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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. 

MurderCon registration opens Sunday, February 23, 2020, at noon EST. Therefore, to help the process go smoothly, I thought I’d post a few tips and helpful information.

Please hover your cursor above the bottom left of the graphic below, and then use the “Up” and “Down” arrows that appear at the bottom left to view each page of the newsletter.

As always, if we can assist you in any way please contact us at [email protected]

Remember, space at this incredible event is limited so please reserve your spot by signing up Sunday February 23, 2020 at 12 noon EST. And while you’re at it, you should also consider resevering your hotel room to receive our discounted rate. To do so, click the “Reserve Your Room” link on the MurderCon website. Breakfasts are included in your room rate. Many of the 2020 classes and festivities take place at the event hotel.
 
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The day to signup to attend MurderCon is now only three short days away!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the wildly popular event, MurderCon is the ultimate hands-on training event where attendees—writers, readers, fans, law enforcement, journalists, TV and film writers, etc.—receive the same instruction that’s offered to, and attended by, top homicide detectives and investigators from around the world.

It’s a unique juncture of fiction and fact that takes place at the headquarters and training facility of the global leader in crime-scene investigation technology, Sirchie. Together, Sirchie and the Writers’ Police Academy, assembled an elite cadre of top experts to present exciting and extremely detailed workshops and classes, all relating to the crime of murder and how the savvy detectives solve those cases. I cannot begin to stress the significance of attending classes at the Sirchie compound. This is a HUGE opportunity for you!!

MurderCon classes are far above the typical sessions offered at any other event. It’s the real deal, folks. MurderCon is where your stories are transformed from good, to “readers will not want to put down your book until they’ve devoured the final word.”

It’s one thing to read about police investigations and how cases are solved, but reading alone cannot deliver true physical and emotional sensations—sights, sounds, touch, smell, taste, etc. Attending MurderCon places attendees in situations and scenarios that real-life law enforcement investigators face each and every day.

The 2020 MurderCon is an advanced learning adventure. We’re offering to you, the level of instruction that many police officers only dream of attending. Those who do are often lead or upper level detectives.

Now, available to YOU, is a schedule of classes that are typically “for law enforcement eyes only.” Classes are all brand new for this exclusive 2020 event.

Please, I urge every writer to take advantage of 2020 MurderCon. This is your opportunity to take your writing to another level. You owe it to yourself and to your readers and fans.

So why not join the thousands of writers who’ve attended and benefited from the experience? The list is long and it includes authors such as Tami Hoag, Lisa Gardner, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Karin Slaughter, Christopher Reich, Lisa Regan, Heather Graham, Lee Goldberg, Charlaine Harris, Kendra Elliot, Melinda Leigh, Denise Grover Swank, Mary Burton, Deborah LeBlanc, and Marcia Clark, to name only a few. Attendees range from top bestsellers to the writer who’s just begun to plot and plan their very first tale.

2020 MurderCon 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.

Featuring Special Guests

Dr. Judy Melinek is forensic pathologist in Oakland, California. She’s also the CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. Dr. Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell are the co-authors of the New York Times bestselling books Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

Ray Krone, the 100th death row exoneree, delivers an emotional and captivating account of his arrest, trial, conviction, and life on death row, all for a murder he didn’t commit. After more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, the combination of another man’s DNA found at the crime scene, a discredited expert witness, prosecutorial misconduct, and faulty bitemark evidence were the keys that led to Ray’s exoneration.

2020 Classes

(click the titles below to read session description, and instructor details)

“Sedimental” Journey

Art Of Blood

Extraordinary Departures

Fido Finds A Femur

From The Inside Out

Gazing Into The Cloud

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Homocide Or Homicide: You Decide

How Trauma Affects Memory

NARCAN By Noon

Sex Crimes Investigations

Smoking Guns And Lasers

They Saw You Do It

Under The Trench Coat

Who’s MARK


A Murder to Solve!

Join us at MurderCon 2020 for a Crime-Inspired Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt and Clue Game.

From the time WPA attendees enter the host hotel (maybe even before arriving) authors must pay attention, listen carefully, and observe thoroughly, clues to solve a whodunit.

Book signing, anthology release, auction, raffle, short story contests, and MORE!

Please the MurderCon website for all details.

See how your story could be included in a traditionally published anthology along with those written by Reed Farrel Coleman, Heather Graham, Lisa Regan, Denise Grover Swank, Deborah Leblanc, Phoef Sutton, and many more. And, to sweeten the pot, the foreword is written by Lisa Gardner!

https://writerspoliceacademy.com

Registration at 12 Noon EST, Sunday, February 23, 2020

Be Ready to Register at Noon EST this Sunday, February 23, 2020.
Space is limited and spots typically go quickly. Believe me, you do NOT want to miss this exclusive event of a lifetime.

As many of you know, each year the Writers’ Police Academy hosts a fun and challenging writing contest called the Golden Donut 200-Word Short Story Contest. Contest rules are simple. Write a complete story about the photograph we provide, using exactly 200 words—including the title.

Contest judging is completed blindly and in steps, with each step a means to narrow the entries to the top dozen finalists, with the exception of an occasional tie that left us with 13 or 14 stories as finalists. Then those top tales were sent to a final judge who selected their pick as the number one story. Past contest judges include bestselling authors Tami Hoag and Heather Graham, to name a couple. Yes, our contest judges definitely know a good story when they read it.

So, with that said, I’m extremely pleased and honored to announce that Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, will serve as judge for the 2020 Golden Donut 200-Word Short Story Contest. So sharpen your pencils, warm up the erasers, and be ready to trim your twisted tales into a mere 200 words, because one of the top pros of the mystery genre will soon be reading your work.

Linda Landrigan has published everything from whodunits to howdunits, noir and more. The prestigious magazine she helms, AHMM, has featured stories written by Lawrence Block and Bill Pronzini, and a practically endless list of other talented authors, such as my friends Rhys Bowen, SJ Rozan, Leslie Budewitz, Chris Grabenstein, Elaine Viets, and Jan Burke, to name only a scant few.

I grew up reading AHMM and, of course, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. As a kid, those stories were responsible for igniting a passion of wanting to become a police detective and/or a writer. I also longed to see my name in an issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. 2020?

About Linda Landrigan

Linda Landrigan

Linda Landrigan has had a longtime love affair with mystery. Earning her undergraduate degree from New College in Florida and her Master’s degree from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Linda held a variety of jobs before landing a position as associate editor of Hitchcock under the magazine’s previous editor, Cathleen Jordan, with whom she had the privilege of working for five years. Assuming the mantle of editor-in-chief in 2002, Linda has also edited the commemorative anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense (2006) and the digital anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Thirteen Tales of New American Gothic (2012), and has found time to be active on the board of the New York City Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. In 2008, Linda and her “partner in crime,” Janet Hutchings – editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – were presented with the Poirot Award from Malice Domestic for their contributions to the mystery genre.


2020 Golden Donut 200-Word Short Story Contest details TBA.

By the way, have you, in the past, entered a tale in the super fun Writers’ Police Academy’s Golden Donut Short Story Contest?

If so, would you like to submit your previously-submitted story for consideration to be included in a book published by the Writers’ Police Academy and Level Best Books? If your answer is yes, then dust off your copy and prepare to send it to us. Details are in the works.

2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon.

Mark Your Calendars! August 6-9, 2020.

In response to a huge number of messages, yes, there will indeed be a 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. In fact, the 2020 event marks a full dozen years of bringing excellent and exciting programs to writers, readers, and fans of crime fiction and real-life crime-solving from around the world.

To celebrate the 12th annual WPA, we’re offering a prize that’s an over-the-moon opportunity of lifetime. I’m talking never before made available opportunity. Something that’s practically unbelievable. It’s heart-pounding. It’s nerve-tingling. It’s mind-blowing! It’s phenomenal! It is absolutely staggering! And it’s … well, it’s a secret for now.

Details as to how you could be the lucky and extremely fortunate person to win this rare opportunity are coming soon. I’m excited for you!

To add to the excitement, I’m extremely pleased to announce that the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon will once again take place in Raleigh, N.C., hosted by the global leader in crime scene technology … Sirchie.

Attendees entering Sirchie headquarters.

About Sirchie

“Sirchie,” according to Dyer Bennett, Sirchie’s Vice President of Product Development and Training, “is a 90-year-old organization that’s a global leader in finding ways to fulfill law enforcement needs, including training in all types of state-of-the art forensics. In years past, Sirchie has supported the WPA by providing instructors and training materials.”

“Each year some 700 law enforcement professionals visit Sirchie’s Youngsville, N.C campus, just outside of Raleigh, NC, to attend renowned, extensive training courses. Most of the attendees come from sheriff’s departments and municipal and state police forces. However, they also welcome officers and agents from a variety of other state and federal agencies, including state prison systems, airport security, FBI agents, Treasury, and Secret Service agents. International students come from countries ranging from Italy to Mexico and Argentina to Qatar.”

Sirchie and the Writers’ Police Academy, a Partnership of Writers and Law Enforcement

“Currently, Sirchie offers over 30 courses on campus annually on a variety of forensic topics. Their initial training programs primarily focused on fingerprinting and crime scene evidence collection. Now the subject matter includes all types of evidence collection, analysis, and preservation. For example, advanced courses in clandestine grave recovery, blood stain analysis, death investigation, reconstruction of a shooting, chemical and DNA testing of blood and semen, testing of substances suspected to be drugs, and arson investigation. Of course, they still provide in-depth instruction related to crime scene investigation and fingerprint analysis. One of the most popular courses still is the five-day Crime Scene Technology course that covers a variety of CSI techniques.”

Bennett had this (below) to say about the Writers’ Police Academy’s special event, MurderCon held at Sirchie’s elite compound in Youngsville, N.C. a suburb of Raleigh.

“We train attendees the same way we train law enforcement. Writers who’ve attended prior WPA courses can expect the learn-by-doing philosophy to continue. Every course will have a hands-on component.”

“If they take the arson course, they’ll analyze burn patterns with an expert who has thirty years of ATF experience in arson investigation. If they take the clandestine grave course, they’ll learn the proper way to excavate bones and remains in the field. If they take a drug analysis course, they’ll be taught not only how to test a suspect substance, but the measures needed to protect themselves from exposure. The same, of course, is true of courses related to biological testing and blood spatter documentation and analysis. Fingerprinting and crime scene photography will definitely be hands on. They’ll see and do what officers see and do.”

“The difference from prior WPA events,” said Bennett, “is that at Sirchie the focus is entirely about homicide investigations and the science and forensic technology and analysis used to solve the crime. When attendees graduate from MurderCon, they’ll have the knowledge to describe what really happens—and doesn’t happen—in a homicide investigation.”

“When MurderCon attendees leave, they’ll know what it feels like to conduct an investigation. Having first-hand experience will allow them to portray crime scene details realistically; and it will let them share with their readers how it feels to investigate a homicide.” ~ Dyer Bennett, Sirchie

So please do mark your calendars with a bright red circle. Believe me, you do not want to miss this all new and wonderfully exciting program.

Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. August 6-9, 2020.


Two of the many in-depth workshops offered at the 2019 MurderCon event:

A Bloody Mess: Search, ID, and Document Blood Evidence


 FBI Special Agent (ret.) David Alford, instructor.

David Alford (above) is a retired FBI Special Agent with 21 years of experience investigating violent crimes, terrorism and other cases. He was one of the founding members of the FBI Evidence Response Team (ERT) and conducted crimes scene searches on domestic and international violent crimes and bombings, including the Polly Klaas kidnaping and murder, the Unabomber’s cabin and the 9/11 Pentagon scene. He worked in the Denver and San Francisco field offices and completed his career at Quantico in the FBI Lab ERT Unit. During the 6 years in the FBI Lab, he was primarily responsible for overseeing and teaching basic and advanced crime scene courses throughout the US and many other countries.

Buried Bodies

Buried Bodies. Instructor ~ Dr. Meredith Tise, above center wearing light blue shirt, holding a metal probe used to examine ground at a suspicious grave site.

Dr. Meredith Tise earned her PhD. In Applied Anthropology from the University of South Florida. She currently works with the Pinellas County (FL) Sheriff’s Office and consults with the Medical Examiner’s office in Largo, FL, where she assists in remains recovery and analysis. Dr. Tise was part of the team who researched and unearthed 55 graves containing the remains of boys buried at the Dozier School for Boys, about 60 miles northwest of Tallahassee.


Police Magazine Showcases MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie

MurderCon/Writers’ Police Academy is an event that’s well-attended by writers, readers, fans, editors, agents, translators, and law enforcement professionals, all from around the world and from nearly every state in the U.S.

The event has been featured in hundreds of popular blogs, magazine articles, on local television affiliates, social media, the AP wire, and in 2019 the WPA was the focus of a wonderful article in Police Magazine written by the magazine’s editor, David Griffith. In the article, CSI: Helping Authors Keep It Real, Griffith captured the true purpose of WPA, to help writers by providing the details that help bring better realism to their stories.

In one section of the piece Griffith wrote, “One of the most notable attendees was Charlaine Harris, author of the books that inspired the TV series ‘True Blood’ and ‘Midnight, Texas.’ Harris has the kind of resume that would allow her to contact just about any law enforcement agency in the United States and get a response to her questions, but she prefers coming to MurderCon to learn the details that can give her law enforcement scenes credibility. ‘I would be embarrassed to interrupt real officers while they are working,’ she says.

Also mentioned in an earlier Police Magazine article, “Prior guests of honor, including best-selling authors Tami Hoag and Lisa Gardner, have enjoyed the event so much that they’ve returned as attendees.”

 


The release of the Writers’ Police Academy’s first anthology, After Midnight: Tales From the Graveyard Shift marked a wonderful milestone for each of the contributing authors. The already successful book is a compilation of tales written by dear friends who, during the past eleven years, helped push the WPA to the top of the ladder. With a foreword written by superstar Lee Child and edited by Phoef Sutton, well, it just doesn’t get any better.

In addition, we were we especially thrilled to include the stories of two contest winners, Ry Brooks and Emilya Naymark. Next year, we’re pleased to say, we’re publishing a second anthology. Details to be announced in January. I will say this, though – we’re opening spots for an additional contest-winning tale, for a grand total of three available spots!

Writers’ Police Academy anthologies are published by our dear friends at Level Best Books.

 


Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

Finally, speaking of Lee Child … remember the mention at the top of this article of the rare, phenomenal and absolutely staggering and mind-blowing opportunity for one extremely fortunate person? Well, here’s a clue.

Jack Reacher

The rules were simple. Write a story about the above photograph, using exactly 200 words, including the title. Not 201 or 199. Exactly 200 words.

Each story needed an original title and it was mandatory that the image be the main subject of the story. We offered no clues as to the subject matter of the photo or where it was taken. That, we left to the imaginations of the authors.

Stories then began to pour into our mailbox, were screened (words counted, etc.), and the top 14 tales were delivered to bestselling author Heather Graham for final judging. Here are her top picks, starting with the the winning story penned by Ry Brooks.


 

First-Place Winner

ASHES

By Ry Brooks

 

Nothing of the warehouse remained but its spindly scorched bones. To Sullivan, determining the cause seemed impossible. Flammable chemicals, stored in plastic barrels, had fueled the flames to unimaginable temperatures more like cremation than ordinary fire.

Arson? But the building was underinsured, and the owners had no motive. As he probed among the detritus, he heard a muted wailing. Sully moved in the direction of the sound, which came from under a scalded sheet of metal roofing. Gently lifting the obstruction, he discovered a small brown puppy among some old rags, singed but alive. He bent to wrap it in his scarf, and at that very moment, one of the charred uprights crashed down, right where he had stood moments before.

Startled, he squatted down to gather his wits and that is when he noticed the rags also covered a body. Apparently it was a homeless person, who perhaps had made a campfire for warmth. When the flames got out of control, his instinct had been to shield the little dog with his own body, sacrificing himself for another.

The dog squirmed, and Sullivan hugged the puppy close, whose life had been spared and had then saved his own.


 

Second-Place Winner

THE FALLOUT

By Chelle Martin

It had been a beautiful day full of warmth and sunshine. Family and friends were jumping about, unaware of any danger. But the world as we knew it came crashing down in an instant when a cold, dark mist fell upon us with a powerfully pungent, yet sweet odor.

Tranquility warped into pandemonium as families scrambled for higher ground or desperately burrowed for shelter.

The cloud seemed to last forever. Once it had lifted, our surroundings appeared black and white from the dust that had settled. My comrades who had been directly hit, lie dead and dying around me. I coughed and staggered onward, searching for other survivors.

One, two, we gathered together and moved on to a drier place. Would we survive? Sadly, the youngest and oldest were most affected by the onslaught. The chemicals were just too strong for their systems to ward off.

The ground shook violently beneath our feet, but we clung to the uprights around us for balance.

A large creature approached and spoke in a strange language as flood waters slowly began to rise. “Hold still and be a good boy, Rex. This flea and tick bath will finish off any survivors.”


 

Third-Place Winner

NURSING YOUR DATE

By Teela Davis

What an awful, boring, insufferable first date. Why did she still do these?

The movie was tolerable, but now a walk?  She huffed, and not just a walk, a walk to the ‘haunted factory’. Did the creepy romantic thing ever really work out for guys? In all honestly, she just wanted dessert, and sleep!

“So, you know the legends here?”

“What, vengeful ghosts?” She barked a laugh, already rolling her eyes.

“Hah, not ghosts,” he grinned, dropping her hand once inside the crumbling monolith.

Relieved, she wiped her palm on her skirt, why was he so sweaty?

“Actually, there is a long list of unsolved murders here.” His cold tone made her take a step back, almost causing her to trip on debris.

“Oh?” Her hesitation made him nod. A knife flashed in his hand and she met his gaze as he advanced closer. Ugh, how typical…

“Yup, and I want to add to it.”

“Oh,” she chuckled darkly, done playing, “don’t worry, you will.” He stepped closer but paused, clearly confused.

“Wait, wha-” The sentence died in his throat just as she launched herself at him, teeth tearing into his flesh.

Finally, she laughed, dessert!


The following finalists are in no particular order …

 

THIS IS IT

By A.R. Kennedy

They walked up to the destroyed building in silence. Each wondered how they would find the missing woman’s pendant in the wreckage.

The tip had come in that the killer had marked the woman’s gravesite with her four leaf clover pendant. She had worn it everyday since her fifteenth birthday. For luck, she told people who asked.

In silence, they traversed the site in search of that pendant. Lisa fell, tripping over one of the many obstacles in her path. She slowly got up.

“You alright, Lisa?” her partner asked.

She put her hands in her pockets and shrugged. “Could be worse.”

Her partner, Joel, knew she was right.

Twenty minutes later, they finished their inspection.

“Well, we didn’t find it. Did you think we would?” Lisa asked.

Joel paused, wanting to answer honestly. “I didn’t think I would find it.”

“I guess this is it, Joel,” Lisa said as she headed to their car.

Joel nodded because he knew it was. He pulled his gun and motioned for her to take her hands out of her pockets.

The tarnished four leaf clover hung from her fingers.

“You’re right,” Joel said. “This is it.”


 

BABY SHOWER

By Cassy Muronaka

“Oh, getting coffee? Me too, Jeannie?” asked Bob, junior salesman, giving his ceramic mug and winning smile to Jean, senior saleswoman.

Taking it, she immediately was flagged over by her boss, Jerry, who announced she was not getting her anticipated promotion, despite being number one in sales.

“Politics, you know. New owner, Porter, canned it.”

Then Jerry asked her to work late again.

At noon, Jean wrote on the company’s internal message group, “Girls: time to meet at the picnic tables. Surprise baby shower, Brenda!  No boys allowed!”

The tables were a fair distance from the building, enough for the women to comfortably inhale plenty of champagne with the potluck lunch. Jean wasn’t the only woman who needed relaxation.

When Brenda opened the baby gifts, she said, “You are all so generous.” She hugged Jean. “I know you’re responsible for organizing all of this. Thank you so much.”

It was then that the building exploded and caught fire. As Jean watched the brand-new sign reading “Porter Industrial and Mining Explosives” fly off the building and into the parking lot, she smiled at Brenda and said, “Yes, I’ve been planning it for a long time.”


 

CLOSE THE DOOR

By Pamela Raymond

“Aunt Lydia has a melancholy side. I’ll give her that. But this?” My sister held a black and white photo of a charred lot, encased in an ornately fashioned wrought iron frame.

“Why would Aunt Lydia give a 10 year old this grisly photo?” My sister was not amused.

“Mommy. Hang it over there!” The little girl crawled on to her bed and motioned above the headboard. “The picture will like it here.”

“Pictures don’t care where they hang,” Katherine muttered.

My phone rang two weeks later. Jumbled, shaken, Katherine spoke so quickly, I could barely understand her. “My daughter. She keeps. The picture. CLOSE THE DOOR!” The line went dead.

By the time I got to the house, a smoking pile of embers existed where a home used to be. I found Katherine sitting in an ambulance. She mumbled over and over, “That picture.”

In the chaos, the little girl wandered to me.

She pulled the picture from her soot smeared robe. “Mommy wanted me to close the door and leave the picture in the fire. Mommy should have been nicer to the picture.”

The look in her eyes chilled me to the bone.


 

UTOPIA, CALIFORNIA

By Phoef Sutton

There is no crime in Utopia anymore.

Officer Mingus drives the streets of this small California town like she has a hundred times before. Her police dog Vlad rides shotgun. Vlad is trained to sniff out meth and heroine and other illegal drugs. But there are no drugs now.

Utopia is peaceful.

Officer Mingus misses the turn onto Grevelia Street since there are no road signs. No landmarks. Only the occasional blackened chimney. The wildfire that ripped through town two weeks ago had wiped it from the face of the earth, leaving nearly ninety dead and hundreds more still missing.

Turning into a driveway, Mingus stops the patrol car and gets out. Vlad goes rooting around, reveling in the smells of destruction and incineration, while Mingus searches through the ruins of her own house. She had been there with her husband when the fire alarm first sounded. She had rushed out.

Brian had stayed behind.

She finds her bedroom and digs through the debris, until she uncovers Brian’s skull. Shaking it, a small caliber bullet falls out. She tosses it away and crushes the skull with the butt of her gun.

She is free now. Fire cleanses everything.


 

THE BRIDGE

By Ferd Crotte

My old knees shake as I pick my way through the loose rubble, struggling for balance and understanding. I find an unsteady purchase and pause to curse the utter devastation before me.

I repeat the calculation — seventy-four years since the bridge last stood. Seventy-four years since I felt my father’s hand, holding mine as we walked the bridge’s long expanse. Seventy-four years since the bomb.

The crumbled city was dead to radiation, and access was forbidden. Now it’s open, though no less dead. A primal scream explodes from me, but no one hears. The ruins are silent. The rage is my own.

An unwelcome wind scatters a flume of ashes by my feet. Was that my father? The ashes dissipate, and again he leaves me.

I’m told the bridge was beautiful, and my father helped build it with his own hands. I’m told he was a peaceful man. Am I my father’s son?

I take a wary step into the rubble, then another. It’s why I came — to cross this broken bridge of time. I try to remember the feeling of his gentle hand. I need to find my father’s peace.


 

FUMES

By Lynn Long

“Willie Nickels died today in the gas chamber…” Click.

Gordon Chandler twisted the radio knob in his Plymouth, sucked the life from his Chesterfield and tossed the butt.

“I hope the bastard’s lungs burned just like that poor girl’s did,” Gordo exclaimed to the roadrunner perched on the warehouse ruins. The carbonized columns stood like trees in a charred forest. Uninterested, the bird vamoosed. He rolled his window shut.

Gordo knew every detail. He cast the tire prints. He found the dented, orange gas can. He interviewed neighbors who recognized the can. He discovered the blackened remains in the ashes. The detective had done everything but strap Nickels down and drop the pill.

Nickels deserved to drown in a cyanide bath. The onetime pimp ran the city. Nothing happened without his permission. Graves were full of people who didn’t get the message. No one could touch him. Few tried.

Gordo tried. He poured the plaster in Nickels’ driveway. He planted the gas can. He flicked his Chesterfield into the gasoline spread around the abandoned warehouse, not knowing a runaway had sought refuge there.

Exhaust fumes whispered through a garden hose, poisoning the air. His eyelids fluttered.

“If only…”


 

AFTERMATH

By Elizabeth Haines

Despite the hospital slippers, my feet are freezing.  I wait for the nurse, a thin cotton shroud, the blue and white print bleached and faded, tied behind my neck.  After a moment, I realize the music playing faintly in the background is a Beatles’ song, twisted into a requiem.  I used to dance to this song, barefoot in a forest that no longer exists.

If we’d heeded the warnings, we would have been deep underground when the bombs came, but the woodland flowers were blooming and the alarms had always been false before now.  We were surprised when the high whistling sound surrounded us, coming from everywhere and nowhere.  We survived, if we can call it that, because we weren’t anywhere near ground zero where the trees were burnt to sticks.  Once we regained consciousness in the hospital, we learned our fate.  The news reported we “woke up dead.”

The nurse, outfitted from head to toe in a disposable covering, comes in to explain my options.  I remember seeing the drone footage of the remaining trees.  They looked like black obelisks in a graveyard.  My feet are still freezing.  I tell her I want to be cremated.


 

THE TELL

By Lynette Eason

Moonlight touched the steel post at the edge of the bombed ruins. This was his playground and he’d lured Karly here, incensed by her televised scorn.

“Come alone,” he’d texted. “Or she dies.”

She spotted a dark stain at the base of the post. And the next—a matching blemish. Each one the same. Representing every victim he’d suspended before using the blade’s edge to spill their life-blood.

Nausea churned. Neck hairs spiked.

From somewhere, he watched.

Her weapon offered minuscule comfort.

A footstep behind her.

She spun. “You?” Her sister’s fiancé? “Why?”

“I followed my calling.” The knife gleamed its intent. “I released their evil.”

She lifted the gun. He froze. “Shoot me and you’ll never see your sister again.”

“She’s alive?”

“Yes. I’ll show you.” He started towards her, fingers flexing on the handle.

Karly fired. Once. Twice. Again.

He fell, choking, gasping.

She stepped closer. Very little blood stained his shirt. Good. His evil would go with him. “You lick your lips when you lie.”

She turned to go.

A hand clamped around her ankle.

Terror surged. Realization hit.

Very little blood.

Because he’d worn a vest.


 

HELP WANTED

By Lisa Wheelan

Leonard helped the old woman across the pile of rubble.

“Are you sure this is the place Mrs. G?”

“Yes Leonard”

“But it’s just a busted-up building.”

She pointed to a far corner with her crooked finger “over there.”

Dementiaville, here we come, Leonard thought, time for a new job.

They made their way over crumbled concrete and broken steel. He found a spot where she could sit, laid his uniform jacked over it and eased her down.

“What are we looking for Mrs. G?”

“You’ll know when you find it. Please begin.” She gestured.

Leonard began moving chunks of concrete to the side.

“How long have you worked for me Leonard?”

“Almost ten years.

“We’ve been through a lot haven’t we”

“Yes, Mrs. G.”

“You know a lot of my secrets, don’t you?”

“I keep my mouth shut.”

“I’m sure you will.” said Mrs. G.

“How much more do” …. Leonard stopped.

“You find something?”

“It’s a jacket…like mine. I think it’s a body.”

“That would be John, he left my employment ten years ago.”

Leonard’s last thought…such a big gun for such a feeble old wom.…


 

ESCAPED MEMORIES

By Tammie Fickas

Dirt and concrete dust puffed as Edward Maximillian, Max to his friends, not that he had ever had any, shuffled through the ruins. Years had lumbered on since the night a raging inferno raced through the Emsdon Home for Boys, destroying the building. The hateful place was anything but home. That night played in his mind like an old movie. The thrill of the employee’s fear filled him, excited him. It always had.

Paper caught in the rubble, fluttered with the breeze. Max’s own face stared back from the poster.

Escaped prisoner.

Armed and dangerous.

You will never amount to anything, Edward Maximillian.

Max leaned against a rough, charred wall stud. Death lingered here like the spirit of the headmaster who never made it out of the building alive. Max could almost smell it. A misshapen sneer stretched his lips. Oh, how he hated that man who made his life miserable. Satisfaction danced in his heart as he relished his revenge.

Who will never amount to anything?

Not far off, police sirens wailed through the night. Max took a long, last look, then loped toward the thick forest, once again disappearing like a dream at morning’s first light.


 

HANDS

By K.P. Gresham

She said the bastard was buried beneath the support beam. But which one?

Then I remembered.

That first night. Laughing, he’d ripped away our virginity and put his hands places we didn’t even know we possessed.

With adulthood, payback time arrived. As always, I took the lead. We worked fast. Her job was to get the account passwords. My job was to kill him. I torched the warehouse while she buried him.

We both came through. After he was dead, her codes and keys got us into the house, the study, and the wall-mounted lockbox.

Then we saw the little opening beneath the safe’s keypad. It required a hand print.

So, here I am, back at the burned out warehouse—his favorite hunting ground.  Shovel and saw in hand, I walk over fallen trusses and crumbled cement blocks to where the dumpsters had once stood—the first hiding place where we’d been cornered. That horrible first night.

Sweat pours over me as I unearth the body. His face is finally as ugly as his soul. I uproot his arms and begin to saw below the elbow.

“Time to put your hands to good use, Daddy.”


2019 Golden Donut Contest image – Mare Island Naval Shipyard – Vallejo, California.

The Mare Island shipyard was the first U.S. Navy base established on the Pacific Coast. The base was purchased by the Navy in 1853 and remained open until it officially closed all operations in 1996. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) spread its wings a bit with the introduction of our first publication, an anthology titled AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT.

Book Description

The curtain rises on this collection of twisted tales, revealing the words of bestselling thriller author Lee Child. Child sets the stage for a series of mysterious and strange goings-on that occur between the hours of midnight and dawn … the graveyard shift.

Contributing authors in this first anthology produced by the Writers’ Police Academy, include bestselling mystery and crime authors, top television writers, true crime experts, and more.

In addition to the stellar lineup of top authors, the WPA announced an exciting contest, a chance for two talented writers to have their stories included in this “killer” book.

Once  the contest closed the task of judging the entries began. To give you an idea of the process and superb quality of stories received, here’s a statement from the publisher, Level Best Books.

“A large number of very good stories were submitted for the two available spots. We certainly could have filled another whole anthology considering the quality of stories we received. All of the submissions were read blindly by a panel of three judges, who were anonymous to each other during the process.”

While all stories were exceedingly good, the judges selected two to include in the AFTER MIDNIGHT anthology.

And the winners are …

 

Ry Brooks and his story
Neighborhood Watch

and

Emilya Naymark for
A Confluence in Stow

After Midnight Anthology Details

  • Title:  AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT
  • Publisher – Level Best Books
  • ISBN:   ISBN: 978-1-947915-11-4
  • Publication Date:  August 1, 2019
  • Edited by Phoef Sutton
  • Foreword by #1 Internationally best selling author Lee Child

About the Editor

Phoef Sutton is a New York Times Bestselling author and winner of two Emmy Awards for his work on the classic television comedy CHEERS. Phoef also won a Peabody Award for the popular legal drama BOSTON LEGAL starring James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen. Lately, he’s been writing television movies for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.


The Authors and Their Twisted Tales

Lucky Cop by RJ Beam (bloodstain pattern expert, WPA and police academy instructor, author)

The Brass Ring by Michael A. Black (author, retired law enforcement expert)

Sunshine Berkman by Joseph S Bonsall (singer with the Oak Ridge Boys – the voice on the hit song Elvira, and more – author, banjo picker, and longtime support of the WPA)

Ride Along by Allison Brennan (Bestselling author)

Neighborhood Watch by Ry Brooks (AFTER MIDNIGHT contest winner)

The Bookends Murder by Robin Burcell (retired law enforcement and bestselling author)

Gentrified Homicide by Marco Conelli (retired undercover detective, author, WPA instructor)

Prime Rib from Brahma by Les Edgerton (Bestselling author and writing teacher/coach)

The Devil in the Flesh by Heather Graham (international bestselling author and 2019 MurderCon Guest of Honor)

Justifiable Homicide by Lisa Klink (television writer – Star Trek Deep Space Nine)

Rookies by Howard Lewis (WPA staff, martial arts expert, author)

LeishMANIA by Denene Lofland (Bioterrorism and microbiology expert, author, founder and host of the WPA)

The Sheriff of Macabre County by Lee Lofland (retired law enforcement, author of Police Procedure and Investigation, founder and host of the WPA)

Code Murder by Linda Lovely (Author, editor, WPA staff)

Baddest Outlaws by Rick McMahan (retired ATF Special Agent, law enforcement instructor, WPA instructor)

A Confluence in Stow by Emilya Naymark (AFTER MIDNIGHT contest winner)

Shared Secrets by Carrie Stuart Parks (forensic artist, former WPA special guest presenter, author)

The Case of the Staring Man by Katherine Ramsland (author of over 1,000 books, professor of forensic psychology, TV consultant and on-air personality, longtime WPA presenter and expert)

Panther Bait by Mike Roche (Secret Serve Special Agent, author)

Disco Fries and Homicide by Shawn Reilly Simmons (publisher/editor Level Best Books, author)

3:45 in the Peacock Room of the Channel Grill on 6th Street 
by Phoef Sutton (bestselling author, renowned and award-winning television writer, editor of AFTER MIDNIGHT anthology)

Hostage (A Love Story) by Cheryl Yeko (author, WPA staff)

With a Foreword by Lee Child (author of the internationally bestselling Jack Reacher series, longtime WPA supporter)

Lee Child ~ Writers Police Academy

 


Book Launch Party and You’re Invited!

Please join Level Best Books and the Writers’ Police Academy to help celebrate the launch of this thrilling new book, AFTER MIDNIGHT.

The launch party takes place at the Friday night reception at MurderCon, and books will be available for purchase at the event and soon by preorder. This will be the first of the Writers’ Police Academy’s new series of books. Stay tuned for more!


BIG NEWS on the WAY!

Also, here’s an important BOLO. Be On the Lookout for an exciting announcement coming from the Writers’ Police Academy and Level Best Books. There’s something very extremely cool brewing behind the scenes!

 

No, I’m not talking about the spirit world, or of zombies. I’m talking about how the living use a victim’s body to help determine the time and cause of death.

First, what happens when a person stops breathing and their heart ceases to beat? The skin begins to pale (pallor) and the muscles immediately begin to relax—all of them, which can produce some pretty unpleasant effects around the south end of the body.

Then come the Mortis brothers, all three of them—Livor, Algor, and Rigor. These guys show up to the party, one at a time, and when they arrive … well, let’s just say the host is the center of their attention. And boy do they ever “spoil” him.

Algor mortis is simply the cooling down of the body after death. A pretty good rule of thumb method to determine the time of death is to take the rectal temperature of the deceased (#neverusethethumb, for obvious reasons—say NO to the rule of thumb!), subtract that number from 98.6 (average, normal human body temp), and then divide that number by 1.5 (the average cooling rate of a body per hour under average conditions). The result is the approximate number of hours that have passed since the victim kicked the bucket.

Livor Mortis, or lividity, is the pooling of blood in the lowest portions of the body. Lividity is caused by gravity and begins immediately after death. The telltale signs of livor mortis, the purplish discoloration of the skin, begins the moment the heart stops pumping. This process continues for approximately 6-12 hours, depending upon surrounding conditions, until it becomes fixed, permanently staining the tissue in the lowest parts of the body. When large areas become engorged with lividity, the capillaries in those areas sometimes rupture causing what’s known as Tardieu spots. Tardieu spots present as round, brownish blacks spots.

Rigor Mortis, the contracting and stiffening of the muscles after death, takes a couple of hours to begin and completes in approximately 8-12 hours. The process starts in the smaller muscles of the head and face and moves downward to the larger muscles. When rigor is complete, the process reverses itself starting with the lower large muscles and ending with the smaller face and head muscles. The entire process can last for approximately 48 hours. The body will quickly begin to decompose after rigor is complete.

A person’s body goes stiff in the position they were in at the time of death.

Therefore, if a person died while lying on his back with one arm held straight up and the other straight out to the side, and the police discovered that same body in a bathtub, they’d probably conclude that someone moved the victim after death had occurred. After all, no one sits in a bathtub with their arms in those types of positions … do they? By the way, cops should not automatically rule out things simply because they’re different. Still, in the bathtub with one hand aimed skyward and the other pointing to a tube of Preparation H, a clump of tangled bobby pins, and a tin of ear wax remover. Yeah, somebody moved this one.

– Rigor mortis can cause contraction of the muscles in the epidermis, which also causes goose bumps to appear.

– Hair and fingernails do not continue to grow after someone dies. The skin around them begins to recede after death, which gives the appearance that they’re still growing.

– Age, illness, ambient temperature, fat distribution, and physical exertion just prior to death can all affect the rate of rigor mortis.

 


MurderCon’s focus is homicide investigations!

The Writers’ Police Academy’s super-special event, MurderCon, features actual homicide investigation sessions in a first-ever, rare opportunity offered to writers. The material and venue are typically for law enforcement eyes only! For example …

David Pauly’s class:

Murder-Mayhem

This workshop deeply delves into Cause, Manner, and Mechanisms of death, Coroner vs. Medical Examiner systems, differences in legal terminology for murder, homicide, and manslaughter, as well as, the realities in death investigations that are equivocal in nature.

Physical, testimonial, and circumstantial evidence as introduced into the courtroom will be applied to death investigations. A case study of a very unique and rarely-seen murder by hanging, and the forensic evidence obtained from the physical autopsy will be presented during this detailed workshop. This presentation is a rare behind the scenes look and discussion of psychological autopsies, and when they are utilized in criminal investigations.

 

David Pauly retired from The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command as a Special Agent-in-Charge/Commander and Forensic Science Officer. He performed duties in over a dozen states, and frequently worked with local, state, and federal agencies. He also performed duties in Panama, South Korea, Afghanistan, Haiti, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Sinai, Egypt, Canada, Guam, and Nigeria. He holds a Master of Forensic Science degree from The George Washington University and is currently the Director of Applied Forensic Science at Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC.

David graduated the FBI National Academy (Session 195), Canadian Police College – Major Crimes Course, Miami-Dade Police Department – Bloodstain Interpretation Course, and National Fire Academy – Arson Investigation Course. He is a Fellow of The American Academy of Forensic Science, and is a current, or past member of the International Association of Identification, North Carolina Chapters of the IAI and FBINAA, International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, North Carolina Homicide Investigator’s Association, The Vidocq Society, American Investigative Society of Cold Cases (AISOCC), and various other professional law enforcement and/or forensic science associations.


MurderCon’s 2019 Special Guest Speaker, Graham Hetrick, is the

star and host of the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel’s TV series, THE CORONER: I SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, now in its second season.

Graham Hetrick is a subject matter expert on drug abuse, child death and child abuse, organ tissue donation, violent crimes, medical legal death investigation, forensic methodology, and the grieving process. He has advanced training in blood pattern analysis, crime scene management, forensic sculpting, and shallow grave recovery.

Graham advises the news media and consults attorneys on the investigative process for cases facing litigation. He lectures widely on forensic autopsy, crime scene management, and critical thinking within the investigative process. He is an adjunct professor of forensics and human anatomy at Harrisburg University School of Science and Technology.

Over the last 35 years Graham has written and lectured on grief and loss recovery to the medical community, hospice groups and loss recovery organizations. He is also a motivational speaker for students and troubled youth who are trying to get control of their lives through a speech entitled “Doors.” Graham’s upcoming book explores improving the relationship between forensic evidence collection and organ tissue donation. His case studies are featured on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel in THE CORONER: I SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, now in its second season.

Graham has served as the Dauphin County Pennsylvania Coroner since 1990. During his time there, he has supervised investigations of over 600 homicide cases, supervised the certification of over 13,000 deaths. He has also supervised the Forensic Science Internship Program for over six colleges and universities.

Since 2005, Graham, as an adjunct Professor of Forensics, teaches Crime Scene Investigation, Medical Legal Investigation, Introduction to Forensic Science, Forensic Case Studies, Human Anatomy, and Forensic Taphonomy & Human Identification.

Graham is the president of  the La Voz Latina Central, a bilingual newspaper serving six Central PA counties. He has been the president for the past seventeen years.

He grew up above a funeral home, with his father being the founder and owner of the Hetrick Funeral home in Harrisburg, Pa. and, from 1975 – 2003, Graham held the position of President and CEO of the family business, where he managed operations and developed after-care programs. The Hetrick Funeral Home is one of the first funeral establishments in Pennsylvania  to introduce funeral prearrangement.

In 2013, Graham was co-developer and consultant for Graham of Evidence, a TV pilot produced by A&E.


 

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Regarding DNA and saliva, I’d like to note that it is indeed possible to expel DNA when coughing or sneezing. However, the fact that it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s always found, just that it could be. And, if found, it could be the DNA of someone other than than a suspect or victim, such as cop or lab scientist who was involved in the collection or testing of the evidence. Here’s why …

First, in the lab, to tell the difference between saliva and sputum, scientists look for epithelial cells. These cells have a nucleus, and within a nucleus DNA is found. Saliva is almost always present in the mouth, especially when we are awake. When we sneeze saliva and the DNA contained within is expelled.

FYI – Lab scientist/techs scan collected sputum samples for the presence or absence of white blood cells. White blood cells, not red, indicate infection. The presence of epithelial cells from saliva indicates the sample is contaminated with saliva, which would result in improper test results. Sputum is tested for respiratory tract infections. 

By the way, red blood cells (erythrocytes) have/contain no nucleus nor do they contain mitochondria. Therefore, red blood cells do not contain DNA because there’s no nucleus in the cells.

Those of you who attended the WPA when world-renowned DNA expert Dr. Dan Krane presented a fantastic session on DNA evidence, may remember when he mentioned how DNA evidence is sometimes contaminated, such as using fingerprint brushes or gloves from one scene to process evidence in an entirely different location. DNA could be transferred using those items. He also pointed out instances where coughing or sneezing could distribute DNA to the surface of an item being processed. (Dr. Krane is a former colleague of my wife, Denene)

On with DNA and Sneezing

As an example of evidence contamination via sneezing, when discussing the Jon Benet Ramsey case, Dr. Krane says, “The DNA in tests could be there because of a contact that was weeks, months, even years before the crime occurred. It’s not possible to make inferences about the tissue source here. We can’t say that it came from semen or saliva or blood or anything. What if one of the medical examiners sneezed on one of these articles of clothing and it came into contact with the other one? There are just so many possibilities.”

Additionally, from another source, “It is extremely easy to contaminate biological samples; this can occur by failing to change gloves or clean instruments properly, failing to wipe down benches properly between testing, or by sneezing or even talking over a sample (Buckleton et al 2005:277).”

And, from the National Institute of Justice:

Contamination

Because extremely small samples of DNA can be used as evidence, greater attention to contamination issues is necessary when identifying, collecting, and preserving DNA evidence. DNA evidence can be contaminated when DNA from another source gets mixed with DNA relevant to the case. This can happen when someone sneezes or coughs over the evidence or touches his/her mouth, nose, or other part of the face and then touches the area that may contain the DNA to be tested.

To avoid contamination of evidence that may contain DNA, always take the following precautions:

  • Wear gloves. Change them often.
  • Use disposable instruments or clean them thoroughly before and after handling each sample.
  • Avoid touching the area where you believe DNA may exist.
  • Avoid talking, sneezing, and coughing over evidence.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth when collecting and packaging evidence.
  • Air-dry evidence thoroughly before packaging.
  • Put evidence into new paper bags or envelopes, not into plastic bags. Do not use staples.

From the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Heath/The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):

4.2. Contamination

For DNA studies, one of the greatest laboratory barriers is the contamination of genetic material from other sources (e.g., from the examiner and other biological evidence). Contamination may occur during the sexual contact (e.g., if there is more than one perpetrator), during the period between the sexual contact and the FME, during the FME, and in the laboratory. In order to avoid it, examiners should take special precautions to prevent cross-contamination between evidences. For this purpose, it is important:

  1. to work under aseptic conditions to avoid microbial contamination;
  2. to always use disposable supplies to ensure individual protection (e.g., gowns, powder-free gloves, mask, or other protective clothing) and to avoid direct contact with the samples;
  3. to ensure that the room where FME takes place is regularly cleaned before and after patient use;
  4. to avoid sneezing, coughing, or talking over the samples;

Dr. Krane is one of the world’s foremost DNA experts, testifying worldwide as an expert witness in well over 100 criminal trials, in which DNA evidence was presented, such as the Jon Benet Ramsey case. He’s been involved as a top expert in other high-profile cases such as the DC Snipers, OJ Simpson case, and the infamous Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton “blue dress,” to name only a few. Dan also developed software that’s used in genetic analyzers, the devices used by scientists who conduct DNA tests.

My other source, in addition to our good friend Dr. Dan Krane, is, of course, my resident renowned expert, Dr. Denene Lofland.

Denene received a Ph.D. in Pathology, with an emphasis in microbiology, from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. As a former biotech company director, Denene managed successful clinical projects that resulted in regulatory filings of four compounds and FDA approval for two new antimicrobial drugs for the treatment of pneumonia and cystic fibrosis. The drugs are currently on the market.

Denene supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance. Her areas of expertise include medical microbiology, bioterrorism, and new drug discovery development. She has published numerous articles in a variety of peer reviewed scientific journals, contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook standard used in colleges and universities, published an article about anthrax in Police One magazine, and she has an upcoming tale in the Writers’ Police Academy’s anthology, After Midnight, Tales From the Graveyard Shift (edited by Phoef Sutton with foreword by Lee Child) ~ Level Best Books, publisher

Currently, Denene is an Associate Professor of Medical and Molecular Sciences at the University of Delaware. She also taught medical microbiology to medical students at a medical college in California. In her early days, prior to becoming a mad scientist, she managed the lab in a large, major hospital.

Over the years, I was fortunate to have the experience of witnessing Denene and her teams, and Dr. Krane’s team, perform numerous DNA testings using both gel electrophoresis and DNA Sequencers/Genetic Analyzers. I was once treated to conducting a test of my own in one of Dr. Dan Krane’s labs, an entire DNA test from extraction of sample to final result. I ran the test on the DNA of a strawberry, but hey, the process is the same as when using human samples. The strawberry was innocent, by the way.

Again, the fact that DNA is present in saliva, it doesn’t mean DNA is always found when someone sneezes or coughs, or talks over evidence (it’s even been found in traces of saliva found on a public phone receiver), just that it’s possible and that it does occur.


DNA Testing: The Process

The first step in the testing process is to extract DNA from the evidence sample. To do so, the scientist adds chemicals to the sample, a process that ruptures cells. When the cells open up DNA is released and is ready for examination.

extract-dna.jpg

DNA is actually visible to the naked eye. The slimy glob in the center of the circle below is DNA.

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DNA is tested in devices like the one below. They’re called genetic analyzers. This particular device is located in one of Dr. Dan Krane’s laboratories.

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DNA is loaded into wells inside the genetic analyzer. There are 96 wells in the gray, rectangular block shown below (inside the analyzer).

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An electric current separates the DNA, sending it from the wells through narrow straw-like tubes called capillaries. During its journey through the analyzer, DNA passes by a laser. The laser causes the DNA loci (a gene’s position on a chromosome) to fluoresce as they pass by, which allows a tiny camera to capture their images.

The image below shows DNA’s path through the genetic analyzer (wells are on the left; capillaries are the arcing lines leading to laser and camera on the right).

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Capillaries

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Doctor Stephanie Smith points to the row of eight capillaries, one for each well in the corresponding line of wells (12 rows of 8 wells).

At the end of the testing, the equipment produces a graph/chart called an electropherogram.

Peaks on the graph depict the amount of DNA strands at each location. It is this unique pattern of peaks and valleys that scientist use to match or exclude suspects.

Or, in the case of paternity testing, to include or exclude someone as a parent.

The image below is an electropheragram showing the DNA of a strawberry.

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Electropheragams are printed and it is this document that’s examined by experts for use in the ID/comparisons of sample contributors, such as suspects and victims.

Remember above when we discusses sneezing, coughing, and/or talking over DNA evidence? Well, here’s a DNA test result (electropheragram) of a contaminated sample, a mixture of DNA found on the body of a rape victim. The evidence was contaminated to the point that it was impossible to tell/prove whether or not Contributors 1 or 2 were involved in the assault. Notice that the peaks in the mixture do not quite match either suspect’s DNA.

Electropheragram showing tested DNA of two subjects, and a mixture of DNA collected from a victim. Results showing a mixture make it difficult to point to any one suspect, or if someone other than the suspect and victim contaminated the sample.

The image below shows a clear match between the DNA of the victim and suspect. The suspect was clearly in contact, in some way, with the victim.

 

DNA Facts:

Identical twins have identical DNA.

Humans are genetically 99.9% identical. Only 0.1% of our genetic makeup is different.

It takes about eight hours for one cell to copy its own DNA.

Red blood cells do not contain DNA.

DNA is used to determine pedigree in livestock.

DNA is used to authenticate wine and caviar.

Detergent and Alcohol will not destroy DNA.

DNA can be transferred from article of clothing to another, even in a washing machine. This is called secondary and tertiary transfer.

DNA testing is not 100% accurate.

*My thanks to Dr. Stephanie Smith and Dr. Dan Krane for allowing me to hang out in their labs to take the above photos.

*Thanks, too, to the good folks at crimescenewriter for the idea for this post. 


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