Kaitlyn Dunnett here, starting a new group post on true news items that no one would believe if we tried to use them in one of our novels. You know the sort of thing I mean: accounts of the truly stupid stuff some people do.
First up is a story that appeared in the Bangor Daily News back in March. It seems that some employees of the Maine Department of Transportation were having a little fun in the office and created a spoof of a public notice. It announced an open meeting in the town of Islesboro to consider the replacement of a bridge. It contained such statements as “We don’t really care about the bridge. We are just curious about these island folk. Anyone who happens by is invited to disrupt the meeting.” And, “Candid photos will be sneakily taken of awkward person for our entertainment. Life jackets and coffee brandy will be provided upon advance request.” Somehow, the text was emailed to the BDN, which ublished it in a two-column, 5-inch ad. Oops.
In the category of dumb criminals, I offer up this recent case reported in my local online newspaper, the Daily Bulldog. It seems that one of our county n’er-do-wells took to stealing canoes and kayaks from his neighbors. He might have gotten away with it . . . if he hadn’t immediately offered them for sale on the local Farmington radio station’s sell and swap show. Is it any wonder he got caught?
So, fellow Maine Crime Writers, what real stories have you come across lately that are simply too dumb to be believed in fiction?
Kate Flora: The Bangor Daily News is rich with story. Here’s a good one from this week: Man Accidentally Shoots Himself in Buttocks. Although I guess the only crime there is stupidity. Like all the writers here, I read the papers for ideas, and I avidly read police blotters when they’re available. Among my all time favorites were these, which I haven’t yet been able to weave into a book. First was the woman who called the police because there was a spider trapped in a parking meter. This takes compassion too far, IMHO, but it sure would be a fun attribute to assign to a character. She goes along with the people who carry ants and flies outside to release them, without assuming they’ll be right back in, thank you. Unless it’s a form of exercise?
Second, and most magical, perhaps, was the driver who saw the three-foot tall, golden eyed, tawny beast sitting in the middle of the road. Unsurprisingly, it was gone when the police arrived. Another one that has character possibilities was the woman who called police because someone who had just been to a showing at her house had called her back and reported seeing Jesus in a lawn statute. So even when the stories are crazy, we can assign them to the less than balanced in our book. And there’s the too nosy, and easily shockable person who called the police to report that she had seen a man through his window, inside his house, naked. I could have some fun with her.
On a real, and more disturbing note, I often read the comments under news articles, and one about the recent discovery of three bodies in a burned car in Bangor lead me to a Facebook page of one of those presumed among the dead. Gangsta stuff, open display of drugs, and posing with assorted handguns. And no privacy settings, so the whole world can see it. This is a seriously bad version of They Did What?
Barb Ross: The stories I like the best are the ones heavy on coincidence. The ones my husband reads me that have me shouting, “No!” Like the one about the woman whose Manhattan apartment was destroyed when Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle’s small plane flew into it, who was the same woman who was in a coma for twenty-four days after the Cat in the Hat balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade knocked a lamppost over onto her. Or more recently, the tragedy of Jessica Ghawi, the young woman who survived a Toronto mall shooting only to be killed in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Maybe not coincidences. Maybe just extraordinarily bad luck.
Lea Wait:I thought I didn’t have anything to add to this blog. That was until I read this week’s Lincoln County News. Seems a fellow was arguing with his wife (from the charges, appears he was using his fists to make his point — but it doesn’t say that, so I won’t use his name.) In any case, she got in her car and to the police station. So far — nothing, unfortunately, too far out of the ordinary. She sounds like a smart lady. What her dear hubby did then is what puts the situation over the top. Seems he got in HIS car and followed her to the police station, ramming her car with his “several times” along the way. When they both arrived at the station “he choked and punched the woman in the parking lot” (where were the policemen at this point?) and stole her car keys before fleeing the scene — colliding with the patrol officer’s cruiser as he pulled out of the lot. (Oh – that’s where the officer was. Out on patrol.) Hate these domestic violence situations when they’re outside the domicile.
Kaitlyn: Lea’s story reminds me of an oldie from the days when my husband worked for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department. I may not get the details exactly right, and I don’t think the story ever made the newspapers, but here’s the gist of it. Seems there was this fella who thought his friend had been stealing from him. He decides he’s going to make him confess. So he gets himself a can of gasoline and he pours it over his friend and he tells the friend that he’d better agree to go with him to the police station and tell all to the cops right that minute or he’ll flick his Bic. They drove together to the sheriff’s office . . . which brings us perilously close to understanding how things like that Bangor car fire happen. Sheesh. The term TSTL takes on a whole new meaning when applied to real people.
Barb: There’s a story in the Huffington Post today (Friday) about a guy who broke into a house and baked himself a chicken pot pie!
Kate: On my refrigerator, I have three newspaper clippings. One is about a passenger who disappears from a cruise ship. One is headlined: Plague rats missing from lab. The third is about a pulmonary physician who dies alone at home of an asthma attack. I think there is a story in all of these. But Kaitlyn’s original premise–that the world is full of criminals too stupid for us to use? Absolutely. Our readers expect us to make things credible.