There is no magic formula in deciding what case to write about, or what story to share. I don’t stand around in a big true crime author room with my peers to draw names out of a box, either. I don’t even look for the subject of my next book. I don’t even watch television! The case chooses me.
Some years ago I was asked by a cohort to write an article about a child killer who was asking for clemency. I was a freelance journalist writing true crime articles for an online news site. Because it had to be written in time for the clemency hearing, I cranked out the first article based on what the cohort told me. The victim’s family contacted me and told me what I wrote was not all true. So, I wrote a second article based on what the crime survivors told me. And Brad Maddox, the victim, just would not leave me alone. His smiling face kept popping out at me. I realized then, Brad deserves his story to be told. Thus The Devil You Know came about.
When I taught a class called “Investigations,” I was new to Tennessee and upon my arrival I was always being asked about the serial killer Paul Reid, who struck in Nashville and was caught months later. I took the Reid case as it was a closed case (The perpetrator sat on death row) and used it in the class. My students were locating reams of paper on the case; tons of photos, pages of appeals … and nothing on the victims except their names were now “the victim of Paul Reid.” Several years later this still grated on my mind. Who were they? Who were their families? Why is it they had no identity except as “the victim of…”? The writing of When Nashville Bled began. Paul Reid’s victims now became more than “victim.” They became Sarah, Steve, Andrea, Ronald, Bert, Jose, Michelle, and Angie. And readers learn whom they were before Reid met them, and why Reid was exactly where he should have been: waiting to die for his crimes.
I took a break and concentrated on my freelance writing, and was working on an article about inmate pen pals: what they wrote on their profiles, why they were in prison, a serial rapist writing “loves to have fun” on his pen pal ad; a female inmate who writes, “I’m an old fashioned girl” is responsible for killing an officer in cold blood. And a wholesome, cutesy face showed up in the article and on my radar: her name is Leah Joy Ward and she is serving a life sentence. (I don’t trust anyone who smiles in his or her mug shot.) But I dismissed it. I was busy. I had other things to do. I had no time for another book at the moment. Still…and so I started researching Ward’s case. I met people. I talked to investigators. And “She is Evil!” Madness and Murder in Memphis is now available through Wild Blue Press.
My next project is now on the editing desk of Wild Blue Press. I actually did see this case in the news. And the little girl’s smile just captivated me, making me wonder: why? Why did she do it? But this little girl cannot answer that; she is dead.
And even as this little girl's story is about to become a book, yet another case is tapping me on the shoulder, begging to be told, although I have ignored it for some time now. Right out of Memphis and casually arriving in a discussion I was having with the District Attorney. Yet another case selects me.