Clue — Analyzing the Board Game’s Murder Weapons

Recently, a writer from the online humor site Cracked contacted me with a fun proposal. JM McNab wanted to do a Cracked piece on how effective the murder weapons were in the board game Clue. You remember—the lead pipe, the rope, the knife, the wrench, the revolver and—who could forget—caving a guy’s head in with the candlestick.

JM McNab found me through a Google search. He was looking for an “expert” in murder weapons, and I fit his bill. We had a great phone conversation resulting in this Cracked article being published this past Sunday. With JM’s and the Cracked editorial department’s permission, I’m sharing it today on the Kill Zone:

Which ‘Clue’ Weapon is Best, According to a Former Homicide Detective

Since none of Monopoly’s property disputes end up with grisly stabbings on Park Place, and as far as we know, Candyland isn’t secretly littered with sugary corpses, no doubt the most thematically-intense family board game in history is Clue, in which players are tasked with solving the murder of “Mr. Boddy” in a remote, two-dimensional country manor.

Winning the game means puzzling out the identity of the murderer, which room the crime took place in, and which of six potential deadly weapons was used. Admittedly, this a baffling premise for a murder mystery story; after all, even a drunken party guest should be able to quickly eyeball between a knife wound and a strangulation, right? Yet somehow, all of these confusing elements were skillfully weaved together in the comedy classic that is 1985’s Clue.

So we couldn’t help but wonder; in the world of Clue, given these options, which weapon would actually be the best and most effective choice for the fictitious killer; the rope, the candlestick, the revolver, the wrench, the knife, or the lead pipe? To get to the bottom of this pressing issue, we spoke with Garry Rodgers, a retired homicide detective and coroner, as well as a current best-selling crime writer.

As Mr. Rodgers pointed out, the six weapons fall into different categories; the candlestick, wrench, and lead pipe are all “blunt edge objects,” whereas the knife is a “sharp edge object.” The rope is a “ligature” and the revolver, of course, is a “firearm.”

In terms of the first category, the weapons that could be used to bash someone’s head in, any of these could conceivably be used as an instrument of death – but as Rodgers points out, “human beings are notoriously hard to kill” and can “take a wicked beating.” Using any of these effectively, not to mention discreetly, would be difficult because it might require a lot of work, and the victim could conceivably become “defensive,” either by fighting back, or by just running away at the first sign of an attack. And no one wants to play a round of Clue where “Mr. Boddy bolted out the front door” is the solution.

Rodgers reasoned that if the killer was wielding a lead pipe, approached the victim from behind and “gave a good whack” they ”could probably kill them with one blow.” The same goes for the wrench if it was big enough, since you would need “enough bulk” to “transfer the kinetic energy” and land a fatal blow – although it might be “hard to swing.”

The candlestick was ranked by Rodgers as the worst of all the Clue weapons, since it’s oddly-shaped, could be difficult to handle, and wouldn’t result in a “sharp directed transfer of energy to a particular spot” the way, say, the pipe would. And while Rodgers has investigated cases involving every other Clue weapon, he couldn’t recall any real life murders involving  candlesticks – which, incidentally, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarly wacky murder weapons in the real world. Rodgers described one case where someone was stabbed with an oyster shucker, and another where the victim was beaten to death with a “bag of frozen pork chops,” AKA the reverse-Rocky.

Then we have the rope, which also has its major issues. For one thing, the killer would have to “overpower somebody to be able to get that rope around the neck” and there would likely have to be “some element of surprise in it.” This is why most strangulations are manual strangulations, as in by hand, “to start off with … followed up by ligature strangulation.” In other words, killers choke their victims until they black out, then finish them off with the ligature. But still “strangulations take quite a bit of time,” which could be a big problem if you need to hurriedly duck into a secret passage and head back to the Conservatory before anyone notices you’re gone.

As for the knife, it’s certainly deadly, but “people can take a lot of slashings with a knife.” So in addition to the fact that “you’re going to have your victim screaming” there would be “blood all over the place.” Meaning that Prof. Plum would have a tough time maintaining his innocence with Mr. Boddy’s innards Jackson Pollock-ed all over his evening wear.

Rodgers concluded that the revolver, of all the Clue weapons, would be the “most effective.” And, really, if there’s a gun in the house, why is anybody running around bludgeoning folks with a candlestick? While it’s noisier than some of the other weapons, “you can easily muffle it by shooting it through a pillow.” Although the further away one is from the target, the less accurate the shot – and accuracy would be key to ensuring that Mr. Boddy goes down for good.

All that being said, were one to attend a secluded country manor with murder on their mind, the ideal weapon would be … none of the Clue weapons. According to Garry Rodgers, the Clue murderer’s best course of action would have been to simply dose the victim with a little bit of poison, which is bafflingly not an option in the game. Of course, Clue obsessives may recall that poison was added as a weapon in the expanded version of the game, 1988’s Clue Master Detective – but then again, so was a horseshoe, which is just as goofy as a candlestick.

Kill Zoners — Who can name the six original suspects in Clue (without Googling them)? And if you were realistically rewriting the game ala 2022, what murder weapons would you retain, what would you change, and with what?

Solving the JonBenet Ramsay Murder

JonBenet Ramsay’s murder is perhaps the world’s highest profile, unsolved homicide case. Officially unsolved, that is. For today’s True Crime Thursday post, I resurrected the most-read piece from my personal site at Dyingwords.net. Drawing on thirty-plus years of hands-on experience in human death investigations, these are my thoughts about who really murdered JonBenet Ramsay:

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On December 26, 1996, the beaten and strangled body of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found hidden in the basement of her Boulder, Colorado home. Immediately, police and media suspicion focused on her wealthy parents, John Bennet Ramsey and Patricia (Patsy) Ramsey, as being responsible. Now—twenty-five years later—the child beauty queen’s cold case has little new to offer except for the stupid suggestion that JonBenet never really died and that she’s actually the pop-star, Katy Perry.

Setting crazy conspiracy theories aside, the fact remains that someone viciously slaughtered JonBenet. The little girl became a cultural obsession, and the person or persons guilty of JonBenet’s murder were never prosecuted. Was it a lack of viable suspects? Lack of admissible evidence? A homicide investigation mishandled right from the start? Or was it failure to properly decipher the murder mystery’s most important clue—the ransom note?

Here’s a look at what the case facts tell us about who really murdered JonBenet Ramsey.

Patsy Ramsey claimed to have come downstairs to the kitchen at five o’clock on Boxing Day morning and found a two-and-a-half page, hand-written ransom note on the landing of their secondary staircase. The author directed the letter at John Ramsey and claimed to represent a group of individuals from a foreign faction who were “in possession” of JonBenet. The note demanded a ransom of $118,000 be paid in certain bills or JonBenet would die.

Boulder Police recorded Patsy Ramsey’s report being phoned in at 5:51 am. Two patrol officers attended and took basic information but did not treat the Ramsey house as a crime scene. It was not secured, nor searched, and an unrecorded number of people had access to the residence until early afternoon when a detective took over and asked a family friend to assist John Ramsey to search the house for “anything unusual”.

The recorded events are confusing, but it’s said John Ramsey located JonBenet’s dead body in a far corner of a basement wine cellar, covered with her bedroom blanket. She had a ligature cord around her neck, her hands were bound above her head, and her mouth was sealed with duct tape. John Ramsey apparently removed the tape and carried the body up to the living room where it was laid in front of the Christmas tree. The police were called back, and the case began being treated as a homicide.

A forensic crime scene examination identified several points of unsecured ingress to the house but no sign of forced entry nor anything to clearly suggest an unauthorized intruder had been present.

Prominent was the ligature or cord around JonBenet’s neck that was tied to a wooden handle, described as a “garrote”. It was physically matched to a broken paint brush handle in Patsy’s art room which was in the basement, near the wine cellar. Similar pieces of cord were also found in the home. As well, the pad which the notepaper originated from was located on the main floor, as was the pen used to write it.

The Ramsey parents were not formally interviewed, no statements were taken, and continuity of the note—being a prime piece of evidence—as well as its forensic treatment was questionably handled.

The pathologist attended the residence at 6 pm and did a cursory examination of JonBenet’s body before removing her to the morgue. She was dressed in a white nightie and white panties with white tights overtop. The panties and tights were soaked in urine. Postmortem changes were advanced with rigor mortis already passing and early decomposition presenting.

Though the stages of mortis are not precise science for conclusively identifying the time of death, the body’s physical condition suggested that JonBenet had been dead for a considerable time, estimated between 10 pm the previous evening and no later than 5:51 am when the police report was received.

In pathologist John E. Meyer’s words — “Far closer to 10 pm than to 5 am.”

JonBenet’s autopsy determined her cause of death as “asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma” and the medical diagnosis was:

I. Ligature strangulation

Circumferential ligature with associated ligature furrow of neck

Abrasions and petechial hemorrhages, neck

Petechial hemorrhages, conjunctival surfaces of eyes and skin of face

II. Craniocerebral injuries

Scalp contusion

Linear comminuted fracture of right skull

Linear pattern of contusions of right cerebral hemisphere

Subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhage

Small contusions, tips of temporal lobes

III. Abrasions

Abrasion of right cheek

Abrasion/contusion, posterior right shoulder

Abrasions of lower left back and posterior left lower leg

Abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa

IV. Ligature of right wrist

V. Toxicology

Blood ethanol – none detected

Blood drug screen – no drugs detected

——————————————————–

From reading this, it’s clear JonBenet received a massive blow to the upper right of her head from contact with a blunt object, approximately an hour or more before death. This is supported by the contusion (bruise, not a laceration or cut) to her scalp, the linear fractures to her skull, and the subdural (underlying) hemorrhaging (bleeding) in her brain. This cannot occur after death and the known pathology established a considerable time elapsed between when the blow was administered and when the cardiovascular system stopped functioning. The pathologist opinioned that JonBenet was alive but unconscious for an hour, possibly an hour-and-a-half before she was strangled.

It’s also clear that ligature asphyxia (strangling with the cord) was her death’s triggering mechanism, and this is corroborated by the presence of petechial hemorrhages (tiny bloodspots) in her eyes and on her face. This is a classic symptom of mechanical strangulation and is peculiar to the airway being violently interrupted.

The presence of various abrasions and contusions are evident of physical violence being inflicted on JonBenet prior to death, as is the violation of her vaginal area. Her cheek abrasion is consistent with a slap to the face, her shoulder and legs marks are consistent with her still-alive body being roughly handled as if dragged, but caution must be taken in interpreting her vaginal injury as being consistent with sexual assault.

There was no presence of semen, however some blood spotting was noted in her underwear. Later forensic examination would identify a foreign pubic hair on her blanket and an unknown DNA sample (not semen) on her underwear that was consistent with a male contributor.

The police and district attorney’s investigation focused on the improbability that a total stranger would break into the home, severely wound JonBenet, then kill her at least an hour later after packing her body from an upper bedroom and down two floors to the basement of a house in which three others were present—all the while hanging around to write a lengthy note.

From the start, Patsy Ramsey’s behavior was suspect—as was her husband’s. Though there was no suggestion of previous child abuse in the home, it was well known Patsy Ramsey selfishly promoted her daughter like a trophy doll who she desperately wanted to shine in fame and fortune.

As police and media attention centered on the Ramsays, they limited their contact with investigators and quickly “lawyered-up” until a controlled, counter-offensive in the media could be established.

The evidence against the Ramseys was examined by a grand jury empaneled during a ten-month period in 1998. The jury returned an indictment against John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in JonBenet’s death but was quashed by the district attorney who felt there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. The grand jury’s findings were sealed and only released to the public in 2013, seven years after Patsy Ramsay’s death from cancer.

To this day, the smoking gun in JonBenet’s homicide is the alleged ransom note.

If the note is legitimate, then it’s a kidnapping that went sideways. If it’s fraudulent, it’s a murder staged to look like a kidnapping. Regardless, there’s no doubt the note’s author is responsible for killing JonBenet and it’s within the note where the killer reveals their true identity.

Let’s look at it:

The note needs to be examined in three ways.

First — Was there any forensic evidence present to physically identify the author? I can’t imagine it not being fingerprinted nor examined for DNA, however I can’t find any internet reference one way or the other and existing photos don’t show the normal discoloration associated with chemically checking for fingerprints on paper.

Second — What do forensic handwriting analysists say about the writer? A number of document examiners have analyzed the note and have eliminated John Ramsey as well as fifty-three other subjects as the author. But, they cannot rule Patsy Ramsay out as penning it. To be fair, no one conclusively states she was the writer but all agree the author intentionally attempted to disguise themselves.

Third —  What does the science of statement analysis tell us? It’s here where the killer’s identity is revealed.

Let’s look at the note in detail:

Mr. Ramsey,

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We don respect your bussiness but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our posession. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.

You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attache to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a earlierdelivery pick-up of your daughter.

Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with Law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to out smart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back.

You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities. Don’t try to grow a brain John. You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours.

It is up to you now John!

Victory!

S.B.T.C

The first thing that comes to my mind when reading the note is that it’s nonsense. It’s complete and utter bullshit and here’s why:

— It’s very long with a lot of unnecessary, redundant information. It’s written on three pieces of paper which took a considerable amount of time to compose. True ransom notes are exceptionally rare and all are short and to the point: “We have your daughter! We will kill her if you don’t give us X-amount of money by __!. Wait for instructions!! DO NOT call the police or she dies!!!”

— The writer introduces themself as representing a “group of individuals from a small foreign faction“. Foreign? Faction? Who calls themselves a foreign faction?

— Patsy had been up an hour before calling police.

— The writer states to not respect Ramsey’s business, but not his country then changes the message by striking out “don’t” to reflect a friendlier tone.

— The asking sum of $118,000.00 is a bizarre number. Some examiners equate it to a similar salary bonus amount John Ramsey recently collected but how would a foreigner know if it’s even in his bank account never mind how much?

— Calling “tomorrow between 8 and 10 am” indicates the note was written before midnight on December 25th.

— “The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be well rested” indicates someone thinking about a lack of sleep before the event is exposed.

— “And hence” is a unique phrase that’s rarely used except in very formal correspondence or in biblical phrases.

— There are obvious misspellings in common words like “possession” and “business” while more easily erred words such as “adequate”, “attache (with the accent)”, “deceive”, “deviation”, and “scrutiny”. Otherwise, the writer uses proper punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure which indicates an attempt at disguise by a person with a fair degree of education.

— The use of exclamation points in only the opening and closing is not realistic of a desperate person’s threat. You’d expect emphasis being put on the instructions to get money and threats to retaliate.

— “Beheaded” and “stray dog” indicate a feint towards some sort of middle-eastern ethnic decoy.

— “Proper burial” is indicative of someone who knew what JonBenet’s final disposal would be. Burial was the accepted practice in the Ramsay’s’ religious faith, rather than cremation.

— The phrase “two gentlemen watching over” stands right out. “Gentlemen” being a term used in a ransom note? Totally unrealistic. And “watching over” is another term like “and hence” where it doesn’t remotely resemble normal speech, rather it reflects a biblical overtone where “God watches over”.

— “I advise you not to provoke them” and “I advise you to be rested” are passive statements and reflect a feminine touch.

— Four times the writer uses the phrase “she dies.” If JonBenet was still alive when the note was written, the author would likely use the term “she will die”. This indicates the writer knew JonBenet was already dead.

— The note’s address changes from “Mr. Ramsey” being used once to “John” being repeated three times. This is far too familiar for an unknown kidnapper and strongly indicates the writer knew John Ramsey personally.

— The closing terms “Victory!” and “S.B.T.C” appear cryptic and of some personal, religious significance to the writer.

_________________________________

A principle behind the science of statement analysis is that truthful people rarely use synonyms. They remain consistent in language whereas deceitful people change language and weave in synonyms to distract. Another principle is that people expose their psychological profile in their writing.

So what does the JonBenet Ramsay note say about the author?

It’s clearly a deceitful attempt to distort the facts, using unrealistic, bizarre, and unbelievable demands to shift attention from the reality of the situation. It’s apparently written by a woman of higher education, with a religious background, familiar with John Ramsey, who can’t bear to bring JonBenet’s name into the equation, yet cryptically reveals a personal message.

It’s written in characters that can’t be eliminated from Patsy Ramsey’s known handwriting and it was written with a Sharpie pen and foolscap paper found in her home—the home in which JonBenet was murdered and who’s body was stashed on the cold basement floor.

Patsy Ramsey denied culpability until her death but denials are cheaper than a thrift store suit. A look at her psychological profile is telling.

Patsy Ramsay was a beauty queen, herself—crowned Miss West Virginia in 1977. She graduated from university with a B.A. in journalism and was a devout member of the Episcopalian church and a wealthy socialite in her community. Perversely, she flaunted an air of modest integrity while flogging every chance to sexually exploit her six-year-old daughter in front of every pageant and camera she could find.

Patsy Ramsey was an educated, articulate, and calculating woman. She was also very religious.

It’s in the Bible where the key to the ransom note’s lock is hidden.

— The terms “watching over” and “and hence” are consistent with a religious mindset and they are known to be used in the Ramsey family Christmas message which Patsy wrote the year after JonBenet’s death.

— The numeric figure “118” is highly revealing and it fits with a notable Bible passage recognized by the Episcopalian faith. It’s found in Corinthians 1:18.

— “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

— Significant are the note’s closings,“Victory!” and “S.B.T.C”. Victory is well established as a Christian slogan which refers to Christ’s triumph by rising from the dead and symbolizing the triumph of good over evil and the forgiveness and everlasting salvation of a soul from sin. “S.B.T.C” is the well-known acronym for “Saved By The Cross.”

— The “Victory” reference is also revealed in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57:

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must be put on the imperishable, and this mortal must be put on immortality… then will come about the saying that is written “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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In my opinion, there’s a convincing case that Patsy Ramsay authored the ransom note and, therefore, the person who really murdered JonBenet.

It’s also likely that John Ramsey had some knowledge and covered up for his wife. He’d already had a previous daughter die—now a second—and he couldn’t bear to lose the rest of the family. Only he will know.

But this still leaves the question of why Patsy Ramsey slayed her daughter? What were the horrific circumstances that led to such a senseless, barbaric crime?

I think the best theory is offered by Steve Thomas who is the original Boulder detective who investigated the case and wrote the book JonBenet—Inside The Ramsey Murder Investigation.

Detective Thomas postulates that Patsy and John Ramsey returned to their home around 10 pm Christmas Day after a social event. Patsy checked on JonBenet and found she’d been bed-wetting again. At the time, Patsy was already on emotional overload—about to pop a breaker. She was under severe psychological stress with heavy socialite commitments, seasonal depression, struggling to face her fortieth birthday, keeping the perfect face, and… who knows what all else.

With temper stretched, Patsy severely admonished JonBenet for the urinary mess and likely did an aggressive wiping simulation on her daughter’s crotch, accounting for the “abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa”. This escalated to a violent event where JonBenet’s head was smashed into a hard, blunt surface such as a doorframe or piece of furniture which rendered her unconscious with a potentially lethal brain injury.

Possibly thinking JonBenet was dead and probably panicking, Patsy went into damage control which may have involved John Ramsey at this point. It’s inconceivable to think he didn’t know or at least suspect something.

Somewhere during the next hour to an hour-and-a-half, JonBenet was finished off with a garrote fashioned from available materials, her body was moved, and the stage was set to simulate a ritualistic killing. A plan was then devised to deceive the authorities by way of a concocted ransom note which contained a cryptic justification with some hope of divine reconciliation.

But what’s really evident to me—why I truly believe both Patricia and John Ramsey were culpable in JonBenet’s murder—is the date on the inscription they jointly approved for the headstone on their daughter’s grave.

They knew she was dead before midnight.

Kill Zoners – Who do you think really murdered JonBenet Ramsay?

Your Runway of Life

Your life runs by in a hurry. In three acts, you were born, you mature, and you’ll die. Beginning, middle, and end. Classic story structure, and what really counts is what you do on your runway of life. Especially with the time you have left.

A few things brought on this post.

One—my brother recently passed away. He was sixty-nine, and there was no warning. It was a brain aneurysm which is a pre-existing condition that’s nearly impossible to detect or intervene with.

Two—I turned sixty-six yesterday. That milestone, along with my brother’s sudden death, made me reflect on what time I have left. The events put into perspective an urgency I have in continuing important tasks.

Three—I received a newsletter from Dr. Peter Legge where he outlined the Runway of Life. In a three-minute video, Dr. Legge gave me an “ah-ha” moment. I’d like to pass it along to my friends at the Kill Zone.

Peter Legge is a well-known force in Vancouver. He’s a highly accomplished entrepreneur, author, speaker, publicist, and community leader. Dr. Legge is also a motivator and personal mentor to many folks, regulars and high achievers.

The Runway of Life is a concept. It’s an abstract, yet crystal clear, look at where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’ll end. Not when you’ll end—that’s something we don’t know so, for this exercise, we’ll make up a number.

In the video, Dr. Legge draws a horizontal line in black ink on a white background. The line represents your runway of life—your life’s timeline. On the left, he draws a zero. This represents the day you were born.

Somewhere along, he draws a figure for his age. Dr. Legge is currently eighty, so he dots an 8-0. This shows since birth to today he’s gone 80 points on his runway of life.

His final figure is hypothetical because there’s no way he, or anyone else, can know the age he’ll die at. Dr. Legge qualifies that and says for this exercise the death number doesn’t matter. “It could be eighty. It could be a hundred. But for this demonstration I’ll put down ninety.”

So, Dr. Legge jots 9-0 at the right side of his runway. Clearly, he’s used up 80 years of his life’s runway, and he expects to have 10 years left.

“Zero to eighty are gone. They’re history and they’re past.” Not so with the remaining ten still on the runway. It’s what you do with the remaining time on your runway of life that now matters.

I drew a runway of life for myself. I started at zero like everyone else. I have sixty-six around three-quarters to the right. And I picked ninety as my cash-out number. I base that life expectancy on my genealogy which has had some pretty old birds in the family tree.

I realize my brother’s last number was only sixty-nine. However, there’s a big medical difference between my brother and me. He was a heavy smoker, and I’ve never touched the stuff. Cigarette smoke is the most significant modifiable risk for cerebral aneurysm. Heart attack / myocardial infarct as well.

My runway of life looks like this:

I’ve used 66 years which is 792 months, 23,760 days, and 570,240 hours. If my calculator is right, I have 24 years left on my runway of life—288 months, 8,640 days, and 207,360 hours.

It’s what I do with those remaining years, months, days, and hours that count going forward. I have no idea what the right, right number is on my runway of life. It could be a lot lower. So, I’m moving ahead making every day matter.

I’m doing two primary things. One is keep creating content, and keep learning how to do it, for the entertainment industry (aka being a writer). The other is enjoying time with my family and friends, especially out on our boat.

And if I blend the best of both worlds, like I’m doing right now, I’ll write and learn from the chart table in my wheelhouse till I’m buried at sea by my family and friends, hopefully well past one hundred.

Kill Zoners — Have you given any thought to your runway of life? Care to share an urgency?

Celebrating Others’ Success

Celebrating our success is a must. A little reward for a job well done is vital to keep motivated (and happy and healthy) in this difficult writing business. It doesn’t have to be much—just enough of a kickback to make it worthwhile.

It’s one thing to celebrate our personal achievement. It’s a whole other level to get satisfaction from celebrating others’ success. And it’s something we, as a collective writer community, should do more of. Celebrate others’ success.

What brought-on this post is Sue Coletta’s most recent success. Sue was the top-selling author at her publishing house in September. I can think of no other person who is as dedicated to their craft as Sue. And it paid off. Well done, Sue!

Recognizing success doesn’t have to be in the writing world. My friend just celebrated a blue ribbon at the fall fair won by her huge butternut squash. It weighed-in at 37.25 lbs. Sure, it’s a long way off the world record of 65.5 lbs., but it’s an impressive big gourd. Totally organic, to boot. It was grown through her neighbor’s organically-fed hens’ manure.

Our 34-year-old daughter’s success is impressive, as well. Emily recently packed up and moved to Ecuador where she’ll continue her online writing business as a digital nomad. So, congrats on your courage and adventuresome spirit, Em. OPD’s proud of you, and I celebrate your successful move! (BTW—OPD stands for Over Protective Dad which she nicknamed me in her teens.)

No. it isn’t only writing, moving, or squash growing success to celebrate. On a large scale, I celebrate NASA for bulls-eyeing an asteroid some zillion miles away. I celebrate the Ukrainian people’s resolve to repel an invader. And I celebrate Aaron Judge for hitting 62 homers this season.

On a smaller scale, I celebrate someone else’s success. That was the couple in my home town who stood up to City Hall and won the court-approved right to keep a noisy rooster in their backyard coop. That rooster services the organically-fed hens in my friend’s neighbor’s yard whose poop helped her score the blue ribbon.

What about you Kill Zoners? Tell us how you’ve celebrated others’ success.

“The Writer” by Meskerem Mees

Why do writers want to write?

Good question, and one put to me the other morning that caused evening introspection. Let me tell you how that came to be.

Rita (my wife of thirty-nine years) and I are on a week’s getaway to Galiano Island near our home on British Columbia’s Pacific west coast. We met another couple at the tie-up wharf and got talking. You know, general stuff… “Where you from? How long you here? Where you headed after this?”

Then came a question aimed at me. “What do you do when you’re not on vacation?”

“’Besides bleeding money through the stock market,” I replied. “I’m a writer.”

“Interesting. What makes you want to write?”

I wasn’t stuck for an answer, but I was stuck for the right answer. Later that night (after five five-o’clocks on the dock which is mandatory attendance among the boating fraternity), I introspected with Google searches about writer motivation. I came up with a Youtube video by a remarkable young singer/songwriter named Meskerem Mees. She summed my introspection with this line in the lyrics from her piece titled The Writer:

And I am but a writer, so writing’s what I do.”

Kill Zone writers, Ms. Mees’s song is uplifting. Here are the links to the video and the lyrics.

And the takeaway question which you’re expected to answer—why do you want to write?

The Value of Knowledge and Effort

Let me tell you a story I found, then ask you a question about the value of knowledge and effort.

___

A giant ship engine failed. The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure out how to fix the engine.

Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a boy. He carried a large bag of tools with him and, when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed.

A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

“What!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!” So, they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemised bill.”

The man sent a bill that read:

Tapping with a hammer………………….. $ 5.00
Knowing where to tap……………………. $ 9,995.00

The moral of the story: Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.

___

Kill Zoners — Sure your ebook may only sell for five dollars, but what’s the value of knowledge and effort inside?

Was Princess Diana’s Death a Homicide?

Yesterday was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Diana, Princess of Wales, untimely death in a Paris car crash. Over those years, and despite a massive investigation along with an extensive inquiry, many people believe Diana’s death was no accident—it was a homicide. Kill Zoners who follow my blog at DyingWords.net know I’ve written a lot of posts on high-profile deaths like JonBenet Ramsey, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Natalie Wood, the Black Dahlia, JFK, and on and on. In 2017, I wrote an analogy of Diana’s death circumstances and came to a logical conclusion. I thought I’d repost it this morning on The Kill Zone.

— — —

It’s been 20 25 years since Diana, the Princess of Wales, was killed in a horrific vehicle collision. This tragic event ended of one of the world’s most famous people’s life. It shocked everyone. Millions lined London streets paying respect to her funeral procession. Over 2 billion watched her funeral on TV. But Princess Diana’s death was far more than a loss to the world. It left her two young boys without a mother.

Circumstances surrounding Diana’s death are exhaustively investigated. Everyone knows basic facts that Diana and her new boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, were leaving a Paris hotel for a private apartment and trying to avoid the ever-present Paparazzi. They got in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan driven by Henri Paul—a hotel security agent. Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, rode shotgun in the passenger front.

But exactly what happened next is still cloudy. To escape prying eyes and cameras out front of the Ritz Hotel, the four used a rear escape route—sneaking away to the apartment. Several Paparazzi members clued in. They raced to follow. As the Mercedes entered the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel along the Seine River in central Paris, Henri Paul somehow lost control and smashed head-on into a solid concrete column.

The car was destroyed. Henri Paul and Dodi al-Fayed were dead at the scene. Princess Diana passed away from massive internal injuries two hours later. Only Rees-Jones survived. However, he had no recollection of what happened.

Those are the bare case facts. There were two extensive investigations. One by the French police and one by the British authorities who held a public inquest. Both inquiries concluded Diana’s death was from her fatal injuries—the result of a drunk-driving, motor vehicle incident with excessive speed a contributing factor. So was Diana’s neglect to wear her seat belt.

And both inquiries viewed the pursuing Paparazzi as a non-direct, contributing factor despite five photographers charged with manslaughter and three others prosecuted for obstructing justice and violating human rights. No one was convicted. But that didn’t end speculation that Princess Diana was murdered. In fact, Lord Stevens who oversaw the British inquest stated, “This case is substantially more complicated than once thought.”

Rumors ran rampant. There were stories of Paparazzi intentionally overtaking the Mercedes and cutting it off into the column. There’s an unresolved issue of a notorious white Fiat that’s never been found. The Royal Family were accused of masterminding Diana’s murder because she’d been impregnated by a Muslim foreigner. Even the British SAS and MI6 were implicated. And most accusatory was Dodi’s father, Egyptian billionaire Mohammed al-Fayed.

But where was proof the Peoples’ Princess was really a homicide victim? Well, two decades later it turns out that the homicide declaration was right all along. And the evidence—the undisputed truth that Princess Diana really was a homicide victim—is absolutely clear.

Facts Surrounding Diana’s Car Crash

Although Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed were officially an item, they’d only been seeing each other just over a month. That’s hardly enough time to get engaged let alone planning a pregnancy. Diana was far too smart than getting accidentally knocked-up never mind rashly getting married. Both of those stories are blatantly false.

They rendezvoused on Mohammed al-Fayed’s yacht before arriving by private jet into Paris on August 31, 1997. Then dined at a popular restaurant before dropping by the Ritz Hotel where the Paparazzi laid in wait. Diana and Dodi had a nightcap. Rees-Jones was nearby. Henri Paul made a plan to bring the staff Mercedes around to the rear door where the celebrity couple could quietly slip out. Then, Paul would chauffeur the group to a private apartment that Mohammed al-Fayed kept in the heart of Paris.

The plan almost worked. Unfortunately, the Paparazzi were crafty. They set several sentries out back. Diana and her entourage were spotted as they sped away. The time was approximately 12:20 am Paris time. Three minutes later, at 12:23, the Mercedes entered the Alma tunnel. Henri lost control and the Mercedes swerved to the left or driver’s side. It hit a concrete column support with such force the engine was shattered and the radiator shoved through to the front seat.

 

The Mercedes rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise and rocketed backward into the right tunnel wall. It came to rest but was so severely damaged that emergency responders had to cut off the roof in order to extract the crash victims. It was 20 minutes before Diana was freed.

By this time, the Paparazzi were present in full force. Some were arrested. Some had their cameras confiscated after taking gruesome victim death photos. The scene was nearly impossible to control, especially as word spread about who the famous victims were.

Emergency personnel reported that Princess Diana was semi-conscious when they arrived. She softly cried “Oh my God”—repeatedly—and said, “Leave me alone.” By the time Diana was pulled from the wreckage, she’d gone unconscious. Then she suffered acute cardiac arrest when laid on a stretcher. Her heart was restarted by manual resuscitation however her blood pressure severely dropped on route to the hospital.

Diana arrived at the emergency department approximately 2:06 am. That was an hour and a half after impact. She was still breathing and displayed a weak pulse. X-rays immediately determined she had massive internal bleeding. A thoracic surgeon incised her interior to drain the blood then found her heart’s left ventricle was lacerated. While suturing this main blood vessel, Diana went into full cardiac arrest. Extensive resuscitation efforts by the trauma team failed to revive her.

Diana—the Peoples’ Princess—was declared dead at 4:00 am.

The bodies of Henri Paul and Dodi al-Fayed were taken to the city morgue. It was a separate building adjacent to Diana’s emergency ward. Because of the massive crowd now assembling outside the hospital, the Paris coroner felt disrespectful removing Diana’s body past the crowd. He conducted an external examination in a private hospital room but didn’t order a full autopsy. The medical cause of Diana’s death was abundantly clear.

This left the problem of keeping Diana’s now-decomposing body in a warm room. The ER had no cooler. Pursuant to French law, the coroner legally authorized Diana’s embalming to retard decomposition while transportation arrangements were made to take her body to England. This was the right thing to do but led to fuel conspiracy theories, some which abound today.

Full autopsies were conducted on Dodi al-Fayed and Henri Paul. Both clearly died of internal injuries—both suffering severed aortic arteries which are immediately fatal. They had both been on the driver’s side which absorbed more of the impact. This explains why Diana was not killed instantly and why Rees-Jones walked away. His front airbag deployed but there was none in the back to protect the Princess.

Toxicology Testing on Henri Paul Found Interesting Results.

These are Henri Paul’s official and reliable toxicology results. They were later confirmed to be his through DNA testing to dispell accusations of evidence tampering.

Blood Alcohol Count (BAC) — 174 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood or commonly termed a BAC of 0.174% (This was corroborated by his vitreous humor or eye fluid count being 0.173%, his urine being 0.218% and his stomach BAC being 0.191%.)

The legal BAC limit for impaired driving in France is 0.05% making Henri Paul 3 times over the drunk driving tolerance limit.

Small traces of the anti-anxiety medication fluoxetine were noted but were well within the therapeutic range. So was the medication tiapride. Carboxyhemoglobin and nicotine levels proved Paul was a heavy smoker.

Examination of the Wrecked Mercedes

Although the Mercedes was a total write-off, it was sufficiently sound to inspect. There were no mechanical defects found mechanically contributing to the crash. One tire was punctured but wasn’t a blowout. It happened because of impact. The brakes and steering were sound and the car was only two years old with low mileage.

Thorough testing was done on the seatbelts. All were in perfect operation. It was obvious none of the occupants were wearing their restraints, however, it’s questionable if Paul or al-Fayed would have been saved given the massive force of the left side impact. Overall, there was nothing mechanically wrong with this vehicle that made it veer hard so hard to the left.

So what caused the Mercedes to spin out of control? Did the Paparazzi cut it off? Did the mysterious white Fiat force it into the column? Why did a perfectly good car fail and, by the way, just how fast was the Mercedes traveling?

Totally fraudulent information circulated for years about the Mercedes traveling at 120 mph (190 kph) when it hit the column. Proof of this—they said—was the car’s speedometer sticking at that measurement. That’s rubbish. Total bullshit, like so many myths surrounding Princess Diana’s death. Truth is the Mercedes was doing 65 mph (120 kph), +/- 5 mph, when it hit the column. This was established by a meticulous accident reconstruction conducted by the French police.

Still, this is a significant velocity given the Mercedes’ gross vehicle weight with 4 passengers being over 4,000 lbs (1815 kg). The kinetic energy transfer of this weight multiplied by high speed resulted in Diana’s heart being—literally—smashed inside her chest. It’s surprising Diana lived as long as she did.

The real reason Henri Paul lost control is hidden in the details of the accident reconstruction report. It’s written in technical jargon but clearly understandable. There were no skid marks indicating pre-braking. No out-of-control swerve. One moment the car was going fast and straight. The next it cut sideways.

The Answer is in Tunnel Design and Vehicle Dynamics.

The Alma tunnel has a posted speed of 20 mph (30 kph). That’s for a good reason. The tunnel is low and narrow. It also sharply dips at the entry and is protected by a perpendicular drainage grate to keep the flat area from flooding with water.

The collision reconstruction analyst deduced when Paul declined the entry ramp and struck the bumpy metal grate at 65 mph, the Mercedes reacted by going slightly airborne. This reduced the road surface friction adhered by the tires, effectively causing a dry hydroplane incident. The analyst surmised that Paul, in his impaired state, never braked but misjudged an overcorrection and simply steered the fast-moving Mercedes into the column.

The Operation Paget Report

Many people who followed Princess Diana’s death story don’t know about Operation Paget and its incredibly detailed 871-page report. Operation Paget was a London Metropolitan Police special task force detailed to investigate conspiracy and murder allegations involving the Princess’ tragic end. They also addressed cover-ups. You can download it here.

The British inquest overseen by Lord Stevens relied heavily on the brilliant work uncovered in Project Paget. The police went to amazing lengths dealing with every listed allegation. They fairly answered with truth. They dispelled insinuations of government plots and sinister cover ups.

They established a fact—there were no credible eyewitnesses to the crash and pursuing Paparazzi were nowhere in sight when the impact occurred. They even dealt with the white Fiat nonsense by pointing out white paint on the Mercedes door was probably from a previous parking lot incident.

As much as everyone wants to blame the Paparazzi for killing Princess Diana—well, that’s just plain wrong. Certainly, Paparazzi presence was a contributing factor as Paul was no doubt driving this speed to evade them. One can’t blame the Spencer family and Diana’s two sons, Princes William and Harry, holding the Paparazzi responsible for essentially murdering their beloved Diana. That’s a natural emotional response. But the Paparazzi, as individuals or as a group, are innocent.

The truth is Diana, the Princess of Wales, was no accident victim. Her death was clearly a homicide. Let me explain.

On April 7, 2008 Lord Stevens’ inquest returned a verdict. They ruled Princess Diana was the “victim of an unlawful killing by the grossly negligent chauffeur, Henri Paul, who’s driving ability and judgment were severely impaired by alcohol”. The secondary contributor to Diana’s death was her failure to buckle up. Not the Paparazzi.

The jury made no mention of Diana’s death being an accident. That’s because they couldn’t rule it an accident. Death classifications are universal throughout the civilized world. Coroners and their juries have only five classifications to choose from: Natural, Accidental, Suicide, Homicide and Undetermined.

You can immediately rule out Princess Diana’s death as natural, suicide, and undetermined. The cause and means of Diana’s death are clear. She died because of internal bleeding and hypovolemic shock resulting from injuries received in her car crash. That’s clear. What’s not clear to most people is why this can’t be classified as an accidental death. It’s because of the legal definition of homicide.

Homicide means a person dies because of direct actions by another person. A homicide classification doesn’t necessarily mean a culpable or intentional killing of one person by another. It includes lesser degrees of acts like manslaughter and criminal negligence that cause death. Homicide also includes deaths that result from any form of a criminal act including impaired driving. Henri Paul was criminally drunk and grossly negligent. He directly caused Princess Diana’s death.

That makes the Peoples’ Princess a homicide victim.

Thirteen Strange Superstitions About Death

Death is an uncomfortable subject for many folks. Perhaps it’s the severe emotional reaction people have to death—especially if it’s someone close—that makes the living act in bizarre ways. Or maybe it’s because death’s process is not well understood that causes normally rational individuals to believe in irrational concepts.

Yesterday, I was looking over notes from my coroner understudy period. (For those who don’t know of me, I was a coroner in a former life.) One segment in the training was understanding various cultural practices and traditions about death. This was valuable information because a difficult part of a coroner’s job is interacting with the deceased’s family, and those relatives can come from a diverse ethnicity with some pretty peculiar beliefs.

I thought I’d share thirteen strange superstitions about death that I’ve heard of over the years.

13. Coins on the Eyes

This weird practice dates to the ancient Greeks who believed the dead would travel down to Hades and need to cross the river Styx in order to arrive in the afterlife. To cross over, they needed to pay the boat driver, Charon, so coins were placed over the eyes of the dead so they’d be able to buck-up upon arrival.

Secondly, and more practically, many people die with their eyes open. This can be a creepy feeling, having the dead stare at you, and it was thought the dead might be eyeing someone to go with them. Coins were a practical item to weigh down the eyelids until rigor mortis set in—coins being round and fit in the eye sockets as well as being relatively heavy.

The most famous set of eye coins is the two, silver half-dollars set on Abraham Lincoln, now on display in the Chicago Historical Museum.

12. Birds and Death

Birds, understandably, were long held to be messengers to the afterlife because of their ability to soar through the air to the homes of the gods. It’s not surprising that many myths materialized such as hearing an owl hoot your name, ravens and crows circling your house, striking your window, entering your house, or sitting on your sill looking in.

Birds, in general, became harbingers of death but, somehow, the only birds I personally associate with death are vultures.

11. Burying the Dead Facing East

You probably never noticed, but most cemeteries are laid out on an east-west grid with the headstones on the west and the feet pointing east. This comes from the belief that the dead should be able to see the new world rising in the east, as with the sun.

It’s also the primary reason that people are buried on their backs and not bundled in the fetal position like before they were born.

10. Remove a Corpse Feet First

This was a Body Removal 101 procedure we learned in coroner school. We always removed a body from a house with the feet first. The practice dates from Victorian times when it was thought if the corpse went out headfirst, it’d be able to “look back” and beckon those standing behind to follow.

It’s still considered a sign of respect, but coroners secretly know it’s way easier to handle a body in rigor stage by taking it outside feet first and bending it at the knees to get around corners, rather than forcing the large muscles at the waist or wrenching the neck.

9. Cover the Mirrors

It’s been held that all mirrors within the vicinity of a dead body must be covered to prevent the soul from being reflected back during its attempt to pass out of the body and on to the afterlife.

This practice is strong in Jewish mourning tradition and may have a practical purpose—to prevent vanity in the mourners so they can’t reflect their own appearance, rather forcing them to focus on remembering and respecting the departed.

8. Stop the Clock

Apparently, this was a sign that time was over for the dead and that the clock must not be restarted until the deceased was buried. If it were the head of the household who died, then that clock would never be started again

It makes me think of the song:

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more

It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
And was always his treasure and pride
But it stopped, short, never to go again
When the old man died

7. Flowers on the Grave

Another odd belief is about flowers growing on a grave. If wildflowers appeared naturally, it was a sign the deceased had been good and had gone on to heaven. Conversely, a barren and dusty grave was a sign of evil and Hades. The custom evolved to putting artificial flowers on the grave although it’s now discouraged by most cemeteries due to maintenance issues.

Additionally, it’s always been a practice to put wreaths of flowers on a casket. This seems to have come from another practical reason—the smell from scented flowers helped mask the odor of decomposition.

6. Pregnant Women Must Avoid Funerals

Ever heard of this? I hadn’t until I researched this article.

It seems to have come from a perceived risk where pregnant women might be overcome by emotion during the funeral ceremony and miscarry.

IMO, that’s pushing it.

5. Celebrities Die in Threes

And have you heard Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson died one-after-the-other, three days in a row? It’s an urban myth that this regularly occurs with celebrities, and it’s the celebrity curse.

To debunk this, the New York Times went back twenty-five years in their archives. Apparently, this is the only time three well-known celebrities died in a progressive three-day group.

4. Hold Your Breath

Another terribly impractical superstition is that you must hold your breath while passing a graveyard to prevent drawing in a restless spirit that’s trying to re-enter the physical world.

That might be a problem if you’re passing Wadi-us-Salaam in Najaf, Iraq. It’s the world’s largest cemetery at 1,485.5 acres and holds over five million bodies.

3. And the Thunder Rolls

Nope, not the Garth Brooks song. It’s thought that hearing thunder during a funeral service is a sign of the departed’s soul being accepted into heaven.

Where I grew up, thunder was thought to be associated with lightning and being struck by lightning was always a sign of bad luck, possibly even death.

2. Funeral Processions

There’re lots of superstitious beliefs around funeral processions.

First, some consider it very bad fortune to transport a body in your own vehicle. And approaching a funeral procession without pulling over to the side and stopping is not only bad taste, it’s illegal in some jurisdictions. It’s said if a procession stops along the way, another person will soon die and the corpse must never pass over the same section of road twice. Counting cars in a procession is dangerous because it’s like counting the days till your own death. You must never see your reflection in a hearse window as that marks you as a goner. Bringing a baby to a funeral ensures it will die before it turns one. And a black cat crossing before a procession dooms the entire parade.

One thing I know to be true about a funeral procession is what happens when you leave the back door of the hearse unlatched while quickly accelerating uphill.

1. Leaving a Grave Open Overnight

I don’t know if this is a superstition or not, but I see it as good, practical advice. According to the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association, the standard grave size is 2 ½ feet wide by 8 feet long by 6 feet deep.

With a hole that big looming in the dark, cutting through the graveyard on the way home after getting a snoot-full at the bar, you could fall in and kill yourself.

What about you Kill Zoners? Have you heard any of these strange death superstitions? And do you have any additional ones to offer?

Nicknames

Handles, monikers, labels, tags, aliases, call signs, short-fors, or sobriquets—no matter what you call nicknames, there’s no doubting the popularity of people renaming people. Probably no culture ever existed that didn’t apply nicknames to friends and to foes. Certainly, that’s the case in today’s western world.

In books, we have unforgettable character nicknames like Tiny Tim and Scout. In movies, there’s Sundance Kid and the Karate Kid. In sports, there’s The Great One, The GOAT, and The Intimidator. And in politics—well, it’s full of nicknames—The Gipper, The Iron Lady, Slick Willie, Dubya, and on and on…

I grew up in a small town. Pretty much every youth had a nickname. Some of the boys were Girch, Squid, Roach, Sally (because he, for all-the-world, looked like a salamander), Charlie Tuna, and Smerchook. The girls? I remember Casey, Jimmy, Butchie, and one with the rather unflattering nickname of Skinhound.

The police world was another nickfest. I worked with Deano, Jake, Bootsie, Squigmeyer (also shortened to Squiggy), Rosco, Basil, The Wheel, Fast Eddie, Peacher, Speedy, and Percy. Those were male officers. Females were Oscar (nicknamed after a spectacular performance), Ike, Chiclets, Blow (real name Brenda Jobins), and my long-time detective partner Harry. Harry was a large lady, with large hair, and an even larger personality. She was nicknamed “Harry” after the Sasquatch/Bigfoot in the movie Harry and the Hendersons.

As a young cop in Canada’s national police force, the RCMP, I was posted from the academy to an isolated First Nations reserve. I swear they all had nicknames as well as their unpronounceable (to me) Indian or indigenous names. Weedy, Torchy, Lucky, Jam, Ritzie, Pat Squash, Hattie, and The Old Trout. I loved my time with these wonderful folks.

Back to policing. For fourteen years, I served on the Emergency Response Team (ERT or SWAT) that was overtop of regular policing duties. Every ERT member had a nickname, more for functionality than fun. These were call signs, much like the fighter pilot fraternity has. Call signs are fast and efficient ways to remember a name and communicate clearly in the heat of the moment. Call signs are unique and unforgettable. There is no mistaking who’s calling who.

Our ERT call signs were Mother, Sonny, Jimbo, Tubbs, Bude, Deet, Cro, and our leader—Boss Hogg. Me? My call sign was Alfred. I got it from that chameleon-like character on every cover of Mad Magazine—Alfred E. Neuman. (There’s a story behind this.) And Cro, by the way, looked like Cro-Magnon Man. Cro’s brow protruded so far and his nose was so flat that he couldn’t wear sunglasses.

Call signs are earned, usually from some outstanding event. They’re peer-given and not chosen by the bearer. You never give yourself a call sign. If you do, it’ll be replaced with one you really don’t like.

A month or so ago, I wrote a Kill Zone post titled Topping Top Gun Maverick. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll remember the call signs. Maverik, for Tom Cruise which carried over from the first Top Gun released in 1984. Goose, who was Maverick’s navigator and was killed in an aerial bailout. Rooster, who is Goose’s son and now Maverick’s protégé. Iceman, played by Val Kilmer. Hammer, who is trying to fire Maverick. Cyclone, who is also trying to fire Maverick. Warlock, who keeps emotions in line. And the rest of the cast—Hangman, Phoenix, Bob, Coyote, and Fan Boy.

I went down a rabbit hole and found these real fighter pilot call signs. In alphabetical order, here are the real deals and where the call signs come from:

Agony — Last name Payne

ALF — Annoying Little F**k

Alphabet — Pilot’s real name was Varsonofy Krestodovdvizhensky

Apollo — Last name Creed

Bambi — Pilot hit a pregnant deer on the runway with his nosegear in takeoff

Beagle — Pilot kept bouncing around on training landings

Berlin — Pilot turned wrong way on taxi strip and ran into a wall

Blaze — Caught himself on fire in the mess kitchen

Burbank — Pilot self-named as Hollywood and was peer-renamed

Caveman — Incredible tolerance to cold weather in survival training

Coma — Very slow talking pilot with Southern drawl

Captain — Pilot’s real name was James Kirk

Chocks — F-16 driver who began taxying before wheel chocks were removed

COOTS — Constantly Over-emphasizes Own Tactical Significance

Cypher — Broke through radio silence on a training flight, alerting the enemy

Dice — Pilot who took unnecessary chances

Dingle — Last name Berry

Duck — Pilot who took awhile learning evasive maneuvering (Sitting Duck)

Elvis — Hard to find guy, many reported sightings, but nothing concrete

Exxon — Pilot hurried through preflight checklist and missed his refueling

Fan Song — Pilot with big ears like a Fan Song fire-tracking radar antenna

Flowmax — Could never make it through a flight without using urinary relief tube

Gear Down — Forgot something on landing

Ghost — Last name Casper

Glory — Last name Hole

Gucci — Pilot who got 9-G drunk and vomited in a woman’s Gucci purse

Grumpy — Short pilot who was not a morning person

Hannibal — As in Lecter, and his smell of cauterized human flesh

Hurricane — Female F-18 Super Hornet driver named Katrina

Headless — Last name Horstman

Hyde — Pilot had split personality; most liked his Hyde side better than Jeckyl

Hi-Ho — Last name Silva

Inch — Dutch pilot measuring 5’ 4” tall

Intake — Pilot had the largest nose anyone in the squadron had ever seen

IRIS — “I Require Intense Supervision”

Jugs — First female Top Gun pilot graduating from Miramar

Kanga — Last name Rew

Krod — (Spell it backwards)

Krunch — Landing gear sound when hitting hard and short of runway

Legend — Trainee who failed an exam no one had ever failed

Lick — Last name MaWhinney

Link — Soviet-born pilot with mono brow, flat forehead, large knuckles

Me-So — Last name Horn

Marx — Pilot’s first name was Karl, and he hated communists

Magellan — Pilot had a poor sense of direction, not in line with any compass

NAG — First female Marine Corps F/A 18 WSO (Not A Guy)

NotSo — Last name Bright

Omelet — Dutch pilot call-signed “Uitsmijter” – English translation “Grilled Egg”

OhMy — Last name Gaud

PE — Pilot accidently Prematurely Ejected while on the runway

Pyro — Pilot accidently discharged evasive flares and set airfield on fire

Plan B — Pilot perpetually unlucky with the bar ladies

PopTop — Pilot who accidently jettisoned not one, but two canopies

Razor — Pilot who made the sharpest turns and maneuvers ever seen

Rebound — Pilot in so many relationships with the same woman

ROTOR — Ran Off The Only Runway

Rushmore — Pilot fined for climbing Mt. Rushmore and selfying on Lincoln’s beard

SLAW — Shops Like A Woman

Salad — First name Cesar

Salesman — Pilot who had a hard time closing deals with women

SALSA — Student Aviator Lacking Situational Awareness

T-Bone — Pilot who dropped a practice bomb straight through a cow

TBAR — That Boy Ain’t Right

Teflon — Pilot with smooth moves in the air and on the ground

Tumble Weed — Tall, vegan pilot called “Weed” who fainted and went down hard

Vapor — An F-16 Viper driver who landed with less than 10 pounds of fuel left

Vodka — Last name Smirnoff

WiFi — Pilot whose Wife Financed his new Porsche

Werewolf — Hairy pilot always grounded during full moon exercises, no exceptions

Yoda — A short Irish pilot who spoke his words backwards

Zulu — Trainee who always got time calcs wrong in flight school

Zen — A real F-15 Eagle driver more accurate without his computer gunsight system

———

Kill Zoners — Nicknames? Do you use them in characterization? How important are nicknames in a story? And do you have a personal nickname you’d like to share?