Archive for the ‘Death Investigation’ Category
Solving a murder case is sort of like working a jigsaw puzzle in reverse, starting with a whole picture—the puzzle-parts all in place. Investigators then begin to pick apart, examine, and scrutinize those individual sections, one-by-one, hoping to quickly locate and identify key pieces.
All murders have them, you know—those oddly-shaped pieces that lead detectives to MOM—Motive, Opportunity, and Means. Then, with a killer’s MOM firmly in hand, detectives should easily be able to identify the person who possesses those all-so-important elements…the murderer. Simple, huh? Well, that’s not always the way it works out. Actually, more often than we see in the always-solved cases in our favorite whodunit novels, real-life puzzles are often missing a vital element or two.
Sure, murder cases are often solved quickly, especially those cases where the killer remains at the crime scene waiting patiently for police to arrive. And that happens quite often, believe it or not. And, there are cases where the killer murders someone in the presence of scores of witnesses. The solvability rate in those cases is, of course, very high.
For example, I once worked a case—The Great Hotdog Murder of ’91— that started out as a nice Saturday noontime lunch, with twin brothers enjoying all the hotdogs they could eat, their favorite meal. To the teens’ delight, their father had fired up the charcoal grill and, within a few minutes, the two boys were busy wolfing down dog after dog without wasting the time or energy to bother with buns or forks. Instead, they used their fingers to grab the tube steaks, dragging them through dollops of yellow mustard before nearly inhaling the processed meat sticks.
The grill-marked dogs disappeared at an equal rate, one each per hungry mouth. But dear old dad tossed a monkey wrench into the works when he decided he’d eat one, leaving an unfortunate odd number of piping hot all-beef weiners on the platter. Therefore, the eldest brother (by three or four minutes) was highly offended when his twin grabbed the last dog and quickly chomped off nearly half with one bite.
Knowing that dear old dad kept a loaded revolver in the top right-hand drawer of the buffet, the elder and now dogless twin, grabbed the gun and fired a round into his brother’s forehead, killing him in mid-chew. When I arrived, the dead twin still clutched a bite-size piece of hotdog in his hand. His murdering brother sat at the table waiting patiently for police to cart him off to jail. No tears. No emotion. Just a matter-of-fact, “He shouldn’t have grabbed the last hotdog. He knew I don’t play when it comes to my food.”
Yes, those cases are easily and quickly stamped “CLOSED.” However, when murders are committed by strangers, well, that’s when investigators begin to find a piece or two missing from the puzzle. Such as, cases where racial and ethnic minorities are deliberately killed. Those cases are far less likely to be solved than, say, when any child under the age of 5 is murdered. In those instances, the killer is identified approximately 90% of the time. This is so, because in murder cases involving younger children, the child killers are usually a close family member, or a friend of the family.
How about female murder victims as opposed to male? Well, according to a Scripps study of FBI reports, homicides involving women are solved three-fourths of the time, as opposed to two-thirds in cases involving male victims.
Cases involving prostitutes, gang members, drug dealers, and/or runaways are extremely difficult to solve, because the victims in these cases are in a higher risk category than, say, soccer moms, preachers, teachers, and business people.
The solvability ratio is the most glaring along racial lines, with only 67% of the cases solved when the victim is a young black male (only 64% when African American male victims are between 20 and 24-years-old), as opposed to over 75% of cases solved when the victims are non-Hispanic whites.
In cases of stranger on stranger murder…well, they’re the most difficult to solve.
Then, there are the cases involving lover’s spats and cheating spouses. Those cases are solved nearly every time (98%).
Alcohol or drug-related fights ending in death—90% of those cases are solved by police. And, ethnicity is not a factor in these cases. It is also not a factor in cases of lover and spousal fights that end in murder.
Strangely, when women are the victims of gang-related murder, well, those cases are highly unlikely to be solved.
So, I guess the lesson to be learned from all these facts, figures, and other information is…always share the last hotdog, especially if you are a female gang member who sidelines as a prostituting drug-dealer.
*Stats source – Scripps-Howard News
Each state in the U.S. has its own laws and standards regarding medical examiners and coroners, and under which circumstances that autopsies are to be performed.
Georgia operates a unique system, in that both a medical examiner and a coroner may be involved in a single death investigation. Also unique is that the medical examiner’s office, where autopsies are conducted, falls under the jurisdiction of the Georgia Bureau of investigation (GBI), the equivalent to the investigative division of the state police in many states.
GBI also investigates drug crimes, homicide, rape, robbery, fraud, and other major crimes, and they maintain specialized units ready to respond to a variety of incidents—human trafficking, child exploitation, body recovery, and counter-terrorism, to name a few. They are also available to assist local police departments with investigations.
Georgia’s chief medical examiner oversees the medical examiner and coroner programs throughout the state. Autopsies in Georgia are conducted at the state’s main headquarters in Decatur, or at one of the regional labs in Savannah, Macon, or Augusta.
The main headquarters, as part of its team of eight medical examiners, employs one medical examiner whose specialty is pediatric pathology and fatal and non-fatal pediatric injury. Also on staff is a forensic anthropologist.
Georgia medical examiners investigate all deaths that fall under one the following categories:
1. Those deaths that are apparently homicidal, suicidal, or occurring under suspicious or unknown circumstances
2. Resulting from the unlawful use of controlled substances or the use or abuse of chemicals or toxic agents
3. Occurring while incarcerated or while in the custody of a law enforcement officer
4. Apparently accidental or following an injury
5. By disease, injury or toxic agent during or arising from employment
6. While not under the care of a physician during the period immediately preceding the death
7. Related to disease which might constitute a threat to the health of the general public
8. In which human remains have been disposed of in an offensive manner.
The Georgia Death Investigation Act requires that a medical examiner and/or coroner be notified in death cases, and that a medical examiner conduct a formal investigation and/or autopsy in cases where the victim/deceased died as a result of:
- As a result of violence
- By suicide or casualty
- Suddenly when in apparent good health
- When unattended by a physician; no person shall be deemed to have died unattended when the death occurred while the person was a patient of a hospice licensed under Article 9 of Chapter 7 of Title 31 of the Georgia Code.
- In any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 16 years of age and under
- After birth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained
- As a result of an execution carried out ursuant to the imposition of the death penalty under Article 2 of Chapter 10 of Title 17
- When an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution; or
After having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission
There are five determinations for manner of death:
- Homicide – the death was caused by the actions of another person.
*Remember, homicide and murder are NOT the same. Murder is the unlawful taking of a human life by another. While all murders are homicides, not all homicides are murders. In Georgia, for example, if a homeowner, fearful for his or her life, kills an intruder, or a law enforcement officer kills someone in the line of duty, both are considered homicides but not necessarily murder.
- Natural – the death was from diseases or medical conditions such as cancer or heart attack.
- Accidental – an unintended death
- Suicide – a death that is intentionally self-inflicted
- Undetermined – there is little or no evidence to establish
*Source – GBI/Medical examiner’s office