Veteran police investigator and author Lee Lofland started the Writers’ Police Academy 12 years ago. Weary of reading so many inaccuracies in mystery and crime novels, he wanted to provide authors with accurate, hands-on information.
“The 2019 Writers’ Police Academy, aptly nicknamed ‘MurderCon,’ concentrated solely on the crime of murder and ensuing investigations,” he explains. “Instead of agent pitch sessions, writers should be prepared to learn all about police procedure…and get their hands dirty.”
The Academy gives the same instruction offered to police officers and investigators – classes that include pursuit driving, firearms training, arson, and other crime scene investigations, evidence collection, arrest tactics, and TASER deployment during a four-day event Lofland describes as “incredibly thrilling.”
Participants from around the world gather in Raleigh, North Carolina, for workshops and lectures, a book launch party, a banquet, and a keynote with a bestselling murder mystery author. They may also enter the Golden Donut Short Story Contest with a fictional submission of exactly 200 words, based on a given photograph. The winner receives complimentary conference registration.
What you’ll learn at MurderCon
On Friday and Saturday at MurderCon, participants eat breakfast and board buses bound for Sirchie, an organization that provides forensic training courses and criminal investigation supplies. “Everyone suits up in protective gear and breaks down doors, drives police cars, and spins people out during pursuits,” Lofland says.
Participants may find themselves learning to shoot with fake ammunition. They may break into buildings to search for armed robbers under threat of gunfire. They learn to check for fingerprints, analyze blood-stain patterns, and dig for buried bodies in classes taught by forensic anthropologists.
Workshops have titles like “A Bloody Mess: Search, ID, and Document Blood Evidence,” “The Big Reveal: Discovering Latent Prints with Powder,” “Truth or Lies: The Art of Interrogation,” and “Biological and Chemical Weapons: Is the End of Humankind Near?”
Dyer Bennett is Sirchie’s vice president of product development and training. “If they take the arson course, they’ll analyze burn patterns with an expert who has 30 years of ATF experience in arson investigation,” he says of MurderCon participants. “If they take the clandestine grave course, they’ll learn the proper way to excavate bones and remains in the field. If they take a drug analysis course, they’ll be taught not only how to test a suspect substance but the measures needed to protect themselves from exposure.”
Lofland’s favorite part of MurderCon is watching writers enjoy themselves while learning. “They’re like little kids at Christmas. Their eyes light up when they try something new or learn something new,” he says. “The knowledge gained at the WPA – the activation of the senses (touch, taste, smell, hear, see) – is part of what transforms an average tale into a brilliant work of fiction,” he explains.
Ray Krone, wrongfully convicted of murder and on death row for over 10 years, will present at the 2020 conference. “He was convicted of murder based on bite-mark evidence, a practice that has all but been deemed as junk science,” Lofland explains. Krone will speak on “the entire ordeal, from the arrest, through living on death row, to walking out the gate as a free man,” he says. “The detail is invaluable for writers.”
Past guests of honor and presenters – some of whom will return in 2020 – include Lee Child, Tami Hoag, Heather Graham, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, and Craig Johnson.
In 2019, the Southern Vampire Mysteries author Charlaine Harris attended, as did authors and award-winning TV writers Phoef Sutton and Lee Goldberg. Thriller author Lisa Klink—a writer for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—also attended.
Past attendees have also included DNA expert Dr. Dan Krane, cybercrimes expert Josh Moulin, O.J. Simpson prosecutor and author Marcia Clark, and coroner Graham Hetrick, who stars in the TV series The Coroner: I Speak for the Dead.
Advice for first-time attendees
Conference registration opens around Valentine’s Day and often sells out within hours. Interested writers should check the website and sign up immediately after registration opens. The University of California at Riverside offers a conference scholarship, as does the organization Sisters in Crime. The MurderCon staff has also given scholarships to high school students interesting in going into the criminal justice field.
Lofland and his team make sure attendees have exciting events to attend from early in the morning until late at night, every day of the conference. “There’s always more to see and do than is humanly possible to accomplish in a single weekend,” Lofland says. “Be prepared to take more notes than you’ve ever taken in your entire life. Be prepared to have a lot of fun, and be prepared to be tired.”
2020 MurderCon Details
Dates: Aug. 6-9, 2020
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Discount: For first-time attendees with Sisters in Crime membership
Contact: Conference director Lee Lofland at leelofland.com.
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart.