RSS

Monthly Archives: August 2019

Criminal Mischief: Episode #26: Storytelling In Dixie

 

LISTEN:https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/26-storytelling-in-dixie

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

 SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/26-storytelling-in-dixie.html

 

Storytelling In Dixie by DP Lyle 

Here’s the thing about the South—if you can’t tell a story, they won’t feed you. They’ll simply deposit you behind the barn and let you wither away. That doesn’t happen often because everyone down there can spin a yarn. Some better than others, but a story is a story. This is a rich tradition and congers up names like William Faulkner, James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Truman Capote (who spent much of his childhood in Alabama), James Lee Burke, and the list goes on and on.

Where did this tradition come from? Since much of the South was settled by Scotch- Irish immigrants, they transported their storytelling skills across the pond. Ever hear of a Scotsman who couldn’t reel off a story over a few glasses of whiskey? Me, either. Plus, the South was rural, poor, and with fewer resources, so much of society revolved around the farm, and hearth and home. Books were a luxury, meaning that family entertainment came from stories told by the fireplace. 

I grew up in Alabama. Huntsville to be exact. Not your typical southern town. Sure we had acres of farmland, churches on every corner, enough pickup trucks to cause a traffic jam, and a cacophony of country music, but we also had a space program. Snuggled up to the city is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center where Werner von Braun and cohorts built the rockets that sent men into orbit and eventually to the surface of the moon. Made for an interesting soup of folks. Rednecks and scientist, all dining on barbecue and biscuits, and of course pecan pie. 

So, what is it that makes Southern storytelling so compelling? It’s the many facets of the area. You can’t write about the South without considering country music, the blues, country stores, cornbread, sweet tea, and the weather. 

Weather: Weather is a character in Southern stories. The rain, the hair-raising electrical storms, and, of course, the heat and humidity conspire to alter everything in life. The cracking of lightning puts nerves on edge while the sauna-like air wilts your clothing, slows your walk, and stretches out your drawl like back strap molasses creeping over a mess of hotcakes. In his famous “Ten Rules of Writing,” Elmore Leonard admonished authors to never start a story with the weather. He forgot to tell that to James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series moves around the swamplands of Louisiana, a place where weather is most definitely a character. Don’t believe it. Read the first paragraph of his Edgar Award-winning Black Cherry Blues. Breathtaking. And his evocation of the weather draws you quickly and deeply into the story. 

Characters: Southern characters are often larger than life. The local sheriff with a big gun and an even bigger belly, the cheerleader with the big smile and bouncy blond hair, the farmer with his coveralls, straw angled from his mouth, and a sun-baked red neck. There’s Gone With the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, who defies description, and Scout, who gives a child’s-eye view of her father Atticus as he fights for right and justice in To Kill A Mockingbird. Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men introduced us to Willie Stark, who channels the one-of-a-kind Huey P. Long, a man whose shadow still lays over Louisiana. Not to mention the modern-day Don Quixote Ignatius Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces. 

It seems almost everyone in the South has a nickname. Sometimes even a nickname for their nickname. My Little League baseball coach was known as Breadman—I never knew his real name—and he was mostly called Bread. We played against another coach called Buttermilk—didn’t know his name either—but he was called simply Milk. See, a nickname for a nickname. 

Language: Yeah, we say ain’t a lot. It’s a great word. Has a soft feel as it rolls off the tongue. And of course y’all, which is a point of confusion for those from up north. Is y’all singular or plural? The answer is yes, and yes. It’s both. You meet someone on the street and you might say, “How y’all doing?” You could mean how that person is doing or how they and their “Mom and ‘em” are doing. Which brings up that phrase. Mom and ‘em means all those folks around you mom-the entire family, friends, neighborhood, coworkers. It’s more or less all inclusive. And then there’s “all y’all.” Makes sense this would be pleural but not so fast. If you ask, “How all y’all doing?” you might mean how the family or some grouping is, but you might mean how is “all of you” doing? It might seem confusing, but really, it ain’t. 

Food: Food is as Southern as anything. If you’ve never traveled to New Orleans, then you have no idea what great food truly is. We love our barbecue, fried chicken, grits, turnip greens, squash, cornbread (no sugar please), sweet tea (lot’s of sugar please), and banana pudding and pecan pie. You won’t find tofu and gluten-free is a foreign concept.

Football: You must understand football to understand the South. Example: I went to the University of Alabama. Roll Tide. I hate Auburn. Enough said. 

If you can’t see the story potential in all this, then bless your heart—an expression that doesn’t necessarily mean what it seems to impart. It might be proffered as a literal gesture of good will, or it might mean: You’re mentally defective and I feel sorry for your shortcomings. It’s all about the context, tone, inflection, and body language. 

These deep roots and my understanding of the rhythm of Southern culture led me to set most of my fictional stories in the area. My Dub Walker forensic thriller series takes place in and around Huntsville were I utilize many of the high-tech and forensic science techniques developed at NASA in the stories. Dr. Wendell Volek, a character in my first Dub book Stress Fracture, is actually Dr. David Hathaway, the director of NASA’s solar imaging program as well as the developer of the VISAR system for digital image enhancement. I spent some time with David and he explained VISAR to me in great detail. It became part of the book.

The stories in my Jake Longly comedic thriller series are scattered around the South. Jake lives in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the initial story Deep Six takes place. Then, on to New Orleans for A-List and the Florida panhandle for Sunshine State, coming in May. The next in the series, Rigged, will be out next year and is set in the wonderfully artsy community of Fairhope, Alabama. Each of these ares has its own distinct flavor, but all are quintessentially Southern. 

I have another new book coming in October, the first in my Bobby Cain/Harper McCoy series. It’s titled Skin In The Game and is set in and around Nashville, including the shores of Tims Ford Lake, a beautiful body of water in central Tennessee.

Two of my three published short stories are also set in the South. “Even Steven” appeared in Thriller 3: Love Is Murder and is set in Huntsville. “Bottom Line” can be found in For The Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired By the Sherlock Holmes Canon and is set in a fictional Southern locale. 

So, my Southern roots are deep and broad and they inspire my stories at every turn. I now live in Orange County, CA, but my heart and soul belongs, and always will, in the South. But, that’s another story. 

 

Originally published in Mystery Readers Journal the publication of Mystery Readers International. 

Join MRI and subscribe to the MRJ. A must for writers and readers. https://mysteryreaders.org

 

Advertisements
 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #25: A Stroll Through Forensic Science History

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #25: A Stroll Through Forensic Science History

 

 

LISTEN:https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/forensicsciencehistory

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/25-a-stroll-through-forensi.html

 

FORENSIC SCIENCE TIMELINE 

Prehistory: Early cave artists and pot makers “sign” their works with a paint or impressed finger or thumbprint.

1000 b.c.: Chinese use fingerprints to “sign” legal documents.

3rd century BC.: Erasistratus (c. 304–250 b.c.) and Herophilus (c. 335–280 b.c.) perform the first autopsies in Alexandria.

2nd century AD.: Galen (131–200 a.d.), physician to Roman gladiators, dissects both animal and humans to search for the causes of disease.

c. 1000: Roman attorney Quintilian shows that a bloody handprint was intended to frame a blind man for his mother’s murder.

1194: King Richard Plantagenet (1157–1199) officially creates the position of coroner.

1200s: First forensic autopsies are done at the University of Bologna.

1247: Sung Tz’u publishes Hsi Yuan Lu (The Washing Away of Wrongs), the first forensic text.

c. 1348–1350: Pope Clement VI(1291–1352) orders autopsies on victims of the Black Death to hopefully find a cause for the plague.

Late 1400s: Medical schools are established in Padua and Bologna.

1500s: Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) writes extensively on the anatomy of war and homicidal wounds.

1642: University of Leipzig offers the first courses in forensic medicine.

1683: Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) employs a microscope to first see living bacteria, which he calls animalcules.

Late 1600s: Giovanni Morgagni (1682–1771) first correlates autopsy findings to various diseases.

1685: Marcello Malpighi first recognizes fingerprint patterns and uses the terms loops and whorls.

1775: Paul Revere recognizes dentures he had made for his friend Dr. Joseph Warren and thus identifies the doctor’s body in a mass grave at Bunker Hill.

1775: Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742–1786) develops the first test for arsenic.

1784: In what is perhaps the first ballistic comparison, John Toms is convicted of murder based on the match of paper wadding removed from the victim’s wound with paper found in Tom’s pocket.

1787: Johann Metzger develops a method for isolating arsenic.

c. 1800: Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) develops the field of phrenology.

1806: Valentine Rose recovers arsenic from a human body.

1813: Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (1787–1853) publishes Traité des poisons (Treatise on Poison), the first toxicology textbook. 

1821: Sevillas isolates arsenic from human stomach contents and urine, giving birth to the field of forensic toxicology.

1823: Johannes Purkinje (1787–1869) devises the first crude fingerprint classification system.

1835: Henry Goddard (1866–1957) matches two bullets to show they came from the same bullet mould.

1836: Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806–1880) develops first test for arsenic in human tissue.

1836: James Marsh (1794–1846) develops a sensitive test for arsenic (Marsh test).

1853: Ludwig Teichmann (1823–1895) develops the hematin test to test blood for the presence of the characteristic rhomboid crystals.

1858: In Bengal, India, Sir William Herschel (1833–1917) requires natives sign contracts with a hand imprint and shows that fingerprints did not change over a fifty-year period.

1862: Izaak van Deen (1804–1869) develops the guaiac test for blood.

1863: Christian Friedrich Schönbein (1799–1868) develops the hydrogen peroxide test for blood.

1868: Friedrich Miescher (1844–1895) discovers DNA.

1875: Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen (1845–1923) discovers X-rays.

1876: Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) publishes The Criminal Man, which states that criminals can be identified and classified by their physical characteristics.

1877: Medical examiner system is established in Massachusetts.

1880: Henry Faulds (1843–1930) shows that powder dusting will expose latent fingerprints.

1882: Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) develops his anthropometric identification system.

1883: Mark Twain (1835–1910) employs fingerprint identification in his books Life on the Mississippi and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1893– 1894).

1887: In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes develops a chemical to determine whether a stain was blood or not—something that had not yet been done in a real-life investigation.

1889: Alexandre Lacassagne (1843–1924) shows that marks on bullets could be matched to those within a rifled gun barrel.

1892: Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) publishes his classic textbook Finger Prints. 

1892: In Argentina, Juan Vucetich (1858–1925) devises a usable fingerprint classification system. 

1892: In Argentina, Francisca Rojas becomes the first person charged with a crime on fingerprint evidence.

1898: Paul Jeserich (1854–1927) uses a microscope for ballistic comparison. 

1899: Sir Edward Richard Henry (1850–1931) devises a fingerprint classification system that is the basis for those used in Britain and America today.

1901: Karl Landsteiner (1868–1943) delineates the ABO blood typing system. 

1901: Paul Uhlenhuth (1870–1957) devises a method to distinguish between human and animal blood. 

1901: Sir Edward Richard Henry becomes head of Scotland Yard and adopts a fingerprint identification system in place of anthropometry. 

1902: Harry Jackson becomes the first person in England to be convicted by fingerprint evidence. 

1910: Edmund Locard (1877–1966) opens the first forensic laboratory in Lyon, France. 

1910: Thomas Jennings becomes the first U.S. citizen convicted of a crime by use of fingerprints.

1915: Leone Lattes (1887–1954) develops a method for ABO typing dried bloodstains.

1920: The Sacco and Vanzetti case brings ballistics to the public’s attention. The case highlights the value of the newly developed comparison microscope.

1923: Los Angeles Police Chief August Vollmer (1876–1955) establishes the first forensic laboratory. 

1929: The ballistic analyses used to solve the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago lead to the establishment of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (SCDL), the first independent crime lab, at Northwestern University.

1932: FBI’s forensic laboratory is established.

1953: James Watson (1928– ), Francis Crick (1916–2004), and Maurice Wilkins (1916–2004) identify DNA’s double-helical structure. 

1954: Indiana State Police Captain R.F. Borkenstein develops the breathalyzer. 

1971: William Bass establishes the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

1974: Detection of gunshot residue by SEM/EDS is developed. 

1977: FBI institutes the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). 

1984: Sir Alec Jeffreys (1950– ) develops the DNA “fingerprint” technique.

1987: In England, Colin Pitchfork becomes the first criminal identified by the use of DNA.

1987: First United States use of DNA for a conviction in the Florida case of Tommy Lee Andrews.

1990: The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is established.

1992: The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique is introduced.

1994: The DNA analysis of short tandem repeats (STRs) is introduced. 

1996: Mitochondrial DNA is first admitted into a U.S. court in Tennessee v. Ware. 

1998: The National DNA Index System (NDIS) becomes operational.

Since then:

Touch DNA

Familial DNA

Phenotypic DNA

 

Guest Blogger: Dr. Katherine Ramsland: The Unique Allure of the Scene of a Crime

 

Visits to murder sites reveal more than mere curiosity.

There’s been a lot of attention lately on why people love true crime. I can recall when publishers considered the subject a waste of their time. Suddenly, it’s big business. Psychologists are weighing in, mostly guessing at the motivation. I’ve seen no representative studies on the topic, but I’ve been among true crime fans for more than two decades, so I can speak anecdotally.

I don’t think it’s because, as one expert put it, people are fascinated with evil. That’s just a superficial sense of something deeper. Crime is specific. The fascination is not with evil itself but with the formation of the motivation to harm and the development of a mind that can think up twisted and cruel treatment of others.

Extreme behavior is difficult to fathom, especially the cold-blooded kind, and TC fans want to try to understand. Women, especially, are attuned to motives and to victim predicaments. They enjoy feeling compassion and empathy. Sometimes, they identify with the woman who snaps or plans revenge.

The intensity of emotion typically involved in murder, whether a domestic homicide or a mass killing, draws us out of everyday dullness. We focus. There’s a heightened sense of suspense and thrill. For some, it also involves the cycle of being scared by what happens in the story and then feeling safe.

Another expert said that the current interest in true crime is driven by the 24/7 news cycle. It does play a part. When news anchors hype crimes with over-the-top coverage, the networks that broadcast “all crime all the time” will scoop up the story. The media certainly contributes, but possibly only to stoke a spark that is already present. The news covers other areas of life every day that don’t become obsessions; true crime stands out. So, it’s not just about 24/7 news.

We get closer to the embrace of TC when we study the core narratives that turn up in one presentation after another. Most TC books, documentaries, and TV series build up to the same resolution. They present the lure of a puzzle, provide guidelines for protection and preparation, and resolve tension by showing how the perpetrator was caught (often by being outsmarted) and punished. Thus, TC narratives play on our desires for catharsis, safety and closure. We enter through the intrigue of mystery and exit feeling better, sometimes even smarter.

Perhaps there’s an evolutionary benefit, as some psychologists suggest, in terms of making us pay better attention to dangers in our environment. Whenever I teach a course on serial killers, multiple students tell me they now lock their doors and notice people around them. But I don’t think this fully explains the fad. It’s true that TC has always fascinated, but recently it’s become much more of a cultural obsession. There’s an emotional payoff that’s become a collective pursuit.

True crime lets us experience anxiety and fear in a controlled way. It’s not happening to us, but we can work our way through it. People gawk at terrible things sometimes for reassurance. We can let ourselves imagine monsters coming for us because they can’t really get us. We purge fear within a frame of safety. As the TC community grows, we can share our “guilty pleasure” and form groups that reinforce the payoff.

Although a small sliver of the TC fan community seeks the bloodiest, most disgusting images they can find, most immerse themselves, then and get out. They’re interested in human behavior, not a gore-fest.

This brings us to visiting actual murder sites. I once wrote a travel column about tourable murder sites and I’m currently creating a presentation about “Dark Tourism.” This involves looking for sites that people visit who want to see where a murder happened: The steps of Gianni Versace’s former South Beach home, for example, where Andrew Cunanan gunned him down, or the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus from which Charles Whitman picked off targets in August 1966 until police killed him.

It may sound morbid, but getting close to the intense energy of disturbing events initially evokes a rush. The energy of madness, anger, lust, or jealousy seems to pervade the place. People linger outside the “Amityville Horror” house where Roy Defeo shot his entire family, the home in Ohio where Jeffrey Dahmer killed and buried his first victim, and the former boarding house where kindly Dorothy Puente murdered men for their welfare checks and buried them in her garden.

In some cases, there are tours. In London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, expert guides will take you to where Jack the Ripper allegedly killed at least five women in 1888. In Wisconsin, there’s a Jeffrey Dahmer tour, and in Los Angeles, you can take any number of tours to infamous places, like where the Black Dahlia’s body (parts) were placed, where Nicole Brown Simpson was killed, or where the Hillside Stranglers dumped their victims. In Chicago, there’s an H. H. Homes tour (“The Devil in the White City”), although his actual murder castle is long gone.

You can see Lizzie Borden’s infamous former house just by walking by it in Fall River, Massachusetts, although it’s worth taking the tour inside – or getting a room. You can also see the JonBenet Ramsey murder house and the house in Villisca, Iowa, where a sensational mass murder occurred a century ago. Now it’s a museum. Another museum graces the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, MO, as well as the Sarah Winchester House in San Jose, California. Frank Lloyd Wright’s tourable Wisconsin estate, Taliesin, was the scene of a massacre in 1914.

Savannah, Georgia, hosts several genteel homes in which murder occurred. The most famous is Jim Williams’ Mercer House, the setting for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which is open to tours. Then, there’s the murder-suicide in poet Conrad Aiken’s former home. Many of the ghost tours in the historic area describe criminal incidents, but Savannah has also added a few TC tours.

New York, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco – practically any large city has a crime history that lends itself to tours or museums. People go to experience the details of the horrendous acts by getting as close as possible to the physical setting.

I said above that, initially, there’s a rush. This often gives way to reflection and sadness. At the sites, people learn more about the victims than they typically know. When I stood in front of the homes where Dennis “BTK” Rader killed his victims, I thought a lot more about them than about him. Whatever one might have learned from offender-centered media, the sites themselves usually humanize the victims and invite us to imagine their plight. It’s about lore, not gore.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology and the assistant provost at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has published over 1,000 articles and 65 books, including The Psychology of Death Investigation, Forensic Investigation: Methods from ExpertsConfession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer; The Mind of a Murderer; The Forensic Science of CSI; Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, and The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including The AlienistCSI and Bones. She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today and has appeared on 20/20Dr. Oz and numerous crime documentaries for the ID and Oxygen Networks.

Originally posted on the Psychology Today website:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201907/the-unique-allure-the-scene-crime

 
 
%d bloggers like this: