Cause of Death Description


He got up and walked over to a shelf along the wall. She turned her head and followed him with her eyes. She could see that the shelves held row after row of pint-size canning jars. He seemed to contemplate the contents of the jars.

“Ahh, this one looks perfect. A little bigger than the other two,” he said, as he walked back over to her cot carrying a jar.

Her eyes opened wide in terror. Inside the jar she saw a huge black widow spider.

Sweet southern belle detective Annie Avants hunts down murderers and serial killers in Kern County California.

In this first book of the Detective Annie Avants crime fiction mystery series, we meet Annie and her partner, Detective Tom Weston.

In the dusty small-town farm communities of Kern County, someone is kidnapping, torturing, and killing young Hispanic females. The weapon of torture – black widow spiders.

As the detectives work with their peers and race against time to catch this serial killer, the suspense builds right up until the last moment as more victims are found.

Annie Avants was born and raised a true southern belle in Mena, Arkansas. From a young age, she knew she wasn’t destined to become a farmer’s wife and give her parents a passel of grandbabies.

It upset her family when she joined the Polk County Sheriff’s Department and became one of the youngest detectives of record. After a few years of working in Arkansas, she was ready to spread her wings and took a job offer she couldn’t refuse with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office in California.

It wasn’t long before she was one of the lead detectives in the Robbery/Homicide Unit.

Her partner, Detective Tom Weston, had only one goal. To finish out his last five years and retire. When his pregnant wife was killed in a bungled bank robbery a few years ago, his life came to a halt and he barely existed. Now, with the help of his young, vibrant new partner, he is taking a new lease on life and was even brave enough to ask Laine DelMonte, the Chief of Technical Investigations, for a date.

One major conflict in Annie’s life at this moment is the unwanted pressure by Deputy District Attorney Jesse Greyeyes to make her commit to a relationship between the two of them. Feelings of dread, and being trapped, rise to the surface in Annie each time Jesse puts on the pressure.

Into this setting, the four friends work with slim clues to find out who is killing young, Hispanic females and why.


Cause of Death by Renee Benzaim – This exciting book is fast-paced, easy to follow, with engaging characters and a highly suspenseful storyline. I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t put it down, and read it straight through in a day. I just had to find out whodunit! JaneReads

Good Author – well written, suspenseful, hated to put it down to fix dinner for family! Recommend this author to other folks anytime. Glitzy

Fantastic!!!! Loved it! Kept me in suspense to the end! Great police story, made my skin crawl! Keep up the good work. Pam Gilstrap

CAUSE OF DEATH is a spine-chilling crime fiction story that keeps you guessing right up to the last minute – and makes you wonder about the “normal” people in YOUR daily life.

COYOTE’S SONG available for Pre-Order

coyotes song

A mysterious 30-year old Miwok Indian woman has visions about the victim in Det. Annie Avants case, Green Witch, Dead Witch. Who is this woman, and what is her connection with Kern County? She lives in the mountains of Calaveras County, near West Point, on indian land.
Evangeline Mason has a mystery of her own. Is she the fulfillment of an old Miwok Legend:

There was a legend among the Sierra Band of Miwok Indians. It said that a female would someday become the Shaman of the band and she would reunite the Miwok Indians and make them strong again. Many people believed in the legend at first but, throughout the years, less and less Miwoks even remembered the legend and it didn’t get passed down to the newer generations. At least, not to all of them.
There were a few who still remembered, and waited. The old Shaman was one of the believers, but one day he walked into the mountains and was never seen again. Everyone thought he had gone away to die.
The band dwindled after that. They had a chief who was strong, but the young people left, especially those who lived in the isolated mountain town of West Point, California. There was nothing there for them.
Then, one day in 1989, a little Miwok girl disappeared from her front yard on the reservation.

This book tells the story of Evangeline Mason and  begins on August 6, 1989, the day she disappeared from the front yard of her home on indian land just outside of West Point, California.  Where did she go?  What happened to her?  How did she get involved with Detective Annie Avants?

Coyote’s Song will “go live” on April 23, 2015. You can Pre-order it now at the following Amazon outlets:

Amazon USA
Amazon UK
Amazon Germany
Amazon France
Amazon India
Amazon Spain
Amazon Japan
Amazon The Netherlands
Amazon Italy
Amazon Brazil
Amazon Canada
Amazon Mexico
Amazon Australia

Have You Talked to a Green Witch Today?

Have you talked to a Green Witch Today?

In the introduction to my latest Det. Annie Avants crime fiction novel, GREEN WITCH, DEAD WITCH, I said this:

green witch“Yes, there really are green witches.  But they aren’t made of chocolate and won’t melt when you throw water on them.  In fact, there are many green witches around the world . . . and white witches, gray witches, good witches, evil witches, garden witches, kitchen witches, cottage witches, and many more.  Each person who makes the decision to follow the path of witch, creates his or her own journey.

A green witch is a nature-based witch.  Green witches believe that all things are connected and have their own energy.  When they perform magic, they use the gifts of nature – herbs, crystals, rocks, plants, flowers, etc.  They respect and follow the phases of the moon.  They respect the four elements – air, water, fire, and earth.  Some add a fifth element – spirit – the universal life spirit that lives in all things.

They have a code – “An Ye Harm None – Do What Ye Will.”  What does this mean?  Some translate it to mean:  “if it is not going to hurt anyone, it’s okay to do.”.

The witches in this story are green witches.  I haven’t made up a “witch persona” and I’m not making up a mythical world that my witches inhabit.  They live in Kern County just like anyone else.  They live among us.  They are our friends and neighbors.”

When I first thought about writing Green Witch, Dead Witch, I was making the attributes of my witches as I went along.  (In fact, Lily Rose was NOT a witch, she was a fairy named Fiona who could unpack her wings and levitate on the spot).    Then, for over a year, I researched green witches.  Along the way, I decided to keep Clem Moonstone realistic and change Fiona into a witch just starting her first year of training.  Like a real witch would do.

I learned a lot during my research.  For instance, if you are familiar with the Law of Attraction, casting a spell is basically the same as invoking the Law of Attraction to bring something into your life.  Many real witches know this.  In fact, an excellent book on the subject is “Magick and the Law of Attraction: A User’s Guide” by Maggie Shayne.  It can be found at Amazon along with other books on the same subject.

Why am I explaining all of this?  One of my beloved beta readers was concerned that I was drifting off into the genre of “fantasy.”  Here’s what she said:

I think about your target audience being those that liked the first three books or at least they read likely one of them. The books, being a police mystery type book. So that being said, I am concerned that the ending is almost purely fantasy. What I mean is that since I was reading a true to life type mystery I expected to find a realistic type ending. (Cops save the day example) So even though it was great to understand what and how green witches live and learn etc. I thought that the ending of the book would be based in more realism instead of fantasy so that kind of seemed un-natural. I could, kind of, relate if the girl that was kidnapped thought that was true but…. All the cops believing the fantasy was real??  If your target audience were fantasy readers then they would love the ending you have.

The key word in her comment was “fantasy.”  I tried my darndest not to include any “fantasy” in my book.  I based it on real witches and experiences they had.  When I explained this to her, she understood what I was trying to accomplish.

I guess my point is that there are people who follow the path of witch and they are real, everyday people.  Whether you believe or not, they exist and they’re really caring women.  One of my reviews, which is in another blog post I wrote, said “This story is entirely about Magick – Green magick. The concept is put across very strong that witches do exist among us today and most of them are good witches. The idea is put across very subtly and nicely. In fact it makes you want to meet a green witch.”  (Review by Devi Nair).

So, there you have it.  If you read Green Witch, Dead Witch, I hope you enjoyed it.  If not, and I’ve piqued your curiosity, you can find it here:

Amazon UK
Amazon USA
Barnes and Noble

Happy reading!

Crime Fiction and the Chain of Custody

crime writing

Photo Credit: Julie Elliott-Abshire


When writing crime fiction, it’s important to make sure your characters don’t do anything that would compromise the evidence and cause it to be inadmissible in court.
One way this can happen is if the chain of custody is broken.

What is Chain of Custody?

Chain of custody, according to FindLaw, is defined as “. . . the documentation and proper care of evidence, from its seizure by police to its presentation at trial. If the chain of custody is broken, the evidence may lack credibility and could be deemed inadmissible.”

Why is this Important?

Every case that goes to trial is controlled by the evidence that is introduced. This is the only criteria that a judge in a bench trial or a jury in a jury trial are to use to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. They are not allowed, by law, to use any other means to come to a conclusion.

The evidence your characters collect and handle throughout your novel have a large bearing on the outcome of your book, especially if there will be a trial.

You also want to think about the credibility of yourself as a writer and your novel. Readers are more sophisticated these days with criminal investigation and will call you out on it.

How is Chain of Custody Established?

The chain of custody starts with the officer that finds it. Here is a list of a personnel that could be part of the chain of custody:

  •  The officer / investigator who recovers the evidence. This could be a uniformed officer, Deputy/Coroner, Medical Examiner, Crime Scene Investigators, Detective in charge of the scene, or someone else;
  •  The person who takes charge of the evidence at the scene. Again, it could be someone listed in Number 1, or an evidence technician designated to take charge of the evidence at the scene
  •  The person who transports the evidence to the Laboratory. Ideally, it should be someone from Number 1 or 2 above;
  •  The person who receives the evidence at the Laboratory. In my story, it went to the Laboratory Director;
  •  The Laboratory scientist who will examine the evidence;
  •  Whomever retrieves the evidence from the Laboratory after it has been processed.

Chain of Custody Form

Chain of custody labels are good for the permanent marking of evidence. They are printed on tamperproof stock and stick to almost anything. They can be used for marking individual articles, packages and containers.

This form must be attached to each evidence container. It is the job of your characters to properly document who found the evidence, who has it and where it is. If this isn’t done properly, your evidence may not be admitted at trial.

Since any person who handles the evidence has to be able to show an unbroken chain of custody, it’s a good rule of thumb to minimize the number of people who come into contact with the evidence. The shorter the chain the better.

Who is Responsible for the Chain of Custody of Evidence?

The Prosecution must account for the evidence from the discovery, collection, analysis, storage, and transfer to the courtroom. Throughout the entire process, including court proceedings and appeals, the prosecutor is responsible for securing the evidence.

If the defense cannot get the evidence excluded pretrial, they will look to discredit how it was handled during the investigation.

Example from my book, Cause of Death

In my book, Cause of Death, I had a sub-plot that involved a piece of evidence. It was a knife with the fingerprints of the defendant who was on trial for a robbery. It was the only piece of physical evidence the prosecution had. Unfortunately, when it was time to introduce the knife into evidence, it couldn’t be located. Even though it was eventually found, the fact that it was missing even for a short time caused the chain of custody to be broken. The evidence wasn’t admissible and the defendant walked adding to the plot.


Ensuring that your characters don’t accidentally cause a break in the chain of custody of evidence will protect them from charges of tampering, planting, theft, substitution of evidence, and contamination of evidence.

Any time you have a character who has anything to do with evidence at a crime scene, or after, make sure they take the necessary precautions to honor the chain of custody.

(I originally wrote this blog as a guest post on, the blog of Joe Giacalone in July 2013.)