Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Law Enforcement personnel are closet writers

by Donnell Ann Bell

I have a theory. A pretty good one if I do say so myself. Inside every law enforcement type there’s a storyteller waiting to be born. Don’t believe me? Just wait. After I share the following tale, I think you’ll agree I’m on to something.

First off, I don’t live in Pennsylvania, I blog here on occasion because Annette Dashofy is my online critique partner and I find her work is a joy to read. So my experience mainly comes from El Paso County, Colorado, but the more I work with Working Stiffs, I see that when it comes to law enforcement, we’re really not that far apart.

So here’s where I prove my case. Christina Herndon is the Deputy Coroner for El Paso County, and she’s one busy lady. She’s also my friend, with an irreverent sense of humor, I suspect because of her job. It’s a protective mechanism. She can either laugh or she can cry. I enjoy her because she makes me laugh, and naturally, she always makes me think.

Chris is also a very generous soul. I found this out when I would be typing away on a manuscript, I’d come to a point where I’d groan and say, “I’m not sure how to kill this guy.” I would pick up the phone, call the Coroner’s office, Chris would answer, saying, “You’re who? You want to know how to do what?”

Instead of having me arrested, she became my friend. And that’s troublesome for people in law enforcement, because once they befriend me, they end up befriending a whole lot of writers and speaking at a whole lot of functions. With that said, I’d like to tell you why I determined that if you’re in law enforcement, you’re also a closet writer.

A few months back, Chris told me that she teaches coroners how to conduct inquests, and naturally, I found this fascinating and abused our friendship further and said you need to put on a workshop for Sisters in Crime.

She never gets mad, she just says okay, and as we put our heads together, a mock coroner’s inquest came to life, with me as the melodramatic producer and Chris the “acting coroner” who also filled in the technical blanks.

Now, I’ve talked about Chris, I’d also like to talk to you about fellow members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Sisters of Crime. Don’t tell any of them that I said this – “ahem,” – but they’re hams. Really big hams as well as darn good sports and actors. I told them what Chris and I were contemplating, and as our skit came together, my chapter mates good-naturedly did as they were told. Below is the cast of characters, and the set up that Chris and I wrote that turned out to be hysterical to watch and equally fun to participate in. Without further ado, I give you…

The Demise of Penelope Pierce

Deceased: Penelope Pierce
Victim’s Mother: Elizabeth Pierce (Kari Wainright)
Cop: Officer Ruthie Guyless (Beth Groundwater)
Reporting Party: Ms. Amelia Onlooker (Maria Faulconer)
Pathologist: Dr. Clara de Colon (Madge Walls)
Coroner Investigator: Racine Sharpastak (Barb Nickless)
Counselor: Dr. Lula Wannadish (Laura Pellerin)
Victim’s Roommate: Therma Dorr (Lise Fuller)
Victim’s Ex-husband: William Love-Levam (Robert Spiller)
Private Detective: Phineas Stump (Karl Herndon)
Court Reporter: Donnell Bell (no named court reporter)

On April 15th, in the town of Nogoingson, Colorado, an officer responded to a call requesting a welfare check. The Reporting Party, Amelia Onlooker
as well as the manager of the S-h-h-h apartments, said she hadn’t heard any activity from the apartment next door, a rare thing, as her numerous complaints will attest – loud music and constant parties involving Penelope Pierce and Therma Dorr, tenants of Apartment 2B. Earlier that morning, Ms. Onlooker claims a noise that sounded like a car backfiring twice roused her from a deep sleep. Later, Ms. Onlooker grew concerned at the unheard of quiet and dialed 9-1-1. At approximately 7:25 a.m. an operator dispatched the Nogoingson Police.

Twenty seconds later -- as there really isn’t much going on in Nogoingson -- Officer Ruthie Guyless arrived on scene. Ms. Onlooker let her into the apartment in question. Therma Dorr was found sitting on the couch, rocking back and forth and mumbling. Officer Guyless requested that a Medical Unit respond to check her out. Dorr was making random statements: “I didn't want her to die.” “She was going to move out, but I didn't want her too.” “She was going to go back to that bastard.” Then, Officer Guyless found the terrace door open and observed what appeared to be a body on the balcony outside. Upon closer inspection, Officer Guyless determined that an approximately 30-year-old, 110 pound, female Caucasion lay on the 10’ x 5’ wood-slatted balcony. Guyless checked the vitals of the victim and determined that Ms. Penelope Pierce was dead. Officer Guyless then requested that the Coroner be notified to respond to the scene.

Therma Dorr was escorted outside the apartment so that EMTs could check her out. Guyless and the Coroner were searching the bedroom when Penelope's mother showed up. She rushed into the apartment, whereupon seeing Penelope's body she became hysterical. She threw herself on the body and then had to be physically removed. Mrs. Pierce was accusing the ex-husband of murder and yelling at Therma Dorr. When Mrs. Pierce saw the scratch on the decease’s neck, she became incensed, insisting that this was a murder. "Somebody killed my baby.”

While searching the bedroom the investigators found divorce papers that indicated Penelope and William were separated, the divorce papers had been filed but the decree not final yet. (Because of this revelation, William is Penelope's legal next of kin and Mom has no say so in any of the final decisions -- which really upsets Mom…)

Guyless did a GSR kit on Therma Dorr and she was then taken by ambulance to the hospital where she was interviewed later by Guyless.

The Coroner Investigator, Racine Sharpastak and Guyless investigated the scene together. The scene was photographed by Sharpastak. Guyless had no batteries in her camera and they agreed to share the scene photos. Unfortunately Sharpastak's camera had a bad memory card and none of the scene photos were captured.

They noted that the deceased’s right arm was upright at an angle, perpendicular to her shoulder, elbow bent, her forearm lying near her head. A .22 Charter Arms semi automatic pistol was found near the door. One spent casing was found near the deceased’s left foot. The gun was made safe by Guyless and then examined to reveal that the gun’s clip, which could hold 6 bullets, was found to have 4 live rounds remaining in the clip. Investigator Sharpastak then determined that there appeared to be a gunshot wound to the right temple area that was consistent with an entrance wound, but no exit wound was found. No projectiles (bullets) were found on the balcony or in the adjoining walls.

Inside on the glass coffee table, the officers discovered a bottle of wine and two glasses, one containing a small amount of white wine. The bedroom was searched and drug paraphernalia (pipes) and small plastic envelopes containing a white powdery substance (meth) was found in a drawer of the nightstand along with a green leafy substance (marijuana). In the bathroom medicine chest, the prescription antidepressant Respirdol was also found. The prescription was for the deceased, had been filled just 2 weeks prior and was empty.

(Temperature was 67°)

The Coroner assumed custody of the body, (after placing paper bags on the hands for GSR testing) the body was taken to the Coroner's Office for an autopsy.

Guyless and Sharpastak went to William Love-Levam's residence to notify him of Penelope's death. He was interviewed there.

After being x-rayed an autopsy was performed by Dr. Clara de Colon. Dr. de Colon was able to determine that the wound to the right temporal area was a contact wound, consistent with a self-inflicted injury. The projectile was recovered during the autopsy and given to Officer Guyless for further testing at CBI, if needed. Another gunshot wound was found in the deceased's left groin area. This had not been visible on scene as there was very little blood. This projectile was located in the left butt cheek.

The investigation done by Guyless and Sharpastak concluded the following:

Ms. Penelope Pierce had been separated for a period of six months and was apparently despondent after her breakup with her spouse, William Love-Levam.

Immediately after the divorce Ms. Pierce moved into the apartment and resided with a female roommate, Ms. Therma Dorr. They became lovers, but Penelope hadn't told anyone that she was involved with Dorr.

Ms. Pierce had sought counseling from Dr. Lula Wannadish M.D. Nogoingson’s resident psychiatrist who prescribed the antidepressant and had been treating the deceased for the last two months. Dr. Wannadish has been reluctant to share any information or records until threatened with court action.

Ex-husband, William Love-Levam claims he was in his house alone at the time of death, asleep after the previous evening of writing his memoirs. Officer Guyless ran the serial number of the .22 pistol through ATF and found that it was registered to William. He denied giving Penelope the gun, but she had been at his house the previous week asking for money.

Further analysis determined that the roommate’s fingerprints, Therma Dorr, were found on one of the wine glasses, the bottle of wine and on the .22. Ms. Dorr claims that they had been arguing most of the night, at one point she tried to grab Penelope to stop her from leaving the apartment and scratched her neck with her unnaturally long fingernails. They had fallen asleep around 4 a.m. She woke up when she heard loud noises and went looking for Penelope when she realized that she wasn't in bed. Ms. Dorr found the victim with the .22 resting in her hand, and in an unthinking moment Therma Dorr picked it up, put it next to the door then went inside and started drinking.

GSR tests were done on Penelope and Therma, both were sent to CBI and both tests came back positive. CBI also did ballistic tests on the projectiles recovered from the body and the gun found on scene and they matched.

After two months, Mrs. Elizabeth Pierce the victim’s mother has become increasingly frustrated at the coroner’s assessment that Ms. Penelope Pierce died at her own hand. Penelope was a former model, and her mother claims Penelope would never have committed an act which destroyed her looks. Mrs. Pierce is suspicious because Ms. Dorr’s fingerprints are on the gun, and therefore has demanded further investigation.
She has hired a private investigator who agrees with Mrs. Pierce that this death is suspicious.

As you can see Chris gave this writer a lot of help in preparing this skit, and my fellow chapter mates played their parts, ad libbing to perfection. Also, Chris’s
husband, Karl, a deputy sheriff for El Paso County came to our aid by playing the private detective, Phineas Stump, even to the point of handing out business cards that read Phineas Stump. Try to Stump me, I dare ya!

To my dear friend, Lise Fuller, this woman was such a good sport, virtually stealing the show while she played the bi-sexual roommate of the deceased, while her real-life husband, Major Tom Fuller participated in the jury.

Pictured below are a couple of our participants books.

All in all, the event was educational, funny and a tremendous success.
Get involved with your local law enforcement and see if you don’t agree. Many of them, like Chris, are would-be writers. I guarantee the majority are generous souls.

Donnell Ann Bell is an award-winning aspiring author, a member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America’s Kiss of Death Chapter and other RWA Colorado chapters. Check out her website at www.donnellannbell.com


Annette said...

Welcome back to Working Stiffs, Donnell. And thanks for your kind words. I'm blushing.

You may have started something, you know. On your first visit here, you wrote about Citizens' Police Academey. Now Gina and I are taking our local CPA. Now I think we need to do a mock coroner's inquest.

I have one big question, though...WHO DID IT? My money's on Therma

Tory said...

Donnell: Sounds like great fun! I agree, Annette, our chapter needs to do something like this. Joyce, any law enforcement officials you know we could round up? What a stitch!

Joyce said...

Sounds like this was great fun!

I don't think it was suicide, either. If she was on Risperdal, she might not have been suffering from depression. It's mostly prescribed as an anti-psychotic for patients with schizophrenia. Also it's unusual for a woman to kill herself with a gun. And two shots? I don't think so.

Was it Therma or the husband? Therma was present, she did made some incriminating statements. The GSR on her hands could be because she picked up the gun, though. It wouldn't hurt to look into the husband a little further, though.

Donnell B said...

Ah Grasshopper, who did it? I hope if any of our cast of characters drop by, they won't spoil the fun, let's see what theories everyone comes up with. Hi, Working Stiffs, thanks for having me back, and I'm so sorry this blog is so long, but I wanted to show how much fun, and how educational this mock coroner's inquest (MCI)can be. And yes, it was my hope that other chapters would do them. They are a hoot. I've got an appt. this morning but I will be checking in later.

Lee Lofland said...

Great post, Donnell. This one is especially cool because I can almost hear you telling it. I also recognize a face or two in the photos.

I had the pleasure of meeting Donnell last weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. She was the poor, unfortunate soul who was assigned to pick me up at the airport (I was suffering from a cold and a pinched nerve in my back).

On the way to the conference hotel Donnell took me on a tour of the Colorado Springs area. It's a beautiful place. She also took me to lunch because she knew that would be the last real food I'd taste until I returned home (we all know how delicious conference food can be).

Donnell also went way above and beyond the call of duty of a conference volunteer by arriving at the hotel at 5:45 Sunday morning to shuttle me back to the airport.

Thanks you, Donnell, for all you did to help make the Pikes Peak Writers Conference a success. It's one of my favorites, and that says a lot since I speak at over a dozen each year.

Joyce said...

Lee, aren't you going to tell us whodunit? You, of all people, should be able to figure it out!

kathie said...

What an awesome production! How generous of your friend to participate so fully and happily. I'm sure it had a great impact on everyone's writing and I do agree with Annette, you surely have started something...

Anonymous said...

Hi Donnell! I loved the blog. That sounded so fun, not to mention educational.

I going with the roommate Dorr as the guilty party.

Marilyn Brant said...

What a fabulous post, Donnell! And, having a brother-in-law who was a cop then a detective then a deputy chief of police...I think you have it absolutely right about law enforcement types being storytellers :).

Robin said...

Donnell: Great blog! Your inquest sounds like it was so much fun! Sorry I wasn't able to be there.

Donnell B. said...

Thanks, guys, I've asked Christina Herndon to drop by if she has a moment. Lee, it was my pleasure driving you to and from the airport. I didn't get a chance to sit in on your workshops, as I was moderating, but I've heard nothing by rave reviews. I also want to comment that I have found law enforcement entirely generous when approached with something like this. Interesting comments on who dun it :)

Lise "Therma Dorr" Fuller said...

Therma here~ I didn't do it! I LOVED Penelope...also known as Summer Cummings. She was my inspiration and fellow porn star worker! In fact, all the guys loved her as well. We all loved each other.

~ Therma....

Donnell B. said...

Working Stiffs, may I present the lovely Lise Fuller aka Therma Dorr, pictured in this blog. She was so awesome! Originally, when we were planning this skit, Chris wanted me to be the deceased's roommate. I said Oh no, you don't, I have the perfect vic....er... actress in mind:) Sorry about the name, Therma, my mind was drawing a blank when I cast your role.

Pat said...

This is priceless. I loved all the names.

I think the roommate is too obvious. I'd check in to ex-husband's alibi.

Come on, Lee, who do you think did it?

Annette said...

Ah, excuse me, Therma, but of course you're going to deny culpability in this matter. We're supposed to believe you're innocent just on your say so???

Beth Groundwater said...

Officer Ruthie Guyless reporting in here. All I can tell you is that Coroner Investigator Racine Sharpastak and I did a thorough and professional investigation of the scene. It wasn't our fault that the mother of the victim blundered into the apartment and contaminated the crime scene while we were in the victim's bedroom. And the fact that neither of our cameras worked was just an unfortunate accident. Those things happen. Photos wouldn't have changed the conclusion. That nosy P.I. finding a hidden bullet casing that both Ms. Sharpastak and I missed doesn't prove anything--about the nature of the crime or the competency of our investigation. I stand by the original finding of suicide and the quality of our investigation. And, those folks who go around saying I'm "Guyless" because I have a stick up my ass and never forget that I'm a law enforcement officer can go stick a.... Hmm, never mind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donnell-- What a hoot! It sounds like everyone had a great time at the MCI. So who is going to turn the plot into the next mystery series?? I'm all for Therma and the Ex having an affair and wanting Penelope out of the way.

donnell b. said...

LOL, Beth/ I mean Ruthie, you'll have to excuse Ruthie, all. Lack of dates... I mean caffeine and pulling all nighters in Nogoingson, Colorado, have taken their toll.

By the way, mega congratulations to Beth Groundwater on A Real Basket Case and her Agatha Award Nomination :)

Lee Lofland said...

We didn't know the PI had discovered a hidden casing. Where was it found in relation to the body?

Anonymous said...

Lee: The following was in the coroner's notes:

After being x-rayed an autopsy was performed by Dr. Clara de Colon. Dr. de Colon was able to determine that the wound to the right temporal area was a contact wound, consistent with a self-inflicted injury. The projectile was recovered during the autopsy and given to Officer Guyless for further testing at CBI, if needed. Another gunshot wound was found in the deceased's left groin area. This had not been visible on scene as there was very little blood. This projectile was located in the left butt cheek.

Donnell's note... interesting there was only one casing found. I'm trying to refresh my recollection here. If Officer Guyless stops by again, maybe she can expand.

Lee Lofland said...

I saw that part, but this was new:

That nosy P.I. finding a hidden bullet casing that both Ms. Sharpastak and I missed doesn't prove anything--about the nature of the crime or the competency of our investigation.

Might not change my opinion, but...

Annette said...

We haven't had a chance to see that Private Investigator's report. I think he's holding out on us!

Kari said...

BLUNDERED??? BLUNDERED!!! I, the grieving mother, did NOT blunder onto the scene. Where was the crime tape? Or a police officer at the door?

Where were your dang cameras? Oh, the injustice of it all.

If only the great, stupendous Lee Lofland had been on the case. I'm sure my daughter's killer would have been apprehended. (That man misses nothing.)

The Grieving Mother
aka Kari Wainwright (who did have the good fortune to attend all of Lee's discussions so I will never put a safety on my Glock).

donnell b. said...

Dear Grieving Mother aka Kari, I am going to order you some antidepressants LOL. Kari did such a marvelous acting job, including acting out in court, that attendees have literally stopped her on the street and said, "You're the grieving mother!!!" BUT... she's carrying it a bit far when she's stopped signing her name and now simply signs Grieving Mother on the PPW loop :) By the way, did all of you take a look at that jury? I don't think they took their jobs seriously. Check out those smiles on their faces.

donnell b. said...

I know many of you back East are ready to sign off, so I'll say what a pleasure it's been to blog with you again. I will botch this explanation, but the coroner ruled poor Penelope's death a suicide. Apparently people under the influence have been known to miss on their first attempt. I hope you will think about putting on a MCI or something similar in your areas. What a great experience. I'll hang around for stragglers but, thanks in advance Working Stiffs, for having me and the opportunity.

Annette said...

Suicide, huh? I'm afraid I'm with the Grieving Mother. Bring on the private investigator!

Thanks, Donnell, for a fun day here at Working Stiffs.

Joyce said...

Cyril would have come up with something better than a suicide.

Beth Groundwater said...

Sorry to chime back in so late. The second bullet casing was found under a chair in the living room that was next to the open patio door. The logical conclusion is that it was from one of the two self-inflicted gunshots and rolled under the chair. Since only one wound was noted on the scene, and we found one casing, we saw no reason to look for others at that time. Many people don't always keep their gun chambers fully loaded. Yes, yes, I know that when the coroner found the second wound in the groin, we should have returned and looked for the second casing, but with a full caseload and a ruling of suicide, it didn't get a high priority. The coroner figures the groin wound was a misfire (it happens), and it probably hurt like s*#t. So, the victim executed the headshot right away to put herself out of both her mental and now-physical misery. For those who were curious about the scratch on the victim's neck, Therma, the victim's roommate admitted to doing it while she and the victim were arguing earlier. I'm a little bummed with the verdict returned by the panel because it means extra work for me. I'm sure Donnell Bell will give you the answer tomorrow.

Beth Groundwater said...

I didn't see that Donnell had already posted the solution. Actually, the INITIAL ruling was suicide before the call for the inquest, but this was changed to "inconclusive" as a result of the inquest, so the investigators have to keep the case open and continue to look for information to make a final determination of whether it was really suicide or if someone should be charged with murder. So, what do you think Ruthie Guyless should do next????

donnell b. said...

Ah, Officer Guyless, my apologies, I should have waited because my memory was foggy at the end. So it was *inconclusive.* Looks like we have enough for a sequel one day, folks. Perhaps, Annette's group should carry the torch from here. Thanks for the explanation, Ruthie, Beth. Thanks again, Working Stiffs

Therma "Candi Sweetbush" Dorr said...

(Sniff) All, (sniff, sniff) just a minor note here. That scratch was an accident! We didn't mean to hurt each other. Penelope (Summer to her fans and other porn stars--esp. Dirk Deep who really loved her) was upset because I'd decided to marry my other lover, Jardin Liquer, as I am now pregnant. It was to be a beautiful thing! We would all live together (Penelope, Dirk, Jardin and I) and raise the child. But she totally misunderstood! She thought I was leaving her.... Oh, the pain!

And as to her MOTHER! Well, let's just say she does a disgrace to the name. And her ex -- well, the only good I can say about him is that he likes my movies. :-)))

BTW ~ if you are interested in seeing or purchasing the last shots of Penelope...OH! Perhaps I shouldn't use that word. Well, (sniff) the last films of Penelope then go to www.sexinnogoingsoncolorado.sex. Please, let's all pay our tributes to "Summer". Jardin, Dirk and I have decided to use the funds to help save other poor victims of possible suicide.

~ Therma Dorr, better known as Candi Sweetbush