There’s something about unsolved murders, “cold cases,” especially real-life crime, that’s almost more intriguing than any other kind of crime mystery. I confess to being addicted to the British series, “Waking the Dead.” Some of these old cases can be resolved now through modern forensics---at least that’s the premise of that show, whether it’s actually feasible or not to analyze some of those ancient DNA samples! (Is it?)
But even if you know the HOW, you want to know the WHO, and the WHY. You’ve probably been reading about all the bodies that are being exhumed in Florida, at the Dozier School for Boys, where, according to some who once attended the school, and are still living, atrocities were committed during the 1950s and 60s: beatings, torture, possibly murder. Imagine how many cold cases there are, right there! And there may be more than one cemetery, since black and white were segregated. Without a doubt this school was a place of evil. And somehow, those in charge managed to cover up their crimes for a very long time. But why?
OK, all you writers! Would you, could you ever write about such a thing? If so, how would you use this kind of material to write a gripping crime novel? This is your assignment. :) Come up with a story-line based on this kind of discovery, one that will reveal who, how, why.
Were staff involved? If so, how many? For a cover-up of this magnitude there must have been collusion. Was there a motive other than shear sadism? Racism? Homosexuality? Politics? How did the revelation of these horrors affect not only the families of the victims, but of the perpetrators? How would you approach this difficult subject---of crimes committed against children by persons entrusted with the responsibility for their wellbeing and rehabilitation. What characters do you need from the past and from the present, to flesh out your story?
Or, if you don't want to touch that one---how about the unsolved case of 5 year old Jon Benet Ramsay, the baby beauty queen? Was it a parent or relative---someone in the house? Or a stranger? Anyone? But maybe we shouldn't open more than one can of worms at a time!
Well, I shy away from historical murder cases. Invariably people twist things to suit themselves. Patricia Cornwell did this famously for the Ripper. Of course, one can take any case and make it the case in one's own story, changing characters, settings, and times. Quite good fun, having to substitute historical weapons for modern guns and carriages for cars.
Cornwell's book was embarrassing, and she wasted a lot of money fingering an impossible suspect.
I love reworking history: the plot is already set. All you have to do is dramatize it.