People Usually Weigh 50 Pounds More…

Office of Chief Medical Examiner New York, 1922

Than the number they put on their drivers’ licenses. That was one of the first things I learned, and probably think about more than I should.

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 were probably ready, after days of in-depth discussions on death, to 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 also loved about being invited to present/speak at these conferences were our registrations to attend the workshops. For a PI who also writes mysteries, it was like 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—such an instance 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 victim’s state of mind 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 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 that I’d been mulling over for a while. After I finished the story, I put it away and started writing a novel, which became The Zen Man, featuring this 21st-century Nick and Nora, whom I named Rick and Laura.

Fast forward to 2015…

I started thinking about that short story gathering dust in a drawer, 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 draft of The Ungrateful Dead and began revising it. The novella The Ungrateful Dead, the prequel to The Zen Man, ended up winning the Aspen Gold 2015. So you never know what life’s gonna hand you—one day you’re at a conference learning that dead people typically weigh 50 pounds more than the number on their driver’s license, the next you’ve written an award-winning, and somewhat grimly romantic, story based on that experience.