Last month I participated in a month-long online workshop/class about law enforcement. It was taught by a veteran policeman who had worked in several places and organizations and enjoys helping writers get it right.
He started the class with an actual case report of a murdered woman. We read it and then asked questions, which he answered very thoroughly. He told us what the police had to do by law at the scene and what they could and coudn’t do while talking to people trying to gather information to help them catch the perpetrator.
We went through processing a crime scene and saw actual photos of the scene. I had a barebones idea of what took place but had left out a few steps when my characters have come across a body. However, I was happy to hear that when a homicide happens the detectives or whoever is working on the case can and do work non-stop the first 48-72 hours. They take short naps and go home to change clothes, but they stay on the evidence because there is that small door of opportunity to gather all the information that could help them apprehend someone. I have had Gabriel Hawke work nonstop on murder cases. I had made it his need to find the truth, but it appears is what a good detective does.
The evidence in the case of the homicide we were “working” pointed to one of the victim’s sons. But several of us, me included, felt it was too easy. Yes, our red herring minds were trying to find ways to make it stick to someone else. Even when all the evidence clearly pointed to the person that was eventually arrested. He even confessed in his own way.
The instructor said that few murder investigations and homicides are as convoluted as writers of TV shows, movies, and books make them out to be. The need to make motives and means hard to figure out are the writer’s way of entertaining the reader. In real life, if the evidence is pointing to one person, it is usually that person. It’s just a matter of the detectives gathering enough to make a solid case and the icing on the case is getting that person to confess.
Something I have had happen to me several times while on jury duty. Once the evidence is all lined out against the accused, they will plea out, sometimes at the last minute, (as when we were waiting for a trial to start and were dismissed because the person plea bargained). The instructor said, that happens the most when the accused has confessed during an interview. The interviews are taped and once a jury sees the person confessing, they are going to be found guilty.
I enjoyed that the instructor was so willing to answer questions for our books and help us with law enforcement questions. I have asked this person questions before on the crime scene email loop I’m on. If you would like to join to ask questions of retired and practicing LEOs, lawyers, forensic pathologists, FBI, DEA there is a person on the loop from just about any entity you might want to ask questions to get your scene or scenario accurate. Crimescenewriter2@groups.io
Besides knowing what I need to about the legal side of things for my mysteries, I also like to go to the area where the story I’m working on is set. I recently watched security guards at an Indian run casino and did a walk around the tribal police station in my Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series. In June I’ll be traveling to Montana to walk through a resort that will be the jumping off spot for the next Gabriel Hawke book and I will be taking a couple trips into a wilderness area near the resort to discover what it is like to better write that story.
What can I say, I like to make sure I not only entertain but I enlighten as well.