1. MacBookProse
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    MacBookProse New Member

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    Where to start when researching a True Crime book?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by MacBookProse, Apr 2, 2011.

    I'm starting to do research for a true crime book and wanted to know if anyone here had any pointers. This is my first try with anything like this and I want to try to eliminate as much trial and error as possible. The project was originally going to focus on an unsolved murdered that happened in my town over 30 years ago. However, it's grown a bit from there to be about a 5-month crime surge that includes the unsolved murder.

    For starters, I've started collecting as many newspaper articles I can find about the subjects by scouring the internet and calling the state library to request photocopies of over 40 articles. I'm compiling the articles chronologically so I can have a rough timeline. This process has just started and so far it's been fairly smooth.

    The problem I'm facing is that the crime spree I am writing about occurred a couple of decades before I moved to the town (not to mention, nearly a full decade before I was even born). I really want to make sure I get a good sense of what the town itself was like during that time period and I'm struggling to figure out where to start.

    I'll obviously have to interview people to get a sense of what the town was like in that period. But I'm also wanting to get as much raw data as possible; things like building records, census data, any video or written accounts from the time period etc. I don't know what kind of records are open to the public or where exactly to find them. The town hall and the town library would be the obvious starting points, but I'm curious if there are some obvious resources I haven't thought to check yet.

    As far as the police side of the research is concerned, I'm a little nervous. I have some connections with the local police department, but I'm not sure how to approach them. I'm not exactly expecting them to open their files in regards to the unsolved murder. I'm expecting the opposite, actually.

    Frankly, I'm a little worried that if I approach the police they're not going to take me seriously since I'm an, as yet, unpublished writer. Do I contact the department on my own, or reach out to my contacts to try to get them to facilitate things for me and my research? How do I do this without sounding naive and/or like I'm trying to solve their cold cases (which is obviously not the case in the least)?

    I'm also not sure how to go about getting the court records for the other crimes. Would I have to go to the courts for that separately, or would the police be able to give me access to that information? Do I need to get certain forms in order to request court records?

    Like I said, this is my first foray into this type of writing. Good advice on how to properly research true crime seems hard to come by on the internet. I'm very passionate about this project and I really want to make sure all of my bases are covered. Any advice I can get from this board would be deeply appreciated.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Court records ar public information in the United States, but you may have to pay retrieval fees to the court clerk's office.

    As for the police, it's a 30 year old cold case. I'm sure there is information they will keep under wraps, but overall, they might appreciate the case getting some public exposure. With a cold case like that, publicity could bring in fresh leads. Pointing that out would be the approach I would probably take. Having their cooperation would definitely help, but if you turn around and point out blunders they may have made in the investigation will turn them against you for this and any future projects, and that reputation will taint you to other police departments.

    So if you write exposées, it will be a career choice, affecting you for far more than the current project.

    That brings up another source - reporters, especially those who worked the story when it was news.
     
  3. MacBookProse
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    MacBookProse New Member

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    Thanks for the response. I hadn't even thought of talking to reporters and police appreciating some publicity for the case makes a lot of sense. Thank you.
     
  4. Louis Farizee
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    Louis Farizee Member

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    Talk to as many old people as you can, assuming they were living there at the time. They love to gossip, have nothing better to do, and can give you massive amounts of background- who was sleeping with who, who was related to who, who screwed who out of how much money, and so on.

    Google and Facebook can help you with people who have since moved.

    If you like, I can put you in touch with a good PI who has experience tracking people down. He may even be able to give you pointers in Google-fu. PM me.
     
  5. MacBookProse
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    MacBookProse New Member

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    That's great advice, thanks. I actually have some PI connections, myself. I appreciate the offer though.
     

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