Kate Flora, here, once again taking you inside the writing process. This time, I’m sharing my search
for some clues to plant at a crime scene in the fifth Joe Burgess mystery, And Led Them Thus Astray. It all began with a simple request to my Facebook friends that went like this:
Okay, FB sleuths…I need an item to drop out of a shooter’s pocket or off his clothing that will ultimately lead to him, but will initially be either a very ordinary, or very obscure clue. Suggestions?
I’m the first to agree that one can waste an awful lot of time on Facebook, but at times like this, crowd sourcing ideas can be very helpful. I’m not going to tell you which of these things I’ve ultimately chosen or will use, but here are some of the fascinating suggestions that have come my way from my friends and from the writers in the MainelyWriters facebook group.
Suggestion one: a button. And readers didn’t stop with just a button. Amy Brereton Canady send me a screenshot of a custom button. Carl Brookins suggested the backing button on one of the display buttons on the perp’s jacket. Another writer suggested a rubber button from a rugby shirt.
The button conversation led to other items that might be personal to the shooter, including AA tokens from John Clark and Marcia Talley, a wooden nickel from celebration he attended in his home town as a kid from Wendy Hornsby. The conversation led from there to other personal items that might lead to a particular individual, such as rare coins leading to a coin collector, consider a military challenge coin. Brendan DuBois writes: They’re given as souvenirs or keepsakes from one military officer to another, or as a gift to a civilian. I have several in my office. And perhaps one less that’s now at the crime scene, Brendan? Steve Bucci suggests even more obscure coins: Obscure. A salvage/treasure coin. Either a Reale (silver) or Escudo (gold) from a Spanish wreck. The person dropping it may have been involved in the salvage operation or the coin could tie him/her to an earlier theft.
A lot of suggestions were for items that might contain DNA or fingerprints, including, from my cousin May Lovelace fingernail clippers with a bit of dirt (skin cells from scratching) on the blade? nail clippings, hairs, hairs from the shooter’s dog, toothpicks, especially the toothpick from someone’s jackknife. Thank you, Steven Powell. Michele Fowler suggested Kleenex tissue, so many skin cells must be in a used tissue. Debra Easterling offered chewed gum a la the Hernandez case, and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills suggested a gum wrapper.
Another category, which might be called “Useful Bits of Paper” included a simple store receipt that can be used to ID the person via video of the purchase and/or credit card info, from Michele Fleury; Cheryl Klebacha Weaver offered a video game receipt or play notes, observing that “some adults are obsessed.” A library card from Marie Winslow Finnegan, movie ticket stub from Bruce Coffin. Another police officer, Neil Low, noted that criminals often lose their wallets when they climb through windows.
Another police expert, Robin Burcell, says: I like the receipt idea. If used with a credit card #, it would have the last four digits. But you could make it a cash transaction, which most people would discount as being worthless–unless one realizes that the computerized receipt has the time, date, register, cashier, and what was bought. There may be video at the store, or the cashier might recall who he was, because of something he bought. And their could be a suspect print on the receipt as well, tying him to it
Right now, in my imaginary evidence pile, I have a lot of keys, key rings, tie tacks, fraternity pins, rings, and thumb drives with and without incriminating photos. I have a cigarette lighter given out by a gas station, a gift from my niece Kate Massey. I have logo golf balls and poker chips. I have Bridget Hockney’s phone ear piece. Then I told my FB friends that I suspect my bad guy is a hunter or outdoorsman, and what might that suggest he dropped. More answers rolled in.
From retired game warden Roger Guay, foam ear plugs. All shooters have them great DNA source. From Rusty Fairbanks: Maybe a fishing lure, i.e., a feathered fly) with a unique knot or way it is tied to the hook. A local fishing club member recognizes it from an area sporting show where there was a wo/man (your shooter) demonstrating how s/he made it (for show only – not for sale). Bruce Coffin: Duck call or other wildlife call whistle. Pamela Bennett Mains: A piece of unique, region based bait, or a custom-made fishing lure – looks like an ordinary fly until the knots and elements are examined. People worried about the perp snagging himself on that fishing gear, so Martha Johnston put a guard on it, since it’s really a good luck piece.
Kurt S. Dyer, Jr. wrote: Most professional shooters carry a good luck charm or memento that reminds them of who they are and why they do what they do. With that said, might I suggest something like an old bullet engraved with something only the shooter would recognize. It could lead back to some military tie-in of an old military buddy that would recognize it as well
In the midst of this, Brian MacMaster, from the AG’s office, and David Hench, stellar reporter from the Portland Press Herald, engaged in this dialogue:
MacMaster: He’s wearing a zippered hoodie and the zipper pull falls off.
MacMaster: When I was in high school, I worked for a cobbler and we put moon shaped metal heel plates on shoes to save the heels. Each plate was held on by 2 small brads and, invariably, the plate on one of the shoes or boots would fall off. (They were like the metal plates on tap shoes.)
David Hench: cell phone charger…that somehow, maybe through scratch marks or metal shavings, links to the cell phone it charged and thereby to the owner…who hasn’t been able to delete the incriminating stuff on his phone cause it’s out of battery.
MacMaster: Good one, Dave, ballistics on the charger.
Hench: I’m just stunned by the fact you worked for a cobbler in high school…that’s old school, and very cool
MacMaster: And the cobbler had holes in his soles.
The prize for most off-the-wall suggestion was a chicken pot pie. I’m not telling who suggested that. It might show up in the book, though.
So thanks, friends. I now have a wealth of material to work with.