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What I’ve Learned Writing Mysteries

Mystery authors often joke about what someone might think who happened to see the cache of websites they’ve visited on their computers. All in the name of research, of course. We also look for answers to plot questions from knowledgeable friends and neighbors, too. Belonging to Sisters in Crime and Maryland Writers’ Associations offers more resources.

My current book in the 90s Club cozy mystery series involves a resident at Whisperwood Retirement Village who is murdered during the night. I wanted to know how the staff would remove the body surreptitiously so as not to disturb the residents. Here’s what I found out.

A friend who worked in assisted living couldn't answer my question, but she said cremains would be delivered to her office. She would store them on a shelf until called for by a relative. Another friend who worked in a hospital said when a patient died, a nurse would go down the hall and quietly close all the doors to the other patients’ rooms. Then the body would be put on a lower shelf on a cart, a shelf would go on top, and a sheet would cover the cart. Then the body would be taken to the freight elevator and transported to the morgue.

Sisters in Crime has monthly meetings with talks, and one of these was on the best way to dispose of a dead body. The answer? Feed it to pigs, who will devour everything except maybe the hip bone. Just grind that up and disperse. Do not feed the body to a shark. In one true case, a murderer did that, but the shark was caught. Inside the stomach was the victim’s laminated driver’s license.

What does a West Virginia sheriff’s uniform look like? I googled the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association.

What kind of gun would a police officer likely carry? What about a thief? I took part in our local "CItizen's Police Academy" and learned about police procedures and equipment, rode along in a patrol car, shot a pistol at the police range, and participated in a simulated crime.

What’s the protocol for paramedics when the victim of a beating refuses help? Talked to a friend who was a retired fire chief.

What common plants can kill a person without leaving a trace? Sisters in Crime's popular poison plant lady has a lot of answers for this one.

What’s the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner? I visited the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore and learned the difference. I also watched part of an autopsy

The list goes on. It’s all fascinating stuff to me, but then that’s why I write mystery stories.


Note: I will be happy to speak to your group on this and related subjects. Contact me at


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