Crime and courts

By Laura Smith

October 6, 2008

Crime and court reporting is stuff of excitement for a journalist. He or she is able to create a suspenseful, thrilling story to bring the goriness or even bloodiness of a crime to life. This type of reporting hits home by focusing on a specific person(s) who experiences the crime first-hand. The journalist gives foreshadowing, a chronological timeline of events in the crime, and details to influence the reader. The satisfaction of writing a crime story comes from being able to properly describe an event that may one day become a part of history.

“Caught in the Web: Evil at the Door” is one such example of crime reporting.  Written by Cathy Frye, her story was published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in December of 2003. Frye tells the story of a 13-year-old girl, Kacie, who is abducted after getting involved with romantic relationships on the Internet.

 One of the first things Frye does in her story is give foreshadowing of a man outside Kacie’s window, watching her before he abducts her. She then switches to a description of the rest of Kacie’s family and where they are the time her abduction occurs. Frye completes her story by describing the events of Kacie’s day that had previously occurred, then leads up to the current time of her abduction. Frye even goes so far as to include the exact Internet conversation between Kacie and a suspect minute by minute. Finally, she leaves a cliffhanger at the end of the story making the reader wonder who abducted Kacie and wanting to read more. It is this detail, timeline, and suspense that make Frye’s article a great crime story.

9/16: Terrorists Bomb Wall Street

Another good crime story is “9/16: Terrorists Bomb Wall Street” by Lona Manning published in Crime Magazine. Her article’s format is very similar to that of Frye’s and speaks about the bombing that occurred on Wall Street in 1920 by Italian anarchists. She writes her lead focusing on the serene and calm scene on Wall Street that seemed like any other day. Then Manning adds the suspense in. She writes, “At 12:01, as the last notes of the church bell died away, there came a tremendous ear-shattering explosion. A newspaper reporter walking down Wall Street from Broadway felt the concussion of the explosion before he heard it.” This also sets a precedent to come for a chronological sequence of events to follow.  After Manning’s description of the bombings, she explains the events leading up them as well as after the bombings. She also mentions how the bombings encompassed the period known as the “Red Scare” and backtracks with information about this. Overall, Manning creates a detailed, informative and exciting story of such a historical event for the reader.

“Full Text of a Ransom Note is Disclosed in Ramsey Case”

“Full Text of a Ransom Note is Disclosed in Ramsey Case” displays many of the aspects of what a proper crime story should contain. The article was written by James Brooke and was published New York Times in 1997. The article discusses the event surrounding the note left for the mother of JonBenet Ramsey, Patricia, found at the time of her murder. The article begins by Brooke repeating the words of the note. From there, Brooke describes the events leading up when Patricia finds the note. He then includes other events up to the day the article was published. Through this timetable, the reader is fully informed on up to date, detailed matters in the case. The way Brooke also focuses on JonBenet’s parents and family also adds personal attribution.

A Diary of Devastation

            Another example of crime reporting is “A Diary of Devastation” which was written by Patricia Callahan in The Denver Post. Her story profiles the shooting that took place at Columbine High School in 1999. Written just 2 days after the shooting, Callahan begins her story just as any other story may begin. She writes, “It was a shirt-sleeve day, the kind when the sun bathes pansies and tulips in a way that makes their colors seem unreal – the type of spring day that Colorado is known for.” She then adds the suspense that is seen in crime stories. She says, “It all seemed so dreamlike. On the edge of the soccer field, sophomore Pat Neville was walking through the grass to his car. With a 15-year-old’s appetite, Pat was anxious to grab some fast food with his friends. That’s when he heard loud noises.” Callahan then goes on to describe the events of the shooting. She does this through the stories of different people that experience the shooting first hand. This adds to the personal aspect of crime reporting. Callahan also adds to the horrific impact of the story by giving graphic details. She mentions the gory and bloody scenes of death and the physically sick reactions from observers who were there. As hard as it is to read things like this, it makes the reader aware of the severity of the crime and how it impacted so many lives.

How it Happened

            Next, there is the crime story “How it Happened,” published in The Miami Herald. Interestingly enough, several reporters, whose names are not specifically given, wrote this story in 2000. The article follows the Elian Gonzalez story. Once again, the readers sees foreshadowing of what is to come, telling the readers about “the lightning raid” that took Elian Gonzalez away from his family and how it lasted for 44 hours. Following the lead, the writers then go on to describe the exact events of the raid. They give minute-by-minute action and include actual conversation between the people involved. This includes intense dialogue such as “Don’t do this!” Marisleysis screamed, her arms outstretched. “Don’t let him see this! I’ll give you the boy! Please put the guns down! I’ll get the boy up!” This kind of action in a crime story adds to the suspense and intrigue of such an event.

The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping

            Another good crime story comes from Crime Magazine called “The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping.” It is another story written by Lona Manning in 2007 and it recaps the story of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby that occurred in 1932. Again, there is foreshadowing in the lead. The lead describes suspect Bruno Richard Hauptmann counting down the days to his execution for the murder. The body of the article then goes back in time to the events of the actual kidnapping. Like the Elian Gonzalez story, it includes direct dialogue, creating a story. It begins, “Do you have the baby, Mrs. Lindbergh?” the nursemaid, Betty Gow, asked her employer. “No.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh looked at Betty in bewilderment.” Manning then continues her story going back in time once again by describing the celebrity status of Charles Lindbergh and his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean as well as his marriage to Anne Morrow. From here, Manning describes the events and trials proceeding the kidnapping, once again, in a chronological timetable seen in crime reporting.  She also adds in more personal detail with a background of Hauptmann’s life.

            All these stories encompass aspects that make a crime piece so intriguing. Whether it is gory, sad or scary, a good crime story impacts the reader on an emotional and human level. Use of foreshadowing creates suspense. A focus on specific people involved and details make it personal. And a chronological timetable of events creates a scene in the reader’s mind. With all these components used, readers can read about an event that may go down in history as something very significant.

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