Sue Grafton

Journal Notes

"L" is for Lawless


I'm thinking 'L' IS FOR LEGACY...which I think is about Kinsey's search to find someone's heir. Perhaps a child who's been adopted out. I'm going to save my correspondence with Frances Spedaliere who wrote to me recently. Her daughter was murdered a year ago and she was hoping Kinsey would work on the case. Something about her description of Michelle's murder is already burbling at the bottom of my psyche. Just want to make a note. I'll tuck her two letters in the "K" file for now.


Just back from Cozumel where I took the following notes, which may or may not pertain to "L."

A woman in her late sixties (and retired from many years working for a local law firm) goes to work for an old man in ill health whose aged attorney retires, sending him a box of legal documents he's been holding in his safe. Among the papers, the companion finds an old will, fully executed, in which a now dead son is listed as one of the heirs. His issue or off-spring inherit equally with other issue of his siblings. The companion learns that a subsequent will omits this man whose lifestyle and disgraceful death so enraged his parents. The companion takes the current will and reproduces it, adding a clause (or omitting something relevant) and forging all the same signatures.

The old man dies in his sleep, helped along by his faithful companion. When the will is read, his sons and daughters are outraged, quickly suspecting that someone has tampered with the will. When the forgery is verified, the will is thrown out. An authorized search of old man's safe deposit box re-veals a previous will which is now taken as gospel. This will is the same in all its particulars except for the inclusion of the 'issue' of the dead son. The new attorney insists that some investigation be made to assure that the dead son had no children. Kinsey is hired to pursue the matter.

After an investigation, she tracks down the kid somewhere in the east. Age? Sex? Probably male and over 21. Criminal history? A psychopath or sociopath. Maybe by some fluke, he inherits everything. Is the faithful companion his mother? No doubt and this is a scam she's pulled before. The original pa & ma are actually dead...or the son is dead & the mother hasn't been heard from for many years.

It's possible Kinsey is hired by Tasha. Lompoc. Wm & Rosie get married before she takes off on her cross-country trip.

Oh wait. Don't think I can make this fly. What about DNA testing? It wouldn't take any time at all to prove that the kid wasn't actually related.

Hmmm. Can I use this to construct the plotline?
What if...
All of the kids are adopted so none of them have the same DNA as the old man.
Then the DNA of the dead adopted son's child wouldn't have to match.

That seems clever. Also, the kid wouldn't have to claim any mem-ories of his dear old dad. And the companion could well send him some token objects the kid can claim his dad gave him.

Tee hee.

Just checked my running charts of story set-ups, victims, killers, and finales to see how it looks. Most of my killers are men so far. My victims are equally divided between men and women. Most of the time money is the motive and Kinsey usually wins, except in the case of 'J' IS FOR JUDGMENT where the killer gets away with it.

How would Kinsey find the kid? It seems like she'd have to find a clear, but not suspiciously clear pathway to pursue. How could the companion set that up in advance. How much time would it take? Does she have confederates?

Did the now dead son and his disgraceful wife actually have a kid?
Is the wife still alive? I think not, for my purposes.
Where's the kid?
If the valid will has been destroyed and the previous will is now considered the last will and testament, wouldn't the undiscovered kid still be entitled to inherit money? There probably has to be quite a bit at stake. What would happen in that instance?

How could the fake grandchild prove his existence?
By the real grandchild's birth certificate, etc.
How could the companion know about the situation?
Maybe the companion worked for one of the parents. She knows about the dead husband, the child's death. Maybe the wife has remarried & the companion worked caring for the wife in her final illness.
The companion has long late-night chats with the woman, soliciting details about the family. Maybe the woman is estranged from her son. Once the woman dies, the companion moves to California and checks out the state of the family. Maybe the companion encourages the woman to write to her father-in-law. Thus, by the time she gets to California, the letter will be in his hands with the proper postmark. The family will have known or not known and re-acted or failed to react.


This comes to pass because a woman of retirement age who has no assets is forced to take low-paid nurse's aide type work which she despises. She's hired in a case where a dying woman gives her in-formation she can turn to her advantage. She encourages the woman to write or call California and identify herself.
Which also gives Kinsey a clear line of pursuit...
The companion has her own son acquire a copy of the birth certi-ficate.
He acquires a driver's license in that name, etc.
For a year, he establishes himself in his new identity while mom heads out to California.

This is pretty damned elaborate, but if there's sufficient money involved you could see the motivation.
What happened to the real child?
Is he still alive & well and simply has no knowledge that someone is borrowing his identity for illegal purposes.

Does Kinsey run across this guy in the course of her investigation?
The companion moves from patient to patient.
She always works for the rich.
How many such stories could she run across?
How many ways could she work this scam?
It only works because of the adoption of the siblings.
One sibling turns out bad...
She couldn't plan this in advance.
She generates the plan from the reality.
She could claim to be a beneficiary...

Maybe what she's done in the past is to work the wills in her boss's keeping.

I always worry that the set-up is too elaborate and too specific.


Still looking for a story. I've gone back through my Homicide Set-Ups file and I've pulled all the articles that have a little emo-tional zing attached.

What I'd like to do is find a story that combines...murder, forg-ery, and a legacy for a missing heir so that Kinsey has a reason to do a cross-country journey.

I was wondering about a case that ends with a confession, but I think it's time to go for an action ending again. Both 'J' and 'K' have quiet endings and I think I need something with pizazz this round.

I'm thinking about a female killer this time.

I was originally thinking about a forged will, but realized in reading about wills that something simpler might suffice.

I have too many misgivings about a woman who connects up with a dying patient and takes advantage of her past. Suppose she's a con artist who's scammed people in one way or another for years.
I'm resisting this one.

Okay. The central question is this...
How would a murder and a missing heir connect?
I want it to look like a search for a missing heir.

What about one of those stories in which a transient is murdered. Turns out he has a history & a lot of dough.
Kinsey has to track down the heirs & in the process she ferrets out the killer.

Just read an article from the LA Times, 1988, about five transients who were shot to death over a period of time.
I don't want to deal with 'serial' murder.
I think I'll deal with one transient who's killed.
When the cops run his fingerprints, they find out who he is.
Mmmm. Does he have a record?
Has he been in the service?
Turns out he has beaucoup bucks.

Kinsey's hired (by whom) to find his nearest living relative.
Who would hire her to do this?
Why would anybody spend money to find someone else's heir.
Someone dies.
Kinsey hired by the estate to find the heirs.
Her search takes her to a distant city where a bum's been murdered.
Would the guilty party be fairly obvious?
It would have to be someone who benefits.
But that could be several people.
Or maybe the death looks accidental at first.
Maybe someone is framed.
If the city is too distant, then it becomes easy to track who's been where and for what reason.
But if the bum lives in town, wouldn't everyone know about him?
Someone from San Franciso might contact lawyer who contacts Kinsey.
In 1932, the guy was said to be traveling to ST, never heard from again.
She actually tracks him down, but he's been dead for...years.
His portion goes to several nieces & nephews.
Aunt Beatty dies...brothers being dead, etc.
Her only brother O.G. hasn't been heard from for years.
Passel of nieces & nephews.
Kinsey's hired to find out if the old guy is alive.
He's a transient...found dead some months before in ST.
No one's been able to identify him.
Known by his nickname, but no i.d. & no prints on file.
Prints being run through FBI.
Shortly after Kinsey 'finds' him, the prints are confirmed.
She thinks he was murdered.
Where are the nieces & nephews?


Have to have my gingival graft this afternoon at 3:00 and my Inner Kid (i.e. Inner Sissy) is scared to death. Shadow told me in the dead of night to take Bobo, my teddy bear, to the dentist with me which I intend to do. Also taking 10 mg. of Valium which should really tone me down.

Let's see.

Seems like the family unit should consist of two sisters. The one w/money has one son who's a black sheep and has disappeared from view. The other has five kids who are set to inherit if the black sheep turns up dead. The old woman dies and Kinsey's hired to search about for word of the black sheep.
She hunts him down...a bum & homeless, living in his car.
He's killed...or turns up dead.
Turns out he has a wife & child living at a shelter.
The child then is set to inherit many million bucks.

Ooo. Worrying about my dental procedure and the sensation of fear is so interesting. Can't wait until its time to take my Valium. I'm not consciously afraid...well, let's put it this way. I'm conscious of being afraid, but it's really my psyche that's little kid who doesn't want to be hurt.

Probably need to schedule lunch w/X X and find out how she'd do this search.
I like the Cinderella aspect of the story. The down & out turn out to be millionaires.
The first revelation could come when Kinsey actually tracks this guy down.
The second revelation is his death either shortly before she arrives or afterwards. He either dies of acute alcohol poisoning...which would look 'natural'...or he's killed in the same way some other bums.
The third revelation is the existence of the wife & kid.
I think Kinsey has to save this kid and cross the ice, metaphorically speaking.
The shelter could be in Louisville, Ky.
Nah. I picture somewhere out here.
Who hires her?
She probably hears about the case through an attorney.
I'm thinking Tasha would be perfect, just to tie off a loose end.
Maybe she has to track the guy from Lompoc ST.
Or Perdido...and back again.
I'd just as soon talk about the homeless somewhere else. I hate to set off the locals.
I also want Kinsey to get to know this family so I don't want her straying too far from home base.
If they're local, her search could take her somewhere else.
Las Vegas?
Where haven't I gone that might be interesting.
Bakersfield? Venice? Sacramento?
Maybe the deceased has a brother and a sister...each of whom have one or two or three kids.
Nice cast of suspects.
Actually, it's the sister who does the deed.


Mulling and mulling. Still thinking about forgery. Wondering if I could work two cases at once. Connected?
Old woman dies...
Husband was an expert on forged documents.
Valuable papers missing from home safe.
Kinsey hired on this matter first...then comes the issue of the missing the black sheep son suspected of the theft...Is this overkill...
Let me pull out my file on forgeries.
What seems boring about the plot possibility I outlined last time I logged in is that it seems so flat and contained...
I want to find a way to lift the plot.


Met with X X for lunch on Wednesday and she gave me some great material on searches for missing persons (& reasons to do so.)
One reason that leapt out at me was 'a defendant in a felony case is seeking a defense witness.'

Suppose a fingerprint at the crime scene of an old unsolved homi-cide is suddenly run through a new high-tech computer system. A woman, now in her thirties, who was a teenager at the time is suddenly accused of murder & Kinsey's hired to find the defense witnesses.

If Kinsey were hired in a probate investigation, it wouldn't involve a fifteen year old murder.
What if...
She's hired to find a missing heir.


Big earthquake in LA yesterday and it blew out our power. Back at work now & I thought I'd do a Rune. (Reader: this consists of pulling a flat marked stone from a bag of stones. Each stone has a meaning which you can look up in the accompanying book. I often pull Runes when I'm out of my mind with fear and hysteria.)

First pull:
Odin's Rune. Protection...Sedge or Elk.
Control of the emotions is at issue here. During times of transition, shifts in life course and accelerated self-change, it is important not to collapse yourself into your emotions...the highs as well as the lows. New opportunities and challenges are typical of this Rune. And with them will come trespasses & unwanted influences.

Second pull:
Algiz serves as a mirror for the Spiritual Warrior, the one whose battle is always with the self. The protection of the Warrior is like the warning rustle of the sedge grass or like the curved horns of the elk, for both serve to keep open space around you. Remain mindful that timely action and correct conduct are the only true protection. If you find yourself feeling pain, observe the pain, stay with it. Don't try to pull down the veil and escape from life by denying what is happening. You will progress; knowing that is your protection.

(Below is another bit of Mumbo-Jumbo I occasionally indulge in. Anything to make me believe I can do the job. It's a wonder I don't consult psychics...)

Think I'll see what Today's Message from the Universe has to say:
Take A Whack At It...
You can't hit a home run unless you step up to the plate.
What are five ways you can take a whack at your idea?
Notes, research, reading, rumination, engagement.
Don't Fall In Love With Ideas...
If you fall in love with an idea, you won't see the merits of alternative approaches.
Pause For A Bit...
"Learn to Pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you." Allow the Muse to whisper in your ear.
Think Something Different...
Get Rid of Excuses...
What three factors will make it difficult to reach your ob-jective? How can you get rid of these excuses?

I like the idea of forgery in addition to the business about the search for an heir, but I can't figure out how to combine the two ideas. Also, I like the idea of some kind of road trip, but I can't figure out how to structure the tale.

Just going back to re-read my earlier notes. One of the obvious problems is that when a long-missing heir suddenly shows up, the reader and everybody else suspects s/he's a fake...which would be true. There's no way for the writer to divert the reader's atten-tion from this suspicion so it's no fun...
What if...
Aged secretary works for a law firm...old attorney retiring & she's out of work. Sees the opportunity to make some money from his clients whose business she knows well.

Problem: The aged attorney would refer his clients to someone else. So how could the secretary step in and take advantage?
She could pull a scam once, but the minute she tried it again, someone would notice the attorney was the same...
Only if she got caught the first time.
And who would notice if she weren't?
Suppose the crime doesn't come to light?
Suppose it's never reported to the cops?
Suppose these are people who have no immediate heirs.
How could she persuade the state that she was entitled to inherit?

All right...disregard the above...
What is the point of a story in which Kinsey searches out a missing heir?
Someone nicks in ahead of her & kills the guy, then tries to kill his kid...
The suspects in this instance would be narrowed down to the remaining heirs...wouldn't they?
Might be enough of 'em to be interesting...
Someone kills the guy for some other reason, alerted to his whereabouts by Kinsey's investigation.
Kinsey would have to figure out that money wasn't the motive.

Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree...
No, I'm not, but what am I missing? How can I make this story interesting and complex?
Did the missing guy steal/forge something years ago & that was the disgrace that got him barred from the family.
Someone knows he stole these valuable papers.
If he isn't found, then how can the papers be recovered.
What if he stole something thought to be valuable that in fact was forged...
The guilty party's been waiting all these years for the other shoe to drop...
so...either Kinsey has to be prevented from finding this guy & hearing what he has to say...
or...the guy has to be found & silenced.
If the guy stole something he thought was valuable, that in fact, was a forgery...wouldn't he have already tried to hawk it and thus discovered it's lack of value?
Forgery substituted for the genuine...
or the other way around?

I don't want to get into art forgeries...
What about documents or signatures...
The father has pulled off a scam...examines a document and claims its a forgery when it's really genuine. He retains this document, pretending it has sentimental value. When he dies, the document goes to his wife & on her death, it's left to the errant son...
Why? Because this son...who's disgraced himself...will know the difference. He'll realize it's genuine & take the proper steps...
which are?
sell it for his personal fortune.
return it to the museum.
burn it...thus covering his father's crime.
turn it over to the rival expert.

The father can't bear to do this during his lifetime because he can't bear the disgrace. The wife doesn't know the difference, but the errant son would. Who would benefit from interfering with this discovery?
Wouldn't the museum/document's owner have the forgery verified by another expert?
Has someone else colluded w/the old man?
Is it the errant son who later disgraces himself & takes off?

From my book on questioned documents, it's clear that quite sophisticated forgeries have been detected for a number of years...since 1911 given one case cited. So it's not just a matter of high tech equipment. In other words, a forgery is probably going to be de-tected, that is, if a document is forged and the suspicion comes to light, the forgery will also come to light in fairly short order.

What if this were an instance in which a proclaimed forgery turned out to be genuine...
Documents switched...
don't see how anyone could pull this off.
"Expert" testifies that a genuine document is forged.
In truth, it's not.
But if there were any question, the document would be submitted to a host of experts. calls in an expert to examine a document which he greatly lusts after. He switches it for a fake and then proceeds to document the fakeness of the fakery. Other ex-perts concur. The museum curator who has staked his reputa-tion & large portions of the museum's money on the purchase is forced to resign in disgrace. Is the curator later murdered because he's figured it out? His death looks like suicide, but it's really not. Many years pass & the expert dies, will-ing his papers to his wife. On her death, everything passes to his several of whom has been thought dead.

In truth, he's alive & homeless, living in...... He's a hopeless alcoholic who mistreats his wife & son. Kinsey locates him, but he's dead or soon murdered.

Or Kinsey locates him & he cleans himself up...comes home for the funeral. He doesn't inherit money, but he does inherit his father's document which is the priceless genuine.

Why would dad leave this to the son?
Has the son disgraced himself after daddy's death. Was this guy his favorite? Was this kid w/him when he switched the papers?

This is a note from me on March 14, 2007

I know it's mystifying to think that a book can be generated from a process like this, but it worked for me...twenty times so far. If you're interested in writing a book, short story, or play, maybe it will work for you as well.