Category: Member Articles

MEMBER ARTICLE – 6 Types of Evidence & How They Solved the Real Life & Fictional Murder in Hole in the Woods

6 Types of Evidence & How They Solved the Real Life & Fictional Murder in Hole in the Woods

By Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

It’s no secret that cold cases draw a lot of entertainment and media interest. From podcasters, to thriller novels, to true crime TV– viewers and readers can’t get enough! And I’m no different! My new thriller, Hole in the Woods, is based on a cold case I followed for twenty-five years. The specific cold case was that of Shannon Siders of Newaygo, Michigan. Shannon was brutally raped and murdered the summer of 1989 and her body was left for three months at the Hole in the Woods, a local party spot deep in the Manistee National Forest.

Once I started researching Shannon’s case, I got a behind the scenes look at how investigators pieced together 25 years worth of evidence to finally make arrests. So, what was the lynchpin that locked away two killers for life?

Before I give you the big reveal… let’s take a look at the six types of evidence investigators look for in cases.

What Are The Types of Evidence?

Direct Evidence
Direct Evidence is a term meaning factual evidence recovered from a crime scene that usually can not be disputed. Examples include eyewitness reports, photos, and videos of the crime.

Circumstantial Evidence
Circumstantial evidence infers that a crime happened. It is indirect evidence. Example: A fingerprint at a crime scene thus might incriminate a person through inference.

Physical Evidence
Like its name suggests, physical evidence is anything touchable, tangible, or present at the scene that you collect and that is related to the crime. It contains three subcategories:

Biological Evidence
As its name suggests, biological evidence comes from a live source. Blood. Urine. Saliva. Semen. Skin tissue. Organ tissue. Hair. Teeth. Vomit. It’s the ooey gooey stuff we’re all made of and all produce.

Impression Evidence
Most commonly, impression evidence includes impression marks made into soft and malleable material by shoes, tools, tires, or teeth.

Trace Evidence
Trace evidence is bits of an object. Usually only very small quantities of physical evidence are left at a crime scene or on a victim. You may only get one strand of hair, a few skin cells, a thread from a fabric, a glass shard, or a few granules of soil. What evidence was found in the Shannon Siders case?

Shannon’s case was not solved based on biological (DNA) evidence. In fact, there was very little physical evidence extracted from her murder scene. And the only biological evidence found was her own.

Shannon’s case was eventually solved because of direct evidence – witness testimony! Lots and lots and lots of witness testimony was used to corroborate times, dates, locations and other related data linked to Shannon’s murder. I hand selected only a few pieces of evidence from Shannon’s case and replicated them for my fictional tale. And a few others I made up or massaged a bit for entertainment purposes. I’m not going to spoil the story by giving you the details. You’ll have to read the Hole in the Woods and see how it all plays out!

A percentage of the sales from Hole in the Woods will be donated to the Cold Case Foundation. www.coldcasefoundation.org

About Hole in the Woods

In 1989, in a sleepy Michigan town, missing high school grad Nina Laramie’s skeleton is found near a remote party spot in the forest. Fear and anger ripple through this tight-knit community when the case goes cold. Thirty years later, Riley St. James is assigned to the case, despite her similar past to the victim, and must face the killers who want their secret to stay in the Hole in the Woods. This true crime thriller is based on the 1989 true-life murder case of Shannon Siders, in which the author’s father was the medical examiner.

Photo Credit by Byron Nickelberry

Jennifer is a screenwriter, author, international speaker, and forensic specialist. As she says, “I grew up around death.” The television or movie screen is the closest most people will ever come to witness in the forensic world. But Jennifer was raised in it, as the daughter of a small town medical examiner whose office was in their home. Her latest novel, Hole in the Woods, released August 4th and can be found online wherever books are sold. Connect with Jennifer and join her newsletter at www.jenniferdornbush.com

MEMBER ARTICLE – The Benefits of Taking Time to Write With Others

The Benefits of Taking Time to Write With Others

by Shannon Muir Broden

 

In November of 2019, Sisters in Crime/LA organized several meet-ups for authors to get together and work on their individual manuscripts in a supportive atmosphere. These write-ins took place in a variety of locations. Here are a few examples:

 

I organized one of these at the Toasted Bun in Van Nuys, CA, on November 16, 2019, from 2 to 4 p.m.

The owners and staff of the location were friendly and supportive to the eight of us who showed up, purchased food from them, and actually took the time to learn more about us and what we were doing.  Personally, I loved the experience and would be happy to try it again in any venue or format. Not only did I feel support from the people I worked with, I learned more about the other authors I spent time with.

MEMBER ARTICLE – Ripped From the Headlines: Turning Fact into Fiction

Ripped from the Headlines: Turning Fact into Fiction

by Pamela Samuels Young

 

It’s rare for me to remember the precise moment that a story idea comes to me. With my most recent legal thriller, Failure to Protect, that wasn’t the case.

I was talking by phone with a friend on Christmas day in 2018, when she mentioned the unrelated suicide deaths of two nine-year-old girls who had been victims of bullying. I was stunned to learn that children so young would even know how to take their own lives. After our conversation, I read news stories about their deaths, I shed a few tears and found it hard to sleep that night. The next morning, I knew this was a subject I wanted to tackle in a legal thriller. I framed the girls’ pictures and placed them on my desk for inspiration.

For the next few weeks, I read books and online materials, and interviewed educators and mental health professionals. I was stunned to learn that the suicide rate for African-American kids under 12 was twice that of white kids. While I wanted to write a compelling legal thriller, I also wanted to shine a light on this tragedy. The result was my 14th book, Failure to Protect, which went on sale in October 2019.

If you’re thinking about penning a novel based on a news story or some real-life situation, here are three tips to help you get started.

 

  1. Entertain and Educate Simultaneously

Because bullying and child suicide aren’t exactly subjects that the average mystery reader might gravitate toward, it was crucial for me to craft an engaging plot. I began by creating a character readers would love to hate. My villain, so to speak, is an elementary school principal who is more concerned about her career than acknowledging any bullying at her school. When she’s sued by the grieving mother of a bullied child, it’s a great scenario for conflict. Readers immediately root for the mother and rally for the principal to “get hers.” While they’re lost in the legal drama, I’ve peppered the story with important information.

  1. Be Delicate, not Preachy with the Facts

While I wanted to raise awareness about bullying and child suicide, I didn’t want to bombard readers with mental health theories and statistics. So, I was careful to proceed lightly with key information that I wanted to communicate. For example, mental health professionals despise the phrase “committed suicide.” They feel that language stigmatizes the victim and consider it akin to saying someone “committed cancer.” Their preferred phrase is “died by suicide.” It was very easy to communicate this by having a character correct someone who uses the wrong language.

  1. Rely on Experts

I found a ton of information on the internet about bullying, childhood depression and child suicide. Still, I wasn’t comfortable writing about such important subjects without firsthand information from experts in those fields. I reached out to numerous educators, organizations and mental health professionals mentioned in articles I found online. Several people willingly agreed to interviews which gave me deeper insight into the topics. Two people in particular, a professor of psychiatry at Howard University and another at New York University, even agreed to read the manuscript. Their suggested changes and final blessings gave me the comfort level that my message was correct.

Many writers pen novels sparked by real-life events. If that’s your goal, aim to get the facts right.

Learn more about Pamela Samuels Young and her works at http://www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com/

MEMBER ARTICLE – The Art of Conversation as Interview

The Art of Conversation as Interview

by Eva Montealegre

 

Interviews are about question and answer. People can be completely unacquainted. A little description, a bit of history, some back and forth and voila, you have an interview. The best interviews do have the quality of a conversation. These interviews can run the gamut from delightful to painful. I don’t recommend it, but I must admit that heated discussions and even hostile questioning can make for a fantastic, unforgettable interview. I am in mind of the historical Barbara Walters and Fidel Castro interview. I remember Fidel blowing cigar smoke in Barbara’s face after she asked pointed questions about his policies and her pointed look of disdain. Everybody wanted to see that interview. For the most part, the best interviews are manned by an informed and passionate interviewer and a willing and forthcoming interviewee.

The most important ingredient to a great conversation is respect between the personalities. It’s fantastic to listen to conversations of people who know each other or have been best of friends or close colleagues for years. However, it’s not absolutely required that people in a conversation know each other. Perhaps they know of each other or are familiar with each other’s work. Or the subject that they are discussing is an area of expertise for both. One person in the conversation can be less informed than the other but hit on good points or bring up interesting viewpoints that the more seasoned person can respond to or address. The ability to listen is a large aspect of any good conversation. Teasing and sparring are often the spice thrown into conversations between more competitive or old-friend types. Sometimes authors of two completely different genres of books can have a profound and illuminating conversation.

My favorite conversations are when the participants accidently hit on deeper themes and more personal insights. Thoughtful questions, contemplative responses get me going. Unexpected reveals of previously unknown or unsaid matters is an aspect of conversation that I enjoy. These are often stumbled upon or come up without pretense. Very serious matters that are not always the topic of an interview can be most stimulating and intriguing. I’m always on the quest of having an experience, a sharing moment with the personalities involved. It’s not something that can be forced but it is helpful if one is open and allows the conversation to flow. In these types of exchanges something of value is gleaned. In a true exchange, I find the best conversations leave me feeling like I know the person better, that I gave something of myself in an authentic way and perhaps even shared a good laugh or two.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing several respected crime writers including Barbara Seranella, T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Eversz and Michael Connelly. Michael Brandman and I had an impromptu conversation event at the Mystery Galaxy bookstore at a publicized signing. Charles Gordone and other personalities were people from my personal history that Brandman also had a few stories about, so the conversation emerged lively and enjoyable on all counts.

Eva Montealegre is author of Body on the Back Lot, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A Joan Lambert book, first in the RED CARPET NOIR series

www.redcarpetnoir.com for more information

MEMBER ARTICLE – Interrogation Techniques with Ninette Toosbuy

Interrogation Techniques with Ninette Toosbuy

by Jennifer Younger

On Saturday, October 26th members of Mystery Writers of America SoCal and Sisters in Crime, Los Angeles were treated to a master class in interrogation techniques.

Ninette Toosbuy, formerly of LAPD detective in Sex Crimes and now an investigator for USC, spoke about the best ways to get to the truth, what happens on television rarely if every happens in real life and how connecting with the suspect one on one is the best way to get to a confession.

Ninette spoke about the fact that anybody can admit to anything but getting a confession is about encouraging the suspect/interviewee to give specific details. To get as close to the truth as they will allow.

One of the most eye-opening parts of the seminar, were the videos Ninette showed of her interrogations with some of the worst in society. And while as she noted you may want to “take a shower” after speaking with them, there is a psychology to getting a suspect to believe you understand them.

Listening and acknowledging their point of view is key.  Resist the urge to cut off the suspect and constantly check your watch as if you had somewhere else to be or bully them into getting to the point.  You want the confession, right?  Well it turns out the best way to do that is to listen and be patient. Allow the suspect to talk and talk and talk and sometimes talk some more.

While slamming your hands on a table and getting in a suspect’s face may be sexy on television, in real life it is all about the psychology of the dance. Successful interrogations are about getting close to the truth.

One of the final yet equally important topics of the seminar was about interviewing someone who ultimately is innocent of the crime of which they are being accused.  In the last video shown, Ninette interviewed a young man accused of sexual assault who turned out to be innocent.  Throughout the early stages, she had convinced herself that he was guilty.  Admittedly, she said she made many mistakes on this one. But it was early in her career.

One thing she learned from that interrogation is that part of being a good interviewer is knowing when you may have missed the mark, or something is not right.  You leave the room, regroup and return with a fresh perspective.  It turned out in the last case, the man was innocent and had proof of the woman’s deception on his phone! (she was cheating on her boyfriend and cried rape when she was caught with the suspect!)

There was so much more to learn and Ninette was gracious with her time, staying and talking with attendees outside for almost a full half hour!  Hopefully we can have her back again in 2020!

MEMBER ARTICLE – What I Learned Helping to Promote FATALLY HAUNTED

What I Learned Helping to Promote the FATALLY HAUNTED Anthology

by Shannon Muir Broden

 

In my involvement with both the web and newsletter roles on this board, I found myself very much at the center of promotions for the anthology FATALLY HAUNTED, which the Sisters in Crime/LA chapter released in April 2019. One of my favorite parts was doing e-mail interviews with most of the authors in the anthology, which allowed me to learn about them as members as well as their stories, as well as practice my editing skills. Here’s a list of all of them, just in case you missed any. They’re all worth a read.

Julia Bricklin

Roger Cannon

Tony Chiachiaro

Lisa Ciarfella

Cyndra Gernet

B.J. Graf

A.P. Jamison

Micheal Kelly

Alison McMahan

Peter Sexton

Gobind Tanaka

Jennifer Younger

 

I also covered promotions in a visual way, starting with the cover reveal at the 2018 Holiday Party, followed by the early release debut of the anthology at LA TIMES FESTIVAL OF BOOKS where I got to do my book signing of anthologies I was in alongside several people who had short stories in FATALLY HAUNTED. I had a great time, and I could tell that people loved getting the chance to meet these anthology authors in person.

 

Additionally, I got to hear many of the authors read their stories out loud doing photo coverage for the launch party for FATALLY HAUNTED.  They also got to sign books afterwards and interact with the guests. I liked hearing their own words in their own voices, though stories are meant to be enjoyed by anyone anywhere regardless of the reader. There’s still something magical in an author reading their own words.

 

Contributors to the anthologies have been on several panels talking about their stories and thoughts on writing this year, kicked off by a pre-release panel held in April in Brentwood at the local area library, which I also happened to be do coverage for. I really feel authors get to shine at these events, as they are asked  specific questions about the development and research of their stories, and on their own writing processes.

 

 

My last experience this year was photographing the author signings for FATALLY HAUNTED as part of California Crime Writers Conference 2019, where attending writers and editors signed copies of the anthology.

 

 

Even though I wasn’t published in the anthology, being a part of helping my fellow members be recognized really helped me in my growth. I’m naturally pretty shy, and as I didn’t know many people who made it into the anthology, ended up interacting with quite a few people for the first time, and that networking I found to be a valuable benefit.

So what’s next? Our next board will have the task of deciding what the next theme will be. Follow the Anthologies page for all the latest details in the coming year. I’m excited to find out what will be in store.

MEMBER ARTICLE – A First Time Look at California Crime Writers Conference 2019

My First California Crime Writers Conference

by Shannon Muir Broden

The 2019 California Crime Writers Conference would be my first full CCWC. Technically, my husband and I came to the 2017 Friday pre-Conference event that was open to the public, but hadn’t heard enough about it in advance to attend. While I am a member of Sisters in Crime/LA, my husband isn’t… at least, not yet. He definitely has interest in the genre, though.

For the 2019 CCWC, the two of us did more than just attend. We also gave back as volunteers, bringing together the program that everyone used during the Conference. It taught both of us a lot about what to expect about CCWC in advance, and hope attendees found it very helpful. Below is a picture of my husband Kevin Paul Shaw Broden holding the finished program.

In terms of what to attend, we prioritized going to panels on topics we’d be less likely to see at local Sisters in Crime/LA meetings or workshops wherever possible. One we both particularly enjoyed was getting to hear details from a swords master on the evolution of swords. As forensics is the main area I personally wanted to grow and learn more about, we also tried to emphasize other topics like hearing Ellen Byron’s one on one interview with private investigator Nancy Swaim, and hearing more about interrogation techniques from a former LAPD detective.

The meal times at CCWC were also great opportunities to meet new people, even if I’m not always the most talkative person. Sometimes, I just like to listen.

I made sure to go to the book room towards the end of CCWC, after I heard people on panels and met them at meals. This helped me decide on my set of post-CCWC reads!

Both of us had a great time, and I would highly consider attending a future California Crime Writers Conference.

Learn more about the California Crime Writers Conference, a bi-ennial event by Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and Mystery Writers of America, Southern California chapter at https://ccwconference.org/

MEMBER ARTICLE – Sisters in Crime/LA Workshops

Character Arcs Workshop

By Jennifer Younger

On Saturday, October 13th, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles held the final workshop of the year. And boy was it a good one!  The fabulous Jerrilyn Farmer gave a lecture and interactive workshop on Character Arcs.

She started by answering the essential questions:  What are character arcs?  When and how many does one use?   Jerrilyn noted that there are several different types of character arcs depending on the genre. One that mystery employs is the growth arc.  The workshop concentrated on growth arcs.

“Growth character arcs are progressions that your main character makes and that transforms them in some fundamental way,” Jerrilyn began. “You should start with the premise that your protagonist is not okay and there is a reason for them to change or grow.

Jerrilyn also suggested that not all mysteries have or should have character arcs (think Sherlock Holmes).   She noted the difference between character plot points or character actions and a character arc and how to use both in your manuscript.

Also, Jerrilyn instructed us to be judicious in using arcs and with which characters.  You may use one, two or three for your protagonist, depending on if you are doing a series or a stand-alone, but you are not going to have time to give as many details to all of your characters.  You can round out your minor characters with action and dialogue.  Your job is to keep the story moving and not get bogged down with every character having something to “grow” from.

Attendees came prepared and shared their character and plot issues. We ended with an interactive worksheet questionnaire and proceeded to answer questions about the main character’s family, past and how you the writer can show how she changes and grows from her challenges.

A few notes from Jerrilyn:

·  Give your character something BIG to grow from.  Think about the big things in their life.

·  Give your main character depth.  It is important that your main character doesn’t realize that they are flawed.

·  Best way to end a book is with a bittersweet ending: what did your character have to do to get what they want or what was needed?

Many thanks to Jerrilyn Farmer for a fantastic and informative workshop.  She gave everyone a lot to think about and helped everyone make all their characters multiple dimensions.

Attending a Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles workshop allows you network with others who write in your sub-genre and learn from writers outside your genre. See you next year!

Jerrilyn Farmer is the author of the bestselling Madeline Bean mysteries (HarperCollins) and Murder at the Academy Awards with Joan Rivers, and has been teaching mystery writing at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program for almost twenty years.  She also coaches private novel writing workshops, where she has helped many gifted writers to refine, revise and finish their manuscripts, and go on to find agents, land multiple book contracts, and win many awards.

WATCH THE WORKSHOP PAGE OF OUR WEBSITE FOR ANNOUNCEMENTS OF UPCOMING OPPORTUNITIES IN 2019!

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