I Got To The Homicide Victim First | Laura Belgrave

One Reason I Became A Mystery Author

Many of you know I started my career as a newspaper journalist, long before cell phones, GPS, and other technology tools we use today began to dominate and control the way we do things.

Well, my first job for a Florida daily paper was as the police reporter. It was the absolute last job I wanted, but it was the one available, so I took it. Mostly, I made the rounds of police stations to read overnight reports and, with some regularity, was summoned to crime scenes because the editor had an old-fashioned police scanner on his desk. The scanner was incessantly noisy and annoying, but we listened because we’d learned what police codes meant and responded accordingly.

One early morning, one of my “fly out the door” assignments was to a probable homicide at an apartment complex. The dispatch signal floating from the scanner was a Code 5, indicating murder.

I’d appeared on the scene of a variety of homicides and other tragedies, but what had never happened before was arriving at the scene before the police. It was eerie. I found the body, face down in a small, unkempt courtyard area of the complex. Of course, I knew enough not to approach the body too closely. Doing so could contaminate the crime scene. 

The victim was, at least to me, quite obviously dead. He appeared young and clutched an enormous ring of keys, though I saw no weapon. I also saw no obvious wounds and assumed that evidence of whatever killed him was beneath his body, perhaps pooling the weeds with blood. I couldn’t tell, and within a few more minutes police did arrive and began to mark off the scene while I watched quietly at a distance.

Obviously, I did follow up after the initial, deadline-driven story I wrote, but I no longer remember many details other than that the murder involved a burglary. Frankly, it wasn’t a high-profile case, though I covered quite a few of those as well.

But what I do remember and will never forget was seeing an unshielded corpse from an apparently violent and sudden death, and I will say this: It wasn’t like seeing a body in a casket. It wasn’t even like watching a loved one take his or her last breath in a hospital, though that’s also certainly distressing. In short, that murder victim, alone and suddenly dead, not yet covered with a sheet by police, was my first real encounter with violence that ends in death, and I can’t help but think that it was a contributing factor in my decision to later write mystery novels.

If you’ve read In the Spirit of Murder, (still a free ebook download), you already know that my main character, Claudia Hershey, a highly rated homicide detective, treats murder victims with respect. Mind you, Claudia is nothing even remotely like me, except, I like to think, for her reverent approach to people who never thought their lives would abruptly end in a violent moment.

By the way, I later continued as a reporter in other capacities until I was bumped up to city editor and became the person who shoved police reporters out the door, just as I had been shoved that day. I moved on to other Florida dailies, working as an editor from then on.

But that first up close and personal murder victim? Though I’ve lost most details, I won’t forget him. He occasionally springs to mind and, when that happens, I realize that I continue to grieve for him on some level. I also worry all the more these days about the increasing and senseless violence to which we’ve, in all probability, become just a little inured. Violence seems now to be nearly a daily headline, but not generally for very long. After all, there is always a new deadly story to report that wipes away what came before.

Sad. Tragic. Senseless.

Where Do Writers Get Inspiration? | Laura Belgrave

For me, inspiration often comes from the unexpected. Take this horse, for instance. Understand, I live in a bustling South Florida urban area and narrowed down, my specific residence overlooks a community lake in a 55+ development. Yes, it’s pretty placid here. But the lake itself is filled with gigantic turtles, huge carp, a bunch of other fish I can’t identify, awesome storks, and, of course, loads of ducks. I love watching them all.

However, the one thing you wouldn’t expect to see here is a horse. And yet, one day recently I was sitting on the screened-in patio we have, chatting on the phone with an author friend in North Idaho, and suddenly, here comes this gorgeous horse. It wanders into the lake, because I gather horses like lakes. Me? I kept my friend on the phone, and shot out the screen door faster than Batman swooping from a 70-story building. Photos, my brain screamed at me. I must get photos!

Mind you, I have no earthly idea whatsoever about horses. Don’t know how to approach them. Don’t know what clucking or sounds I should make to ensure it understands I’m not dangerous. None of that bothered me. The thrill of the moment is all that mattered. I sat on the grass on the bank and look, look how close I got to getting that beautiful animal to come to me! (I had my author friend Dawn Keur, who most assuredly does know horses, on the phone and telling me how to advance toward it, what to do, etc.)

After the horse splashed around a bit, drank copiously from the lake water and began to approach me, more neighbors started to cautiously appear. I think that spooked the horse a bit, so it amicably got out of the lake and ambled to a nearby canal. (Wish I’d had a carrot to give it.) Presumably, the horse was headed back to wherever it came from, and you can be certain I followed as long as I could.

Someone called the Sheriff’s Department. Someone called Animal Control. The stunning horse ultimately was traced to a small barn or boarding area about a mile away, buried deep away from the major roadways surrounding our community. I know because my friend Marlene Passell, who also knows about horses and lives five doors away, leaped into her car to try and find the authorities and the horse, which she did. Marlene’s the one who told me the horse’s name is Betty, and that this wasn’t the first time she managed to get loose and go exploring.

Now after that story, you really think I won’t manage to finagle Betty or some horseback riding situation into my upcoming novel? (Currently, that novel is simply referred to as “Claudia No. 4,” since the others are already published: In the Spirit of Murder (still free), Quietly Dead, and Deadly Associations.) Can you tell I write murder mysteries with a pretty tough and savvy female cop?

All I know with certainty is this: That encounter, where least expected, gave me the high of my weekend and it will live within me forever. That’s how writers get inspired.

Ever Onward!
Laura Belgrave

P.S. That patch on Betty’s face? I didn’t know what it was until I asked Dawn. It’s some sort of mesh covering to keep flies and gnats off the horse, but the horse can easily see through it. Clearly, Betty had no problem with it.

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