Saturday, February 23, 2019

These Kids Are Murder

Sometime back, Lighthouse Writers Workshop invited me to lead a class in their Young Writer's Program. Because of my background in writing mysteries I was specifically asked for this assignment since the kids would be tasked to craft a mystery story. My students were from 11 to 13 years old, with ten girls and two boys. My sons have long since matured past that age bracket and so I was curious about my students. We hear anecdotes about how out-of-control and undisciplined modern kids are, especially middle schoolers, however my charges were attentive and polite. I foresaw a lot of sneaking time on cell phones, but the only calls any of them got were from worried moms. One of the girls mentioned that the class fell between the custody handover between her parents, and I was glad this was something neither my sons or I had to go through. To prep for the class I read a couple of stories from Encyclopedia Brown and so from my students I expected something along the lines of the "Case of the Missing Bicycle" or the "Purloined Hershey Bar."

Our writing prompt was a photo of suburban house surrounded by crime-scene tape. Despite my expectation of a mundane "age-appropriate" crime, my students immediately launched into a tale of murder. I assigned them various aspects of the case. Some worked the crime-scene evidence. Others worked on motives. Reflecting these kids' modern family experiences, it was the wife of an estranged couple who was found dead. Naturally, suspicions pointed to the husband. However, living in the home was the late wife's boyfriend, who the girls in my class emphasized was a mooch with a record as a petty thief. Emails between the wife and her husband indicated that she accused him of stealing her savings and some jewelry. In the husband's car the police found a small caliber pistol, which one of my young detectives insisted was a .22 semi-auto. The crime-scene team was keen on the forensics and noted that the lack of gunshot residue around the puncture wounds in the wife's body meant that she had not been shot, even though spent .22 cartridges littered the area. Furthermore, the puncture wounds resembled those made by an ice pick, plus no bullets had been recovered from the tissue. The motive team discovered that the boyfriend had pawned jewelry the wife claimed had been stolen by the husband. Plus the husband had an alibi for the time in question as he had taken his girlfriend away for a romantic long weekend. An investigation of the pistol revealed the boyfriend's fingerprints but none from the husband, indicating it had probably been planted. Then the motive team discovered that the boyfriend had a girl on the side, and he had deposited lots of money in her account shortly after it went missing from the wife. The police never found the murder weapon but had enough to charge the boyfriend for murder and his girlfriend as an accessory as she had provide the pistol used as the red herring. Definitely not Encyclopedia Brown.

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