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Thursday, May 26, 2016

When Life is Stranger than Fiction

Life is always going to be stranger than fiction,
because fiction has to be convincing and life doesn’t.”
                                       Neil Gaiman, author

One of the things writers are told is that unless we’re writing fantasy or Sci-fi, it’s important to make our works believable which means doing some research. I know with my first books one of my Guppy critique partners criticized my small town police chief because he didn’t seem to act like a cop she was familiar with, like her husband who was a police officer in a large city. She came around to accepting my small town police chief, and he’s now one of her favorite characters.

One only has to listen to the news or read the newspaper to discover things too weird to put into our books unless we are writing comedy. For instance: In St. Petersburg, Florida last fall, an eighteen-year-old man drove a stolen car to police headquarters to pick up court papers about a previous auto theft he was involved in – documents that were found in yet another stolen car. Carnell Eugene Butler now faces charges in three stolen car cases. Detectives contacted Butler, who arranged to pick them up. When he arrived at police headquarters, a detective arrested Butler and found keys to a Hyundai Sonata in his pocket. The car was located a block away. It too had been reported stolen. Butler now was being held without bond.

In Austell, Georgia, a metro Atlanta man told police a spider thief snuck into a crawlspace under his home and stole five of his eighteen tarantulas. The police issued an arrest warrant for a man accused of possessing the arachnids. The owner of the spiders said they were under his home in individual containers to hibernate during the winter until spring arrives. He didn’t know the spiders were missing until he got a call from Animart Pets in Austell, where an employee said someone had just sold them five tarantulas.  The owner identified them and the police are investigating. Years ago a Hiram college student brought her pet tarantula into my third grade classroom to show the kids, and I let the big hairy arachnid crawl from her hand to mine. Actually it was kind of cool and not frightening at all. A few of my students wanted to have it crawl to their hands, too. Maybe someday I’ll include a tarantula loving character to a book or short story.

Twenty-two year old Eddie Smith of Mineral Wells, Texas, decided it would be macho to hop on the Internet and brag that there were sixteen outstanding warrants for his arrest. A tipster called police to report Smith’s Jan. 20th Facebook boast, and, you guessed it, police showed up and took him into custody.

And then there was the failed bank robbery in Swissvale Pa. when Dennis Hawkins, forty-eight, disguised himself before committing his crime. The African-American man, who sported a goatee, put on a woman’s blond wig, strapped on fake breasts under a blue sweater, and finished his ensemble with a pair of colorful clown pants. He used a stolen toy BB gun and actually accomplished the robbery. It was his getaway that needed work. Leaving the bank, Hawkins peeked at his loot and was promptly sprayed by a red ink pack. He stumbled into a woman’s car in the parking lot. She quickly escaped with her keys and summoned the police. Apparently Mr. Hawkins is still in prison. I wish I could have found a picture of him taken in the bank.

Now this odd story might work well in a mystery book. An Indiana woman says her training in medieval combat helped her corner a home intruder. The Indianapolis Star reported that forty-three year old Karen Dolley threw punches until she had the man cornered during the night break-in. She kept him subdued with a Japanese sword she keeps near her bed. Dolley said she learned to fight as a teenager in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that recreates skills of the Middle Ages. She also skates with the roller derby team, Naptown Roller Girls. Police responded to her 911 call and arrested a 30 year old man, who had forced open the home’s back door. It was reported he was taken to a hospital because he was high on an unknown substance. I’ll bet he regrets taking on a woman like Karen Dolley. She’s certainly not a woman anyone should mess with.

The inside of some funeral home.

The following story came from an old AARP magazine and isn’t a crime, just weird.
When Hope Walker sent out her wedding invitations, a few blinked an eye at the unusual venue: the Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn. “When my mother learned that the chapel was free (of charge), she said “Go for it,” says Walker. Apparently, she isn’t the only one to choose a mortuary for a wedding, graduation or birthday party. The multi-use trend is a “win-win for the funeral home and the people who choose to hold events,” says Jessica Koth of the 18,000 member National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis. In 2007, hosting non-funeral events was practically unheard of, but in a 2010 survey of funeral homes, 8.3 percent of respondents had added it to their services. “We know how to plan a major life event,” says James Olson, president of the Lippert-Olson Funeral Home in Sheboygan, Wis. “We usually do it in two days.” Well, each to one’s own, I guess.

One more: Last fall in Santa Barbara, California, the police detained a twenty-two-year-old man they said crashed a wedding, then bit an officer and a police dog during a six-minute melee. Sgt. Riley Harwood said police were called Saturday night after a stranger, who may have been on drugs, crashed the wedding at the Santa Barbara Carriage Museum. The guests evicted him, but during a confrontation with two arriving officers, the man punched one officer in the face and bit his shoulder, and then bit a police dog on the leg. The confused dog also bit an officer. Harwood says after the guy was handcuffed, the man attacked a third officer. Two officers were treated for various injuries, and the man was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries and would be arrested. Personally, I can’t imagine a stranger biting a police dog and the dog not biting him.

So in wrapping up this blog, I guess it is okay for writers of mysteries to include the strangest of things happening in our books and not worry too much about it. Like the scene I wrote in my third book when an elderly hard of hearing man was driving the hearse to a cemetery and while following the police car leading him out of the town, the patrolman  got a bank robbery alert that the robber was heading out of town and description of the vehicle. He took off with sirens blaring, lights fastening with my elderly hearse driver following at break neck speed and all the cars in the funeral procession behind trying to keep up. He couldn’t hear the funeral director next to him screaming at him because he had his hearing aids turned off. The bank robber was an idiot, too.

What have you read in the newspaper or a book that seemed hard to believe?


Jim Jackson said...

While drugs can make people stupid, some criminals are not too smart to begin with – which is good. If all criminals were smart, we’d catch fewer of them and not have these humorous stories.

Gloria Alden said...

So true, Jim.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Gloria, this is hilarious! I pity the poor hearse driver.

Shari Randall said...

Oh, boy, some of these dumb criminal stories are a scream. Some people must want to be caught!

Warren Bull said...

I read about a woman who called the police to complain after a drug dealer took her money and then refused to give her cocaine.

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret, I came up with that idea even before I wrote that book. I still chuckle when I think of it and the panic of the funeral director riding next to him. The driver is an elderly twin who is always bickering with his sister. Both are continuing characters in minor roles.

Shari, it kind of makes you think that, doesn't it.

Warren, that is funny. I wonder if she was cited for anything. Of course, if she didn't have the cocaine, they couldn't arrest her for possession of it, I guess.

KM Rockwood said...

One thing that always struck me as strange was the number of just-released prison inmates, dropped off at the bus station to catch a trip to their home county, who succumbed to the undercover narcotics operation in the alley behind the bus station. "Everybody" in the prison knew that informers hung out there, selling everything from a single joint to a bagful of meth, but time after time, people fell for it and violated their parole within minutes of the prison van dropping them off. And were in the county lockup that night.

Gloria Alden said...

KM, I never knew that. You'd think after being without it for some time their need for a fix wouldn't be as strong, or that they realized they weren't real dealers.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I had to laugh at the man-bites-dog scenario in Santa Barbara... my old stomping grounds. Thanks for an entertaining post!

Gloria Alden said...

Micki, I couldn't believe that, either. Santa Barbara is a nice town. I've only been there once.