As I am sure many other crime/mystery writers did while being cooped up during Maine’s recent sleety-snowy-icy storm days, I clicked on the Unsolved Homicides on the Maine State Police website. There were 75 entries, one going all the way back to 1954. There were 39 men, the remaining were women.
Of course, certain details are not included on the website. This allows any casual reader trying to block out the sounds of hurricanic gusts of wind to let their minds fill in possible backstories, motives, villains, investigative procedures and emotional tidbits.
I decided to organize my reading alphabetically, from A to Z.
I read of an escaped convict (Maine State Prison) who had been on the run for six months; his body was found in a ditch near the Maine Turnpike north of Biddeford. Cause of death unmentioned, I decided a massive blow to the occipital lobe with a garden gnome or tire iron. Another was (or at least appeared to be) an abducted woman in her early thirties who had been visited by a close friend one night – and then didn’t show up for a planned rendezvous the next day. When friends went to check on her, there were pools of blood in the living room. The woman’s car was gone, but news of it surfaced; it had been involved in a hit and run accident outside of Boston and witnesses described a “good-looking, blond, skinny” driver (made me think of a lean Bradley Cooper or Ryan Gosling). The trail led through a few southern states, the woman’s body was dumped in one of them, the car was finally found in another. Cause of death unmentioned, I decided an angry swing of a kitchen cleaver opened an artery, and the final gasp of breath took place in the trunk of her own car. Motive of the attacker? Still thinking on that.
Some victims were hitchhikers, some picked up hitchhikers. Of this latter category, details of one case struck me as especially odd: A woman had enjoyed (my word, maybe it was not enjoyable) coffee with an ex-husband in an undisclosed urban location. Around midnight, she got into her car and was (supposedly) headed home to her new husband. The ex-husband decided to follow her. (Chivalrous? Predatory? Who knows.) She picked up a hitchhiker on a main drag in downtown Portland. (Why? Who knows. Not something most people (especially women alone?) would do in the early, dark morning hours.) The ex saw her pick the hitchhiker, then watched the car run multiple stop lights and zip off – and he gave up the follow. (Chivalry now clearly gone) Eight hours later, the woman’s body was found, dead, in her car on a residential street. Cause of death unmentioned, I decided to go with gunshot. Motive? The imagination runs wild.
Some victims are described as known slum landlords. Some victims appear shady (possible gun dealers or purveyors of stolen goods). Some victims may have surprised a burglar. Some pull at your heartstrings because they (at the time of death) were quite old – and lived alone. Some were quite young when foul play befell them. Sad hints of who the villains might be (strange car seen in the neighborhood, someone hanging around a playground, bodies found in odd places) are (for the most part) sketchy and that makes the crimes scarier.
The site states that to get onto this Unsolved Homicide list, a crime of murder (or suspected murder) must be unsolved for at least three years. Every once in a while, when clicking on a case, I came upon a note stating that an arrest had been made. (One of the homicides was sixteen years old before charges were filed; I celebrated the police work by clocking the mph of the latest gust of wind, counting the icicles on my balcony and making myself a fresh hot toddy.)
I checked out some of the billboards across America featuring the faces of the victims of unsolved crimes. Some states, like Rhode Island and Oklahoma, have issued decks of playing cards with victims faces and details of the crime. (Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation has reported these cards (used in canasta or poker games? or maybe to play ‘Go Fish’ with grandma?) have generated tips.)
Bus stop posters have been used. Milk cartons. TV shows. Flyers. Internet sites. Hollywood unsolved cases, like the Black Dahlia, the Thomas Ince murder as well as William Desmond Taylor and other celebs still catch the public’s – and writers’ imaginations. No one likes to be denied access to the truth.
Ahh. Another huge gale of wind. The balcony furniture nearly takes flight, but the bungee cords are doing their work.
Time to go back to reading my latest Detective Peter Diamond novel. Special thanks to Peter Lovesey for helping me get through the winter storms.