Research Resources for Mystery and Crime Writersby Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, February 1999
The Internet contains an enormous number of research resources for crime and mystery writers. Accurate portrayal of criminal proceedings, police investigations, correct use of poisons and correct crime scene analysis all help add up to a more believable crime. Crime writers can find resources online including forensic websites, police websites, governmental resources and crime sites covering different types of criminal activity. Using these websites as references, crime and mystery writers can create more believable scenarios and also develop ideas for new stories. This article will guide you to some of the best crime resources and sites from which you can find more crime resources on your own.
Finding Crime Resources
The most common method for finding crime resources is to use a search engine or directory. For information on using search engines, be sure to read "Effective Use of Search Engines", which will give you an overview of the search process. In addition to the search engines, crime website directories and specific sections of the major search engines can be used to find online crime information.. Two great starting points for crime websites are The Police Officer's Internet Directory and The Law Enforcement Links Directory, which each contain a large amount of links to crime resources. The Reference Desk also has an excellent collection of crime links. The crime section of The Mining Company also provides crime-related links. The special crime sections of InfoSeek, Excite, LookSmart and Yahoo are also valuable starting points for finding crime related websites. General online research resources such as online dictionaries and web encyclopedias may also contain information crime writers need. For information on finding general research resources, refer to the "Jump Start Your Online Research" article from the May 1998 issue of The Internet Writing JournalTM.
Crime and Police Procedure
Crime reference sites provide visitors with a wide variety of content including crime news, criminology information, police briefs, live broadcasts and case studies. APB Online contains daily news stories about crime and police news. Features on the site include unsolved cases, a serial killer atlas and live police scanners from various cities. CopNet contains a collection of links to police internet sites and resources by state and country, justice resources, public service websites and other crime links. The Police Officer's Internet Directory contains a well-organized collection of links to online resources including the categories: associations, hate crimes, criminal justice, police supplies and special ops. The Law Enforcement Links Directory contains a searchable database of crime links. The database can also be browsed by categories including: investigative tools, police dogs, terrorism and university police. Another resource, the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, provides online data for the study of crime. Writers looking to create more believable dialogue in their fiction might try listening to policescanner.com which provides live Real Audio of emergency broadcasts for police departments in L.A., Dallas, New York and other major cities. The radio signal codes used by the police are also provided. For criminal law articles, news and book reviews, visit the criminal law section of the Law Journal Extra. The Anatomy of a Murder website is another good reference for writers who want to learn more about the court process. The site takes you through a complete criminal murder trail and includes a glossary of terms.
More excellent crime resource include: Crime Magazine, Cops Online, Organized Crime, Justice Information Center, JusticeWeb, Criminal Justice Resource Center, Crime Scene, And Justice for All, Police Services of the UK, CopQuest, CopLink.com and The Corrections Connection.
Understanding the science and methods police investigators use on the scene is necessary for creating a believable crime or murder scenario in your short story or novel. Some starting pages that link to numerous forensic resources include: American College of Forensic Examiners ("ACFE") General Forensic Links, Zeno's Forensic Page and Reddy's Forensic Homepage.
Other forensic sites may cover a specific forensic subject or explain a crime lab procedure in layman's terms. The Crime & Clues website provides information on how evidence is collected and treated including guidelines on evidence collection, crime searches and fingerprinting The site contains articles culled from various resources and links to additional online resources. The Why Files website explains in layman's terms some of the scientific techniques involved in analyzing crime scene evidence. Another resource, the autopsy page, Explains the step-by-step procedures in an autopsy with graphics and also links to more autopsy resources. More valuable forensic references include: the Latent Print Examination website, Forensic Justice Project and the Forensic Science Society.
The U.S. Government provides information through its major websites such as the FBI website as a public service. The FBI website lists criminal information, laws, the most wanted criminals, FBI news, unsolved cases, crime statistics, and information on the FBI's crime databases and crime labs. The CIA's website contains information about the agency as well as agency publications, including the comprehensive world factbook containing detailed information on over 230 countries, links and other resources. Don't overlook the sites provided by the government when researching -- they can be very valuable references. Some additional government resources include: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S Marshals, US Food & Drug Administration, United States Sentencing Commission, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, The National Security Agency and the United States Secret Service.
Types of Crime
Resources providing information on various types of crimes such as terrorism and specific types of criminals such as serial killers can also be found online. Information on famous cases and specific criminals is also available on the Web.
For information about serial killers be sure to visit the Serial Killer Info Site or the Death and Dementia Website. Another resource Serialhomicide.com provides a profile of a different serial killer each weekday.
Organized Crime Worldwide contains numerous well described links to Mafia related websites. The CSS Organized Crime Menu also provides links to organized crime articles and resources.
HateWatch, is a web based not for profit that monitors the growing and evolving threat of hate groups on the Internet. The website provides information on numerous hate crimes and hate groups. Other hate crime resources include the Anti-Defamation League and Stop the Hate.
Information about street gangs can also be obtained online. The Austin Police Department's Gang Suppression Unit website contains great content including basic gang facts, how gangs function, gang identifiers and how they are stopped. Other resources about street gangs include: Gangwar.com, LA Gangs and Street Soldiers.
Cybercrime is emerging as a serious concern for the world, and is responsible for the emerging techno-thriller genre. Some resources on cybercrime include the Justice Department Computer Crime Initiative, CyberAngels.org (an organization that fights Cybercrime), the National Security Institute's Security Resource Net, PedoWatch (monitors Pedophilia and child pornography) and the website of The National Security Agency.
There are several sex crime resources on the Net which contain information about rape and other sex crimes and list sex crime offenders for public awareness. Some of these sites include: The Facts about Rape page, Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), California Sex Offenders and SexOffender.com.
Writers looking for information on terrorism will want to start with the Terrorism Research Center, which contains articles, documents and a valuable collection of links to other terrorism websites. Other terrorism websites include: Counter-Terrorism Page, The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism Reward Program and NSI: Counter Terrorism,
Information about individual criminals and most-wanted criminals can also be found on the Web. For starters, visit The FBI Most Wwanted for a list of extremely dangerous criminals. Another site, International Crime Alert, lists fugitives by region, with a profile and photograph for each one. Fugitive Watch also contains information on criminals sought by the law. Other wanted sites include the Washington Post's most wanted criminals website. America's Most Wanted and the Active Most Wanted Links Page, which contains links to numerous "most wanted" pages. Websites about famous criminals such as The Unabomber, Jack the Ripper and The Zodiac Killer are also on the Net. The takedown website shows the events that led up to the arrest of "most wanted" computer hacker Kevin Mitnick through news stories and photos.
Equipment, Weapons and Poisons
Weapons and poisons are integral parts of any mystery. With the Internet as your research tool, you can track down information on numerous weapons, both modern and historical. Information on toxins and drugs is available online as well. To begin research on poison, visit the Disaster Center which provides links to poison resources and online websites for U.S. poison control centers. A great starting point in weapon research is GunHoo, which is a database of gun related links including links for various types of guns from air guns to paintball guns. Another website, The Police Marksman, offers a free catalog (by mail) of law enforcement equipment. More resources with information on weapons, poisons and drugs include: Firearms Tuturial, National Rifle Association (NRA), Snipercountry.com and Yahoo's Toxicology Links.
Remember to Bookmark
As you can see, the Internet contains a massive amount of content on the subject of crime, which can be used both to stimulate new ideas and as background materials for creating a more believable fictional crime. When researching online it is important to remember to bookmark the resources you find valuable, so you can easily locate them later without having to try to recall the steps you took to get there in the first place. Keeping a research notebook listing your favorite websites and online resources is also a good idea. Be sure to record or bookmark several key resources that link you to a majority of the rest of the information you need. This will save you time down the road. With all these crime resources at your fingertips you no longer have any excuses to delay the research for that new crime or mystery novel, so get started! Good luck!
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.