Homicide Investigation Basics

Welcome to the third class, "Homicide Investigation Basics," based on course material that my husband and I taught four years ago to Kiss of Death, the suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America. I have updated and added content for this post.

In this third class, we cover the basics of homicide investigations -- think of it as Homicide 101. We review the key tasks conducted by law enforcement, including an overview about estimating time of death and types of wounds. 

We do not provide any graphic images of crime scenes, although some might find parts of the written information, well, a bit grisly as we discuss things like what occurs in a body after death. Although far more unsavory detail can be found on the Internet, we wanted to advise our readers upfront.

Let's now kick off the class with...

When Police Are Called to a Homicide Scene

All Rights Reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.

In general, when police respond to the scene of a homicide, they do the following:

  1. Assess the physical condition (without compromising evidence) of the deceased and insure that emergency medical treatment is on the way.

  2. Watch the scene carefully. Most homicides are unplanned crimes of passion and suspects don’t always have extra time to flee. The officer should look for getaway vehicles/persons hurrying from the area or behaving in a suspicious manner.

  3. Search for surviving victims/suspects.
  4. Protect the crime scene.
  5. If a suspect lives in the same residence or has property rights, a detective will obtain a search warrant before further searching the area.
  6. Obtain names and addresses of witnesses and other persons at the crime scene, license plates of nearby parked vehicles.
    Note: If the victim’s car is missing, its description and license number would be obtained and broadcast to other police agencies.
  7. Check neighboring homes for witnesses who heard or saw anything out of the ordinary.
    Note: The sooner information is obtained from witnesses, the better.  As time passes, especially in high-crime neighborhoods, they may become reluctant to talk.
  8. If there are many witnesses, the key witnesses will most likely be transported to the police station for further questioning (there are more police officers and homicide detectives there and more facilities to keep witnesses separate—separating witnesses is always advisable so their stories aren’t tainted by what they overhear others saying). Meanwhile, statements will continue to be taken from other witnesses at the scene.
  9. The detective in charge will do additional assessment of priorities: Should officers concentrate on an immediate search for a suspect?  Should officers at an airport, bus terminal, or train station be alerted to watch for a suspect? 
  10. Photograph/videotape crime scene.
  11. Detectives assigned to the case will make a quick determination of the victim and the scene to assess the motive for the killing.

Homicides Are Simple

US Army CID agents at crime scene (image is in public domain)

US Army CID agents at crime scene (image is in public domain)

One of our favorite research books is Criminal Investigation by Dr. John Macdonald and Lieutenant Tom Haney, former commander of the Homicide/Assault unit of the Denver Police Department. 

In Criminal Investigation, a seasoned homicide detective, Joe Russell, speaks about the simplicity of homicides:

Homicides are simple; don’t make them hard. It’s seldom an insurance fraud with a hired killer. There are few Mafia killings. They leave their mark, they throw the gun. They know it’s clean, it can’t be traced.  Drug killings will be hard to solve [because] you’re working with a criminal element. Most homicides are within the family, within friends. Keep it simple, look at the people the victim knows. It’s family or friends.

I get upset when I see detectives leave the crime scene and say, ‘I don’t know what happened.’ You’ve got to read the crime scene. You should stay there until you figure it out.

[For example] There was a body of a woman in the hallway by the stairs in an apartment house. People there said someone from upstairs or downstairs must have dumped the body there. She had not been dragged and her body was too heavy to have been carried upstairs or downstairs.  She must have been killed by someone in one of the two apartments on that floor. There was an old man in one apartment, and he would not have been able to carry the body. In the other apartment was a young man who was known for picking up girls. He was the one.

Time of Death

Just as private investigations are both an art and a science, so is predicting the time of death, which requires both technique and observation to make an estimate. The sooner after death a body is examined, the more accurate this estimate will be.

Time of death does more than tell when someone was killed. It can also predict how far the suspect might have traveled after the killing, or it can tell where the victim might have last been seen alive. Your fictional PI will always look at this sometimes inexact calculation. Factors used to estimate time of death include the following indicators.


When the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing and is then pulled by gravity to the lowest parts of the body where it discolors the skin. This red/purple discoloration is called lividity, which is usually perceptible one-half to two hours after death and reaches its maximum by eight to twelve hours.

Note for writers: Within the first six to eight hours after death, this discoloration can shift along with the body being placed in a different position. But after that, the discoloration becomes fixed and further moving the body will not change its lividity.

Lividity usually has a cherry red color in carbon monoxide poisoning, cyanide poisoning and when the body is refrigerated/exposed to low temperatures.

If lividity shows in the upper surfaces of a victim’s body, the body has been moved. Proving movements after death can help disprove a suspect’s statements.

Rigor Mortis

Soon after death, the body begins to stiffen, which is called rigor mortis and is due to chemical reactions within the muscle cells.  Typically, this can be detected first in the small muscles of the face, neck and hands before progressing to the larger muscles.

Rigor mortis is an unreliable indicator of the time of death because so many factors affect its onset, duration and disappearance.  Usually it begins within two hours after death and becomes perceptible within four hours.  Generally, a body becomes fully rigid around twelve hours after death before the process begins to reverse itself, with rigidity loss beginning again with the smaller muscles before the larger ones.  This is referred to as the flaccid stage of rigor mortis.

Prolonged muscular activity right before death hastens the onset and disappearance, as well as electrocution and heat (from disease/climate). It then disappears when body decomposition begins.

When death occurs during great emotional tension, particular muscles (such as the hand holding a gun) or the entire body can be frozen in position at the moment of death.

Rigor mortis can tell a story about the crime. For example, if parts of an otherwise stiffened body are in an illogical position as they relate to the rest of the body (for example, a body lying on a sidewalk has a raised hand), then the body was most likely moved twelve to thirty-six hours after death. 

Body Temperature

One formula for estimating the time of death is:

Normal body temperature – rectal temperature / 5 = number of hours since death

Another calculation is that, under normal circumstances, a corpse loses body heat at a rate of approximately 1.5 degrees per hour.

Of course, such calculations have limitations as many things can affect body temperature: cocaine (other accelerant drugs), strangling, hanging, brain hemorrhage, exercise and fever all raise the body’s temperature.  Warm surroundings, clothing, bedding and extra body fat delay the rate of cooling.  Exposure to cold lowers the body’s temperature, both before and after death.  Also, environmental temperature may change, due to such things as nighttime and wind chill, thereby affecting the body’s temperature.

Ultimately, the corpse will lose or gain heat until it stabilizes with its environment.

Stomach Contents

The following descriptions of the digestive tract can provide clues about a decedent’s activities, psychological state, whereabouts and time frame prior to death:

  • Empty stomach=death probably occurred at least four hours after the last meal.
  • Small intestines empty=Death probably occurred at least twelve hours after the last meal.
  • Small meal=Gone from stomach within one or two hours.
  • Large meal=Gone usually after five hours.
  • Gastric contents may tell what the subject has eaten, which may provide a clue to where he/she ate.
  • Stress stops digestion.
  • Other factors affecting digestion: Drugs, alcohol, disease, type of food.

Vitreous potassium

Post death, the potassium level rises in the vitreous humor, which is the watery fluid in the eyeball between the retina and the lens.  There are tests that detect the time of death based on this potassium level.  Errors of up to 10 hours are possible when the test is done within 24 hours, with increasing rates after that.


The following shows the general stages of the corpse’s decay process:

  • One to five days after death: greenish discoloration of the skin of the lower abdomen, followed by in order of occurrence:
  • Purple, red, blue discoloration over the body
  • Bloated face, distended body
  • Blisters/vesicles appear on the skin (as body swells, it smells)
  • Bloodstained fluid from orifices.

Insect infestation

In warm to hot weather, it takes only a few seconds for the first flies (blow flies) to land on a dead body outside in a wooded area.  Other insects include ants and beetles.  Maggots hatch from fly eggs in 18-24 hours.  Entomologists studying the eggs, larvae, pupae and so forth may be able to determine time of death.

Footwear impressions left at a crime scene (photo in public domain, photo attributed to Zalman992 on wikipedia).

Footwear impressions left at a crime scene (photo in public domain, photo attributed to Zalman992 on wikipedia).

Types of Wounds

We’ll briefly discuss some general types of wounds: shootings, stabbings and blunt force.


At the scene of a shooting, a detective will look for:

  • The weapon (if can’t be found, detective will analyze the type of weapon and ammunition)
  • The location of the shooter, his distance from the victim, the direction of fire, his intentions/actions after the shooting. Many times certain marks on the skin can tell how close the weapon was to the victim when shot. Stippling and burn marks tell detectives that the shooter was proximate when the killing took place. 
  • Clues (gunshot wounds, anything struck by bullets heading to and after hitting victim, spent bullets and casings, bloodstains, blood spatter and splatter, gunshot residue, witness observations).


Knife wounds occur in close encounters and usually leave a trail of blood.  A cut or slash is longer than it is deep; a stab is deeper than it is long. A person who is dying as a result of exsanguination survives the killing wound much longer than one who is shot. Knife wounds reflect the condition of the blade. As a very general rule, cuts from a knife look smooth and straight whereas cuts resulting from blunt trauma are tattered and ragged.

Homicidal stab wounds are usually on the neck, left chest (as most people are right handed), back or abdomen. Defense wounds (on the palms, fingers and outer aspects of the forearms) point to homicide, indicating the victim tried to either grab the knife or to fend off the blows with his wrists, knuckles or forearms.

If the wounds are concentrated within a small region of the body, it may be that the victim was immobile at the time of assault (for example, held down, asleep or intoxicated). Many severe stab wounds suggest anger, sex homicide or psychosis.

Blunt Force

Attack by a blunt object (such as a revolver, iron bar, baseball bat, piece of wood) may leave its mark and may contain trace evidence.

Blunt force injuries may include abrasions, contusions and lacerations.  Similar injuries result from being struck by a vehicle or falling.

Keep in mind that law enforcement has personnel, departments and equipment set up to handle homicide investigations. As mentioned earlier, information in this section is very high level and meant as an overview only.  For more books on homicide investigations, check out  PIstore.com.

This ends class 3. In the next class, which I'll post next week, we discuss why a PI might get involved with a homicide investigation. 

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of this content requires specific, written authority.

Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part I

Four years ago, my husband and I taught a series of classes for Kiss of Death, the mystery-suspense arm of the Romance Writers of America. We focused our workshop on private investigations, a field we know well after having being co-owners of a private investigations agency for years.

This post is part I of the class on crime scenes (with some information updated). A point we make throughout the class is that PIs mostly investigate crime scenes after law enforcement/others have finished their investigations and re-opened the crime scene back to everyday use.

You'd be surprised how much evidence can still be mined days or weeks later at a crime scene—for example, this last weekend we visited a former law enforcement crime scene and took photos of a strategically placed surveillance camera, not documented in the D.A.s discovery, that provided key evidence in a legal case. Years ago, we investigated a crime scene, 800-plus acres of ranch land, that the sheriff's office had investigated and returned to everyday use two months earlier. Our goal (as had been the sheriff's office) was to find 4 bullet slugs from a shooting, whose placement could prove a man's innocence. The next class discusses this case in more detail.

Let's kick things with the question...

Why Do Crime Scenes Matter?

In some crimes there are no witnesses and in the absence of self-incriminating statements by a suspect, the only means of obtaining a conviction may be through physical evidence (such as evidence with viable DNA, a blood sample or a fingerprint). In any crime, sharing knowledge of physical evidence with suspects may loosen tongues and stimulate confessions. DNA, fingerprints or serologic evidence are tough to debate and bring many criminals to a place where their lips move easily.

Note: A comment regarding an investigator sharing knowledge of physical evidence with a suspect. Interestingly enough, private investigators work under a burden created by ethical constraints that police detectives do not labor under. While courts have consistently held that police may lie to a suspect to stimulate a confession without tainting that confession (we once saw this in an episode of the TV series The Closer), very few private investigators can credibly present statements obtained by deceptive means. By “very few” we mean in the few instances where the PI has investigated an individual who’s extremely unsavory or has committed a particularly heinous act, jurors are more likely to trust that PI’s statements, even if the PI lied to obtain them. This is great fodder for a story.

In a crime scene, the area searched and the evidence sought will depend on the crime under investigation. In crimes of violence, the crime scene tells the detective what happened but the detective has to be able to read the signs left by the evidence (signatures of crime include fingerprints, blood stains, bullets, bullet holes, tool marks, fibers, hairs, glass fragments, fingernail scrapings, DNA samples, as well as items added, overturned, removed or displaced).

Bullet casings are one signature of a crime

Bullet casings are one signature of a crime

Keep in mind that the suspect is also part of the crime scene. What does she leave at the crime scene and what does she take away from the scene? Such evidence helps to prove that she was there. If the police take her back to the crime scene after her arrest, the evidence of her presence at the scene, when presented in testimony in the courtroom, may serve only to prove that the police took her there. This may cause your fictional PI to think twice before taking a possible suspect to a crime scene.

It's important to make the distinction between what crime scene investigators for the police consider a crime scene and what the rest of us, including PIs, consider a crime scene. In the latter instance, a crime scene is really just the place where a crime happened, which has returned to everyday use. However, what police and crime scene investigators consider a crime scene is that area where, such as the space inside the yellow tape, careful protocols for evidence recording and extracting are followed.

Processing a Crime Scene

Let’s cover some important concepts about how the police process a crime scene. Your fictional PI might be called on to critique how a crime scene was processed in the course of his investigation, or he might be called on to process his own. 

The steps any investigator should follow, including law enforcement, are the following:

  1. Check condition of victim and arrange medical treatment if necessary.
  2. Secure and protect the crime scene (keep in mind the possibility of a multiple series of crime scenes).
  3. Is further search legal? If not, need consent. If a law enforcement officer, obtain a search warrant, especially if a major felony.
  4. Search, sketch and document. Precise measurements of the crime scene should include an accurate sketch containing a key, a scale and a legend noting the day, time, location and conditions (weather, lighting). Compass directions should be noted on the sketch. Remember that a measuring tape provides a wonderful standard of comparison especially when photographs or video are employed.
  5. Document the crime scene and its physical evidence. In law enforcement, a videographer typically accompanies an assigned officer on the initial walk-through. Overall as well as specific photographs are taken of the crime scene.  Close-up photographs should be taken of important items of evidence (for example, footwear impressions).
  6. Handle the evidence so as to not contaminate it.
  7. Collect, mark and catalogue evidence.
  8. Preserve the evidence in a central, organized location.

When Police Aren’t Available: What Might a PI Do?

 A PI investigating a major crime scene risks being charged with obstruction of justice and/or tampering with evidence  .

 A PI investigating a major crime scene risks being charged with obstruction of justice and/or tampering with evidence.

If a private investigator was called on to process a crime scene for evidence of any nature, he/she would follow the same above steps. However, it cannot be stressed enough that a PI would call on police to handle a major crime scene, like a murder or arson. To handle, test and collect evidence could easily result in charges of obstruction of justice and/or tampering with evidence. For that reason, any PI who wanted to avoid jail would call 911, and would scrupulously avoid touching anything at the scene of a crime other than to assess a victim’s medical condition. On the other hand, having a sleuth character charged with several crimes after exploring a major crime scene would certainly bump up the story tension!

There are times when a PI does handle evidence, and the best protocol is to collect the evidence with gloves, place it in a plastic/paper bag, seal that bag with tape and initial the bag with the PI’s initials and the date it was collected. Your fictional PI may collect evidence for admission in court when that evidence was not collected by the police (or the opposing side in a civil case) and the evidence supports his client’s case.

For example, several years back Colleen and a group of PIs from other states worked together to trap a seller selling fraudulent products via an online marketplace. The evidence collected were the products being sold (and, in a sense, the online marketplace where this buyer sold his fraudulent products was the crime scene). After Colleen purchased the products (using another identity to not tip off the seller), she’d place the products in a plastic bag, initial the bag with her name, product name and date, then seal the bag and mail it to the attorney handling the case. These products were used as evidence in a court case against the seller.

This wraps up Part I.

Link to the next class: "Private Investigators and Crime Scene Investigations, Part II."

Happy writing! Colleen

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of this content requires specific, written authority.

#1000Speak Building from Bullying: Two True Stories

I learned today that tomorrow, March 20, is a blogging event for #1000Speak, an organization whose byline is "1000 Voices Speak for Compassion." Contributing bloggers are writing about looking at bullying from a positive viewpoint. My first reaction was, "Huh? How can bullying ever have a positive slant?"

I thought back to several incidences when my husband, or the two of us, dealt with bullies in our business life. After giving those experiences some thought, I realized that both ended up being constructive -- one in direct way, the other in a roundabout way.

Almost Caving in to a Bully's Demands

My husband practices criminal defense, and occasionally he will have a client who has a significant rap sheet. Sometimes Shaun isn't aware of the extent of these criminal histories until much later.

Mr. X was one such client. He wasn't happy that Shaun hadn't performed miracles in his case and demanded Shaun pay him back not only the full retainer, but three times that. We're talking extortion. Didn't matter that Shaun had worked many free hours above and beyond the retainer, Mr. X wanted money. A lot of it. Left a threatening message one day on my husband's car.

My husband grew concerned about our safety. I suggested he contact our good friend, a lawyer, and talk it over. This lawyer has practiced law nearly 40 years, just as his father had before him. After Shaun told him the story, the lawyer said, "He's bullying you. One thing about bullies, you need to call him on his bluff, not run scared and give in to his demands. Calmly agree to set up a formal mediation over the money he's attempting to extort. He won't like a reasonable, professional venue to air his threats because he likes working in the dark. Do this and he'll go away."

Which is exactly what happened. Just goes to show, no matter how old you are, you can still learn valuable life lessons.

Slipping, Sliding Toward a Bully

This is a lighter story, one that started out with what appeared to be a bullying situation.

My husband loves his cowboy boots. Wears them with his suits to court. One day he and a judge sang a Merle Haggard song together -- Shaun in his suit, the judge in his black robes -- both of them in their cowboy boots. Wish I'd been there to hear the song and to see the looks on people's faces in the courtroom!

A month or so ago, Shaun was walking downtown through snow and ice in his cowboy boots when he saw a police officer shove a man to the ground. Shaun didn't think twice, just starting running toward them, yelling "What's going on?" and waving his hands. He was on a mission to stop perceived violence. Problem is, those cowboy boots have slick soles.

He hit a patch of ice and and started sliding toward traffic, just as several police units squealed around the corner, lights flashing. Shaun kept slipping and sliding toward the busy street, unable to stop, his heart pounding, realizing he was going to be run over...at the last minute, he grabbed onto a parking meter...and fell face down in a pile of snow between two parked cars, the whoosh of cars and crunching tires a foot or two from his head.

Strong arms helped him to his feet. It was the police officer who'd shoved the guy.  "You okay?" he asked. As Shaun brushed snow off his face and clothes, they talked. Shaun learned that the guy who had been shoved was a felon with an outstanding warrant. He'd turned violent, resisted arrest, and the officer had been trying to subdue him, not abuse him. Meanwhile, in the background, the felon was handcuffed and being placed in the backseat of one of the units.

Then, to Shaun's surprise, he learned the officer is a sergeant in the police department of a nearby jurisdiction where Shaun is moving his law practice. Even more small world, the sergeant is a former private investigator who worked for the lawyer whose office Shaun is taking over! Their paths will be crossing even more in the months and years to come.

Shaun ran to halt what he perceived to be bullying, but instead ran toward a valuable connection in his future. 

To read more stories with positive outcomes and lessons regarding bullying, check out the hastag #1000Speak on Twitter.

Shooting the Messenger: When Process Services Go Bad

Recently in Colorado, a man pulled a gun on a process server. Fortunately, the process server kept his cool and made a quick exit (btw, he had already left the papers with the man's wife). The process server called the sheriff's office afterward and described the incident, but did not press charges.

Process Server Attacked By Doctor

Another process server, a personal friend of ours, started a process service business after he retired from the police force. This man had been awarded medals for bravery during his long career as a law enforcement officer, but after needing to use pepper spray to fend off a physician who violently attacked him after being served legal papers, the man sold his process service business. "No job is worth dying for," he said.

Which happened to a Colorado process server a few years back. He served divorce papers to a husband, who then attacked his wife (the one seeking the divorce). The process server, a man in his forties, jumped in to protect the woman and the husband killed him. The wife survived, fortunately. 

Chased by a Woman Wielding a Frying Pan

Sometimes people take out their anger on a server, who's simply a messenger serving papers

Sometimes people take out their anger on a server, who's simply a messenger serving papers

In the 10+ years my husband and I ran a private investigations business, I never liked serving legal or business papers. I didn't like not knowing if things might so south quickly, which happened more than a few times. Never had a gun pulled on me, but I did have a woman, high on cocaine and booze, chase me with a frying pan while screaming colorful things she planned to do with it on me. I kept walking, fast, toward my car, where my husband sat in the driver's seat, staring at me wide-eyed through the window.  I yelled, "Start the car," praying he'd hadn't locked the doors as I needed to get inside that car quickly!

I had done that process service as a favor to my husband, who had returned to being a criminal defense lawyer. He couldn't serve the divorce papers to the woman because he was representing the husband in the divorce, so his live-in PI (yours truly) served the papers.

As we drove off, the woman screaming and running after the car, my husband said to me, "You're amazing." I thanked him for the compliment, but said that was the last time I was ever serving legal papers.

So much for making grandiose statements. I just served legal papers to someone last week. Fortunately, things went smoothly.

Tips for Writers: Pineapple Express

When we were the cover story about being PIs, we took the reporter along to observe a real process service

When we were the cover story about being PIs, we took the reporter along to observe a real process service

Remember the movie Pineapple Express and the stoned process servers? I loved that movie, but only if a writer is crafting a funny, farcical story could he/she depict a stoner dude running a successful process service business because it is imperative that a server be focused and clear-headed for several reasons:

  • People sometimes are actively avoiding service, so a process server needs to be able to quickly interpret signals. For example, a person avoiding a process service might answer the door and lie that they are not that person, or even that the person no longer lives there. A sharp process server has done his/her homework and will know, among other details, the physical description of the person they are serving. I once served papers to a man who denied he was the person I was asking for. I knew I had the right guy because I had seen a photo of him, but at that moment his little girl said, "Daddy, that lady got your name right! That's you!" 
  • Sometimes a business, even a government agency, tries to pull a fast one on a process server. At a state government agency, I served legal papers to one of the office managers who claimed it was illegal for me to serve her, and that I needed to "make an appointment" to serve one of their attorneys. Sorry, no. It was legal for me to serve the office manager, which I did. One of the stoner servers from Pineapple Express would likely have found this scenario to be very un-groovy and confusing. But then, if a writer is crafting a humorous story, that could be a funny scene.

A LAWYER'S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: Types of Lawyers - Criminal Law

A LAWYER'S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: FROM CRIMES TO COURTROOMS - Written by a defense lawyer with 30 years experience in the criminal justice system and a bestselling author/P.I. Not only for writers, the book is also for fans of legal film/books, researchers & those curious about the world of legal eagles.

Put together with the user in mind, this intelligently organized handbook for practicing writers will make you sound like a practicing lawyer.
— Warwick Downing, former DA in Colorado and author of The Widow of Dartmoor, a sequel to Hound of the Baskervilles






Book Excerpts

Below are several excerpts from A Lawyer's Primer, the first is an overview of criminal defense attorneys from the chapter "Types of Lawyers." Below that are two additional book excerpt links, one on judges (including some real-life "quirky judge" stories; the other is a review (with an eye on what a writer can learn) from the legal film To Kill a Mockingbird - Enjoy!

"Types of Lawyers: Criminal Law"

Under the US Constitution, everyone accused of a crime has the right to a lawyer’s defense. A criminal defense lawyer (also referred to as criminal lawyer and defense lawyer) might work for a law firm or be in private practice.  A defense lawyer might also work for a public defenders’ office (to clarify, public defenders are always criminal defense lawyers). Generally speaking, they will make several attempts to settle a case outside of court, but if they can’t, they will represent their clients at trial. Defense lawyers typically work multiple cases concurrently, each at a different stage in the criminal justice system process. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers provides more information about defense attorneys.

Criminal defense lawyers often specialize in practice areas, such as white-collar crime and DUIs

Criminal defense lawyers often specialize in practice areas, such as white-collar crime and DUIs

Some defense attorneys specialize in particular areas of crimes, such as driving under the influence (DUI), domestic violence, sex assault and white-collar crime. We’ve included nearly two dozen articles in the latter half of this book, many about crimes. If you’re writing a defense lawyer character, check out these articles for story ideas.

Type of lawyer in this field: Lawyers practicing criminal defense are well-versed in constitutional rights, with some lawyers being as passionate about people’s rights as civil rights lawyers. Because a criminal lawyer often spends a lot of time gathering evidence, from police reports to witness testimonies, a defense lawyer often relies on other resources, from paralegals to private investigators, for assistance. According to a psychological evaluation report by OvationXL, who interviewed a hundred top law firms on their analysis of young lawyers’ traits, 59 percent believed criminal defense lawyers to be good communicators.

Defense lawyers are constantly juggling the demands and timetables of the criminal court system, which can be frustrating and tiring. When the authors of this book co-owned a private investigations agency that dealt primarily with criminal defense attorneys, we had defense lawyer-clients whose emotions ran the gamut from funny to exhausted to bitter. 

A criminal defense attorney could be a rich character study for your story.

Additional Excerpts

Click on one of the below links to read the excerpt:

Players in the Courtroom: Judges

Recommended Legal Films: To Kill a Mockingbird


Source: http://www.amazon.com/Lawyers-Primer-Write...

Crime Scene Investigations: Diagrams and Articles for Writers and Researchers

crime scene tape.jpg

While working on my current romantic-suspense novel proposal, I went trolling on the Internet to find some examples of arson investigations (the story involves a federal arson investigator), when I stumbled across a site called SmartDraw, a software product that helps people capture their thoughts/information as pictures. It contains numerous examples of mind maps, report templates and flow charts for different kinds of crime scenes -- handy for writers needing to understand the different types of investigations and their processes.  

Examples of Crime Scene Charts

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 12.15.29 PM.png

Below are some examples from SmartDraw of crime scene charts and diagrams. 

You can also download a diagram for free, then use that image as a brainstorming tool for such things as a character's motivation or story crime scene. For researchers and investigators, these images provide a basic starting point for customization.

Order of Crime Scene Investigation Example

Crime Scene Investigation Models of Motive Example

Establishing the Role of First Responders - Preserve the Fire Scene

Mind Map of Threats of Evidence at a Fire Scene

Crime Scene - Drug Possession in Automobile Example

Examples of Crime Scene Reports

Below are some report examples from SmartDraw.

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 12.24.20 PM.png

Crime Scene Investigation Report

Autopsy Report for Crime Scene Investigation Example

Gunshot Forensic Pathology Report for Crime Scene Investigation Example

Autopsy Report for Crime Scene Investigation Example

Other Crime Scene Resources

The Crime Zone: Software to create crime scene diagrams. You can use the product free ten times with no restrictions.  

Crime Scene Diagrams/Presentation: A PowerPoint presentation via TeachWeb.com.

Crime Scene Sketch Activity: This document was a homework assignment for teams creating crime sketches. Information includes types of sketches, scaling, equipment, labeling and more.

forensic-classroom.com: Crime scene forms, classroom activities and forensic/evidence publications.

Book Sale March 1-7, 2015: A Lawyer's Primer for Writers

Put together with the user in mind, this intelligently organized handbook for practicing writers will make you sound like a practicing lawyer. Use it to transform your courtroom characters from stereotypes into engaging people
— Warwick Downing, former DA in Colorado and author of The Widow of Dartmoor, a sequel to Hound of the Baskervilles

A Lawyer's Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms will be on sale March 1-7, 2015 - The earlier you buy it that week, the more you save!

Below is a table of sale dates and prices - for example, buy it on March 1 for 99 cents, and you'll save 88 percent off the regular $7.95 price!

Book Giveaways, Crime Chats and Who's Emma Peel?


Book Giveaway: Sleepless in Las Vegas

Goodreads Contest Now Closed

Thank you to the 691 readers who entered the contest!  Twelve winners' copies are being mailed November 27.


My December release, Sleepless in Las Vegas, is the second book in the private-eye-romance series, and is available in print and e-versions.  To order your copy, click here.

I generally don’t read Harlequin books but I’m glad I set aside my bias of romance type novels because Sleepless in Las Vegas is so much more...a lot of intrigue, action, romance and excitement happening here and you’re not going to want to put the book down until you get to the end. To say that I enjoyed it immensely would be an understatement.
— Carlana Charles, book reviewer, ThisLadyWrites.com
Absolutely delightful! As a straight romance, I found this book to be well done and thoroughly enjoyable...What made me love this [book] is that this is it is wrapped up in a great detective story. Want something more than a love story? Read this!
— Leti Del Mar, Words with Leti Del Mar

Chatting About Crime

Today my husband and I were guests of Alice de Sturler on #crimechat. Alice is a former human rights defender, educator and owner of the Defrosting Cold Cases blog. Below is an excerpt from Alice's recap on the chat, with a link to the full article at the end.

Sorry about the mishmash of green and white backgrounds -- had a little trouble cutting and pasting.

Alice de Sturler, owner  Defrosting Cold Cases

Alice de Sturler, owner Defrosting Cold Cases

Recap #CrimeChat Oct 25, 2013


Recap #CrimeChat Oct 25, 2013 with Shaun Kaufman &Colleen Collins a.k.a. the Writing PIs. It is always a pleasure to talk to these two. There are always new stories, new books they are working on, and they have a great sense of humour.

While Shaun was driving home from court, Colleen and I started off with a post I found really informative. It is about the difference between private investigators and bounty hunters. Many confuse the two. Both track people, conduct interviews, and have contact with suspects. However, they are governed by different sets of regulations.

Colleen told us that she got great reactions to her latest book “Secrets of a real life female private eye” including the comments that some younger readers did not know Emma Peel. I can still laugh about the differences in generations. As soon as that changes, I will alert you!

Shaun arrived and we spoke about the difficulties a criminal defense lawyer faces. Shaun described how law school taught him about procedure but absolutely nothing about criminal defense. He owes that to Walter Gerash.

We touched on the “chess coach case” which sadly involved child abuse. I asked them how they handle cases like this. How do you shake those images after cataloging the evidence and DNA test results? How do you move on from that? They both said that the only way to do that is to remain steadfast in the believe that the defense is about defending the system of checks & balances and not the deed.

End of excerpt.  To read the full recap, click here

Who Is Emma Peel? 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

As Alice mentioned in her above recap, there are those in the younger generation who have no idea who Emma Peel is. No idea?  Sadly, it's true. It's also a reminder that yes, we baby boomers are getting older.

Uma Thurman recreated the role of Emma Peel in the 1998 movie The Avengers, which earned a rousing 1 star from Rotten Tomatoes.   Well, really, could any actress other than Diana Rigg be Mrs. Peel?  Yes, yes, fellow baby boomers, I know there were other actresses who tried.  Honor Blackman, who preceded Diana Rigg in the series and later played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, and Linda Thorson who came after Diana Rigg.  But let's get real.  Diana Rigg was the Emma Peel.

Here's an article on the 50th anniversary of The Avengers TV series, written by a fellow baby boomer: Classic 1960s Brit TV series "The Avengers" turns 50

Before I sign off today's post, I'll leave the recipe for the Emma Peel Cocktail.


Emma Peel Cocktail

Sweet and tart with a kick, like its namesake, this drink is a mix of fruits and champagne.

The Emma Peel

1 measure cherry brandy
1  measure pineapple juice
Top it off with champagne







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