Writing a realistic murder scene can and should be a bit difficult for most authors since they haven’t killed anyone, I hope. So, if realism is the goal, as it should be at times, then research is of the utmost importance.

To help achieve the desired results, here are a few pointers for making a murder ring true. Warning, some of this is not for those of you with a weak of stomach.

And please, I’m not in any way suggesting that a book should feature the bloodiest murder scene ever written. Instead, I’m merely pointing out things that can and are sometimes a factor in actual cases. So pick what you like and toss away the rest. Or leave it all here. Just please remember that whatever you add to a scene must contribute to the story’s forward motion. If it doesn’t do that, well, it must go back inside your brain for storage until time to write the next book.

Dead People Have a Story to Tell

As someone who knows a bit about murder and solving crimes of the killing kind, I often find some fictional stories a bit lacking when it comes to detail that activates my senses. As they say, I’ve “been there done that,” a phrase that, in my case, includes killing someone which is typically not something most people can claim. Therefore, relying on the advice of people with experience is a good thing. This is so for all areas of cop and forensics stuff. The best information comes from people who’re in the field. The same is so for other areas of expertise. For example, should I need information about colonoscopies I turn to medical professionals not police officers. Although, cops do to tend to deal with more than their fair share of as* … well, you get the idea.

A dead body is, simply and sadly put, a piece of evidence found in crime scenes. But the body is different than other evidentiary items in that it has a story to tell and its tales are filled with intricate details waiting to be discovered.

Solving a homicide case, as I’ve said many times, is like assembling a puzzle. Clues and evidence are the irregularly-shaped pieces and the finished product. The picture on the box top is the identity—the face—of the killer. All the pieces are there, scattered about. It’s a detective’s skills, thought processes, creativity, and experience that brings them all together.

Using Music to Solve a Murder

As a musician who enjoyed music theory classes, studying about how music is made, I sometimes approached evidence in a murder case much like a composer uses chords to enrich and deepen a piece of music, only in reverse.

A chord is two or more notes played simultaneously. Chords are often designed to be played in harmony (a pleasing arrangement of simultaneously played notes). Discord occurs when one or more notes played doesn’t fit. It’s out of place and sounds harsh and unpleasant.

When determining which items were part of a case (true and necessary evidence), I first searched for the note(s) that were out of place … the discord. The pieces that didn’t fit the chord/puzzle. Those out of tune/disharmonious bits and pieces and non-clues were set aside, leaving only the things needed to advance the case. It’a a way to pave the way and avoid the waste of precious time examining things of little or no evidentiary value.

For example, here’s how it looks on paper.

Music scale

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and back to C

To make a natural chord the musician simultaneously plays the first, the third, and the fifth note of a scale. In this case, the scale above, the first, third, and fifth note of the C scale are C, E, and G. The result is a natural chord, a pleasing sound to the ear. The remaining notes, if played at the same time, would result in discord, or an unpleasant sound. They simply don’t belong.

The same is true when searching for items of evidentiary value—the Ds, Fs, and As were placed in the “later” file, with the Bs as a maybe. As the saying goes, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Eliminate unnecessary items, but always keep them in mind in case they may somehow fit into the puzzle at a later time. There’s music theory for this scenario, the added B note, but we’ll “tune” it out for now.

Dead Bodies

Writers’ Police Academy 2015 – CSI Lab Workshop

My life experiences differ from that of many writers. I’ve seen dead bodies mangled and torn apart by impact with fast-moving moving trains and automobiles. I’ve witnessed gruesome crimes scenes, places where reddish-brown coagulating and crusty blood and splotches of gray brain matter spattered living room walls like macabre floor-to-ceiling  abstract artwork.

Some murder scenes are messy. Others are not. Your tales are fictional so you can pick the type of scene that best suits your style and your audience. Gory is not for everyone. Nor is a clean scene where the villain does the deed simply by conking the victim over the head with Lee Child’s latest hardcover.

Slip and Slide

When blood and avulsed flesh and bits of brain and entrails first make contact with polished marble, tile, and even hardwood, those surfaces immediately become slimy and slippery like freshly waxed and still-wet floors. As a result, a killer could experience difficulty walking in a normal manner. Their footprints will reflect those awkward steps by the smearing and streaking left behind in the body fluids and other matter.

Bloody drag marks through rapidly coagulating blood are evidence a killer removed a heavy object by pulling it along the floor. The further from the kill site the thinner the trail becomes until it disappears entirely.

Swipes (Wipes)Caused by a bloody object being wiped across another surface (these stains are the reason from changing the name from bloodspatter to bloodstain).

When striking surfaces at an angle, blood spatter points to the position of both the victim and the murder weapon when the act was committed. Each droplet is practically a flashing neon sigh that says, “OVER THERE!”

Directionality – indicates the direction blood was moving at the time it struck a surface. The shape of the drops are good indicators of direction of travel.

Suicides can be extremely gruesome

I’ve seen suicide victims whose lives ended by shotgun blasts that absolutely disintegrated large portions of their faces and skulls. An eye here or there. Teeth over there. A chunk of bone and hair clinging and hanging to the ceiling by a wet and oozy and drippy stringlike spooze of slimy human something or other.

Suicide scenes are often eerie and depressing for cops. Writing about them could affect someone in the same manner. Use caution when doing so, especially if you’re drawing on real-life experiences about friends and/or loved ones.

Characteristics of a blood drop

  • blood drops are formed by gravity
  • blood drops cannot break apart unless contacted by an outside force
  • larger drops travel further than smaller drops (due to mass, not size)
  • blood drops always travel in an arcing path (impact injuries)
  • size ranges from a few millimeters to few centimeters
  • volume of a drop of blood is in direct proportion to whatever it’s dropping from (ax, stick, arm, leg, etc)

Crime scene investigators typically measure bloodstains that hit surfaces on the way up, not stains made by blood that’s on its way back down. Stains made when traveling upward are much more accurate for use as evidence because gravity is not as much of a factor in the pattern’s formation.

I’ve sat across a table or desk from murderers who told of the fear they experienced both before and after the slashing, cutting, stabbing, hacking, strangling, choking, chopping, bludgeoning, shooting, or beating they’d delivered to their victims. They told of a second of satisfaction they’d felt the moment their knife poked through the skin of their victim, feeling sort of like the popping-through of the clear covering of supermarket-packaged meats.

They explained the wait leading up to the time of the actual act. All the thoughts zipping through their minds. The anger and rage. The deep sadness. The overwhelming “knowing” they were about to kill another human.

Some told of a brief sense of relief after the deed was done. They explained that overall, for a brief split second, the feeling was that of relief, a heavy weight lifted from their shoulders and from deep inside their core.

Others spoke of tremendous remorse and grief, of self-pity and heartache. They worried about family, theirs and the victim’s.

Many were relieved that the killing was all said and done, something that was necessary.

A few simply didn’t care one way or another.

The thought of prison frightens many killers, especially those who’d ended someone’s life during “the heat of the moment,” with no forethought/premeditation.

A handful welcomed the idea of spending a few years in prison, no longer having to worry about the daily grind of day-to-day life and the responsibilities facing them on the outside. Many had served time in the past and knew the ins and outs. Life doesn’t mean much to those folks and it’s obvious. They’re callous and numb to emotion.

Unlike the uncaring murderer, your readers have emotions. It’s your job to stimulate those senses with images painted into the minds of your fans, using words generated from yours.

So make each and every letter count. It’s a responsibility that comes with the territory.

NEW!! Mystery Shoppers Corner

Since the holiday season is nearly here, I’ve decided to feature a few fun items for your mystery shopping needs and wants. Hopefully, I’ll post these regularly throughout the remaining weeks of 2018.

So, first up, for those of you who’re shopping for writer friends who enjoy a bit of spatter, especially at those mystery-type writing meetings …

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) is the study of the shapes, sizes, and locations of bloodstains. The study also determines how the patterns and stains came to be distributed in the manner in which they’re found.

Here, for your CSI library, are a few terms to help the characters in your books sound as if they’ve attended The Graveyard Shift’s …

Homicide School

So sharpen your pencils, take a sip of coffee, and let’s begin …

Accompanying Drop– small blood droplet produced as a by-product when other drops strike a surface (potions of larger drops).

Altered Stain – bloodstain that changed since its original formation.

Angle of Impact – degree of incline/angle at which a blood drop strikes a surface.

Arterial Spurting Pattern – bloodstain pattern(s) caused as blood streams from the body due to pressure from a severed or punctured artery. Blood squirts from the wound with each beat of the heart.

Backspatter Pattern – a result of blood drops traveling in the opposite direction of the force applied, such as when a person is struck with a blunt object, or when flesh is penetrated by a bullet or other projectile.

Bloodstain – deposit of blood on any surface.

Bloodstain pattern – the grouping of bloodstains/droplets/smears, etc., that indicate the manner in which the blood was deposited.

Bubble Ring – circles, or rings, formed when blood containing air bubbles dries and retains the circular shape of those bubbles.

Cast-off Pattern – a bloodstain pattern that occurs when blood-drops are thrown from a blood-bearing object, such as when a killer repeatedly swings a bloody hammer.

Directionality – indicates the direction blood was moving at the time it struck a surface. The shape of the drops are good indicators of direction of travel.

Draw-Back Effect – blood in the barrel of a firearm that has been pulled/sprayed backward into the muzzle.

Drip Pattern – formed when blood drips into other blood.

Drip Stain – a free-falling drop that formed due to gravity.

Drip Trail – bloodstain pattern formed due to the movement of a source of drip stains (a bleeder, a bloody baseball bat that’s dripping blood, etc.).

Edge Characteristic – features of the perimeter of a bloodstain.

Expiration Pattern – bloodstain pattern caused when blood is forced, by air, from the nose, mouth, or a wound.

Forward Spatter Pattern – pattern formed by blood drops traveling in the same direction as the force that caused the spatter.

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop – 2017 Writers’ Police Academy ~ RJ Beam, instructor

High Velocity Impact Spatter (HVIS) – pattern caused by a high velocity impact /force such as that produced by a gunshot or machinery—farm equipment, factory motors, gears, and mechanisms, etc.

Impact Pattern – bloodstain pattern caused when an object strikes liquid blood, sending smaller droplets in random directions.

Insect Stain – bloodstain resulting from insect activity.

Low Velocity Impact Spatter (LVIS) – bloodstain pattern caused by a low impact/force to a blood source.

Mist Pattern – pattern formed when blood is reduced to a fine spray of micro-drops due to the force applied.

Bloodstain pattern session …Dexter-style – 2017 Writers’ Police Academy

Parent Stain – bloodstain from which a satellite stain originated.

Point (Area) of Origin — The common point where the trajectories of several blood drops can be traced.

Pool – an accumulation of liquid blood on a surface.

Projected Pattern – pattern produced when blood is released under pressure, such as arterial bleeding.

Satellite Stain – smaller droplets that surround a parent stain as a result of blood striking a surface.

Saturation Stain – the accumulation of liquid blood in an absorbent material, such as bed linen or clothing.

Swipe Pattern – bloodstain pattern caused by the transfer of blood from a moving surface onto another, with characteristics that indicate motion/rubbing/swiping between the two surfaces.

Target – any surface onto which blood has been deposited.

Transfer Stain – bloodstain resulting from contact between a wet blood-bearing surface and another. Sometimes it’s possible to see a recognizable imprint/shape of the bloody object on the second surface.

Void – absence of blood in an otherwise continuous bloodstain or bloodstain pattern. Perhaps an object was there, in the area of the void, when the blood was deposited, blocking it from landing in that spot. Then someone moved the item afterward, leaving the clean section.

Wipe Pattern – created when an object moves through an existing wet bloodstain, altering its appearance.

** Attention Writers, Sponsors, Readers, and Fans **

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Writers’ Police Academy. That’s 10 years of helping writers “get it right” with actual hands-on police training.

We appreciate all the support over the years and we’re looking forward to the most thrilling and exciting event we’ve ever produced – #2018WPA. If you’ve ever wanted to attend the WPA, I STRONGLY urge you to do so this year. Openings are available.

Readers and fans are welcome to attend and train along with their favorite authors. Past attendees include Jeffery Deaver(2018 Guest of Honor), Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Tami D Hoag, Karin Slaughter, Kathy Reichs, Christopher Reich, Lee Child, Lee Goldberg, Marsha Clark, Kendra Elliot-Boucher, Melinda Leigh, Katherine Ramsland and many, many more!

Again, If you’ve ever wanted to attend the WPA, I STRONGLY, WHOLEHEARTEDLY, urge you to do so this year. Openings are available … this year. Could be your last chance. I’m just saying …

Homicide investigations are the crème de la crème of all investigations.

To solve a murder investigators use all available resources. No-holds barred. No sparing of the horses. No waiting for the obese lady to start her song. Sometimes it’s a race to catch the killer before he strikes again. But detectives must still use caution and care when evaluating and examining all evidence, including the crime scene.

To maintain order, and to prevent disaster in court, detectives and other crime-scene investigators follow a mental checklist of things to do at a murder scene. Some use an actual written guideline. The list is actually a series of common sense questions that need to be answered before moving to the next stage of the investigation.

Crime Scene Dos and Don’ts – Click here.

Investigators should always determine what, if anything, has changed since the first responders arrived. Did the officers turn lights on or off? Did they move the body to check for signs of life? Did anyone else enter or leave the scene?

Crime Scenes … Watch Your Step!

Did the patrol guys open or close windows and doors? Did they walk through blood or other body fluids?

Crime-scene searches must be methodical and quite thorough. Every single surface, nook, and cranny must be examined for evidence, including ceilings, walls, doors, light switches, thermostats, door knobs, etc. Not only are they searching for clues and evidence, they’re looking for things that aren’t there, such as a missing knife, jewelry, or even the family car. Did the suspect take anything that could be traced back to the victim? Where would the killer take the items? To a pawn shop? Home? Toss them in a nearby dumpster?

Investigators must determine if the body has been moved by the suspect. Are there drag marks? Smeared body fluids? Transfer prints? Is there any blood in other areas of the scene? Is fixed lividity on the wrong side of the body, indicating that it had been moved after death

Does the victim exhibit signs of a struggle? Are there defensive wounds present on the palms of the hands and forearms?

Is there significant blood spatter? Is there high-velocity spatter? Did flies cause false spatter?

What is the point of impact? Where was the shooter standing when he delivered the fatal blow, or shot

False spatter – “Hey, it’s what I do,” said the fly.

Once the detective is satisfied that all the checklist questions have been answered she can then move on to the next phase of the murder investigation, collecting physical evidence.