Learn About Real Crimes from Real Sleuths
by: Mary Forlenza
It’s possible for mystery readers and authors to get a, practically, free education in mystery writing right here in Austin. I’m not talking about learning to craft sentences or coming up with creative idiosyncrasies for sleuths and villains. This is about knowledge sharing by real sleuths about real crimes. Some of the things I’ve learned in a matter of months include:
- How crime scene investigators work in Austin. Unlike the CSI TV shows, this job takes a lot of work at crime scenes, autopsies and in court, plus months to get DNA comparison information.
- How US Federal Marshals on the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force track and catch fugitives, many trying to escape to Mexico by way of Texas.
- How trainers select service dogs for police work by looking for certain breeds and traits. A rescued pooch-in-training demonstrated how he could find which suitcase has contraband.
- How postal inspectors investigate crimes involving fraud schemes, child exploitation, illegal drugs, and even homicides of postal carriers.
Being a lover of mysteries and a writer, I began attending monthly Sisters in Crime meetings about a year ago. During most meetings, a local leader in a crime-fighting profession has given a lecture and slide show, and answered questions from the literary audience of men and women, some attending from as far away as San Marcos. The speakers clearly love their work and provide an impressive depth of information in a session lasting two hours.
I’ve come away with a greater understanding of crime investigations and the people who fight crime. How many people can list the five types of BOLO (be on the lookout for)? Or know the difference between a crime scene investigator and a crime analyst? Local crime analysts have helped police solve bank robberies and sexual assaults. They piece together information to uncover trends related to criminals, locations or targets. Unlike crime scene investigators, they don’t handle evidence.
You can find meeting news and summaries in the Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime newsletter here. Meetings are held on the second Sunday of the month in the Barnes and Nobles bookstore on Loop 360 near Bee Caves Road. While meetings are free and open to the public, one can join the local and national organizations for minimal annual dues. Other than that, my biggest outlay is for a cup of java from the in-store coffee shop. The experience is well worth the price.
Mary Forlenza is a senior marketing communications writer and editor who enjoys helping colleagues publish articles and books. Her past jobs include ghostwriting executive communications, technical writing, reporting for the Fort Lauderdale News, writing PR for Florida International U., and editing papers for marine researchers. Mary has won industry awards for a style manual, brochures and newsletters. She lives in Austin with her husband and their rescue dog, Kirby.