On September 4, 2018 the FBI, the US Attorney from North Dakota, and the Grand Rapids Police Chief held a press conference in Minneapolis to announce that, after thirteen years, Dorothy's Ruby Slippers had been found. The shoes were heisted from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN on August 28, 2005. Rumors of what happened to the shoes ran rampant over the ensuing years.
If you like mystery stories written by Minnesotans about events in Minnesota history, you may be familiar with a little short story called, "Ruby Red Heist," which is part of an awesome anthology published in May 2018 by Twin Cities Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I am the author of said short story!
My prep for writing the story included reading massive amounts of information online and in magazine articles about the theft in 2005. Then I took a rad road trip to Grand Rapids and visited the Judy Garland Museum. I walked the museum and through the house where Judy Garland (Frances "Baby" Gumm) lived for the first four years of her life, which is now attached to the museum.
After the tour I chatted with a current museum employee, who wasn't an employee back in 2005, but…heck! Everyone from Grand Rapids knew the story! She told me that some folks in town thought it was teenagers pulling a prank or fulfilling a dare from peers. A straightforward burglary didn't seem to fit the bill because there had been a clear plastic box filled with cash donations front and center and that wasn't touched. In fact, nothing else in the museum had been disturbed other than the broken back door and the shattered glass case where the shoes had been ensconced. The only clues left behind by the culprit(s) were glass shards from the broken window, the protective case, and one lone ruby red sequin from a shoe.
I stood in the spot where the pedestal had sat back in 2005. I examined the back door. The distance from the door to the pedestal that had held the shoes had not been more than a dozen or so steps. In the following days, weeks, months, and years many leads turned into dead ends. Divers searched the bottom of the old pit mine turned lake, but that endeavor was a bust. Zilch. The heist was the biggest mystery to hit Grand Rapids, MN and was a huge blow to the museum.
But now…thirteen years later the slippers are once again safe and sound. Due diligence and perseverance (and some luck?) have paid off and law enforcement took possession of the sparkly red footwear. While several family members and friends contacted me on Tuesday to ask if my story helped solve the crime, I had to chuckle and (reluctantly) say, "no." Would that my little story had helped crack the case…Alas, it is not so. Although, should the FBI wish to speak with me, I'd be quite willing!
Not familiar with the short story, you say? Please, buy the book, Dark Side of the Loon: Where History Meets Mystery. The anthology is filled with great short stories by amazing Minnesota authors. The book can be purchased at Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis or order online at amazon.com (available in Kindle and print version).
So far, law enforcement is being stingy with the details they are sharing with the public. They've dribbled bits about tips over the years, but one tip made in the summer of 2017 was apparently the key to breaking the case. Someone attempted to extort the insurance company that had insured the iconic memorabilia. A yearlong investigation by the FBI, including the Art Crime Team, the Laboratory, and field offices in Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami ensued. The ruby red slippers were obtained as a result of an undercover operation in Minneapolis this summer. The FBI, US Attorney from North Dakota, and Grand Rapids Police are asking for the public's help in gathering information on the actual theft that occurred in 2005. The shoes have come home, but the thief or thieves are still on the loose.
I invite you all to read my story to find out my version of this little slice of Minnesota history. Recent events may be enough impetus to write a sequel. Truth really is stranger than fiction. Or is it? 🕵🏻♀️
My dear partner, once again, gave me a nudge, "Did you see this post Katie put on Facebook about a workshop she called 'life changing'?"
I blinked. "Nope." I blinked some more.
"I think you should sign up for it! It sounds like something beneficial for your writing."
"Um. Maybe, but i have a hair appointment that conflicts. Guess I'll have to miss out." Whew dodged that bullet—not.
"You could call and reschedule your hair cut. I'm sure Josh will accommodate you."
Dang. Drats. I picked up my phone and sent a text to Josh. Of course, he was more than happy to reschedule the appointment, just as my better half predicted.[She's ALWAYS right!] And so, before I lost my nerve, I jumped onto The Loft's Web site and registered for the workshop. Badda bing…badda boom. Done.
And that's how I found myself sitting in a classroom on the third floor of The Loft at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Just the word ‘publicity’ in reference to me makes me feel all clammy. I’m an introvert, not much scares me more than the thought of having to sell myself. Yikes! Sell myself? To other people? Out loud? To me, this is the ‘dark side’ of pursuing book publication. With that said, the workshop was fabulous! Linda White provided an excellent packet of information and hints. And she engendered amazing discussions of how we, as authors, need to begin the publicity prep early on.
There is so much more to this whole writing process. And I’ve been convinced the actual writing was hard. Keeping my butt in the chair. Pounding out the words. I’ve now been proven wrong. The hard part comes later.
Agent? No Agent? Indie press? Traditional press? Self-publish? Launch party? No Launch party? Attend conferences? Take classes? Attend festivals? Keep up a presence on social media? So many things to do! Who has the time to write?
I won’t go into all the details that Linda shared because I think that in order to experience the full effect folks need to make the commitment to attend a workshop. Be on the lookout for another offering and jump at the opportunity. You won’t regret it. And you’ll come away with several pearls of wisdom to guide you on the publicity tour.
The other benefit to attending the workshop was meeting some amazing and talented folks. Writers, to me, are kind of like ‘bike people’—SUPER NICE! They truly care about your story and they’re ready with ideas and advice. What’s worked and what hasn’t, if they have experience. I’m usually pleased by the interaction I have with these types of people and this workshop was no exception. I feel like it’s a win-win if people are asking to exchange email addresses at the end! Yay!
I highly recommend this workshop to authors, especially first-timers that are closing in on publication. Plenty of good, solid advice on how to navigate the bumpy road to publication and beyond!
Thank you, Linda White. And thank you to all my fellow attendees.
Fiery sunsets, moon glow and diamond studded water.
Colonyhouse is a magical and inspirational place located in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. I’ve had the great good fortune to have attended three—yes, count ‘em three—writing retreats put on by Lori L. Lake at Colonyhouse. Each year I’ve met amazing women writers and artists. This third year was no exception.
My good buddy, Mary Beth Panichi, and I made the trek via Delta Airlines from Minneapolis to Portland where Lori retrieved our tired, but excited butts from the airport. We hustled back to Lori’s home in Portland where we commenced loading food into bags and coolers and then into various and sundry vehicles. Then Lori led a caravan of four from Portland to Rockaway Beach with a short stop in Tillamook to load up on groceries at a ginormous Fred Meyer store.
We made the 15 mile drive from Tillamook to Rockaway and then commenced unloading of all the vehicles. We hauled luggage and lugged groceries up and up and up the stairs behind Colonyhouse. Eight of the nine attendees were present, so we made short work of unpacking all the food and drinks and stocking the fridge and the makeshift pantry (i.e. shelf under the kitchen windows). That task complete, we all dispersed to our respective rooms to ready our new digs.
MB, Chris and I were assigned rooms in the house next to Colonyhouse—Brecht House. We trudged over and unlocked our quarters and proceeded to move in! I shared the porch room with a Weber charcoal grill and a coconut that rivaled “Wilson” the volleyball that served as Tom Hanks’s character’s sidekick in the movie “Castaway.” Check it out! You be the judge.
After our final attendee arrived and everyone was mostly settled in, we all gathered at Colonyhouse and several of use pitched in to help prepare dinner. Yummy burritos a la Lori Lake! We definitely ate well during this retreat. After dinner and dishes we all gathered in the common area at Colonyhouse and did introductions and talked about our goals for the week. Mostly the goals were something along the lines of, “I want to get a buttload of writing done.” Well, okay, that was my goal!
Let the writing commence! MB, Chris and I crowned ourselves the “Butches of Brecht House.”
And we were damn well focused. MB and Chris found comfy chairs in the living room and shared electrical via an extension cord. I set up at the kitchen table or in my porch room at a table provided by Lori. We all got up fairly early each morning (6:30 a.m.) and enjoyed breakfast and coffee together and then we hunkered down over our laptops and pounded on the keys. Some days we’d break before lunch and go for a walk, either on the beach or into the town of Rockaway (souvenirs had to be purchased for our lonely spouses back home!). Then we’d march over to Colonyhouse and enjoy lunch with the other attendees and inevitably the talk would segue into singing and much storytelling!
After lunch we three traipsed back to Brecht House and assumed our positions. We typed and typed and brainstormed and typed some more until dinnertime. Then we’d, reluctantly, close the computers and meander next door for sustenance. Rinse. Repeat. Each and every day for a week. I recall Marlene, (Vice President of Oregon Writer’s Colony and a attendee) telling us that writers believed that words came out of the walls in Colonyhouse. Writers got work D O N E while at Colonyhouse. I have to say that I firmly believe that some of that wordage seeped into and then out of the walls in Brecht House because the word count total amongst the three of us in Brecht equaled approximately 60,000-70,000 words for the week! That’s INSANE in the membrane writing!
Lori was, as always, full of sage advice and encouragement. We each had a one-on-one session with Lori during the week to discuss our work in progress and any other questions we may have come up with. And once chef extraordinaire, Luca, arrived late Wednesday, Lori was freed from having to oversee the meals. The weight of the world had been lifted! LOL (Okay, I lean toward hyperbole!) Oh, and whilst I’m on the topic of meals, I’ll take this opportunity to say that on Wednesday evening we all loaded into several vehicles and drove the few miles to Bay City and enjoyed some fabulous seafood at Pacific Oyster! Clam chowder to die for and super tasty fish and chips!
Okay, back to the writing thing. The Butches of Brecht House remained focused all week. Plowing through many pots of coffee, cans of soda and water and fueling our imaginations with some tasty treats, too, we powered onward. We wrote from the wee hours of the morning to the late (okay 11:00 was the latest, but usually 10:00) evening hours. My word count for the week hovered just under 30,000. I’d never written that much in one week’s time—EVER! Wow! Blew my mind! The week was extremely productive, not just the actual output of words, but the interaction with fellow writers. And Lori led a great discussion on conflict one evening and another on editing on a different evening.
Engaging. Productive. Enriching. Powerful.
Alas, the week quickly came to an end. Too soon. Way too soon. Marlene had to leave on Thursday. I just want to go on record as saying that Marlene is hilarious! And due to her extrovert personality she kicked up the mealtime conversations when the rest of us fell short. Chris and Jane departed early Saturday morning; MB and I left early Sunday morning and the remainder of the bunch packed in by noon on Sunday.
I really enjoyed meeting and writing with another bunch of amazing women! The unbridled support that just ‘happens’ at these retreats is second to none. Marlene, Nann, CD, Patty, Karen, Jane, Chris, MB, Luca and the Guru of all things writing, Lori—thank you for an awesome week! Can’t wait to do it again!!
A special thank you to Oregon Writer's Colony (OWC) for sharing this wonderful space so that we can gather and write our guts out! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And for those that don't already belong, I encourage you to join and support OWC. The membership is worth every penny!
The only thing that would have made the week any better was if Jessie Chandler had been able to attend. Other commitments kept Jessie away this year, but hopefully in the future the Minnesota Minions will all make the pilgrimage to Rockaway, again—many, many times! Love my MN Minions!
Lastly, and definitely NOT least, thank you to my wonderful partner, JJ Kahle for her undying love and support in this continuing journey of mine! Art keeps us sane, right?
The ArtEscapes MN crew managed to pack four informative presentations into a one-day workshop, which this year was held at the Bloomington Old Town Hall Museum. A quaint little town hall jammed with historic artifacts and photos from bygone eras.
The event organizers kept the group of attendees well fed with muffins, coffee, tea and juice offerings for breakfast and then a catered sandwich smorgasbord and pasta salad with cookies at lunch. No one went hungry!
The day began with Allen Eskens, a local attorney/author. Allen’s novel, “The Life We Bury,” won the Left Coast Crime Award for Best Debut Novel in 2014. Allen shared with us his writing process. He follows a Three Act format with many subplots incorporated. Act 1: Set up/Protagonist decides to take on a challenge; Act 2: Long act/Protagonist’s journey; Act 3: Fairly short/Climax. Allen said that his subplots also follow the 3 Act structure and that he finds it most useful to use a large sketchpad to create his outline. He follows his outline while writing, but does take detours as they come up. Allen discussed internal plotline: personal, you want the reader to relate to the character and for that to happen the writer must create problems and concerns for the protagonist. He also talked about external plotline: the mystery to be solved. This is the vehicle by which the deeper story is told. He emphasized that writers should want to bring emotion and pleasure to the reader. Don’t simply ‘tell’ a story, but evoke emotion. Allen tries to write in a more literary fashion. A few authors he mentioned were: Dennis Lehane, Joyce Carol Oates and Tom Franklin. Fun fact about Allen: he shared with the group that he’d submitted 153 queries before an agent took him on.
The second presenter was David P. Peterson, retired from the BCA. David retired from the BCA in May of this year. The BCA responds when a victim can’t actively assist in the investigation.
Any agency can ask for assistance from the BCA. However, Hennepin County, Minneapolis and St. Paul do their own crime scene investigations. Ramsey County utilizes the BCA. The vehicle the BCA uses is a bus-like type vehicle for crime scene investigation.
The old RV-type vehicle is now up at the Bemidji BCA site.David stated the four goals of crime scene investigation: document the scene, collect the physical evidence, evaluate the body, and reconstruct the events (blood splatter, bullet trajectory, etc.).
The first officer on scene must secure the scene, set up boundaries and protect all evidence. The first responders DO: check the health and welfare of anyone on site, retrace their steps out so as not to compromise evidence and remove pets. They DO NOT: make weapons safe, move or disturb evidence or make more evidence.
David touched on DNA samples, stating that now; DNA samples can be as small as a pinhead. BCA started analyzing DNA in the mid-1990s. Fun fact: BCA does NOT clean up any mess they leave on scene (e.g. wall torn apart, carpet ripped up, fingerprint powder, etc.).
After lunch, Colin Nelson presented on, “Experiences of a Public Defender and Prosecutor”—yep, he’s done both jobs. Currently, he’s employed as a Public Defender (P.D.) for Hennepin County in Juvenile Court. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, a P.D. is appointed by the court.
Only 5-10% of cases actually go to trial. Pre-trial hearings are critical to the outcome of a case. It is the defendant’s choice to plead guilty or to go to trial. And it is also the defendant’s choice on whether or not to testify, if the case goes to trial, the defense attorney will advise, but the ultimate decision is on the defendant’s shoulders. In Public Defender job, the client is the boss and the state budget funds the office. The Prosecutor’s job is a political office (elected official) funded by county budget.
When a Public Defender interviews a client it is best to try to build trust. Review the evidence the government has against the client, but then ask “what do you want to tell me?” and then listen.
MN courts: District court (trials); Appellate Court and the Supreme Court.
Hennepin County is the busiest county in the state. Colin stated that there is pressure on both sides to settle rather than go to trial. However, cases that are exceptionally gruesome more than likely will not get a plea agreement (e.g. cop killing).
Degrees of murder: First degree = intentionally kill someone w/premeditation; Second degree = intentionally kill someone w/o premeditation.
Interestingly eerie experience Colin had when he defended a serial killer. According to Colin, it was like a body answering questions—a vacuum in the jail cell, dead eyes causing an overall spooky feeling for Colin. Was this an example of ‘pure evil’?
The final presentation of the day, was “Forensic Psychology” with Dr. Carole Mannheim. Dr. Mannheim gave examples of different varieties of issues dealt with by Forensic Psychologists: police screening (before a department hires someone they are screened); prison psychologist; disability assessments; court psychologists (courtroom savvy—usually custody or insanity testimony; assessments via written reports, as well as testimony).
Family Court—custody battles are some of the worst court battles Dr. Mannheim has seen.
Juvenile Court—no “Guilty/Not Guilty” only “Delinquent/Non-delinquent.”
EJJ—Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction (MN). Juvenile to participate in a juvenile program until age 21. Juvenile Disposition and Adult Sentence held in abeyance…if juvenile fails to comply as a juvenile, (i.e. violates juvenile disposition) then they will be sent up to Adult Court.
Dr. Mannheim mentioned a bit about Criminal Responsibility/Insanity. A defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged offense was committed is what is weighed, not the defendant’s current mental state. “Temporary Insanity” is nothing in MN. In other states it measures irresistible impulses. Impulse control is not considered a mental illness. Mental illness, though, can be transitory (e.g. schizophrenic person off their meds—when on their meds not mentally ill. Go off meds and completely different person.)
Informative day! In the future, I’d like to see more women presenters. Someone from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the F.B.I. Also, would be interesting to have a criminal court judge speak.
Then I found out my friend, Jessie Chandler (author extraordinaire) was going with a friend of hers D.J. Schuette. Now we had us a road trip trio. We set out in the Honda CR-V and had us a jolly good time discussing writing, editing and serial killers all the way from Coon Rapids, MN to Appleton, WI. Pitter-patter went my heart. We arrived and grabbed some grub and made our way to the registration. We met Lee Lofland and Jessie told him that Lori Lake said hello…ah, there went Jessie name-dropping.
On Thursday evening, after everyone was registered in hotels and for the conference, we attended Lee Lofland’s WPA Orientation and Announcements session, where we quickly learned that the buses would leave for Fox Valley Technical College PROMPTLY at 7:30 a.m. and that the hotel pool was open until 11 p.m. And I doubt that any attendee forgot those important details over the next three days. The welcome session was followed by a super presentation, “3D Crime Scene Mapping” put on by the awesome, Dr. Joe LeFevre. Joe had a Leica 310 scanner/camera on site and gave a demonstration of how easily crime scenes can be recreated. The real deal. R2D2 ain’t got nothing on this bad boy! This amazing device creates a point cloud 900 ft. in diameter with 50,000 measurement points per second. The camera/scanner measures distance and color all using a laser. Joe shared a story about how the crime scene mapping, using the Leica and Cyclone Software had been used in a murder case. The defense attorney referred to it as a “glorified Etch-A-Sketch,” but the jurors only took five hours to deliberate and return a verdict of Guilty – First Degree Homicide. As Joe so eloquently put it, 3D Crime Scene Mapping is visual story telling—the scanner gives law enforcement the ability to do this. And there are only 110 of these units in use across the U.S. Wow! What an informative and interesting session. We were all tired and quickly said goodnight and returned to our hotel rooms to some sleep before the mandatory 7:30 a.m. departure the next day.
Friday was jam-packed. So many choices. Jessie, D.J. and I plotted and planned before settling on session choices. We attended the same sessions, with a couple exceptions, during the event.
Session #1, “Crime Lab” with Tim Juedes. Tim educated us on everything fingerprint-related. What’s a 10 Print, you ask? Well, 10 Prints are fingerprint impressions made after a person is arrested. The person is identified/known. Okay, so what’s Latent Print, then? Well, Latent Print is a print left by someone not yet identified. And did you know that identical twins will have almost the same fingerprints, but not completely identical? Wild. A lot of agencies are moving to digitizing fingerprints (doing them on computer) as opposed to the 10 Print cards using ink. Although, ink remains the best way to print. AFIS is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. All law enforcement agencies utilize AFIS. (CODIS is the DNA version of AFIS.) Whew! A lot to know about fingerprints. On to the next session
Session #2—“Crime Scene to Autopsy” with Coroner, Amanda Thoma. Coroners are elected officials! Yep! Elected. One of the many tidbits I didn’t know. Coroners certify the following types of deaths: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide and undetermined. A typical autopsy report takes anywhere from 3-6 months and toxicology results take 6-8 weeks, unlike on the TV shows where the reports/results are back after one commercial break. I bet you didn’t know that a victim’s DNA could be extracted from maggots! How cool is that? Coroners do not perform autopsies, Forensic Pathologists perform them and the coroner attends. The two work together to make a determination on cause/manner of death. The coroner does go to the crime scene and takes possession of the body. Coroner takes photographs and documents crime scenes. A coroner does NOT need a warrant to look at a crime scene. Coroner’s process at a crime scene is: photograph body & scene; exam the body and visually document any/all injuries – look at fingernails, hands, feet, etc.; confer with law enforcement; have the body removed from the scene by funeral home or M.E.; coroner recommends not covering the body at a scene, instead use screens to block view of onlookers. Amanda shared a few stories with our group. She seemed to like doing her job (I guess you’d have to or why do it, right?). Amanda admitted that the worst part of a coroner’s job was notification of death to surviving family/friends. Oh, and despite what we see on TV, the coroner and law enforcement do NOT bring family members to the crime scene to identify a body. The identification process begins with a license or other possible personal effects found on the deceased. Okay, time for lunch! We need a brain break anyway.
Session #3—“Insider’s View to the World of Women in Law Enforcement” with Robin Burcell. Robin is a retired police officer and is now a writer. Robin was a police officer for 27 years and she saw a LOT! Robin said that back in 1983 when she was first hired, the badges said “Policeman” not “Police Officer” like they do now. Of course, law enforcement via the patriarchy! Robin admitted that balancing family and a career in law enforcement was difficult, but she managed. She said that after having children she related very differently to crimes against children. Back at the beginning of her career officers had to pay for their own ballistic vest—and if they chose to wear them, the vest had to be worn under the uniform shirt, which meant once you put it on you had to keep it on for the entire shift. Nowadays, officers wear the vests over the uniforms and vests have additional keeper pockets for storing cuffs, magazines, etc. Robin was a patrol officer and then later a detective and even worked undercover. As a patrol officer, she was rated “below standards” because she’d never been in a physical altercation, so they didn’t know if she could ‘handle’ herself, thus they gave her the low rating. Really? Because she used her mind and her words instead of brute force she was rated lower than her male counterparts. Robin said that the goals of every police officer are: Go home at night and don’t kill anyone. You sweet-talk; lie, do whatever you need to do to get someone to open a door and talk to you. Talk a suspect down. Good advice, if the situation is right.
Session #4—“Interview and Interrogation” with David Swords. David was with Springfield P.D. for 30 years. He explained the Miranda Warning arose from a Supreme Court case in 1966. Miranda is read to a SUSPECT if they are in police custody. Witnesses need not be Mirandized. However, if during an interview a law enforcement official realizes the witness may have committed the crime, then they should stop the interview and Mirandize that person. Also, a signature is NOT required on Miranda Warning. According to David, a favorite movie trick is showing officers reading the Miranda Warning to a handcuffed suspect after a foot chase. This does NOT happen, unless the officer is a rookie who’s watched too much TV. Officers should NOT Mirandize unless THEY are going to question a suspect about a crime. Otherwise, the interrogator is the one who should Mirandize, as they are the ones trying to gain a confession or to convince the suspect it’s in his/her best interest to confess. And confessions are the most challenged evidence in suppression hearings. Who knew? Another TV gamut that we’ve all seen is keeping a suspect in an Interrogation Room for hours w/o food or drink—law enforcement CANNOT do this. The Interrogation Room, ideally should be spartan…chairs for the suspect and interrogator(s); maybe a plain table off to the side so there’s no barrier; no windows or pictures; recording equipment should be in the ceiling…there should be no distractions. Suspects are usually NOT handcuffed or cuffed to a table. Interrogators want the suspect to relax and trust them. The most important things to watch are the suspect’s eyes and their body language. These are the Interrogation “tells.” And police can use deception when questioning suspects, such as, telling a suspect that their partner confessed, when the partner really didn’t. Although allowed, deception should be used as a last resort. So much to know about questioning suspects! Good information. Okay, off to the final session for the day.
Session #5—“The Mindset of Cops” with Secret Service Agent, Mike Roche. Mike began his career with the Little Rock, AR P.D. and then went to the Secret Service. Mike explained the five stages of a police career: Fascination stage (1-4 yrs); Hostility stage (5-7 yrs); Superiority stage (8-14 yrs); Acceptance stage (15-retirement); and then Retirement. The average life expectancy for a cop after retirement is five years. Mike mentioned the “Thin Blue Line,” the “us against them” mindset. I imagine that situations like, Ferguson, NYPD, LAPD and Baltimore PD dealt with are prime examples of the us vs. them mindset, which in some ways is mirroring the 1960s/1970s eras of policing. What about gender differences? Mike said that females have to present strength; they work smarter; they are better observers; better interviewers; are more empathetic; and have the emotional strength to overcome perceptions. Male officers tend to be physically stronger, but testosterone can be negative. Mike said that authors can always write conflict about supervisors in law enforcement. “If you’re not exploiting this you’re missing a great opportunity as writers.” LOL … apparently, law enforcement has its issues with the worker bees vs. the bosses, like many hierarchical work situations. Mike was a great presenter and good storyteller. I’m tired! Let’s get some supper and hunker down for the night. Saturday’s gonna be a long day!
Saturday, bright and early, at FVTC, we see a police chase in River City! Yep, that’s the make believe town set up on campus. Gas station, motel, bank, houses. And we get to see a bank robber being chased through the streets and then exchanging gunfire with the police. Cars and guns and bullets, oh my! Okay, not real bullets, but all the other stuff is real.
Session #1—“Forensic Art and Witness Recall” with Robin Burcell. Obviously, Robin didn’t get enough of the WPA attendees on Friday because she showed up again on Saturday to share even more of her vast experience. Robin attended sketch artist training through the FBI at Quantico. She’s an amazing artist. Most of us think that sketches are done to identify suspects. Robin quickly corrected the misconception and let us all know that sketches are used to eliminate, not to identify. And she also told us that the sketch is only as good as the witness. Having the witness face a blank wall when providing the sketch artist details is a good idea. Robin actually had one sketch turn out to look just like her because the witness was looking at her during the process. Yikes! Witness memory is fragile and the process takes an emotional toll on the interviewer as well as the witness/victim. Sketch artists can be law enforcement or civilian. This ain’t no cartoon drawing contest folks, this is serious stuff.
Session #2—“Overview of Forensic Psychology” with Dr. Katherine Ramsland. Dr. Ramsland has written many books on the subject of Forensic Psychology—psychology in the law, by the law. She gave us an overview of psychologist vs. psychiatrist. And an idea of how a Forensic Psychologist handles a typical case: Collect info. For report; school and hospital records, work appraisals; military records; crime scene photos/reports; witness statements. She mentioned the James Holmes case as an example—were his journals his way of making people think he was insane? OR was he, in fact, insane and his journal entries supported that conclusion? So much to think about and so many cases: mass murderers, serial killers, etc. Forensic psychologists cover so much and very often are called as expert witnesses at trials. Personality disorders. Competency. Insanity. Behavioral evidence. Not guilty by reason of insanity (this defense really isn’t used as often as the public perceives). Criminal profiling—not just done by the FBI! Psychological autopsies (victimology/suicidology) and also Police psychology (fitness for duty; stress eval; psych eval and counseling). Let’s talk serial killers, though. Damn those are some freaky fascinating stories. So much so that I had to buy her book, “The Devil’s Dozen” (12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics), I’m a true crime junky.
Session #3—“Espionage, Cons and the Anatomy of Betrayal” with Marco Conelli. Marco is a retired NYPD Detective and a fabulous storyteller. I was hoping to garner some nuggets of info on espionage. However, the session was more focused on cops working undercover. Don’t get me wrong, it was all great information. Just not what I was expecting based on the title of the presentation.
Session #4—“The CSI Effect: Real vs. Reel” with Michael Black. Michael is a retired Chicago police officer. The best info I came away with from this session was the 7 Step Crime Scene Protocol. Here’s a little nugget to gnaw on—officers take field notes, but once the official report is complete they destroy those field notes. Why you ask? Because if they save those notes a defense attorney can subpoena them! Oh, and contrary to what we see on TV—CSI techs do NOT question suspects and lab results do NOT come back in minutes…more like weeks or sometimes months.
Whew! What a day! So much information to absorb.
Time to go back to the hotel for guest speaker, Allison Brennan. “How to Get it Right”—benefits of research/how it can help writers. Allison articulated some very key points for writers to remember: we are not experts in what we’re writing about; never let research show on the page (less is more); and a biggy—we can’t please all of the people all of the time. Writers need to ensure they are doing their due diligence when writing crime fiction. We should read a lot of books (e.g. true crime). We should try to find experts to bounce questions off of (e.g. FBI, auto mechanic, etc.). Do things like: FBI Citizens’ Academy or tour Quantico. As writers, we owe it to our readers to know what we write (to an extent). The story needs to be entertaining, engaging, well-paced and make the reader want to suspend disbelief. Key point to remember, do your research, but don’t let it show in your writing. Just write a good story!
The banquet and silent auction happened. I know they did. But they were overshadowed by the grand finale—“An Evening with
The night wound down. Hundreds of excited, but tired attendees milled about getting author autographs and hobnobbing. Hard to believe that only one more event remained.
Sunday morning, Debriefing Panel with a few of the presenters who hadn’t flown the coop yet. And a reappearance of Instructor Colleen Belongea who is an amazing police officer and had great stories to share about her experience as an officer in small town Wisconsin, as well as Green Bay. According to Colleen, until 2005, Green Bay P.D. required female officers to have a #4 hair cut (same as men), no long hair allowed. In 2008 they tried to reinstate that rule, but the current chief is more progressive and he said, “no.” Colleen also spoke about clashing of patrol officers and management—internal judgment happens and results in separation of officers/management. Upper management may appear to not be supporting patrol, when in reality they are, but can’t make this obviously known to the rank and file. Politics in policing, I guess…just like any other line of work.
And that’s a wrap, folks! We loaded up the car, embarked on a quest for fresh cheese curds (we were denied!) and then headed back to Minnesota. Our heads were full of stories, facts, pictures, and most of all—great memories. Thanks to Jessie and D.J. for making this a great experience. Let’s do it again next year!
**Check out some photos on the "WPA 2015" Photo Gallery tab!