by Jeri Bronson
Disclaimer: Some topics discussed may be a trigger for people. I do try to be as sensitive as possible, but proceed with caution.
I'm married to a coroner, which means that I have some conversations many other spouses simply don't have. Now that I'm a writer, our marriage is a conversational gold mine.
One day I came home from work and as I headed to the laundry room my husband called out to me, "don't open the washer". Of course any wife would be curious as to the mess their husband had gotten into, but I know better. When you're married to a coroner and he tells you not to look, you don't.
Quick background on the nature of the job:
Coroner job duties vary from county to county and state to state. Some have medical examiners, some only have transport people and if it's a really small town, the police handle investigations. My husband investigates mode, manner and causes of death. Determining if a death is a homicide, suicide or natural and whether or not detectives should be called in is his first step.
The coroner controls the scene. All police, fire, detectives etc. have to listen to him before anything else can be done. He does NOT pick up the body. It really irks him when people assume that's all his job entails or ask if he's like CSI. You will get another big eye roll when that happens.
My husband has been on the news more times than I can count, investigating cases from a serial killer to a bombing, but let's talk about the How, Why and What of being a coroner.
How does someone do this job?
You have to be able to see things from all possible angles. You definitely have to be able to see what's not even there sometimes. You also have to have a level of medical detachment.
My guy was a paramedic prior, so he knows how to read people. This doesn't mean he’s cold or detached—quite the opposite. Even though someone has passed, the coroner is still serving them by being caring, compassionate and respectful. Using all these skills could be the key to solving the ultimate puzzle like a murder.
Why would anyone want to do this?
The coroner gives people closure by answering questions they could spend a lifetime wondering about. Although a coroner encounters people in the worst possible situations, in the end those people are grateful. A coroner can help them in a way no other person can.
Example: my husband once solved a decade-old cold case with just a jaw bone that was found in the riverbed. He scanned the missing person's database when things were slow in the office, looking at this jawbone. Sure enough his "vision," as I call it, saw this lady even though the picture was transposed. He still knew it was her. Crazy right?
In many ways, that’s what a writer does, right? We take the bones of an idea and flesh them out into a character.
I guess I'm here to answer the What, because it's what I've learned from the most. Marriage to a coroner has taught me to see things from every angle, when I used to be a linear thinker.
As a writer I've learned that no matter what I think is a unique scene, reality is stranger than fiction. There are many variables to consider when you are committing dastardly deeds.
You have to consider a person's purpose, their mental state and even the weather in some cases. Also, don’t forget—location, location, location when considering all the factors of your scene. Time is the enemy in working a case. Toxicology takes 3 to 6 months to come back, but they have a new Rapid DNA system that can provide answers in 3 days. Hopefully other tests will get faster as well.
One big thing I've learned is you have to think outside of the box to do this job. I think its best if I illustrate by example.
Years ago, my husband had to do a death notification for a family member in Japan. The Sheriff's Department didn't have a translator but my ‘outside the box’ thinking husband called over to Disneyland, which is nearby. I'm sure you're asking how can talking to Disneyland help in a death notification. Turns out Disneyland has a direct line to Japan and they have translators on hand at all times, so they were nice enough to translate for him. I'm sure it was an experience that translator won't forget.
Honestly, I could go on forever. Perhaps I will do another post. But here is a glimpse into some of the things I've heard over the years.
My husband has always worked nights, so we have to conduct a lot of communication over the phone. Keep in mind, this daily life is just routine to him. (I still hope the NSA never listens in to our conversations!)
- I hate Summer. It's decomp (decomposition) season.
- I don't know why the lifeguards didn't want to keep those life preservers. They still work. A little bleach and its all good. (We had 2 of them that have since be re-homed.)
- I got to play with the arson dog tonight.
- The FBI does not have a sense of humor when you give them a name suggestion for a serial killer.
- I called Interpol tonight.
- Do not open the washer!
- Don't touch my uniforms in the red bio hazard bag on the laundry room floor. (They were covered in poison ivy)
- I'm going to be late picking up the kids from daycare. Transport can't find a hand. I have to go back and help.
- I’m going to work early. I have to stop and get blood from the hospital by the house.
- I hung out with NCIS agents tonight, and almost got sprayed by skunks.
My life is like the TV show, Castle, except more graphic. I guarantee not many people have the conversations I have on a daily basis.
I hope this has given some of you some new book ideas or helped to answer questions. Thanks to the ladies of Writers in the Storm for having me here today. It was an honor.
Do you have any simple questions for Jeri? She can't go into great detail here, but can answer quick ones. She'll ask her husband, if she doesn't know!
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Jeri Bronson lives with her husband of thirty years in Southern California. They have two children, a grown daughter who just graduated college and a son in his last year of high school. Ten years as a Human Resources manager has given her a greater understanding of people. Ten years as a substitute high school teacher, has given her the dialogue and perspective for her Young Adult novels. She is currently working on a Romantic Suspense trilogy (because she has the perfect resource). In her spare time Jeri is a tennis fanatic sometimes watching matches when she should be writing... but hot guys on a tennis court, well, let’s just call it inspiration.
You can find Jeri's debut YA Contemporary Novel, Seeking Perfect on: