Sunday, December 3, 2023
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SleuthSayers: True Crime Confessions

Note: Jan is anything but a mystery guest but we had a little trouble setting up this column so her name doesn’t appear in the usual spot.  Our apologies.  – Robert Lopresti 



by Jan Grape

 As a crime writer have you ever committed a crime? You don’t have to admit to any of these  minor…surely misdemeanor things.

as a kid? Candy, gum, baseball card? Lipstick. Prizes from a Cracker
Jacks box. Yes, kids, there used to be prizes. Even money, up to a
quarter, I think. I don’t remember ever getting more than a nickel and
maybe only two of those. I never pryed open a box but I shook at least
fifty or so. Trying to guess if any box rattled like a quarter. 

a teen-ager did you ever steal a car? Tires, money? Ever get caught? I
didn’t really steal a deputy’s car, one evening about twilight time, but
he left it running with the keys in it. I think I drove it around the
courthouse square. Around the block in case you’ve never seen a small
county courthouse square. What was I doing at the courthouse on an early
spring evening? I have no memory of that.

As an adult? Have you ever swiped ashtrays, towels, blankets, pillows
or one of those soft, fluffy robes  from a hotel? Or Silverware? Or shot
glasses from a bar or restaurant?

Have you done any crimes more serious?? Like maybe a DUI? You don’t have to answer that either.

Did you ever write about or fictionalize your experience as a Juvenile? Or committing a felony? 

know most if us have never committed a serious crime but we write about
it often. Especially murder. Was it a joke that the heroine of Murder She Wrote was
really a murderer because she always stumbled over a body?

you’ve never done a crime then how do you research so confidently to write
about a kidnapping, a bank heist, or a car bombing?  Do you talk to
Police officers? FBI or CIA agents?

This looks huge and it’s not.  See next photo for reference.

once called the Security Chief at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to ask if an idea I
had for a story  was feasible. After I explained that I was a
mystery writer he listened to my idea. 

was: Could a person flying from Los Angeles, eat dinner and slip the metal knife
in the chair back pocket and the hostess who picked up trays didn’t notice the
missing knife. The bad guy retrieves the knife, goes to lavatory & sharpens
the knife point and puts it in his pocket. The plane lands at Dallas/Fort Worth
airport for say 30 minutes, half the passengers including our bad guy, stays on
as it’s a continuing flight to Miami. The passengers who stay onboard are not
rescreened and it takes off again. So before the plane gets to Miami, the bad
guy stabs another guy to death in the lavatory. The Security guy told me it was
feasible but not very likely.

But I had already slipped a steel plated knife into my purse on such a
flight. I got away with it.
I think I wrote a story like that which was
published but I don’t remember what anthology where it was published.
Have no
memory of which one. I’m fairly sure the statue of limitations on both
of my crimes have run out. I’ll plead not-guilty if ever questioned. 

  The  airline knife next to normal kitchen knife & kitchen scissors.

This was
back when security was fairly lax & you got meals on long flights and nice
metal forks & knives.

If I’m not mistaken I heard recently some guy used a
plastic knife which he’d broken & made a shiv which he used to stab a
flight attendant. Hope he didn’t read my story 40 years ago to get the

Austin police dept used to have a Citizen’s Police Academy program and
as a student you attended a 4 hour class one night a week for 10 weeks.
Ours were held at the actual police academy location. 
took the training in 1991. Each week a department head would give an
hour talk on their department . The training began for citizens
interested in becoming a neighborhood watch captain. But I applied as a
mystery writer wanting to be as accurate as possible when writing about
police work and I was accepted. Programs covered: White Collar Crime,
Robbery/Homocide, Burglary, Firearms, Drugs Victim Services.  Firearms
Specialist gave a demo of different weapons & Canine dogs went
through their routines, both outside. Fingerprinting got us on a school
bus & driven downtown to APD headquarters where we were printed
and shown  how they read and reported on fingerprints. We were
photographed  and saw how ballistics were done. And shown insider views
departments at HQ, including homicide & the Top Floor bosses

two final classes were special.  For one each person was shown a scenario
on a big screen, where you had to pretend you were an officer who’d
received a call out to a crime scene. You also held a computerized gun
which you pointed at the screen, not knowing what you might find. You
were then to decide if the scene was a “shoot or don’t shoot” situation.
You had only 3 seconds or so to decide. Mine was a “shoot” at first,
but by the time I pulled the trigger I shot the bad guy in the butt,
because he stopped pistol whipping a guy,  then turned and was running
away, which then made it,
a “don’t shoot” situation. It had became a pursue, catch and arrest.
It had changed before I could see, understand, then decide, to shoot or
not. You just how slim the time 
margin can be as the deciding factor for an officer.

had a real graduation ceremony with invited guest & the APD Chief
gave us diplomas (certificate) and could join the Alumni Assocation ,
which I did.

other final item was to go in a ride-along in patrol car with an
officer for a full 8 hour shift if you wanted to and I wanted to. You
could chose a busy or  reasonably quieter sector of town which I did. I
was paired with a gruff sounding but very nice officer. We only had two
or three potentially dangerous calls. Only one was scary but turned
nothing happened he had had me stay in the car.


enjoyed the whole program. My late husband, Elmer Grape attended CPA
and graduated in 1992 and it ran for several more years that I’m aware
of, just not sure if APD does the program anymore. I do know you can no
longer go on patrol car ride alongs because of insurance, privacy and
such nowadays. Next time I’ll clue you in on my exciting days &
nights as an APD alumni member and getting to be a bad guy. 

view of mother’s day and to honor my mother, aka PeeWee Pierce, I must
mention, my adventure at the corner grocery store when I was about 8
years old. We lived about one block from the corner, think maybe 4 houses
in the same sjde of the street. I was given a dollar and also permission
to walk to store and buy a candy bar. But I could only buy that one
chocolate bar and bring home all my change. Mom emphasized only that one
candy bar. But while there & looking at all the goodies I decided I
absolutely had to have a package of dentyne gum. Naturally I finally
slipped the gum in my pocket. Naturally Mom knew by the way I was acting
that I’d done something. And am sure she could see the bulge in my
pocket. I didn’t get a spanking but I got a “talking to” which was worse
than a spanking any day. Then I had to walk back to the store and tell
Mr Parish what I had done, return the gum and tell him that I was sorry
and that I’d never steal from him again. Boy, did that ever hurt my

you, Mom for keeping from a life of crime. However, she was always proud of
my fictitious lies. She read  enjoyed several of my published short
stories and thrilled when I won an Anthony Award in 1998. She passed
away only 4 days later and my first book wasn’t published until 2000.
She had read the almost final draft.  I love and miss you, Mom. 




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