Tuesday, September 7, 2010

True Crime Tuesday

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
*****Mark Twain

HANK: So here we mystery authors sit, at our computers, madly making stuff up. Killers and victims and motives and weapons and poisons and generally the scariest possible suspenseful circumstances to chill the heart and puzzle the brain.

But I have it on good authority, from a best-selling author (not on JRW) who tells me that another best selling author--even MORE best-selling and also not on JRW--hasn't come up with an original plot idea in YEARS, she says. Perhaps, ever.

What this person (who will remain nameless in his/her madly well-deserved success) does is scour the news for stories. Actually, I should say, s/he scours the news for stories to steal. Then s/he dolls them up and works them over and voila, another best seller.

Why didn't we think of this?

To that end, Jungle Red announces True Crime Tuesday. Every Tuesday we'll be here to chat about the best mysteries and stories we've read recently--not fiction! But the real thing. And maybe you'll get an idea or two for your next novel or short story...or learn something new about motivation, or deception, or the depths of the human capability for rationalization. Or selfishness. Or desire. Or drama.

Like Phillip Markoff, the accused "Craigs List Killer" the medical student who found his alleged victims on Craigs List, remember? Killed himself in his prison cell. He had hidden his gun in a cut out book in his apartment. In Grey's Anatomy. (Your editor would say--no, way too obvious!)

But before he died, he wrote in his own blood on his cell's wall: Megan.( That's his ex-fiancee's name. Fine.) He also wrote: Pocket.

Pocket? Police say, oh, it's nothing. Probably a nickname he had for his girlfriend. I say: Are you kidding me? Did anyone look in his pockets? ALL of them? How about in his closet at home? How about in Megan's pockets? If they don't, you could in your book, I bet...

In Sunday's Times, a story so coincidental you couldn't possibly pass it off as plausible. And yet, there it is:

A nurse at a Bronx hospice went to greet her new patient and was stunned to find it was her estranged father who she hadn't seen in 41 years.

And here, from a Tampa TV station, what's certainly the beginnings of a great story.

REDINGTON BEACH - The empty million-dollar yacht that arrived on Redington Beach last week was stolen, investigators say.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, detectives in Mexico confirmed that the 43-foot Sea Ray Sundancer 48 was stolen from a marina in Cancun on Saturday, August 21. That's four days before the empty but still-running boat washed up on the Pinellas County beach.

Pinellas detectives say they searched the boat and found no evidence that it was being used for criminal activity.

The boat's apparent owner, Arturo Millet Reyes, has been in touch with detectives via email, and he is expected to follow up with proof of ownership to claim the vessel, which remains impounded.

There was never any sign of passengers from the boat in waters off the Bay Area.

(Who took the boat? Why? What happened to the passengers? And where did the bad guys go?)

RHYS: Reminds me immediately of Rosebud, doesn't it? And the boat--interesting. If it was used to run drugs, maybe the smugglers launched an inflatable, went ashore somewhere unnoticed with the shipment and ditched the yacht. Or ditto to smuggle in people. Or it ventured into the Bermuda Triangle and the crew were sucked into a parallel universe....

HANK: Love it! So. Read any good reality lately? Of course our pals who are true crime writers do it all the time. But for those of us in the fiction world--you cannot make up anything as amazing as reality.

What do you think Pocket could mean? And what happened to that boat?


  1. Hank, I didn't see that he'd written "pocket" - fascinating.

    My favorite true crime from last week comes from Bakersfield...ANOTHER doctor:

    A woman doctor involved in, according to the paper, and dontcha love this: an "on-again, off-again" relationship, apparently tried to
    break into her boyfriend's house with a shovel, then climbed a ladder to the roof and slid feet first down the chimney flue.

    Meanwhile, the guy she was pursuing escaped unnoticed from another exit "to avoid a confrontation."

    They found her decomposing body was found there three days later. Something about the smell.

  2. Actually, the death in my Red Delicious Death came from a conversation with my hairdresser, about a real murder in our town.

    This one's not a crime (yet) but it still has me giggling: a local politician who is running for re-election announced in our town paper that he was having a fundraising event. The main attraction? A pair of psychic sisters. Do they foresee his win?

  3. Hank,

    I LOVE IT!! Pocket?? I'll be thinking about that all day. But my instincts go with you -- there's something a pocket somewhere.

    I can't believe the great details I missed while NOT READING the paper or Internet (mostly) on the vineyard. CAN'T WAIT TO get home!!

  4. Pocket--it's another name. Another of his victims? The guy taking over his role as Craigslist stalker? I just punched it in to 411.com and it gave me 28 people named Pocket, mostly in MI, MN and TX, including three women named--I kid you not--Polly Pocket.

  5. Hank, this is so interesting! I haven't a clue, well, except for the pockets, and you can be darn sure, I'd be searching everyone including pockets in files, etc.

    As for the nurse meeting her father after 41 years, in fiction, we'd get nailed on coincidence ;)

    But in addition to newspapers, if you've ever listened to talk radio, in particular finance advice or expert advice, you can find some amazing potential plots.

    Yesterday a man said he responded to a work from home ad when all the prospective owner wanted the guy to do was evaluate three local businesses. He did, and a few weeks later, he received a check for $2600 from the Netherlands.

    Long story short, the scam involved Western Union, which the guy then admitted to the radio broadcaster was one of the businesses he was told to investigate.

    The guy obviously hurting for money was dying to cash the check at one of those quick check cashing businesses. The expert said, Don't do it. Trust me, don't do it. These are not nice people running these businesses.

    Yep, truth is stranger than fiction. Love the concept of True Crime Tuesday!

  6. A pirate ghost stole the boat and darn he didn't call me to go for a ride. He got bored with all the new technology so he dumped the boat. He really wanted a sailboat...

    but the pocket has me stumped!

  7. Pocket - there are several books of medical terms with the word pocket in them. Since he hid his gun in the Grey's Anatomy book, maybe he hid something in a one of those books.

    Someday some medical student will open a Pocket Book of Medical Terms and find...

  8. I must admit that I'm a bit obsessed with the alleged Craigslist killer's suicide and already knew about "pocket".

    And I must admit I found the chimney story entertaining when it broke.

    I wonder what this says about me....

  9. I read somewhere that "Pocket" was the killer's pet name for his ex-fiancee. May be apocryphal, but . . .

  10. That's what the police are saying..nickname. But I say: who knows.
    And bizarrely, we just saw the Humphey Bogart movie Dead Reckoning..and I'm wondering if--IF that's true--that's where they got "pocket." Every time Humphrey and Lizabeth Scott mentioned it--I got chills.

    HSS--oh, tell us more! (ANd thanks not the spelling..grr.)

    JB--it says you're one of us..or we're one of you..or something good like that!

  11. what a great column. Many times real life stuff is stranger than fiction. I'm guessing that Meagan knows what pocket meant. It could mean the place in a pool table, a secret panel in the wall, the cubby in the side of a car door, and gosh, there are so many pockets.

    Thanks for the brain food!

    MUDDY WATERS coming Oct. 22

  12. I love the story about the Chilean coal miner whose wife and mistress both showed up at the rescue site. If those men don't get out, it will be a tragedy all round, but if, as we hope, they are eventually rescued, that guy will probably volunteer to come up last. It gets my mind working on how personal secrets get exposed during dramatic events. There was a Harrison Ford movie about a plane crash that exposed the affair two of the dead passengers were having.

    It's not just crime stories that can give you ideas--but that's a good place to start.

  13. Oh, Mo, I hadn't read that! Talk about conflict.

    Maggie, you're so right--of course she knows! And is probably just waiting....

    COme back next Tuesday for more!

    And tomorrow--for some inspiration and wonderful advice.

    And Thursday--well, yikes. You've never heard such an interview.