Kaitlyn: It happens all the time. A mystery writer is walking along a quiet street, or driving down a deserted road and sees a culvert, or a deserted house, or a construction site. Or he or she is out to dinner and notices an odd little alcove in the restaurant or a secluded, fog-shrouded grove of trees just visible through the window. “What a great place to find a body!” s/he exclaims. Or, for variety, “What a great place to hide a body!” This elicits startled looks from anyone within earshot, but it may just be the starting point for a new crime novel.
My latest “ah-hah!” moment was while watching my husband “net” Christmas trees. As he cranked the tree through, wrapping it in red netting, I flashed on the insurance company commercial where an actor calling himself “mayhem” plays the role of a netted tree falling off the roof of a car and causing an accident. What if, I thought, we got up some morning and found a body, neatly netted, lying next to the netter?
That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the idea. It may never turn into anything more. But, seriously, wouldn’t that be a great place for the character in a mystery novel to find a body?
Kate: I’ll bet we all do it. Growing up, my mother was always deeply anxious about abandoned wells, of which there were several on our property. Later, when I was raking blueberries on Clary Hill, there was an old well up there that I always wanted to put a body in. I finally did in a short story. I must have thing for water, because old rainbarrels are another place I want to put a body. And what about bait barrels? The bait already smells so awful that sticking a body in there probably wouldn’t make it worse. And if you really want to hide a body, there are always a lot of woodchippers out there, just waiting for a body to be chipped. I think there was a real case of this in Connecticut that the famous Dr. Henry Lee worked on. At one point, when I was working on a book with an architect as the protagonist, my friends started sending me clippings and calling up with ideas of where to put a body. There are so many possibilities when you’re building a house.
It’s not just hiding bodies, either, that sends our imaginations racing. Once, driving down an empty road, I saw a car parked at the side with all four doors open, but no one around. I couldn’t help but wonder who had been there just moments before, and where they were now, and what they were doing?
Kaitlyn: Things glimpsed along the side of the road are great inspirations. Once Sandy and I were driving through a rural area (in New Hampshire, I think), and noticed an old-fashioned, nicely straw-stuffed scarecrow in a field. For some reason that got both of us thinking “what if that was a body hanging there?” I have to tell you, it took a bit of thinking to figure out why anyone would hide a body in plain sight that way, but I ended up using that “great place to find a body” in one of the Diana Spaulding mysteries (No Mortal Reason) written as Kathy Lynn Emerson and set in 1888. I doubt the body hidden as a scarecrow would work in Liss MacCrimmon’s modern-day Maine, but you never know. That’s part of the writer’s challenge . . . creating a “willing suspension of disbelief.”
Kate: Very early one morning, my husband and I were driving through Boston toward the airport. As we came out of a tunnel, we suddenly had a view of the shops at Faneuil Hall Market, and there was a huge display window with three dummies facing us. We both said, at the same time, “Imagine if one of those was a body!” Scary, huh?
Barb: The Christmas tree netter! That is perfect. I would read that book. Like Kate and her car with all four doors open, I’m always taken by things that look like time just stopped, like someone expected to be back in just a moment, yet wasn’t. I remember having that feeling so strongly on an island in Greece, staring at an unfinished kouros statue. The carver or carvers walked away, and then–what? What prevented them from returning and finishing?
As for hiding bodies, I am a fan of following little throw away statements people make like, the crime scene investigator who said, “Nobody ever looks up.”
Vicki: Fun way to get the 2012 creative juices flowing, guys.
These “in plain sight” ideas are great to ponder, but what I’ve always found so terrifying are those giant chest freezers that are in so many older homes…and of course, that’s where poor Kitty Wardwell was hidden for nearly 30 years. My fear is well justified, it seems.
Lea: What great places to put/find bodies! Like everyone else I take closer looks at obvious places … like alleys, and deserted lots. And every time I see a twisted pile of rockweed on the beach I wonder what might be under it … But some of realities offer their own possibilities for stories. The women’s college I went to had several old homes on campus which were used as dormitories or guest houses. When one of them was opened after being closed for the summer, a young woman’s body (no, not a student) was found on one of the beds. Talk about a public relations challenge! (That guest house was closed for a year or two and totally re-done the next time I visited the campus.)
Julia: We live along the Saco River, and I’ve often thought that sinking a body beneath its dark surface would be a good way to make someone disappear. There was a tragic case here in Buxton a few years ago: a depressed teenager jumped off the Bar Mills bridge into the Saco, killing herself. However, for some time it was thought she had run away from home, so the water search for her body was delayed. Now, anyone who lives in Maine knows the Warden service is relentless in finding drowning victims. But (I thought) what if everyone assumed a missing person had just left the state? A clever murderer could make it look like his victim had gone in search of a new job, or was leaving a bad relationship and then slip the body, suitably weighted down, into the river in (of course) the dead of night. The Saco is a good thirty feet deep in my area – it could take a long, long time for remains to reappear.
Barb: Vicki–I read about Kitty Wardell with interest, because we had a body-in-freezer case in Somerville, MA where I live in the winter. We were renovating our house and, shock of shock, the contractor was a bit behind schedule, so we stored our appliances in a storage facility. My husband went there one morning to find the parking lot surrounded by police cars. In a dying declaration, a woman told her children she’d murdered their father, kept him in the freezer in California for years, and then had the freezer with him in it shipped to Massachusetts when she moved. I keep thinking about the burden she carried all those years, and the astonishment and pain of her children as she transferred that burden to them as they simultaneously coped with their grief over losing her. My god.
Sarah: I once wrote a butcher’s body right into his own freezer. He was neatly wrapped, of course, and resting in pieces. I put one into the wall of an old house here in Eastport, and one on a woodpile in winter, just before a heavy snowfall (but a January thaw ruined that hiding place for the killer). I think the old Kliban cartoon caption, ‘Always hide where there are a lot of the same kind of things’ is true, though, so I hope I get to hide one in a morgue, someday. As for the best place to hide a body, I don’t know, because the truly best places haven’t been found by anyone but the body-hiders, have they? I suspect there are plenty of brilliant locations no one except a murderer has thought of. I do know that if I had to do it, though, I’d probably proceed as if I were making salt fish. A really big fish! And then, later that year…well, lots of folks in downeast Maine like a good salt fish dinner, don’t they?
Kate: I understand that mixing the bits in with other lobster bait and then setting it out in traps is a pretty good way of getting rid of a body, while at the same time “making a killing” selling all those lobster that are attracted to this special bait. Our contributing librarian, John Clark, had a short story on that theme published in one of the Level Best crime story collections. Dumping bodies in the water is only effective if they’re somewhere that a good cadaver dog can’t get there to sniff. And I hear that scientists are working on a device that can also sniff those molecules of decay, so you can putt putt around in a little motorboat and the dog will bark, or the device will beep, and the body will be detected. This always assumes, however, that law enforcement is willing to call in someone else’s expertise, doesn’t it?