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Our September Author Interviews--9/6 Kathleen Valenti, 9/13 David Burnsworth, 9/20 Jeri Westerson, 9/27 Frances Brody. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

September Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/2--Anne Bannon, 9/9 WWK Bloggers, 9/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 9/23 Kait Carson, and on 9/30 Trixie Stiletto.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.” In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Our Trip to the Morgue

Our murderous group of SINC members
Recently my chapter of SINC visited the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. There were sixteen in our group that day, thanks to Lisa Kaplan, who arranged for the tour. We met at the office in downtown Cleveland near the Cleveland Clinic shortly before noon and handed in our signed papers. Then we signed in and picked up our visitor’s passes. We were soon joined by a very charismatic young man, named Chris, who was our tour guide and the go to man when reporters want information.

Kim, our chapter president and Chris, our awesome guide.
After some picture taking in the lobby – none were allowed once our actual tour started – Chris escorted us to a big room with tables and chairs facing a large screen. He chatted a while with us and then asked what kind of group we were, and I said, “We murder people.” He looked at us with mouth open and someone said, “We’re mystery writers,” and then someone else explained we belong to Sisters in Crime. He asked if we were there to get ideas on how to commit murders.
With the help of a Power Point Presentation, he told us about the building and laboratory and the statistics of the deaths in the county and how many of those are found to be unnatural deaths.


Deaths Each Year in Cuyahoga County
1.3 million people live in Cuyahoga County
15,000 people die each year
6,500 reported to the office
1250 accepted
1250 autopsies performed

He showed us the graph of deaths from unnatural causes over the past years until last year, and the graph showed the number one cause of unnatural deaths is from heroin. We peppered him with questions, and for the most part he could answer us. Sometimes he asked us questions and was pleased when someone knew the answer. For instance, I knew why heroin has ballooned as the drug of choice. It’s because doctors have cut back on prescribing pain narcotics making them extremely expensive as a street drug. Heroin is much, much cheaper.



We also found out that the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office & Regional Forensic Science Laboratory is the top rated one in the whole country. They have investigators here 24 hours a day. He answered all our questions about crime scene investigations and shared some stories of ones they had done.

After we left there we went to the Fingerprint Lab. A young man, who was the fingerprint investigator, looked a little bit uncomfortable at first being confronted by a bunch of mystery writers. We were quite different from the groups of medical students or police academy students in the questions we asked. Interesting fact we all learned was that he often pulls the skin off the fingers of the corpses and they peel off like a rubber glove and he transfers them to the rubber gloves he’s wearing to take fingerprints.  We had ever so many questions, and he answered them all. After his initial discomfort, he seemed to enjoy our group. The hardest prints to get are those from decomposing bodies, burns or water damage in cases of drowning. Sometimes fingers can become mummified, too, and they soak them to bring the fingerprints back.


Next he went to the large morgue cooler with bodies waiting to be released to funeral homes. A few stayed back in the fingerprint area and didn’t want to look. All but one body was covered in a white body bag with a label on their big toe, just as we’d always heard about and imagined. One body was completely naked with a huge belly making him look like he was 12 months pregnant. When I talked about it later to my daughter, who is a nurse, she said that was normal in a number of cases and named some of the reasons for that including cirrhosis of the liver as one. Anyway, he probably didn’t fit in a body bag. She agreed with me the smell in there is awful, and she hates when she has to deliver someone who has died there. The fingerprint man didn’t seem bothered by it all. Maybe it’s a smell one gets used to.

After that we went to the big area where ambulances come and go with bodies. There was also a lab off this area where decomposing bodies were examined. Thank goodness, he didn’t open the door to that lab. There was also an auto bay with a car lift to examine cars while looking for evidence.

We stopped briefly on one floor to go through a museum of crimes committed in Cleveland over the years. That was interesting, too.

From there we went up to an upper level where the toxicology labs were and talked to a scientist, who totally looked like I pictured a scientist– if you were going to have one in your mystery – tall, very thin, and wearing glasses. I forget his name because like the fingerprint man, he gave us a fake name when he heard we were mystery writers. Apparently they didn’t want to be in any of our books. We discussed poisons and things of that ilk. He loved talking about this topic and some of our stomachs were starting to growl since we’d already gone beyond the time of our two hour tour. When Chris made some reference to time, the scientist led us to another lab where there were several workers testing body fluids; blood, urine, etc. for whatever they could find out. There were all these test tubes, chemicals, machines both computer and other types that were fascinating.  However, we still had places to go and things to see, so not much time was spent there.

The scales are to weigh body parts as they're removed.
And then we went to the top floor of this very large building with huge windows looking out over Cleveland and lots of natural light coming in. It was the county morgue where the autopsies were performed. They are able to do as many as five at a time there. No autopsies were being performed then. Everything was clean and in order for the next day, but fortunately, there was still a doctor there who performed autopsies and he answered all our questions whether morbid or not. He explained the steps taken, etc. and at the end he said the worse ones were those of children. They had to look for broken bones and abuse that had been going on prior to what they looked for with the current death.

When we got down to the main lobby, Chris told us not to turn in our badges yet because we had one more place to go. He led us outside and up the steps of another building with dirt and dead leaves on cement steps with cement walls – rather creepy for mystery writers looking for scenes where a murder could be committed. At the top was a huge area with boxes and boxes and boxes of files. Yes, everything is now on computers, too, but still they save everything in hard copy. Surrounding this room was a tall chain link fence with barbed wire at the top. Behind the fencing was evidence that was being saved, in some cases years and years of evidence.

Another thing we really enjoyed were four scenes set up in separate areas with dead bodies with evidence placed there. In the first scene, it was a room with a TV, a microwave, a dead body on the couch and a gun on a chair across from the body. An obvious homicide. The next one was an outdoor scene with a tree, leaves on the ground, lots of empty pop and beer cans and a dead body lying face down. I thought suicide, but then I didn’t think about the belt lying nearby. When Chris turned the body over, there was a hypodermic needle under the body. There was another one that looked like a definite murder because of all the blood everywhere and the woman’s clothes removed from the waist down. However, Chris said there are some aneurisms etc. that can cause excessive bleeding and not be murder. The last one was a suicide, a hanging. The scenes are set up for police academy students.

Our two hour tour turned into a three hour tour with all of us exhausted and hungry since none of us had lunch, but we all agreed it was well worth it. And when Lisa Kaplan, who arranged the tour for us, asked if we’d be interested in touring the FBI office, where she works, we all wholeheartedly agreed.

Would you like to take a tour like we did?

What would you most like to see?


20 comments:

Susan O'Brien said...

Wow! Thanks for posting such a detailed description of your amazing tour. Yes, I'd want to take a similar trip...I think. I hope you post about your FBI office trip, too!

E. B. Davis said...

Susan is right--I think everyone should have a trip to the morgue, especially teenagers! I also can't imagine people do that for a living. From an academic and humanitarian standpoint, I can understand it.

When I worked for EPA, we toured a chicken processing plant. There were women standing around a steel table putting guts out of dead chicken bodies. They wore plastic gloves, but much like the steel table used to conduct autopsies, there was a gutter at the edge of the table to catch the blood.

Hopefully, the doctors conducting autopsies make a lot more money than the poor women did. I felt so spoiled to go back to my nice clean desk back in D. C.

Thanks for the mini tour you gave us, Gloria.

E. B. Davis said...

P.S.--I didn't eat chicken for about two years after touring that plant!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I haven’t visited the morgue, but I did have a medical student sneak me into to their dissection lab where I met his cadaver. It’s one thing to see pictures in books and another to see everything “live.”

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Susan, it was quite interesting. I'm glad we didn't see any autopsies, though. That would have bothered me.

E.B. I feel for those people who have to work in a chicken processing plant. It's the kind of job a person has to be desperate for work, like immigrants, have to take. I'm one of the fortunate ones like you that haven't had to take a job like that just to survive.

Jim, my brother donated his body to a medical college. I went to a body donation service and listened to some talks by first year students about the body they had. One young girl named her body Elizabeth and wondered about her. A young man called his a corpse and made flippant comments about him. I was hoping my brother wasn't the body he studied.

Ellis Vidler said...

Sounds like a fascinating field trip. I wish our SinC chapter could arrange something similar. We'll have to work on it.

Warren Bull said...

Sign me up. I want to go. Fascinating.

Gloria Alden said...

Ellis, there would have more of our chapter going if it weren't on a Friday afternoon when many are working. I don't see why you couldn't arrange a tour.

Yes, it was, Warren. I think you would have enjoyed it because there was so much we saw and heard that I couldn't possibly have put it all down. It would have been nice if we'd been allowed to take pictures, but except for what we took in the lobby, we weren't allowed.

KM Rockwood said...

What a great tour! Thank you for sharing it with us.

Gloria Alden said...

It was, KM. I only wish we'd been allowed to take pictures. But then, I can understand why they don't allow it.

Paula Gail Benson said...

My young cousin is a forensic scientist who works with a coroner's office. She's described conditions to me, but I haven't seen them in person. Thanks for this great report, Gloria!

Carla Damron said...

I am jealous! How cool!! (Only mystery writers would be jealous of a morgue visit ...)

Shari Randall said...

Gloria, this was a fascinating report. It does take a certain kind of person to work in a morgue, doesn't it? I remember dissecting a frog and a fetal pig in biology class, and that was enough for me!

Cari said...

Great recap, Gloria. It was a great tour. Being up close and personal with death was jarring and exhausting - I think I went to bed super early that night - but it was so valuable for writing, and even for life. Sometimes we think we're invincible, and we get caught up in the daily insanity, but when you look death in the eye, you realize how fleeting and temporary this life is.

Cari said...

Great recap, Gloria. It was a great tour. Being up close and personal with death was jarring and exhausting - I think I went to bed super early that night - but it was so valuable for writing, and even for life. Sometimes we think we're invincible, and we get caught up in the daily insanity, but when you look death in the eye, you realize how fleeting and temporary this life is.

Patg said...

Interesting review, however I'd never be interested. I did one once, that was enough.

Kara Cerise said...

What a fascinating tour, Gloria. My niece, who is in medical school, works part-time in the school's cadaver lab. It's interesting hearing about her job.

I smiled that some of the people who worked there gave fake names to your group so they wouldn't be in any books. Mystery writers are a scary bunch.

Gloria Alden said...

Paula, maybe some day your cousin can show you around. Does she live anywhere near you?

Cari, I think it may have been a little more difficult for someone as young as you. It's not that I don't feel for those in the morgue, but at my age I've gone to far more funerals than you have. I think a tour like this would be good for teenagers who think they can fool around with drugs and alcohol, don't you?

Gloria Alden said...

Carla, this made me laugh. You are so right. :-)We're an odd bunch of people, are't we?

Shari, I didn't take biology in high school because I didn't want to dissect a frog. I still don't think I'd like to do that. Fortunately, in my college biology class we didn't have to dissect anything - not even earthworms.

Gloria Alden said...

Pat, at least you did it once. I don't feel the need to repeat it, either, but I'm glad I went on this one.

Kara, I think it would be more interesting to hear about it than actually work there. I know when one of my son's had stitches with a skin graft he got from a serious burn, when the doctor showed me how to take the stitches out at home, I almost passed out. Needless, to say, my ten year old son removed them while I handed him the things he needed without looking.