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Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been especially creative by inserting lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings? Do you know the difference between a police chief and a sheriff? Are you aware that the FBI does not typically investigate local murder cases, that it is the duty of local police to solve those crimes?

If you answered yes to each of the above questions, well, you’ve taken a few of the appropriate first steps toward accurately writing about cops, crime, and crooks.

So, you conduct tons of research by visiting online websites and by participating in your local citizen’s police academy, and those are fantastic resources. But have you considered going the extra mile by spending a bit of extra research time to develop ways to activate the senses of your readers? After all, using the senses is a huge key to the success of showing, not telling. And the use of the senses creates an important emotional connection between the story and the reader.

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, they should call on past life experiences and then translate those experiences into dynamic descriptive words and phrases. However, when describing mood, setting, to emphasize a point in dialogue, etc., writers should avoid using an abundance of clunky “ly” words.

Words ending in “ly” are often clunky and clumsy

Words ending in “ly” are often redundant and quite frankly, unnecessary. They can slow the reader and are often so jarring they could stop the flow of the story. Is it possible to draw on personal experiences and then to write those powerful scenes without the use of “ly” words? Well, let’s check in with a few top storytellers.

For example …

Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can easily picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways. And she accomplished the imagery without using a single “ly” word.

 “It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6. The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming on the slate roof…” ~ Patricia Cornwell, Post Mortem.

Sandra Brown takes us on brief “no “ly word” journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

“Jack crossed the yard and went through a gate, then walked past a large barn and a corral where several horses were eating hay from a trough and whisking flies with their tails. Beyond the corral he opened the gate into a pasture, where he kept on the lookout for cow chips as he moved through the grass.” ~ Sandra Brown, Unspeakable.


Here’s a decent rule of thumb – Write the scene and then remove all unnecessary flowery words, especially those that end in “ly.”

Too many “ly” words are often difficult for readers to take in. Besides, they can slow the story and do nothing to further it.


Lee Child is a master when it comes to describing a scene with few words. Here’s a fun exercise. Count the number of times Child uses an “ly” word in the text below. Then consider whether or not you would have used unnecessary “ly” words had you written this scene? Aha! Perhaps it’s time to step away from using clunky words.

“The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and credit card machine were on the bottom shelf.” ~ Lee Child, Running Blind.


Another example of effectively and masterfully projecting an image into a reader’s mind comes from James Lee Burke. Short. Sweet. And tremendously effective.

“Ida wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with lace on the collar; her arms and the top of her chest were powdered with strawberry freckles.” ~ James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers called upon their own experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled. And all without the use of words ending in “ly.” Just simple, clunk-free writing.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only read about or see on TV news reports. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about or heard second and third hand from someone reading to them, word-for-word from a teleprompter?

I think Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best cop-writers of our time, offers a brilliant guideline to follow when writing cops. Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

Paste Wambaugh’s quote near your computer. Glance it as you write. Keep it in mind while developing law enforcement characters and scenes.

To increase your knowledge of forensics and writing, I strongly urge you to attend courses and classes offered by Writers’ Police Academy Online. These sessions take participants behind the scenes to places typically visited only by law enforcement. The value of information provided is immeasurable, especially so for writers whose goal is to deliver top shelf material.

On January 23, 2021, Writers’ Police Academy Online will once again offer an exciting and unique daylong live and interactive seminar. This course, “Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe,” features three of the country’s top investigators and forensics experts who will present detailed sessions on cybercrimes and security, 3D crime-scene mapping using drones and lasers, and an in-depth, behind the scenes chronicling of what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting.

As a bonus, USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan details how to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel.

Sign up today to reserve your seat!

Do you ever find yourself searching for the perfect word(s) to help paint a scene with a bit more color and dazzle? Do your characters mumble and grumble about wanting to appear as if they know what they’re doing and saying, instead of sounding like the cliche’-spouting folks on television crime shows?

If so, you might want to toss a few of these terms into your go-to box of words.

E.

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).

Extreme Conduct – A defendant may receive an upward departure from the guidelines range if their during the commission of the crime was exceptionally heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim. Likewise, An upward departure from the guidelines may be warranted if a victim suffered extreme psychological injury that’s deemed exceptionally more serious than that normally resulting from commission of the crime.

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.

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 read more about Federal Sentencing Guidelines, click here.

Felony – An offense punishable by a prison term of one year or more.

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. Then the robber turns toward the bank manager to order him to stay put and, while in the process, accidentally stabs and kills the man with the knife he held in his non-gun hand, the implement he’d planned to use to cut open sealed money bags. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices, assessors after the fact, 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.

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).

G.

Gabaloo – a real dumbass who believes he’s heaven’s gift to everything on earth—the best singer, the sexiest, etc.

Gag Order – When a defendant becomes unruly a judge may order that he be bound and gagged to prevent further disruptions. The term is also used when a judge orders attorneys, witnesses, etc. to not discuss a case outside the courtroom. Note – Some would prefer the bound and gagging approach be used on attorneys as well as a defendant/client.

Gear Hound – An officer who has far more equipment than that issued by the department. A gear hound is frequently seen shopping in police supply stores.

Get Small – Hide, or run away.

Ghetto Bird – Police helicopter.

Ghetto Cattle – A pack of feral or abandoned dogs.

Ghost Riding – A patrol car rolling down the street without a driver. Officers sometimes are in such a hurry when arriving at the scene they simply forget to shift to park.

GGW – Girls gone wild.

Gh3tto – Gangster

Good Cause – A legal excuse for doing something that’s typically considered illegal. (Think politicians).

Good Moral Character – Do NOT think politicians.

Good Time Credit – Federal prisoners may earn sentence reductions of up to 54 days per year a for their good conduct while in prison. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) awards the credits, not the courts, and they apply only to sentences greater than 12 months. Good time credits may be revoked should an inmate commit rule infractions during their incarceration period—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 bars typically see a substantial accumulation of good time credit and will subsequently hit the streets much sooner than those who repeatedly act like idiots.

Due to earned good time credit, federal prisoners who follow the rules are typically released after serving approximately 85% of their sentence.

Gorilla Anus/Gorilla Ass – term used when someone refuses to do something you want them to do. “No, Lil’ Dirt Bag won’t go to the store to get me no Cheetos. He’s being a real gorilla ass.”

Gorilla Biscuits – an old street term for meth.  Zookeepers may have another definition.

Grass Widow – A woman separated from her husband by abandonment.

Grill – Teeth, or face.

H.

Habeus Corpus – To bring a party before the judge.  The most common of the writs is to release a prisoner from unlawful imprisonment. Jailhouse lawyers make a living drafting these for fellow inmates.

Habeus Grab-Ass – To catch/arrest a suspect.

DSC00947

Hairbag – Rookie who thinks he knows it all, even if he’s only been on the job for an hour.

Hatch Act – Statute prohibiting federal, state, and local employees from participating in certain political activities.

Hate Crime Motivation –  If it’s proven beyond any reasonable doubt that a defendant intentionally selected a victim because of their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation, the courts may impose a sentence enhancement/upward departure of the guidelines.

Hats and Bats – Riot gear—helmets and batons.

Horner – A person/addict who inhales/snorts heroin rather than inject it.

Hillbilly Meth – Mountain Dew (soft drink). The soda was given the nickname due to its high sugar content.

Holster Sniffer – A woman who has sex with cops simply because they’re cops. AKA – Holster Humper, Cop Stalker, Badge Bunny.

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

Horizontal Highway Hostess – Prostitute who works the streets.

House Mouse – Officer who typically works behind a desk.

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House Mouse

Hurrication – Time off work due to do storms.

Hooptie – Any car that’s still rolling despite troubles, such as windows that won’t roll up or down, hood or trunk lid wired shut with baling wire, missing window glasses covered with garbage bags and duct tape, broken taillights covered with red duct tape, missing hubcaps, radio antennae missing but replaced with coat hanger, and so on. “Lawdy, is Bubba still driving that old hooptie car his daddy bought from the junk yard? “

Hot Blood – When someone’s emotions/passions have been heightened to an uncontrollable degree. A case of “hot blood” may be cause to reduce a murderer’s charge to a lesser offense.

Hydrant Humper – Firefighter.

Hulk-Out – To become extremely angry in an instant. “Seargent, be careful with that guy. He’ll hulk-out on you in a heartbeat. Took six of us to get him cuffed last time.”

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I.

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.

Indictment – A formal, written accusation of a crime made by a Grand Jury. An indictment, once issued, is then presented to a court at which time begins the prosecution of the defendant.

Information – Like an indictment, an Information is a formal, written accusation of a crime. However, the Information is made by a prosecutor, not Grand Juries. This typically occurs in areas where Grand Juries are not utilized.

J.

Judgment and Commitment – Or simply, the “judgment,” is a written record of the defendant’s convictions the sentences.

K.

Kidnapping – An abduction, taking of a hostage, or unlawfully restraining a person to facilitate the commission of an crime. An upward departure of sentencing may be warranted in either of these instances.

L.

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.

M.

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

Mandatory Minimum – Non-discretionary penalties required by law, such as the federal drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum penalties.

*See Federal Sentencing Guidelines above. To read more about Federal Sentencing Guidelines, click here.

Misdemeanor: A crime that’s typically punishable by one year of imprisonment, or less.

Misprision of a Felony – The concealment and/or nondisclosure of a felony by a person who did not participate in the committed crime. Example – John Iseenit, the man who knows that his friend, Bill Idunit, robbed a bank yet he allows Bill to hide out in his home along with the stolen cash. When the cops stop by to ask if John knows Bill’s whereabouts, he lies and says he does not.

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.

N.

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

O.

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?

Order – The written command issued by a court or a judge.

P.

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

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. Remember, 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.

* 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.

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.

Plea Bargain/Agreement – an agreement whereby a defendant enters a guilty plea to avoid proceeding to trial. The agreement contains promises made by both the prosecutor and defendant, and each must must each abide by those written guarantees. Each party benefits in some way. The prosecutor avoids a lengthy and costly trial while maintaining a desired conviction rate. The defendant typically receives a shorter, more lenient sentence for agreeing to help the prosecutor maintain that upper level conviction rate.

Pool – An accumulation of liquid blood on a surface.

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

Pre-sentence Report (“PSR”) – Prior to sentencing, a probation officer must thoroughly investigate all aspects of a defendant’s life—criminal history, family ties, work record, community ties, etc. This information is then compiled into a comprehensive report that’s filed with the courts, under seal. Also contained in the pre-sentence report is information about the offense and offender, the mandatory range of punishment, and recommendations and basis for imposing a departure above or below the guideline range.

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

Probation – A sentence option that allows a defendant to avoid imprisonment. Although, it’s common to see sentences comprised of some probation in conjunction with short stays in prison, such as the sentence of five years that’s split as three years behind bars with the balance of two years served as probation (this is known as a “split sentence”). Or, a sentence may be served as weekends in jail, confinement in halfway house where the offender is allowed to work during the day but return to the halfway house at night. Even home detention is a prison or jail sentence. It’s merely served in a unique way.. A person on probation is monitored by a probation officer and must follow all rules issued by the judge. Should  probationer break a rule, he may be ordered back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.

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.

R.

Revocation – The cancellation or reversal of an act or court order, such as when an offender violates the terms of supervised probation. The probation officer would ask that the judge revoke the offender’s supervised release and return them to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. Prisoners refer to this action as being violated.

“Why are you back in the joint, Petey?” said One-Tooth McGee.

“That &%*# probation officer violated me,” Petey said.

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

S.

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

Sentencing Table Sentencing guideline, in months. See  So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?

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.

Substantial Assistance – Assisting the government in its investigation and/or prosecution of another individual in return for a reduced sentence.  *See “Departure” above.

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.

T.

Tertiary DNA Transfer – DNA can be accidentally transferred from one object to another. A good example could be the killer who shares an apartment with an unsuspecting friend. He returns home after murdering someone and then tosses his blood-spatter-covered shirt into the washer along with his roommate’s clothing. The machine churns and spins through its wash cycles, an action that spreads the victim’s DNA throughout the load. Police later serve a search warrant on the home, seize the clothing, and discover the victim’s DNA on the roommate’s jeans. The innocent roommate is arrested for murder.

Tertiary Transfer of DNA Evidence

The same can occur with touch DNA. A man shares a towel with his wife and his DNA is subsequently transferred to her face and neck. Later, a stranger wearing gloves chokes the woman to death, transferring the husband’s DNA from the victim’s face to the killer’s gloves. The assailant removes the gloves and leaves them at the scene. Police confiscate the gloves, test them, and find the husband’s DNA. He is then charged for his wife’s death while the real killer is free to murder again.

The example above (the choking case) actually happened, and those of you who attended the Writers’ Police Academy session taught by DNA expert Dr. Dan Krane heard him speak of it. He was the expert who proved this was indeed possible and he testified to it in the groundbreaking case involving accused killer Dr. Dirk Grenadier.

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.

V.

Vacate – Based on a factual error, to void a sentence and then remand it back to the original court for re-sentencing.

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

W.

Waive – To validly give up a right, such as a right to trial or the right to remain silent.

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

Did you know that not all sheriff’s deputies are police officers? How about that some sheriffs in the U.S., and their deputies, do not have any arrest authority? Is it possible that you, as writers, haven written scenes incorrectly based on not knowing the above facts? Well, there’s a super easy solution to fixing this lack of basic knowledge … Do Your Homework!

It takes a minimal amount of effort to check the policies, procedures, laws, and rules and regulations in the area where your story takes place. Of course, if your town is fictional then you’re the law-maker in charge. But if the setting of your latest tale is Doodlebop, Alaska, then you should conduct a bit of research to learn how things operate in Doodlebop’s town limits and surrounding areas. After all, what happens in Doodlebop, Alaska is most likely quite a bit different than the goings-on in Rinktytink, Vermont.

For example:

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S. Even the slang for carbonated beverages varies from place to place (soda, pop, soda pop, Coke, drink, etc.).

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Big. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass and Mistake.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour…well, get out the bottle of white-out because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can set up shop. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her guvment vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now I’m giving a big roll of my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality, even if only for a few pages. Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But for goodness sake, give them something to work with,—without an info dump—a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

Saying This Again

If you’re going for realism, and I cannot stress this enough, please do your homework. Remember, no two agencies operate in exactly the same manner, nor are rules and even many laws/ordinances the same in states, towns, counties, and cities. Actually, things are never the same/uniform across the country. Therefore, it’s always best to check with someone in the area where your story is set. Again, rules and regulations on one side of the country may not be the same on the other. And the middle of the country may also be totally different from the other localities.

For example, there are 3,081 sheriffs in the U.S., and I can say with certainty that neither of those top cops runs their office in a manner that’s identical to that of another. Each sheriff has their own set of policies, rules, and regulations, and each state has their own laws regarding sheriffs and their duties.

The same is true with other agencies, including the offices of medical examiners and coroners. State law, again, dictates whether or not they utilize a coroner system or that of a medical examiner.

*By the way, three states do not have Sheriff’s Offices—Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii.

Location, Location, Location!

As when writing about a sheriff’s office, if your story features a medical examiner, or coroner, you should narrow your research efforts to the area where your story takes place.  Here’s why …

In some locations, typically rural, a medical examiner does not always go to the scene of a homicide. Instead, as is the case of many areas within in the Commonwealth of Virginia, EMS or a funeral home is responsible for transporting the body to a local hospital morgue where a doctor or local M.E. examines the victim. If an autopsy is to be performed, though, it is not the local medical examiner who’d conduct it. Instead, the body is transported to a state morgue which could be hours away.

In Virginia, there are only four state morgue locations/district offices (Manassas, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke). Each of the district offices is staffed by forensic pathologists, investigators, and various morgue personnel, and this where autopsies are conducted, not at the local morgue/hospital.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is located in Richmond (the office where Patricia Cornwell’s fictional M.E., Kay Scarpetta, worked). This is also the M.E.’s office that conducted the autopsies on the homicide cases I investigated. The real-life Kay Scarpetta was our Chief M.E.

There are several local medical examiners in Virginia (somewhere around 160, or so) but they do not conduct autopsies. Their job is to assist the state’s Chief Medical Examiner. by conducting field investigations, if they see fit to do so, but many do not. Mostly, they have a look at the bodies brought to hospitals by EMS, sign death certificates, and determine whether or not the case should be referred to the state M.E.’s office for autopsy. They definitely do not go to all death scenes. Again, some do, but not all.

An example (one of many) was a drug-related execution where I was called on by a nearby county sheriff to assist his department in the investigation. Following the evidence, I and sheriff’s detectives located the killers. After interrogating one of the suspects he led me to the crime scene where we found the deceased victim after an exhausting search. The suspects carried and dragged the body several yards, deep into a wooded area. The local medical examiner did not attend. Instead, he requested that the body be delivered to a local hospital.

Above – Me standing on the left at a murder scene where a drug dealer was executed by rival gang members, who then hid the body in a wooded area. I was asked to assist a sheriff’s office with the investigation. The medical examiner was called but elected to not go to the scene. The body and sheet used by the suspects to drag the victim were placed into a body bag and then transported to the morgue via EMS ambulance.

Pursuant to § 32.1-283 of the Code of Virginia, all of the following deaths are investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner:

  • any death from trauma, injury, violence, or poisoning attributable to accident, suicide or homicide;
  • sudden deaths to persons in apparent good health or deaths unattended by a physician;
  • deaths of persons in jail, prison, or another correctional institution, or in police custody (this includes deaths from legal intervention);
  • deaths of persons receiving services in a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • the sudden death of any infant; and
  • any other suspicious, unusual, or unnatural death.

* Remember, “investigated” does not mean they have to go to the actual crime scene.

Again, me on the left as a sheriff’s office crime scene investigator points out the location of spent bullet casings, drag marks, and a blood trail. Pictured in the center are the county sheriff and prosecutor. The M.E. elected to not travel to the scene. As good luck would have it, we had the killers in custody at the conclusion of a nonstop, no sleep, 36-hour investigation.

After a lengthy interrogation, two of the four confessed to the murder. Of course, they each pointed to someone else as the shooter, and he, the actual shooter, placed the blame on his partners. But all four admitted to being present when the murder occurred and all four served time for the killing.

Take Two Bodies and Call Me in the Morning!

In the areas far outside the immediate area of Virginia’s four district offices of the chief medical examiner, officials rely on local, part-time medical examiners who may or may not visit crime scenes.

In those rural areas, once a death is confirmed, detectives call the local, part-time M.E. who typically defers to EMS to determine that the victim is indeed dead. They then advise the detectives to, once they’ve completed their on-scene investigation, have EMS bring the body to the local morgue where they’ll have a look at their earliest convenience..

Since most local M.E.s work full-time jobs they are not always readily available to visit a crime scene.

“Yeah, he’s dead, now gimme my money.”

The pay for local M.E’s in Virginia is a “whopping” $150 per case, if the case referred to the state is one that falls under their jurisdiction. The local M.E.s receive an extra $50 if they actually go to a crime scene. Again, many do not. Interestingly, funeral homes pay the local medical examiner $50 for each cremation he or she certifies.

The requirements to become a local M.E. in Virginia are:

  • A valid Virginia license as a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, Nurse Practitioner, or Physician Assistant
  • An appointment by Virginia’s chief medical examiner
  • A valid United States driver’s license

Once someone is appointed as a local medical examiner their term is for three years, beginning on October 1 of the year of appointment.

The four district offices employ full-time forensic pathologists who conduct all autopsies. Obviously, a physician’s assistant is not qualified to conduct an autopsy, nor are they trained as police/homicide investigators. They do attend some training courses, however.

And, Again …

Keep in mind, things are never the same/uniform across the country. It’s always best, if you’re going for 100% realism, to check with someone in the area where your story is set. The rules and regulations on one side of the country may not be the same on the other. And the middle of the country may also be totally different from the other localities.

Coroners

The same inconsistencies seen in the running of sheriffs’ and medical examiners’ offices occur in individual coroner’s offices. For example, in one Ohio county, one of four coroner’s investigators respond to a scene, if they believe it’s necessary. Then, after the body is brought back to the morgue by the coroner’s team, within the next day or so, a pathologist conducts the autopsy. The same or similar is so in many, many areas of the country … or not.

Per state law, a coroner in Ohio must be an MD, but they may or may not be the person who conducts the autopsy. In the office mentioned above, autopsies were typically performed by a part-time MD/pathologist who also works at the local hospital. The same MD there now was the pathologist who conducted autopsies when I was last there. I checked today, in fact.

Pathologists in the Ohio county are paid per autopsy. At the time I was there, the office received $1,500 per autopsy, with $750 of the sum going to the pathologist performing the exam. (the sum was $750 the last time I viewed an autopsy there) with remaining $750  going to the coroner’s general operating budget. The pathologist was not a full-time employees of the coroner’s office.

Oh, yeah, there’s a difference between a coroner and a medical examiner, but that’s a topic for another article.

Fun Fact – Some California sheriffs also serve as coroners. They are not medical doctors, obviously. Coroners are elected officials and could be the local butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, as long as they won the local election.

So, from me to you, here’s your homework assignment …

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!

Believe me, your readers will love that you’ve “gotten it right.”

Speaking of doing your homework, here’s the ultimate training event for writers …



Register here!


Featuring David Baldacci – Guest of Honor

 

David Baldacci is a global #1 bestselling author, and one of the world’s favorite storytellers. His books are published in over 45 languages and in more than 80 countries, with over 130 million copies sold worldwide. His works have been adapted for both feature film and television. He has also published seven novels for young readers.

David is also the cofounder, along with his wife, Michelle, of the Wish You Well Foundation®, which is dedicated to supporting adult and family literacy programs in the United States.

David is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He lives in Virginia.

 

With special guests …

Judy Melinek, M.D. was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.


Ray Krone is co-founder of Witness to Innocence. Before his exoneration in 2002, Ray spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit.

His world was turned upside down in 1991, when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar where Ray was an occasional customer, and he was arrested for the crime. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness, later discredited, who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth. He was sentenced to death in 1992.

 


With a special presentation by Dr. Denene Lofland – A Microbiologist’s Perspective of Covid 19 and the Spread of Disease.

Denene Lofland  is an expert on bioterrorism and microbiology. She’s managed hospital laboratories and for many years worked as a senior director at biotech companies specializing in new drug discovery. She and her team members, for example, produced successful results that included drugs prescribed to treat cystic fibrosis and bacterial pneumonia. Denene, along with other top company officials, traveled to the FDA to present those findings. As a result, those drugs were approved by the FDA and are now on the market.

Calling on her vast expertise in microbiology, Denene then focused on bioterrorism. With a secret security clearance, she managed a team of scientists who worked in an undisclosed location, in a plain red-brick building that contained several laboratories. Hidden in plain sight, her work there was for the U.S. military.

She’s written numerous peer reviewed articles, contributed to and edited chapters in Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook used by universities and medical schools, and, as a professor, she taught microbiology to medical students at a well-known medical school. She’s currently the director of the medical diagnostics program at a major university, where she was recently interviewed for a Delaware public service announcement/video about covid-19.

Denene is a regular featured speaker at the annual Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference, and she’s part of the faculty for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners.

She was recently named a Fellow of the Association of Clinical Scientists, an elite 200-member association of top scientists from around the world that includes pathologists, clinical chemists, molecular and cell biologists, microbiologists, immunologists, hematologists, cytogeneticists, toxicologists, pharmacokineticists, clinicians, cancer researchers and other doctoral scientists who are experts in laboratory methods for the elucidation, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases. 

My name is Detective I. Ketchem and I’ve been asked to step outside the pages of my current book to help the heroes of your stories, the poor characters whose writers sometimes forget how important it is to conduct even just a wee bit of research.

Those writers, bless their hearts, think they know everything about police work and crime scene investigation because, believe it or not, they’ve watched a few episodes of Law and Order, Hawaii Five-O, and Barney Miller.

Thant’s not proper research folks, and your readers deserve better. After all, they spend their hard-earned money by driving through forests and deserts and mountains and deep, dark jungles, searching for stores where they can purchase your books.

Those same fans stand in long lines at their neighborhood Piggly Wiggly stores, lines that snake through the pickled pigs feet and cottage cheeses, passing eggs, bacon, and tripe, before finally winding through the dips and chips and Cool Whips and beef lips, all to have you sign copies of those precious books.

Later, they proudly post cheesy posed pictures of you with your arm around them at those signings where everyone leaves smelling like raw clams and smoked hams.

Yes, fans adore you. So why let them down by inserting not-so-hot information into your tall tales. Besides, those inaccuracies could do us in before chapter one concludes on page twelve. And you need us to bring your tales to a satisfactory conclusion.

So I decided the best means of addressing the problem would be to dive right into the deep end of some of the books found out there today. After an exhaustive search, here are the tips I have for the characters in your books.

If you won’t help them out by conducting proper research, well, it’s up to the fictional heroes of your stories to do the things that keep them safe so that they may live on to star in the next book.

A List of Ten Traps That Could Kill Your Characters

1. No matter how hot or uncomfortable it is in a setting, always wear your vest. Bad guys carry guns in scenes where the settings are hot and humid! Don’t believe it, drive over to New Iberia, Louisiana and have a chat with Dave Robicheaux. He’ll fill you in on all the sticky, sweaty details.

2. When responding to a call in an unfamiliar area, always plan an escape route. Never drive into an ambush situation, especially deep in those crevices where the pages meet the spine. And, whatever you do, look behind every single cookie crumb down there. You never know…

3. Search every suspect thoroughly before placing them inside your police car. Officers in other books have been injured or killed because they skipped this simple step.

4. Don’t be shy when searching criminals. Weapons have been found in every imaginable place, and some have been found in places you don’t want to imagine. This is fiction, after all, so anything and everything is possible, including in those places where the “sun don’t shine!”

Shyness Can Be A Death Sentence!

5. Use the same caution when arresting women as you would when arresting male suspects. You’re just as dead when killed by a female character. Letting down your guard can be a series-ender. Female crooks in real life take advantage of the fact that male officers are a bit apprehensive about placing their hands in places where the hands of strangers shouldn’t be placed. So, where do they hide guns, handcuff keys, drugs, etc.? Yep, they often hide those thing right “there.”

And, to make things far worse for the male detective who’s searching a female for weapons, she often pretends to enjoy the hands-on search and even quite loudly vocalizes her feigned pleasure so that bystanders hear every blush-inducing comment.

Shoot, I once stopped a dress-wearing shoplifter who’d concealed a plastic garbage pail between her legs. And when I removed it found that it contained several packages of steaks, CDs, a small umbrella, and a cantaloupe.

So yeah, search EVERYWHERE!. Do. Not. Be. Shy.

6. When engaged in a vehicle pursuit never fixate on the suspect’s tail lights. If he runs off the page or hits a dog eared corner and crashes, you’ll likely follow straight into death. (Yeah, we dislike dog-eared pages too. Drive us nuts).

Instead, of following taillights, watch the entire vehicle and where it’s headed. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Also, all bright lights are not oncoming cars and trucks. Instead, it’s possible they’re merely reading lights. Still, use caution when heading “into the light”.

7. Always double-lock handcuffs. This is not the time to rush to the next page. Doing so before it’s time can have disastrous results. You don’t want to spend the next three chapters in some fictional hospital.

20140807_112130

To double-lock, insert the pointed end of a handcuff key into the tiny hole on the side of the cuffs.

Remember, the writer of your tale can be pretty darn devious, so don’t put it past her to give her crooks some serious brainpower. Even make-believe thugs sometimes practice escaping cuffs with only one lock (the ratchet) secured. A paperclip or bobby pin will do the job. Besides, double-locking prevents the cuffs from becoming too tight on your suspect’s wrists.

8. Never allow tunnel vision to run your investigation. The deadly blow could come from any character and from any scene. Your writer is actively dreaming up hurdles for you, and this one could be a doozy.

9. Never let your guard down. The well-dressed man with the flashy smile on page 67 just might be another Dr. Lector.

10. Don’t let your job come before family. Every story needs a dose of personality. Readers want to know and like you. So make it happen. Smile. Love your wife or girlfriend. Take the kids to the park. And definitely get an ugly dog. Readers gush over this stuff. Without it, you may as well be tromping through the nonfiction aisles of a B&N.

And, the dour detective has been done to death. You’re writers, so use your imaginations.

Finally, please, please, please stop having us smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes. It can’t happen. It doesn’t happen. They stopped making it back at the end of WWII. The stuff we smell is smokeless gunpowder, and it smells a bit like the odor of 4th of July fireworks.

 

You know you have a winner when a reader says, “Wow, that book took my breath away!”

The Bee Gees offered a simple solution how writers can deliver those magical stories, and the answer is so very simple. Use the right words and the magic will happen. Because, after all …

“It’s only words,
And words are all I have,
To take your breath away.” ~ The Bee Gees


P.

Parenticide – Killing of one’s own parents.

Patent Fingerprints – Prints that are visible to the naked eye.

PCR (Polymerace Chain Reaction) – DNA testing procedure/technique that creates millions of copies of strands of tiny samples of DNA. The procedure was discovered and developed by biochemist Kary Mullis, who, by the way, is an acquaintance of my wife Dr. Denene Lofland.

PCR Thermal Cycler – Device used amplify, or copy, segments of DNA using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A sort of DNA “copy machine.” You’d likely see one of these devices in most labs used for DNA testing, including the labs where samples are tested in cases involving criminal suspects.

Thermal Cycler manufactured by Bio-Rad, one of the top five life science companies in the world.

The above image of a Thermal Cycler was taken in a laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. This particular device was located in the laboratory of Dr. Stephanie Smith, a DNA expert.

I took the photo while visiting my friend Dr. Dan Krane, one of the world’s most highly-respected and renowned DNA experts. Dr. Smith’s laboratory was operated under the watchful eye of Dr. Krane.

WPA attendees may remember Dan Krane from his fascinating presentation at one of our past events. Dr. Krane is often called upon as an expert in high-profile cases, such as the OJ Simpson case, the D.C. Snipers, and even the infamous “blue dress” case involving Clinton and Lewinsky. Dr. Dan Krane and Denene (my wife) were colleagues at the time I visited his laboratories. He and Denene (also an expert) were responsible for much of the DNA information in my book on police procedure.

Pedophilia – An ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. Its recurrent sexually arousing fantasies involve strong sexual urges and/or behaviors that include sexual activity with a child or multiple children who are typically age 13 years or younger. To meet the criteria of a pedophile, the person typically must fantasize about or act on those attractions over a period of at least six months.

Perimortem – Around the actual time of death.

Petecheal Hemorrhage – Pinpoint spots that appear as a result of bleeding under the skin. Conjunctival petechiae are a sign of possible compression of the neck and jugular veins due to choking and/or strangulation. Keep in mind that petechiae do not prove strangulation and their absence does not disprove it. It’s not a definite conclusion. However, the presence of petechiae is a handy red flag for police investigators that foul play could be a cause of death.

Piquerism – Sexual gratification to stab and cut. To enjoy seeing a victim bleed as flesh is pierced, ripped, and/or torn away.

Plastic Prints – Fingerprints visible in substances such as wax, caulk, or soap.

Psychological Autopsy – Procedure where experts in the mental health field collaborate with law enforcement to determine a person’s state of mind at the time they committed a crime.

Psychopathic Killer – A person who kills simply because they enjoy the act of killing.

Psychotic Killer – A person’s who’s psychosis drives them to murder.

Pugilistic Attitude – Position assumed by a victim of a death by fire. These victims often appear in a “boxer-like” position with elbows and knees bent/flexed and fists clenched. This posture is caused when intense heat contracts muscle fiber and tissue. A rookie mistake is to assume this person was “burned in place” while attempting to fight off an attacker. Not so.

 

Dead bodies always have a lot to reveal to investigators!

Putrefaction is the destruction of the soft tissue caused by two things, bacteria and fermentation of enzymes. As the bacteria and enzymes do their jobs the body immediately begins to discolor and transform into liquids and gases. The odd thing about the bacteria that destroys tissue at death is that much of it has been living in the respiratory and intestinal tracts all along.  Of course, if the deceased had contracted a bacterial infection prior to death, that bacteria, such as septicemia (blood poisoning), would aid in increasing the body’s decomposition.

Temperature plays an important part in decomposition. 70 degrees to 100 degrees F is the optimal range for bacteria and enzymes to do what they do best, while lower temperatures slow the process. Therefore, and obviously, a body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime.

A blood-filled circulatory system acts as a super-highway for those organisms that destroy the body after death. Without blood the process of putrefaction is slowed.

Therefore, a murder victim whose body bled out will decompose at a slower rate than someone who died of natural causes.

Bodies adorned in thick, heavy clothing (the material retains heat) decompose more rapidly than the norm. Electric blankets also speed up decomposition.

A body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime

A body that’s buried in warm soil may decompose faster than one that’s buried during the dead of winter. The type of soil that surrounds the body also has an effect on the rate of decomposition. For example, the soil in North Carolina is normally a reddish type of clay. The density of that clay can greatly retard the decomposition process because it reduces the circulation of air that’s found in a less dense, more sandy-type of earth.

Adult bodies buried in a well drained soil will become skeletonized in approximately 10 years. A child’s body in about five years.

People who were overweight at the time of their deaths decompose faster than skinny people. People who suffered from excessive fluid build-up decompose faster than those who were dehydrated. And people with massive infections and congestive heart failure will also decompose at a more rapid rate than those without those conditions.

The rule of thumb for the decomposition of a body is that, at the same temperature, 8 weeks in well-drained soil equals two weeks in the water, or one week exposed to the air.

Now, hold on to your breakfast …

The first sign of decomposition under average conditions is a greenish discoloration of the skin at the abdomen. This is apparent at 36-72 hours.

Next – Small vessels in the skin become visible (marbling).

Followed by, glistening skin, skin slippage, purplish skin, blisters, distended abdomen (after one week – caused by gases), blood-stained fluid oozing from body openings (nose, mouth, etc.), swelling of tissue and the presence of foul gaseous odor, greenish-purple face, swollen eyelids and pouting lips, swollen face, protruding tongue, hair pulls out easily, fingernails come off easily, skin from hands pulls off (gloving), body swells and appears greatly obese.

Internally, the body is decomposing and breaking down. The heart has become flabby and soft. The liver has honeycombed, and the kidneys are like wet sponges. The brain is nearly liquid, and the lungs may be a bit brittle.

Wrong kind of brittle, but who wants to end the post with crunchy lungs? So have some homemade peanut brittle and enjoy the rest of your day.

 

For the past fews days I’ve been offering up the individual ingredients of a word salad. I’ve presented you with formal groupings of letters that, when used properly, could add a little something extra to a crime story. However, I’ve given you these terms merely as a catalyst, a basis to help develop your scenes into 3D visions on a page.

It’s okay to have your cop character spout off a cool-sounding term, such as “marbling,” the the mottled, greenish-black appearance caused by sulfhaemoglobin molecules present in settled blood (once the heart stops beating). But simply saying the word does nothing to help form a picture. For example:

“Her leg is marbled. That tells me the victim has been dead for three to five days.”

It’s another thing entirely to describe marbling like this.

“This one’s a stomach-churner, Lieutenant. Wonder how long she’s been out here?”

“The skin of her right leg looks like a squiggly-lined roadmap of Northern Virginia. With marbling that pronounced, I’d say she’s been dead three, maybe four days, or so,” said Lieutenant Deadlooker.

I know, the writing above was not book quality, but I overwrote it to showcase that it is the definitions and imagery associated with each of these terms that should appear in your work, not so much the actual word itself.

Help your readers see what you see inside your mind. Show them that picture.

Take your world to them.

 

N.

Narcomania – An intense desire for alcohol and drugs.

Navicular – Shaped like a boat, such as certain bones in the feet and wrists. In the wrist, this comma-shaped bone is situated in the first row of carpals. In the feet, they’re located between the talus and the metatarsals.

Graphics Resource:

“BodyParts3D, © The Database Center for Life Science licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.1 Japan.”

NCAVC– A subdivision of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime is comprised of fours separate sections of the bureau—the Consultation Program, Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), Criminal Personalty Profiling Program, and Research and Development.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR THE ANALYSIS OF VIOLENT CRIME

“The mission of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) is to combine investigative and operational support functions, research, and training in order to provide assistance, without charge, to federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies investigating unusual or repetitive violent crimes. The NCAVC also provides support through expertise and consultation in non-violent matters such as national security, corruption, and white-collar crime investigations.” ~ FBI.gov.

Necrophagia– The eating of dead corpses. As crime writers who conduct massive amount of research, I’m sure you already know that both insects and some humans partake in the consuming of dead flesh.

In the insect world, beetles and flies, for example, take advantage of the free meals offered to them when they happen upon a dead body. Human diners of freshly-killed people are typically of the serial killer breed, such as Dahmer and others who seem to enjoy appetizers and entrees made from well-seasoned fresh and/or frozen friends.

Back in 2001, well-known paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley described the three ways in which anthropologists divided and categorized cannibalism.

  • Endocannibalism–  the act of consuming someone from within a tribe or specific culture.
  • Exocannibalism– the consumption of anyone outside of a group.
  • Autocannibalism– consuming parts of their own flesh. By the way, nail biting is also included in this category.

When, or if, you decide to include this term—Necrophagia—in a twisted tale of macabre mystery or romance, please don’t confuse it with the death metal group of the same name.

The ghoulish-sounding band produced jaunty little tunes such as Ready For Death, The Divine Art of TortureDeath Is Fun, A Legacy of Horror, Gore and SicknessCannibal Holocaust, and the always soothing bedtime melody, Slit Wrists and Casket Rot.

By the way, another term for those of you writing horror, thrillers, or romance stories with a bit of the dark side, is autophagia, the consuming one’s own flesh.

Necrophilia– Erotic stimulation by a dead body. Morbid attraction to the deceased. And having sexual intercourse with a corpse.

Neonaticide– the Killing of a child within 24-hours of its birth.

 

O.

Oblique Lighting – Light source positioned at an angle to an area to be viewed and/or photographed for evidence. Sometimes called side-lightling.

Open Tail– Surveillance style in which law enforcement (or others) utilize, using no means to avoid detection, such as a single police vehicle following behind a suspect car along city streets.

 

When I crack the covers of a James Lee Burke novel, the words on the page begin to dance and sing. The odor of swamp water oozes out into the air. I feel the humidity and I smell the delicious odors of meat cooking on open fires. I see the mist on the bayou. More importantly, though, I’m there, in that book following along with Dave and Clete and Alafair as they go about their journey to the final page.

In The New Iberia Blues, Burke described a young deputy sheriff who’d grown up in a small town on the Louisiana-Arkansas line as having an accept that sound like “someone twanging a bobby pin.” Well, y’all, I instantly heard the officer’s voice ring as clear as a bell from that point forward.

The author described this fictional deputy, Sean McClain, as “slender, over six feet, his shoulders as rectangular as a coat-hanger wire inside his shirt, his stomach as flat as a plank.”

In that brief passage, readers had a mental picture of the lawman. He was fit and strong and tall.

Burke also, within just a few lines, brilliantly gives the reader a look inside the mind of Deputy McClain, describing his sincere innocence, and how he views life and approaches it from day to day. And he used his lead character, Dave Robicheaux, to introduce us to the man.

Robicheaux said to the reader, ” … I drove down to the tip of Cypremort Point with a young uniformed deputy named Sean McClain, who had seven months experience in law enforcement and still believed in the human race and woke up each day with birdsong in his head.”

Sean McClain was now a person I knew—how he walked, talked, and how he would confront criminals and witnesses. I knew his approach to investigations—reserved and with a glass half-full mindset. His lack of experience would cause him to first give the benefit of the doubt before looking at someone’s dark side. Rookie innocence. I’ve seen a hundreds of times.

So yes, words are the key to making a story come alive. But only when they’re assembled in the correct order and only if the selected words used are absolutely necessary to advance a scene. Too much is, well, too much.

So, without further ado, here are your …

Crime Writers’ Words of the Day

 

Incised Wound – A wound caused by a sharp weapon and is typically longer than it is deep. These types of wounds usually bleed quite readily.

Infanticide – The killing of an infant shortly after the child is born.

Infarct – An area of dead tissue (necrosis) caused by a lack of blood supply. A Myocardial infarction (MI) refers to the myocardium, the heart muscle itself, and the changes that occur in it when the muscle is suddenly deprived of fresh blood. When blood ceases to flow to the heart muscle it causes necrosis, the death of myocardial tissue. This is a heart attack.

 

K.

Klismaphillia – The use of enemas for sexual arousal/pleasure.

 

L.

Latent Prints – Fingerprints that are NOT visible to the human eye. (Patent prints are visible).

Ligature – Any string, rope, material that’s used to bind or tie, such as a household extension cord used by a killer to strangle his victim.

The post-autopsy photo below/right shows a deep ligature mark on the neck (upper left). Note the post-autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision.

The murder weapon was an extension cord, the typical cord (left) found in many homes.

Thanging autopsyo help orient – the head is to the left, just outside the upper edge of the photo. The Y-stitching begins at the bottom left  (upper right shoulder area) and continues to the mid chest area where it’s met by a like incision that began at the upper left shoulder area (upper area of the image) and continued to the chest center. The incision continued down to the area below the navel (bypassing the bellybutton).

 

Livor Mortis (lividity) can help investigators determine the time of death. The staining of tissue normally begins within the first two hours after death. The process reaches it’s full peak in eight to twelve hours.

If the victim is moved during the first six hours after death the purplish discoloration can shift, causing the new, lowest portion of the body to exhibit lividity.

After a period of six to eight hours after death, lividity becomes totally fixed. Moving the body after eight hours will not change the patterns of discoloration. Therefore, investigators know a body found lying face down with lividity on the back, has been moved.

Rookie officers have often confused lividity with bruising caused by fighting.

Remember, ambient air temperature is always a factor in determining the TOD (time of death). A hot climate can accelerate lividity, while a colder air temperature can slow it down considerably.

 

M.

Marbling – Not to be confused with the desirable tenderness caused by the intermixing of fat and muscle fibers in good beef, marbling, as it relates to a dead body, is the result of damaged blood cells that leak from deteriorating vessels. Bacteria converts haemoglobin molecules, the molecules that once carried oxygen around the body, into sulfhaemoglobin.

When the sulfhaemoglobin molecules present in settled blood (once the heart stops beating) it causes the skin to display a marbled, greenish-black appearance. this is a characteristic of a body that undergoing decomposition. These vessels, mostly the veins, often have the appearance of the squiggly lines of a roadmap. Marbling generally appears on the skin in early stages of decomposition, approximately 3 to 5 days, or so.

Marbling

Midline – The center of the head, chest, and abdomen, as if an imaginary line is drawn from top to bottom.

Midline

Mysophilia – Sexual attraction to filthy, dirty people, animals, clothing, etc.

 

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.