Everything I knew about how to investigate a murder, prior to writing Death By Drowning, I learned from watching television and reading books. Not the best authority, I’ll admit, but a beginning.
So, I was back to the internet for some information. I found an excellent article called Police Procedure-Elements of Murder, by Tracy Hawkins. You can find it at; http://www.writing4successclub.com/public/284print.cfm.
I looked up the local police services website, which gave me the members of the investigation team. The titles may be different in other provinces and countries, but I think the basic set up would be the same.
First, you have the investigating officers, often part of a Criminal Investigation Branch, and then there are the crime scene investigators, CSI like on television, or locally SOCO, Scene Of the Crime Officers.
I got familiar with the terminology, things like warrants, affidavits, and autopsy. Then there are the short forms: TOD for time of death, DNA for, well, DNA, and CSI for crime scene investigation.
I made copious notes, from numerous websites, about investigating a death, particularly a murder. In my reading I gained an understanding for the intricacies of the legal system, and a respect for the officers conducting an investigation.
Here’s some of what I learned.
Coroners are called to the scene, and may or may not be the Pathologist who conducts the autopsy. The who, when, and where of the autopsy varies as to the location of the murder, urban or rural, and of course, if urban, the size of the city and its resources.
There's the Miranda Warning, given to suspects when in police custody, or before the suspect is interrogated. That’s all that ‘you have a right to remain silent’ stuff. It has to do with what can and can’t be used in court. Without the Miranda Warning, police can act on information learned, but can’t use it to incriminate the suspect.
Questioning people, who may be involved, as a suspect or a witness, is tricky. You’ve all seen TV examples where the police are questioning someone, a suspect most likely, who decides not to cooperate, and says to the police, ‘Arrest me or I’m out of here’. Everyone has rights, until proven guilty, of course.
Miranda deals with testimonial evidence, and then there is the physical evidence gathered at the scene of the crime. This might include handwriting, voice exemplars, fingerprints, DNA, hair samples and dental impressions. This is where you see the TV crime scene techs swab for blood, or other bodily fluids, and gather evidence into plastic bags or bottles. Everything is dated, timed, and initialled for…Chain of Evidence.
Chain of evidence is to prevent any tampering, to ensure the evidence will hold up in court. Evidence can also be gathered away from the crime scene, and is perfectly legal if it’s from, say, garbage at the roadside, or in plain view. Otherwise the police need a warrant.
You know, if you watch crime shows, how many times the police call for warrants. Search warrants to, of course, search, a suspect's home, car or office. Warrants can also be obtained for financial records, phone records, or any other place the police might gather information, information that might not be readily handed over. There’s that sticky area, called confidentiality, usually pertaining to medical records. This might also include hotel guest records, membership lists and such places where the client has an expectation of privacy.
Here’s another term I found interesting, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. This refers to evidence that is excluded from trial because the evidence came from an illegal search.
Are you bored yet? And I haven’t even mentioned what’s needed to get an arrest warrant, what an affidavit is, or a subpoena.
Any investigation begins with the nucleus of people around the victim, and moves out in a widening circle as evidence is gathered.
As I learned during the writing of my book, there are a lot more details involved in a murder investigation than are immediately apparent. I had my murder victim, a plausible motive, and a group of suspects. And, of course, I had my detectives, discovering clues, gathering evidence, and identifying the murderer, by the end of the book.
I added in some elements that I hoped would make the story more interesting, the witness’s troubled history, the threats against her, and the immediate attraction between she and the detective.
I’ve said before that I like to reread books, same as I watch the same shows or movies over again. If you ever thought about writing a murder story, I suggest you read one, and then reread it. Second time around, pay attention to how the author discloses information, that, at the time given, seemed to have little or no importance, but later proved vital to the investigation.
Writing this book was an interesting experience. I felt I grew as a writer, for this book required more planning, more attention to details, and required research outside my comfort zone. I think the story has credibility, even though I never interviewed the police personally. The internet offers endless information, on any subject; it’s up to the researcher to know what’s true and trustworthy.
Death by Drowning is published in E-format, on Amazon, for Kindle readers.
Now, for my fourth book, I really got into the research. A story about how a young woman, and an old man, both alone in the world, meet and discover you don’t need a blood connection to be a family.