Shots fired from close range leave tell-tale marks called stippling, or tattooing. Evidence of contact with hot gunpowder can be seen just above and to the sides of the “V” opening of the shirt (the blackened area) in the photograph below.

The person who wore this shirt was the victim of a shooting at close range—less than a foot away—with a 9mm pistol. Notice there’s no hole in the back of the shirt. No hole, no exit wound. The bullet remained lodged inside the body, even from a shot at this short distance.

The next photograph (post autopsy) – *WARNING. REAL GUNSHOT WOUND – GRAPHIC *– is of the victim’s wound (received in the upper image).

The wound is round and neat and it’s approximately the diameter of an ink pen. It’s not like the ones we see on television where half the guy’s body is blown into oblivion, or beyond, by a couple of bullets from a hero’s gun.

Sometimes exit wounds are nearly, or as small as the entrance wound. The amount of damage and path of travel depends on the type ammunition used and what the bullet struck as it makes it way through the body. They do not display signs associated with entrance wounds—imprint of the muzzle, stippling, or blackening of the skin edges.

I’ve witnessed officers who easily mistook exit wounds for entrance wounds, at first glance. A close examination reveals stark differences. Exit wounds normally present pieces of avulsed flesh angled slightly away from the wound. Typically, there’s also no trace of gunshot residue around the outside of the wound.

Again, the image below is graphic!

In the picture below, the hot bullet entered the flesh leaving a gray-black ring around the wound. The tiny black dots are the stippling, or tattooing.

Close contact gunshot wound to the chest.

The impact of the bullet and gases striking the tissue also left a distinct bruising (ecchymosis) around the wound. Notice the stitching of the “Y” incision.

Contact wounds caused by the barrel of a gun touching the skin when the weapon is fired may present the imprint of the muzzle. The wounds sometimes show an abrasion ring (a dark circle around the wound) that’s caused as the hot gases from the weapon enters the flesh. The force of the gas blows the skin and tissue back against the gun’s muzzle, leaving the circular imprint.

Contact wounds occur when the muzzle is pressed against the skin when the weapon is fired

  • In areas of “loose” skin, such as the abdomen or even the chest area, wounds likely present as circular with blackened, seared skin surrounding the wound opening.
  • On the head, entry wounds often appear as round punctures, again with blackened, seared skin surrounding the wound opening.

Near-contact wounds are caused when the muzzle of the gun is held a short distance from the skin. These wounds generally present as circular with blackened and seared edges. However, the searing and blackening cover a wider space than seen with contact wounds

Stippling

  • Stippling is due to burned and unburned powder grains exiting from the firearm causing pinpoint, blackened abrasions on the skin.

Entrance and Exit Wounds in Bone

Entrance wounds in flat bones such as the skull are often round and show internal beveling in the direction of the bullet’s path. The shape and nature is quite similar to that of a cone.

Exit wounds in bone are most likely more irregular in shape than entry wounds and may show external beveling (a reverse cone), the opposite effect of the entrance wound.

 

The first hours of a murder investigation are crucial to solving the crime. I say this because  as time passes memories fade, evidence can become lost or destroyed, people have the opportunity to develop excuses, stories, and alibis, and the bad guys have the time to escape arrest.

Here’s a handy list to keep on hand that could help solve the cases investigated by the detectives in your stories. Keep in mind that time is of the utmost importance! So, in no real order, off we go …

Serving a search warrant. Knock, knock!

Investigators start the search at the scene and then extend the search area as needed.

Police Public Information Officers (PIO) are the direct line of communication between departments and the public.

It’s important to keep the bosses informed. They do not like to be blindsided with questions they can’t answer.

And then it’s time for …

*Remember, no list is all inclusive since no two crimes are exactly the same. And, no two detectives operate in the exact same manner.

 

 

 

Prisoners are constantly scheming and devising ways to beat the system, and death row inmates in South Carolina found a way to essentially put the brakes on executions. How’s that for ingenuity?

Officials in South Carolina, bless their hearts, believed condemned killers should have the option as to how they’d die—lethal injection or electric chair. Well, it goes without saying that given the choice of being fried like a chicken for a Sunday dinner or to lie down on a padded gurney where a medical person injects enough drugs to initiate a very long nap in the great beyond, the folks residing on death row picked the injection over the suped-up jumper-cable-powered chair. A no-brainer.

No Access to Drugs

Unfortunately for the state but a stroke of good fortune for the prisoners, in 2011, South Carolina was permanently denied access to the drugs to perform lethal injections. Therefore, by opting for lethal injection, a process inmates knew could not be carried out, those prisoners prolonged their lives for eternity. They were condemned to die but the state had no means to make it happen. Until …

State officials recently held a vote to eliminate lethal injection as an option for execution, making the use of the electric chair mandatory. The results of the vote … Yes=26. No=12. The proposal now goes to the House where it expected to pass easily, meaning it will soon be time to fire up Old Sparky. The prisoners will no longer have a choice. They will be electrocuted until dead.

South Carolina is one of only nine states that allow electrocutions. A couple of states have ruled the use of the electric chair is unconstitutionally cruel. I’ve witnessed an execution by electrocution. It’s not pretty, but it works.

Execution: It was April 27, 1994 at 11:13 pm. when I looked into the eyes of a serial killer and then watched him die.

Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.

spencer.jpg

Timothy W. Spencer, The Southside Strangler

Other women in the area were killed by someone who committed those murders in a very similar manner. Was there a copycat killer who was never caught? Or, did Spencer kill those women too? We’ll probably never learn the truth.

Spencer was, however, later tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the aforementioned murders. I requested to serve as a witness to his execution. I figured if I had the power to arrest and charge someone with capital murder, then I needed to see a death penalty case through to the end.

On the evening of Spencer’s execution, corrections officials met me at a state police area headquarters. I left my unmarked Chevrolet Caprice there and they drove me to the prison. We passed through the sally port and then through a couple of interior gates, stopping outside the building where death row inmates await their turn to die.

Once inside, I was led to a room where other witnesses waited for a briefing about what to expect. Then we, in single file, were led to where we’d soon watch a condemned man be put to death.

The room where I and other witnesses sat waiting was inside the death house at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center. At the time, the execution chamber was pretty much a bare room, with the exception of Old Sparky, the state’s electric chair, an instrument of death that, ironically, was built by prison inmates.

Old Sparky, Virginia’s electric chair, was built by inmates.

State executions in Virginia are carried out at Greensville Correctional Center.

The atmosphere that night was nothing short of surreal. No one spoke. No one coughed. Nothing. Not a sound as we waited for the door at the rear of “the chamber” to open. After an eternity passed, it did. A couple of prison officials entered first, and then Spencer walked into the chamber surrounded by members of the prison’s death squad (specially trained corrections officers).

I later learned that Spencer had walked the eight short steps to the chamber from a death watch cell, and he’d done so on his own without assistance from members of the squad. Sometimes the squad is forced to physically deliver the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber. I cannot fathom what sort mindset it takes to make that short and very final walk. Spencer seemed prepared for what was to come, and he’d made his peace with it.

Spencer was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a brutal serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and was the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration were scattered across his forehead and bare scalp.

Spencer scanned the brightly lit room, looking from side to side, taking in the faces of the witnesses. I wondered if the blonde woman beside me reminded him of either of his victims. Perhaps, the lady in the back row who sat glaring at the condemned killer was the mother of one of the women Spencer had so brutally raped and murdered.

After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. His arms and legs were securely fixed to the chair. He looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing, as if he’d just settled in to watch TV, or a movie.

I sat directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated only by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so. His face was expressionless. No sign of sadness, regret, or fear.

The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap was lined with a brine-soaked sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.

I wondered if Spencer felt the presence of the former killers who’d died in the chair before him—Morris Mason, Michael Smith, Ricky Boggs, Alton Wayne, Albert Clozza, Derrick Peterson, Willie Jones, Wilbert Evans, Charles Stamper, and Roger Coleman, to name a few.

Morris Mason had raped his 71-year-old neighbor. Then he’d hit her in the head with an ax, nailed her to a chair, set her house on fire, and then left her to die.

Alton Wayne stabbed an elderly woman with a butcher knife, bit her repeatedly, and then dragged her nude body to a bathtub where he doused it with bleach.

A prison chaplain once described Wilbert Evans’ execution as brutal. “Blood was pouring down onto his shirt and his body was making the sound of a pressure cooker ready to blow.” The preacher had also said, “I detest what goes on here.”

I wondered if Spencer felt any of those vibes coming from the chair. And I wondered if he’d heard that his muscles would contract, causing his body to lunge forward. That the heat would literally make his blood boil. That the electrode contact points were going to burn his skin. Did he know that his joints were going to fuse, leaving him in a sitting position? Had anyone told him that later someone would have to use sandbags to straighten out his body? Had he wondered why they’d replaced the metal buttons buttons on his clothes with Velcro? Did they tell him that the buttons would have melted?

For the previous twenty-four hours, Spencer had seen the flurry of activity inside the death house. He’d heard the death squad practicing and testing the chair. He’d seen them rehearsing their take-down techniques in case he decided to resist while they escorted him to the chamber. He watched them swing their batons at a make-believe prisoner. He saw their glances and he heard their mutterings.

Was he thinking about what he’d done?

I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?

The warden asked Spencer if he cared to say any final words—a time when many condemned murderers ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to family members of the people they’d murdered. Spencer opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, offering no apology and showing no remorse. Whatever he’d been about to say, well, he took it with him to his grave.

He made eye contact with me again. And believe me, this time it was a chilling experience to look into the eyes of a serial killer just mere seconds before he himself was killed. All the way to the end, he kept his gaze on me.

In those remaining seconds everyone’s thoughts were on the red telephone hanging on the wall at the rear of the chamber—the direct line to the governor. Spencer’s last hope to live beyond the next few seconds. It did not ring.

The warden nodded to the executioner, who, by the way, remained behind a wall inside the chamber and out of our view. Spencer must have sensed what was coming and, while looking directly into my eyes, turned both thumbs upward. A last second display of his arrogance. A death squad member placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face, then he and the rest of the team left the room. The remaining officials stepped back, away from the chair.

Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.

Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, the executioner sent a second burst to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.

The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.

It was over and an eerie calm filled the chamber. The woman beside me cried softly. I realized that I’d been holding my breath and exhaled, slowly. No one moved for five long minutes. I later learned that this wait-time was to allow the body to cool down. The hot flesh would have burned anyone who touched it.

The prison doctor slowly walked to the chair where he placed a stethoscope against Spencer’s chest, listening for a heartbeat. A few seconds passed before the doctor looked up and said, “Warden, this man has expired.”

That was it. Timothy Spencer, one of the worse serial killers in America was dead, finally.

Timothy Spencer was put to death on April 27, 1994 at 11:13 pm.

 

Unusual facts about Spencer’s case:

– Spencer raped and killed all five of his victims while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He committed the murders on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

– Spencer was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

– David Vasquez, a mentally handicapped man, falsely confessed to murdering one of the victims in the Spencer case after intense interrogation by police detectives. He was later convicted of the crime and served five years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. It was learned that Vasquez didn’t understand the questions he’d been asked and merely told the officers what he thought they wanted to hear.

– Spencer used neck ligatures to strangle each of the victims to death, fashioning them in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

– Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.

 

 

Welcome to the first issue of The Graveyard Shift online mini magazine. This is a test issue. If all goes well and, if you guys like it, there will be more to come. Please have a look and let me know your thoughts about the concept. To read, simply click the arrows below each page. The right arrow allows you to continue reading. The left, of course, allows you to return to previous pages. As always, thanks for supporting The Graveyard Shift!

*For an even better viewing experience, click (at the bottom of the page) on “The Graveyard Shift Magazine Cover by Lee Lofland”” and the link will take you to a place where you can view the entire piece one page at a time without having to scroll at all. Click on the the little icon that resembles a TV scree for an even better view/experience. I’m learning, too, don’t worry. Thanks!

The Graveyard Shift Magazine Cover by Lee Lofland by Lee Lofland

 

Recommended specimens collected by medical examiners/coroners in post mortem examinations/autopsy

Manner of Death Evidence Samples/Specimens
Suicides, vehicle crashes, and industrial accidentsBlood, urine, vitreous humor, liver
Homicides and/or all suspicious deathsBlood, urine, bile vitreous humor, hair, stomach contents, liver
Drug-related deathsBlood, urine, bile vitreous humor, hair, stomach contents, liver
Volatile substance abuseBlood, urine, vitreous humor, lung fluid, liver

Human Liver, superior view

Keep in mind that the liver is a primary solid tissue for use in post-mortem toxicology. It’s where the body metabolizes most drugs and toxins. Many drugs collect in the liver and can be found even when their presence is absent in the blood.

Blood poisoning

Vitreous Humor, in case you were wondering, is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the eye. It is commonly analyzed for blood alcohol levels. The coroner uses a needle to extract the vitreous humour for testing.

 

Other samples used for post-mortem testing

 

 

Hair and Nail specimens (usually taken from the back of the head), can be examined for exposure to heavy metals and drugs over a period of weeks to months. Hair is typically tested for heroin, marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine. Fingernail and toenail testing provides an even longer timetable than the results of testing hair samples. However, since so little is known about how the nails process toxins, the analysis is more involved and difficult for those who conduct and read and interpret the results of those tests.

Stomach Contents contents can provide clues—undissolved capsules or tablets, for example—in cases such as potential overdoses or poisonings. Results depend upon how much time elapsed between ingestion and death.

Bone and Bone Marrow can be used for testing but the availability and condition of bones may hinder the process and/or test results.

 


Drugs typically included in routine post-mortem toxicology

Alcohol (ethanol). Test also includes methanol and acetone1.

Analgesics – Paracetamol (acetaminophen), tramadol 9 (ConZip™, Ryzolt™, Ultracet, Ultram in the U.S.), Salicylates (aspirin)

Antidepressants – Tricyclics (e.g., imipramine, amitriptyline), SSRIs (fluoxetine [Prozac®], sertraline [Zoloft®])

Antihistamines (sedating) – doxylamine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine

Antipsychotics – old and newer generation including subcutaneous or intramuscular injections of long-lasting medication. Haloperidol and Risperidone

Benzodiazepines and “Z” drugs –  (diazepam [Valium®], alprazolam [Xanax®]; zolpidem (Ambien®, Ambien CR, Intermezzo®, Stilnox®, and Sublinox®), zopiclone (Imovane®, Zimovane), zaleplon (Sonata® and Starnoc)

Cannabis – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (Marijuana)

Cardiovascular drugs – Diltiazem (calcium channelblockers), Disopyramide (Norpace® and Rythmodan®), propranolol

Cocaine

Narcotic analgesics – codeine, methadone, pethidine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl

Stimulants – amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), pseudoephedrine, fenfluramine, phentermine, caffeine


*Remember, it is not possible to test for every possible drug or poison. Investigators or the medical examiner/coroner must suspect the ingestion of exotic or unusual toxins in order to examine for those substances.

For additional informational, click here.

During their crime-solving duties homicide investigators hear a lot of details, sounds of gunfire and people running, bits of spoken evidence, and much more. But one thing they’d best pay particular attention to is what the body has to say, and believe me, it’s usually a lot.

Dead bodies always have a lot to reveal to investigators!

Putrefaction is the destruction of the soft tissue caused by two things, bacteria and enzymes. As the bacteria and enzymes do their jobs the body immediately begins to discolor and transform into liquids and gases. The odd thing about the bacteria that destroys tissue at death is that much of it has been living in the respiratory and intestinal tracts all along.  Of course, if the deceased had contracted a bacterial infection prior to death, that bacteria, such as septicemia (blood poisoning), would aid in increasing the body’s decomposition.

Temperature plays an important part in decomposition. 70 degrees to 100 degrees F is the optimal range for bacteria and enzymes to do what they do best, while lower temperatures slow the process. Therefore, and obviously, a body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime.

 

A blood-filled circulatory system acts as a super-highway for those organisms that destroy the body after death. Without blood the process of putrefaction is slowed.

Therefore, a murder victim whose body bled out will decompose at a slower rate than someone who died of natural causes.

Bodies adorned in thick, heavy clothing (the material retains heat) decompose more rapidly than the norm. Electric blankets also speed up decomposition.

A body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime.

A body that’s buried in warm soil may decompose faster than one that’s buried during the dead of winter. The type of soil that surrounds the body also has an effect on the rate of decomposition. For example, the soil in North Carolina is normally a reddish type of clay. The density of that clay can greatly retard the decomposition process because it reduces the circulation of air that’s found in a less dense, more sandy-type of earth.

Adult bodies buried in a well drained soil will become skeletonized in approximately 10 years. A child’s body in about five years.

People who were overweight at the time of their deaths decompose faster than skinny people. People who suffered from excessive fluid build-up decompose faster than those who were dehydrated. And people with massive infections and congestive heart failure will also decompose at a more rapid rate than those without those conditions.

The rule of thumb for the decomposition of a body is that, at the same temperature, 8 weeks in well-drained soil equals two weeks in the water, or one week exposed to the air.

Now, hold on to your breakfast …

The first sign of decomposition under average conditions is a greenish discoloration of the skin at the abdomen. This is apparent at 36-72 hours.

Next – Small vessels in the skin become visible (marbling).

Followed by, glistening skin, skin slippage, purplish skin, blisters, distended abdomen (after one week – caused by gases), blood-stained fluid oozing from body openings (nose, mouth, etc.), swelling of tissue and the presence of foul gaseous odor, greenish-purple face, swollen eyelids and pouting lips, swollen face, protruding tongue, hair pulls out easily, fingernails come off easily, skin from hands pulls off (gloving), body swells and appears greatly obese.

Internally, the body is decomposing and breaking down. The heart has become flabby and soft. The liver has honeycombed, and the kidneys are like wet sponges. The brain is nearly liquid, and the lungs may be a bit brittle.

Wrong kind of brittle, but who wants to end the post with crunchy lungs? So have some homemade peanut brittle and enjoy your day.

Poison

Hugh Killdme and The Poisoned Peas

Hugh Killdme let the spoonful of peas and carrots rest on his tongue. He closed his eyes, savoring the combined taste of his two favorite vegetables. In his mind, he pictured the green and orange delicacies as they danced and rolled in boiling hot water. He saw tendrils of wispy pea-carrot flavored steam shimmying and twisting up from the blue porcelain Rachael Ray pot to the gleaming stainless steel hood above the range.

Hugh shifted his thoughts to the basement freezer. He’d purchased the Acme Super-Duper Chill-Zero model from a close friend, an expert on refrigerators and freezers, who owns a local appliance store (Wile E. Coyote isn’t the only character in the world who knows where to shop for a good deal).

Dahmers Applicance Sale The day after Acme’s number one best-selling frost-making machine arrived, he’d packed it to the brim with bags of frozen peas and carrots. Bought every single package within a twenty-mile radius.

Hugh always got all warm and squishy inside when he heard his wife, Earline, say those three little words he so adored—“Dinner is served.” And say them she had, and best of all she’d said them on Peas and Carrots night at the Killdme household.

The second she’d uttered those delicious-sounding words, Hugh rushed to the dining room where he slid his Hush-Puppy-clad feet beneath the table and picked up the silver spoon beside the molten-hot bowl of green and orange ecstasy. As he began to shovel those scrumptious orbs and blocks into his gaping piehole, he couldn’t stop himself. He was just so darn happy that, well, he couldn’t stop his lips from splitting into a very wide but lopsided grin. So wide, in fact, that several tiny, sweet peas almost tumbled out.

He was graveyard dead thirty seconds after swallowing the first spoonful.

The instant Hugh’s face crashed into his dinner plate, sending airborne little green pellets and perfectly cut squares of orange, his wife of thirty years scurried toward the basement to unplug the freezer, muttering along the way about never again cooking another pea or carrot as long as she was able to draw a breath. For that she was thankful. She was also thankful that the poison had worked so quickly. Not because her husband hadn’t suffered long, though.

Instead, she had plans to play Bingo at the Presbyterian church over on Save-a-Soul Drive, and to have her portly husband flopping around on the kitchen floor for hours would have absolutely ruined her evening. Probably would’ve ruined the shine on her brand new linoleum too.

Her mother always said things have a way of working out. She, too, went quickly … bless her heart. It was her affection for green beans that brought about her early demise. But, Earlene was, after all, in need of a new car and mother’s life insurance was just enough to take care of it and the new Acme Fill ‘Er to the Brim Baby above ground pool in the backyard. Earline opted for the model 200xz, the really big one. Sure, it was more expensive, but …

Questions about poisons.

I get them all the time, and the number one question that most often pops up is, “What’s the best poison a fictional wife could use (on her fictional husband) that would act quickly and be difficult for police to detect?” So lets dissect this one by visiting a very real high-profile case.

Tox Screens and Evidence

First of all, police officers probably won’t be the folks who detect the poison. That’s the job of the medical examiner and/or laboratory scientists. Next, to detect a specific poison the medical examiner would have to request specific testing for the substance/toxin/chemical/etc. A tox screen is not a one-stop-shop and does not detect most poisons. This is where the police can be a big help to the M.E., lab technicians, and scientists. For example, a savvy detective may notice a bottle labeled “Husband Killer” on the kitchen table next to the head of the deceased. If so, he/she would collect the bottle as evidence and report his/her discovery to the M.E., who would then order testing for the potentially deadly concoction.

Husband Killer No. 9Thallium – The Poisoner’s Poison

Another huge clue that sharp detectives should pounce on would be the fact that the widow works as a scientist for a bio-pharmaceutical company. And that’s sort of what happened in the case of Tianle Li, the Chinese woman who was convicted of murdering her husband, Xiaoye Wang. Her weapon of choice—thallium.

Thallium, a metal that’s used in electronic switches and some medical devices, was once used as a major component in insecticides and rat poisons. It’s basically odorless and tasteless. And it is well known as the “poisoner’s poison” because it is so difficult to detect in the human body. Thallium use as a pesticide was banned in the U.S. in the early 70’s.

Biotech and pharmaceutical companies are permitted to conduct research using dangerous chemicals, toxins, poisons, extracts, etc. That’s how Tianli Li obtained the thallium she used to murder her husband. As a chemist for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Li ordered thallium to research its effect on humans.

After receiving doses of thallium (how Li introduced the thallium into her husband’s body is not clear) Wang became ill with flu-like symptoms and checked himself into a local hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and died two weeks later.

Had it not been for a quick thinking nurse who’d read about a thallium poisoning case in China, Li would have gotten away with murder … the “perfect murder,” using the “poisoner’s poison” as her instrument of death. The nurse alerted officials who then conducted tests and indeed found thallium in Wang’s body.

So there you have it, my writer friends—two very important bits of information for possible use in your work (writing, that is). One – thallium is the poisoner’s poison because it is difficult to detect. Two – people who work in biotech and pharmaceutical research are able to purchase just about anything in the name of “science.”

By the way, it takes a while for most poisons to get the job done. Having your character go as quickly as Hugh Killdme is, well, fictional.

Botulism

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 11.28.02 AMNow for a true story about botulism, the cause of poor Hugh’s death. But this case, the true story, wasn’t murder, just an unfortunate accident that involved a woman, some green beans, and a home canning jar.

Canning jars have lids designed to exhibit a slight indentation in their centers when food is fresh. If the indentation inverts (pops up), the vegetables may be contaminated, and should be discarded.

A woman was preparing dinner for her family and decided to serve some of her home-canned green beans that evening. She picked up a jar of beans, but thought the pop-up didn’t look quite right. So, to satisfy her curiosity, she opened the jar, touched her finger to the bean juice, and tasted it. It tasted fine to her, so she cooked the beans and served the steaming hot dish to her family. The next day, the woman died, but her family survived. The beans contained botulism toxin, produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum.

C. botulinum lives naturally in the soil.

Botulism toxin is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known to man. About 10 ounces could kill everyone on Earth. It works by paralyzing its victim.

Oh, why didn’t the other members of the woman’s family die? The toxin is inactivated by heat.

 

 

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

Ray-after-speaking-event

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.

 

How stuff helps detectives solve murders

 

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.

 

OMG! Person shot by cops

 

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.

New Picture

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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