Real Life Crime Inspires Great Fiction Thrillers

Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander

Jodi Arias withTravis Alexander

Any self-respecting fan of Law & Order knows that the popular cop show franchise often draws its inspiration from crime stories that are “ripped from the headlines.” And no matter how many disclaimers emphasize that if the characters or plot bear any resemblance to a real-life individual or event it is completely coincidental, we instinctively recognize the original source. As consumers of popular culture, as participants in everyday modern life, we encounter dark and mysterious circumstances on a daily basis.

Unless you have been residing among the Amish, or have elected to forego all modern conveniences by choice, you likely have heard about the activities of Jodi Arias — an Applebee’s waitress-turned-murderess (allegedly) whose name is now common knowledge. And for what? For stabbing her boyfriend’s body almost 30 times while he showered, then shooting him with a handgun, and post-mortem slashing his throat from ear to ear as if in the shape of a morose smiley face. As evidenced by the Arias case, truth really is stranger than fiction.

Much, Much Stranger Than Crime Fiction

As a writer of crime thriller fiction, and for those of you aspiring to publish in that genre, I challenge you to look for inspiration in the world around you. You won’t have to look very far. Just recently, Chilean Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda’s body was exhumed, the process cloaked in mystery. Although official reports state that he died from prostate cancer about 40 years ago, his chauffeur has now come out to say that Neruda was poisoned–injected in his stomach–by the government while hospitalized in Santiago.

As Poet Laureate, he achieved a huge celebrity status throughout Latin America and the world. Although he claimed to be a communist—a requirement during Allende’s harsh dictatorship—perhaps the government had some suspicions about his authenticity.

Famed for his Twenty Love Poems and One Song of Despair, Nerudo’s death and the controversy surrounding his exhumation represent the ultimate iteration of the cold case. And (dare I say it) not just cold, but Stone Cold.

To Catch a Killer – Cold Case

The Nerudo mystery doesn’t awaken your crime thriller muse? Let these cold case mysteries stoke the fires of creativity. Maybe you can catch a killer within the pages of your book:

  • Back in 2012, authorities exhumed the body of late Palestinian Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat. The exhumation took place at the behest of Arafat’s wife who insists that someone poisoned the 75-year-old man. Great inspiration for an espionage thriller.
  • Of course, how could anyone forget the sensationalized trial of former football great, O.J. Simpson, accused of murdering his ex wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman? Years after Simpson’s acquittal, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary claiming that a serial killer murdered the two friends, not Simpson. This enraged the families of the deceased who vehemently believe that Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
  • Acquitted, yet still loathed by the general public, Casey Anthony was tried for the disappearance of her young daughter, Caylee Anthony. Despite intense and protracted search efforts, Caylee’s body has never been found. Suspicion still surrounds the Anthony case.
  • The murder of Kathleen Kolodziej over 38 years ago still has investigators trying to find her killer. The 17 year-old college coed was found stabbed to death and dumped in upstate New York. The cold case has outlived her parents.
  • Six-year-old Jon Benet Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her home in Boulder, Colorado. The mother, Patsy Ramsey, waited hours to call 911 and report the child as missing, saying that she found a ransom note in the home. This caused suspicion to fall on the Ramsey family, but investigators couldn’t find enough evidence to convict either Patsy or John Ramsey. Although investigators found DNA from an unidentified male in Jon Benet’s underwear, one former investigator wrote a book that suggests each member of the Ramsey family may have been involved in her death or assisted in the actions leading to her death.

For more unsolved mysteries and cold case stories, visit the Huffington Post Cold Cases page. Still need more? Set up some Google alerts using key words like “cold case” or “crime news”. You might want to stay on top of local crime news in your area. Sometimes the best ideas are right in front of you…or peeking in your window.

What cold cases, or crime related current events, interest you the most?

Photo credit: Jodi Arias from nydailynews [dot] com

3 Responses to “Real Life Crime Inspires Great Fiction Thrillers”

  1. amy shoultz, phd

    So enjoyed this post, Mr. Goldman! Dark & mysterious situations are all around us–we just have to keep our eyes opened for them. This may sound like an obscure reference; however, I remember when I first started watching the HBO show “Homeland.” I could hardly walk down a stairwell without pinning myself up against a cement wall & was convinced that my UPS guy was transmitting “Intell” on a daily basis! So much fun to inhabit a world of subterfuge!

    • Joel Goldman

      The best thing about the worlds we create is that we can come and go as we please. Get our thrill fill and come back for more another time.