Gone to the Dogs

Wrongful convictions, when they occur, usually are based on inaccurate eyewitness testimony. The convicted defendants are exonerated typically through scientific or forensic evidence establishing that the incarcerated individual was not the true culprit. Forensic evidence becomes the great key, freeing those who have been unjustly convicted.

               But the science of the day can be an imprisoner as well as a liberator. Witch trials, after all, involved forensic testimony about bite marks as well as expert testimony on the power of spell-casters. The September Trial of the Month considers another case of flawed forensics.

               Ayers Rock pushes out of the dry Australian earth. The Aboriginal people call the rock Uluru and consider it sacred. Tourists come to this sandstone monolith to watch its dramatic colors change as the sun moves across it. On August 17th, 1980, Michael and Lindy Chamberlain began exploring Uluru with their three children, Aidan, Reagan and ten-week old Azaria. The older boys hiked with their father. Lindy, meanwhile, carrying Azaria, searched a nearby cave. Reportedly, Azaria was dressed in a jumpsuit and a white jacket.

               That night, the Chamberlains and other campers gathered near their campsites. Lindy put her two youngest children to bed and, ten minutes later, rejoined the campers.  A baby’s cry sent her racing back to the tent. Campers heard her scream, “My God, My God, the dingo’s got my baby!” (When I mentioned the case at my house, no one remembers the events, but the adults recall Meryl Streep shouting this line in the movie, A Cry in the Dark.)

               The other vacationers searched the arid land for the child. Michael did not join the search. His odd explanation, “she’s probably dead now. I’m a minister of the gospel.” (Michael served as a Seventh Day Adventist minister.) The searchers discovered dingo tracks but no other evidence. The police quickly became involved.

               A week after the disappearance, a photographer hiking near the base of Uluru found shredded infant clothing near a boulder.

               On August 28th, Detective Sergeant Graeme Charlwood assumed responsibility for the investigation. He faced some incongruous facts. The clothes had been found close to where the family had hiked earlier in the day. Witnesses who saw Lindy at camp reported seeing her with a white bundle pressed to her chest and “assumed she was holding a baby”. A doctor who earlier had examined Azaria found her name curious and looked it up. He reported that it meant “Sacrifice in the Wilderness”. (It is, actually, a Hebrew name translating to “God has helped”.) Supporting Lindy, the initial police examination found paw prints leading away from the tent and a bit of blood inside.  

               Around Australia, investigators imagined and conducted experiments. Dead dingoes from the region were examined for evidence of human proteins. The stains on the recovered clothing were tested. At a wildlife reserve, meat wrapped in baby’s clothing was tossed to dingoes to observe the tear patterns. Allegedly, the early investigators on the case tried carrying a ten-pound bucket of sand in their teeth to see if Azaria’s weight could be managed in the jaws of a dingo. (None of the investigators could carry the pail.)

               The accumulated “science” coupled with the odd demeanor of the devout Chamberlain family convinced many that they were guilty. Rumors abounded that they killed their child as part of a bizarre religious sacrifice.

               In December 1980, at a coroner’s inquest, the authorities argued that the parents and not dingoes were responsible. The evidence they argued was inconsistent with a dingo attack. The coroner found that Azaria’s parents were not responsible for her death. He did not, however, rule out the possibility that an unknown human had taken the child from the dingo.

               The authorities did not relent. In September 1981, they searched the Chamberlain’s home based in part on the findings of a British forensic expert that no dingo had been involved in the disappearance. This search found evidence of blood in the Chamberlain’s car.

               At a second inquest this recovered blood loomed large. An expert identified it as fetal blood. The British expert, James Cameron, testified that the tears on Azaria’s clothing were more consistent with scissors than a dingo attack. The coroner charged Lindy Chamberlain with murder and Michael with being an accessory.

               The trial began in Darwin on September 13, 1982.

               The Crown’s civilian witnesses supported the defense as much as the prosecution. They confirmed that Lindy had only briefly left the crowd at the campground. She returned to the tent only after a baby cried. The witnesses testified to dingoes in the area. One mother testified that earlier she had to scare off a dingo which had grabbed her 12-year-old daughter’s arm and pulled. The Crown called a hitchhiker the Chamberlain’s had picked up. He testified that he had bled in the car. Blood tests, however, showed that he did not test positive for fetal blood. Fetal blood disappears from the human body at approximately six months of age.  The Crown presented the fatalistic answers Michael Chamberlain had made on the night of Azaria’s disappearance.

               The prosecutors then began the parade of forensic experts. Esteemed witnesses testified that the baby’s clothing had been “cut” in the neck area. Others found jumpsuit fibers in Michael Chamberlain’s camera bag. (The Chamberlains maintained that they occasionally used Michael’s bag as a hamper for Azaria’s spare clothes.)

               The government’s blood expert conceded that she had destroyed all her examination slides, thus preventing a re-examination. She maintained, nonetheless, that the blood found in the car belonged to an infant.

               The closing Crown witnesses included a London odontologist who had investigated two dozen dog attacks. He found nothing consistent with a dingo attack in this case. The final witness, James Cameron, testified that Azaria was killed by a cutting instrument across her neck. He produced ultraviolet light photographs showing evidence of bloody fingers near the neckline.

               The defense marshalled their own army of experts. They challenged each of the Crown’s main contentions. When the government’s expert testified that a dingo could not carry off a child by the head, they surprised him with a photograph of a child-sized doll being carried by a dingo in exactly that manner. They demonstrated that the ultraviolet “fingers” had four phalanges, one more than Lindy Chamberlain and nearly every other human possesses. The different stories presented by the Crown and the defense compelled the jury to choose between attacking dingoes and cruel humans. To the surprise of most observers, they convicted the Chamberlains on October 29th, 1982. The judge sentenced Lindy to life imprisonment while Michael’s sentence was deferred.

               Following conviction, the case began to unravel, although it did take time. In 1986, the search for a lost hiker near Uluru discovered a shredded infant’s once-white jacket in a dingo lair. The jacket bolstered Lindy’s explanation. The Crown’s blood testing method, pivotal in the trial, was shown to be highly unreliable. The positive proof of fetal blood recovered from the car could as likely have come from auto paint. Lindy was released from Berrimah prison on February 7, 1986. 

               Child murder grips everyone. The dingo case presented horrific, inhuman facts crying out for a response. Well-meaning authorities, seeking justice, fell afoul of confirmation bias. They sought facts to support a conclusion they’d made about the Chamberlains—people whose beliefs and reactions placed them outside the mainstream. Although prosecutors could never truly find a motive why these parents would kill their young daughter, they relied upon unconfirmed and, ultimately, unreliable tests to achieve a result. Well-intended passion produced an unjust result.  

               The case provides a cautionary tale for anyone who looks at or relies upon forensic science. Of course, hindsight  is easy. It is harder in the moment for scientists, prosecutors, and police to heed the words of Tony Jones, government pathologist in the Chamberlain trial.

               “The scientist shouldn’t become too adventurous, too competitive. The trouble is, we’re all so human. I’ve never seen a case more governed by human frailties.”

               For the caution it urges in all our scientific endeavors, this trial which began September 13th, 1982 is my Trial of the Month.

Mark Thielman

Interview with Award-winning Mystery Author Richard J. Cass

Please join me in welcoming award winning novelist Richard Cass to the blog. Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Mysteries, a Boston-based series that Kirkus Reviews called “…an immersive and satisfying addition to Boston crime fiction.”

1. Dick, tell us what has been the greatest challenge in keeping a long-running series fresh?

The most challenging piece for me has been balancing between keeping the characters recognizable to long-time readers of the series with having them change enough to keep them interesting over the course of the books. Elder’s battle with the bottle has ups and downs, as does his love life. One other thing I did consciously was make the third book, Burton’s Solo,focus on Dan Burton, the Boston cop, instead of Elder Darrow, the series protagonist, a tactic I hope gave people a little break from Elder and whetted the appetite to know what he’d be doing next. There’s definitely a fine line between having the character change and develop too much and keeping them static—readers tend to fall in love with good characters and you risk alienating them if the characters start to change in unexpected ways.

2. Do you maintain a series bible to help you keep the details of character and setting and history consistent from book to book? If yes, how do you organize/maintain it? If no, what method do you use to keep things straight?

I do not keep a series bible, though I have to admit it’s something I wish I’d had the discipline to start doing after the first two books. I do have pretty clear pictures in my mind of all the major characters in the series, both their physical appearance and their psychologies, so I’m less worried about inconsistencies in them than messing up some detail of the bar or the other locations that show up more than once in the books. I also wasn’t sure how long the series would go, so I let my laziness dictate. However, the fifth book, Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow, is coming out in October, and I have ideas for at least two more, so I’d better think more carefully about a bible.

3. Did you have a series in mind when you conceived of the story for Solo Act, or were you thinking strictly standalone?

The first book I published, Solo Act, turned out to be the second in the series. By the time I’d sold Solo Act, I’d written its prequel, mainly because I got interested in how Elder and Dan Burton got together in the first place. So I was pretty sure the characters would support a series, though not how long a one. I hit a snag after the fourth book, Last Call at the Esposito, for reasons that will be apparent to readers of that book, and thought I might have come to the end. But, as sometimes happens, a chance conversation kicked off an idea for the fifth book, and now I feel like the series will continue past the current book.

4. In my opinion, the Elder Darrow covers have been some of the most eye-popping in the business. Did you have any input in their creation?

I do have some input, but I’m very careful not to get too directive, because Deirdre Wait, the designer, has an uncanny ability to distill images from the books. She’s done it for all my publisher’s other authors, as well. The cover to Last Call, in particular, is one of my all time favorites. Any input I dare is usually related to color—I have no visual vocabulary to speak of. But the books’ covers are in the best of hands.

5. Elder Darrow’s music playlist really helps to set mood in these books. Did you consciously set out to do this, or did it sort of materialize as you were writing the first novel?

The jazz was always a deliberate part of the books—the underlying work for Elder, beyond staying sober, was to create a nightspot out of a dive bar—and so it seemed natural to sprinkle in the music that was playing at various points in the story. And I’m a jazz fan. I do try to make the tunes do more than be background music: add to a location’s mood, reflect character, support plot lines. But subtly. I hope.

6. You’ve taught and mentored other successful authors, including our very own Brian Thiem. What advice do you have for writers who are considering starting a series?

Finish the first book before you worry about whether it’s a series. Some protagonists who can carry a standalone don’t have the depth or heft to survive three, four, five books, and I’m not sure a writer can know that until he or she has written a whole novel with the character. And remember that if you commit to a character, you could (deo volente) be living with him or her for a long time—figure a year for each book. So, while you don’t have to love your protagonist, you’re going to have to connect to the character in a pretty fundamental way.

7. Is there anything you did early on that, given your later experience, you would have done differently?

Besides create a series bible, you mean? I think I would have worked harder earlier at looking for feedback, as well as tried harder to publish. I don’t mean that I should have been sending out raw or apprentice-level work. But at a certain point, you have to test yourself against a reader who isn’t your mom. The value of seeing how someone reacts to what you’re doing, or trying to do, is invaluable, and I think anyone who’s been doing this for any length of time realizes how important it is to seek honest feedback. Could be a critique group, writer friends, an agent—but get those outside looks.

8. I’ve read a lot of series fiction over the years and, for me, keeping the characters fresh and interesting over the long haul seems to be a major consideration in maintaining readership. What’s your secret?

What I’ve tried to do, and I hope it’s working, is give every recurring character, even the minor ones, a challenge, conflict, or characteristic that forces them to change, even if it’s only slightly. Elder, for example, has gotten less inward over the five books, I think, partly as a result of his love life and partly because of some of the adventures he’s dragged into. Characters inherit money, seduce each other, lose valuable things. It’s the changes characters go through, subtle and not, that keep me interested, and I hope attract readers.

9. You’ve had success both as a novelist and a short fiction writer? Which format brings you the most joy? Or do you find them equally gratifying?

I started out long ago writing poetry and moved into short fiction because I was frustrated that no one in the poetry world seemed to like narrative, things happening to people. I will always love short stories, and the feeling of a great idea for one surfacing is lovely. They are for me a very time-intensive indulgence, though—when I was writing only stories, I might manage a dozen a year. Novels are looser and, I’ve found, just more fun to write.

10. What can readers expect to see next? Will there be another Elder Darrow Mystery? Are you working on any other projects?

There will be another Elder Darrow, Number Six, but not for a while. I have an idea, but nothing more substantive than that. The project I’m currently working on is a novel set in the Pacific Northwest, featuring a thief and an amnesiac female cop—beta readers have described it to me as Bernie Rhodenbarr meets Portlandia.

Dick, thank you for taking the time to give us the benefits of your thoughts. Best of luck with the new book, Sweetie Brogan’s Sorrow, which comes out next month.

Richard J. Cass serves on the board of the Mystery Writers of America Northeast Chapter and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.  He holds an MA in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, where he studied with Thomas Williams and Joseph Monninger. He’s also studied with Molly Gloss, Ursula LeGuin, and Ernest Hebert.

Solo Act, the first novel in the Elder Darrow series and a Finalist for the 2017 Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction, was pitched by Cass as “an alcoholic walks into a dive bar and decides to buy it.” In Solo Time, the prequel to Solo Act, won the 2018 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. The third book in the series, Burton’s Solo, was published on November 1, 2018. The fourth book in the series, Last Call at the Esposito, was published in September, 2019. Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow, Book 5, will be published on October 2, 2020.

Dick lives, writes, gardens, cooks, and fishes in Cape Elizabeth, ME. See his web site atwww.rjcassbooks.com.

Richard J. Cass was interviewed for Murder Books by Bruce Robert Coffin.

Facing the Unseen Enemy

by Isabella Maldonado

Let’s face it, being a cop is a difficult, demanding, often thankless line of work. Sometimes, tired of defending your chosen profession, your circle of friends and associates shrinks to include only those in law enforcement. Frankly, this mindset ultimately does not serve the community, the department, or the officer. As a young rookie, I witnessed a veteran patrol officer grow cynical and suspicious of everyone. He lost his friends, his wife, and ultimately his job. I privately vowed that if I ever found myself getting anywhere close to that mindset, I would turn in my gun and badge and embark on a different career.

Later on, when I had about 13 years under my gun belt, I prided myself that I still hadn’t become cynical. Then something happened that ensured I never would: The Beltway Sniper case.

The DC metropolitan area spiraled into panic. Schools went into lockdown. People stayed in their houses. Gas stations put up tarps so customers could feel safer filling their tanks. Media coverage was more intense than anything I had ever seen. Because this was occurring in the nation’s capital, reporters converged from all over the world to provide constant updates to their viewers, listeners, and readers.

During the crisis, I headed my department’s Public Information Office. Although cops and reporters are often at odds, I had gotten to know many media representatives and learned that many of them were just as battle hardened as cops. After all, they too saw the worst humanity had to offer, sometimes not being able to report on what they witnessed because it was deemed “too graphic” for public consumption.

My revelation came the day after the snipers shot a 13-year-old boy in the chest as he arrived at his middle school. A reporter I’ll refer to as “Steve” asked me to describe what our department was doing to keep children safe while going back and forth to school. I had a private moment with Steve while his cameraman set up for the interview.

He explained that he had just come from a local elementary school where he and his photog had gotten what they call “B-roll,” which is background footage, showing children getting off a school bus at the school parking lot in the morning. Steve had planned to illustrate how the kids were vulnerable to attack as they disembarked from the bus and walked about twenty yards in the open to reach the school’s main entrance. This was exact spot where the Snipers had struck previously at a different school.

When Steve saw what was going on at the school that morning, his story—and his outlook—changed.

While his cameraman shot footage of a big yellow bus pulling up to the curb, Steve watched a police officer walk over and wait for the doors to open. Several children stepped out, and the officer spread his arms wide and used his body to shield the kids as he ushered them to the school’s main entrance. The officer waited until they were safely inside the building before returning to the bus and shepherding another group of children to safety.

Steve was a hard-nosed reporter who had been on the job for many years. That day, I saw him choke up, eyes misting, as he recounted seeing the officer literally use his body as a human shield to protect the little ones. Steve told me he knew, as he was sure the officer did, that a .223 round from a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle would pierce body armor. The officer had obviously calculated that if the sniper took a shot, the round would penetrate the back of his vest, go through his body, and probably penetrate the front of his vest, but might be slowed enough to avoid killing one of the children he was escorting. In other words, the cop knew there was no way he would survive, but he might manage to save a child by taking the bullet.

This is bravery. This is public service. This is dedication. This is what it means to serve and protect.

The reporter recognized it for the selfless act it was, and it touched his heart.

The interesting thing is the effect it had on my heart as well. I was not surprised by what the officer did. I have seen cops put themselves in danger to protect others many times—even done so myself. That instinct was not new to me. What surprised me—and changed my outlook forever—was the public reaction.

The reporter aired the story. Other media representatives told similar stories from all over the area. People showed their gratitude in many ways, thanking the police who risked their lives to make them feel safe. The community bonded as I had never seen before. We were all in it together against a common unseen enemy. An enemy that killed indiscriminately. Young, old, black, white, Latinx, male, female, everyone was a potential target. The insidious part was how people were shot doing ordinary daily activities: pumping gas, boarding a city bus, going to the grocery store, taking a walk, going to the post office, mowing their lawn, going out to dinner, and going to school.

Victims of the Beltway Snipers

Right now, our world is facing an unseen enemy called Covid-19. It strikes indiscriminately. It is insidious. It attacks while we go about our daily lives.

Like a large planetary family, we squabble among ourselves constantly, but I have faith that we will ultimately band together to put a stop to the danger that threatens us all and steals our sense of safety. This time, it is the doctors and nurses who are on the front lines, putting themselves at risk to save people’s lives.

I have two dear friends, both nurses. Both contracted with Covid-19 while caring for patients in the hospital. One of my friends had a relatively mild case, but the other ended up in the ICU and nearly succumbed. I honor their selfless sacrifice and encourage you to do the same. I can tell you from personal experience that a bit of public appreciation goes a long way to buoy sagging spirits when exhaustion sets in.

The next time you have a chance, thank a doctor or a nurse. This time, they are the ones laying their lives on the line to save us from an unseen enemy.

Writing The Crime Fiction Series: The Long View from Daniella Bernett

Please join me in welcoming Daniella Bernett back to the blog, where she gives us the inside scoop on the challenges and joys of writing a long-running crime fiction series.

1. Daniella, tell us what has been the greatest challenge in maintaining a long-running series?

I’m a liar, as are all authors (if they’re honest). My stories are not the truth. They are born in the nether regions of my mind. The trick is ensuring that the lie has the absolute ring of truth to persuade readers that this could happen. Devising a web of intrigue to entice readers and provide an escape is the challenge I take up every time I sit down in front of my laptop. I want readers to be compelled to keep turning pages. My goal is to make readers feel that each book is better than the previous one. My greatest fear is that my imagination will fail me one day and I will be unable to come up with enough twists to sate readers’ appetites for adventure.

2. Do you maintain a series bible to help you keep the details of character and setting and history consistent from book to book? If yes, how do you organize/maintain it? If no, what method do you use to keep things straight?

I keep a two-page document with some information about the family background of one of my main protagonists; a brief sketch of one character’s jobs (officially he works for the Foreign Office, but he’s a MI5 agent); the description of my main protagonist’s home; and the descriptions of the offices of two of the characters. Those are the only details I maintain for reference.

3. Did you have a series in mind when you conceived of the story for the first book?

Yes, I did have a series in mind when the kernel of the idea for Lead Me Into Danger sprung to life in my consciousness. I wanted to write a series so that I could take time to develop my characters. Each book provides another nugget of information to peel back the curtain on Emmeline and Gregory, while also keeping something back. After all, the human species is full of contradictions that are begging to be explored.

4. Do you have any mystery/thriller role models that you read/look to for inspiration/guidance in your own work?

Agatha Christie is my hero. There are so many things I admire about the grande dame of mystery. She was truly a master at her craft. What I love the most is that Christie conceived such deliciously wicked and ingenious plots that appeal to the reader’s intellect. Jealousy, love, and greed are the primary motives for murder. Christie took these motives threw them into a pot, swirled them about, and in each book devised a new way to dissect these emotions. Her stories endure to this day because of her astute insight into human nature and all its foibles. I try to leave readers wanting more, like Christie did with such consummate skill. I hope I’m succeeding.

5. What advice do you have for writers who are considering starting a series?

Character is the engine that drives the narrative. Creating a character is a magical process. For a character to be believable, the reader must be given intimate insight into his or her thoughts and emotions, likes and dislikes. The reader has to understand the motives behind why a character reacts a certain way. Of course, for a character to be fully formed, the author must imbue her or him with both admirable qualities and flaws. After all, in real life nobody is perfect. So too must it be on the written page. Once readers make an emotional connection, you have them hooked because it means they want to know the story behind the character. When the author is satisfied with the character sketch, then the real fun begins: unfurling the imagination to spin the tale.

But my overarching advice to aspiring authors is to write the story that they want to write and not what others tell them or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

6. Is there anything you did early on that, given your later experience, you would have done differently?

With my first book, my editor gave me some good constructive criticism that I took to heart. She said that the point of view (POV) in several scenes had a tendency to jump from one character to another. This is what’s known as “head hopping.” With the subsequent books, I made a concerted effort to put her advice into practice and to focus on one character.  

7. I’ve read a lot of series fiction over the years and, for me, keeping the characters fresh and interesting over the long haul seems to be a major consideration in maintaining readership. What’s your secret?

I must confess my thoughts tend to meander toward the devious. Conjuring up trouble is a tantalizing exercise. While readers always want happily-ever-after, I find it quite boring. It’s a dead end from an author’s perspective because the story has petered out. On the other hand, revenge and betrayal are motives I can greedily sink my teeth into because they always circle back to the question: What if? Those are two of the most potent words in an author’s arsenal because the possibilities are infinite.

I enjoy weaving a nuanced and multilayered plot to give the story a certain richness. I like to get the adrenaline rushing through readers’ veins by taking them to the edge of a cliff, leaving them breathless for a few suspended seconds, and then at the last moment veering off in a different direction. Ultimately, the protagonists must provide an answer for why the crime was committed. To do otherwise would be unfair to the dear reader. But as for the secret to my literary life of crime, I find it devilishly good fun to dangle a little surprise—a soupçon of suspicion—on the last page to leave readers clamoringto know what happens next. It also sets me on the path of the plot for my new book.

8. Would you consider writing another series in parallel with the current one? If so, would it be set in the same era? Or how about writing a spin-off series featuring one of the characters from the current one?

I have several author friends who write two series concurrently and their books take place in different time periods. I marvel at their industriousness and the breadth of their imaginations. However, there are two reasons I would not follow in their footsteps. First, I want to devote all my attention to Emmeline and Gregory. And secondly, I work full time and it is already difficult to squeeze in the time to write. When the day dawns that I can’t come up with complicated puzzles for Emmeline and Gregory to unravel anymore, then I’ll start a new series. It may even be set in another era. As for a spin-off series, I never thought about it. Of course, it’s a possibility, too, since I’m intimately familiar with my characters. But for the moment, either scenario seems a long way off.

9. Would you consider adding another character to your series?

No, I believe my ensemble is nicely balanced. On the one hand, I have Emmeline and Gregory, who represent the amateur sleuth. To infuse the stories with the gravitas of the law and the world of espionage, I have Superintendent Oliver Burnell and Sergeant Jack Finch of Scotland Yard; Philip Acheson of the Foreign Office, who’s also a MI5 agent; and Laurence Villiers, the deputy director of MI5.  

10. Have you ever contemplated going back in time and writing prequels of your protagonists’ lives?

That’s an interesting idea. It hadn’t occurred to me. As a writer, I’m always curious about people because everyone has a story to tell. As readers have discovered, Emmeline and Gregory do not lead humdrum lives. Far from it. Was it always so? How did they come to this point in time and become the people they are today? Hmm. You’ve given me some food for thought. Who knows? Perhaps in the future, I’ll delve into their beginnings.

Daniella, thank you for taking the time to give us the benefits of your thoughts. Best of with the new book, Old Sins Never Die, which comes out next month.

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter and the International Thriller Writers. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past and When Blood Runs Cold are the books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4450173.Daniella_Bernett. Old Sins Never Die, the sixth book in her series, will be released on September 19.

Daniella Bernett was interviewed for Murder Books by Roger Johns

Underwater Investigations: It Starts with a Splash

While a beautiful backdrop for a story, water complicates crime scenes. I started my career in a jurisdiction located along the Pacific Ocean, and I finished my career in a city bisected by a river. I can assure you; crime doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. In many ways, underwater investigation is akin to nautical archaeology. Its objective is to locate and recover an item or person and, in the process, shed light on the circumstances that preceded the discovery. Unlike archaeology, the peer review is conducted in a court of law.

Public Safety Divers (PSD)

Dive teams are expensive propositions and many jurisdictions have regional teams that may or may not be fully comprised of sworn personnel. In all but the largest agencies, being a member of the team is an ancillary assignment. There are various certification programs, but typically, after obtaining advanced scuba and first aid certifications, police agencies require public safety divers to undergo an 80-hour training course that combines classroom instruction with in-water training. The curriculum includes underwater search and recovery, underwater video and photography, underwater crime scene processing, the use of lift bags and much more. In fact, Miami-Dade Police Department’s training includes helocasting exercises.

The size of a team varies, but every operation is a multi-person response. A primary diver needs a buddy, and at least one person topside. Miami-Dade, which has one of the busiest water-related call loads in the nation, has operated for the past twenty years with a team of five or six divers. Occasionally, K9s are called in to assist with the search for bodies. Depending on environmental concerns, a sniper might tag along as well.

Photos courtesy of J. Rumbelow

Tools of the Trade 

Let’s face it, cops love their gadgets, and underwater investigation requires a host of specialized equipment. In addition to personal scuba gear and exposure protection, divers need an air supply (self-contained cylinders or surface supplied, which requires a tender to monitor the system), and ideally full-face masks to facilitate communication with the surface.

Gear to help with the location and recovery efforts may include side-scan sonar, video cameras, SLR cameras encased in underwater housings, evidence markers, lift bags, body bags, tubs, evidence containers, lights, metal detectors, slates, and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). 

If the operation isn’t in close proximity to shore, boats or even air support may be required.

The Crime Scene: Finding it is just the start

Finding an underwater crime scene can be a challenge. Waves, currents, snags, turbidity, temperature, the size of the object that is being sought, and the number of searchers must all be considered when formulating dive and search plans. As on land, the goal is to search an area no larger than needed, while setting parameters that ensure the area is large enough to make finding the object likely. 

As writers, we like to set our stories against a backdrop of gin-clear water, but in reality, public safety divers often find themselves diving at night or in blackwater conditions. When vision is poor, divers rely on their sense of touch, patting the area of their search. Hazards abound—from jagged metal to startled or territorial aquatic life.

Canal Water

The Big Three: Bodies, Vehicles, and Evidence

The focus of underwater investigations inevitably falls into one of three categories: bodies, vehicles, or evidence recovery. Body recovery can be practically and emotionally difficult—especially if the person has been submerged for any length of time. Bagging the body underwater allows for the possibility of preserving physical and trace evidence. It has the added benefit of shielding the body from view and maintaining the victim’s dignity. But that isn’t always possible.

Vehicles end up in the drink for a variety of reasons, both accidental and intentional. Vehicles are particularly hazardous for the public safety diver as they can shift in currents, leak fuel or other chemical contaminants, present broken glass or jutting metal. There is also an increased risk to the diver of air expansion injury if the diver becomes entangled in the lift operation.

Physical evidence can be any material object that plays a role in a judicial proceeding. Weapons are commonly tossed into bodies of water, but so are tools used in the commission of crimes, personal effects that place a person in a certain location, and stolen property. The smaller the object, the more difficult it is to find. 

Marine Critters

There are a lot of animals that call water home. Some are beautiful, some can be dangerous, and all of them are hungry. Alligators, snapping turtles, venomous snakes, and sharks can all ruin a diver’s day—hence the occasional need for a sniper.

Then there are aquatic animals that form evidence destruction teams– and crustaceans sit at the top of the list. Crayfish, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, and sea lice are opportunistic feeders and can destroy organic material quickly.

Underwater Scenes

Writing an underwater scene can be challenging. Water is eight hundred times denser than air. Colors disappear the deeper one dives. Reds are absorbed first, then orange, yellows, greens and blues. Sound travels four times faster underwater making it difficult to discern the direction of its origin. But consider this; seventy-one percent of the globe is covered by water. Are you missing an opportunity to go deeper into your story?

Stay safe,

Micki Browning

What’s In A Name

by Brian Thiem

Long before Juliet spoke those words to Romeo, people understood the importance of a person’s name, and writers are keenly aware of the importance of the names we attach to our characters.

A reader gave me feedback on a story I write a while ago, and said, Lamar, the first name of a southern deputy sheriff character, sounded more like the name of a black man than the “redneck” white man my character portrayed.

I’ve come across several “Lamars” who are white in the south, where I now live. Down here, it’s just a southern name with no racial connotation. However, I realize all my readers are not southerners, and if readers in other parts of the country immediately picture a black man when they hear Lamar, I could end up confusing them for no reason.

Call it stereotyping or preconceptions based on our experiences, we often conjure up an initial impression of people based on their names. Parents know this, and that’s why they often fret over the best name for their babies. To me, common names (John, William, Mary, Catherine) are a blank slate. But a baby named Angelica (508th most popular girl baby name) will grow up to be a very nice, sweet girl, while a baby named Justice (470th most popular girl baby name), best have her law school picked out before she starts first grade.

I’m certain some parents base the name they give a child on who they want the child to grow up to be. Maybe not to the same degree as in the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue,” but I can’t imagine parents naming their son Keaton and not expect him to attend an Ivy League school.

Just like parents naming a child, we authors know the importance of naming a character, so I was pleased when I chatted with an avid reader at a party about that story I was writing. (Which, by the way is in limbo awaiting a publisher to love it enough to make an offer to my agent.) I told this woman at the party that one of my characters was Mitch Dugan, a homicide detective who retired from a big city and moved to a southern beach town. She pictured him as tall, at least six-foot-two, broad shoulders, athletic, and a man who had been a real tough guy his entire career but was now trying to mellow out. Oh, yeah, and he’s Irish. That’s my character!

I then told her another character is Charlotte, who goes by Charlie, and is a detective in the southern sheriff’s department where the oceanfront community is located. The reader pictured her as slender, very tan, and with long, blonde, beachy hair, very independent and certainly no pushover. She nailed the description of my character.

Of course, there’s a lot more to both Mitch and Charlie, such as why would a girl who was given the nice southern name of Charlotte become Charlie? Did she have to become Charlie when she became a cop, or did she turn into a “Charlie” first and as a result become interested in law enforcement? If this book is ever published, readers will get to find out.

When I ask myself or other authors what’s in a name, we know the answer is Everything.

Thumbing Through History

            At the Tennessee Historical Society, perhaps the most bizarre item in the collection is a casketed thumb bone. The museum removes the lid from its small coffin and displays the bone once a year. The thumb was once attached to the hand of John Murrell, the Great Western Land Pirate. Murrell’s trial occurred July 24th, 1834 in the two-story brick courthouse in Jackson, Tennessee. It is my Trial of the Month for July.

            If ever a man were raised to be a criminal, it was John Murrell. In one account, his father was a circuit riding Methodist minister. When Rev. Murrell left home, as he frequently did, John, his brothers and sisters were left in the care of their mother. She turned the family home into a brothel and taught her children to steal from the customers. At 17, John Murrell stole his family’s money and ran away from home.

            Until his ultimate capture, Murrell ran amok along the Natchez Trace, forging and stealing both horses and slaves. For horses, he would pretend to be a Methodist preacher. During his services, members of his gang, the Mystic Clan, would steal the mounts of the parishioners. Legend has it that with slaves, he would help slaves “escape” from bondage, promising them passage to the north. He would sell, steal, and resell them along the route. When the slaves became too recognizable for resale, he would murder them, sinking their bodies so as not to be found. Countless murders have been assigned to John Murrell and the Mystic Clan.

            In one of his frequent journeys to the small town of Florence, Alabama, Murrell encountered a slave, Tom Brannon, whom he could never entice to join his gang.  In the winter of 1834, Murrell sent a message to Brannon to meet him at the Waterloo Road Bridge at the edge of Florence. Tom Brannon notified the local judge who roused the militia. Murrell was captured there and extradited to Tennessee. Poetic justice perhaps that a man who headed a criminal empire involved with stealing and murdering slaves was captured through the efforts of a slave he was recruiting.

            The principal witness at trial was Virgil Stewart, an associate of Murrell’s. He described how he had met Murrell while riding on his own affairs, earned the confidence of Murrell and elicited a confession from him. Murrell outlined for Stewart, “a splendid scheme of organized villainy [by] which he and others expected to amass a fortune.” Astonishing perhaps was Stewart’s claim that Murrell began telling these stories to a stranger within hours of their meeting and hardly stopped talking during their entire time together.

            Milton Brown, Murrell’s attorney, raked Stewart, using many of the tactics still employed by defense attorneys seeking to discredit alleged accomplices. In addition to picking at the details, he showed that in his dealing with Murrell, Stewart repeatedly lied for his own advantage. He implied that in like manner, Stewart might well lie in court when he found it advantageous. He suggested that Stewart’s involvement in any crimes might be greater than he asserted and that he assigned to Murrell responsibility for acts which he himself had committed. After the prosecution rested, Murrell’s legal team called only a few witnesses. A man named Reuben McVey swore that Stewart told him that a local plantation owner had offered Stewart money to track down Murrell and get him convicted of slave stealing. By the end, the government’s sole evidence had been labeled as a nefarious, backstabbing, turncoat mercenary.

            The jury after seemingly deadlocked, convicted Murrell of the slave stealing charge. They failed to convict on six of the eight charges brought against him (History does not record what the dismissed charges were, but they may well have included the allegations of murder). The jury recommended Murrell serve ten years in prison out of a possible sentence of fifteen. The reverse underground railroad Murrell was convicted of running seems to have been one of the lesser charges he faced.

            Released in 1844, John Murrell moved to Pikeville, Tennessee. He died a few months later. As death neared, Murrell reportedly admitted to many of his crimes, but maintained that he had never killed anyone. The mystery of whether he was a petty criminal or crime syndicate mastermind remains.

            Grave robbers allegedly dug up his body from the Smyrna Cemetery. His skull was displayed at local fairs around the Natchez Trace. The rest of his body ended up at a Nashville medical school. There, a thumb was removed and donated to the Tennessee Historical Society in 1895.

            Or was it? Like much of the Murrell story the attempts to separate the truth from fiction prove difficult. A common alternate theory is that a medical student “named” the skeleton John Murrell (a common practice to name cadavers). Over time, the story became fact.

            In the spring of 1835 using the pseudonym Augustus Q. Walton, the trial’s star witness, Virgil Stewart published his claims about John Murrell in a short pamphlet, A History of the Detection, Conviction, Life and Designs of John A. Murel, the Great Western Land Pirate. He wrote a grandiose tale of violence and mayhem more graphic than his courtroom testimony. Perhaps like Davy Crockett’s autobiography, he mixed fact and fiction to hold and entertain his audience.

            The Great Western Land Pirate, however, is not literature’s most famous account of John Murrell. In Tom Sawyer, Tom, and Huck search for Murrell’s lost treasure in a cave near the Mississippi River. Murrell has become a bit player in America’s literary canon.

            Perhaps if one squints, they might see Murrell’s thumb bone forming the shape of a question mark. I like to think so. The saga raises questions about criminal justice and society. Land pirate, John Murrell, is the Trial of the Month because his case touches upon literature, ongoing legal questions, especially accomplice witnesses, and our enduring national struggle with slavery. 

Mark Thielman

The FBI’s real mind hunters

by Isabella Maldonado

When I began researching my new book, which features a team of FBI agents hunting a serial killer, I had to dig into the real story behind the FBI’s famous Behavioral Analysis Unit. There have been many fictionalized accounts of these agents and the work they do, beginning with Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs in 1988. Newer incarnations include several movies and television shows.

To create a fresh take on this type of criminal investigation for my novel, I pulled together a hybrid FBI team that does not actually exist. Writing fiction, however, demands that even the highest flight of fancy on the part of the author must be grounded firmly in fact. With that thought, I put my nose to the grindstone and used my law enforcement background to do hundreds of hours of research.

I started at the beginning, looking into the writings of those who began the program, which actually didn’t officially become a standing unit for more than ten years. The idea behind this kind of criminal profiling had its inception around 1960 when Agent Howard Teten became convinced he could figure out suspects’ personalities by examining the scenes of their crimes. He began reviewing police reports of homicides from around the country. After an arrest, he would compare the predicted personality traits to those of the actual perpetrator, continuously honing his skills. He eventually teamed up with Agent Patrick Mullany, who was an expert in abnormal psychology, to teach these concepts to others in law enforcement.

In 1972, Agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas added their own efforts to understanding what drove violent killers to repeatedly commit their crimes. Simply saying, “Well, they’re obviously insane,” wasn’t good enough. If the psyche of the offender could be grasped, then it might prove possible to predict the patterns and practices of future offenders—and to apprehend them faster.

This monumental task began with a series of interviews of incarcerated murderers. It is Agent Ressler, in fact, who is credited with coining the term “serial killer.” Agents Ressler and Douglas would go to penitentiaries around the country and ask to speak to these killers in person. So much more can be gleaned from direct contact that is lost when reading written statements. The only caveat was that these offenders had to be willing to talk. Fortunately, most were.

What those pioneering agents discovered was nothing short of fascinating. They were able to break criminal behaviors down into categories. At first, broad groupings such as “organized” and “disorganized,” then eventually into more categories such as power and control, visionary, mission-oriented, and hedonistic. These classifications continue to be refined to this day.

The agents pored over their interviews after going back to Quantico (where the BAU was called the BSU and used to be housed in the basement) and created a database to help law enforcement officials from around the world narrow down their suspect pools and solve cases.

One of the most daunting issues in solving an ongoing series of crimes—especially ones that grab headlines—is the tremendous volume of potential suspects. The public often mistakenly believes that coming up with a suspect is the biggest hurdle. Often, the opposite is true, and winnowing down the list is what will garner the most effective results and avoid wasting thousands of personnel hours and taxpayer dollars chasing down leads and researching alibis. Behavioral analysis offers an efficient method to take hundreds of suspects and pare them down to a manageable number quickly.

Several years ago, I went to Quantico to attend a class on serial killers designed for law enforcement investigators. The class was a 40-hour, one-week crash course. The instructors were seasoned FBI profilers. By this time, I had several years on the job and had seen my share of dead bodies, some in appalling condition. I was not so much repulsed by the visual images of carnage as by the twisted minds behind the grisly scenes and macabre rituals.

It was a disturbing exposé of man’s inhumanity to man.

During the class, we reviewed scores of the worst cases from some of the most prolific and deranged killers in our nation. After a while, I kept coming back to one question: How could someone do that to another human being? I found that my outrage slowly morphed into numb disbelief.

This is why the FBI criminal profilers, those we call mind hunters, are my heroes. They not only examine scenes; they put themselves into the mind of the killer. Equally important, they must also put themselves in the mind of each victim. To catch a killer, it’s critical to know how he interacts with his victim and how his victim interacts with him. In order to do that, the profiler must be willing to immerse themselves into the depravity of a killer and the agony of a victim.

Over and over again.

I was not surprised to learn that it often takes a toll on their private lives and their families. Some of them develop a form of what I will call “PTSD by proxy.” They may not have been the direct victims of the perpetrator, but they absorbed every aspect of the crime from both the victim’s and the killer’s perspective. What may have taken a perpetrator fifteen minutes to do, a profiler will spend hundreds of hours examining in excruciating detail.

The job of a mind hunter is not glamorous. It’s a grueling, often thankless task that will have no end as long as human beings walk the earth. We can all be grateful, however, that there are those men and women who are uniquely called to perform this service at great personal cost. Today, I honor them.

Interview with George Weinstein: Novelist and Executive Director of the Atlanta Writers Conference

Please join me in welcoming George Weinstein to the blog, today. George is the author of six novels, including his latest, Watch What You Say, which he discusses below. In addition to being a fine novelist, George is the long-time former and once again President of the Atlanta Writers Club, and the Executive Director of the twice-yearly Atlanta Writers Conference which will have its 22nd iteration this coming November. Both the club and the conference have been instrumental in launching the careers of a great many writers (including mine), and George shares some of the insights into starting a writing career that he has gathered from his time at the helm. His work has also been published in Writer’s Digest and in regional and national anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Writers.

MB: Your newest novel, Watch What You Say, features a radio show host gifted with a very interesting condition known as synesthesia. Tell our readers a bit about this and how it figures into your story.

GW: According to the National Institutes of Health, 5%-15% of the world’s population has some form of synesthesia, the blending of senses, but I think we’ve all experienced a flash of this cross-wiring at one point or another: a sound that seems to produce a color (maybe that’s how “blues” music got its name), a taste that seems to produce a feeling of shapes in one’s mouth, an odor that evokes a skin reaction, etc. For web radio host Bo Riccardi, she hears as much or more with her eyes as her ears, a form of synesthesia known as chromesthesia. Musicians as varied as Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige, and Tori Amos were/are all synesthetes with chromesthesia. In Bo’s case, every sound produces a mental image of moving, colorful shapes. She’s learned to interpret these such that, if you’re speaking, she can tell your emotions and also your intent. This makes her the ultimate BS detector, as she can literally watch what you say. She hopes this will give her an edge over the kidnapper who’s holding her husband, but there are problems when one relies too much on a dominant strength, as Bo will soon learn.

MB: What inspired you to write about an individual with this particular variety of synesthesia?

GW: I’ve always had an interest in our amazing minds, and became a longtime fan of Dr. Oliver Sacks of Awakenings fame early on. Among many other mental phenomena, he wrote and spoke about the synesthesia. One of the most fascinating things about this blending of senses is that every synesthete experiences it differently from everybody else with the same gift. For example, as a little boy, Vladimir Nabokov complained to his mother that his alphabet blocks were all painted the wrong colors. “A” was actually red, not blue, and so on. Experiencing the phenomenon herself, his mother understood—and her perception of the “right” color of each block differed from her son’s as well as what was painted there.

The most common form is this “grapheme-color” synesthesia, where the individual sees a distinct hue for every number and often each letter. After months of reading about Nabokov and many others, I embarked on a story outline with a heroine who had grapheme-color synesthesia, and I began writing a first draft. I didn’t get far. The trouble with the story was that this form of the phenomenon didn’t affect her interactions with anybody else and didn’t result in any tension or help resolve the plot.

Another common form of synesthesia is chromesthesia. As I began to consider what I could do with this, the “what if” scenarios began again: What if my protagonist not only saw colors and shapes all the time but she could also interpret them? When people spoke, she could read their emotions and intent and literally watch what they said. And what if her job was as an interviewer, where her ability could be put to exceptional use as the ultimate BS meter? Also, such a gift could make her vulnerable if she relied on it too much. Add in Internet radio as a cool, up-and-coming form of media, the twist where the wife must rescue the kidnapped husband instead of the usual other way around, and a dark, personal connection with the kidnapper, and Watch What You Say was born.

MB: Your new book, and your preceding one, Aftermath, are mysteries. Your earlier works were not mysteries. How did you find your way to the dark side, and how do you like it over here?

: After writing two historical novels and a modern relationship drama, I wanted a new challenge. Mystery/thriller/suspense novels are what I read for entertainment, so I embarked on a murder mystery, Aftermath. The premise is that Janet Wright, a middle-aged woman who’s been estranged from her father since she was five, learns she’s the sole inheritor of his riches following his murder. Supposedly it was an open-and-shut case, with the killer shot to death by the police at the murder scene, but she can’t resist poking at the facts of the case and makes herself the next target for a killing. This genre forced me to be a more disciplined writer when it comes to outlining, deciding where to place red herrings, and being more deliberate about where all the beats go. I love writing in this world of high stakes, danger, and intrigue so much, it was an easy decision to follow it up with the suspense-thriller Watch What You Say.

MB: As the former, and now-again president of the Atlanta Writers Club, the director of the Atlanta Writers Conference, and a long-time moderator of a successful critique group, you’ve seen the launch of a lot of writing careers, so you’re in a unique position to offer some thoughts on pathways to success for writers. Please share the wisdom of your experience with our readers who have their eyes on a writing career.

GW: The only writer who fails is the one who quits. To keep from quitting, it’s important to set ambitious but achievable goals and to break huge tasks (e.g., getting your work out in the marketplace) into small, doable ones. Surrounding yourself with a community of supportive writers–people who understand you and are willing to share resources and insights–is also key, so you don’t have to go on this journey alone. It’s important to know your desired destination when you start out, so you can make a plan to get there. Becoming a New York Times bestselling author is a different journey than self-publishing a book to sell to family, friends, and occasional strangers. Perhaps most importantly, you can’t call yourself a writer unless you write, rather than merely think about writing. Nothing else can happen in pursuit of your goals if you don’t put in the effort to draft, rewrite ad nauseum, and edit until you can’t make another improvement. It all starts with doing the hard work of writing.

MB: What’s coming next from the pen of George Weinstein?

GW: I’m working on a sequel to Watch What You Say, where Bo is compelled to join forces with the strong-willed heroine of my mystery novel Aftermath, Janet Wright, to solve a new mystery and, along the way, discover the power of sisterhood.

MB: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with the Murder Books readers.

Please visit George at www.georgeweinstein.com.

George Weinstein was interviewed by Roger Johns.

40 Years Ago

It was 40 years ago this month when I raised my right hand and was sworn in as an Oakland police officer. The phone call telling me I was accepted had arrived a few weeks earlier, and I hustled get released from Army active duty on terminal leave, find an apartment in Oakland, and move my meager possessions from Monterey.

The year before, I had met an OPD officer at a hostage negotiation course in San Francisco that the Army MP sent me to. He told me, “Listen, kid, if you want to do police work—I mean really do police work—then come to Oakland, because there’s more police work to do there than anywhere else.” So, I added OPD to the FBI and other federal agencies I applied to.

I was excited when Oakland invited me to take the physical agility course. They had already checked my criminal and driving record and waived the written test since I had a college degree. I aced the physical agility course, which was nothing compared to the obstacle courses I ran in the Army. The department then set me up for a medical exam, physiological exam, and oral board.

A few weeks later, I received a letter advising the next step was a detailed background investigation. I filled out a personal history questionnaire and sent it in. I heard from friends, old neighbors, and co-workers that investigators were asking about me, and shortly thereafter, OPD offered me the position. I later learned that out of a hundred applicants, only two made it through the selection process. To this day, I’m grateful OPD called first.

The 22-week academy (California POST—Police Officer Standards and Training—only required 12 weeks), was arduous. Classroom instruction that reminded me of college, and physical hands-on training and discipline was like what I experienced in the Army. Those who made it through went on to field training, where we rode with senior officers for another 18 weeks or longer.

I still remember being released from my FTO and my first day on my own. It was exciting, freeing, and a bit scary knowing the gravity of the many decisions I would have to make, any of which could have enormous consequences. But I loved it. Every day, I looked forward to coming to work, and felt a letdown when the shift was over.

I spent 25 years with OPD, and I seldom felt differently about the work. I collected plenty of bumps and bruises along the way, some physical and others emotional. It cost me a marriage (although I can’t blame just the job) and my health for a while. I weathered internal investigations and lawsuits, mostly holding my head high as they ran their course, because senior officers assured me that the only cops who never received complaints were those who never did anything.

Throughout my career, I worked alongside some of the bravest, most ethical, and most dedicated men and women in the world. I saw people at their best and absolute worst. And I got to help thousands and thousands of people: crime victims, members of the community, and even offenders. When to sent someone to jail, I knew I was helping those in the community who would no longer be victimized by that particular person, and sometimes, the trip to jail was the wake-up that caused some offenders to turn their lives around.

I saw numerous changes to our profession and the way we operated during my career. More occurred after I retired. And more will occur in the future.

People today often ask me if I miss it. I do. Everyday. But I’m also glad I’m retired. I have many wonderful memories. And a few recurring nightmares. But I feel truly blessed to have worked in a profession filled with purpose and meaning, a profession dedicated to protecting and serving others, and a profession where I could make such huge differences to so many lives. And those experiences give me plenty to draw on in my writing.

I’ll always remember the day 40 years ago when I took my oath and was handed my badge.