Karen Olsen: State Troopers, Sacred Cows, and Obscene Phone Calls

Karen Olson


Karen E. Olson is the author of the Annie Seymour mysteries. The fourth in the series, SHOT GIRL, is available now. She is also working on a new series with a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas. THE MISSING INK will be out in July. She was a longtime print journalist and now edits a medical journal part time at Yale. She lives in the suburbs of New Haven,Connecticut, with her husband, daughter, and two cats.

I was never a police reporter like my protagonist Annie Seymour. But I did deal with cops on a regular basis in a couple of the towns I covered, when I went to the station to check the daily log. Lots of mailbox vandalism, a few break-ins, some obscene phone calls. Two adjacent towns I covered didn’t have a local police force. They relied on the state police, which had a barracks about half an hour away and a couple of resident state troopers who spent a lot of time driving around farmland.

I covered two murders in my six years as a reporter. Neither of them was a mystery.

The first was the most interesting in that it was a love triangle. An airline pilot was dating a woman with a rather jealous ex. He’d even called the cops to say the guy was stalking him. The cops told him to get a gun. So he did. Unfortunately, one night at a local watering hole, the ex confronted the pilot in the parking lot and threatened him with a broken beer bottle. The pilot took his gun out of his car and shot the guy. Then called the cops and waited for them to show up. Although there was a trial, he got off on self defense. I can’t remember what the woman looked like, except she was blonde. Of course.

The second murder was in one of the towns without a police force. A kid shot his father over a pack of cigarettes. Yeah, over cigarettes. They took the kid away and he ended up in juvenile court. Which meant no story for me because those records are sealed.

Probably the most interesting murder, however, in my whole career wasn’t one that I covered but one that I edited. I was on the night copy desk, and one of our sources called to say a girl had been stabbed and left in the street in New Haven. We sent the police reporter out, and he came back with the story of a dead Yale student. We didn’t have the whole story for days, and it finally turned out that she’d been a graduate student and the only suspect in the case was her thesis adviser, a professor. Suzanne Jovin’s story was fodder for a Law and Order episode, and a huge expose in the New York Times Magazine. But the professor was never charged because there was no physical evidence, and her murder today remains unsolved.

The Jovin case was not the basis for my first book SACRED COWS, but it influenced it. Around the same time, there was a story about a prostitute who’d been found dead in the middle of York Street after falling from a high-rise balcony. The guy who owned the apartment from where she fell was a then-state representative who’s now dead. The paper covered the story, but only half-heartedly, and then the story disappeared. I wondered if she’d been a Yale student, too, if the story would’ve been pursued a lot more vigorously, like Suzanne Jovin’s.

I like giving Annie bigger stories to cover than I did (one of my front page stories at the Bristol Press in Bristol, CT, was about the first traffic light being installed in Burlington, and my very first newspaper story was an interview with the Deep River dog warden). I’m living vicariously through her, because in her world, the murders are always over something bigger than cigarettes and the murderers don’t wait for the cops to arrive.


*   *   *

This blog post was supposed to be online a few days ago, but I was quite ill and just couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain. I’m sorry it’s so late, Karen.

Please, please, please go out and buy Karen’s new book. She’s a wonderful writer!

5 replies
  1. karenolson
    karenolson says:

    Hi SZ: I checked the police log every day when I was a reporter. The great thing about small towns was how I’d sometimes see names of people I knew…

    Hi Joyce: thanks so much! And while the police blotters in the small papers I worked for had stuff about cows escaping their farms or mailboxes being overturned, people ate that stuff up and wanted to know about it. It was news. To them, at least!

    Hi Lee: Thanks for having me over here, and I hope you get better soon!!

  2. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Hi Karen! I love your books and can’t wait to read the new one.

    People are usually surprised that unless you live in a big city, police blotters are really rather boring. (The newspapers usually didn’t even bother with us.) At the department where I was a secretary for ten years, there was only one murder case (triple homicide) in twenty years, and they knew who the killer was. He’s now in prison for life.

  3. SZ
    SZ says:

    Good morning Lee,

    Hope you are feeling better. Glad you are convinced about the class. Seemed a no brainer and it will be memorable with your wit alone. Not to mention all that experience.

    Now take a break ! No relapses. [see relapse in circle with slash through it]

    As for wordpress. You have to sign on to it to post a comment here. I have not “saved” the password online. Not sure if Elena has saved it. I have never received an email about it. I have it on my site, however have not automated yet.

    My lunch box is going to be a vintage Hot Wheels with thermos.

  4. SZ
    SZ says:

    Good morning Karen,

    Glad your blog got put up. How often would you go in to check the daily logs ? I live in San Francisco. I think they post them in the paper now. It is sad, however I believe we have surpassed 90 murders here for 2008.

    Yesterday alone was two children being hit by stray bullets. One shot by a 13 year old squirrel hunter. [?] Fortunately these two are ok.

    I have to say it seems odd to hear that a police officer recommended that man get a gun. That said, if you are going to own one, learn to shoot not to kill. This is not OK Corral. If a responsible gun owner is facing a beer bottle, shoot him in the leg. If it is a gun, go for the shoulder. If you can. Not sure how to react on gun on gun action.

Comments are closed.