AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

January 8, 2012

Reloaded: Crime Writers’ Homicide School by Mar Preston

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 12:27 pm



Sgt. Derek Pacifico of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office offers a three-day Crime Writer’s Homicide School, and I’ve just returned, my head swimming with story ideas. Sgt Pacifico is a master storyteller and colorful talker, even while he’s presenting dry facts on probable cause and Mirandizing, and the unlikelihood of arresting a “tax-paying, dog-petting citizen.” He deals in street crime now, after a long stint in Homicide, and he’s honest enough to admit that it’s fun screeching in sideways to a crime in progress, lights flashing and siren wailing.

This three-day course covered the same curriculum he teaches to law enforcement classes across the country (without the tests and memorizing the codes.)  Among the topics were autopsies, crime scene and blood spatter analysis. Did you know that dried taco sauce looks like blood? Did you know that signs of decomposition on a body show up first on the stomach?

Pacifico likens a homicide investigation to a game of 3D chess where the pieces are on multiple levels and can move up, down, or sideways. Another analogy was being handed a paper bag of puzzle pieces and a photograph of a horse in the desert. Putting the puzzle together the detective realizes some of the pieces belong to two different puzzles, some of them are car parts, and once solved he ends up with a picture of a cat on a window sill.

This was my second seminar with Pacifico and I learned details that passed me by the first time. and heard new stories. Most interesting to me was the day spent on Interviewing and Interrogation and the accompanying videos. Interviewing is the bullshitting around, getting the subject to like you. It’s all self-deprecating, familiar, general shuck and jive. As Pacifico puts it, “I am who I need to be, the misunderstood husband, the unjustly accused employee, anybody the suspect can identify with.” Hardly the TV notion of Andy Sipowitz coming in and beating the confession out of the guy.

Interrogation is scripted and planned in a huddle. It’s extremely rare to have a subject waive Miranda rights because often he’s thinking this jovial nice guy who’s talking to him like a human being is just “a stupid, donut-eating cop who couldn’t make it in pro sports.”

The only lie the detective cannot tell is to maneuver someone to confess to something he didn’t do. And Pacifico’s stories are mostly about men. Women don’t often murder. I collect Stupid Criminal Stories and this was a new one for me. To clean up a really bloody murder scene, the guy puts in a new carpet, but he’s lazy, so he leaves the old carpet in the back yard for the cops to test for blood.

Demonstration of angle versus shape of blood droplets help determine the angle of impact and point of origin of blood source.

Fingerprint examination of rolled print compared to latent print recovered at a crime scene.

Tire track evidence comparison that connected two crime scenes 140 miles apart.

For any crime writer–or fan–Pacifico’s Homicide School is a must. Find him at He is also available for one-on-one story consultations and presentations of any length and he likes writers. We’re interested, ask good questions, and listen hard. Not always true when he does law enforcement trainings. ###

MAR PRESTON is the author of NO DICE, #1 in the Detective Dave Mason series. Her second novel, RIP-OFF is due for release late January 2012.


  1. I recall that when OJ sliced up his victims there were blood-spatter tests mentioned either during trial or talk about the murder scene. I don’t remember if they used them as evidence. Interesting post. Investigators these days have tools and devices to measure anything and cover the scenes much closer than in Sherlock’s time.

    Comment by Oscar Case — January 8, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  2. Thanks for the great write up! I truly appreciate your unwavering support.

    I’m looking forward to getting going again in 2012. Regarding LAS VEGAS, the time frame is more likely to be late March or April. Definitely not going to be February.

    Comment by Derek Pacifico — January 8, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  3. An education in blood spatter. Sounds like fun!

    Comment by charlesgramlich — January 8, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  4. It was fun, Charles. The time passed way too quickly.

    Comment by Mar Preston — January 8, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

  5. Taco sauce. Thanks for that indelible mental picture 🙂

    Comment by Al Tucher — January 10, 2012 @ 8:04 am

  6. I’d love to go to the event in Las Vegas. Please let me know when the dates are set.

    Comment by Lonni Lees — January 17, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  7. Better than that I’ll give you Derek’s email and you can talk with him directly. It’s He’s currently Watch Commander and on shift work so it may take him a day or so to respond. But he will.

    Enjoy the experience. I’d like to know how it goes for you.

    Good wishes…

    Comment by Mar Preston — January 17, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  8. Hi Lonni, doesn’t Las Vegas sound delicious for a Homicide School? There’s just so much opportunity for exploring famous crime-scene locations, not to mention the slightly noir atmosphere to start with in Las Vegas. I really want to go too.

    Comment by ashedit — January 17, 2012 @ 11:09 am

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