• Jessica Sherry

Petty Crime Ideas for Mystery Writers

There’s no better resource for learning about your town and providing inspiration for your writing than your local newspaper. It’s FULL of lessons for mystery writers.


Here’s a few lessons for mystery writers that I’ve learned so far: 


  • Nothing is too small, gross, lame, or ridiculous for a criminal to steal. A quick perusal of the newspaper’s weekly police blotter proves that thieves will steal ANYTHING. Here’s a short list of stolen items from the last few months: loose change, Invisalign braces, toilet, bucket, a laundry wash tub, a porcelain dragon head, a parking sign, pill bottles, a floating dock, water bottle, potato salad, a Jeep Patriot owner’s manual, a pedicab, and (my favorite) 3 Rhode Island Red Hens.

  • Thieves enjoy unlocked cars, Wal-Mart, and long walks through construction sites. Reading crime news on a regular basis, you begin to see patterns. Based on my local police blotter (only a partial representation of the crime in this area), 33 crimes were thefts from cars (this does not include stealing the cars themselves). Often, whole neighborhoods are targeted in one night. Wal-Mart’s another popular target – and not just in frequency but quantity. In March, a single offender shoplifted Tide detergent pods, 10 towels, paper towels, toilet paper, and a comforter from Wal-Mart. Long shoplifting lists like this are common, as if thieves fill up carts and simply walk out with them. I don’t know – maybe they do. Tools and equipment are also big-ticket criminal items. Just because something’s big and heavy doesn’t mean it won’t get pinched – hot water heaters, AC units, and appliances are all up for grabs. In crime, anything goes! 

  • Sometimes we law-abiding citizens make a bad situation worse. Check out this story of over 70 reported auto burglaries in Wilmington. While thieves are always nabbing computers, phones, money, etc. from cars, they’re also stocking up on guns. In this rash of thievery, 31 guns were stolen.

  • Gotta love the dumb ones. While all crime is bad and nothing to make light of, sometimes the criminals make it impossible not to laugh. Like the guy who evaded the police by running into the ocean only to be chased back to shore by a shark. In this particularly fun apprehension in Surf City, the police used a drone to keep track of the guy. Fun times! Like the guy in Wrightsville Beach who got busted for throwing bottles at people from his third floor condo, got bond, and then got arrested again 12 hours later for a second DWI charge. Some people just don’t learn. And that’s just two examples of recent criminal masterminds near me. I’m sure your town has its own set of dumb offenders. 

  • Real crime makes for awesome writing prompts. A couple stole $600 of Red Bull from two different stores (Wal-Mart was one of them). Why so much Red Bull? Why? Could they really like Red Bull that much? Or are there other possibilities? Sudafed is used to make drugs. Could Red Bull be used in that capacity too? Could the Red Bull be used for a caffeine-fueled time machine? Or (as my sweet daughter suggested) could this couple think that enough Red Bull would actually give them wings, like the commercial says? Maybe. What’s certain is that there are many story ideas that can come from one crime. Shoplifted from a Food Lion: a can opener, a green hand light, 2 Cokes, steel wool, pliers, a toothbrush, a set of wooden skewers, cat food and cat treats. What kind of crazy shopping list is this? Makes me wonder about the safety of those cats. Is this criminal a survivalist gone outlaw? Campers who forgot some essentials? Something worse? Again, ideas are sparking. 

Bank robberies, art thefts, and, murders make for exciting stories, but how everyday criminals think (or don’t think) could prove just as useful. For every crime, there’s a story. Inspiration waits around every corner, so if you’re looking for new ideas for your fiction, check out your local paper, and of course, hang out with me on my blog. So glad you're here! 


What have you learned about crime in your town that you can use in your fiction?


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