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.. A great starting point for crime websites is Officer.com, which contains a large amount of links to crime resources. The Reference Desk also has an excellent collection of crime links.
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.
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 the local police scanner online. For criminal law articles, news and book reviews, visit the criminal law section of FindLaw. Wikipedia has a collection of murder trials. It is another good reference for writers who want to learn more about famous murder trials the court process. There over 70 murder trials included.
More excellent crime resource include: Crime Magazine, Police One, Crime Scene, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Police Services of the UK, CopQuest and Corrections.com.
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. The Crime Scene Investigator Network has a forensic science links page that includes links to CSI units, meetings and other resources.
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. A site called Autopsy Files, maintains autopsy reports of famous and infamous individuals. More valuable forensic references include: the Latent Print Examination website, FWS Forensics Lab and Interpol Forensics.
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 Wikipedia page or the Death and Dementia Website. Wikipedia maintains a list of serial killers by number of victims. Another resource, Mind of a Killer, provides a profile of a different serial killer each weekday.
HateWatch, is a blog that monitors the growing and evolving threat of hate groups on the Internet. The website provides information on numerous hate crimes and hate groups. Another hate crime resource is the Anti-Defamation League.
Information about street gangs can also be obtained online. The FBI Gang website contains great content including basic gang facts, how gangs function, gang identifiers and how they are stopped.
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, the National Security Institute's Security Resource Net, FBI Cyber Crime, Interpol Cybercrime 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. A couple of these sites include: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), and SexOffender.com.
Writers looking for information on terrorism will want to start with the Golf Terrorism Database, which contains information on more than 170,000 terrorist attacks. Other terrorism websites include: The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, NSI: Counter Terrorism and the FBI Terrorism site.
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. The DOJ also has a most wanted fugitive page, which lists fugitives wanted for a variety of different crimes. Fugitive Watch also contains information on criminals sought by the law. Other wanted sites include the Criminal Justice Degree Hub's 50 Most Wanted and Interpol's Most Wanted.
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 Poison Control which has information about a variety of poisons. They also provide a pill identifier.
A great starting point in weapon research is Gun Genius, which provides information about guns, including rifles, shotguns and handguns. Another website, Guns.com, offers gun information, news and other resources. More resources with information about weapons include: Small Arms Survey, Firearms Tuturial, National Rifle Association (NRA) and Internet Movie Firearms Database.
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!
Note: This article was last updated with link verification on 6-11-18.
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.