Author Archives: Christine Husom

About Christine Husom

Christine Husom is a former corrections officer, deputy, and mental health practitioner. She combined her love for writing and solving crimes crafting her Winnebago County Mystery Thriller series, featuring Sergeant Corinne Aleckson and Detective Elton Dawes. Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, are the first three books. A Noding Field Mystery will be released in November, 2012.

How Are Easter’s Dates Calculated?

Today April 20th, Easter Sunday. Easter can fall anytime between March 22nd and April 25th. Have you ever wondered why?

Some of our holidays, like Christmas, are celebrated on the same day each year, while others follow a different set of standards. The leaders of the early church determined Easter needed to be celebrated on Sunday each year, and rightly so. In the early days, it was set on the Sunday following the first astronomical full moon after the spring equinox.

Then in 325 AD, the Council of Nicea decided they needed to establish a more standardized system for determining the date. Astronomers were able to approximate the dates of the full moons in future years, and established a table of ecclesiastical full moon dates. These dates would be the basis for setting holy days on the ecclesiastical calendar.

According to Mary Fairchild, in her article “Why Does the Date for Easter Change Each Year,” she writes, “At the heart of the matter lies a very simple explanation. The early church fathers wished to keep the observance of Easter in correlation to the Jewish Passover. Because the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened after the Passover, they wanted Easter to always be celebrated subsequent to the Passover. And, since the Jewish holiday calendar is based on solar and lunar cycles, each feast day is movable, with dates shifting from year to year.”

By 1583 AD the table for calculating the ecclesiastical full moon dates was established and been used ever since. According to the tables, the Paschal, or Passover, full moon is the first ecclesiastical full moon after March 20, which was the spring equinox date in 325 AD.

The early leaders were mindful of the best way to set Easter’s date, and I commend them. Calculating it is not as complicated as I’d once thought. Happy Easter.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

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Sneak Peek at The Secret in Whitetail Lake by Christine Husom

Sergeant Warner, Winnebago County Boat and Water Division is testing out his new sonar equipment on one of the county’s deeper lakes when he makes an unlikely find. He assembles his dive team, and Sergeant Corky Aleckson goes out to Whitetail Lake to see what Warner’s found.

“Ready, team? We have to be careful about not going too far down. If the bottom is stirred up, we’ll have zero visibility,” Mason said.

Mason and Carlson put on their goggles then the three of them affixed their masks in place. Their vests were equipped with regulars, and inflatable options. The oxygen tanks would supply them for well over an hour, even if they exerted, or got nervous and sucked in air faster than normal. Warner and I guided them over the side of the boat and they dropped in the water then drove into it.

We watched them on the sonar; my first experience doing that. My cell phone rang a minute later. I looked at the display and hit talk. “Hey Smoke.”

“Are they out in the water yet?”

“They are. I’m on the boat with Warner and we can see the three of them getting close to the sunken treasure. It looks like an old car. Maybe the same vintage as mine.”

“A car? And an older one to boot. Now I wish I had taken Warner up on his offer to ride along. I’ll be out there in a few minutes.”

I hung up and refocused on the three divers. They were making their way around the car, looking in the windows. Mason lifted his arm and Carlson started his ascent. When he surfaced, he gripped the side of the boat with one hand and lifted his breathing mask from his face. His face, reddened from the cold water camouflaged the freckles on his face. “It’s an old Dodge Charger and there are at least two sets of skeletons inside.”

“What?” Warner and I said together.

I leaned closer to Carlson and studied his face to see if he was kidding. The normal dancing twinkle was absent from his blue eyes and he looked like he’d seen a ghost or two all right.

“Damn,” Warner said and looked at me like I should know what to say.

“You call Sheriff Twardy; I’ll call Detective Dawes.”

“Damn,” he repeated and took another moment. “Carlson, we’ll need to figure out the steps to proceed with the recovery. In the meantime, get some shots from every which way you can down there.” Warner retrieved an underwater camera and waited while Carlson repositioned his mask then took it.

When Carlson dove back in, both Warner and I kept our eyes fixed on the unexplained find on the bottom of Whitetail Lake and the deputies who were investigating it.

Warner phoned the sheriff, but it went to voicemail. “Sheriff, we’re sitting on top of a possible crime scene on Whitetail Lake. There’s an older car on the bottom and it appears there are skeletal remains inside it.”

Per department policy, the sheriff was notified of any unnatural death, or suspicious death. Being submerged in a vehicle in a small lake fit both sets of criteria.

When Warner hung up, I said, “Are you going to call his cell phone?”

“I’ll wait a few minutes. When I talked to him earlier, he said he was going to be in his office all morning catching up on paperwork. A citizen could have stopped by to ask about something, or he’s in the biffy.”

I nodded and phoned Smoke. “I’m just about there,” he said.

“Good. I’ll see if Warner will troll over to pick you up on shore.” Warner nodded and gave me a thumb’s up signal. “He says ‘yes’.”
We hung up. “Our divers should figure out we’re making a run, and not abandoning them. And we’re only about a hundred yards,” Warner said.

“I know the sheriff mentioned purchasing those diving helmets with the communications capability built right in, depending on the cost.”

“That will be the next big purchase if we find a bunch of stuff with this new sonar system, and need to increase our dives.” He turned on the engine and shifted into low gear to safely clear the area, then sped up to reach the opposite shore. He eased against the landing area.

“Smoke’s here. Man, his day just got a lot more interesting. And not in a good way.”
“Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

Smoke jogged to the boat. He was wearing a light tan jacket over his shirt and tie, black pants, and black shoes polished to a gleaming shine. Not the usual fishing attire. But this wasn’t a normal expedition. “What’s up?” he asked. I leaned over the boat and offered my hand to help him in. “You guys look like cats that swallowed some canaries.”

“It’s bigger than that,” I said and took a step back to give Smoke a place to stand.

He gave my hand a squeeze then released it. “Bigger, how?”

“The guys found skeletal remains in the vehicle.” Warner said as he back the boat away from shore.

“Get out of here.” He pointed at the steep hill that rose up from the lake on the south side. “How in the hell would it get there? It’s not like they were driving down a road at high speeds, lost control, and wound up in the lake. There’s no road to drive off.”

He was right, and neither Warner nor I had an answer. We reached the site, and Smoke planted himself in front of the sonar’s screen to watch the action. The three divers rose to the surface. Carlson swam to the boat and lifted the camera. Warner bent over and scooped it up. The other two tread water while Carlson climbed the rope ladder up to the boat then followed suit.

We were hovering over the burial grounds of two or more unknown people and the momentary hush in the air seemed to be our sign of respect for them. When Weber and Mason had boarded, the divers all pulled off their masks and shook their heads. Warner clicked on the pictures captured by Carlson, and Smoke and I crowded in behind him.

“They’ve been down there a long time,” Smoke said.

“And in all my years with the department, I can’t recall anyone last seen in an old 1960s era Dodge and disappearing,” Warner added.

The blood drained from Smoke’s face. “I can.” His voice was quiet and a little shaky. “Not since I’ve been with the department. Long before that. Back when I was in high school two friends of mine went missing. Tommy Fryor and Wendy Everton. His folks gave Tommy their old 1966 Dodge Charger to run around in.”

The air went out of my lungs when Smoke said their names. I reached over and touched his arm. “Wendy was one of my mom’s best friends.”

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series. The Secret in Whitetail Lake is the Sixth in the seris.

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Stalking Is Serious

In the fictional world of crime writing, stalkers make noteable characters. Their activities are obsessive, freaky, and often downright frightening, which creates and builds tension throughout a novel. But in the real world, a stalker’s motivations and actions are harassing, dangerous, and too often deadly.

With technological advancements continually upgrading, stalkers have increasingly new ways to make their victims’ lives more miserable than ever. There are countless programs and avenues for criminals to explore and use.

For example:

He can monitor his victim’s computer programs.

She can use a program that hides her own phone number and displays another’s on her victim’s Caller ID. And disguises her voice so even those closest to her won’t recognize it.

He can remotely access his victim’s voicemail, ensuring she doesn’t receive her messages. But he does.

She can send an anonymous email to cover that she is the one who is actually sending it.

He can post inflammatory, false, or enticing information about his victim that includes her name, address, phone numbers, and email address on a social network, which in turn causes her to receive harassing messages, sometimes visits, from strangers.

She can “friend” her victim’s family, friends, and other contacts on social networks to get personal information about her. And use it in insidious ways.

He can download a program on her phone that allows him to set up an account for himself to access her information and track her. Tip: only let people you completely trust borrow your phone to “make a quick call.”

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, “Protect Yourself From Computer Hackers,” it is very easy to hack into someone’s home computer and see what the eye of the camera is looking at. A slick, sick way to obtain an insider’s information about someone. Cover the eye of your computer camera.

I am currently working on the sixth book of the Winnebago County Mystery Series, and in the subplot one of the deputies, burly Vince Weber is a victim of stalking.

So what can you do if you know, or suspect, you are being targeted in this kind of abusive activity? Report it to the police. And preserve any evidence you have. If you get an unsettling phone call or email, do not delete it, as you may want to do. Sometimes it takes a person a while, and a number of incidents, before she recognizes she is being harassed. Save any suspicious message you receive. And if there are more messages, a pattern is emerging, and helps the police develop a case.

More and more stalking cases are being successfully uncovered and prosecuted. Stalking can lead to serious and tragic outcomes if the offender is not caught and stopped. Stay safe.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

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An Unsolved Double Homicide from 1897 by Christine Husom

Every once in a while I hear a story  that takes up residence in my mind and consumes me for some time. Maybe for days or weeks or months. The latest one is a crime, a double homicide, that happened in 1897 in Middleville Township, Wright County, Minnesota, about 15 miles from my home. The main reason it gnaws at me is because it was never solved, and all the family members, thus far, have gone to their own graves without knowing the truth.

 I first read of the murders of William and Lydia Boxell in the Wright County Heritage Newsletter last fall in an article submitted by Chris Marcotte, the great great great granddaughter of William and his first wife Rachel. I was stunned that a crime so similar to the one attributed to Lizzie Borden, five years before that, had not gained the same notoriety.

Last week, Marcotte spoke at the heritage center and I attended the session to learn more about what happened on that fateful night.  Marcotte has spent the past couple of years doing extensive research, visiting family members, and gathering hundreds of documents, newspaper articles, and pictures to learn as much about the family and the crime as possible. She has ten theories of who may have been the perpetrator(s).

Here is a little background: William Boxell married Lydia some time after his first wife Rachel died, and it must have caused quite a stir. William and Rachel had fourteen children and nineteen grandchildren at the time of her death. William’s two youngest sons, ages fourteen and sixteen, were still living at home when he married Lydia. He was sixty-two and she was nineteen, forty-three years his junior. Was it arranged by her parents who were promised 40 acres of land in return for their daughter’s hand? The two married after a three-day courtship, which may have angered at least one of her two potential suitors.

William was fairly well-to-do. He had 260 acres of farmland and was worth about $15,000, a nice sum in those days. After his marriage to Lydia, there was allegedly talk that William was changing his will. Was Lydia expecting a baby, or had something else sparked that belief? The couple had been married only three months at the time of their deaths.

The known facts of the case: It was around ten o’clock at night on May 15, 1897 and the two teenage Boxell brothers were spearing for fish in a nearby lake. Their older brother Joseph saw them as he headed for home after picking up a trunk for his father-in-law at the railway station in Howard Lake. When the boys returned home from fishing before midnight, they found blood on the porch and the front door locked. They went to get their brother Joe at his house, about a half mile away. They headed into town, where around fourteen men were getting out of a meeting. The whole group headed out to Boxell’s.

They discovered William’s body on the road, about 100 feet south of his gate. The boys had not seen it when they had returned home earlier. An ax was found thrown some distance away. The door to the house was locked, and it was apparent the killer had crawled out a partially open window, evidenced by the blood left on it. The boys had not noticed that earlier, either. Someone eventually rode to the county seat of Buffalo for the sheriff. He did not arrive until noon the next day. Why had it taken that long?

So what happened? According to Marcotte, it is believed that William knew the killer when he opened the door because he had loaded guns in the house, but did not have one on him. The killer struck William on the head with a club, which broke in three pieces. He then went into the house, locked the door, and attacked Lydia with an ax, fracturing her head in several places and crushing her face. Her body was found in a “crouched on the floor of the bedroom, having fallen forward from her knees with her head on the floor in a pool of her own blood,” as reported in the St. Paul Dispatch on May 17, 1897.

William likely was knocked out from the club blow then regained consciousness. He may have heard his wife’s screams and tried the door, but it was locked. Did he then head down the driveway to go for help, or was he trying to escape the killer who tracked him down and delivered an ax blow to his head? It was a blow so powerful that brain matter was found over twenty feet from the body.

In 1897, DNA had not been discovered. In fact human blood had yet to be separated from the blood of animals. Fingerprint evidence was not commonly used. There were a number of possible suspects, but the one who seemed to stand out from the crowd was son Joseph. He was tried and acquitted by a grand jury. But was he, in fact, the guilty one after all? If evidence had been collected properly and retained, even after all these years, the case could be solved and all the suppositions put to rest. Perhaps in the course of Marcotte’s investigation, she will uncover a key piece of evidence that will complete the puzzle, and the Boxell decendants will have the truth at last.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County mystery Series, including Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, and A Death in Lionel’s Woods

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Protect Yourself from Computer Hackers by Christine Husom

Last week, I attended the Association of Minnesota Counties three-day conference. There were great workshops and presentations, but the one that really grabbed my attention was “Cyber Security” by FBI agent Michael Bazzell. He kept the large group of us spell-bound for 90 minutes. He was somehow easy-going and intense at the same time. His sense of humor and delivery style was reminiscent of a comedian at open mic night, and kept us engaged.

Bazzell’s job is exposing hackers and uncovering computer crimes, a constantly changing environment. It would be impossible to include all of the information on a short blog, but I wanted to pass on some of the things I learned.

Be sure to protect your passwords, and change them at least once a year. Use different ones for personal email, work email, financial records, and if you do online shopping. A lot of us are already doing this. I checked how many I have: 47. A few of the sites I am on frequently, others very infrequently.

Use a combination of letters, numbers, and characters. There is a program hackers use to crack people’s passwords that has every word in the English language. If you use a word like “flower” for example, it would take them approximately .07 seconds to find that out. Don’t post your passwords by your computer. Someone posted a picture of a well-known man sitting at his computer with his password clearly showing. He became a computer crime victim very quickly.

Business centers in hotels are insecure places to do any online work. Files are not encrypted and easily copied. If you use the hotel’s computer, be sure to not only close down the internet, but also log off. All a hacker has to do is look at the list of logins and bingo, they have your information. And they focus on higher scale hotels.

Any public place with wireless access is also subject to scams. There is a device called a “pineapple router,” available for sale that hackers use to intercept everything you do on your laptop. They gather your passwords, cookies, and websites.  

If you have a web cam on your computer’s hard drive, disconnect it when you aren’t using it. It’s very easy to hack into someone’s home computer and see what the eye of the camera is looking at. When I bought my laptop, I covered the camera eye with a sticky star I can remove if I ever would Skype.

 If you have a thermostat that you can access remotely, put a not-easy-to-figure-out password on it. There is new technology that allows hackers to search devices’ security cameras from owners cell phones or other mobile devices. The agent did just that and showed us a number of thermostat units in peoples’ homes. And it showed things like “porch light on,” what the temp was (so if it was 58 degrees, that indicates people are not home), and on and on.

Another device that is being used at ATM machines and gas pumps is a “skimmer.” They are homemade, a fifth the size of a postage stamp, with a pinhole camera that records you typing in your pin number. There are hundreds out there and difficult to trace to the thieves.

Those are a few things to be aware and beware of. Not long ago spam emails were easy to pick out. Now the bad guys are getting more sophisticated and their emails often look like they are from credible sources. Generally speaking, do not clink on any links, unless they are from your best friend who wants you to see his latest contribution on YouTube. Let’s do what we can to help in the fight against computer crimes.

 Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series, Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, and A Death in Lionel’s Woods, www.christinehusom.webs.com

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A Death in Lionel’s Woods Third Installment

The book launched on November 16th. In this installment, the sheriff’s department has begun an investigation to uncover the identity of a woman whose body was found by a man returning from a morning hunt, starting with the man who found her.

“Who was the guy that found her? The hunter?” I asked Smoke as we walked to our cars.

“Kevin Lionel. This woods and the surrounding property belongs to him.”

“Do you think we should talk to him first off, see how he’s doing?”

“Sounds like a plan, little lady.”

I followed Smoke’s Crown Victoria back out to the county road, and when he headed north. He turned left into a driveway about 100 yards down on the west side of the road. We pulled up close to the house, parked, and met at the front door. A chill ran through me as I pondered whether I even knew how to interview a witness after all those months behind a desk.

“Like riding a bike. Nothing to worry about,” Smoke said.

“You can read my mind now?”

“Prit’ near. You get a little crease close to your left eyebrow when you doubt yourself.”

“Really?” I’d have to make a conscious effort in the future to keep that little crease ironed flat so I didn’t give myself away to Smoke, or anyone else for that matter. At least when I was working.

He rang the doorbell. “Like falling into a soft pile of snow.”

“More like jumping out of an airplane.”

A lumberjack of a man opened the door. He had several inches on Smoke’s six feet, and was a foot or so taller than my five-five. He had a full dark beard which gave an impressive contrast to the blaze orange stocking cap and matching flannel shirt he was wearing. The man I presumed was Kevin Lionel looked from Smoke to me and shook his head. “Did you find out who she was?”

“No, we haven’t made an identification yet.” Smoke waved his hand into the open doorway. “This is Sergeant Aleckson. Mind if we come in for a few minutes?”

Lionel gave me a curt nod. “Hi. Forgot my manners. Sure thing, come in.” He moved out of the doorway, and we stepped in. Lionel shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t gotten around to taking a shower and changing yet. I hope the buck scent isn’t too strong and stinky. I can’t even smell it anymore.”

There was an unusual, sour odor clinging to him that I guessed was the doe urine many hunters used to cover their own personal scent. My hunter friends had informed me that deer have a keen sense of smell they use to both stay out of danger and to find other deer, mates in particular.

“Not to worry,” Smoke said.

“That’s all I’ve been doing is worrying. I’m tied up in knots trying to figure out who’d put that poor woman’s body in my woods. And why my woods?” Lionel reached up and scratched his head then pulled off his cap, revealing thick, curly, nearly black hair. He tossed the cap on the shelf in his open entry closet.

“That’s a good question. There’s no evidence that indicates someone else put her body there.”

Lionel shrugged. “Oh, I just figured that.”

“We’ve completed the preliminary investigation, but we’ll leave the perimeter marked in your woods, for now. We’re not posting a deputy at the scene to keep it secure, but it’s best not to advertise where the victim was found.”

“I got the ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted. Mostly so people don’t go hunting without permission. Hope that helps keep people from snooping around.”

Smoke nodded and paused before changing the subject. “No recollection of ever seeing her anywhere before today?”

Lionel shook his head. “No. No recollection at all.”

“You know all your neighbors?”

“Sure. At least to say hey and shoot the breeze awhile. I can’t say I’m close to any of them, but we’re friendly enough.”

“That’s more than most of us nowadays. Mister Lionel, now that you’ve had a little time to think about it, is there anything else that’s come to mind, or do you have any other questions?”

Lionel frowned. “I’m still sort of in shock, I guess. I can’t think of what to ask.”

Smoke nodded then pulled his business card and the plastic-enclosed photo from his breast pocket. He handed the card to Lionel. “Call anytime, if you need to.” Then he held the photo up for Lionel to see. “We found this with the victim. Does the family look familiar to you?”

Lionel reached over and carefully, almost reverently, took the baggie from Smoke. He studied the photo for a second, and a flicker of an expression that signified recognition crossed his face. His eyebrows raised slightly, his mouth pursed.

“You know them?” Smoke asked, leaning closer.

“Ah, . . . no.” He handed the photo back.

“You don’t sound too sure of yourself.”

“Um, well, the woman looks a little like someone I knew.”

“Someone you knew?”

“My wife.”

“Knew, as in the past tense?”

“She left about a year ago.”

“Where is she now?”

Lionel shrugged. “I have no idea. I came home one day and she was gone. Left me a note.”

“And she hasn’t filed for divorce?”

“We weren’t actually, um, legally married.”

Smoke nodded. “And you’ve had no communication with her at all?”

“Nope. I thought maybe she wasn’t real happy, but she never said she was unhappy. I guess you could say I wasn‘t exactly happy either.”

“Okay. But the woman in the photo is not your wife, even though she looks like her?”

“No, she is not my wife and I’ve never seen those kids before. I know that for a fact.”

 

Smoke and I drove down the road to the nearby county park and got out of our cars to chat.

A cooling breeze brushed across my face. “What a way to refer to his ex-wife. As someone he knew. Why wouldn’t he say who she was in the first place?”

“I caught that too. Sounded embarrassed about the whole thing, if you ask me. They weren’t married, he didn’t think she was happy, but she didn’t say she was unhappy. A little communication may have helped their relationship.”

“It may have. The look on Kevin’s face when he saw that photo certainly struck a chord with him,” I said.

“I’d say that’s a given. Could be it’s just what he said it was. The woman in the photo looked a little like his sort of wife, and it struck something in him all right. Brought back some memories, good, bad, or indifferent.”

“I think that if I saw a picture of someone that looked a little like my brother, for example, I’d have a different reaction. I know Lionel’s under stress, but still.”

“You’ve got a point. It could be he did recognize the woman in the photo and his mind is not ready to go there yet, in case it’s the same woman he found dead in his woods.”

“He seemed honestly upset about the woman’s body being in his woods, thinking somebody put her there.”

“He was that. I’ll run a background on Lionel, see if anything turns up. And we’ll keep him in the loop as much as we need to.”

Smoke went back to the office to take care of some business, and to make a copy of the photo to show people I talked to. I stayed in the park and started writing the report on my laptop. After working awhile, I thought I’d better call my work voicemail because I’d been out of the office since morning. No new messages, so I listened to the one I had saved. “You killed my friend.” Who are you, and who is your friend?

My heart pounded and a wave of nausea rolled through me, throwing me into a panic attack. I opened my car door in case I got sick. What is wrong with you? I chided myself. I need to believe in my heart of hearts that Grandma is right, that I will be okay again. Eventually.

I pulled out my memo pad with my case notes, and willed myself to concentrate on Jane Doe. I calmed down as I shifted my thoughts from myself to her. What—or was it a who—had brought her to Kevin Lionel’s woods where she died on a buried stash of money. My report could only include the facts of what, and not any suppositions of why.

When Smoke returned about thirty minutes later, he gave me a copy of the photo. We divided the houses within a one mile radius of where Ms. Doe’s body was found, and spent the next hour canvassing for answers. About half the people were home, and of those I questioned no one knew of anyone in the area who was missing. Nor did any of them recognize the woman and children in the photograph.

I finished my canvassing ahead of Smoke and returned to Jeremiah Madison County Park to wait for him so we could decide on the next course of action. He pulled in a minute before three o’clock and parked next to me, driver’s side door next to driver’s side door. We rolled down our windows and pulled our memo books from our front pockets.

“Find out anything?” I asked.

He drummed the steering wheel with his pen. “My stomach just let me know I skipped lunch, but that’s about it.”

I hadn’t even realized my own stomach was signaling for some attention of its own until he’d mentioned it. The emaciated body of Ms. Doe had undoubtedly quelled my appetite. “Yeah, that’s about it for me too.” I paged through my memo pad. “Not one of the neighbors I talked to knows of a woman who has gone missing, nor remembers seeing anything suspicious in the area in the last day or two—that includes people, vehicles, and activities. And nobody recognized any of the three in the photo.”

Smoke gave a nod and put his notebook back in his pocket. “Yup, that about sums up the responses I got, too. Of course, almost everyone was pretty damn curious about why I wanted to know. When I told them we were investigating a suspicious death in the area, they all got curiouser.” The long dimples in his cheeks deepened when he smiled.

“I can’t believe you’re actually quoting Weber.”

“Correction, I’m quoting a word Lewis Carroll coined.”

“Okay then.”

“Actually and coincidentally, there is another Lewis Carroll quote I think about sometimes. Mostly because it applies to so much of what we do: ‘One of the secrets of life is that all that is worth the doing is what we do for others.’”

“You know, Smoke, you amaze me sometimes, like when you pull one of those quotes out of your memory bank.”

“I’d like to say it’s because I have a steel trap mind, but we both know that’s not true.”

I smiled. “It is a good quote for a service-oriented job like ours, that’s for sure.”

Smoke’s eyebrows drew together. “Is it official? Are you back in the saddle again? Chief Deputy will have to know so he can revise the work schedule, and I surely could use your help, especially on this case.”

The thought of our Ms. Doe being ill and somehow ending up in Kevin Lionel’s woods, and then dying on top of a photo and some buried money tugged at my heartstrings. It ignited my compulsion to do my part to uncover the truth and help grease the wheels of justice. I realized I was nodding. “I want to work on this case. I need to find out what happened to our victim.”

“I’m glad to have you back. More than glad. I’m downright grateful.”

Christine Husom is the author the Winnebago County Mystery Series. A Death in Lionel’s Woods is the fifth in the series.

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by | November 20, 2013 · 5:00 pm

A Deadline Is the Mother of Inspiration for Me by Christine Husom

One of the sayings that I have a lot of practical experience with is, “necessity is the mother of invention.” There are times when a person needs something to work, and has to figure out how to make that happen. Most of us likely find and apply solutions to problems nearly every day. And when we’re working on a more complex project, we need to problem solve over and over again.

I consider inspiration and invention to be closely related. As necessity is the mother of invention, a deadline is the mother of inspiration for me.

As a wife, parent, grandparent, author, public official, and business owner, necessity and deadlines are a normal part of my life. Deadlines, whether they are internally or externally set, are a driving force in my life. I can honestly say I appreciate and, at times, embrace them. I often refer to them as ‘goals,’ but treat them as deadlines.

When it comes to writing, many authors have set deadlines to meet. My readers are the ones who propel me write a new Winnebago County Mystery every year–I did miss one year though. Soon after one book has launched, many people ask me, “When is the next one coming out?” So a new deadline is set.

According to Paul Rudnick, “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” I can certainly relate to that, although my list of avoidance tactics is very different that Ridnick’s.

On occasion, I get asked, “So you write when you are inspired?” The truth is, when I sit down to write, I write. The act of writing triggers inspiration. Sometimes 1,000 words takes a few hours, sometimes it takes all day, and once in a great while it takes about an hour. If it was always like that, there would be need to dread deadlines.

I love the way William Faulkner put it, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” I’m not at my computer at nine a.m. every day, but I agree with Mr. Faulkner’s philosophy.

Mary Heaton Vorse said it this way, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Very true, unless you write like Ernest Hemingway did: standing up.

Are you a person who thrives on deadlines, or do you work more efficiently without a looming deadline?

Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, and A Death in Lionel’s Woods, November 2013.

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I am a County Commissioner by Christine Husom

I had been thinking of running for public office for many years, either at the state or county level. Every ten years, when the census data has been updated–and if population numbers have changed in counties and districts–the government entities are required to redistrict so there are the same number of constituents in each district. Wright County, Minnesota, where I live, had a significant population increase and set new district lines for the five commissioners. It left an open seat in my district, so the time seemed right for me to run. Four others ran for the seat which meant we had two elections; the primary and the general.

District One includes three cities and five townships with a population of 24,500 people. I got to know the area, issues, and many new people during the more than four-month campaign. I made it successfully through both elections, took the oath of office, and began serving the citizens of Wright County this past January. Of the five commissioners, there is only one incumbent. Four of us are new so we had a lot to learn.

In a nutshell, a board of county commissioners oversees the operations of all the departments, approves and manages the budget, and sets the tax levy. They provide for public safety and roads and bridges. In Minnesota, the county board is the ditch authority. They approve planning and zoning, board of adjustment, and other committee recommendations, as well. They make any number of decisions that impact citizens and employees. Many are controversial, and draw public attention and debate. Commissioners are bound by the open meeting law and cannot have secret meetings to discuss issues and agenda items.

At our first board meeting we elected a chair and vice-chair. The incumbent became the chair and I became the vice-chair. We had sixty-four committees to divide up, and to appoint our five board members to. Some committees have one board member, some have two. In addition, we all attend the committee meetings of the whole, such as personnel, technology, building, etc. We have two Human Services meetings each month to discuss the three areas in that department: Public Health, Social Services, and Financial Services. I serve as chair of that board.

My other assignments are: Civil Defense, Labor Management/Health Insurance, Labor Management/Loss Control, Personnel, Technology (alternate), Union Negotiations, Way and Means, Association of MN Counties Public Safety Committee, Central MN Emergency Medical Services Joint Powers Board, the local EMS, Central MN Jobs and Training (Workforce), Central MN Mental Health Center Foundation, Central MN Mental Health Center Board, Central MN Mental Health Center Personnel Committee, Clearwater River Watershed District Board, Highway 55 Coalition, Wright County Law Library, Legislative Matters, MEADA (Meth Education), Public Works Labor Management, Regional Crime Lab, Regional Radio Board (alternate), Safe Communities Wright Co, State Community Health Services Advisory Committee, and Hazard Mitigation. I also attend monthly Safe Schools meetings and the three city and five township meetings in my district when possible. Plus the quarterly township officers and county mayor association meetings.

I enjoy hearing from, and working with, citizens and county employees on a wide variety of issues they have, or problems they are facing. Some are fairly easy and have a good outcome. Others are tough and not resolvable the way the people had hoped for. I am working hard and learning more than I could have ever imagined. And I’m having a lot of fun in the process.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series, Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, and The Noding Field Mystery. A Death in Lionel’s Woods will be released November, 2013.

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A Second Excerpt of A Death in Lionel’s Woods by Christine Husom

A Death in Lionel’s Woods will be released later this year by Second Wind Publishing. I first posted an excerpt in April. Detective Smoke Dawes, Sergeant Corky Aleckson, Deputies Vince Weber and Amanda Zubinski are at a death scene in a private woods next to a public county park. This picks up as the medical examiner arrives.

The four of us turned at the sound of an approaching vehicle. The Midwest Medical Examiner’s van turned onto the field road and continued to where the mobile crime lab sat. The van stopped next to it. A short, stocky woman with gray hair moussed into a spikey do got out and walked toward us with deliberate steps. “Bridey Patrick,” she announced before the rest of us had a chance to greet her. Her small brown, not quite beady, eyes narrowed on Smoke. “Detective Dawes.”

“Doctor Patrick. Thanks for making it out here so fast. Team, introduce yourselves.” The three of us gave her our names and got a quick nod in return, then the doctor turned her attention to Ms. Doe. Whatever she was thinking, she kept to herself.

“You photographed the deceased?”

“Yeah, from all angles,” Weber said.

Doctor Patrick pulled on protective gloves and then leaned down and touched the inside of Ms. Doe’s wrist. “She’s as cold as the earth she’s lying on.” Her initial examination was brief, as she ran her hands over the body, looking for obvious signs of what caused her death. Her hand stopped in Doe’s mid-back section. “There’s something underneath her.”

“We didn’t see anything–”

“No, her sweater’s covering the part that’s sticking out. Could be a large knife, or some sort of tool. Let’s turn her over.” Zubinski and Weber had crime lab gear on, so they moved in to help Patrick. Any one person could have completed the task alone, but Zubinski and Weber carefully slid their hands under Doe’s shoulder and hip and rolled her on Weber’s count of “three.”

“What the heck? She was laying on a garden trough?” Weber said.

Smoke and I took a step closer then we both leaned in, almost bumping heads. “The ground is disturbed under the leaves,” he said.

“She was digging something? Weber, where’d you put your camera?” I asked.

“Back in my squad. Front seat, on top of the pile there.” I left to retrieve it.

“Grab an evidence bag while you’re at it,” Smoke called out. I didn’t know what supplies were in the trunk of the squad car I had driven. Since I’d been assigned to office duty, I’d been driving my personal vehicle back and forth to work. The squad car I had previously shared with two others had picked up a third deputy in my absence. I wasn’t sure what would happen after today. Only God knew that. I found the camera where Weber said it was, then I popped open the trunk of the borrowed car and dug through a box of evidence bags until I located one large enough to accommodate the trowel.

I returned with the camera and handed it to Weber who snapped photo after photo from various angles. Zubinski took the evidence bag from me and waited for Weber to finish. When he handed the camera back to me, Zubinski opened the bag and Weber reached down, lifted the trowel, and dropped it in the bag. Zubinski sealed it, and then carried it over to the crime lab where she would date it and give it a number.

“Do you need the deceased while you conduct the rest of your investigation here, Detective? She’s been out here alone for two days, by my estimation. I’d like to take her to the office.”

“No, we’ve got what we need from her. I’ll help you with the gurney.” He followed Doctor Patrick to her vehicle.

“I don’t want to know how uncomfortable that was, laying on that thing,” Weber said.

I stared at Doe’s face again, but her blank expression hinted at nothing. If anything, she looked at peace. “For sure. Something went terribly wrong somewhere. We just have to figure out what.”

“Yeah, that’s what we’re here for.”

Is that what I’m here for? I’ve missed having that strong sense of purpose these past months. The belief, the assurance, that I used to take for granted.

Smoke and Bridey Patrick rolled the gurney to about four feet from Doe’s body. Patrick unzipped the bag as Mandy returned from the mobile crime unit. “We’ll get her for you; she can’t weigh eighty pounds,” Mandy said and nodded at Weber. Ms. Doe didn’t protest in the least when they scooped her up and laid her in the body bag. Patrick zipped her in, unlocked the brake on the gurney, and Smoke pushed it to the back of the van.

“Put her clothes in paper bags and we’ll pick them up later.”

“Right. I’ll call you when they’re ready,” Doctor Patrick said.

“She’s as serious as Melberg. Seriouser,” Weber said after Patrick drove away.

“I love it when you make up words, Vince,” Mandy said and frowned, negating her statement.

“Patrick’s like Melberg at crime scenes and autopsies. Both of them are extremely focused. Some guys can joke, release some steam to break up the tension. Others can’t I guess. Or won’t. Melberg and Patrick fall in the latter category.” Smoke got on his hands and knees. “Let’s scoop up the leaves she was lying on and bag ‘em up. There may be some kind of trace evidence or transfer from her clothes. Or somebody else’s.”

Zubinski retrieved a small shovel from the van and Weber waited with a large evidence bag, open at the top as far as he could stretch it. Mandy bent over and scooped a small amount of the leaf matter, dropped it in the bag, and scooped another, taking some dirt with it.

“What have we here?” Smoke asked. He bent over for a closer look, then used his pen to push a few leaves aside.

“She buried something here?” I asked as I leaned in myself.

“Photo man, we need some more shots,” Smoke said, needlessly pointing at the ground.

Vince sighed as he handed the leaf-filled bag to Mandy and then lifted the camera that hung from a strap around his neck and rested on his chest.

The disturbed area on the floor of the woods was about twelve inches by eighteen inches. The dirt appeared to have been dug out, then put back, and patted down.

“Curious,” Mandy said.

“And curiouser,” Vince said. “And I didn’t make that up. It came from something I read as a kid.”

“You read Alice in Wonderland?” Mandy’s eyebrows squeezed together.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” he mumbled and hitched a shoulder up.

Mandy smiled and I shook my head.

“Let’s see what might be in this rabbit hole,” Smoke said. He held out his hand for the shovel which Mandy handed over, and then set about carefully digging around the edges of the “rabbit hole.” After he’d had dug a little trench around the perimeter, he knelt down and started brushing away some dirt from the surface. He stuck his pen in the ground a few places. “There’s something here.”
Mandy, Vince, and I leaned in even closer, growing cuiouser by the second.

Smoke stood and used the shovel to scrape thin layers of dirt from the site. “I got something.” He uncovered a gallon-size plastic bag, then bent over and lifted it from its burial plot, shaking off the bit of soil that clung to it.

“What the heck?” Vince said.

“Bags of money in there?” Mandy said.

“That’s a little on the strange side. But I have heard of people burying money before,” I said.

Smoke gave a quick nod. “We’ll need two of you take these bags, one by one, and count to see how much is in each bag. First let’s see just how many we got here.”

“I’ll get another evidence bag so we can transfer them as you pull them out,” Mandy said. She was gone and back in a flash.

Smoke reached in and withdrew one sandwich size baggie after the next and handed them to Mandy who kept count, then dropped them in her bag.

“We should be able to get fingerprints, find out if there are any other ones on them besides our victim’s,” I said.

Altogether, there were nine bags of varying thicknesses, depending on the stack of bills in each one of them. On the bottom of the gallon bag was a single picture in its own baggie. It was the last baggie Smoke removed. He studied the front of it for a long moment. “I’m guessing it’s our Miss Doe, but she has a whole lot more muscle and tissue on her body. She’s with two little kids.” He flipped the bag over and read out loud what was written on the back. “Looks like M-A-I-S-A, Maisa, L-E-L-A, Lela, S-E-S-E, Sese. And Georgia. Georgia, I’m guessing that’s where they were when the picture was taken.” Smoke looked at me and handed the photo over. “Those sound like Swiss names to you?”

“Could be I guess. I really don’t know.”

“Swiss names?” Mandy asked.

“Our sergeant here thought maybe Miss Doe was a member of the Swiss Apostolic clan in Kadoka.”

“Huh. Are those the ones who wear those kinda drab colored dresses and have those head coverings?” Vince wondered.

“Yeah.”

He jutted his chin out. “Oh. I thought we had a little group of Amish around here somewhere, but never asked nobody about it.”

“I think they’re mostly in southern Minnesota near the Iowa border. Around Harmony,” Mandy said.

“Peace loving people that they are, they musta picked that town for its name,” Weber said.

“There’s a fairly large population northwest of here too, in Todd County,” I added, my eyes fixed on the photo.

Weber shrugged. “Had no idea.”

“Any of you guys been to Georgia?” I asked.

“When I was a kid,” Mandy said.

“I’m trying to remember my geography. They have mountains there?”

“Sure, the northern part of the state,” Smoke answered.

I admired the setting. “Picturesque. Woman holding a toddler, another little one at her side, standing in front of some trees with the leaves about a hundred autumn shades of green and red and orange and gold. The mountain peak behind them in the distance.” I handed the photo to Mandy who held it up so Vince could look at it with her.

“Kids have regular clothes on, shorts and tee shirts, but the woman looks kind of old-fashioned in that dress,” Mandy said.

“How old do you suppose she is there?” Vince asked.

“Twenty-five, maybe younger,” Smoke said.

“The little girl can’t be two. The boy maybe four, five?” I said.

Smoke reached for the photo and nodded. “I’d say that’s about right.”

A small wave of sadness rolled over me. “They look happy.”

“It would’ve been nice if she had put the year on it, too. Give us some idea of how old the kids are now,” Mandy said.

“They might not be hers. Do you suppose they’re from Georgia, or were they on vacation, visiting someone there?” I asked.

“It’s a puzzle, all right. And we still got the question of why she had all these bags of money,” Smoke said.

Vince elbowed Mandy’s arm. “Speaking of which, let’s go count, Zubinski, see how much she was protecting when she died.”

Zubinski gave me the baggie-protected photo and I reread the names. Maisa, huh? And Lela and Sese. Unusual names, all right. Maybe they are Swiss.”

“We’re a melting pot nation.”

Smoke’s phone rang. “Dawes. . . . Okay, Doc. I’ll have someone from our office there, too. . . . Right, bye.” Smoke closed his phone. “Doctor Patrick. She got Miss Doe scheduled for autopsy tomorrow afternoon at two. They’re going to work on a computer sketch of what she might have looked like at a normal weight.”

“How’d she get that done so fast?” She can’t have gotten to Anoka yet.”

“I’d venture to guess she was conducting business over the phone on the drive over. Let’s check on our team.”

Smoke and I went to the doorway of the mobile crime lab and watched them work. “These stupid gloves slow down the operation,” Weber said as he fumbled to lift a five dollar bill from one pile to set it on the waiting pile on the narrow counter.

“One hundred and sixteen,” Mandy said and wrote it down on the outside of an evidence bag. She was the one who spoke the numbers out loud as she and Weber finished counting the bills in the bag they were on. She wrote the agreed total on the bag. Then she replaced the bills in the original baggie, slipped it inside the larger evidence bag, sealed it, and put her initials over the seal. “Two down, seven to go.”

“A hundred-forty-three bucks in that bag. How much in the first?” Smoke asked.

“One thirty-six smackeroos,” Vince said.

“Different amounts, so not consistent that way.”

“No.”

“Largest denomination was a twenty in the first bag, a ten in the second,” Mandy added.

“And what would be the reason for all the smaller bags inside the big one? They weren’t marked, like the one-forty-three was for the electricity bill, and the one-thirty-six was for groceries,” I said.

“Yeah. Huh,” Vince agreed.

“Until we can find her family and or identify her, I think we’re stuck with way more way more questions than explanations,” Smoke said. “Weber, Zubinski, carry on here. Get your evidence taken care of, but I’ll keep the photo to show some folks. Aleckson and I will start talking to the neighbors in the area.”

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Wouldn’t It Be Fun? by Christine Husom

It started as a wild suggestion, thrown out to see how my siblings would react. “Wouldn’t it be fun to meet in Norway on Dad’s 100th birthday?”

And there was a story behind that. In 1970 my dad took us on a family trip that began and ended in Norway where his ancestors had lived. 1970 was the 100th anniversary of when the last of them had immigrated to America. It was a different kind of 100th anniversary, but significant nonetheless.

My father died in 1997 just shy of his 84th birthday. He was proud of his heritage and happy to be able to take us to the breathtakingly beautiful Oppstryn area of Norway, Erdal Valley, where our relatives still farm. So next month, in his honor, four of his five children will be in Oppstryn Norway to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our beloved father.

Because of time constraints, I have to keep this short and sweet, but will give more details on my next blog.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

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