Friday, September 26, 2014

Appearing in issue #39, September 29, 2014

Title:  Who did it?

By Author:  Richard Ciciarelli

Tag line:   The detective knew that one of the big shots was responsible for the body in the trunk.  But which one?   

Police characters:   Detective Anne Caves and Sgt. Bascomb

The gist:    A patrolman noticed a car parked illegally and he ticketed it.  The next day, it was still there…another ticket.  Day 3 he finally calls for a tow.  At the compound somebody ran the plate and found it belonged to Joe Quinn, a suspected drug dealer.  At that point they searched the car and found Quinn’s body in the trunk.  He had been beaten with a tire iron, which was also found in the trunk.  Word on the street was Quinn had been looking to expand his territory into his competitor’s area.  Quinn had control over the north side of town, yet he was found on the south side, Mac’s territory.  The police speculated that one of the other drug kingpins might have done it and left the body in Mac’s territory to frame him.  Sgt. Bascomb  ordered that the three (?) men be brought in for questioning tomorrow.

The first man, Sam, told Det. Caves that the police have tried to finger him before and they had never been successful.  When Det. Caves announced to the three men that it wasn’t drugs that they were investigating, it was murder, and that Quinn’s body had been found on the south side of town, all eyes turned to Mac. Mac denied he had killed Quinn and told police that Quinn had been trying to muscle in on all three of their territories, not just his.  He said, “Maybe one of them killed him and left the body on the south side just to make me look guilty.”  Man #2, Lou, asked when Quinn died.  The answer was 3-4 days ago. Mac said he was out of town in Atlantic City at that time.  Sam accused Mac of having ‘one of his boys’ do it and stuff him in the trunk.  Mac said he was an honest man who owned car dealerships.  Lou owned a construction company and said he was an honest man.  Sam told the police he was leaving and if they had anything else to say they could talk to his attorney. The other two men soon followed him out the door.

Forensics called and said they had found fingerprints on the tire iron.  Sgt. Bascomb said “If we can match them to one of those three men or to one of their associates we’ll have a case. “

Crime scene:    The trunk of a car on the south side of town.

Clues:    The police never told anyone where the body was found.

Suspects:  The three drug kings.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:   Sam gave himself away when he accused Mac of having one of his boys do it and stuffing the body in a trunk.  The police had never let that piece of info out.  (Kind of a miracle really.)

My two cents:    What a lot of hooey. There are so many wrong police procedures here, I don’t think the author has ever – ever – spoken with a real cop. 

Let’s start with the title. Boring and unimaginative.  Ditto with the tag line.  You got a body in a trunk, you got big drug dealers for gawd’s sake, and that’s all you can come up with??  Please tell me that Johnene and all her staff were on vacation and that the janitor wrote that.

First of all when a patrolman sees a car and leaves a ticket, he looks up the plate at that very moment to be able to write the info on the ticket.  The cops knew from day one whose car that was.  “Somebody” at the compound ran the plates?  No, no, no.  No.  As soon as they found out it belonged to a notorious drug dealer, half the squad would have been out there poking around.

They don’t wait three days when a car has apparently been abandoned.  They contact the owner and get the story, and they give him a small window of time to get it off the road.

Would you kill somebody, put them in the trunk, and then park it in an illegal spot if you don’t want it to be found?  Duh. 

The tow company gets called.  The tow guy can’t even take the car until it is inventoried by the police.  What if it was your car and you had some expensive stuff in there?  The cops, the city, and the tow company have to be protected against lawsuits.  So the car is inventoried, everything in it is written down before it is handed over to the tow company.  Everything, one would imagine, would include a body in the trunk.  

Sgt. Bascomb had the ‘three men’ called in for questioning.  What three men?  I think something got cut here.  All of a sudden we have three men. 

The police don’t wait politely for the next day to ask suspects to come in for questioning.  Yes, come in, we’ll talk, I’ll make coffee, you bring the donuts.  So here they let them have their breakfast, read the paper, go potty, then they ring them up.  ((banging head on desk))  Police go out right then and find them.  Before they have a chance to flee.  Or make up an alibi.  Doesn’t matter if it’s 3:00 AM, the police station never sleeps.  And if you’re a suspect, neither do you.

The police would never, never, never put all three men on one room and start questioning them.  Police Academy, Interrogation 101.   Never. 

Three known drug kingpins would never show up at the police station without their lawyers.  These guys have been in the system before.  They don’t open their mouths freely.  Unless maybe there’s cake and coffee. 

Lou asked the cops when the guy died.  Suspects don’t get to ask questions. Police don’t give out information that maybe only the real killer knows.  Yet these cops are spilling it like a whore in confession.

Sgt. Bascomb said “If we can match them to one of those three men or to one of their associates we’ll have a case. “  No shit, Sherlock.  How dumb do you have to be to be on that police force?  Bascomb, is your father the Mayor?
This was terrible.  I mean it.  No stars.  Not even one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

Can a security guard arrest me?

Yes, many states give security guards the power of arrest.  Also remember that many guards are off-duty cops working an extra job.  It would be best to treat a rent-a-cop with the same concern as a police officer.  BUT rent-a-cops are not real cops, so you don't have ANY constitutional protection if they violate your rights.  If a security guard tells you to stop, then stop, but you do not need to answer questions or explain.  In fact, anything you say to the rent-a-cop will be repeated in court.  There's no such thing as Miranda in that situation.  Be careful.  Be quiet.  Be courteous. Demand that you be released or ask him to call a real cop.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Appearing in issue #38, September 22, 2014

Title:  Recipe for trouble

By Author: Phyllis Whitfield

Tag line:     Someone had apparently cooked up a scheme to eliminate the French chef!

Police characters:   Detective Beth Smart.

The gist:    Det. Smart was interviewing Chef Duval, who looked handsome and immaculate just as he always did on his TV show.  In quite the drama-queen fashion he told her that someone tried to kill him as he worked in his kitchen preparing a dish, claiming they took a shot at him, missed, and hit the mixing bowl.  The detective noted a large bowl had been shattered and lay across the counter, a gooey mixture of milk, eggs, butter and flour appeared to have exploded and dripped from cupboards and countertops.  Chef Duval told the police that Chef Ross, on another network, hated him and was envious of the chef’s fame. Also he noted that his agent recently wanted more money and when he flat out said no she threatened a lawsuit.  When Chef Ross was contacted he did not have an alibi but denied having any involvement.  He said he didn’t own a gun and that Chef Duval’s audience had been shrinking so he (Ross) didn’t have anything to worry about.   The agent told police that she did own a gun but it had been stolen a few weeks ago and she never got around to reporting it.  She denied trying to harm her client.

Detective Smart knew the real story.

Crime scene:    Chef Duval’s TV kitchen set.

Clues:    The mess in the kitchen.

Suspects:   Chef Ross and the agent.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:  Chef Duval was immaculate when the police arrived.  He should have been a mess from the splatter of the contents of the bowl.  He shot the bowl himself to get publicity.

My two cents:    I‘m not sure if this was intentional, but Chef Ross said he didn’t own a gun and there was no mention of the police telling him what happened.  That part might have been cut and this little end was left dangling.

I don’t think the fact that the agent wanted more money and was threatening to sue for it is a very believable motive that she might have taken a shot at her talent.  You can’t get more money from a dead guy.  And what would be the purpose of scaring him?  It won’t loosen his grip on his money. 

The tag line was right on once you knew the solution. The title was a bit trite…seen it before in various versions. 

I couldn’t help but picture Chef Ramsey when I read the story although he’s not given to hissy fits.

Not a bad story.  Not a great story.  The author used her space and words well.  The solution wasn’t a whole column.  It did flow well and followed the typical pattern of crime scene description to witness’s stories to solution.  I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  It just didn’t make me say WOW.

Three stars – the motivation was shaky.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

Robbery vs Burglary vs Theft

In order for the prosecutor to charge robbery, four elements must be proven; that the defendant took money or property from another person; that force, violence, assault, or putting in fear was used during the course of the taking; the property had value; and the taking was with the intent to deprive the victim of the goods.  (Doesn't matter if it was permanently or temporarily.) 

Burglary is a trespass plus an additional criminal act.  The intent to commit the crime must have been formed before the trespass for burglary to be proven.  So first, burglary consists of entering a structure without permission of the owner. You will often hear the attorney ask the witness on the stand: Did you give Mr. Smith permission to enter your home?  Sounds dumb, of course she didn't, but he's proving that element through this witness.  Second, at the time of the entering the defendant had the express intent to commit a crime, such as theft. So he's not just breaking in to look through her underwear drawer, he's looking for something to steal.
Theft is where the defendant knowingly and unlawfully obtained, used or endeavored to use the property of another with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.

Clear?  Okay, let's have a little quiz.

1) You're standing in line at Dunkin Donuts and when the clerk turns her back to get your coffee you look down and see the tips jar.  It's looking pretty full.  On impulse you grab it and stuff it in your purse.  Robbery,  burglary or theft?

 2) You see a purse on the seat of a car.  No one is in the car and the window is open.  You quickly and quietly reach in and take the purse.  Robbery, burglary or theft? 

3) You open an unlocked  back window to an office building, climb inside,  and rummage around the desks.  You walk out of there with a laptop computer.  Robbery,  burglary or theft?

4) You walk up to a little old lady on the street and demand her wallet.  Robbery,  burglary or theft? 

5) You pick a guy's pocket at the train station. Robbery,  burglary or theft?

Answers: 1) Theft.  2) Burglary.  3)Burglary. 4)  Robbery.  5) Theft.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Appearing in issue #37, September 15, 2014

Title:  A is for Apple

By Author:  Herschel Cozine 

Tag line:     Was the apple clutched in the victim’s hand a clue – or just a piece of fruit?

Police characters:   Unnamed detective and his mother-in-law Gladys.

The gist:    Local citizen and attorney Forrest Matthews was murdered.  He was found dead at a party thrown by Frank (a partner in Matthews’s law firm) and Judy Allen, where there were six guests: Matthews; Bill (worked at accounting firm) and Madeline Smart (a librarian); Patricia Mills (accounting firm) and Steven (techie type business owner); and Mary Owens (accounting firm).  Judy, Bill, Patricia and Mary were co-workers.  Matthews was found dead in the living room with a knife in his back and an apple in his hand, apparently clutched from the bowl of mixed fruit on a nearby table.  He had to crawl to the table to get it.

This information is relayed to Gladys, who loves to stick her nose in her son-in-law’s cases.  She begins to ponder the apple connection and comes up with every link she can think of much to the annoyance of the detective: An apple a day; an apple for the teacher; the Garden of Eden; Isaac Newton; William Tell; Adam and Eve; Snow White; Granny Smith, etc.

Gladys looked at the list of names and pointed out the killer.  How did she know?

Crime scene:    The home of the host, Frank Allen.

Clues:    The apple and the careers of the guests.

Suspects:   All of the guests.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:  Apple is the name of a piece of fruit and also of a computer.  Steven Owens was a computer expert.  Turns out Matthews had lost a case that led to Steven’s cousin going to prison.

My two cents:    WW just loves old lady sleuths.  Author Cozine was smart enough to pick up on that and has created grumpy Gladys and her detective son-n-law who knows better than to discuss cases with civilians, but does it anyway to keep the peace in his home.  You gotta’ feel for him.  I may have lost count, but there are at least two stories that I can think of with these characters, and I suspect there will be more.

A couple of little things:

“You said there were no fingerprints on the knife,” was said by Gladys in this story, but this fact was never mentioned.  I think some editing was done here that messed with the detail flow.  It happens.

I know this is a cozy but think about it…you’re badly, badly hurt, stabbed for heaven’s sake.  It hurts. You’re bleeding.  You’re scared you’re going to die.  All you want to do is get help, get to a phone.  Your adrenaline is raging.  You’re disoriented from it.  Woozy and gasping what might be your last breath. Terror, panic, and regret may be buzzing around your head, but these stories always have the victim leaving a clue that takes thinking and connecting.  My killer is a techie, he works with computers, Apple is a brand of computer, oh look, there’s a bowl of fruit.  I’ll just painfully crawl over there and grab one and that will help the police figure it all out.  Talk about painful; it hurt to read the solution.

This is not a criticism of the story but what kind of moron stabs a guy at a house party that he’s a guest at?  Put on a mask and gloves, wear black, and ambush your victim as he’s getting in his car in the parking garage.  That guy deserved to get caught.  

Anyway, with all that said, the writing was good, the story flowed well.  Cozine is developing his characters for the long haul.  There’s wit and reader sympathy for the detective.  By the way, maybe the name of the detective was cut here because I’m pretty sure he had a name in the last story.  The clue was in the details and was not obvious.  The only thing I can complain about, although it was novel, is the improbable scenario of a dying man connecting apples with computer techies.

Four stars for Herschel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

Manslaughter vs Murder

 Manslaughter is the killing of a human being without malice, without premeditation, and without legal excuse.   In a nutshell it is the taking of a life by culpable negligence but without the specific intent to cause death.  A good example of that is when a person drives their vehicle recklessly and gets into a car crash that kills someone.  Picture this; one day you are driving in a careful, lawful manner, and a street light falls on your car smashing your windshield.  This causes you to brake hard and perhaps swerve or fishtail in your efforts to stop the car.  You car impacts  another vehicle and as a result the driver of that car is killed.  You are not guilty of manslaughter.  That is an unfortunate accident with fatalities.

Manslaughter differs from murder in that evil intent (malice) and premeditation are the essence of murder.   A woman discovers her husband is cheating and decides to put poison in his beer.  We have evil intent and premeditation. Not that he didn't deserve it of course.  It is interesting to note that the law does not fix an exact time period that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to the actual killing.  It could happen over months, or it could happen in a matter of minutes, but the period of time must be long enough to allow for reflection of the action.  So let's say neighbors are arguing about the dog peeing on the lawn.  It starts with words, it escalates to a heated  argument.  One man flips out, grabs a rake, and smashes his neighbor's head with it, killing the neighbor.  There's no premeditation there.  Also the law deals with human beings only.  You can kill a dog, but you can't murder a dog.

Everyone has a duty to act reasonably towards others in our society.  If there is a violation of that duty, without conscious intention to cause harm, that violation is considered negligent.   In order for negligence to be culpable it must be gross and flagrant, a course of conduct showing reckless disregard to human life or the safety of persons.  Shooting guns on the 4th of July in the backyard.  Stupid.  And grossly negligent.  When someone gets hit, that is culpable negligence.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Appearing in issue #36, September 8, 2014

Title:  All in the details

By Author:  Bern Sy Moss 


Tag line:  It was a bad day for balding, not-too-tall guys in downtown Springfield!

Police characters:  Deputy Jimmy Willis, Sheriff Trudy Trueworth

The gist:  Five men got their pockets picked in town and were waiting at the police station to report the crime.  In addition the postman dropped off a bunch of wallets that he found in the mailbox near the post office.  The five men were all short and bald, and all wore glasses.  None of them knew where the theft had occurred, but they knew when they realized their wallets were missing: hardware store, dry cleaners, cafĂ©, grocery store and the library.  The sheriff drew up a map of where those locations were, and of the post office where some of the wallets were dumped.  Four of the men got their wallets back but they had been cleaned out of their money.  The fifth man did not get his wallet back.  The sheriff studied the map and announced that ‘a downtown locale’ was missing from the map.  She then drew in the bus station which was central to all the locations.  From this she knew where to find the thief.

Crime scene:  Downtown Springfield.

Clues:  The men all looked the same.  One wallet was missing.

Suspects: Unknown.

Red herrings:  None.

Solution:  Because the men all looked the same, the sheriff knew the thief was looking for a new ID.  She went to the bus station and searched for a man who looked like the victim who didn’t get his wallet back.

My two cents:  Almost the entire first column is spent talking about Deputy Jimmy waiting to take over Sheriff Trueworth’s job. I mean who cares?  Another quarter of a column was taken up with the five men bitching about having their pockets picked, and wanting to know where the sheriff was, and when are the police going to find this guy.  What a waste of space.   Finally in the third column we get some information but the solution took up almost the whole last column.  This would have been a 400-word story if you cut out the extraneous material.

I wish the sheriff would have just noticed that the bus station was close to all the spots where the men noticed their wallets had been stolen instead of the clumsy “A downtown locale was missing from the map.” There was no time frame in the story.  We have to assume these thefts occurred within minutes of each other as all five men ended up going to the police station at the same time.  Did they walk to the police station?  Drive there?  Of course, these wallets could have been stolen hours before the men finally noticed them missing, so realistically that map of where they discovered them gone is rather useless.  

That town sure had a lot of short, bald men.

The sheriff told the deputy in the beginning of the story to always pay attention to the details. So that’s where the title comes from.  It’s not a strong tie.  And it’s not a strong title.

I’m not impressed with this story.  The writing was stilted.  The pacing was off.  The timing of the crimes wasn’t clear.  The setup was way too long.  There were clumsy spots.  The solution was laborious. The only thing I did like was the fact that the sheriff had a hunch and headed to the bus station to look for a short, balding man with glasses that looked like the guy who never got his wallet back.  Good thing for her the perp didn’t have time to take an earlier bus.

One star for a decent clue.  Oh, and the tag line was clever.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

If the cops are behind me with their lights on,
 do I have to pull over?

That would be a yes.  

Failure to stop is a huge mistake.  At the very least you could be charged with the misdemeanor of resisting arrest without violence. At the worst, aggravated fleeing.  

Once the officer turns on his siren and overhead wigwags and you do not stop, it becomes a felony.  If the cop has to follow you at a high rate of speed it then becomes aggravated fleeing, which usually comes with minimum mandatory jail time.   Most times when you see the lights in your rearview mirror and you begin to pull over, the cop rushes past you to get to his real target.  He just wanted you out of the way. 

Don't play games with this.  Just pull over.  If you're afraid to pull over, say you're in a bad neighborhood or on a lonely stretch of road or on an off ramp on the highway, put your flashers on and signal to the officer to follow you.  Pull over at the next safe place.  A gas station would be nice if there is one. Somewhere where there are lights and other people.  Do this as quickly as possible.   If you have a cell phone, call 911 and tell the operator you're being asked to pull over by the police and you fully intend to, once you're in a safe place.  Ask her/him to relay this to the cruiser who is behind you.