The coincidences of “Making of a Murderer” and my fiction


So, since my new job requires me to stay at home and I don’t have cable, I get exposure to a lot of local news programs. Among those is the local variety-type show, “The Jason Show”. He’s pithy and funny enough and a bit of a nerd, which I can relate to, so I’ll usually watch him before switching to whatever I can tolerate streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s while watching this show that I discovered the mania surrounding a Netflix documentary entitled “The Making of a Murderer”. As Jason tried to explain his obsession with the show without spoiling it for his audience, I deduced this Steven Avery business was the same thing I had run across, not just once, but twice. The first instance involved the research I was doing for my writing.

As my readers know, I always start a new book in my Dairyland Murders series immediately after I finish its predecessor. Such was the case when I completed Book 3, Cop Incognito. I wrote the excerpt for Book 4, Torso in the Torrent, in which a couple is engaged in dismembering a body and putting the identifiable parts into a burning barrel. Naturally, as a matter of research, I googled “burning a body in a barrel” or something similar (yes, it is disturbing, as most of my computer browsing history tends to be when I’m thick in my writing). Buried well into the fifth or sixth pages of the search, the murder of Teresa Halbach came up. I didn’t really think much of it. It simply confirmed my theory that there was a history of trying to dispatch with a body via burning barrel, so I moved on and continued writing.

It wasn’t until quite some time later that my husband and I were on some long road trip and we were listening to a public radio show. It was an interesting but sad story about this woman who had been brutally raped and left for dead, how her life had been torn apart by this horrible event, and how the man she had thought was the monster she had helped to put behind bars turned out to be innocent. The documentary continued with the man’s highly publicized exoneration, he and this woman’s tearful and forgiving reunion, the lawsuit against the authorities who wrongfully prosecuted him, and the shocking arrest for the horrible murder of the young female photographer shortly thereafter.

“Hey, I remember reading about that murder…”

What I find so shocking is the world-wide public reaction to this documentary that is turning it into a cultural phenomena. After all, the underlying themes of the crimes and allegedly bias investigations are actually pretty universal to small town Wisconsin, or any rural area in general. That’s why these themes turn up in my Dairyland Murders series.

Dairyland Murders has crimes that involve families with notorious members who have criminal records and questionable scruples. There are also apathetic law enforcement, over-reaching federal departments that turn manhunts into a bureaucratic nightmares, and good old government cover-ups for the sake of maintaining high end positions and reputations. All these forces cause grief, tragedy, and major life upheavals to those caught up in it. How they recover is a testament to their resolve and character.

Much like Fifty Shades of Grey mainstreamed the literary genre of erotica, “The Making of a Murderer” documents just one of the many examples of unspeakable crimes, questionable investigations, and open ended questions that are left to victims, criminals, and the rest of us to try to answer.

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