True Crime Analysis, Breakthroughs, Insights & Discussions Hosted by Bestselling Author Nick van der Leek

Category: Toolbox

True Crime’s Three-Pronged Pitchfork

In the courtroom, there are really two “prongs” on which to secure a conviction, or argue against one. The first is forensic evidence [direct DNA evidence, fingerprints etc]. The second is circumstantial evidence [indirect evidence, witness testimonies, alibis or lack of]. Sometimes one prong is emphasized over the other. Other times they’re used to complement a particular argument.

Examples of cases where circumstantial evidence was more important include the murder of Laci Peterson and triple axe murderer Henri van Breda. In the Peterson case there was virtually no trace of Laci other than a single hair in a needle-nose pliers in Peterson’s boat, and cadaver odors.

In the Van Breda case there was an Armageddon-like crime scene overflowing with blood. In the latter case there was so much blood and DNA it was slippery to sort out and somewhat confusing. The main thrust of the defense case in the Van Breda trial focused on nitpicking DNA samples that were inconclusive.The Judge in the Van Breda case said if all the DNA evidence was excluded [from the prosecution side and the defense side] the circumstantial evidence remaining was still compelling, and overwhelming.


Examples of cases where DNA evidence was more important [and arguably too important] include the Amanda Knox case, OJ Simpson and Madeleine McCann. If DNA can be used to convict, any uncertainty around its scientific veracity means it can also become the fulcrum around which a defense can secure an acquittal.

Examples of cases where DNA evidence was used to argue a case but shouldn’t have include the JonBenet Ramsey case and arguably the Madeleine McCann case. In both these cases circumstantial evidence ought to have been sufficient.

Where a crime scene is severely contaminated or compromised, reasonable doubt exists surrounding forensic samples that are typically not quite good enough to qualify as sufficient. The law requires forensic samples to be 100% accurate, and the protocols in collecting them to be professional and beyond reproach.


The third dimension to the true crime pitchfork is psychology, or in the parlance of the genre, “motive”. Unfortunately, modern criminal law no longer puts much value in motive, just intention [or Dolus]. As a result, more than a few trials conclude with the court unable to explain why the crime even took place [Chris Watts, Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox, Oscar Pistorius, Henri van Breda etc.].

The courts say knowing why doesn’t matter, just that knowing when, what, where and how is sufficient. It may be sufficient for the law, but it’s not adequate for human beings.


Some in true crime are the dwarf, some are the elf – which are you?

There’s a scene in Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring, where Gimli guides a pair of Hobbits through an enchanted forest. He tells them he’s one dwarf that won’t be ensnared so easily because “I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of fox.”

It’s at this point that he almost walks into an arrow pointed at his face by an elf.

In true crime we deal constantly with tricks, deceptions, deceits and dead-ends. Because it’s literally about life and death for the criminals involved, the stakes in placing “an enchantment” over those watching from the sidelines couldn’t be higher. The question is, how good is our discernment, our perception, at seeing the wood for the trees in criminal cases, and vice versa?

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To be an “elf” in the true crime sense, we need to be able to see both perspectives, the wood and the trees, and how they form one another. It can be difficult to see the wood when surrounded by trees, but equally, it can be difficult to see inside the wood when you’re far on the outside, and especially when a suspect is doing his damnedest to distort the scene in smoke and mirrors.

But a good true crime elf can see through the smoke, and can navigate both the minuatiae and the big picture elements of a crime. Which are you? The elf or the dwarf?

“Why are your books only available on Kindle – and how do I get one? Can I read your books if I don’t have a Kindle?” [Yes you can!]

Fast. That’s the short answer to why virtually all the True Crime Rocket Science books are available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. They’re researched and written quickly, they’re published quickly, and readers often devour them overnight, or within a few days.

Note: Scroll to the end of this article for instructions on how to download the Kindle App, and what Kindle Unlimited involves.

Generally speaking, Kindle books are cheaper, more portable than books, and more convenient than books. It’s the equivalent of having songs inside a digital device, or scattered in a CD or vinyl library. Imagine flying with a Kindle, or a Kindle enabled device, compared to lugging a library with you!

Although some readers maintain that they were so gripped by a particular Rocket Science narrative they read it “in one sitting”, that’s not how they’re meant to be read. Each narrative is peppered with hundreds of links – links to videos, links to photos, links to reinforcing research material, links to news stories, links to an archive of maps, graphs, drawings and diagrams all specifically created to add another layer of meaning to a particular story.

Some readers race through the books to get an overview of the latest insights, and then read it through a second time, slowly, meticulously going through the labyrinth of interactive possibilities that’s only possible through the digital platform.

Just How Fast Are We Talking About?

A book of around 30 000 words [equivalent to about 30 above-average-length magazine articles] takes around ten days to research, write, edit and publish, with by far the bulk of those ten days spent writing.

This involves dawn to dusk work, and usually during the end push, dusk till dawn all-nighters until the product is done and its name is in lights under the Amazon banner.

Most books take longer though, between two and three weeks, and can vary from 30 000 words to over 200 000. A good example of two monster narratives that are closer to the 200 000 mark are SLAUGHTER [522 pages] and sequin star [820 pages]. As you can see, both books are also three times the price of their more compact counterparts, but still less pricey than a paperback would be.

In the same way they take longer to write, they take longer to read. Often, when I’m busy with a long book, readers will contact me to ask what’s taking so long before the next book comes out.

Sometimes a book that takes three weeks to write and edit is read within a day or two by the most ardent true crime addicts. And then they want more. So it makes sense to write shorter books as a part of an ongoing series. More on that in a moment.


What Are The Benefits of Fast Writing to the Reader?

The secret of good writing, every great writer will tell you, is to write fast. Writers and painters try to be discreet about this because of the stigma that something that is done quickly is rushed, not properly conceived and thus inferior.

But how fast is fast?

Stephen King reckons a first draft should take no longer than three months. In other words, three months at most. King is also referring to a 180 000 word fiction story, which is roughly three-times the average length of a Rocket Science book. King also has a wife and family, and is part of the old guard of authors still writing books for print publishers.

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In many ways, non-fiction is easier to write than fiction because one is bounded by reality. But whether writing fiction or non, what matters – and what makes the difference between great craft and crap – is how inspired the writer is.


Vincent van Gogh executed his artworks within hours, and as a result, painters like Paul Gauguin turned their noses up at him. Today Van Gogh’s work is counted as the most valuable art in the world. It’s not about speed, see, it’s about passion. It’s about inspiration. Show me a writer or artist who spends years on end working [slaving] on their magnum opus, and I’ll show you a piece of crap at the end of that road.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a topical example of how modern technology, computers and inspired minds can churn out an excellent series of interrelated narratives, all of which are coherent, entertaining and tie-in to one another.

Marvel’s first film, Ironman, was released in 2008. In ten years Marvel have produced twenty feature films at an average rate of two films a year. Are Marvel’s films rushed, inferior or lacking in any way?

The DC Extended Universe on the other hand has been slower, more cautious and arguably, fraught with flaws and failures. It’s been so bad, Josh Whedon, the Marvel director, was brought in to “save” Batman vs Superman. DC has made just five films since 2011, less than one a year over seven years or less than half the output of Marvel. Some might say the DC films were also half as good.

Fast writing reads better, but it also allows both the writer and reader to be caught up in the magic and power of the story.

How does a series work?

True crime happens fast. The Chris Watts case is a good example. Bringing a book [and supporting blogs] out in real time is just far more potent, compelling and allows for a consistent narrative than the traditional way – when a book appears six months to year after the verdict, or when a television channel provides coverage…until they don’t.

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Most of my series work chronologically through the entire true crime narrative. For example, the Hopespring Chronicles [Casey Anthony] and the Amber Alert trilogy [on the Scott Peterson case] begin just prior to the crime and then circle outward, not only following the aftermath of the crime, but studying the events leading up to it in ever greater detail.

In the Hopespring series, the first book deals exclusively and meticulously with the 31 days when Caylee Disappeared. That’s its entire focus. The next book in the series deals with the first month of the five month search. No other narratives deal with these cases in such lazer-focused detail, and as a result, a smorgasbord of new insights are invariably brought to light.

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The JonBenet Ramsey series is similar, but not quite the same. Although The Craven Silence series deals with the evidence chronologically, the narrative is coming from a place where it’s trying to figure out the case as it goes along. In a real sense then each successive trilogy is chronological yes, but also built on the revelations and theories of the previous series. This is why it’s recommended the reader reads a series in chronological order. The books build towards a denouement, but also develop a finely-tuned hypothesis along the way. To buy the final book in the series misses the point of the true crime journey, and how one navigates it. The final book will also be somewhat jarring if you’re not familiar with the terrain that’s been covered and considered to be “conventional wisdom”.

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But Does Fast Mean Rushed?

Are the books full of errors, riddled with typos etc? The chapters are about as clean and error free as this blog post, and all the others on this site. The writing comes from the discipline of magazine journalism, which is done on spec, to a deadline and with a particular message and goal in mind. That craft translates through all the Rocket Science books and blogs.

Although the narratives are thoroughly spell-checked and edited, and re-edited by an editor at large, small errors do creep in. It would take around another week to two weeks painstaking word-for-word reading to weed out these mistakes.  Occasionally I do review older narratives and republish them as 2nd or 3rd editions. The Neverest series is a good example of this.

Readers are welcome to contact me to alert me to mistakes, which can be immediately corrected and uploaded as a more polished second edition, however I try to make sure each narrative is as clean, clear and error-free as humanly possible.


What if I choose the print version?

Do you really want to wait a few days, and pay for postage, when you could start reading immediately?

True crime lends itself to photos, reports, maps, interviews and news reports. An interactive narrative means you’re able to see – and often hear – what the narrative refers to.

Even so, a few narratives are also available in print, but the reader is strongly advised NOT to buy the print version. The Murder of Vincent van Gogh is an excellent example of this, because the quality and volume of the interactive links provides so much more value and utility than the print version.

With a paper book you’re just not going to get the full, authentic experience because there are no images, no documentaries to click-through to, and no maps showing the crime scene of the ill-fated artist.

We’re living in a time when cutting down a tree to print a book is no longer something we should do in good conscience, especially when there are cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Isn’t your work self-published, and inferior quality?

The truth is, I have gone the route with a “proper” print publisher. The book took almost two years to edit, not because it was littered with errors, but because the publishers have a conveyor belt of other titles to deal with and it moves EXTREMELY slowly. If there are any changes to be made then the conveyor slows down even more. For these pains, the publisher also lops off the majority of money your book is likely to earn. Besides that, the editors don’t really care about your work, and don’t really bother with much besides whether the grammar is basically sound.

The quality is subjective, I think. I’ve been published in many magazines where the work is published virtually word-for-word [a decent magazine journo is expected to deliver his work already edited]. The only difference then is that a story is under the brand of GQ or CAR magazine as opposed to under one’s own brand.

So Where Do I Sign Up to Download the Kindle App?

To read a Kindle book on your phone, computer, iPad or other digital device, you’ll need to download the free app.

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How do I sign up to KindleUnlimited?

Sign up to KindleUnlimited here.

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Where Can I Buy a Kindle Reader?

You can order a Kindle from Amazon at this link.


Any questions on KindleUnlimited or anything else? Post your question in the comments field below.