When Art Imitates Life - 2 Recent Crimes To Study

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I’m a thriller author, which means I’m slightly more in tune with the dark side of humanity than many of my friends. I spent years researching serial killers, to the point that I never want to write one again, actually. I spent my nights watching Forensic Files, went on ride-alongs with the Nashville Police, read books that curled my toes, studied and talked with F.B.I. profilers, did autopsies. The list is long and varied — suffice it to say, for many years, I lived and breathed crime.

I learned two inalienable truths — nothing I can possibly dream up hasn’t been thought of by a disturbed individual. And the capacity for cruelty and hate is bottomless. 

I’ve moved away from this kind of research in the past few years, simply because I couldn’t stomach it anymore. This is a good thing. My dreams aren’t as terrifying; I don’t spend as much time looking over my shoulder. (Trust me, you spend years in the minds of horrible villains, you get a wee bit paranoid.) I’ve discovered an affinity for stories that explore how tragedy affects normal people and write about that now. I read many more books that are fantasy driven, especially YA, and the ones that are set in the real world are often… nicer, let’s say, than the ones I used to consume.

But there have been two recent crime sprees that captured my attention. Obsessively. 

The first was Mark Anthony Conditt — also known as the Austin Bomber. The most recent was here in my own city, and is really still ongoing — Travis Reinking, who murdered four people and wounded four others in a Waffle House. Reinking was stopped by a citizen hero. Conditt blew himself up. Both men terrorized their respective cities, though Conditt reign lasted longer.

If you are a thriller writer, or interested in true crime, these two cases represent some seriously great multi-agency police work. I admit to taking days of notes on Conditt, trading theories with a friend who lives in Austin, feeling the fear that gripped the city. Reinking - well, truth be told, I'm in a bit of a fog as I write this because like so many Nashvillians, I didn’t sleep last night, knowing he was out there, armed, insane, and clearly being driven by demons few of us can understand. 

We don’t know all the details of either case, the base motivations of the killers, the ramifications for the victims, and for the two cities — so similar in nature, both home to hip music and art communities. But if you’re learning how to write thrillers, or you're interested in true crime, you really should pay attention to them both. You will learn a great deal about all the incredible work our law enforcement officials do when faced with this kind of spree killer. The technical details of both searches are available online, and they are fascinating. Frightening, but fascinating.

In the meantime, we affected by these tragedies will try to heal. It just breaks my heart we have to, yet again. 

J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.