Posts

It was five years ago when Emily, my second cousin and daughter of my first cousin Shelley, was assigned to write a paper about D-Day for history class. Wanting to do her absolute best, Emily set out on a fact-finding mission for the project that included visiting various online sources. I understand she wound up writing a very nice report, but Emily’s narrative incorporated one tiny bit of unexpected and puzzling information.

Obviously, the subject matter surrounding the entire D-Day campaign is of an extremely serious nature because so many troops lost their lives on that day. But, in spite of the gravity of the real-life story, it was that one small tidbit of “information” in her paper that sent her mom into a spell of side-splitting laughter. I’m posting this because as writers we’ve all been in Emily’s shoes at one time or another.

In her detailed summary, Emily covered the overall basics of the invasion by penning facts found in most research sources. Things such as—On June 6, 1944, thousands of troops began the Battle of Normandy. The day, of course, is known as D-Day. The invasion began when Allied troops stormed the beaches in the early morning hours. More than 4,000 troops lost their lives in the invasion, with many more wounded. However, approximately 156,000 successfully completed the operation. Within a week, over 325,000 troops were in place along with 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of much-needed equipment.

But my young and well-intentioned second cousin wanted to delve a bit deeper into the incredible accounting of such bravery and intricate battle planning, so she included an unexpected “fact” about the paratroopers who were dropped that day. Later, while proofreading the paper, her mom came to the part about the paratroopers and stopped in her tracks to do a bit of head-scratching. For some reason, she said, the sentence didn’t quite seem to make sense. So she studied it again to be sure she hadn’t misread it. But no, it was what is was.

The line in question in Emily’s intricately-crafted and well-researched paper was, “Thousands of uneducated soldiers were also dropped in order to draw fire and confuse the enemy.”

Shelley asked her daughter to clarify the part about airdropping uneducated men onto the beaches. It simply couldn’t be correct. Emily told her the information was solid, but that she re-worded it so as to not plagiarize the material. Shelley then asked her daughter to show her the site from where she’d gotten the material. And then it all came to light. Here’s the line that Emily so studiously transposed to avoid plagiarism (I’m paraphrasing).

“Thousands of ‘dummies’ were also dropped in order to draw fire and confuse the enemy.”

I can see how the tactic easily confused the Nazis, because that single word scrambled poor Emily’s thinking. Now, whenever I write something that’s just a wee bit askew of an actual meaning, well, those bloopers will forever be known as “Emily moments.” Sorry, cuz …

*By the way, Emily’s away at college now, a top student, working hard at her biology/pre-med studies. She’s also extremely active in her school, and in the community, including volunteer work at a local zoo.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 11.02.55 AM

Emily


Sign up today to reserve your spot while there’s still time!!

Forensic Psychiatry, Murder, LAPD Lipstick, and Memorable Characters  

Presenters

Guest of Honor – Charlaine Harris

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD 

Kathy Bennett

Robert Bruce Coffin

 

Schedule

Schedule (Times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

 

11:00 – 12:20

Forensic Psychiatry and Crime Fiction: Correcting the Top 10 Myths 

Instructor,  Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D.

 

In this illuminating session, acclaimed forensic and perinatal psychiatrist, Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D., describes common misunderstandings about her field of forensic psychiatry when it appears in crime fiction. These include: 

-confusion between forensic psychiatry and psychology 

-misunderstandings about forensic hospitals 

-how confidentiality works in forensic evaluations 

-psychiatrists testifying about their patients 

-whether people look left when they are lying 

-how malingering is determined 

-how forensic psychiatrists get paid 

-what insanity means legally 

-what incompetency means legally 

 

12:20 – 12:50

Break

 

12:50 – 2:10

Murder for Real—Adding Realism to Your Mystery Writing 

Instructor, Bruce Robert Coffin

 

Former detective sergeant and award-winning author Bruce Robert Coffin shares his years of experience as supervisor of homicide and violent crimes investigations. This workshop is filled to the brim with behind-the-scenes law enforcement information. This class, taught by one of the best in the business, is certain to help writers create stories that rise to the highest levels.

  • The CSI effect. What is it and why it doesn’t fly in high-end writing?
  • Evidence gathering (the real deal).
  • Cold Cases. What are they and how are they investigated?
  • First response vs. CID (two worlds-two goals)
  • Dealing with the media.
  • Hierarchy and chain of command.
  • Job stressors and how cops cope (or don’t).
  • Telling lies (everybody does it).

2:20 – 3:40

A Badge, a Gun, and Lipstick: A Female Perspective of Working Patrol on the Mean Streets of Los Angeles 

Instructor, former LAPD Senior Lead Officer Kathy Bennett

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in a high-speed chase and then be involved in a shoot-out at the pursuit termination? Do you think the cop who gave you a traffic citation was wrong? Do you know what it’s like to tell a mother her only child was killed in a traffic collision? Well, Kathy Bennett experienced all these things and more. In her presentation she’ll reveal candid information of the life of a street cop. Kathy is also happy to answer those burning questions you have but were afraid to ask. 

3:50 – 5:10

How to use Research” and “Making Characters Memorable” 

Instructor, Charlaine Harris

Author extraordinaire Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse novels were the basis of the television series “True Blood,” reveals the secrets to using research to craft unique characters. This is a rare opportunity for writers at all stages of their careers.

 

5:10

Final words


Presenter Bios

 
Guest of Honor Charlaine Harris is a true daughter of the South. She was born in Mississippi and has lived in Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas. After years of dabbling with poetry, plays, and essays, her career as a novelist began when her husband invited her to write full time. Her first book, Sweet and Deadly, appeared in 1981. When Charlaine’s career as a mystery writer began to falter, she decided to write a cross-genre book that would appeal to fans of mystery, science fiction, romance, and suspense. She could not have anticipated the huge surge of reader interest in the adventures of a barmaid in Louisiana, or the fact that Alan Ball would come knocking at her door. Since then, Charlaine’s novels have been adapted for several other television series, with two in development now. Charlaine is a voracious reader. She has one husband, three children, two grandchilden, and two rescue dogs. She leads a busy life. www.charlaineharris.com is her website.

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD is a forensic and perinatal psychiatrist. She has practiced in forensic hospitals, general hospitals, court clinics, community mental health centers, and correctional facilities. Dr. Friedman has served as vice-President of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL), and as Chair of the Law and Psychiatry committee at the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP). She has received the AAPL award for the Best Teacher in a Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship, the Red AAPL award for outstanding service to organized forensic psychiatry, the Manfred Guttmacher Award for editing the book Family Murder: Pathologies of Love and Hate, and the Association of Women Psychiatrists’ Marian Butterfield early career psychiatrist award for her contributions to women’s mental health. She has published more than 100 articles (including in World Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry) as well as book chapters. Her research has primarily focused on the interface of maternal mental health and forensic psychiatry, including notably child murder by mothers.  

She currently serves as the inaugural Phillip J. Resnick Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, where she also has appointments in the departments of Pediatrics, Reproductive Biology (Obstetrics/ Gynecology), and Law. Dr. Friedman also serves as honorary faculty at the University of Auckland (New Zealand). 


Kathy Bennett worked for the LAPD for twenty-nine years. Eight years were spent as a civilian employee, and she served twenty-one years as a police officer. While most of her career was spent in a patrol car, Kathy also worked at the police academy as a firearms instructor, promoted to the position of a field training officer, then worked in the “War Room” as a crime analyst. She promoted again, this time to the position of Senior Lead Officer—where she was in charge of a basic car area within a geographic division. She’s done a few stints undercover and was honored to be named Officer of the Year in 1997.

In her spare time, Kathy started writing romance books. However, she decided she wasn’t really cut out to be a romance author—she’d never write the romance but was always killing off one or more characters in the book. After a few years she realized she’d better write what she knew: Authentic Crime told in Arresting Stories. So, this retired cop started killing off fictional people…and she likes it! 

Kathy lives in Idaho with her husband and soul mate, Rick (also a retired LAPD officer.) They have two entertaining and energetic Labrador retrievers, and one cat who isn’t nearly as energetic or entertaining…but she’s loved just as much. Kathy likes to garden, exercise, and spend time with their daughter and her family. Kathy says, “Life doesn’t get much better than the one I’m living. Welcome to my world, and I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to contact me and say “Hi”.

Kathy can always be reached at [email protected]

Her website is www.kathybennett.com


Bruce Robert Coffin is the award-winning author of the bestselling Detective Byron mystery series. A former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive.

His novel, Beyond the Truth, winner of Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award for Best Procedural, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction. His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016.

Bruce is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Murder Books blogs.

Bruce is represented by Paula Munier at Talcott Notch Literary.

He lives and writes in Maine.

www.robertbrucecoffin.com

 


This is a truly must-attend event for crime writers!!

What is it that sets writers of crime fiction apart from, well, everyone else in the entire world? Could it be that …

1. The worst murder scene in the world pales in comparison with the thoughts roaming through your mind at any given moment of the day.

2. You actually do wonder what human blood smells like.

3. Somewhere in your house is a book containing photos of crime scenes and/or dead bodies. (Click the book!)

51uTGkVA7kL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

4. You want to ride in the back seat of a police car.

5. Your internet search history has a file all its own at the Department of Homeland Security.

6. At least once in your life you’ve asked your significant other to pose in a certain way so you can see if it’s possible/believable to stab, cut, shoot, hack, or strangle them from a variety of angles.

New-Picture-14

7. You own a pair of handcuffs, and they’re strictly for research purposes.

8. The cop who lives in your neighborhood hides when he/she sees you coming with pen and paper in hand.

sex in a graveyard

9. You attend more police training workshops than what’s required of the police officers in your town.

Lecture Hall – Writers’ Police Academy

10. While other people fall asleep listening to soft music or gentle ocean waves, your sleep machine plays the sounds of police sirens and automatic gunfire.

11. Your favorite bookmark is an actual toe tag from the morgue.

12. Writers in other genres listen to classical music while working. You, however, have a police scanner chattering in the background.

13. When using a large kitchen knife to chop vegetables, your thoughts drift to using an ax to dismember a body.

14. You see a cop and instantly know the caliber and manufacturer of the pistol on his side.

15. You’ve searched high and low for a perfume or cologne that smells like gunpowder.

16. You own a police flashlight.

17. Your screensaver is a photo of a police K-9.

18. The ringtone on your phone is the theme song for the TV show COPS.

19. You think you know more about crime-scene investigations than most of the cops in your city, and you probably do.

20. You’ve registered for 2021 Virtual MurderCon, a one of a kind event that takes writers behind the scenes to learn insider information about crime-solving from top forensics and law enforcement experts. And yes, we’re pleased to announce that spots are now available! So please spread the word.

 

 

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

Dreams and even nightmares are often great fodder for a story or scene. Sometimes, though, those nocturnal fantasies are absolutely bizarre and offer no help whatsoever. Not even a tiny twist for an ending.

A questionable murder (above image), to say the least, is a perfect example of the gaggle of “punctual” characters who, for some reason, show up in my mind from time to time. However, these guys often come to me while my eyes are open and I’m wide-freakin-awake. Yep, my brain is a weird one. So are the things found inside my ever-working twisted mind. Such as …
 

The renowned 100-yard Em Dash

The em dash is perhaps the most versatile of all punctuation marks.


 

Whatcha’ gonna do ’bout the puppies?

Colon owners consider semi-colons as mixed breeds, therefore they prefer to keep the two apart. This is to prevent an unfortunate encounter that could result in large litters of periods and commas.

Unfortunate encounters produce large litters of periods and commas.


 

Do you have your ellipses glasses?

Punctuation marks have been known (in my mind) to join together to wreak havoc on the weather.

Periods, in teams of three, attack the sun.


 

Braces for Junior

Braces are also known as curly brackets “{ }”.


 

Quotation Marks have places to go!

Commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks in American English; dashes, colons, and semicolons almost always go outside the quotation marks; question marks and exclamation marks sometimes go inside, sometimes stay outside. ~ Grammerly

 
Stop Shouting

In my mind, everyone gets to speak, and to ask questions, without being shouted down. Everyone …


 

Too many questions …

 

Boogaloo: a slang phrase used as a shorthand reference for a future civil war. (Also known as “Boog.”)

Boogaloo Boys (aka Boogaloo Bois): A leaderless group whose “members” seem to have extreme libertarian politics, with a strong emphasis on gun rights. Their objectives vary greatly, from some claiming to be strictly antiracist, while others lean toward white-supremacist beliefs. Group members often post memes to social media pages featuring neo-Nazi themes. Boogalooers love their guns and many openly carry them while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts as part of their Boogaloo “uniform.” Their stance is anti-authority, anti-state, and definitely anti-law-enforcement. The collapse of American society is quite possibly their ultimate goal. Some members have murdered police officers. Others attempted to aid foreign terrorists.

The Boogaloo movement roughly formed in 2019 and is still developing. When 2020 rolled around, “Boogalooers” increasingly became engaged in protests about gun rights, police shootings/killings, restrictions related to the COVID pandemic and, well, basically anything that involved authority over citizens.

Typically, Boogalooers are not white supremacists. In fact, as a result of their anti-cop beliefs, many actively participated in the Black Lives Matters protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Most likely, though, the George Floyd protests were an excuse to confront and attack law enforcement.

In May 2020, a 26-year-old Texas man, Ivan Harrison Hunter, participated in one of the Floyd protests. He was seen wearing a tactical vest and a skull mask over his face as he used an AK-47 style rifle to fire 13 shots into an occupied police building. Shortly after Hunter fired those rounds the building was set ablaze. Hunter also claimed to have joined with members of the Black Panthers organization to burn other police stations.

Shortly after Hunter fired those rounds into the police precinct he sent a brief series of messages to a a fellow Boogalooer in California, a man named Steven Carrillo.

“Boog,” Hunter wrote.

“Did,” Carrillo responded.

“Go for police buildings,” Hunter said to Carrillo.

“I did better lol,” replied Carrillo.

Carrillo was referring to the fact that he’d just shot and killed Federal Protective Service officer, David Patrick Underwood, in Oakland, California.

Later in the year, Carrillo was arrested and accused of shooting and killing a Santa Cruz, Ca. sheriff’s deputy. Prior to the arrest, Carrillo used his own blood to scrawl the word “BOOG” on the hood of a white van.

Boogalooers believe in a vast assortment of causes, from “wanting the heads of politicians on spikes,” to “wanting pedophiles to die by putting them feet-first in wood chippers.”

The group is so loosely organized that one faction of Boogaloorers seem to support Black Lives Matter, while others muddy the waters by posting an opposite view on social media—“F*** BLM. They’re one of the most racist groups out there. It is ignorant to think BLM isn’t a terrorist organization filled with black supremacists, and white liberal Marxists.”

Boogaloo Michael Solomon and Benjamin Ryan Teeter have been accused and arrested for their plot to sell weapons to someone they thought to be a member of the terrorist group Hamas. The person with whom they’d planned to do conduct business was an undercover FBI agent. Prosecutors say the pair considered becoming “mercenaries” for Hamas in order to fund the boogaloo movement.

In October 2020, eight boogalooers were tied to the plot to overthrow Michigan’s state government. Part of the plan was to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Fortunately the FBI thwarted those actions by arresting Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, and Daniel Harris before the kidnapping could be carried out. The other five men involved were also arrested by the FBI. However, in addition to federal charges, the five men also face state charges of plotting to attack Michigan’s Capitol for the purpose of initiating a civil war.

The basis for the plan centered around Gov. Whitmer’s strict COVID lockdown regulations.

As bizarre as this all sounds, the Boogaloo movement is quite real.

Unfortunately, another casualty caused by the Boogaloo movement are the few brightly-colored, extremely comfortable, Hawaiian-style shirts hanging in my closet to which I must now say goodbye.

The good side to all of this, however, is that writers have more wacky fodder for stories than ever before. Strange politics, spies, moles, whistleblowers, secret meetings, etc. So a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing villain could be shaped into an interesting villain, right? Nah, who’d believe such nonsense could happen in real life?

Of course, this is, after all, 2020!

Aloha, y’all.

Research is the name of the game if a crime writer’s goal is accuracy about a particular aspect of their story, such as murder, cops, and investigations of crimes. Unfortunately, some writers avoid any and all cop-type research, believing they already have all the answers because they watch crime shows on television, and/or their BFF’s cousin’s next door neighbor once lived in the same town as a guy who used to work with a woman who dated the brother of a man who once stood in a grocery store checkout line next to a police detective’s auto mechanic. Well, that sort of connection won’t quite cut it if the desired result is realism.

So, to assist writers who may have incorrectly used one or more of the terms listed below, well, here you go. Yes, I’ve seen each of these used incorrectly. For example, no, transient evidence is not the evidence left behind by homeless criminals …

ABFO Scales: (American Board of Forensic Odontology scales). An L-shaped piece of plastic used in crime scene photography. Scales are marked with circles, black and white bars, and gray bars. These markings aid in distortion compensation and provide exposure determination. Measurements on the scales are typically marked in millimeters.

Bindle Paper: Paper that’s folded to safely contain, store, and transport trace evidence.

Crime Writer: Person who commits multiple murders within the narrow confines of book covers. Crime writers are known to leave behind scores of evidence and sometimes a handful of cliches.

Faraday Bag: Special collection bags for electronic parts. Faraday bags are lined to protect the contents from electromagnetic forces that could damage or destroy evidence.

Historical Fiction: The official residence of cordite. Actually, historical fiction is the ONLY place where cordite and its odor should be used by writers.

Latent Print: A print that’s not readily visible, or one that’s visible only by enhancement.

Odor of Cordite: An imaginary odor detected only by modern writers who should know better … but don’t.

Porous Container: Packaging through which liquids or vapors may pass (cloth, paper, etc.).

Presumptive Test: A non-confirmatory test used to screen for the presence of substances such as drugs or blood. Test kits used by officers in the field are presumptive test kits. Confirmation testing is conducted in official laboratories by trained and/or certified professionals.

Primary Crime Scene: In homicide investigations, the place where the body is found is the primary crime scene. Typically, this is where the investigation begins. Keep in mind, though, there may be multiple crime scenes (crime scene – any place where evidence of a crime is found).

Scene of the Crime: The location where a crime was committed.

Slide-Racking: The totally unbelievable action of pulling and releasing the slide on a semi-automatic pistol just prior to engaging a dangerous situation. Cops carry guns with a round in the chamber. To rack the slide would eject the pre-loaded round leaving them with one less bullet.

Tertiary DNA: 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.

Transient Evidence: Evidence which could lose could lose its evidentiary value if not preserved and protected from the elements or other hazards (blood, semen, etc.). This is not evidence left behind by homeless people. It could be, though, if the killer just happened to be someone who lives on the streets. If so, the items collected could then be called transient transient evidence.

White Horse Syndrome: No,  FBI special agents do not ride into town on white horses to take over cases from local cops, nor do they work local murder cases. And … they do not investigate all kidnapping cases. Many writers, bless their hearts, are infected with White Horse Syndrome (WHS). Fortunately, it’s an easily curable disease. Unfortunately, though, some refuse to seek help.

If you or someone you know is affected by WHS, immediate intervention is needed.

To help battle WHS I strongly urge you to attend the upcoming Writers’ Police Academy Online daylong seminar “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.” In this session you’ll learn behind the scenes tips, tactics, and techniques used by top crime scene investigators Lisa Provost and Lisa Black. Also, forensic psychology expert Dr. Katherine Ramsland is scheduled to teach a fascinating workshop about staged homicide scenes.

Then, in a rare learning opportunity, #1 bestselling author Tami Hoag wraps up the event with her class “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am.” Hoag’s amazing workshop details how to carefully weave all your newfound knowledge of police and forensic work into your story.

Attending Writers’ Police Academy Online classes could be the important first step on the road to recovery from the dreaded White Horse Syndrome.

Registration details and an all new website are coming soon.

In addition to Tami Hoag’s session, other classes include:

“Little Known Facts About Crime Scenes” – instructor Lisa Black.

Lisa Black is the NYT bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner.

 

 

 

 


“Sleuthing the Clues in Staged Homicides” – instructor Dr. Katherine Ramsland.

Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University, where she is the Assistant Provost. She has appeared on more than 200 crime documentaries and magazine shows, is an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,000 articles and 68 books, including How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and The Mind of a Murderer, she spent five years working with Dennis Rader on his autobiography, Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. Dr. Ramsland currently pens the “Shadow-boxing” blog at Psychology Today and teaches seminars to law enforcement.


“The Call You Get is Not Always the Call You Get: When a Routine Death Investigation Crosses State Lines and Multiple Jurisdictions” – instructor Lisa Provost, Forensic Supervisor at Aurora Colorado Police Department.

Lisa has completed over five-hundred-hours of forensic training that includes basic death investigation, child death investigation, advanced child death investigation, and officer-involved shooting investigations.

 

 

 


Tami Hoag is the #1 International bestselling author of more than thirty books published in more than thirty languages worldwide, with more than forty million books in print. Renown for combining thrilling plots with character-driven suspense, crackling dialogue and well-research police procedure, Hoag first hit the New York Times bestseller list in 1996 with NIGHT SINS, and each of her books since has been a bestseller, including her latest, THE BOY. She lives in the greater Los Angeles area.

 

 

 


Here’s a brief video of crime scene processing, photography, and evidence collection.

For over a dozen years the Writers’ Police Academy has delivered sensational hands-on training, as well as the extremely popular Virtual MurderCon event that took place in August, 2020.

During those twelve-plus years, many writers, fans, readers, and law enforcement professionals requested that we develop online courses since many people would love to attend our in-person events but are unable to do so for various reasons.

A few years ago I asked our website guru, Shelly Haffly, to create an online teaching platform that would run in conjunction with this blog. Unfortunately, it has sat dormant since that day. My reason for not launching the program was that some of the pre-designed, built-in functions were a bit too complicated for my “tech-less” mind. However, with the rise of Zoom and other video conferencing and teaching programs, well, the time is now right.

So, without further delay, I’m pleased to announce that “Writers’ Police Academy Online” will officially open its virtual doors in October, 2020. The all new website is currently under construction and registration will soon be available for the first daylong seminar called “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.”

This first session is live and interactive, meaning that instructors will deliver their presentations and respond to questions in real time. By the way, the instructors for this first seminar are fantastic!

Registration for this fabulous and unique online event is coming soon!


Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction

When: October 24, 2020


Classes and Instructors:

 

Not Just the Facts, Ma’am  

How to take all your newfound knowledge of police and forensic work and carefully weave it into the tapestry of your story.

Instructor, #1 International Bestselling Author Tami Hoag

Tami Hoag is the #1 International bestselling author of more than thirty books published in more than thirty languages worldwide, with more than forty million books in print. Renown for combining thrilling plots with character-driven suspense, crackling dialogue and well-research police procedure, Hoag first hit the New York Times bestseller list in 1996 with NIGHT SINS, and each of her books since has been a bestseller, including her latest, THE BOY. She lives in the greater Los Angeles area.

Sleuthing the Clues in Staged Homicides 

Death scenes have been staged in a variety of ways, and it takes an observant investigator to spot the signs. It might be a 911 call, an inconsistency between the scene and the narrative, an uncharacteristic suicide note, or a distinctive signature that signals something not quite right. Some set-ups have been ingenious! Ramsland uses cases to illustrate actual staged scenes, and describes the types of skills investigators need to be able to spot and reconstruct staged incidents.

Instructor, Katherine Ramsland

Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice and serves as the assistant provost. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 66 books.

Dr. Ramsland’s background in forensics positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness, to collaborate on A Voice for the Dead with attorney James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and to co-write a forensic textbook with renowned criminalist Henry C. Lee, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist.

For seven years, she contributed regularly to Court TV’s Crime Library, and now writes a column on investigative forensics for The Forensic Examiner and a column on character psychology for Sisters in Crime; offers trainings for law enforcement and attorneys; and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder.


The Call You Get is Not Always the Call You Get: When a Routine Death Investigation Crosses State Lines and Multiple Jurisdictions

Case Study – On Valentine’s Day, 2014, the staff of a local dialysis clinic were worried. One of their elderly patients had missed three appointments. They called 911 and asked if officers could check on their patient, wondering if maybe he’d fallen and needed assistance. When officers arrived on scene, they found the elderly patient deceased from an apparent medical apparatus failure. At least that’s what it looked like at first; however, they’d uncovered a homicide. This convoluted investigation took Lisa Provost and members of her CSI team two states away during their investigation.

Instructor – Lisa Provost, Aurora Colorado Police Department Forensic Supervisor

Lisa Provost began studying Forensic Biology at Guilford College, in Greensboro, N.C., where she received a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Biology. In December 2012, she joined the Fayetteville Police Department as a Forensic Technician. 

During her time as a Forensic Technician trainee, Lisa completed a six-month instruction program with the Fayetteville Police Department which culminated with a one-week exam and oral review board. With the training and testing behind her, Lisa began working the road. Her passion for learning and for her work were the catalysts that pushed her to attend advanced training courses, in earnest. In May 2015, she was promoted to Forensic Supervisor overseeing Fayetteville PD’s Forensic Unit. 

Four years later, Lisa accepted a position with the Aurora Colorado Police Department as a Forensic Supervisor. So, she and her husband, an Air Force veteran, packed their belongings and moved to Colorado.

 In 2016. Lisa attended the Management Development Program at the N.C. Carolina Justice Academy. In its twenty-eight-year history, at the time the program was held, Lisa was the only civilian accepted into the program and, of the nineteen attendees in the program, Lisa was the only female. The five-hundred-hour leadership training program was completed over an eleven-month period and, besides the completion of her bachelor’s degree, is one of her proudest achievements.

In addition, Lisa has completed over five-hundred-hours of forensic training that includes basic death investigation, child death investigation, advanced child death investigation, and officer-involved shooting investigations.

Lisa Provost was was born and raised in NY state where she started dating the man who would later become her husband. The couple married in 1998, the time when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. In 2003, when her husband’s enlistment was complete, they moved to North Carolina.


Little Known Facts About Crime Scenes 

An in-depth look at the problems and challenges with crime scene evidence such as fingerprints, arson, bite marks, and more. Instructor, Lisa Black

Lisa Black is the NYT bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner, beginning her forensics career at the Coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and then the police department in Cape Coral, Florida. She has spoken to readers and writers at numerous conferences and will be a Guest of Honor at 2021 Killer Nashville.

In her August release, Every Kind of Wicked, forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner track down a nest of scammers. www.lisa-black.com


More spectacular online workshops, seminars, and webinars are on the way!! Details TBA.

 

obstruction of justice

Obstruction of Justice (aka perverting the course of justice) is a 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.

Penalties for obstruction of justice vary from state to state, and the federal government. For example, in Virginia, Obstruction of Justice is a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

Misdemeanor Classes in Virginia

§ 18.2-11. Punishment for conviction of a misdemeanor.

The authorized punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are:

(a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.

(b) For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.

(c) For Class 3 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $500.

(d) For Class 4 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $250.

The federal government sees the crime of obstruction in a different light. In their eyes, obstruction is a felony that carries a stiff penalty. For example, in 2010, a Georgia deputy sheriff, Mitnee Jones, was convicted of Obstruction for lying to the FBI and providing false statements as part of an investigation into the death of a Fulton County jail inmate.

The jury convicted Jones of filing a false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation, making a false material statement about the incident to a Special Agent of the FBI, and obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury investigating the death of the inmate.

Jones faced a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for filing the false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation; five years for making a false material statement about the incident to the FBI, and 10 years for obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury. However, at sentencing, Jones received a much lighter sentence of one year and three months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

Not all obstruction of justice cases are simple, with paper trails to follow. Remember Martha Stewart? The government’s criminal case against Stewart was based solely on the fact that she made false and misleading statements to the SEC, and those accusations led to Stewart’s conviction for obstruction of justice, and the charge of lying to federal investigators.

By the way, the feds love to add obstruction charges to their cases (every suspect lies to the police at some point, right?).

federal bureau investigation

They do so because the threat of the additional 5-year sentence for obstruction is a great bargaining tool when offering a plea deal (We’ll drop the obstruction charge if you plead guilty to possession of the cocaine).

Here’s the obstruction section from the Code of Virginia:

Obstruction of Justice – Code of Virginia

§ 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

A. If any person without just cause knowingly obstructs a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 in the performance of his duties as such or fails or refuses without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

B. Except as provided in subsection C, any person who, by threats or force, knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 lawfully engaged in his duties as such, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

C. If any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in the discharge of his duty, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court relating to a violation of or conspiracy to violate § 18.2-248 or subdivision (a) (3), (b) or (c) of § 18.2-248.1, or § 18.2-46.2 or § 18.2-46.3, or relating to the violation of or conspiracy to violate any violent felony offense listed in subsection C of § 17.1-805, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

D. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false statement or representation to a law-enforcement officer or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 who is in the course of conducting an investigation of a crime by another is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

* Not everyone who lies to local and state police is charged with obstruction. If so, nearly every person who’s been questioned by officers would be in jail, because, based on my experiences, approximately 9 out of 10 suspects lie when they’re in the “hot seat.”

When it comes to charging someone with obstruction, well, you’ve got to carefully pick your battles, and then fight them wisely.


“Don’t Tell Me No Lies” ~ The Golliwogs

Is it just me or are you, too, finding it difficult to concentrate these days? The situation is surreal, isn’t it? And it’s causing a lot of what were once highly active brain cells to become dangerously inactive. Yes, energetic people are rapidly slowing their movements and thought processes to the point where those individuals have become practically unrecognizable.

Writers, for example—absolutely intelligent people—are slowly abandoning their craft of weaving intricate plots, “painting” breathtaking settings, and developing layered characters. They’re becoming unwashed, unshaven, pajama-and-slipper-wearing blobs who spend their days creating goofy memes, playing practical jokes on their cats, and concocting bizarre recipes with ingredients made from lint and dust covered, practically unidentifiable “might be food” items found in the far back corners of pantry shelves.

But who can write while trapped inside our homes, in isolation? The only things missing at this point are black and white striped clothing, 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. count times, tower guards armed with rifles, and a roommate named Kila U. Dead #8675309.

Concentration and focus are slipping away, and I’m not sure, but I think it’s starting to affect me. Even writing this blog has become—hold on, I think the Amazon van pulled up. I hope they’re finally delivering the disinfectant I ordered back in early March …

No, it was just the wind.

Hey, did you guys have a bad wind storm last night? We did. Power was out for a while in a few nearby areas. And someone on Nextdoor wrote to say they saw snow flurries around midnight.

So yeah, it’s super hard to concentrate.

Concentrate? Hmm …

I found some Lysol concentrate online. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was like hitting the lottery. Found it the same day I scored toilet tissue and a few cans of beans.

So anyway, back to writing today’s blog article …

Speaking of blogging, did you guys read the article I once wrote a about a 4-foot-tall fortune-teller who escaped from prison. I called it  “Small Medium at Large.”

We haven’t left our property in over three weeks. We have groceries delivered but the pickins’ are thin. Meats are scarce and vegetables are limited to only one or two items per person, and that’s if those items are in stock.

To make up for what we can’t get from the grocery stores we signed up for an online meal delivery service. We select the meals we want and the company ships the ingredients for us to prepare at home. So far the food has been restaurant-quality-delicious. I typically do the cooking but Denene has prepared each of these meals. Since she’s a scientist she’s fantastic at following recipes. Me, I’m a panster—a pinch of this and a glob of that.

Shhh … I think I heard  UPS, or Fed Ex?

Coming up with new blog topics these days is a bit if a chore because … while I’m thinking about it, have any of you tried canned bread? I’d not heard of it before seeing a YouTuber trying it. He said it was a delicious treat loved by many New Englanders. I know, it’s hard to believe that Tom Brady left the Patriots. But Florida is warmer and they have no income tax.

Our state doesn’t have sales tax. That’s why so many people from surrounding states come here to shop

Squirrel!

I was writing a blog one day about how lightning works. I was having trouble coming up with an ending, and then it struck me.

Last night during dinner we saw seven deer passing through our backyard. They stopped to have a nibble on the fresh, tender buds that have begun to sprout on the trees. Then something startled them, perhaps the Amazon van heading up the driveway, and they quickly disappeared into the woods. I wish we had some bamboo back there, like the clumping kind we had in California. Did you know that some toilet paper is made from bamboo?

Our garbage is picked up on Fridays and I can always tell when it’s the day to set it out because, without fail, that’s the day it’ll be raining. Yep, like clockwork, it rains on Thursday just as I’m ready to roll the cans out to the roadside.

Anyway, it was nice chatting with you but I have to go now because it’s time to …

What were we talking about?

Oh, yeah. One-liners. Here’s another.

The cop who made donuts decided to quit after he got sick of the hole thing.

Okay, bye now. Stay safe!

And try to concentrate.

By the way, I found some Lysol concentrate online. Amazon delivered it.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was like winning the lottery.

 

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.