Michelle Gagnon: Stranger Than Fiction

Michelle Gagnon

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, Boneyard, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she wrestles wildlife and sneaks into restaurant bathrooms.

Stranger than Fiction

I have a weakness for the bizarre. Over the years, I’ve filled a file with truth-is-stranger-than-fiction news clippings. Some of these items I work into my novels, the rest I save for my own personal edification. Many of these are brief dispatches from the AP wire, or one of the smaller local papers that tend to be a treasure-trove of the weird and curious. Here are a few recent favorites, along with commentary…

Church attendance down? Try combining religion with X-Games events:

July 21, 2008, Kokomo, Ind. (AP): Jeff Harlow, the senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church, broke his wrist when he lost control of the motorcycle at the start of Sunday’s second service, driving off a 5-foot platform and into the vacant first row of seats. He underwent surgery on the wrist Monday. Wife Becky Harlow said her husband had recently attended a motorcycle race in Buchanan, Mich.

“He had this idea that he would bring this bike out onstage and show people how the rider would become one with the bike.”


When you snooze, you really do lose…

July 21, 2008, Monroe, Wash. (AP): Police spokeswoman Debbie Willis says a break-in was discovered July 9 at a Fred Meyer department store northeast of Seattle.

Police followed a trail of cardboard and items from storage containers in a locked area behind the store that led to the two men. One was sleeping in a stolen hammock and the other on a pile of stolen pillows.

Police photographed the men before waking and arresting them. Willis says alcohol was involved.

And we thought the CSI Effect only applied to courtrooms…

July 16, 2008 Albuquerque, N.M. (AP): It looked like something out of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” And sure enough, it was. State police said Wednesday that they solved a mysterious eastern New Mexico shooting death that was similar to a shooting depicted in a 2003 “CSI” episode. In both cases a revolver was found tied to balloons in an apparent effort to make the weapon float away.

“We’re not saying it’s a copycat of the TV show,” state police Lt. Rick Anglada said. “We have no way to know he actually saw the episode. However, the lead agent kept hearing from people that there was a similar case from ‘CSI.'”

Hickman was last seen two days before his body was found. Investigators believe he filled the balloons with helium, tied the balloon bouquet to the weapon, then duct-taped his own mouth and shot himself in the back of the head.

Just imagine if Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma had known jujitsu, there might have been a totally different outcome…

July 14, 2008: Stroudsburg, Pa. (AP): A 77-year-old grandmother was recovering at home after she pinned down a rabid fox that bit her and held it until help arrived. Avis Blakeslee was attacked as she tended to her petunias outside her Stroudsburg farmhouse. She said she pushed the animal to the ground after it bit her, and held its jaws shut with one arm as she flagged down a passing driver with the other.

I have a real soft spot for the Carmel Pine Cone, they run a weekly police log detailing everything that’s happened in the area in the past week, from lost wallets to barking dogs. Here’s a recent incident. I can just imagine calling 911 for this repeat offender…

July 11, 2008: Carmel Pine Cone: Carmel-by-the-Sea: Male reported that on June 23 at 2100 hours, he entered a Dolores Street restaurant with the intention of having Italian food. He changed his mind, and used the restroom before leaving. While he was leaving, the manager took him by the arm and accused him of never eating and only using the restroom. He was escorted outside and told to leave. Reporting party felt that he was mistreated. The officer spoke with the manager, who said that the RP came into the restaurant, went to the restroom and began to leave. Manager and RP argued for a bit, and the manager escorted him outside. Manager said that the restaurant has two restrooms for patrons only and that there is a public restroom in the adjacent Picadilly Park. Manager said that this wasn’t the first time this RP has done this.

And finally, my home town rag. This falls under the category, “only in San Francisco.” Wonder how Jerry Garcia would feel about this…

July 18, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle: Stannous Flouride was in a Haight Street store when a uniformed San Francisco police officer came in and asked for the smallest Grateful Dead sticker in stock. The shopper was looking for something tiny enough to affix to a gun.

So do you have any wacky true crime stories to share? Best one receives a signed edition of my first thriller THE TUNNELS. If you don’t win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at www.michellegagnon.com and I’ll toss your name in the hat for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates, and other fabulous prizes.

13 replies
  1. Michelle Gagnon
    Michelle Gagnon says:

    These were all so great! So I ended up drawing names out of a hat for the winner of the signed edition of THE TUNNELS…drum roll please….congrats to…Jenifer! I’ll try to track down your email so I can get your address…

  2. jenifer
    jenifer says:

    From today’s Ann Arbor News:


    A 17 year old stole a moped then turned around and listed it for sale on Craig’s List. The woman it belonged to noticed the listing and thought it sounded like hers. She told police, who sent undercover cops who feigned interest in purchasing the bike. When they determined it did, indeed, belong to the woman, they tried to arrest the thief, who ran, but was caught after a short foot chase.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    I’d rather steal pizza than money, but that’s just me. I’m usually in it just for the food 😉

    Oh, and since we’re all sharing crazy police/criminal stories, today was the first time I was in a car whilst the driver was being pulled over. I was not the driver. Thank goodness. The cop was completely nice about it, and even introduced himself before saying “Did you know you were going 40 in a 25 mile an hour zone?” No ticket. These cops rock. Lee, I know you are working on getting tomorrow’s post together, but another quick question: What was the most interesting traffic stop that you’ve experienced?

  4. Mary
    Mary says:

    Haha, I love the one about the pastor and his motorcycle. Glad he’s okay though.

    All these stories made me giggle! I have two. First, I am convinced there’s nothing greater than to spy on than three bored cops on their night shift. Interrogating two drunk teenage boys. In my front yard. At three in the morning. Best night ever. Sadly, neither of the boys got arrested.

    Second, there used to be a pizza parlor by my old house. Someone decided to rob it, and (if I am telling the story correctly) he came in through the front door, stole money from the register (perhaps a few pizzas too) and proceeded to escape through the back window. However, he didn’t fit. The cops found him wedged in the window. It became known as the “Winnie the Pooh robbery.” That probably gave a few people something interesting to write in their Christmas cards that year.

  5. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    This occurred in the Pittsburgh area back in February: Donna Sturkie-Anthony of North Huntingdon, PA was arrested recently for aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. She allegedly took her sister’s prosthetic leg and beat her with it. When police arrived at the Lincoln Mobile Home Trailer Park, they found Donna outside the trailer. She told them she wanted her sister removed from the residence. When the police went inside they found the woman beaten and bleeding. She also faces charges for threatening to burn down her neighbors’ mobile home if they testified against her. To top it all off, Sturkie-Anthony is a former homecoming queen.

    Another story that caught me eye was the murder trial of Patrick Jason Stollar. Stollar was accused of the beating death of a 78-year-old woman in 2003. Stollar was representing himself in his murder trial and he objected to showing the jurors the autopsy photos. He said “they denoted the appalling, horrific nature of this crime.” His objection was overruled. On the following Wednesday, Stollar gave an hour and a half long closing statement in which he compared his circumstances to Helen of Troy, the Crusades, and the Civil War. He said he wasn’t himself. I think he was hoping to convince the courts he was nuts. The jury didn’t buy it. They convicted him of first degree murder in less than an hour.

  6. Michelle Gagnon
    Michelle Gagnon says:

    Great stories, everyone! You reminded me of something I saw a few months back, firemen answered a call that a pizzeria was on fire. They got there and found an elderly man who said he set the fire because he went to the bathroom and came out to discover he was locked inside. When asked why he had cash from the register spilling out of his pockets, he said, “I wanted to make sure it didn’t burn.” Not exactly Oceans 11…

  7. PatMarin
    PatMarin says:

    Sentinel, Police Beat column from Records of Woodbridge Police Department

    “Someone entered a warehouse on Smith Street in Keasby and stole a 5-pound box of squid that was in a trailer between 3 p.m. July 12 and 6:26 a.m. July 14.”

    Hubby and I are still trying to figure out ‘why?’

  8. Bobby M
    Bobby M says:

    Here’s a couple of “dumb criminal” stories:

    From AP 3-23-2008

    Salisbury, Conn. (AP) —

    Police say a man’s excuse for speeding through a small Connecticut town takes the cake — or, at least, the cookie.

    A state trooper who stopped the 1993 BMW last fall says its driver, 28-year-old Justin Vonkummer of Millerton, N.Y., blamed his driving problems on an errant Oreo.

    Vonkummer told the trooper that an Oreo had just slipped from his fingers as he dunked it in a cup of milk, and that he was trying to fish it out when he lost control of his car.

    Prosecutors learned in court this week that Vonkummer had been charged with speeding and driving under a suspended license — not driving under the influence, as a clerk had mistakenly noted in the court records.

    Vonkummer’s attorney declined to comment. The case is pending.

    From AP 3-26-2008

    Chicago (AP) —

    An alleged thief wasn’t fazed when workers at a Chicago muffler shop told him a safe he wanted to rob wasn’t open. He just asked them to give him a call when their boss returned with the combination.

    The 18-year-old got a call. But so did Chicago police.

    When Ruben Carate returned to Velasquez & Sons Mufflers For Less on Monday, plainclothes Chicago police officers shot and wounded him in the leg. Carate was charged Tuesday with attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault of a police officer, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said.

    “He gave us his phone number when we told him we didn’t have any money. He told us to call him back when the owner came back with the money and he was going to come back and rob him,” said worker Tony Diaz.

    “It’s pretty funny now, but it wasn’t at the time,” Diaz said.

    A masked man entered the shop with a gun and demanded money around 8 a.m., said mechanic Jose Sida.

    Employees told him they carried little cash and couldn’t open the safe, so the man left two numbers to call when the owner came in, Sida said.

    “No one could make this up,” said police Lt. Scott Schwieger.

    The man returned around noon, wearing the same mask and clothing. Officers told employees to get to the back of the shop, Sida said.

    Carate was treated at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center for a gunshot wound, said Mark Payne, a spokesman for the Independent Police Review Authority. An inquiry into the shooting will take six months to complete, he said.

  9. Laura Kramarsky
    Laura Kramarsky says:

    Two from the days when I lived in St. Louis:

    1) I lived in University City and most of my neighbors were decent family folks, but to my left lived an addict and part time dealer. When things were rough, he’d try to sell me stuff from his house–steaks from his freezer, stuff like that. One day I came home, and my cul-de-sac was full of police cars, flashing lights, etc. The next day at school, I asked my student (I was a teacher, and he, at the time, was going through a sort of junior police academy thing they had there.)

    Apparently, my neighbor had called the police because he’d been robbed. UCity at the time had one female police officer, and she went to see what his story was. But he freaked her out–and believe me, no one freaked this woman out–so she called for backup. The backup call was what resulted in the multitude of cars. The reason for the freakout was that somewhere between his call and her showing up, my neighbor realized that calling the police because you’ve done your own stash, or even because someone *has* stolen it, is a bad idea. So he was acting decidedly “off” by the time she got there.

    Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough in the house to keep my neighbor…away from home…for a substantial period of time on that one.

    2) Also from UCity. Two guys hold up local Domino’s Pizza where my friend was working. Upon being told that only the safe is on a time lock and the employees cannot open it, the two guys swear they’ll come back “when you close,” at 3am. They do.

    I don’t know who was more surprised, the police, who couldn’t believe anyone would be that stupid, or the criminals, who didn’t understand how the police could have discovered their nefarious plans.

  10. Terry
    Terry says:

    Just a comment on stupidity — local LEOs were conducting a DUI checkpoint. They approach each vehicle and ask to see the driver’s license. The driver said, “Sure, just a minute. Mind holding my beer?” and hands the deputy his open can.

  11. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I’m traveling today (on my way to the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana) so Michelle is going to hold down the fort until I reach my destination and get settled in my hotel room.

    Thanks, Michelle.

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