DUNNELLON – After 30 years of witnessing and cataloging the atrocities humans are capable of committing to themselves, it would be understandable for a person to become listless, numb or jaded by brutality.
But Royce Wilson hasn’t lost his empathy or natural curiosity, nor lost sight of the reasons that led him to become an expert crime scene investigator and now a novelist.
All of Wilson’s books are fictitious, but they are based on his knowledge and experience working with police, FBI, forensic scientists, and forensic experts – and finding and arresting criminals. Everything he writes is grounded in reality, which is often even more incredible than the most creative fiction.
âIt’s just because I live in this area,â he says. “And you get ideas from who knows where, from all kinds of places.”
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Behind the scenes with a CSI
On his blog, he enjoys taking readers on a nutty soup journey through what it really means to be a CSI, fascinating and sometimes exciting work. But it’s not like TV shows or movies; there is no dramatic music in the background, and the aha! moments come with the price of the violence that created them.
There are losses every day as much as there are discoveries and goals, and the challenge is to figure out how to balance psychological impact with scientific effectiveness.
âIt’s interesting work. It can also affect you, âhe warns. âBut you can’t be too emotional about it, because we’re here to document and collect evidence. It would be easy to go in there and look at it from an emotional point of view, but then you might just end up missing something.
He saw the toll this can have on his colleagues; you can only watch horror for so long every day before it inevitably affects you in some way. He remembers a colleague, one of his best friends, who committed suicide.
âHe had night terrors, PTSD. He knew there was help, that there was free counseling available. But he just didn’t.
Another colleague he knew well was traumatized by a particularly grim crime scene they dealt with. A man living in a trailer with his girlfriend turned it into a slaughterhouse, killing his girlfriend, his son and daughter (both young) and the family dog. The trailer looked like a war zone: debris everywhere, battered walls, even dog food littered the kitchen.
The carnage, both human and inanimate, was so violent that it took several days to gather and process all the evidence. The murderer was found huddled in the closet in the little boy’s bedroom, naked and mute and covered in blood. He never said a word.
âIt was brutal,â Wilson says. âIt must be one of the most horrific I have ever seen. Those with children, in particular, are the worst.
While collecting evidence, the team would take breaks at the nearby mobile command center, where they could catch their breath and clear their heads for a moment.
Work in Tampa / Hillsborough County
Wilson’s specialty was as a fingerprint expert, joining the Tampa Police Department in 1976, eventually becoming the Director of Forensic Pathology for Hillsborough County before retiring in 2012.
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âBack then, you know, you had a job and a career, you stayed there,â he says of his decades of history with the Tampa PD. âI couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.
Retirement, however, didn’t just mean sitting back on your laurels. He and his wife moved to Georgia, where he taught criminal death investigation at a university for five years before returning to Florida again.
âI was looking for something to do, because I thought I would be bored otherwise. Then I found out that they had never held my previous job. It had been open since I left.
So he called his former supervisor. âI said, ‘I don’t know if you would be interested in me coming back. I will be 62 years old, but I was wonderingâ¦ ‘â
They were interested. He returned to his directorial post and stayed for another two years, examining other puzzles of the human condition: how a minor argument turns into a double murder over an abandoned girlfriend, or when a suspect might lean in or out. touch a wall and leave an obscure latent imprint. How a multiple murderer can sit in their victim’s kitchen and eat an entire meal moments after killing them.
âYou would be surprised how many times it happens that people sit down and eat food, have drinks in the homes of people they have murdered. Danny Rolling did that.
The Danny Rolling Affair
Perhaps one of the most notorious serial killers to come out of Florida, Rolling terrorized the Gainesville area and murdered five college students in four days in the late summer of 1990. He had killed three other people in Shreveport. the year before and had almost killed his own father.
âPeople don’t realize it,â Wilson explains, âbut Hillsborough County is the reason Danny Rolling was caught.â
Days after the latest murders in Gainesville, Rolling robbed a supermarket and fled in a stolen car with law enforcement after him. The bearing destroyed the car and quickly seemed to vanish into thin air.
But authorities were left with a plethora of physical evidence he left in the vehicle: a ski cap, fingerprints and a tiny piece of paper with the name of a bank in Gainesville that had recently been robbed. Police began to make the connection between the two thefts, and Rolling was eventually arrested and detained in Marion County Jail.
However – and this is the slight turn of the story – this was not the car evidence that was originally used in the trial. Prosecutors planned to use DNA from saliva collected while Rolling visited the dentist in prison.
âHe took a piece of cotton wool out of his mouth and threw it away, and they took it and analyzed the sample,â Wilson explains. But in court, lawyers successfully argued for this evidence to be disqualified.
Then, investigators remembered the vehicle and fingerprint evidence that was still on file and called Wilson. âA friend of mine in Homicide called me up and said, ‘Hey, check those fingerprints against Danny Rolling, and can you rush up, because we think it’s related to the serial killings in Gainesville. . ‘ “
He shakes his head. “I laughed at him at first, because of course every detective wants to catch a serial killer.”
Wilson went to the Marion County Jail and took a series of fingerprints as well as hair samples from Rolling, which ultimately matched copies of the stolen car. Ultimately, they were instrumental in his conviction.
âHe’s probably the scariest person I’ve ever met. He was smart. He was charismatic. And I had no doubt that he was a killer.
A second retreat and a new activity: writing
Wilson retired from CSI a second time in 2019 and focused his energies on writing. It was another way of approaching crime and pathology and exploring different perceptions.
âI didn’t start writing catharsis novels or anything,â he laughs. âI had about half a dozen books in various stages of completion around the house, and one day I thought, you know, to finish it. Stop wasting time; do it or don’t.
He sat down and finished his first novel, “Atropos”, about a serial killer who considers himself the mythological Greek god of Fate and Fate. “When the story ends, you realize that it was not so much psychosis as narcissism that prompted the killer to use this name.”
He works quite organically, pulling together snippets of ideas from weird everyday conversations and events, and doesn’t formally describe his books, preferring to write through ideas and concepts.
âI tried to lose contours; I can’t do it, âhe admits. âSo I’m just working to hit the 90,000 word mark, and I’m fine. I just stopped trying to fit into this box.
He followed up with five other novels and is currently working on his seventh, “Code Black,” a complicated and intricate mystery that came to him during a conversation with friends.
“They were talking about this woman going ‘code black’, some kind of runaway or catatonic state after trauma … I thought, wow, that would be an interesting story.”
He hasn’t figured out all the connections and answers yet, but he finds them out during the story-writing process. His first novel was handwritten on yellow notepads, a laborious endeavor he is happy not to repeat. Now he is using a computer. But that doesn’t mean he has stopped doodling, even if he doesn’t describe.
âWhen I write, I have ideas floating in the ether. I have so many little bits and notes, yellow notepads, napkins. He raises his hands and shrugs his shoulders. “It’s ridiculous.”
Find out more: www.roycewilsonmysteries.com