Thursday, June 28, 2007

Crime at the Beach

by Kristine Coblitz

Ocean City, New Jersey is known as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” It’s broadcasted on signs throughout the area and on the boardwalk. There are two amusement parks, numerous miniature golf courses, arcades and family-friendly activities, such as the weekly “family night” with entertainment and contests.

My husband and I vacation there every year. My husband spent his summer vacations there as a child, and we plan to take our own children there. It’s a relatively safe place. No alcohol is served on the entire island, including in the restaurants, although there are numerous airplane messages that fly over the beach throughout the day for beer ads, and you can buy T-shirts in the plentiful novelty shops with suggestive messages about teenage drinking and partying. (This year, we happened to be there during Senior Week.) Cops patrol the boardwalk in the evenings.

This year, after having read TILT-A-WHIRL by Chris Grabenstein, I viewed my soothing beach surroundings with a more critical eye. The book details a bloody murder that takes place on an amusement park ride at the Jersey Shore. What I loved most about the book is the unexpected setting. A murder at a family beach resort? Unthinkable!

Being the paranoid crime writer I am, I immediately thought that every police car siren I heard meant that a murder had occurred. When I came home, I researched crime statistics at the Jersey Shore, particularly in Ocean City. While Ocean City is relatively low in crime statistics, there have been numerous incidents since 2001 involving robbery and aggravated assault, including some rapes.

I suspect there’s a lot going on underneath the surface of the pristine family resort that is often swept under the rug and kept out of the public eye in an attempt to maintain the safe, family-oriented image of the area. For example, after returning home, I learned about a lost gun that was found by a teenager at one of the amusement parks, which happened while we were there. The gun belonged to a cop on vacation who lost his weapon while on one of the amusement park rides. We had no idea the incident even took place, but it worries me to think about what could have happened.

Another example happened last year when we learned that a serial killer with a preference for prostitutes was on the loose in Atlantic City, which is located only a few short miles and a quick 10-minute drive away from Ocean City. That's a little close for my comfort.

As writers, I think it’s important to think about unusual settings for our stories and novels. One part of me was hesitant to hear or even read about crime in Ocean City, a place I’ve held as sacred for so many years as one of the few remaining areas immune from danger. Another part of me, however, was eager to research the dirty underbelly I know probably exists there.

I’ve learned that ignorance is bliss, especially on vacation. Do you agree or disagree?


Anonymous said...

I've vacationed many times in Hawaii, which I absolutely love. Since I've avoided Oahu, the crime rate where I've stayed is really, really low. One time I was on a boat ride along the Napali coast on Kauai, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and we picked up a "swimmer," someone who had wandered too far from shore and been sucked out to sea. I think he'd been swimming out there for several hours, and if we hadn't seen him, in a few hours he would have drowned.

After he was pulled on board he said to all the tourists, "You obviously have a lot of questions to ask. Don't."

A few days later I was walking along the beach and saw him sitting there watching an ant, obviously very stoned. So it made me wonder what part drugs and alcohol played in his little swim.

I believe that anywhere you go, there's a dark side that emerges if you stay there more than a day or two. Some are just more obvious than others.

Anonymous said...

Every town has two sides, a good and a bad, and each of those sides has a designated area within the town and a set of hours to conduct activities.

Normally, the good people are only out and about during the good hours; therefore, they rarely see any of the sickos and their macabre behaviors.

It's when someone is out when it's not time for their shift, or when they venture out of their designated areas that crime occurs.

Our mothers were right; nothing good can go on after midnight.

By the way, Chris Grabenstein is the keynote speaker for the Deadly Ink conference in Parsippany NJ this weekend. I'm presenting a master class for the conference as well as sitting in on a few panels. Sounds like it's going to be a fun event.

Joyce Tremel said...

Lee is right. I think that's one reason why the younger cops like to work the midnight shift. There's usually more serious action at night, especially on the weekends. They don't have to deal with the little old ladies and the community service type things the daylight shift gets.

Years ago (before I was tainted by actually working for a PD), one of Patricia Cornwell's books dealt with bodies found at a highway rest stop near Williamsburg, VA. When we went on vacation that year, you can be sure we made a stop there!

Lee, let us know how the conference is. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Joyce: When my cousin first became a cop, he was assigned to the night shift in one of the highest crime areas in Pittsburgh. He said he loved it. When he had an opportunity to trade shifts, he passed. He didn't want to give up the action.

Lee: I wish I could be at the conference. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Tory: Interesting story about the swimmer. Maybe he was trying to commit suicide?

Anonymous said...

Kristine: I doubt the swimmer was trying to commit suicide. It took a lot of presence of mind to keep afloat for several hours, out past the breakers! I just think he was on a very risky beach (one he shouldn't have been swimming on) and he wasn't very careful. All the more likely if you're stoned.

My wind-surfing instructor talked about some of the things he'd do for fun. Definitely a lot of risk-taking personalities out there!