Secrets: True Crime Writing

            It is a fair statement that no one gets closer to the drama of a real crime than those charged with reporting it as news. The real time investigatory work done by law enforcement is followed in minute detail as the reporters strive to tell the full story with clarity and, yes, compassion for victims and their families regardless of where the guilt may eventually fall.

            Or consider what happens when a crime becomes a cold case spanning years, hanging like torn laundry from multiple lines of inquiry, only to remain flapping in the wind of time.

            Maureen Boyle knows the challenges and has accepted the responsibility of keeping victims alive in the minds of a public, who have long lost interest in their unfinished stories. Such is the case with her true crime story “Shallow Graves,” which brings us back to the nine unsolved murders of women whose lives were savagely taken in 1988. The victims’ bodies were tossed in the tangled brambles along tree lines off Routes 195, 140 and 88. Not a single case has been solved.

            “Someone knows something,” Boyle stated during her March 26 presentation at the Mattapoisett Public Library. But even her exhaustive efforts during and since the first victim was uncovered have failed to produce new evidence, thus Boyle’s goal is to keep the files open and relevant despite the passage of time. She wonders aloud, “How can anyone keep a secret of this many decades?”

            In 1988 Boyle was assigned by the Standard-Times to cover the New Bedford Police Department. She had been a working reporter for some time and found covering the police a good beat for her. As the body count increased, Boyle interviewed police officers, detectives, victim’s families and neighbors, combed through documents and kept asking, “Is this a serial killer?

            “I didn’t know it was a serial killer until he stopped.”

            Altogether, a total of 11 women went missing and were reported as such; nine were eventually located, while two have never been found. But in some cases the missing person report wasn’t filed right away. They lived on the fringes of society in a world filled with drugs and physical abuse, Boyle clarified. But as she explained, weather and time exercised additional abuse on the discarded murdered women, sometimes leaving little useable evidence even in the form of an intact body.

            Boyle’s book tells the story of the victims with what she said was absolutely necessary “dignity and respect.” But it is also a validation of the hard work and dedication she witnessed from law enforcement, the endless searching in the wooded byways, knocking on doors, shagging down leads, and thousands of pages of documents.

            “People were saying the police didn’t care, they didn’t want to solve the case,” Boyle said. But as she firmly attested was not the truth, “They worked around the clock.”

            Boyle’s talent to probe and search, asking the tough or mundane questions is well honed from her many years as a journalist. But she is also a truly interesting speaker. From the moment she began her talk about not only Shallow Graves but her newer publication “The Ghost,” another true crime story that was eventually solved but only after decades, Boyle captivated her audience. That she knows her material is an understatement, but that she can deliver it in an interesting and thought-provoking manner is a gift.

            “Writing true crime is not easy. There are mountains of documents from birth certificates to death notices,” Boyle shared. She singled out libraries as important repositories for all manner of public documentation and the aid provided by library staff. She spoke of the hours spent reading microfiche, saying it was torturous but necessary and that newspapers – hardcopy – are critical to society, giving us a sense of place and time.

            In closing, Boyle said, “Crime writing is like solving a secret, but getting the answer does not ease the pain. It doesn’t bring anyone back. Lives are lost, these were real people.

            “You have to be careful how you treat the people – not hurt them further, but to write about it truthfully and tastefully.”

            Boyle will continue to shine a light on these victims, women she has lived with for decades. To learn more about Boyle and her crime stories, visit

By Marilou Newell

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