People Usually Weigh 50 Pounds More…

Than the number they put on their drivers’ licenses. That was one of the first things I learned.driver-license-card

I learned other things at coroners’ conferences, too. Some facts were far more depressing, while others were more enlightening, than the driver’s-license-weight thing. But let me digress for a moment—this hanging out with coroners all started when my husband and I received…

An Invitation to Be Keynote Speakers

My husband and I have been presenters at two of our state coroners’ conferences, once as the banquet keynote speakers. For the latter talk, I figured the coroners, medical examiners, and others attending the conference would probably be ready to let down their hair, so to speak, and laugh and have a good time. So I wrote a presentation titled “The Top 10 Reasons Coroners Make Great Heroes.” It had some dark humor in it—okay, very dark—and they loved it. My husband and I were treated to a lot of high-fives and free drinks at the bar after that.

What I loved about being invited to present/speak at these conferences was I also got a free registration to attend the workshops. For a person who writes mysteries, it was a free day at Writers’ Disneyland…well, a macabre version of Disneyland.

A Few Things I Learned

I have two huge binders filled with presentations from these conferences — below are a few facts from that information.

Five Manners of Death

There are five manners of death, listed from most common to least common: natural, accident, suicide, homicide and undetermined.

Psychological Autopsy Questions

Sometimes the facts surrounding a death are vague or the circumstances are suspicious or questionable — this is called an equivocal death.  In an equivocal death investigation, a psychological autopsy is often conducted as a postmortem procedure to try and discern the state of mind of the victim preceding death.

Below are a sampling of psychological autopsy questions in an equivocal death investigation:

  • How and when did the individual die?
  • Why did it happen at that particular time and place?
  • What were the decedent’s intentions at the time of death?
  • What in his life could have been stressful?
  • What were his reactions to those stresses?
  • What were the relationships of the decedent?
  • Did the decedent have any history of mental health illness, treatment, medications?
  • Did the decedent have any history of previous attempts of suicide or questioned attempts?
  • Was there any significance to the date of death?
  • Was there any significance to the location of death?
  • Were any notes or other forms of communications left by the decedent?
  • When was the last time the decedent talked to friends, relatives and family members, including estranged persons, and what were the topics of conversations?

An Example of an Equivocal Death Investigation

The below link is to an excerpt from the book Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon J. Geberth, president of P.H.I. Investigative Consultants in New York, and is a retired Lieutenant-Commander of the New York City Police Department.

An Equivocal Death: Homicide or Suicide?

How These Conferences Inspired a Book

In the course of attending these forums in 2008-2009, I wrote a short story titled The Ungrateful Dead about a murder at a coroners’ conference. Mainly I wrote the story to flesh out a private-eye man-and-woman team, a 21st-century Nick and Nora if you will, that I’d been thinking about for a while. After I finished story, I put it away and started writing a novel, which became The Zen Man, published in 2011, featuring this 21st-century Nick and Nora couple (who I named Rick and Laura).

Fast forward to 2014…

I started thinking about that short story I wrote years ago, and how readers might enjoy learning more about Rick and Laura in their early dating days, and how they ended up conducting their first homicide case together.

So I pulled out that copy of The Ungrateful Dead and began revising it…the novella The Ungrateful Dead, the prequel to The Zen Man, is now available on Amazon—and I’m thrilled to add that it won the Aspen Gold 2015 (short story category).

Story Blurb: The Ungrateful Dead

The Ungrateful Dead tells the story of Denver P.I. Rick Levine in the early throes of smitten with his new girlfriend Laura Fitzhugh. They’re enjoying one of their first romantic weekends together…at a coroner’s conference.  It’s not that Rick has a grisly sense of where to woo a woman, but the conference has provided him a free Bed & Breakfast room, along with free meals, because he’s one of the presenters so Rick figures, why not make it a date?

But after a murder takes place, it becomes a date and a homicide investigation.