April Showers Bring…Death

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Why is it that law enforcement officials often dread turning the page from March to April? Well…

  • April 15, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln died from a gunshot wound inflicted the night before.
  • April 15, 1912 – More than 1,500 people lost their lives when the Titanic sank in the North American Sea.
  • April 20, 1914 – The Colorado National Guard, along with union guards, attacked and killed numerous striking coal workers in Ludlow, Colorado. Included in those killed were two women and several children who were asphyxiated and burned to death. The total death toll in the Ludlow Massacre was approximately two dozen.
  • April 4, 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • April 19, 1993 – Seventy-six people were killed when the FBI stormed the Branch Davidians’ compound in Waco, Texas.
  • April 19, 1995 – Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. 168 people were killed with another 600 injured in the blast.
  • April 24, 1995 – Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, killed his final victim.
  • April 20, 1999 – Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others at Columbine High School in Colorado. The two shooters committed suicide. They’d planned their attack for a day earlier but decided to wait until the 20th…Hitler’s birthday.
  • April 16, 2007 – Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. He committed suicide as police moved in to capture him.
  • April 3, 2009 – Jiverly Antares Wong shot and killed 13 people and wounded 4 others at the American Civic Association in Binghamton in New York. Wong later committed suicide.
  • April 2, 2012 – One L. Goh shot and killed 7 people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian College in Oakland, California.
  • April 6, 2012 – Kake England and Alvin Watts randomly shot and killed 2 black men and a black woman, and wounded 2 others in Tulsa, Oklahoma. England said the killings were in response to the killing of his father by a black man two years earlier.
  • April 15, 2013 – Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated two pressure cooker bombs during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring over 260 others.

Lets fast forward to 2016 where people are trying their best to continue the spring tradition of murder. Chicago, for example:

Chicago Murders in April, 2016

April 1st – 8 male victims

April 2 – 10 males, 1 female

April 3 – 13 males

April 4 – 8 males

April 5 – 3 males, 2 females

April 6 – 7 males

April 7 – 14 males, 1 female

April 8 – 2 males, 1 female

April 9 – 3 males

April 10 – 9 males

April 11 – 1 male

By the way, the total shootings in Chicago so far in 2016 – 858. The homicide total from January 1, 2016 through today (April 11) is 156.

Total shooting victims in Chicago in the year 2015 – a staggering 2,988 (source – Chicago Tribune). 488 people were murdered in 2015.

In comparison, there’ve been 61 homicides in Baltimore in 2016, with 5 occurring in April. Baltimore counted 344 total homicides in 2015.

*Sources provide slight differences in totals, but they’re all close to the same.

Of course, there are other important deadly dates to remember in April, including…

April 12, 1861 – The American Civil War began, with the first shots being fired at Ft. Sumter in South Carolina.

April 20, 1889 – Adolf Hitler was born.

April 20, 2010 – The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven workers and countless wildlife. Massive amounts of oil flowed for 87 days before the well was eventually capped.

April 4, 2015 – Officer Michael Slager fatally shot an unarmed Walter Scott as he ran away from him. Slager stopped Scott for a minor traffic infraction and it was during the stop when Scott fled. Citizen video footage recorded the incident and clearly showed Slager firing his weapon eight times. Scott was hit a total of five times—three rounds in the back, one in the buttocks, and one to the ear. Slager was charged with murder and was jailed. However, he is currently out on bond.

April Good News

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April 8, 2002 – Ray Krone was released from prison after serving 10 years, including 2 years on death row, after DNA evidence proved his innocence. Ray shared his story here on The Graveyard Shift back in 2013. He still travels across the country as an advocate for the wrongly imprisoned.

~

*Sources show slight differences in shooting and homicide totals, but they’re all close to the same final numbers.

 

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How “Stuff” Helps Detectives Solve Murders

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Much like a writer’s intricately plotted tale of fictional murder and the macabre, evidence discovered at actual crime scenes also tells a story. And, with these valuable clues safely collected, bagged, and tagged, detectives set out on their own killer-exposing hero’s journey.

Here’s how homicide investigators use crime-scene evidence in their quests to solve real-life mysteries.

  1. Broken/Shattered Glass – fracture analysis can show the type of force used to break the glass, direction and angle of break, and the sequence of breaks and force used.

When packaging broken glass, wrap in paper. Smaller pieces may be placed inside appropriate size cartons.

  1. Hairs – testing determines if human or non-human, race, body area, stage of decomposition, artificial treatments (hair coloring agents, etc.), drug use.

When packaging hairs, double packaging in paper is best. However, if the hair is completely dry, plastic will work in a pinch. Hairs recovered from different locations must be packaged separately and labeled accordingly. Tape all packaging seams.

  1. Automobile Pieces, Parts, and Debris (left behind by crash, explosion, etc.) – paint and part analysis for vehicle make and model determination, tire impression (possible make and model), recovery of Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), trajectory analysis of damage by firearms (bullet holes), accelerants used in arson cases, analysis of blood and other body fluids.
  1. Explosions – examination and analysis of trace evidence, such as hair, fibers, glass, blood, soils, fabric, fingerprints, DNA, tool marks, bone (DNA, human/non-human, age, race, and sex of victim, cross check with missing persons data, etc.).
  1. Building Materials – examine for possible manufacturer source and/or other common source, such as a specific retailer.
  1. Cigarettes – DNA analysis from filter end. Latent fingerprint recovery from all areas/surfaces of the product and its packaging.

NEVER use plastic when packaging potential DNA evidence. Plastic encourages the growth of bacteria which could deteriorate or destroy DNA.

  1. Coded Messages – examine for codes, ciphers, and other efforts at concealment. If needed, agencies can send these messages to a specific FBI email address for analysis. These messages go directly to FBI codebreakers.
  1. Ropes, Strings, and Other Cordage – examine for possible source matching.
  1. Shredded Paper – examine for latent prints. Possible reconstruction of documents.
  1. Tapes – examine for hairs and other fibers that may be attached to the “sticky side.” Check for and develop fingerprints. Match end-cuts or fractures with possible sources.

To print the stick side of tapes, use:

  1. Sticky-side powder
  2. Alternate black powder
  3. Ash gray powder
  4. Gentian violet
  1. Tools – examine for trace evidence (hairs, fibers, spoils, human tissue and fluids, etc.), latent prints, transferred paint and other building material for possible source-matching.
  1. Weapons – examine for blowback material (flesh, blood, brain matter, etc.), fingerprints, trace evidence, serial numbers, ammunition type and comparisons, tool marks, gunshot residue, marks (nicks, scratches, dents, etc.), comparison to broken fragments (broken knife blades), etc.

 

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OMG! Death of Person Shot By Cops Ruled a HOMICIDE!

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Yeah, well, don’t let those click-bait headlines get your unmentionables all bunched up, because ALL, and I repeat, ALL killings of human beings by other humans are homicides. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

That’s right, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

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Yes, each time prison officials pull the switch, inject “the stuff,” or whatever means they use to execute a condemned prisoner, they commit homicide. People who kill attackers while saving a loved one from harm have committed homicide. And cops who kill while defending their lives or the lives of others have committed homicide. These instances are not a crime.

It’s when a death is caused illegally—murder or manslaughter—that makes it a criminal offense.

Murder is an illegal homicide.

For example, in Virginia:

§ 18.2-32. First and second degree murder defined; punishment.

Murder, other than capital murder, by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction, except as provided in § 18.2-31, is murder of the first degree, punishable as a Class 2 felony.

All murder other than capital murder and murder in the first degree is murder of the second degree and is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five nor more than forty years.

Therefore, those seemingly dramatic headlines that read “Shooting By Cop Ruled a Homicide,” well, they’re often nothing more than words used to affect people’s emotions, induce a reaction, or to encourage people to click over to their website, which, by the way, is how many so-called news outlets pay the bills.

So please, un-wad those unmentionables and don’t be a victim of media sensationalism.

By the way, how many of you clicked over to this blog because of the headline/blog-post title? Gotcha…

 

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Effects of Hanging and Strangulation

 

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Hangings have been a staple in mysteries for as long as we can remember. The Wild West featured them at high noon. Even the United States government used them as a means of execution, the last being a fellow from the state of Delaware named Bill Bailey, which finally answers the never-ending question from that song. He’s not coming home, so feel free to stop singing.

Most writers who attempt to pen death by rope or other “twisted” cord have never seen a victim of strangulation, or hanging (sometimes they’re the same). And that, of course, makes the task a little more difficult, relying on books, TV, film, and the word of experts. So before we look at an actual photo straight from the morgue (I snapped the image), let’s take a moment to discuss why something as small as a shoelace has the ability to end a human life.

The neck, although looking pretty sturdy perched on a set of nicely toned shoulders, is actually quite vulnerable to life-threatening injury.After all, there’s a lot of important stuff packed into a fairly small space—spinal cord, airway, and major blood vessels. And there’s not a lot of protection surrounding those vital body parts. There’s no bony encasement, such as our ribs, that circle around the interior of the neck. Nope, it’s basically just a little muscle and skin that separates the spinal cord, airway, and major blood vessels from harm.

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Did you know that hanging is actually a form of strangulation? Well, sometimes hangings may include some spinal cord or bone injury, but basically the death is by strangulation.

Hangings are either complete—the entire weight of the body is suspended by the neck, or incomplete—a portion of the body is touching the ground/floor.

A judicial hanging (execution) is normally a death by internal decapitation, where the weight of the body combined with the fall causes the neck to break, separating the head from the body (a separation at C2 is the classic hangman fracture). No, I’m not talking about someone’s head popping off like a champagne cork. Instead, the separation is entirely internal. The head stays with the body, connected by muscle and skin.

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Rarely, as I’ve often read in novels, does a complete, external decapitation occur. However, it is possible to see an external decapitation (the head completely separates from the body—two individual pieces) in cases where the drop is much further than the length of the victim’s body. For example, the victim is 6′ tall and is dropped from a height of 30 feet, or more, before the rope tightens, well…POP!

The muscles of the neck, such as the sternocleidomastoid muscle, remain intact during an incomplete decapitation.

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Strangulation by ligature, tool, or mechanism is a little different, however. Death caused by those methods are normally caused by obstruction of blood flow to the brain, which causes loss of consciousness followed by a loss of muscle tone and finally arterial and airway obstruction. Naturally, other things occur during the time of strangulation, but those are probably of the most concern for writers.

However, pressure applied to the neck for mere moments doesn’t always cause death. Martial arts “strangle holds” often involve a compression of the major neck arteries, causing a temporary unconsciousness. The trachea (windpipe) is not compromised during the application of these techniques. This technique is the “chokehold” once taught to police officers. Again, the airway is in no way affected when the technique is properly applied. The person to whom the hold is applied is able to breathe easily at all times. It is the restricted blood flow to the brain that causes unconsciousness.

The below post-autopsy photo shows a deep ligature mark on the neck (upper left). Note the stitching of the “Y” incision, post autopsy.

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The murder weapon used to kill the victim above was an extension cord, the type typically found in many homes.

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