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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, without further ado, here are your …

Crime Writers’ Words of the Day

 

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

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

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

 

K.

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

 

L.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

M.

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

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

Marbling

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

Midline

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

 

Words – Tools writers use to tell a tale. They’re important to readers. Here are some logical groupings of letters you may find helpful when concocting a crime story.

D.

Degeneration – As a postmortem term it’s the deterioration of a body part, such as the decomposition of tissue and organs.

Dentition – The number and kind of teeth, and their arrangement in the mouth. Pertaining to teeth.

Depersonalization – The manner and actions a killer takes to conceal a victim’s identity. Removing the head and hands, for example.

Disarticulation – The separation of two joints, either by surgical or criminal amputation/dismemberment.

Joe Choppemup disarticulated his wife of twenty years and then scattered her remains in a field behind her lover’s home. 

 

E.

Engram – A lasting trace left in the human mind, both conscious and unconscious, by anything a person has experienced phsycally. Like a latent fingerprint, one that’s not readily seen by the naked eye, an engram is latent image that’s stored in the mind.

Eukaryocyte – Simply put … a cell with a nucleus. Eucaryotae cells (eukaryotic cells) have a true nucleus and within contain membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria. Eukrayocyte is found in all organisms except bacteria.

Exculpatory Evidence – Evidence that proves a person is innocent of a crime.

 

F.

Fillicide – The Murdering of one’s own child.

Fratricide – The killing one’s own brother or sister.

 

G.

Gorilla – Prison term for an extremely tough male who is the aggressor during a sexual act. A giver, not a taker …

 

H.

Homicide – A homicide is any killing of one person by another, and it can be a legal act in certain circumstances—self-defense or in defense of others, homicide by misfortune (an accident), state or federal executions, etc.

New Picture

Homicide per infortunium – Accidental homicide where a person performing a legal act without any intention of harm, accidentally kills another. This is a legally excusable homicide. It is not a crime. Sad, heartbreaking, and unfortunate, yes. But not a crime.

 

 

Bouchercon, THE largest annual mystery party convention in the world kicks off this week in St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s the place where writers and fans come together for an entire weekend. It’s also the place where writers connect and re-connect with their good friends and fellow authors. In short, it’s a blast!

So here’s a brief collection of photos of several of your favorite authors, taken at Bouchercon a decade ago. It’s one that has long been a fixture in the history books, and one that holds a special place in my memory.

How many of these smiling faces do you recognize?

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Donald Bain (above), a true inspiration to many us, is no longer with us, having recently joined his beloved, Renee Paley-Bain, in that better place. The couple sought my advice many times over the years regarding police procedure, and it was and still is an honor to see my name in the acknowledgments pages of several of their books.

I first read Don’s famed “Coffee, Tea or Me?” back when I was a kid and quickly learned how easily I blushed. The tale was extremely racy for its time. I’d been a fan since I first cracked the cover of the book. So to say that I was thrilled to be a part of his and Renee’s lives, and to learn that each of them kept a copy of my book nearby while working on their latest “Murder, She Wrote” stories, would be a massive understatement to say the least.

Thanks to Don I have a signed copy of “Coffee, Tea or Me?” that’s a part of my prized collection of books. As they say, “a full circle.”

I certainly miss seeing those emails that so often began with,

“Hi Lee,

Haven’t bothered you for a while. Hope you can answer this. How …”

It was a great year. In fact, here’s a rack of books containing the award nominees for that year. Notice the book on the far right of the third shelf from the bottom.

And with that, here’s the final photo taken before the curtain fell on a fabulous weekend.

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Alafair Burke politely listening to me ramble on and on and on and on, and …

 

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.

The image above—a questionable murder, 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 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, 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 …

 

Today I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes of this blog. Yes, this site has tons of moving parts that require many creative minds and many hands to turn the dials, push the buttons, and flip the switches. So without further ado …

Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins is in charge of our patrol division. It is he who offers details of traffic stops, responses to various types of calls, training information, etc. His teams also provide security in and around our property.

Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins

Our two sharp-dressed cops provide backup during all dangerous situations that may occur during the writing of blog articles.

Sharp-dressed cops

Our in-the-field reporter, Frank “Fake News” Robertson.

Frank “Fake News” Robertson

Animal Control Officer Chuck “The Chicken” Davis handles all calls involving runaway animals, cases of animal abuse, chicken theft, and more.

Animal Control Officer Chuck “The Chicken Choker” Davis

Third Shift Watch Commander, Lt. L. Arge Rat.

Lt. L. Arge Rat

Larry “The Knife” Johnson, a master of disguise, plays the parts of a few bad guys on the site.

Larry “The Knife” Johnson

Paulie “The Painter” appeared as himself.

Paul the Painter

Bad Breath Bill played himself during an article about edged weapons. Larry “The Knife” Johnson joined him in the post.

Bad Breath Bill

Major Mechanical serves as Chief Deputy.

Major Mechanical

O-R3 and Running Bad Guy, a regular on the site, teamed up to teach us about crime-fighting robots.

O-R3 and Running Bad Guy

We were also thrilled when Rosie stopped by to offer her thoughts and ideas.

Rosie the Maid

The Man in the Moon supervises the entire Graveyard Shift.

Man in the Moon

For some reason, and we don’t know why, this weasel pops in from time to time.

Weasel popping

Today, nothing and no one are safe from scandal. These two, for example, have been at it for quite a while now. We’ve threatened to fire them but they cannot seem to control their emotions.

The “pucker factor” sometimes causes strange reactions.

Harry “Hot Sauce” McGee is our resident expert on non-lethal weapons.

Delivering the “Hot Sauce.”

“The Hand” appears throughout the site. Here we see him demonstrating the proper procedure for “drawing” a gun.

“Drawing” a service weapon

As a precaution, we routinely sweep the site for things that go boom, and other hazards. Here we see Beauregard the Bomb Dog doing what he does best.

Beauregard the Bomb Dog

To teach us about Rigor and Livor, the Mortis Twins, we brought in world-renowned death expert Frank N. Stein.

Frank N. Stein

Our aquatics experts, Dewey D. Duck and Ronnie Raft.

Dewey D. Duck (upper right) and Ronnie Raft (lower left, bottom, sides, and rear).

Dewey’s 1st cousin, “Three-Eye” is our resident surveillance expert.

Three-Eye

Guarding us around the clock is Police K-9 Sha-Key. Never felt safer in my life.

K-9 Sha-Key

Tommy Turtle and Tiny Tom are on-hand to detail the effects of bioterrorism.

Tommy Turtle and Tiny Tom

Skeeter teaches us about bloodstain patterns.

World-renowned bloodstain pattern expert, Skeeter Simpson.

Of course, to maintain the buildings and grounds of the Graveyard Shift compound, we employ top professionals that include horticulture expert Gilly Goat and master carpenter Harry “The Frown” Hammer.

Gilly Goat

Harry “The Frown” Hammer

Crime Scene Expert, Grant Greenfly, knows the finest details. He’s like a, well, fly on the wall.

Crime Scene Expert Grant Greenfly

Sergeant Sam Stinkfeet is a real pro at evidence collection and preservation.

Sergent Sam Stinkfeet

Hematology expert O. Positive, along with a rare visit by renowned scientist B. Negative, provided much-needed information about blood evidence.

Hematology experts

Officer survival expert Fred Fish taught us of the dangers associated with tunnel vision.

Fred Fish

The “Yelling Woman,” played by Laura Largelungs, is featured throughout the site as the person/witness who’s screaming nonstop … at crime scenes, he-said/she-saids, domestic calls, at, well, everywhere. She/he is the person who “loses it” no matter the situation. And they never fail to get in the way at every step.

Laura Largelungs screams, “Help, poleeeece!”

Larry Lipzipper – Miranda expert.

You have the right to remain silent. Use it!

The part of the villain is played by actor Carl Cockroach.

The Villain, played by Carl Cockroach

Prison information provided by Calvin Convict.

Calvin Convict

Weak Walter often describes the thought processes and actions of criminal suspects who enjoy fighting the police, but aren’t very good at it.

Weak Walter says, “They sometimes decide to fight wearing nothing but …”

Our staff of law experts led by by Judge I. Have Notorso, are always on standby to weed through legal issues.

Judge I. Have Notorso

Howard Hacker, our cyber crimes expert, is on standby to answer all questions.

Cyber crimes expert Howard Hacker

As you can see, The Graveyard Shift is well-staffed by a slew of top experts. Without them we’d be just another blog.

Of course there are many other experts who walk our hallways and occupy the offices of our elaborate compound. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time or space to showcase each of them today. And, there are many more characters experts on the way, and you’ll soon them and some of our regulars in places other than this blog. As they say … STAY TUNED!


By the way, space is available to attend the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy. 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of this thrilling hands-on event. You don’t want to miss this one!!

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

#2018WPA