Then, last Thursday, her seventy-year-old husband's mug shot was splashed across the front page of the local newspaper. He'd been arrested for murder! The police had re-opened a cold case and, using new DNA evidence, had linked him to the gruesome 2004 killing of a woman alleged to be his mistress. A deacon in his church and pillar of the community, he was -- as the cliche goes -- the last person anyone would suspect. The paper reported that he (and presumably his wife) knew for at least a year that he was a suspect in the case. Can you imagine being contacted by a kids' mystery author for research when you're busily trying to keep quiet that your husband is a murder suspect? (Even more bizarrely, the murder took place in the exact same setting I was going to use as a backdrop to my mystery.)
While there are a number of prompts this scenario could spark, in general it got me thinking about unassuming people I cross paths with in daily life. Who else could be a murderer who thought he was in the clear now?
Think of people you have contact with in your daily life: your mail carrier, pizza delivery person, cashier at the supermarket, a barista at a local cafe, a customer service rep at your cell phone company. Now imagine one of them committed a murder several years ago. Why? How? How did they get away with it? What is their life like now?
Now set a timer and write about this character for at least fifteen minutes -- then see what ideas you've generated. Could you build it into a full mystery plot?
(For teachers adapting this prompt to class, it's easy enough to swap "murder" with the more general word "crime," and ask them to consider people more relevant in their daily life: teachers, coaches, school administrators, extracurricular activity directors)
Happy writing, and be careful what you research: it just might come true...