Archive for January, 2013

This post appeared originally in The Rap Sheet

Monday, January 21, 2013

Serial Errors: Reality and Myth in the Investigation of Serial Murders

(Editor’s note: This essay comes to The Rap Sheet from D.L. Johnstone, author of the best-selling 2012 crime thriller Chalk Valley, as well as the e-book Furies, released last month. Johnstone lives in the Toronto, Ontario, area with his wife, their four kids, and their half-dog/half-Sasquatch, Charlie.)

“He wondered for the hundred and first time if he had arrested the Chalk Valley killer, caught him dead to rights, and was losing him to the system.” — from Chalk Valley

Novels about serial-murder investigations have been a staple subgenre of the thriller oeuvre for decades. Centuries, I suppose, if you include tales of Bluebeard and his ilk. In the traditional story arc, the heroic detective must sort through the clues to find the devious, unknown mastermind, solving whatever intricate puzzle the killer has set for him, against the backdrop of a ticking clock. It essentially ends when the killer is unmasked. Personally, I love these types of thrillers. I even wrote one (Furies). But that’s not how actual serial-murder investigations take place. Not even close. They’re a lot more complicated, they take far longer, they’re more political, more bureaucratic, and they are far more painful to those connected to the investigations.

When I was planning Chalk Valley, I decided I wanted to tell a different story than the usual serial-murder tale. I wanted to write one that explored the human drama of these investigations. There’s no mystery who the killer is in Chalk Valley. His name is revealed in the first sentence of the book, and by the end of the first chapter, it’s clear what Phil Lindsay is all about. It saves countless paper cuts from readers skipping to the end of the book for the Big Reveal. Chalk Valley is a cat-and-mouse portrayal of how a small-town cop forces his way through the system, bureaucracy, politics, and even the lead task force to stop Lindsay. And all the while the cop fears additional victims will be taken because he’s not doing more. That makes for a very different kind of thriller.

First myth: the murderers. Serial killers are not criminal masterminds. They’re deviant sociopaths who know how to work the system. They like to dominate others, degrade them, fill them with dread. The Three D’s. The successful ones who manage to evade capture for weeks, months, or even years are clearly bright enough, able to fool their victims and their families and friends, staying on the loose all the while. But they’re not Hannibal Lecters. Nor are they the wild-eyed nutbars you see pictures of in post offices. Those guys are pretty easy to spot–they’re the usual suspects. Serial killers are often just out there in the community. They may have families, 9-to-5 jobs, mortgages, car payments. And maybe a secret room in their man-cave. Frankly, that’s a far scarier proposition to most of us, thinking that such a killer could be living right next door.

Personal revelation moment: Scarborough, Ontario’s Paul Bernardo started out as the mysterious “Scarborough Rapist,” haunting the neighborhood in eastern Toronto where I grew up, terrorizing the citizens for a couple of years before he graduated to become a serial murderer with his creepy little wife, Karla Homolka, 100 miles down the road. People like them get off on not only their murders, but also on the impact those killings have on society. It gives them the opportunity to feel powerful, and to relive the crime over and over again with every news story. But Bernardo was no mastermind, he was just some vile deviant. He also went to my high school. I knew his sister. Hell, his family lived half a mile from where I did.

Second myth: the detectives. OK, this gets a little complicated. If the murders all take place in one big city, the investigation, while still dreadfully difficult and painful, is made somewhat simpler. The victim is taken from and murdered in a single jurisdiction, so the politics are relatively minimal. But that’s where serial killers can be fairly clever. They take advantage of the natural inefficiencies of two or more police agencies having to work together by snatching victims from one or more jurisdictions, killing them elsewhere, and then disposing of their bodies in yet another location. So the police not only have to figure out who the victim is, but who is in charge of the investigation. And if it’s members of a small police agency who are in the lead, they may not have the expertise to do things properly. It can take weeks, even months for cops to get their acts together. The associated politics can be quite brutal–bureaucracy amongst the police is as bad as any other government agency, with the added wrinkle that there are human lives at stake.

In Chalk Valley, which is set in the western Canadian province of British Columbia, the protagonist is a cop, Sergeant Dave Kreaver. He thinks he knows who the killer is. Unfortunately, Kreaver works outside the jurisdiction of the lead investigators and runs into major roadblocks when he tries to get his suspect considered. Similarly, in the Bernardo/Homolka serial murders, a street cop received a tip from a woman who said she’d been raped by Bernardo at a party. The cop followed up and found that Bernardo drove the same kind of car the killer had been seen driving. He had the right (wrong) kind of personality, arrogant and smug. He even matched the physical description investigators had of the killer. The cop worked up his tip–which was promptly ignored by the case’s Green Ribbon Task Force. The tip was then buried deep until an inquest pulled it out years later in the Campbell Inquiry’s exploration of the debacle.

Also a factor in these cases is the human cost to the investigators. They might put in 80-plus hours a week on the job, for months and months, with their supervisors, the media, the victims’ families, and even the general public questioning their every move. What kind of effect does that have on them and their families? Not a good one. On their health? Also, not recommended. But what choice do those investigators have? Plus they’re running up major overtime, which drains the city budget. If you don’t believe petty issues such as budgets affect major criminal probes, think again. Remember, police agencies are still at their core government bureaucracies–they just have badges and guns.

Third myth: the investigation itself. The cops in serial-killer cases aren’t just sorting through a few intriguing clues, like who killed Colonel Mustard with a nail-gun in the breakfast nook. They are inundated with leads. There may be tens of thousands of tips for them to sort through–a virtual mountain. And thousands of suspects to vet. They have to validate all of them–how could they not? How else would they know which ones are real or valuable? It’s like trying to find a specific needle in a stack of needles. And for any evidence they do want to pursue, the cops will likely need to get search warrants to make sure it holds up in court. They may need to check out DNA evidence. Unfortunately, that can take weeks, months, longer.

Are you getting the picture here?

And all of this needs to be balanced against the fear of tunnel vision. Consider the infamous case of Guy Paul Morin, a resident of Queensville, Ontario, who in 1984 was convicted of murdering his 9-year-old neighbor, Christine Jessop. The inquest found the lead detectives in that investigation had been so focused on Morin as the killer, they actually convinced Christine’s grieving family members to modify their statements as to when they had returned home on the afternoon the girl disappeared. This provided Morin with a sufficient time window within which he could have returned from work and abducted the girl. It led to Morin’s false conviction, overturned years later on DNA evidence after his life was destroyed. Christine’s real killer was never caught.

After I wrote Chalk Valley, I received questions from several readers who wanted to know if issues like this still take place. Haven’t we made huge strides in recent years? Haven’t we learned? Yes and no. Major Case Management, a state-of-the-art, turnkey process to help multiple police jurisdictions in Canada work together to solve serial crimes, rose from the ashes of the Bernardo inquest. I spent a lot of time with the MCM architects and ViCLAS (Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System) investigators when I researched this novel. The system still isn’t perfect, but everyone is trying to take the right steps. So that maybe, in time, these sort of obstacles will truly be a thing of the past.

Yet, let’s look at the 2010 case of disgraced Canadian Forces Colonel Russell Williams, who raped, tortured, and murdered two women over a two-month span, in addition to committing a chilling series of fetish break-ins around the rural Ontario neighborhood where he lived. While DNA testing was thankfully accelerated and led to his relatively prompt arrest, the Ontario government refuses to make public the dates Williams’ DNA samples were collected. Defending this action, the government has made the bizarre claim that revealing such information would be “an unjustified invasion of personal privacy.” An invasion of a convicted serial killer’s privacy, mind you. Bureaucracy reigns supreme–no one wants to look bad. Or expose themselves to negligence lawsuits, I imagine.

Have these improvements changed how investigators act as individuals? So many times, it comes down to one person doing the right thing. A cop meets someone she suspects might be a very bad person. She may not have the evidence, no one may want to listen to her, she may have a number of other responsibilities to attend to. What should she do? There’s a term in failure theory called the Organizational Bystander. It might be best defined using the following example: On January 28, 2010, a female police officer in Belleville, Ontario, noticed what turned out to be Russell Williams’ Pathfinder parked beside the home of 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd. It looked out of place. The officer, now suspicious, knocked on Lloyd’s door. No answer. Williams lurked in the shadows outside, waiting for the officer to leave. Which she did. Williams waited for Lloyd to return home, then abducted her, torturing her for several hours before murdering her. The officer made no note of the SUV’s license plate and did no computerized search. The OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) have no protocol requiring this, nor do they plan to implement one.

Organizational Bystanders are all too common. It’s so much easier to assume that either things aren’t really going all that wrong, or you can’t have an actual effect on the outcome of things. It’s so much easier just to stand by and watch, to not speak up, to let the adults do their thing. You don’t want to be admonished, treated as a troublemaker, a Chicken Little. It might affect your career advancement. It’s so much easier to take your chances, bite your tongue, and hope things don’t fail.

Those with the courage to take action when facing potential crises are all too rare. Or maybe not–when things go right, do we even notice? 

* * *

Author’s note: All the examples I’ve given here are Canadian. My apologies to Canadian crime investigators everywhere–many of them are among the best in the world. I chose these examples simply because I know them well and spent time with investigators whose job it is to study and learn from them. These same issues exist in all nations, across all police jurisdictions.

Me? Okay, how cool is that?  Thanks to one of my favourite book bloggers for this great recognition. And thanks to all of you who keep reading and supporting me. Writing’s a tough business, and you need all the friends and recognition you can get! 


Indie Author of the Month: D. L. Johnstone

Who is D. L. Johnstone?


D.L. Johnstone is the Number #1 Amazon Bestselling author of the thrillers Chalk Valley and Furies. Johnstone currently lives in the Toronto area with his wife, four kids and a half-dog / half-sasquatch named Charlie. 

Books by D. L. Johnstone

Johnstone has written and published two novels, within the thriller genre.


Chalk Valley

In a remote mountain valley in British Columbia, a human monster preys on innocent lives. 

After teenagers discover the body of a missing girl in Chalk Valley, searchers find the remains of two more victims secreted deep in the woods. A serial killer is at work. 

Chalk Valley police detective John McCarty is picked to lead a task force to find the murderer but inexperience, politics and McCarty’s own inner demons quickly overwhelm him and the investigation falters. 

Meanwhile, on a dark, lonely highway many miles from Chalk Valley, RCMP Sergeant Dave Kreaver comes across a van crashed at the side of the road. The driver is anxious to leave the scene but Kreaver discovers an unconscious teenaged girl in the van. Kreaver feels in his gut that the driver could be the serial killer everyone’s looking for, but his inquiries are ignored. The task force is in well over its head, buried by thousands of leads and potential suspects. His supervisors tell him to back off and let the task force do its job. 

Kreaver is in a deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous psychopath, a race against time with innocent victims in play. Operating alone and without official sanction, can he stop the Chalk Valley Killer before he claims more lives?


Furies: An Ancient Alexandrian Thrillers
It’s 36 AD. The city of Alexandria is a center of Roman commerce–and a sinful playground for the pleasure-seeking rich and powerful. 

For wealthy merchant Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, however, Alexandria has become a living hell. Ruined by a string of mysterious investment disasters, deserted by friends and family, his reputation in tatters, Aculeo is forced to eke out a meagre existence in the poorest, back streets of the city. He’s desperate to find the man he blames for the debacle and recover what he’s lost. 

Aculeo’s quest forces him deep into treacherous, unfamiliar territory, Alexandria’s criminal underworld. And entangles him in a web of corruption, conspiracy and murder.

A common slave is found murdered in the magnificent temple of the god Serapis. Days later, the brutalized body of a high-priced hetaira is discovered floating in a canal, after an evening entertaining the city’s elite. The grim truth soon becomes clear: a ruthless killer is moving among Alexandria’s aristocrats, commercial titans, and philosophers. 

And ominous clues connect those murders to Aculeo’s quest, with disturbing revelations about his own past.

Aided by an Egyptian mortuary attendant, a brilliant philosopher, a lovely hetaira, and his last remaining friends, Aculeo must hunt down a terrifying murderer in the highest echelons of society if he hopes to reclaim the life he has lost.

But first, he must survive…

Has Verdict reviewed any of his work?
“D.L. Johnstone impresses with his tantalising and absorbing debut; a great thriller that is easily read in one sitting…Chalk Valley is a solid debut from a talented author. From a lover of the crime and thriller genres, I have read my fair share and this offers something refreshing and new. The complexity of Police investigations and the characterisation are the stand-out features. This isn’t a whodunnit; we already know. It is the chase, the mind-games, the thrill which drives it and I for one loved it! Johnstone, you have a fan! A 4 Star review.” To read the full review by Verdict, click HERE.

Why does Verdict recommend D. L. Johnstone?

‘Indie Author of the Month’ is a monthly feature hosted by Verdict Book Reviews that puts the spotlight on an up and coming new talent in the indie author and self-publishing world. 

I’d been reviewing indie books for a while and the majority lived up to the reputation; ‘indie novels are of poor quality’. This is mainly due to the amount that are on the market. Johnstones debut novel Chalk Valley was like a needle in a haystack. The moment I read it, I knew this was a book and more importantly an author who could cut it on the mainstream market. Why? Johnstone has all the elements to make a successful career; well researched, clever and gripping story-lines, combined with great execution in the writing. The mouse-cat-dog chase thrills from start to finish; Johnstone has proved he can rival the best in the genre. 

I’m very much looking forward to reading his latest release, Furies, next month. I can only hope Johnstone continues to live up to his solid reputation.

Where can I find out more?
You can find more information on D. L. Johnstone and his work via:
D. L. Johnstone Website


Carl Jung’s Detectives

Posted: January 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

This Guest Post originally appeared on Omni Mystery News


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Please Welcome Thriller Novelist D.L. Johnstone


Omnimystery News: Guest Author Post
by D.L. Johnstone

We are delighted to welcome novelist D.L. Johnstone as our guest.

D.L.’s new novel is the Ancient Alexandrian thriller Furies (D.L. Johnstone, December 2012 ebook formats).

Today D.L. tells us about a most interesting subject, Carl Jung’s detectives. And he is giving one of our readers a chance to win a copy of his book (details below).

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Carl Jung loved mysteries. Not just those of the human psyche — straight-up detective novels that he’d read every night before falling asleep. He was especially a fan of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series. Okay, first, how cool is that? And second, what do you think Jung got out of it, besides a good night’s sleep (filled with a very rich dream-life)? This wasn’t your typical mystery fan. This was Carl Gustav Jung. The founder of analytical psychology. The father of the study of archetypes and the collective unconscious. The inspiration for Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. The guy who put the Jung in Jungian. What universal truths did he plumb in reading mysteries?

D.L. Johnstone
Photo provided courtesy of
D.L. Johnstone

There are universal truths in mysteries and crime fiction, of course, no matter if they’re ancient historical, hard-scrabble contemporary or dystopian-futuristic. There will be a crime. There will be a hero. There will be a villain. But that’s only the surface. What lies beneath? How do mysteries delve into our collective unconscious?

I really got into this when I started writing my latest novel, the historical thriller Furies. Setting an crime novel in ancient Alexandria has a host of challenges, from the politics and history to the layout of the city, the language, culture, money, dress, food, social interactions, business, the criminal justice system, ancient forensics and burial practices. Getting into the heads of characters from a different era and culture presents an entirely different challenge, however. What were they like? How did they think? Yes, people are people. We all have the same basic motivations, the hierarchy of needs we all seek to fulfill, no matter what period of history we live in. But we’re also creatures of our culture, our society. What cultural elements shaped ancient Romans’ and Alexandrians’ thoughts and world views?

I decided on two key entry points: philosophy (since Alexandria, with its famed Library and Museion and tradition of patronage, was the centre of academia in the ancient world for a good four centuries) and mythology. The competing philosophies of the time were clear enough. At least we have a good understanding of who the main sophists were and what the main precepts of their arguments were. Mythology is something else again. And that’s where Jung comes in.

I’ve been a mythology geek for as long as I can recall. As a kid, I ate up stories of Hercules, Hermes, Perseus, Theseus and Achilles — the original superheroes. I read the Odyssey and the Iliad multiple times, from Illustrated Classics to three different translated versions. Mythology is key to the way the ancients thought. While most educated Romans and Greeks didn’t believe them literally, their mythology shaped them the way we’re shaped by the New Testament, the Koran, writings of Confucius, Marx, Voltaire or Lennon and McCartney (or, admit it, ET, Disney movies, J. K. Rowling, Twilight … we’re all creatures of our society). The Romans made their regular sacrifices to the Gods, worshipped in the temples, read the divinations before making any new venture. Heresy was a capital offense. Roman school children would study the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, and not only learn them by rote but take lessons of virtue and honour from them. I admit to geeking out a bit when I learned that the Library of Alexandria contained Alexander the Great’s personal copies of both — annotated in detail by his own boyhood teacher, Aristotle. It wasn’t just a good story for them — it defined their way of thinking.

And their mythology helped explore universal truths. They contained countless stories of crime, heroes and villains/tricksters.

The archetypal hero is Apollo, God of Law and Justice but also, as God of Divination and Prophecy, a character with a unique connection to intuition. What detective doesn’t use a healthy dose of intuition in solving cases? Apollo’s traditional foe is Dionysos, who represents the murderer. While Apollo inspires wisdom and was equated by Jung (in Psychological Types) with introverted intuition, Dionysos is all about extroverted sensation: ecstasies, excesses of drunkenness and passion, madness, blood lust, throwing off all inhibitions. Picture the typical, over-the-top Bond villain. Or Ted Bundy. Or Adolf Hitler. With his horned head and pronged staff, Dionysos is the archetype for modern representations of the devil.

There is also a fascinating mythological connection between the murder victim — Dionysos’ sacrifice and the killer. Dionysos himself was a victim of murder (by Hera and the Titans). While he was later reborn, he was also driven to madness and went on a killing rampage. So he became the God who was murdered and the God who murders. Quite the handle. Don’t most mass-murderers have some horrible back story to explain their madness? Dionysos’ crimes in part symbolize a self-killing, losing one’s soul as one takes another’s life.

Apollo and Dionysos are therefore natural enemies not only in mythology or their roles as God of Justice vs God of Passion and Madness, but from their starkly contrasting approaches to the world. The classic, eternal battle of introverted intuition versus extroverted sensation.

In the Roman view, gods tended not to do their own dirty work. Instead they had humans act on their behalf. Unconsciously, of course. And so our detective will strive for justice, with his sensory and/or intuiting skills in full engagement, not realizing he is acting as Apollo’s agent. And the villain would do the same, on Dionysos’ behalf.

There is a theory that Dionysos and Apollo started out as one and the same god, representing different facets that split off and evolved over the centuries (millennia?) within the rich fabric of mythology. This highlights another classic element of crime fiction, the parallels between the killer and the hero, two sides of the same coin, defining one another by their contrasts.

Did Jung think about all this when he read Simenon? Probably that and a great deal more. And hopefully he also read for the not so simple pleasures of just reading a good mystery.

(With thanks to John Boe, Rafael Lopez-Pedraza and Kay Marie Porterfield for their insightful research.)

— ♦ —

D.L. Johnstone lives in the Toronto area with his wife, four kids and a half-dog/half-sasquatch named Charlie. He is also the author of the contemporary thriller Chalk Valley. He comments on thrillers, “indie” publishing and other miscellany at his blog

— ♦ —

Furies by D.L. Johnstone

D.L. Johnstone
An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller.

It’s 36 AD. The city of Alexandria is a center of Roman commerce — and a sinful playground for the pleasure-seeking rich and powerful.

For wealthy merchant Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, however, Alexandria has become a living hell. Ruined by a string of mysterious investment disasters, deserted by friends and family, his reputation in tatters, Aculeo is forced to eke out a meagre existence in the poorest, back streets of the city. He’s desperate to find the man he blames for the debacle and recover what he’s lost.

Aculeo’s quest forces him deep into treacherous, unfamiliar territory, Alexandria’s criminal underworld. And entangles him in a web of corruption, conspiracy and murder.

A common slave is found murdered in the magnificent temple of the god Serapis. Days later, the brutalized body of a high-priced hetaira is discovered floating in a canal, after an evening entertaining the city’s elite. The grim truth soon becomes clear: a ruthless killer is moving among Alexandria’s aristocrats, commercial titans, and philosophers.

And ominous clues connect those murders to Aculeo’s quest, with disturbing revelations about his own past.

Aided by an Egyptian mortuary attendant, a brilliant philosopher, a lovely hetaira, and his last remaining friends, Aculeo must hunt down a terrifying murderer in the highest echelons of society if he hopes to reclaim the life he has lost.

But first, he must survive … Print and/or Kindle Edition

For a chance to win a copy of Furies, courtesy of the author, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the “D.L. Johnstone: Furies” contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code — 6567 — for a chance to win! (Note: The prize is an ebook. One entry per person. US residents only. Contest ends January 16th, 2013.)