Readers often ask where I get ideas for my mystery novels. They can come from anywhere: the newspaper, an overheard conversation, a past experience. In 1969 long before I became a mystery writer, I served on a Federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles. We met one day a week for six months and our role was to hear evidence from the District Attorney and render indictments for federal crimes. At the time most of the cases presented related to draft evasion, being during the Vietnam War era. But other crimes included bank robberies, counterfeiting and smuggling. Here were three of the best cases:
The Great Roast Beef Heist - Two men had been tracking an armored car that moved bags of money between bank locations. They figured out the route and picked a good time to jump the guard. As the guard exited the armored car, they attacked him and grabbed the bag he carried.
Two blocks later the police caught up to the robbers. They opened the stolen bag and found, not money, but roast beef sandwiches.
The guard was delivering lunch to some friends at the bank. The robbers faced one to ten for stealing roast beef.
Dress for the Occasion - A man in long greasy hair and torn clothes came to claim an expensive Italian marble-inlayed table from customs. The customs agent got suspicious and told the man that the table had been damaged in transit, but would be ready the next day.
He had the table x-rayed and discovered a hidden compartment stuffed with bags of hashish. All but one bag was removed, the table was sealed back up and agents followed the man the next day when he claimed it. When he got it back to his house and opened it, the agents arrested him.
Lesson: if he had been neat and well-dressed, the customs agent would never have been suspicious.
Never Trust a (Wo)Man - After a bank robbery, the police questioned a female teller, but had no good leads to follow. A week later the teller came to the police and confessed. She and her boyfriend had arranged the robbery. She had handed her boyfriend the money and then had given a phony description to the police. “But officer,” she said. “I want you to catch the son-of-a-bitch. We were supposed to share the money, but he took it and ran off to Vegas with another woman.”
Fictionalized adaptations of these crime appear in my theater mystery, Dinner of the Mystery Playhouse, and my upcoming novel, Court Trouble: A Platform Tennis Mystery being released in July, 2016.