July 20, 2019

Occult Killings, Private Eyes, and Releasing a Crime Scene - 051

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This week on The Writer's Detective Bureau, occult killings, private eyes, and releasing a crime scene. I'm Adam Richardson, and this is The Writer's Detective Bureau.

Welcome to episode 51 of The Writer's Detective Bureau, the podcast dedicated to helping authors and screenwriters write professional quality crime-related fiction. This week, I would like to thank Gold Shield patrons Debra Dunbar from debradunbar.com, C.C. Jameson from ccjameson.com, Larry Keeton, Vicki Tharp of vickitharp.com, Dharma Kelleher of dharmakelleher.com, Chrysann, Jimmy Cowe of crimibox, and Larry Darter for their support. I'd also like to thank my newest Coffee Club patrons, Ann Bell Feinstein, Zara Altair, and Terry Thomas, along with all of my longtime Coffee Club patrons for their support. You can find links to all of the writers supporting this episode in the show notes at writersdetective.com/51. To learn about setting up your own Patreon account for your author business, visit writersdectective.com/patreon

We are about two and a half weeks away from the one year anniversary of this podcast. It's amazing how quickly this year has flown by. So August 6th is the big day, and I will be doing some giveaways as a thank you to you guys for listening. So be sure to listen to episode 53, which will drop on August 2nd, for the details on how to enter for a chance to win a few different gifts just as a thank you for listening to the podcast. You do not have to be in the United States to win. I will send you your stuff wherever you are in the world. I will also announce the entry details in the APB email that will be going out on August 1st.

So if you are new to the podcast or haven't subscribed to the APB mailing list yet, the APB is a once a month email from me that is just a handful of curated links, the things that I think you will find useful for crime fiction writing. It'll be things like news articles for story inspiration or white papers from think tanks about technology or best practices for investigations or just blog posts from writing experts, things like that. So if you're interested in getting an email from me only once a month, you can join by going to writersdetective.com/mailinglist.

This week's first question comes from Mark Salis. Mark writes, "Hello there. I need to know anything and everything about investigations regarding cults. How do the investigators proceed when a crime scene for a murder has evidence of ritualistic and occultist practices? Is it okay to bring in consultants to cases like that, such as people who understand religious and esoteric symbolism? Thank you so much."

Thanks for your question, Mark. Yes, the detectives definitely could reach out to experts in ritualistic or occult practices relating to the murder, but it would not be a primary thing on their to-do list. They're still going to do the typical things that happen in that first 48 hours. Doesn't mean that they won't contact them in the first 48, but the presence of some sort of occult influence, it could very possibly speak to the motive of the murder, but it doesn't severely change the way a murder is investigated.

So these consultants or subject matter experts would not be brought out to the crime scene or anything like that. They may be shown specific articles of interest or articles that were seized as evidence or even potentially some pictures of the crime scene, but they would not be brought in as if they're a new member of the investigative team. But don't let reality get in the way of telling a compelling story by any means.

In any "who done it" murder, the investigative team will hold back the disclosure of some aspect of the case. They use it as a way to vet whether or not a potential suspect actually has firsthand knowledge of the crime. If I was the detective on your case, Mark, I would probably keep this thing back from that subject matter expert as well, especially in the case of a true "who done it". Any subject matter expert on this specific ritualistic M.O. or this occultist practice, especially if it's a truly arcane group that few people know about, it's possible that there might also be some connection, whether knowingly or not, between that expert and the killer. Or the subject matter expert might be the killer as far as the detectives are concerned, because the detectives don't know at this point. But they would be mindful to not tip their hand to someone with that much potential connection or knowledge of the related cult.

In fact, when I would meet with that expert, I would be keenly watching their reactions and evaluating them just like a potential suspect. I guess it's that when you don't have a suspect, everyone is a suspect. Just keep that in mind when you're writing this expert character.

Thanks so much for sending in your question, Mark. I appreciate it.

Coffee Club patron Terry Lynn Thomas of terrylynnthomas.com writes, "Hello. I have a couple of questions. I have a retired cop who is now working as a P.I. He's been hired by the mother of a murder victim, one of his unsolved cases that was closed as a suicide, to find out who killed her daughter 20 years ago. The case was cleared as a suicide, but her mother knows her daughter didn't kill herself. Would my detective have been able or allowed to take copies of the file with him when he retired? It's the one case that never sat right with him. During this investigation, he comes across another alleged suicide that was stated in exactly the same way, the cases are related. Would he likely go back to the police with his old partner who hasn't retired yet and show them the similarities between the old case and the current case? If so, would the detectives working the current case work with him or forbid him from doing anything further so as not to hamper their current case? Do police detectives and private detectives work together? I'm always curious about the relationship between cops and private investigators. Thanks."

Well, you are very welcome, Terry. Whether your protagonist was allowed to keep the files when he retired isn't the same as how feasible it would be for him to do so. He could definitely keep a copy of the files whether he was allowed to or not. So I would play that as author's choice on that one. If it never sat right with him, it wouldn't be unheard of for him to have kept a working copy of the files somewhere himself, especially in a 20-year-old case where the files would still have been in hard copy report format.

If he discovers another murder veiled as a suicide that he thinks matches, then yes, he'd definitely go to the police or to his old partner. But that's probably where his official involvement would end. Being a former police detective himself, he'd know that his private investigation case pretty much ended when he turned his findings over to the police. Anything he did from that point could theoretically be considered tampering if he continued doing his own private investigation, because it's no longer a private investigation, it's a murder investigation. Now, he's potentially a witness, or at least a reporting party.

The way cops work with private investigators is pretty much a one-way street. The police will definitely take information from a P.I., but they are not free to share anything back officially. Your P.I. would understand this having been a former cop, and ultimately getting the police to reopen the case and go after a murderer is his ultimate goal, and it would be the goal of his client, the family.

Now, I know this may not be ideal for your story, so you could try to finagle a believable way to keep your P.I. involved, but you'd have to do so knowing that you're taking some artistic license with the plot when you do so.

Thank you so much for your question, Terry. You can find her work at terrylynnthomas.com.

Gold Shield patron Dharma Kelleher of dharmakelleher.com writes, "Hi, Adam. Congrats on your 50th episode." Thank you, Dharma. "That's quite an accomplishment. I have questions regarding releasing crime scenes. My protagonist comes home to find two local gangsters, one of whom is currently wanted on charges of human trafficking, waiting for her in her living room. After some back and forth, my protagonist manages to kill both gangsters in self-defense. The local homicide squad shows up, interviews my protagonist, collects evidence, and carts off the bodies. Would it be possible for the detective assigned to the case to make an on-scene determination of self-defense since they were in her home illegally? If so, how soon afterward would she be allowed back into her home, hours, days, weeks? Thanks for your always excellent information."

Thank you so much, Dharma. Well, the short answer is no. The detective would not make an on-scene determination of self-defense. There are many factors to making this determination, everything from proper review and analysis of the evidence collected to getting the prosecutor's office involved. The ultimate determination on whether it's a justifiable homicide usually rests with the prosecutor.

It's also important to know that being in her home illegally does not automatically make the shooting justifiable. Can you imagine how many horrible friends of roommates would be killed if this were true? I'm only kidding. What I'm getting at is that your protagonist would have to be in reasonable fear for her life, and that the actions of killings both gangsters were justified. Each one would be treated as a separate homicide, because they are. Were both of them armed or instilling fear? Those are the kinds of things that the investigation will need to delve into.

Now that said, with the reasonable assumption that these were justifiable homicides, homicides plural, she would not be arrested in the interim most likely. She would be free after giving her statement to the police and then just be awaiting the official determination on it being justifiable.

Now, as for the release of the crime scene, it would be released once all of the crime scene investigation work was completed. Now, that may take a day or two, but the police would need to remain at the scene, maintain a presence at the location throughout that duration. Television likes to show sealed-off crime scenes in a home for a protagonist detective to go back through a second time, usually in the second act to find some new overlooked piece of evidence. But this is a trope that is utterly false. Our legal right to keep a place locked down as a crime scene ends when we leave. We would need to get a new search warrant to go back and look at this place a second time.

Which brings up another issue with whether anything was tampered with once the police gave up the scene the first time. So that's a whole other topic for another podcast episode. But suffice it to say, she would be allowed back into her home as soon as the police completed their crime scene investigation and left.

It's also important to know that crime scene investigation does not usually include crime scene cleanup. There are companies that specialize in crime scene cleanup, and there are also specific divisions within some of the bigger, more well-known commercial cleaning companies that specialize in this work as well. Now, we're talking about biohazard stuff here. So the cleanup itself can actually take some time or take longer than the actual crime scene investigation. A lot of these cleaning specialists have a background usually for having worked for a medical examiner or coroner's office. Or at the least the people who start these companies or run these divisions often do, where this becomes a second career, some sort of retirement business for them. So hopefully that instills some sort of a story idea as well.

So I hope that helps, Dharma. You can find Dharma's work at dharmakelleher.com.

Thank you so much for listening this week. Make sure you hit that subscribe button to get every episode of The Writer's Detective Bureau Podcast automatically. If you enjoyed this episode, would you leave me a review? I would really appreciate it. This podcast is created for you, so don't be shy. Send me your crime fiction questions by going to writersdetective.com/podcast. Thanks again for listening. Have a great week and write well.