Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Girl Meets Ghost: The Inspiration for I Scream Man

Today's guest post is by my friend, kindred spirit, and sister-writer, Katherine Ramsland, who discusses the inspiration for her recently published crime novel, I Scream Man. Katherine has played chess with serial killers, dug up the dead, worked with profilers, and camped out in haunted crime scenes. As a professor of forensic psychology and an investigative consultant, she’s vigilant for unique angles and intriguing characters. She's as fascinating as she sounds, and when the two of us get together, our conversations roam the world and go on for hours, especially when we talk about writing and crime. Take it away, Katherine!

What do ghost hunters, crime writers, and forensic scientists have in common? They all seek to solve mysteries. This shared goal, and some overlapping tools, inspired me to approach paranormalist Mark Nesbitt to co-write Blood and Ghosts: Haunted Crime Scene Investigations

Scientific methods come first. Only when we run out of options do we use paranormal tools, such as mediums, dowsing rods and recorders. Even then, all leads must be corroborated. A case in point: When a medium told us that a murder had occurred in 1936 in a specific room at a haunted winery, we looked for news accounts. There were none. She “divined” that the murder was covered up. This explanation doesn’t fly. No records, no credibility. 

My investigations with Mark inspired my current fiction. I Scream Man is the first novel in the Nut Cracker series. Forensic psychologist Annie Hunter manages a PI agency that “takes on hard nuts to crack” – including some with rumors of ghosts. Her core team includes Ayden, a private eye, and Natra, a cadaver dog handler who doubles as a data-miner. Annie also has a network of forensic experts to call on, as well some skilled paranormalists. 

She’s a skeptic. She swiftly exposes phenomena that can be explained by other means. However, she’s open to the possibility of a genuine ghostly encounter. She’s heard about some that she can’t discount, such as the report about ghosts dancing on a grave near Philadelphia that inspired a search that uncovered a mass murder. (I do inject actual incidents like this into my stories.) 

I first introduced my team in a short story that I based on a case where I live. Frank Smith had a business partnership with offices in a hotel. His firm was going under when Smith suddenly killed himself. He and his partners had taken out a life insurance policy with payouts meant to cover their share should any of them die. But the plan had a suicide clause, and Smith had died before it expired. His wife and partners contested the coroner’s finding, to no avail. 

Three months passed before the first ghost report. A maid was cleaning the former office. As she wiped the bathroom mirror, she saw the reflection of a man in a brown suit staring at her. She turned. He was gone. She quit. Rumors floated of other such sightings in and near that room over the next few years. 

My real-life paranormal investigators thought we should explore this case. Maybe Smith hadn’t killed himself. Maybe he’d been murdered and his ghost was trying to get someone’s attention. There’d been rumors of a contract hit. We asked the current coroner for the death report. 

On the morning Smith’s body was discovered, his secretary had tried to enter the bathroom that served as their copy room. When she couldn’t get in, she’d called security. They’d discovered the body, bleeding from shots to the leg and stomach, propped against the door. With no other way in or out, the coroner had decided Smith was alone in the room at the time he died. The gun was there. Ergo, suicide. 

However, he’d been shot twice. Not impossible but certainly worth a closer look. When we learned that someone had shot at Smith’s home three weeks before his death, we reconsidered the contract hit. But first we had to determine that someone could have shot Smith and escaped the bathroom while leaving him propped against the door. 

We reconstructed the incident with a mannequin that was Smith’s size and weight. I included this in my Nut Crackers short story, “The Case of the Staring Man.” Renaming Frank Smith as Barry Ross, here’s how Annie Hunter tells it: 

I closed the bathroom door. With some difficulty, we placed our mannequin against it, slumped like a man who’d just been shot. From the other side, Natra pushed. The door didn’t budge. She pushed harder, moving Barry slightly, but she couldn’t get in. Ayden and I repositioned Barry and tried to get out without disturbing him, as we thought his killer would have done. But neither of us could exit and also keep him in place in a way that blocked the door. We even stood the mannequin up. We still couldn’t manage it. 

Natra had an idea. She grabbed two foam pillows off one of the double beds. Standing them between the door’s edge and frame, she made a space large enough to squeeze through. Ayden went in to place the mannequin against the door. Then he worked his way through the gap without disturbing the body and pulled the pillows free. The door closed. He pushed. The door resisted. He pushed again and finally got in. 

“Okay,” I said. “Good enough. As long as the killer took the wedge item with him – or her – our locked room mystery is solved. So, by using a removable wedge in the door, a killer could have shot Barry Ross, posed him, and squeezed out.” 

Like the Nut Crackers, my actual team used recorders to collect electronic voice phenomena (EVP), asking questions to elicit a name and a reason for the haunting. We got a word wrapped in static that we all agreed ended in “er.” Murder? Maybe. In addition, we used dowsing rods to acquire answers to “yes” or “no” questions. An infrared trail camera was set up in the room and to record anomalies that might occur overnight. (No results.) 

When a records check on the Smith case prevented us from learning more and we couldn’t locate his former wife, we had to accept the dead-end. But the Nut Crackers had more luck. That’s the beauty of fiction. They solved the murder of Barry Ross and found the culprits who’d staged it. 

I Scream Man uses a similar coordination of methods for a much more complex case. Traditional investigation comes first, but paranormal tools are always ready. Annie cites their effectiveness in other cases to justify using them. Her favorite is remote viewing. 

I hope to continue this series for a long time. Under the right conditions, forensic science, crime writing, and ghost hunting can supplement one another in a way that meets their respective objectives. 

                                                                      I SCREAM MAN 

When a boy vanishes under strange circumstances, forensic psychologist Annie Hunter collects her team of sleuths, the Nut Crackers. They link the boy to a network of powerful people, the “I Scream Men,” who gain political favors through a juvenile sex trafficking ring. As Annie tries to hide a victim they seek to silence, head predator Alder Plattman – nicknamed “Plat-eye” – snatches her young daughter. Relying on coded clues, some quirky allies, and the mysterious method of remote viewing, Annie sets out to rescue her daughter and cripple the criminal network. Among her associates is attorney Jackson Raines, a youth advocate whose brother stole the network’s secret records before he was murdered. As a hurricane bears down and Plattman chases Annie’s team, they race to recover this vital cache before he can find and destroy it. 

                                                              Katherine Ramsland

Katherine Ramsland spent five years working with “BTK” serial killer Dennis Rader to write his autobiography, Confession of a Serial Killer, and has been featured as an expert in over 200 true crime documentaries. The author of 69 books, she’s been a forensic consultant for CSI, Bones and The Alienist, an executive producer on Murder House Flip and A&E’s Confession of a Serial Killer, and a commentator on 48 Hours, 20/20, The Today Show, Dr. Oz, Nightline, Larry King Live, Nancy Grace and other shows. She blogs regularly for Psychology Today and once wrote extensively for CourtTV’s Crime Library. She’s become the go-to expert for the most extreme, deviant and bizarre forms of criminal behavior, which offers great background for her Nut Cracker Investigations series. I Scream Man is the first novel in the series.

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