Ever Wonder What It’s Like To Kill Someone?

Ever wonder what it’s like to kill someone? Well, I don’t have that worry. You know the saying…been there, done that. And I’ve lived with the dead guy’s soul scrabbling around inside my head ever since.

I never thought about this sort of thing until it happened to me. And it didn’t take long to realize that once I’d pulled the trigger, sending bullets on their way, that was it. I couldn’t call them back. Nope, no “all e all ye in come free’s.” Not that I would’ve called them back, mind you. Not even one of them. It’s just that I sometimes wonder how life would be today if I’d never squeezed the trigger on my SIG P228.

Okay, enough what-if’s. Let’s get right to it. Here’s how I came about killing a guy on a blistering hot August day back in 1995.

The morning started off with me sitting in my office thumbing through a stack of offense reports from the previous night. Nothing special, a few drunks, some minor drug activity, a couple of break-ins, and the usual domestic he said-she saids.

Then it happened. The 911 call and silent alarm, both coming in at the same time. A young man—22-years-old—walked into a bank and pointed a long-barrel revolver at one of the tellers. He grabbed all the money he could carry in a white, wrinkled, plastic grocery bag, and then turned and calmly walked out the front door. The entire robbery took place in less than ten minutes.  The teller was left a trembling and tearful mess. An extremely traumatic experience for her. Victim number one.

The robber fled the scene and, unfortunately for him, he wrecked his car trying to escape. Five of us cornered the guy in a culvert beside his car—three patrol officers, one special agent from one of those “three-letter-agencies,” and me. I was dressed for court, wearing a coat and tie, which is not exactly the perfect outfit for exchanging gunfire with a bad guy on one of the hottest days of the year.

The robber had no intention of surrendering, and decided to shoot it out with us. Big mistake for him.

Four officers took cover at the top of a highway exit ramp, just above and out of the robber’s line of sight. I was closest to the gunman—twenty-five yards away to his left. My only cover was a small maple tree—a very, very small maple tree. At the time it seemed like a toothpick with only a few leaves.

The robber crouched down near the rear bumper of his car, where I watched him load his weapon—an old revolver. I yelled, begging him to drop the gun and come to us with his hands up. He ignored my orders and fired a shot toward my fellow officers on the hilltop.

The sound of his gunshot activated my brain’s slow-motion function. Time was crawling to a stop.

Somehow, and I still can’t explain it, I actually had time to look around before reacting to the gunshot. I saw my partners yelling, their mouths slowly opening and closing. Lazy puffs of blue-black smoke drifted upward from their gun barrels. I saw a dog barking to my right—its head rose and fell with each silent yap, moving slower than dial-up internet. Droplets of spittle hung in the air around its face.

I turned back to the robber, thinking “center mass,” and took aim, firing a single shot through the rear, side glass of the car and into the side of his head (that’s the only part of the body I could see at the time). He fell over onto his right side. I thought it was all over. Instead, the robber popped back up, smiling like a crazed zombie-like psycho. He fired four more times, pausing a few seconds between shots. This time I had a better view of him and answered each of his shots with one of my own, all directly into his chest. He fell each time a round hit, but only stayed down for a second.


Bullet hole in the rear glass from my shot. The large hole in the side of the car is from a slug fired from an officer’s shotgun.

After the fifth bullet hit him, he hit the ground and didn’t move.


I called to everyone on my portable radio, letting them know it was over.

Suddenly, the robber jumped up and ran toward the officers on the hill. I ran after him. He stumbled, and I and a sheriff’s captain who’d just arrived on the scene, tackled him. We rolled the struggling robber over trying to gain control of his hands so we could apply handcuffs to his wrists. That’s when we saw that he still clutched the revolver in his right hand. He was squeezing the trigger repeatedly, but the gun was empty.

To this day, I can still hear the click, click, click of the hammer each time it fell.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered…suppose there had been one more round in that gun? Just one more round. What if…?

Yep, one more round in that revolver and I probably wouldn’t be here typing these words.


Paramedics with wounded bank robber.

The bank robber died a few moments later. I’d killed him. And that’s when my troubles started. You see, our chief didn’t believe in counseling and de-briefing. No post-shooting administrative leave. So I was left to fend for myself. Tough cops were supposed to handle whatever came their way. My chief actually told me that a real cop would just suck it up. In fact, his way to help me avoid “mental issues” as he called it, was to send me to the morgue to photograph the robber’s body and to remove the handcuffs from his wrists. I wasn’t even given the rest of the day off.

The robber died that August morning, and his soul left for wherever it is that troubled souls go. But a part of my emotions were tethered to him, and it was several years before they returned.

A couple of weeks after the shooting, my partner and I met with the medical examiner (this was the same medical examiner’s office where Patricia Cornwell based her Kay Scarpetta series). Even though I watched each of my bullets travel through the air until they hit the robber’s flesh (those who shoot a lot sometimes have this ability), it still hit like a ton of bricks when she told me that all five of the rounds that hit the man’s body were indeed fired by me.

The famous pathologist spared no details when she described the damage caused by each bullet, telling me which rounds inflicted the life-stopping wounds. Actually, either of the last four rounds I’d fired would have killed him. The first…the round that entered the side of the robber’s head and exited near the jawline, well, surprisingly, that one wasn’t fatal. Sure, it made two nice little holes and knocked out a few teeth and ripped through tongue and other meat and tissue, but he’d have lived if only he hadn’t continued to shoot at us.

All he had to do was stay down. Toss the gun away. Give up. Just STOP SHOOTING and he would’ve lived. I would not have been forced to squeeze my trigger those last four times.

Yes, I recall firing each of the five rounds. Still can, just like it was yesterday. I smell the smells. Hear the sounds. Feel the heat. It’s with me every day of my life.

In the beginning, the dead guy only visited me during my sleep. Soon, he grew restless and figured if he couldn’t sleep, then neither would I. He visited me while I was at work. And he showed up during my off time. He walked with me while I mowed the grass, and he accompanied me to the store. His voice taunted me. His spirit tickled the hairs on the back of my neck just to let me know he was in the backseat as I drove my unmarked police car.

This was no downward spiral. No time for something that easy. This was a freefall straight to hell. Fortunately, just before I hit bottom I sought help on my own. And it took a few years to climb and crawl out of that dark pit, but I made it back and I actually think I’m a stronger person because of the experience. If nothing else, I have a real-life horror story to share.

Sixty-eight rounds of ammunition were fired during this shootout. The robber was hit five times, all five rounds were fired by me.  One police car was destroyed by gunfire. No police officers were injured by gunfire. However, soon after that day, one officer suffered a heart attack and died. He was 44. Two officers quit. Another died before he turned 55. An officer that showed up during the firefight died a few years later. None of us had received any de-briefing or counseling. None of us are in police work today.

Five more victims. Three dead. Three to go…


Police car destroyed by gunfire. That’s me with the cop/porn-star mustache. This photo was taken by a newspaper photographer just minutes after the robber succumbed to his wounds.

*This is a repeat post, but I’m currently traveling with no time spare time to write. I will, however, be checking in throughout the day. I’ll be back on Wednesday.

*     *     *

Hurry! Registration for the 2012 WPA will soon be closing.

Writers’ Police Academy

Read more
Footwear Evidence & Theft Detection: Leaving A Lasting Impression

Footwear Evidence & Theft Detection

Final Day of Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes – by Patti Phillips

Criminals rob, murder, rape or otherwise inflict bodily harm upon their victims. Physical evidence at a crime scene is an essential part of figuring out what happened. It is up to the police officers, investigators, and examiners to recognize what is and is not part of the evidence and then interpret the importance of each fiber, fingerprint, bloodstain, and other material in order to secure a conviction of the correct individual.

One of the most overlooked pieces of evidence at a crime scene is created by footwear.

If a window breaks as a thief enters the premises during the commission of a burglary, the glass will fall into the house, and onto the floor or rug below the window. When the thief steps through the window, unless the thief has wings, he/she will probably plant a foot right in the middle of the glass. And walk through the house, most likely tracking minute pieces of that glass. That glass may also become embedded in the grooves of the sole of the shoe, creating a distinctive footprint.

If the investigating officer can place a suspect at the scene with the footprint, then there is probable cause to fingerprint that suspect and hopefully establish a link to the crime.

A new method of eliminating suspects right at the scene involves stepping into a tray that contains a pad impregnated with a harmless clear ink that doesn’t stain, then stepping onto a chemically treated impression card. (So safe that it’s often used on newborn babies for the hospital records) No messy cleanup, immediate results, and it can even show details of wear and tear on the shoe. This can be a way to establish a known standard (we know where this impression came from) to compare with multiple tread prints at the scene.

Footwear Clear Ink Impression

Another tool for creating a known standard is the foam impression system. It takes a bit longer, (24 hours) but clear, crisp impressions can be made, including of the pebbles and bits stuck deep into the grooves and the writing on the arch. Very helpful when trying to place suspects at the scene. A rock stuck in the sole is a random characteristic that can’t be duplicated, so becomes another point of identification.

We definitely wanted to try this method for ourselves. Each of the writers stepped into the box of stiff-ish foam – a bit like stepping into wet sand.

Using foam impression system

An impression is made instantaneously. Look at the detail – down to the wear on the heel.

Foam impression of Wolverine boot

We used pre-mixed dental stone (made with distilled water and the powder) to fill the impression.

Making the cast with pre-mixed dental stone

We waited 24 hours for them to become firm enough to pop out of the foam. We now had permanent records of the footwear treads, which could be used for comparison to other prints found at the scene. There were more than a dozen of us walking through that room every day on a regular basis and assorted other visitors tramping through the perimeter. If a crime occurred before we left for the week, we’d have a LOT of eliminating to do, but we were ready!

Footwear casts

Occasionally footprints are found on the ground outside a window or in the gardens surrounding a house after a burglary or homicide. Ever see a crime show on TV where the fictional investigator makes a snap judgment about the height and weight of the owner of the footprint because of the depth of the impression? That’s merely a plot device and is not scientific evidence in real life. A crime scene photographer or investigator can photograph the footprint (next to a measurement scale), make a take away cast, and then compare the impression with those of the suspects or other bystanders at the scene. Beware: making a cast of the print destroys the print, so a photograph must be taken before pouring that first drop of dental stone.

Footprints can be found at bloody crime scenes as well. The suspect walks through the blood, tracks it through the house, cleans it up, but the prints are still there, even though not obvious to the naked eye. As we learned during the ‘Blood and Other Bodily Fluids’ session, blood just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a floor and even behind baseboards.

A savvy investigator will collect sections of carpet (or flooring) taken from where the suspect might have walked during the commission of the crime, then conduct a presumptive test for blood (LCV – Aqueous Leuco Crystal Violet), find a usable footprint, compare it to a known standard, and then be able to place the suspect at the scene.

Footwear Print

Crooks like to think they can outsmart the cops by coming up with new ways to get rid of evidence. But law enforcement officers are getting smarter as well. Filing down the serial numbers on a gun in order to cover up its ownership? No longer works.

We thought Mr. Skiff was kidding! But, no. We were each presented with a small rectangle of polished metal. Looks totally smooth and shiny, right? We were informed that one of the Sirchie employees had used a sander and removed numbers from some, maybe all, of the metal rectangles. Hmm… Our assignment was to restore the numbers. Ha! No way there was anything on mine.

Supposedly ‘gone’ serial number

(By the way, if this had been a gun in an actual case, first we would have photographed the area where the serial # was supposed to be, and shone a flashlight on it from several oblique angles to see if we could spot a fragment of a numeral.)

Our course of action was to:

1) polish the surface with sandpaper – very fine, 220 grade sandpaper. We were warned not to create heat, but to keep polishing until we had a mirror surface, about two minutes at a time.

2) wipe off the surface with clean cotton balls

3) apply cleaning solution

4) use a bulb pipette, apply 2% acetic acid solution, and flood the surface evenly.

The acid ate away at the metal, turned to light gray, bubbled, and gave off a bit of smoke. It was taking the destroyed surface and restoring it.

Acid treated metal

Once the bubbling stopped, we dumped the acid into the sink and wiped the surface dry with a clean cotton ball. It fogged and we kept rubbing hard, about 45 seconds. The next step was to run the piece of metal under the faucet and hold it an angle to see what we had.

Checking for numbers

Most of us saw something, but we couldn’t really tell what the writing said. We started the process again, beginning with the sanding at step #1. After another run through all the steps, three numerals appeared on mine.

584 pops out after only two attempts at restoration

Success! Followed by the application of an acid neutralizer to set the numerals. I just checked and almost two weeks after the class ended, the numerals have not faded.

If this were an actual case, we would photograph the numerals we were able to restore, call the gun manufacturer and ask for a match in their database. All legitimate gun manufacturers employ liaisons to work with law enforcement officers. Good news? – it is also possible to restore numbers on plastic, copper, and aluminum. And, if there were 20-30 numerals to be restored, and only half appeared, it’s possible to cover the recovered numerals with duct tape, then reprocess the missing ones.

Presumptive drug tests for narcotics can be conducted right at the scene.

The kits each include three ampules. A very small amount of the substance in question is added to the open bag and then the ampules are broken one at a time. After each ampule breaks, the test liquid mixes with the substance and will change to the correct color if the test is positive. Every once in a while, we see drug dealers on TV or in the movies dip a finger into a kilo of cocaine, taste it, then declare that it’s ‘good stuff.’ Not true in real life, and certainly a police officer could not do that at a drug bust. These tests are fast and accurate.

Presumptive drug test results

Theft detection comes into play during bank robberies and kidnappings. If officials know ahead of time that a bank is about to be robbed, or if kidnappers have asked for a money drop, but the identity of the suspect is unknown…what to do? Microwave the money to take out the moisture, then dust it with purple Stain Detection Powder. When the suspect picks up the cash, his hands will get the pesky purple powder all over them.

Visible Stain Detection Powder

The stuff is annoying and spreads easily onto clothes – messy, messy. So, if the suspect acts like any other average person on the planet, he/she will try to wash it off. But, that only makes the hands turn a bright shade of purple. This stuff does not wash off, no matter how many times you scrub. We watched Mr. Skiff continue to work on that purple stain for the rest of the day. I hope he didn’t have dinner plans out in a public place.

Visible Stain Detection Powder exposed to moisture

There are both visible and invisible fluorescent Stain Detection products (powders, pastes, crayons, ink markers, etc.) and they are used for both tagging and tracing. Some of the crimes most likely to be solved using them? Petty theft, money laundering, illegal drug sales, illegal firearm deals, industrial espionage, arson, and loads more. Stain Detection stamps have been used for years to track people coming and going at large entertainment venues. Cheap and easy way to tell if someone has paid for the entry ticket.

A few words about crime scene photography:

I’ve mentioned several times that photography plays an important role in recording evidence at the scene. We see crime scene photographers working the scenes on the major forensic crime shows on TV and in the movies all the time. Not just anyone with a cool new camera can photograph a crime scene, however. Aside from the ‘strong stomach’ factor, the photographer must have an expert level of knowledge about f-stops, raw vs jpeg images, and the list goes on. PLUS, you can’t delete the images you don’t like, even if fuzzy or off-kilter. Digital camera images are sequentially numbered and if the remaining photographs are entered into evidence in a court case, the attorneys will want to know what was on the missing images. Case gets thrown out of court because of your pride? Hmm…

The fabulous week came to a close with a graduation ceremony. Since we were not actually going to work in law enforcement – just write about it – we didn’t have to take the exam that usually closes the week of training. Whew!

Robert Skiff, Patti Phillips

Grads at other institutions receive flowers on graduation day. Not our group.

Our goodies? T-shirts, cozies, pens, and….

For a crime fiction writer, perfect!

I can’t say enough great things about Robert Skiff, the Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist who conducted the class with his assistant, Chrissy Hunter, all week. He fielded our many (sometimes wild) questions with solid expertise as we attempted to find the perfect scenarios for our fictional crime-fighters and criminals.

Thanks as well to Lee Lofland and Writers’ Police Academy for making it all possible. Amazing experience!

Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, www.kerriansnotebook.com. (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

Read more
U.S.S Arizona, Pearl Harbor: A Visit In Silence

*Photographs by Paul Beecroft

Paul Beecroft has spent a good deal of his life in law enforcement, in England. He’s worked Foot Patrol, Area Car, Instant Response Car and also as a Police Motorcyclist. He currently serves as a coroner’s investigator and has traveled all over England, Wales, Scotland and even Germany to investigate crimes.

Read more
Friday’s Heroes: Remembering The Fallen

The Graveyard Shift extends our condolences to the families of these brave officers.

Officer Chad Morimoto

Honolulu Hawaii Police Department

July 23, 2012 – Officer Chad Morimoto was killed in a motorcycle accident during a training exercise.

Officer Matthew Tyner

Colorado Springs Police Department

July 24, 2012 – Officer Matthew Tyner was killed in a motorcycle accident while working a traffic detail.

Deputy Sheriff William Mast, Jr., 23

Watauga County North Carolina Sheriff’s Office

July 26, 2012 – Deputy William Mast, Jr. was shot and killed as he was walking from his patrol car to a mobile home in response to an open-line 911 call. Authorities believe the shooter used the 911 call to ambush Deputy Mast. Another deputy on the scene returned fire, killing the suspect.

Deputy Mast is survived by his expectant wife.

Officer Jose Torres

Westfield Massachusetts Police Department

July 26, 2012 – Officer Jose Torres was directing traffic at a construction site when he was struck by a dump truck. He was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Postal Inspector Preston Boyd Parnell, 46

United States Postal Inspection Service

July 26, 2012 – In 2007, Inspector Preston Parnell was working a joint operation with an FBI special agent when they were involved in an automobile crash. Inspector Parnell never recovered from his injuries and passed away this week.

Read more
Fingerprint Collection from Difficult Surfaces…and AFIS

Fingerprint Collection from Difficult Surfaces (& AFIS) at Sirchie

We often hear it said on TV and in the movies that there are items and surfaces that do not hold fingerprints or that fingerprints cannot be recovered from them. On Day #4 of the Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes held at the Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories in NC, we experimented with a variety of surfaces to see what would happen if…

Skin is reported to be one of the most difficult surfaces from which to lift a print, because the prints fade so quickly. But, after three days of dusting and chemically treating and lifting and photographing dubious fingerprints, our group of dogged writer/investigators was not to be deterred.

The set of prints in the photograph below were lifted from an arm. Not clothing, the arm itself. And not by using fingerprint powder on the arm. A classmate kindly offered up her arm to be grabbed. Then a piece of specially treated paper (chromicoat) was pressed onto the area of her arm where the fingerprints were likely to be found. That paper was then dusted with fingerprint powder and the prints popped up. We now knew it was possible to lift the prints if they were minutes old, but we had access to both the specially treated paper and the powder immediately after the grab. We also knew from experience that our grabber always left really good prints on all the surfaces touched during the previous days.

We proposed various scenarios to our instructor (equally curious Robert Skiff, Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist). What if a mugger grabbed a bare arm and tried to drag us into an alley? How close would we have to be to the police station after we got away from the mugger in order to get the prints processed? How much time did we have before they faded away? Would the lift work if we used plain paper, since it was highly unlikely that an ordinary gal would be carrying chromicoat paper in a pocket? What if the police station wasn’t close by, therefore no access to fingerprint powder?

The answers were time sensitive. It was possible to lift prints from a bare arm with plain paper, but only if the lift was made during the first few minutes and only if the suspect left a strong sample. It’s possible to use cigarette ashes as a substitute for the fingerprint powder. Conclusions? There were too many variables for this to be a reliable way to catch a crook. Now…if you were grabbed around the corner from a police station OR were a smoker AND the mugger had dirty hands AND you had a clean piece of paper in your pocket AND you had attended this class… Hmmm…maybe in a sci-fi mystery. However, not completely impossible.

Lift from skin using Chromicoat treated paper

Another difficult surface from which to lift prints is the dashboard of a car. Think about it. If you press your hand onto a dashboard, your skin (with all the loops and whorls and arches) is also pressing into the crevices of the pebbled surface. Same thing is true for an orange or a football. A straight gel lift or hinge lifter will not do the job effectively. A tape lift may only pick up the top of the print.

Dashboard surface

But, the investigator sees the possible print and doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to catch the crook. The answer in the past was to dust the likely area with magnetic fingerprint powder, then apply a Blue Glue gel and wait for the gel to cure before lifting it off the dash—about five hours. FIVE hours? The crook is getting away! No time to wait!

These days, the preferred lifting product (after applying the magnetic powder to enhance the print) is a transparent liquid silicone (PVS200—polyvinyl siloxane), applied with an extruder gun. It flows down into the crevices, dries in six minutes, and gets into every bit of the print. After the polyvinyl dries, it can be lifted, and then placed on a backing card to preserve the print. At that point, it can be placed under an Optical Comparator, photographed, and sent off to AFIS for an ID/comparison.

This epoxy is not good for every surface (it rips paper, etc) but is very good for pitted, bumpy surfaces like alligator skin and dashboards. Gotcha!

Dashboard Lift

Another tricky scenario: The cop is in pursuit of an unidentified car thief or robber and chases him through a parking lot. The cop witnesses the suspect firmly planting his palm on the trunk of a car as he cuts through a tight space. The cop grins as he realizes that even if the guy outruns him, he can catch him through the palm print. And, then, it starts to pour. Does the print get washed away? Or become unusable?

Not if the Field Kit is handy! When forced to do a wet lift, it is possible to use SPR (Small Particle Reagent – finely ground particles suspended in a detergent solution). Spray the print with a fine mist of SPR and let set. Lay the hinge lifter just off the print and place it down carefully, employing a squeegee at the same time, to slowly remove the excess water. This method can be used to develop prints on non-porous surfaces—cans, bottles, windows, and other glossy surfaces, but not on paper or cardboard.

Wet Lift

Criminals who tie their victims up during the commission of a crime frequently use duct tape for the job. That duct tape is almost always full of prints that get embedded into the tape. It’s practically impossible to manipulate and tear the tape while wearing gloves (I tried this once and the gloves got so stuck to the tape that I threw the resulting mess away), so he leaves prints while unrolling and tearing the tape. Even if he has wiped the smooth surface of the tape clean to cover his identity, the sticky side can’t be wiped without taking away the sticky. Balls of tape tossed aside by a suspect have been processed successfully for prints, but first the tape had to be released from itself.

Separating folded duct tape from itself

A 2% chloroform tape release agent is dropped liberally on the area where the two pieces of tape meet. Two people need to work together on this—one person places the drops continuously while the other person pulls the tape apart. The ends of the tape are folded over (about ¼”) and the tape is flattened for 24 hours before further processing.

Adhesive-side Developer

After 24 hours, adhesive-side developer is applied to the sticky side of the duct tape, allowed to sit for a few minutes, then rinsed off and voila! The prints are clearly visible, can be photographed, covered with clear tape to protect them, viewed under the Optical Comparator, entered into the system, and sent off to AFIS. (Crystal Violet can also be used for processing this type of print, but is toxic and should only be used in a lab.)

Duct tape prints

AFIS – what is it and does it really help identify a person of interest in a crime?

Anyone who has watched TV crime shows during the last decade has heard the acronym AFIS. It stands for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. In 1924, the FBI started a fingerprint identification system. They fingerprinted several thousand prisoners incarcerated at Leavenworth, and stored their prints on cards.

Today, the system has broadened to include international prints as well, is an electronic database of 70 million, and contains the prints of people who have been arrested at every level of crime. The FBI also includes prints of people fingerprinted as a result of employment, or security assessments purposes such as authorized Federal background check programs and military service. The latest FBI version is named IAFIS (I is for Integrated).

Johnny Leonard, a latent fingerprint expert, visited the class in the afternoon to explain what AFIS can and can’t do. He showed us what a fingerprint examiner looks for in every print or partial print he/she sees, using the Henry Fingerprint Classification and Identification method. The average number of minutiae on every complete print is between 100 and 150. There are distinct ridge patterns to look for in a print: arches, loops and whorls.

65% of all fingerprint patterns are loops,

30% are whorls,

and only 5% of fingerprint patterns are arches.

Thumb prints are the prints most often left at a crime scene, because people use their thumbs for leverage when pushing through doors or opening safes, or grabbing those golf clubs to use as weapons, etc.

Identifying 8-12 points of similarity between an unknown latent print found at a crime scene and one in the AFIS database is the standard for declaring a match, but some jurisdictions want more for absolute certainty. An examiner plots the print in question for distinct characteristics, makes notes to that effect before sending the print off and waits. AFIS & IAFIS return a list (sometimes as many as 30) of possible matches. At this point, the examiner reviews the possibles and chooses the best match in his/her opinion. And, it might not be the first on the list. Then, another examiner verifies the possible match. There is no such thing as an instantaneous match with just one print from the AFIS or IAFIS databases. TV tells us otherwise, but sorry, that’s merely for dramatic effect.

Other interesting fingerprint details:

*We know that no two people can have the same fingerprints, but not even the same person’s prints are identical.

*Some people have all three types of ridge patterns on one finger.

*Only positive matches from the state AFIS are verified by examiners; not the negative ones.

*Palm prints are now in the AFIS database.

*AFIS looks for change of direction in the whorls, loops, and arches in order to find a match.

*There has not been a case yet where the DNA has not matched the fingerprints at the scene.

The photo below shows a positive match between a latent print and one in the database. The latent is on the left. The database print is on the right. This match placed the suspect at the scene and along with other evidence, resulted in a conviction.

AFIS Match

Having been through four days of training, working with prints on a variety of surfaces, we felt confident that we were up to the challenge of matching a few fingerprints on our own. Mr. Leonard showed us 16 pairs of prints and gave us 15 minutes to make decisions. We looked for cluster highlights, tented arches, spots, bifurcations and other techy details. Guess what? The lines began to blur, and not all of us correctly identified all the matches.

TV makes it look easy, with a click and a less than five-minute response time from IAFIS. Not possible, with 70 million fingerprints to choose from. This is not an easy job.

Next up: Footwear and other fun ID techniques


Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, www.kerriansnotebook.com. (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

Read more
The Surprising Early Jobs of Famous Writers

Thanks to Cold War-era initiatives, the STEM fields tend to soak up all the money and glory these days. Or at least the money and the glory not foisted onto professional athletes and blank-eyed, fuzzy-brained reality stars, anyway. Though as far back as history remembers, writers especially earn very little for their wordsmithing, and competition to see stories land in papers and on the shelves always proves slightly more difficult than anyone other than MacGyver cracking open a bank safe with a safety pin. Authors of all types have had to channel their talents into jobs that pay the bills rather than nurse their artistic visions, and many eventually penned some lasting masterpieces based on their experiences. Here, we’ll explore some of the interesting and often surprising jobs held by some of our most famous and favorite writers.

  • Marjane Satrapi: Drug Dealer:

    As readers of Persepolis — easily amongst the most beloved graphic memoirs of all time — know, writer and illustrator Marjane Satrapi coped with the humiliation of her expatriate experience partly by drug dealing. As a teen living in Vienna after escaping a war-ravaged Iran, her boyfriend Markus’ heavy involvement with illicit substances drove her to both use and sell, eventually driving her out of school and into two months of homelessness and severe bronchitis. Reeling from receipt by the city’s racists and treated as if a pet by so-called “progressives,” the punkish Satrapi sank into a major depressive episode and eventually returned to her parents (and the militant new theocratic regime) back home.

  • Ernest Hemingway: Ambulance Driver:

    During World War I, the legendary author of The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, and For Whom the Bell Tolls (among plenty of other well-received classics) could not serve in the U.S. Army owing to poor eyesight. Still wanting to take part, he left his journalism position at a Kansas City paper to drive ambulances in the Italian army instead. He wound up wounded with shrapnel in his leg, earning a heavy amount of decoration and recognition for the sacrifice. Following several stints in European hospitals, a recovered Hemingway eventually went back to reporting before moving on to the short stories and novels most readers remember today.

  • Maya Angelou: Streetcar Conductor:

    One of America’s most beloved Renaissance women mostly receives attention for her poetry and, to a lesser extent, acting and dancing. Maya Angelou’s stunning autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, details her time as San Francisco’s very first African-American female to conduct a streetcar. At age 14, no less! She later kept up with the position while pregnant with her first child, struggling with never knowing whether or not “[she] would have to jump off the streetcar one step ahead of the warm sea of nausea that threatened to sweep [her] away.” So, basically, Angelou’s famous strength, drive, and character blossomed long before her writing career ever did.

  • Kurt Vonnegut: Public Relations for GE:

    Writers gonna write, obviously, but it’s hard to picture the iconoclastic wit of Kurt Vonnegut wiling away his time writing press releases at General Electric of all places. Especially considering how he so staunchly sympathized with socialist causes! But even revolutionaries have to feed their wives and kids, and the author’s time having to navigate the world of advertising and public relations eventually inspired many of his later works. As he mentioned in the intro to the short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box, debut novel Player Piano relentlessly satirized the corporation, which funny enough also employed Ronald Reagan at the time. Following its publication, he took on a position managing a Saab dealership to ensure his family remained properly cared for.

  • Chuck Palahniuk: Diesel Mechanic:

    Although he had already racked up education and experience in the journalism field, the incendiary author of such contemporary masterpieces as Fight Club and Invisible Monsters eventually took on a diesel mechanic job at Freightliner for better pay. While there, he simultaneously compiled together concepts and pulled inspiration from the position and into his fictional writings, which he eked out on the side. Chuck Palahniuk was also required to pen technical manuals for the company along with making sure trucks ran smoothly, safely, and efficiently. His future involvement with public pranksters, the Cacophony Society, eventually led the group to enjoy fictional immortality as Project Mayhem.

  • Harper Lee: Airline Ticket Agent:

    Humble, unassuming, and media-shy Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird grandeur fiscally struggled between quitting college and launching her literary career. Both Eastern Airlines and the British Overseas Air Corp kept her employed as a ticket agent while she resided in New York City, spending her free time with childhood friend Truman Capote, Broadway lyricist and composer Martin Brown, and Joy Brown, his wife. The trio adored her writerly gifts and encouraged her to nurture them, to the point the Browns left Lee with a touchingly beautiful gift as enticement to get her works out where audiences could love them too. Famously, they offered to pay all her living expenses for a year if she agreed to quit ticket-taking and start getting her novel on instead.

  • Franz Kafka: Chief Legal Secretary at Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute:

    Known today as one of Europe’s most provocative existentialist writers, Franz Kafka actually held down a day job as a well-regarded litigator and, eventually, served as the Chief Legal Secretary at Workman’s Accident Insurance Institute. This position often inspired both fiction and nonfiction writings and even drawings, though most classes and scholars tend to focus almost exclusively on the former, The Metamorphosis in particular. Lately, though, surviving scribblings from his lauded legal career, which involved a fair amount of crucial insurance reform policies, have started garnering more interest, adding another dimension to a broader understanding of this essential author’s life.

  • Ian Fleming: Badass

    It probably shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anyone that James Bond’s creator knew a thing or two about intelligence, covert ops, and espionage. The true surprise lay in the fact that he may have actually been even more of an ass-kicker than his iconic superspy! During World War II, Ian Fleming held a position as the assistant to the Royal Navy’s Director of Naval Intelligence, John Godfrey, and, eventually, as a commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Although much of what he dealt with largely remains classified, he certainly played a prominent role in Nazi-killin’, which is actually way cooler than campy super-villains in some ways.

* Article by www.onlinephdprograms.com

* Wikipedia Commons photo

*Interesting note from The Graveyard Shift – The 2012 WPA had hoped to present local author Maya Angelo with an award for her outstanding achievements, but had to change plans because Ms. Angelo’s manager/publicist demanded a $50,000 fee for her to attend the banquet and accept the honor. There would have been very little travel involved since she resides within mere minutes of the WPA banquet location, a residence that’s also within the jurisdiction of the police, fire, and EMS services that so wholeheartedly support the WPA and all its writers/recruits. 

Had Ms. Angelou accepted our invitation, and had she accepted the award, and had she then uttered only two words—thank you—she’d have earned $25,000 per word. How many authors today earn that sort of not-so-hard-earned cash for their work? I’d say she’s come a long way from operating a street car. Still, demanding $50,000 from someone so they can tell you how great you are…geesh… Yeah, I withdrew the offer.

By the way, my comments are in no way associated with the above article or photograph, nor do they reflect the views of anyone other than, well, me.

Read more