Nursing the Muse
True-crime writer Chris Boardman lionizes cops, remembers victims, nurses inmates, and runs for office
Published: February 26, 2014
When Christopher Boardman first started working in Baltimore, at the port in the 1970s, he was already a frustrated writer. In the 1960s and early ’70s, he’d penned opinions for the progressive Capital Times in Madison, Wisc., and missives for the Distant Drummer, a long-shuttered alternative newspaper in Philadelphia. “That’s where I got my identity,” he says, by realizing “I have a gift for this, and I want to keep on doing it.” Despite trying, though, he hadn’t landed a proper writing job. So he became a cargo-sales representative for a Baltimore steamship agency and wrote his first novel, The Magadan Mission, a cloak-and-dagger Cold War tale. It has yet to be published.
After shopping the novel around with publishers, “I just sort of abandoned it,” Boardman explains. “I have a lot of inventory of novels and detective stories and stuff like that. They fill up my garage. I’m redoing some of them and doing some new stuff. That one I think is a good story. I have some people who are excited about it and want me to write some sequels, so we’ll see if we can get that one going.”
One thing about Boardman, he seems never to give up.
The tenacity of his decades-long writing career is matched by his determination to keep inmates at downtown Baltimore’s Metropolitan Transition Center—where he works as a prison nurse—as healthy as he can, often against the odds.
Then there are Boardman’s spirited tilts at the electoral windmills over the years, thus far unsuccessful, yet another sign of his obstinate lust for life. He’s run for U.S. Congress and local elected office in Harford County, where he lives in Joppatowne with his longtime wife, and he keeps putting himself before the electorate. The Republicans drafted him to run for local office in 1986, he says. But in 1998, he threw his hat in the ring to be the Democratic candidate for president of the Harford County Council—and proceeded to harangue the county’s Democratic establishment, as well as his critics, on the community news website the Dagger.
No stranger to local controversies, Boardman also founded and ran a Joppatowne-based newspaper, The Towne Crier, for the better part of a decade into the 1990s, providing in-depth perspective on the plan to destroy chemical weapons stockpiled at the nearby Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
But the pursuit Boardman has chased with the greatest consistency appears to have been true-crime writing. Some 450 stories appeared under his nom de plume, Krist Boardman, between 1980 and the mid-1990s, he says, in the now-defunct true-crime magazines published by Official Detective magazines in New York and Globe Publishing in Montreal.
“I couldn’t hardly make a living doing that,” recalls Boardman. “When I started, we were earning like $250 a story in 1980, and the prices never went up. I’m a pretty fast writer, and I think I did a pretty efficient job, but if you could pound out two stories in a week, which would be [4,000] or 5,000 words each, you might make $500 or $600 in that time, and you got to pay your expenses out of that too. It was terrible. I just found it very, very difficult trying to make a living at it, and I had to get out of it. I just couldn’t live like that anymore.”
These days, though, he’s trying to capitalize on that past investment of writerly labor. His Mid-Atlantic Murder Mystery Series, published by Inkwater Press, includes three books: Crimes of Passion, Kinky Killers, and Cold Cases–Solved! All of them consist of stories published initially during his true-crime-writing spree in the 1980s and 1990s. He plans to continue, he says, because “I have enough stuff to put together other titles like, say, Murder in the City of Brotherly Love, Murder in Charm City, Murder in the Nation’s Capital, or thematic collections, like Was Money the Motive?, or stories having to do with love and jealousy.”
Reviving the stories in book format, Boardman says, “is important because you don’t want people to forget the victims, and you also want to remember the extraordinary efforts of the police, which needs to be recognized and supported.”
Boardman briefly recounts the story of Arlene Flowers, a Prince George’s County girl who was raped and murdered in 1981.
“This girl was trying to do everything she could to be a person who amounted to something,” he says, “and her life was taken from her at 13, 14 years old—it almost makes me cry.” And, in fact, it almost does, as his voice breaks up and his eyes moisten. “I don’t want to ever forget about Arlene Flowers, and I don’t think anyone else should either.”
As for the police work, he says Cold Cases–Solved! is dedicated to Bill Van Horn, who closed a Harford County murder case a decade after it happened, and his high regard for hard-working, persistent cops is apparent in all of his true-crime stories.
Despite his affinity for victims and those who put their killers behind bars, Boardman voices deep concerns about society’s inclination to lock criminals up and throw away the key. His nuanced views on correctional policy come from having a front-row seat at the prison infirmary.
“It’s true,” Boardman explains, “a lot of people have done terrible things, and I’ve certainly spent enough years of my life writing about all that. But we need to design a track that helps people get back to society, and it needs to be a rehabilitation track that has many factors to it so that people can actually make progress rather than throwing them into these old buildings and locking them up.”
If Boardman could only get his political career going with an election win, maybe he could start having a say on such matters. In the meantime, though, he’s working on another detective novel and a memoir of his student-activism days in the 1960s while republishing his prodigious supply of old true-crime stories.
“You have to deal with starvation when you’re a writer,” he says, adding that “it’s a dicey way to live sometimes.” His strategy to avoid those straits, though, is to keep his day job. The one he’s got now not only helps pay the bills but also feeds his muse.
“Being a nurse,” he explains, “it’s not our job to get into dealing with criminal behavior, but I do get into conversations with people. Sometimes you wonder, ‘How in the heck did you end up here?’ We’ve got people in the prison hospital, they are peaceful people, they are rational, they are actually very friendly, and I consider them good people. And they’ll tell you. But you don’t have a way of verifying anything. So I’m not really writing about anything that’s going on over there.”
He pauses, then adds: “Though maybe at some point I’ll be able to write a novel.”
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