ear, just above his cheek. The large hole in the side of the car was caused by a slug fired from a patrol officer’s shotgun. The round was later found inside a duffel bag filled with clothing. I had a better angle of fire, especially after the gunman moved from behind the car to square off with me.

He crouched beside the car while lobbing rounds at police officers who’d positioned themselves atop a small hill. His head was all I could see and his head was for what I aimed.

In my mind I saw the entire event again as I stood there, as motionless as his dead body. I saw him go down after the round struck the side of his head and I was stunned to see him pop up to begin firing again.

I walked around the stainless steel gurney and saw the reason why that round didn’t kill him. Since he was positioned at the bottom of the hill my shot entered the target at a downward angle. The bullet went in near the ear and exited in an ugly tearing of flesh and bone just below his right lower jaw.

When he stood and turned toward me to fire even more rounds was when I started perforating his chest, answering his bursts of gunfire with a round of my own, each time he stood to shoot. He fired and I placed a shot dead center of his chest. He fell. Then he popped back to fire and I’d fire another round and down he’d go. I fired four rounds into his chest, all eventual fatal rounds, yet he still managed to get up and charge at officers.

And that exchange of gunfire, my precise shooting, was what brought me to the point of slipping my handcuff key into the lock of my, what were then extremely bloody handcuffs. I released the catch and for what I believe was the first and last time that the person wearing them did not rub their wrists after they were removed.

No, “Thank you.”

No, “Glad to get those off.”

No, “I want my lawyer.”

No, “I’ll have your badge.”

Nothing.

Just the sound of my pounding heart.

And a dead guy.

A man I killed.

Even now, as I write this, the emotion is there. My heart feels these words. My mind sees the dead robber just like he’s here beside me helping to tell the story.

But there are no words.

Just five little holes.

Well, six, if you count the hole in my soul.

The one he fired when he decided to use me to end his life.

"You get always what you want from me
You can make it easy, can't you see
You shot a hole, hole, hole in my soul." ~ C.C. Catch

 

 

Badge Contact Lee

It’s Wormhole Thursday, a time to journey back to a time before TASERS and prior to the CSI Effect.

It’s memories of what it was like to be a cop way “back in the day” and I share this with you for two reasons. One: The information contained within are details that could add that extra touch of realism that’s sometimes missing in a crime story. Two: To help those not involved in the real world of coppers better understand that cops are more than just someone in uniform who writes traffic tickets and locks up the bad guys.

So please join me as we wander into the Thursday Wormhole. Oh, and please keep your hands and feet inside at all times. We’re approaching Halloween and you never know what or who is lurking out there in the shadows.

Sheriff’s Office

First, a bit about the office of sheriff. Sheriff’s are elected officials and they’re like the CEOs of their departments. Most operate under a county government. However, a few cities also have sheriffs which, I believe, occurs mostly in Virginia where some cities are legally not a part of the county that surrounds them. The law there states that only a sheriff may serve civil process (jury summons, divorce papers, lien notices, etc.), meaning a sheriff is needed in those locations since, by law, a police department may not serve those papers.

Wearing “the Star”

I worked as a patrol deputy, riding county roads doing double-duty, as we all did, serving civil papers between answering criminal complaints and keeping our eyes open for bad folks doing bad things. In our “spare time” we investigated crimes resulting from those complaints. There were no detectives. Our sheriff didn’t believe in having them, just like he didn’t believe that female deputies should carry guns. In fact, our department didn’t have women working the roads. Not a single female deputy was a sworn police officer. There were female jailers, of course, because our jail, like others, housed women prisoners. We also had female dispatchers.

It was a requirement that all jailers/corrections officers were certified to carry firearms, and they received training at the range. The women who worked in our department also received the training (had to to become certified jailers), but when the training was completed the she sheriff made them turn in their weapons.

In Black and White

Our shifts were divided by race. White deputies were assigned mostly to work with other white deputies, and African American deputies were assigned to work with African American deputies. I was the exception to the rule. I was a crossover deputy. The sheriff called me into his office one day to tell me he was trying the experiment of mixing us (yes, he actually said this) and he thought I had the personality to get along with everyone. Well, duh …

Anyway, that’s the flavor of how it was during the early days of my career in law enforcement. Obviously, things changed over the years, but gradually. This was the South and change and progress in many areas there were slow to come, especially within the sheriff’s office.

Moving Ahead to 1984

August 25, 1984. 2330 hours (11:30 p.m.)

I tucked my daughter in bed for the night and told the overnight sitter I’d see her in the morning, and to call my office if she needed anything. Someone there, I said, would contact me by radio to relay the message. And, if I wasn’t in one of the many “dead spots” in the county I’d respond right away. Then I headed out the front door and to my patrol car, a brown and tan sheriff’s vehicle with a red light bar on top and a long whip antenna that frequently struck and trimmed low hanging branches and leaves from the trees that lined some country roads.

I’d repeat my message to the sitter message each time I worked the night shift. Thankfully, the sheriff understood that I was single dad raising a daughter, so I was fortunate in that I worked mostly day shifts. But, nights were a part of the job so I rolled with the punches.

My attire for the evening, as always, was the standard dark brown shirt, khaki-colored pants, shoes shined until they looked like polished mahogany, a straw campaign hat, a deep brown basketweave-patterned gun belt that held a Smith and Wesson .357 with a 6-inch barrel, a pair of Peerless handcuffs, and two dump pouches that contained a few extra rounds of hollow point ammunition. And a Maglite.

My left rear pocket was weighted slightly by the spring-handled lead and leather SAP I’d slipped inside just prior to leaving my bedroom. It was my secret weapon in the event someone got the best of me and there was no other way to survive the encounter.

This was any and every night back in the late 70s and early 80s. We weren’t issued vests, semi-autos, shotguns, TASERS, or chemical sprays of any type. There were no cages/partitions in our cars either, meaning we’d have to place the crooks in the front passenger seat and, as a result, when we arrested an unruly suspect we’d often have to wrestle with them, while driving, all the way to the jail. On more than one occasion, simply for a bit of relief, I handcuffed the guy to the bracket that held the carseat to the floorboard.

Other times I’d call for backup and that poor deputy would have to ride in the backseat and tussle with the a-holes until we arrived at the jail.

Some of us kept a baseball bat tucked between the driver’s seat and door, in that narrow space on the floorboard. It’s purpose was to equal the odds a bit when facing a group of people who were hellbent on bashing in the brains of a solo deputy. To paint a better picture, imagine yourself facing a crowd of 100 drunk people in a nightclub parking lot who’re in the midst of fighting, cutting, stabbing, and shooting and it’s your job to break it up. Then many of them decide it’s time to attack the cop and that cop is you and you’re the only cop there. Yes, a baseball bat came in handy, believe me.

We were required to wear the Smokey Bear campaign hats any time we were outdoors. If the boss drove by a traffic stop and the deputy’s head was bare, well, there was a good chance by afternoon he’d no longer be a deputy. And you’d as soon be caught dead as to have your photo appear in a newspaper story without the hat perched atop your dome. Goodness, NO!

The same was true about the shine on our shoes, and that meant after rolling in a mud hole with a dangerous suspect, trying to handcuff him while he constantly punched, kicked, and bit you, well, the moment you were once again upright you’d best be wiping away the mud from your shoes and buffing them back to a glossy shine. Otherwise, you risked being sent home for good.

As I briefly mentioned above, there were several radio dead spots throughout the county. In those areas calling for backup was absolutely impossible. Remember, cell phones weren’t around back then. Therefore, we answered dangerous calls there with the mindset that we’d do whatever it took to come back. It was a bit like entering the Twilight Zone.

It’s not a good feeling to respond to a murder scene, knowing the killer was last seen entering a dark and big old abandoned building, knowing you’ve got to go in to get the guy, alone. Just you, your revolver, a Maglite, and a heart that’s jackhammering against the inside of your chest wall.

To make things worse, those were often the areas inhabited by people who loved to make and guzzle moonshine, fight the police, and who didn’t mind spending a few nights in a jail if it meant getting in a few good punches on a cop’s face.

Neighbors were no help to us either, because many of them enjoyed seeing a good brawl, scuffles that sometimes included being bitten by dogs of questionable intelligence who were defending their owners with every tooth in their snarling mouths.

Wives and shoeless and shirtless kids also liked to dive on the “beat-a-cop” pile.

The good neighbors, well, most of those folks didn’t own a phone so they were useless when it came to calling for help. They’d have to get in a car, if they owned one, and drive to the home of the nearest neighbor who had a “telly-phone.” Sometimes the closest phone was a located many miles away inside a country store, the places where large jars of pickled pigs feet and eggs sat on plywood counters near the old-timey cash registers, just a few feet from potbelly stove.

Somehow, and it’s difficult to fathom how, we’d almost always come out on top and bring in the person we’d gone out to get. And, sometimes we’d bring back an extra man or woman, depending upon how badly they’d beaten us.

Then, after tucking the offenders away in a nice warm jail cell and at shift’s end, I’d drive home facing a rising sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After parking my car and signing off for the day, I’d open my front door, thank the babysitter, pack my sweet little girl’s lunch, usually a peanut butter grape jelly sandwich (her favorite), and then watch her run to meet the bus and her little friends. She never failed to grab a seat at the window so she could toss me a kiss and a wave goodbye.

Me? Well, I had shoes to polish and uniforms to wash, and a warm, soft bed and pillow waiting for me whenever I was ready to … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


More about the office of sheriff.

The duties of a county (or city) sheriff differ a bit than those of a police chief. In fact, not all sheriffs are responsible for street-type law enforcement, such as patrol.

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

Remember, this information may vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another.

Who is a sheriff?

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1) Sheriffs are constitutional officers, meaning they are elected into office by popular vote.

2) Generally, sheriffs do not have a supervisor. They don’t answer to a board of supervisors, commissioners, or a county administrator. However, any extra funding that’s not mandated by law is controlled by county government.

Sheriffs are responsible for:

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

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

– A sheriff appoints deputies to assist with the various duties.

3) Preserve order at public polling places.

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

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

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

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

8) Sheriffs in the state of Delaware, our new home, do not have police powers.

9) In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroner of their counties.

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

*In most locations, deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, meaning they can be dismissed from duty without cause or reason. Remember, in most areas, but not all, deputies are appointed by the sheriff, not hired.

The above list is not all inclusive. Sheriffs and deputies are responsible for duties in addition to those listed here.

Since relocating to the upper tip of Delaware, Denene and I are currently residing in an extended stay hotel, where we’ve been since we left the Writers’ Police Academy. We will remain here until closing on the new house.

Yes, we finally found a home this week and made an offer on it, after an exhausting search. We reached an agreement with the sellers just yesterday and we now have signed documents in hand. Unfortunately, the owners are unable to vacate the home until early October. But, the property is extremely nice so it should be worth the wait. In the meantime, though, we’ll remain in the hotel.

Our room here is nice and features a mini kitchen and a large work station that accommodates our computers and other necessities.

Now that we’re here, though, I have no yard work or other home project to occupy the little spare time I have during the evening hours—the time I spent feeding the birds and watering and caring for the plants in our yard. The time that took me away from everything. It was my escape. The time to allow my mind to focus on nothing but the little creatures and flowers and blue skies and the combined scents of eucalyptus and citrus trees and roses … and the smoke from all the wildfires.

Therefore, now that I do have a bit of spare time, I’ve been able to read a bit, mostly at night using my Kindle Paperwhite. I love the device because it’s small and the backlit screen allows me to peruse the “pages” without waking Denene, who, by the way, started her new job last week. She’s still teaching microbiology and cool bioterrorism stuff, but as a professor at another university, in the department of Medical & Molecular Sciences.

Anyway, to get to the point, while reading current novels and blogs and news articles, I’ve run across the misuse of various 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 …

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.

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 the course of their time behind bar 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 this one. 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 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. Please, please, please stop using the stuff in your books.

Please read this:

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

 

The new grocery store sales flyers are now available and the deals this week are spectacular. In fact, the selections are especially wonderful for writers hoping to spice up their current villains.

So travel past the melons, the seafood, eggs, bacon, and English Muffins, and then take the turn on the far side of the toilet tissue aisle and that’s where you’ll find the real bargains of the week—the ingredients to concoct THE perfect villain.

And, to help out, here’s a tasty recipe to add to your file.

Hurry, we can’t wait to see how your next “dish” turns out!
 

Orange Brown Icon General Recipe Card by Lee Lofland
 

Today, as your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the day, pause for just a moment to consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless, superheroes? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are they believable?

Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite (NO!), uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get the ideas for blog topics? Well, I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book. I read tons of books including books penned by readers of this blog. Therefore, and unfortunately so, I have a near endless supply of fodder for articles—the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).

For example, while pouring over the pages of a wonderfully written book, a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks.

Wonderfully Written Book

So I backed up to re-read the last few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes. Nope, there it was as plain as day, one of the most impossible, unbelievable means to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail because the book is very new). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to realism.

Now I have a problem. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll have the courage to pick up another book written by this particular author. Why? Because he/she didn’t bother to check facts. The writer didn’t attempt even the slightest effort to use common sense. Actually, I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.

Common Sense Works for Lee Child: Writing Believable Make-Believe

One of the best thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes a ton of over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes you believe it, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books. His answer was (click here to read the entire interview), “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before.

I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk.  But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg—90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”

So how does Lee make all that wacky action work? He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.

Allele – The characteristics of a single copy of a specific gene, or of a single copy of a specific place on a chromosome.

Alternate light source – Special lighting device that help investigators locate and visually enhance items of evidence—body fluids, fingerprints, fibers).

Angle of Impact – The angle at which a drop of blood strikes a surface.

Area of Convergence – The area where, when lines are drawn (or through use of string) through the long axes of blood stains, all points intersect. This point of intersection  indicates the location of the blood source.

Area of Origin – The location from which blood spatter originated.

Backspatter Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops that traveled in the opposite direction of the external force applied.

Ballistics – Scientific study of the motion of projectiles.

Biological evidence – Physical evidence that originated from a human, plant, or animal.

Blood Clot – A gelatinous mass formed by a combination of red blood cells, fibrinogen, platelets, and other clotting factors.

Bloodstain – An area where blood contacts a surface.

Bloodstain Pattern – A grouping of bloodstains that indicates the manner in which the pattern was distributed.

Bubble Ring – An outline within a bloodstain caused by air in the blood.

Cast-off Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops released from an object in motion (a bloody hammer or ax, for example).

Chain of custody – The process used to maintain and document the chronological history of the evidence. It is a written record of each person who handled a particular piece of evidence.

Cross-contamination – The unwanted transfer of material between two or more objects. For example, touching an object containing blood and then using the same hand to handle a different item. DNA, blood, etc. could transfer from the original object to the other.

Drip Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from a liquid that dripped onto a surface or into another liquid.

Drip Stain – A bloodstain resulting from a falling drop.

Drip Trail – A bloodstain pattern resulting from the movement of its source.

Edge Characteristic – The physical characteristics of the periphery of a bloodstain.

Electrostatic dust print lifter − A system that applies a high-voltage electrostatic charge on a piece of lifting film, causing dust or residue particles from a print to transfer to the underside of the lifting film. Some of you may remember seeing this in use at the Writers’ Police Academy. (Picture at right – author Donna Andrews – Writers’ Police Academy)

Expiration Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood forced by airflow out of the nose, mouth, or a wound. (Expiration – exhalation of breath).

Firing pin/striker – The component/part of a firearm that contacts the ammunition causing it to fire.

Forward Spatter Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops that traveled in the same direction as the the item causing the force (A baseball bat in motion).

Homogenization – process of preparing tissue for analysis by grinding tissue in amount of water (precisely measured, of course).

Impact Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from an object striking liquid blood.

Impression evidence – Materials that keep the characteristics of other objects that have been pressed against them, such as a footprint in mud.

Latent print – A print that is not visible under normal lighting.

Locard’s Exchange Principle – The theory that every person who enters or leaves an area will deposit or remove physical items from the scene.

Locus – The specific location of a gene on a chromosome; the plural form is loci.

Luminol  – A chemical that exhibits chemiluminescence, a blue glow, when mixed with an oxidizing agent. Luminol is used detect trace amounts of blood left at crime scenes as it reacts with iron found in hemoglobin. Horseradish can leave a flash positive, but its glow is not as bright as the glow produced by blood. Other items could also produce false positives, but they, too, do not glow as brightly as blood.

Magazine – A container that feeds cartridges into the chamber of a firearm.

Mist Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood reduced to a fine spray as a result of an applied force.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – DNA located in the mitochondria found in each cell of a body. Can be used to link a common female ancestor.

Nuclear DNA – DNA located in the nucleus of a cell.

Parent Stain – A bloodstain from which a satellite stain originated.

Post-mortem redistribution – Toxicological phenomenon of an increase in drug concentration after death.

Primer – The chemical composition that, when struck by a firing pin, ignites smokeless powder., NOT CORDITE!

Pistol – A handgun which uses a magazine and ejects fired cartridge cases automatically.

Plasma – The clear, yellowish fluid portion of blood.

Plastic − A type of print that is three-dimensional.

Platelet – An irregularly shaped cell-like particle in the blood that is an important part of blood clotting. Platelets are activated when an injury breaches a blood vessel to break. Platelets then change shape and begin adhering to the broken vessel wall and to each other. This is the start of the clotting process.

Pool – An accumulation of liquid blood on a surface.

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop #2017WPA

Projected Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from liquid blood that’s leaking while under pressure, such as a spurt or spray.

Revolver – A handgun that has a rotating cylinder. Cartridge casings are not automatically ejected when fired.

Saturation Stain – A bloodstain resulting from the accumulation of liquid blood in an absorbent material, such as clothing or bedding.

Serum Stain – The stain resulting from the liquid portion of blood (serum) that separates during coagulation.

Spatter Stain – A bloodstain resulting from a blood drop dispersed through the air due to an external force (a bullet, bat, hammer, rock, etc.).

Spines – A bloodstain feature resembling rays/lines emanating out from the edge of a blood drop.

Splash Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from a volume of liquid blood that falls and or spills onto a surface.

Swipe Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from the transfer of blood from a blood-stained surface onto another surface, such as the swipe/wipe of a rag or cloth through a bloody area.

Transfer Stain – A bloodstain resulting from contact between a bloodstained surface and another area/item.

Crime Scenes … Watch Your Step!

Transient evidence – Evidence that could lose its evidentiary value if not protected, such as blood, semen, fingerprints exposed to the rain.

Void – An absence of blood in an otherwise continuous bloodstain pattern.

Wipe Pattern – An altered bloodstain pattern caused when an object passes through a wet bloodstain.

Between a rock and a hard place

I cringed when I read the opening line of the first draft of the new series. She’d named me Biff Steele, as if Rod Manly hadn’t been bad enough in the previous books. But names, however cheesy they may be, are not the worst thing that could happen to me. At least my author does her homework, unlike my best friend’s creator.

My pal, poor guy, has lived a really tough life. Not only does he have a name worse than mine—Rocky Hardplace—his psycho-behind-the-keyboard author lives her fantasies through him—killing, bombing, fighting, shooting, and sex … so much sex. Too much sex. SEX, SEX, SEX. It must be all she ever thinks of, day and night. Well, that and how to solve crimes using the dumb stuff she sees on TV shows. Doesn’t she realize that most of those characters are also products of poor research and fantasy?

My writer understands the huge differences between the written word and the on-screen action seen on TV and film. Live-action stuff quite often needs over the top excitement to capture and hold the attention of a viewing audience. TV watchers see events unfold in vivid color. They hear the excitement pumping throughout their living rooms via high-dollar surround sound systems.

Readers, on the other hand, require a carefully planned and plotted mental massaging of each of the senses in order to bring movement and stimulation to what’s nothing more than carefully arranged blots of ink on a page. There are no images within a murder mystery; therefore, the writer must somehow form detailed pictures inside a reader’s mind.

We, as characters who’ve traveled the paths inside the minds of readers, know that each person has a different perception of what they read, and that’s because they draw upon their own past experiences. And this is where Rocky Hardplace’s writer really goofs. She has no experience in the world of cops and robbers so she makes up what should be realistic information, and some of it is totally absurd.

Unfortunately, the poor woman has Rocky tromping about his fictional city while doing some pretty ridiculous stuff—shooting a revolver that spews spent brass, knocking out bad guys with nothing more than a tap to the back of the neck, shooting guns from the hands of serial killers, and her wacky-ass notion that FBI agents ride into town on white horses to solve every murder and kidnapping case. And the cordite … puhleeze!

Thankfully, as I said earlier, my author does her homework. She reads books such as Police Procedure and Investigation, and she’s a regular reader of this blog. She also attends the Writers’ Police Academy.

Yes, my writer is a fictional hero’s dream author. I rarely ever do stupid stuff in my quest to save my city from crime and corruption (Have you ever noticed how much of this stuff goes on in books? I’m thankful that reality isn’t nearly as bad).

My author dresses me nicely. I carry the best guns money can buy. I’m an expert in ten different martial arts styles/systems. I have only super intelligent girlfriends. My work partner is smart, but remains at one level below me. I drive a really cool car. I live in a wonderful beach house. I have a flea-less dog as a best friend. And I have just enough flaws and quirks to keep my fans interested. Yes, my world is perfect.

If only I could convince her to change my name. Biff Steele … yuck.

The Professor is here today to share a few tips on developing well-rounded and layered characters. As in his last tip, Interviewing Your Characters, The Professor believes that police investigators have what it takes to concoct believable fictional characters, and here’s why you should add a few of these suggestions to your writers’ toolkit.

When officers search a suspect’s apartment or a murder victim’s home, they’re not only looking for physical evidence of the crime, they’re also seeking information about the current resident. Therefore, they take a good hard look at the possessions in the home, because those personal objects tell a vivid story.

While conducting the in-depth search, detectives are essentially reading an autobiography. They’ll learn things such as the person’s favorite color, their favorite authors, the extent of their wealth (if any), secrets (a diary or journal), left- or right-handed, natural hair color, travels, family history, etc.

The Professor suggests that writers may want to build a list of the personal possessions of the character-in-progress. Doing so will greatly assist them in developing a character’s personality, and how the character goes about his/her daily affairs.

Lets say you’re developing a female protagonist—a woman who’s known for her superb crime-solving abilities. You might want the reader to see the sleuth’s home as a place crammed full of mystery novels and forensics manuals, magnifying glasses of all sizes, and a fully-functional DNA lab in the basement. However, her most prized-possessions are, oddly, a large assortment of big, floppy straw hats.

As the readers step into your character’s kitchen they see weight loss products lining the counter (has she struggled with weight issues?). The cabinets are filled with canned goods, pots, pans, dishes, and an assortment of tea blends from all over the world. Everything is arranged by size and they’re placed in alphabetical order. The kitchen is spotless. Like the rest of the house, not a thing is out of place, and you couldn’t find a dust bunny if you tried. A tour of her bedroom closet exposes only comfortable, flat shoes and print dresses in various hues of red. Her medicine cabinet contains denture cream, Ibuprofen, and hair dye.

Have you started to develop a mental picture of the character yet? Do you have some sort of idea of her mannerisms? If you close your eyes are you beginning to see someone who maybe looks a little like this …

So, now that we have an outline of our character, and we know a bit of her personality (she’s a neat freak who prefers comfort over style, and she loves, loves, loves, tea), we can start to add some color between the lines. To do so, writers should take a look at their character’s possessions and then ask why they possess each of those items.

The denture cream. Does she own it because she actually has dentures, or, is there a gentleman caller with detachable upper and lower plates who often spends the night? How about the assortment of exotic teas? Does she drink the stuff, or is she merely an eccentric collector? Are the tea packets souvenirs from extensive travel? Maybe her gentleman caller is an airline pilot who picks up the various blends during his extensive travels.

So, you see, building a character can be fun. All you have to do is unlock your imagination and travel to where your warped little writer-minds take you, no matter how goofy the place may be …