Top Mistakes Writers Make When Depicting Crime Scenes
Posted by Writing PIs on May 18, 2012
Today Novel Rockets, one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Top Websites for Writers, has posted an article by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PI, Colleen Collins: “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at a Crime Scene.” Besides offering a PI’s perspective on crime scene faux pas, Colleen interviewed other experts for this article: Joe Giacalone, veteran NYPD detective sergeant and commanding officer of their Cold Case Squad and author of The Criminal Investigative Function; David Swinson, retired Washington, DC, detective and author of A Detailed Man; and Denver criminal defense attorney Shaun Kaufman.
Below we post an excerpt. To read it in its entirety, click on the “To read the full article, click here” link at the bottom of the article.
Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make at a Crime Scene
by Colleen Collins
Next to confessions, crime scenes contain the most first-hand evidence explaining the who, what and whys of a crime. Unfortunately, sometimes writers get aspects of a crime scene wrong, which puts a dent in the credibility of a story.
David Swinson, a retired Washington, DC, detective and author of A Detailed Man (available in most bookstores and Amazon), calls these dents “Aw c’mon, man” moments. “I have been to countless crime scenes,” says David. “When you respond to a scene that is related to a violent crime, especially homicide, even the smallest mistake can ruin the outcome of the case. I’m especially tough on some authors who write crime fiction — it’s what we in law enforcement call an ‘Aw c’mon, man’ moment.’”
Let’s look at the top five mistakes, or “Aw c’mon, man” blunders, in no particular order, that writers make at crime scenes.
Using incorrect terminology. One popular misconception is that the words cartridges and bullets are synonymous. A bullet, the projectile that fires from a rifle, revolver or other small firearm, is one part of a cartridge. Two other words that writers sometimes use interchangeably: spent bullets and spent casings. A spent bullet, sometimes called a slug, is one that has stopped moving after being fired. Spent bullets are often pretty distorted after hitting objects on their way to a resting place. A spent casing is one from which a bullet has been fired. Although spent bullets and casings might be found at a crime scene, casings are more likely to be lying in plain sight.
Mishandling evidence. “First rule of any crime scene investigation,” says Swinson, “is when you observe what is obviously evidence, leave it where it is. Don’t move it!” An “Aw c’mon, man” crime scene scenario for Swinson: “Spent casings are visible on the floor beside the body, a semi auto is a few feet away, and a little baggy that contains what appears to be a white powdery substance is near the weapon. The detective picks up the gun and inspects it and then picks up the baggy, opens it and smells or takes a taste using his finger. This makes me crazy! A detective would never pick up crucial evidence before it is photographed or, if necessary, dusted for prints. This contaminates evidence and can jeopardize the prosecutor’s case. And a detective would never, ever pick up what might be illegal narcotics and taste it!”