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My life in crime

Every morning I wake to the day's gruesome headlines.

I thank my friend John back in Illinois for this. Since he is two hours ahead of me, he has first dibs at the current bad news.

The first thing he does after waking — usually while sitting on the toilet, he says — is to text me links to the horror stories of the day as culled by newspapers across the nation.

So every morning I pop open my phone and descend into a world of depravity, desperation, guns, drugs and the occasional beheading, though those seem to be more common nowadays.

Then I report to a job in which, on a good day, I add to the overall feeling of fear and helplessness society experiences in the face of crime.

It started when I was a kid. It started with a television show called "Unsolved Mysteries."

I still get chills when I hear the theme music. "Unsolved Mysteries" was a syndicated docudrama that reenacted unsolved crimes from across the country.

It was hosted by the late, great Robert Stack, at his most dead-eyed Robert Stackiest.

"Unsolved Mysteries" was the last thing I watched before going to bed. It probably did more to warp my mind than any metal band or slasher flick I saw at that age.

The creepiest thing about "Mysteries" was that it gave no closure to the viewer (victim?). You were presented with a horrible ax murder and then Stack came out from the shadows to remind you that HE IS STILL OUT THERE AND COULD BE LIVING NEAR YOU.

I soon became fascinated with all manner of crimes committed in my neighborhood. It helped that two members of my family had spent time in and out of prison. They were always good for a story.

I grew up, but didn't grow out of the crime phase. A voracious reader, I quickly digested hundreds of trashy true crime books. In seventh grade I did a book report on "Helter Skelter" and freaked out my teacher.

These true crime trashterpieces were matched with libraries of books by Elmore Leonard, Joseph Wambaugh, Michael Connelly, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett and the greatest of all, Raymond Chandler.

I was never stupid, or brave enough to commit a real crime, but I feared and at times admired the people who did.

I went to college. Crime followed me there. As an English major, I soon found that the core of nearly every work of literature was a crime.

Washington, D.C.-based author George Pelecanos writes, "And I believe that drama needs conflict, and crime involves life and death, so that's the highest form of conflict."

I had no idea my fascination with anti-social behavior would land me a job one day. When the spot opened at the Mail Tribune, I basically told the bosses that I only wanted to cover crime. If that flew, then I'd get the job, if not, then I'd go be a teacher somewhere in the Midwest, educating the next bunch of criminals who would go on to fill jails and prisons across the country.

Now I spend the day talking with local cops, who sometimes wonder about what I find so interesting about what they do.

When asked to describe my gig as a crime reporter, I say it's my job to find the person in the Rogue Valley who had the worst day and write about it.

It is sort of a vampiric relationship with society, but you enable it. I blame the reader, because stories with headlines such as MAN KILLS LOVER AND WRAPS BODY IN DUCT TAPE receive far more Internet hits than, say, MEDFORD SCHOOL BOARD APPROVES BUDGET.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I would've clicked on the murder story, too.

I would write more, but Hulu.com has just uploaded new episodes of "Cold Case Files."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471