Criminologist, USF grad creates forensic fiction

USF alumnus Royce Wilson knows the value of education.

The high school dropout from Atlanta moved to Tampa and gained the knowledge and experience to do what he does today: work as director of forensics for the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office and write crime novels in his spare time.

Wilson received his bachelors degree from St. Leo College and continued his education, receivinghis masters from USF in management, leadership and organizational effectiveness in 2001. Hes worked in law enforcement for more than 36 years and recently celebrated his 31st year working for the Hillsborough County Sherriffs Office.

Last year, he self-published his first crime novel Atropos, the story of a Tampa detective named Riley Scott working to track a serial killer who goes by the moniker Atropos, from Greek mythology. The Oracle talked with Wilson about the importance of higher education, matching up fingerprints and writing crime fiction.

The Oracle:How did getting your masters from USF impact your career?

Royce Wilson:People dont really understand what a masters degree is until theyve gone through one. I just thought a masters degree was going to be two years more of a bachelors degree. Its really not. You get through the USF masters program and you leave there a really educated person.

Having been through an AA degree and a bachelors degree, you can go through there and not know much more than you went into with. You can skate. You cant do it in a masters program. Making yourself educated makes you a more well-rounded person, and I think you are able to meet challenges that are thrown at you in your job and personal life youre better suited. Theres no doubt in my mind getting my masters degree is what got me to where Im at in my career. Thats how I was able to land the position of director of forensics. I cant tell it enough times to enough people, its more important than you realize.

O:Youve come a long way from being a high school dropout. How did you decide to enter college?

RW:When I was young, my parents didnt really stress education. My dad, love him dearly, but education wasnt really high on the list. I just quit in 10th grade. I got lucky getting into the field because I got into the field without a high school diploma. I was honest on my application and put that I had a 9th grade education and they just had to have not checked the application closely. I got hired and just in informal conversation with the supervisor I said, Yeah, no I dont have a high school degree and they said, Oh my gosh, you need to go get a GED.

Then I started thinking, Man, maybe I need to get a little more of an education. Then I started going to college and its almost been like a nonstop part of my life getting educated in something. I still go to training seminars when I can at the Sheriffs Office. I just went to a rioters conference up in Boston. Im 55 years old and if theres something I can learn, Im still trying to learn it.

O:What are your books about?

RW: The book is about a serial murder investigation thats taking place in Tampa. There is a killer that goes by Atropos. The name refers to the three fates of Greek mythology: One of them spun the thread of life, one of them measured it and the last one, Atropos, cut the thread of life. I wouldnt want to give too much of it away, but people who work in the field have praised it for how accurate it is.

One homicide investigator came to me when he finished it, and said, Man, that was great. When I finished it, I turned to my wife and handed it to her and said, Here, you want to know what I do for a living? Read this. So Ive gotten a really good response from the people in the field whove read it. Ive just finished up my second novel, which is the second book in the series.

O:Is showing the true police process part of your intention when writing?

RW:Yeah, theres a lot of stuff in the media and on TV that really doesnt explain it right. When I write my books, Im not doing it to gross anybody out. One scene has a decomposed body and Im not going into the details like maggots on the body, but I do talk about the stench that doesnt leave you and gets caught in the back of your throat. I explain it through the filter of someone working the case.

You wont read one of my stories thats not accurate as far as technically how cops really talk, how investigators really talk and what really goes on. Its about as realistic as you can get without being overly gross. Its a gross job. Its a nasty job, but I dont want to try and repel anybody. Im trying to entertain them. But Im trying to entertain them through realism.

For example, theres a scene in my second book that Im just finishing up, a murder scene. I describe the bodys reaction to getting stabbed, the arterial blood spurts and the gasps. Another scene is about some bodies that are being discovered that were dumped by a serial murderer. Ive been on scenes where weve found skeletons and dug up bones, so Ive described it exactly how I saw it. I do it in a way that fits the story and the entertainment. Its not a technical book, like crime scene 101.

O: Are there any landmarks in the books that locals will recognize?

RW:Not just places. In the novel that Ive just finished up, theres a forensic anthropologist that helps out with the investigation. Erin Kimmerle is a forensic anthropologist from USF that works a lot with us on scene, and that character is based loosely on her. They have lunch at Carmines in Ybor City and a couple of other scenes take place there. There are plenty of Tampa landmarks that people will recognize.

O:What aspect of your career would you say had the most impact on your decision to stay in crime investigation and eventually write about it?

RW:I started off as a crime scene investigator with the Tampa Police, so my career started building up around that. I started doing fingerprint comparisons. I became a fingerprint expert, and probably working on major homicide cases, when I would finally make that identification the thing that links the suspect to the crime that becomes relevant in court.

Fingerprint comparison can be very difficult. You might have a fingerprint from a crime scene that has eight or 10 points of identity on it, and the average persons palm print has 2,300 points of identity on it. It almost is mind boggling when you get into it. But when you make the match, its hard to describe. Its a feeling like youve never had when your efforts have just cleared the case.

O:What is your job as director of forensics like today?

RW: All the forensics operations in the Sherriffs Office fall under me. So Im in charge of interviewing, hiring recommendations, doing the budget, disciplinary all that stuff. But I also still get down in the weeds with it because Ive got the background. I was down yesterday looking at a fingerprint on a murder case that were working on right now. I still go out to crime scenes; there was a death investigation over the weekend.

O:That doesnt sound like an ideal weekend.

RW:It ruins your weekend to be honest with you, but you do what has to be done. I got a call on Sunday and had to go out and help out with the investigation. Im just there to provide guidance and oversight, to answer questions and offer my input.