Autopsy: from crime scene

Death investigations are conducted by both the police and medical examiners or coroners. Each jurisdiction determines whether or not they have a coroner or medical examiner. A coroner is an elected official and may or may not be a medical doctor. A medical examiner is a medical doctor who has been hired by a city or county to conduct autopsies and investigate the cause of suspicious deaths. Elected coroners who are not doctors must hire a pathologist to conduct autopsies.

The police are in charge of all murder scenes, but medical examiners and coroners are in charge of the body. Medical examiners and coroners do not interrogate suspects and detectives do not examine bodies.

Bodies are placed in body bags and delivered to the morgue in specially equipped vehicles (pictured above).

Upon arrival at the morgue, bodies are rolled onto scales where they’re weighed.

After weighing, the body is placed inside a cold room until autopsy. In this jurisdiction black or dark gray, leak-resistant body bags are used pre-autopsy. The paper bag resting on the body of the murder victim at the top of the photo contains the victim’s personal belongings. Notice there are no individual drawers for bodies.

Cold rooms also store amputated body parts. The gray trays on the right contain severed limbs. White, paper-like body bags, like the one lying on the gurney in the rear of the cold room above, are used post-autopsy for bodies waiting to be transported to funeral homes.

Our tour of the morgue continues with a peek into the autopsy room/suite, where we’ll examine some of the tools of the trade. If your stomach holds up we’ll even have a glimpse of the star of the show, a murder victim.

The photograph above is of an autopsy station. Think of it as a pathologist’s workshop. To begin the autopsy, a body is placed on a gurney and is then positioned against the center, sink area of the station (feet-first in this morgue).

WARNING – GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!

Pathologists in this particular morgue select instruments from a rolling cart placed at each workstation.

Tools of the autopsy trade.

Some M.E.’s prefer to use a bone saw used for cutting through the rib cage beneath the “Y” incision. It’s also used for cutting through the skull.

Scales for weighing internal organs.

GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!

WARNING>>>WARNING>>>WARNING>>>WARNING>>>WARNING>>>

Not for the weak of heart, or those who are squeamish or offended by graphic images of death and/or autopsy. 

IT IS TIME TO EXIT THIS PAGE IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO VIEW THESE IMAGES!!!!!!!

………..WARNINGWARNINGWARNINGWARNINGWARNINGWARNINGWARNING………..

*

*

*

*

*

*

*


Bodies are positioned on a gurney, at the autopsy station, prior to autopsy. Notice the lividity (the gravity-indiced purplish staining of the tissue at the lowest point of the body). This indicates the victim above was lying on his back after the heart stopped beating, and remained in that position until the lividity became fixed (12 hours, or so). Had this victim been found on his stomach with the lividity fixed on his back, well, that would be a sign that the body had been moved sometime after death.


Upper chest area of a murder victim. Ligature mark on the neck from strangling – upper left of photo.

Post autopsy “Y” incision sutures, above and below. Below image is of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Autopsy table, during autopsy. Body fluids are washed down the drain.

The end. Really … it is.

Dr. Denene Lofland

Our guest expert today is Dr. Denene Lofland. Dr. Lofland received her PhD in pathology from the Medical College of Virginia, and she’s a trained clinical microbiologist. She has served as the Director of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at Wright State University, and has worked in biotech/drug research and development for many years.

Denene has worked on drug development programs for the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).  She contributed to the FDA approval of gemifloxacin (Factive), an antibiotic for the treatment of bacterial pneumonia, a drug that is now on the market and prescribed by physicians worldwide. She recently served as Manager of North Carolina Operations for a company that conducts high-level research and development in areas such as anti-bioterrorism.

She also supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance. Denene has published several articles in scientific journals and recently contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology. She currently works as a professor at a medical school.

Microscopic Murder


What’s so interesting about microbiology?

Microorganisms were here before man walked the Earth, and they’ll be here after we’re gone. Actually, you would find it difficult to survive without them. Some bacteria, called commensals, live in and on our bodies to our benefit, protecting  us from invading pathogens (disease causing germs), and they produce vitamins.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the bad bugs. They’re responsible for more deaths than cancer, heart attacks, and war. They can disfigure, eat flesh, paralyze, or just make you feel so bad you’ll wish you were dead.

There are four major types of pathogenic microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They can cause damage directly, or they can release toxins that do the dirty work for them.

virus_big1dl.jpg

HIV virus

E.coli bacteria

Aspergillus (fungi)

Loa loa (parasite) in eye

So, how can your antagonists use microorganisms to kill? They’ll need a fundamental knowledge of microbiology, such as information that’s taught in a basic college course. Next, the bad guy will need a source of bacteria. Microbiology labs all over the world contain bugs of all types.

Biological safety hood for the safe handling of bacteria

Most of these laboratories are locked, so a little B & E would be in order. Or, maybe your antagonist has a connection with a person who has control of the bug of interest. If so, the evil-doer could make what’s known in the trade as a V.I.P. trip. He’d fly to the friend’s lab, place the bug in a plastic vial, hide the vial in his pocket (V.I.P.), and get back on the plane for the trip home.

Once the antagonist has the bug, he has to keep it alive and reproducing. Bacteria are grown on agar plates (food for bugs) in an incubator. In general, bacteria double in number every 20 minutes. So, if you start with just a few bugs, let’s say 10, and allow them to grow overnight…well, you do the math.

Once the killer has enough of the bug, then it’s time to deliver it to the intended victim.

Picking up bacteria from agar plate. The brownish-red material is the agar. The grayish coloring at the top of the agar is E.coli bacteria.

Now for a true story. It 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.

* Per request, we’ve re-posted today’s article. I hope it helps with your research.

Fingerprinting the dead

 

Sometimes, investigators have the unpleasant task of identifying a body that’s not in the best of conditions. Decomposition, animal scavengers, and even murderers can often alter a body’s condition so much that a visual ID is impossible. In those situations, fingerprinting the deceased may be the best method available for learning the victim’s name.

(Keep in mind, the following procedures and techniques are normally performed in the morgue by the coroner or medical examiner, not police detectives).

Occasionally, all that’s needed is a standard ink pad and ten-print card (above). Other times, the joints are rigid and unbendable, so investigators must use finger straighteners to help unclasp the digits.

finger-straighteners.jpg

 

 

Finger straightners

horiz-roller.jpg

Horizontal ink rollers are easier to use on the fingers of the dead than the standard vertical ones.

fingerprinting-dead-body.jpg

Investigators use printing spoons and fingerprint card strips to print the fingers of the dead. (Photo – FBI)

spoons1.jpg

Printing spoons

pre-inked-pad.jpg

Single-digit, pre-inked pads are more convenient than the standard pads normally used where investigators roll ink onto a large, hand-size pad.

strips1.jpg

Print strip

Flesh is often decomposed, or too soft, to take a print; therefore, investigators inject a solution called tissue builder into the fingertips to make the skin firm enough to print.

finger-softening-kit.jpg

Tissue building kit.

Sometimes, the fingers are too badly twisted, or they’re clasped too tightly together to take a print, so investigators remove them from the hand. To do this they use bone snips.

shears1.jpg

Bone snips

When all else fails, investigators cut off the stiff finger, strip the skin away from the bone, and place the fingertip skin over the end of their own finger. Then they apply ink to the tiny “glove” and press it to a fingerprint card. A perfect print!

To recover prints from the body of a murder victim, investigators can perform standard brushing techniques with magnetic or other powders. They can also place the entire body in a plastic tent and fume it with Superglue just like they would with any other piece of evidence.

 

* This is a repeat article. My wife’s 104-year-old grandmother fell on Mother’s Day and broke her hip/femur. As a result, she had surgery yesterday to help alleviate the pain. Since the break was so severe there’s no real fix. Anyway, we’ll be traveling most of the day today on our way to the hospital. We’ll be back on schedule soon. Thanks for your patience.

background: #bd081c no-repeat scroll 3px 50% / 14px 14px; position: absolute; opacity: 1; z-index: 8675309; display: none; cursor: pointer; top: 228px; left: 20px;”>Save

Torture, Or Justified Use Of Restraint And Force?

Nick Christie, a 62-year-old Florida tourist, is not confined in Gitmo. He’s not in a secret CIA prison. He’s not being held by terrorists. He was, however, at the time the photo above was taken, being tortured. At least that’s what Christie’s wife claims. And clearly the man was bound, gagged, and in a lot of distress. And yes, that is pepper spray running down the center of Christie’s nude body.

So who held and tortured Nick Christie? Who stripped him of all his clothing and then restrained him to a chair? And who, after the man was clearly in no position to harm anyone, including himself, would cast aside common sense and excessively douse Christie with an exaggerated amount of pepper spray? Oddly, strangely, and shockingly, it was sheriff’s deputies who placed Nick Christie in the position you see in the photo above. And shortly after the photo was taken, Nick Christie died. A Florida medical examiner in charge of Christie’s autopsy ruled his death a homicide.

But no deputy was charged with Christie’s death. In fact, not a single deputy was even disciplined, which means an internal Lee County, Florida investigation found that jail officers acted properly and that the techniques they used when dealing with Christie were proper.

Sure, Christie was drunk and disorderly when arrested. And I’m the first to say drunks are a pain in the tush to contend with, especially when they’re non-compliant. And yes, I’m sure he’d become a real problem for jail staff. I’ve worked in a jail so I know and understand how trying and troubling it can be when prisoners are loud, abusive, destructive, and combative. Deputies absolutely must maintain control in order to, well, maintain control. And there are times when pepper spray must be used. Tasers and other devices as well. And one such device is a restraint chair, which, by the way, was used to help control Christie.

One thing Lee County jail deputies didn’t take into account was that Christie had a pretty serious medical history, a history of both mental and physical troubles. He was taking medication for depression, and he suffered from COPD and emphysema. Obviously, the man experienced trouble taking a normal breath of air, in the best of conditions.

Well, when Christie began whatever it was he did inside the jail that caused deputies to feel the need to restrain him, staff members did indeed place Christie in a restraint chair. They stripped him naked and strapped him to the device you’ll see in a photo below. I took this picture a couple of years ago to show one of the tools that’s available to help maintain control of out-of-control prisoners. However, once the prisoner is “attached” to the chair the threat he presented to himself and others is over. He can no longer do harm to anyone.

But in Christie’s case, according to news reports, deputies also sprayed the helpless man with copious amounts of pepper spray while he was restrained in the “the chair.” They also placed a spit hood over the lower half of his face, even while he begged them to take it off because he couldn’t breathe. But deputies left the hood in place and continued to pepper spray him—8 to 10 times, depending on whose story you hear. They also “fogged” Christie’s cell with pepper spray. So much of it was used in the foggings that it began to affect inmates in other areas of the jail.

The purpose of pepper spray, by the way, is to temporarily incapacitate someone until officers can restrain them. It is not intended to be used to make someone stop yelling, talking, spitting, singing, arguing, name-calling, etc. There is no other intended use for pepper spray. None. The spray should never be used as a means to punish someone. And I say this as a former police defensive tactics instructor who was certified to train officers in the use of pepper spray and in the use of force.

The same is true for a restraint chair. The device is not to be used for punishment, or for long periods of time. Speaking of the chair…

Prison and jail officers often encounter extremely violent inmates who are a serious threat to themselves, staff, and other inmates. In these situations, normal restraining devices—handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons—are simply not enough to properly subdue the unruly prisoner. One effective means to safely restrain and transport combative prisoners is to utilize a restraint chair.

Restraint chairs completely immobilize the prisoner’s torso and limbs. Special attachments can also limit head movement. Once the inmate is securely fastened to the chair he can be wheeled (the chair is designed to tilt back on two rear wheels similar to a furniture dolly) to desired destinations, such as the medical department, court hearings, segregation and other areas, such as the special housing unit (SHU).

Again, under no circumstances should restraint chairs be used as a means of punishment. Also, prisoners should not be left seated in a restraint chair for more than two hours.

I’m guessing the civil trial regarding the wrongful death of Nick Christie will be more than interesting, especially since a jail deputy, Monshay Gibbs, has already testified under oath that she believed the way Christie was treated was excessive. Gibbs also said she heard Christie pleading with staff members to take off the mask because he couldn’t breathe.

Of course, the fact that Christie was received into the ER with pepper spray still coating his chest is a pretty damning picture as well. By the way, once someone is sprayed with pepper spray, it is the responsibility and duty of officials to seek treatment and relief for the effects of the spray on their prisoner. To leave someone exposed to the spray for a long period of time is…well, what do you think? Is it torture? Take another look at the photo.

Torture, or no?

Fox News photo

*By the way, since I was not present during the incarceration and restraint of Mr. Christie I can only offer a report based on news stories, videos, and, well, the photo above. I cannot say one way or another if there was any wrongdoing on the part of any official or by Mr. Christie. That will be for the courts to decide.

Close-Contact Gunshot Wounds

 

Shots fired from close range leave tell-tale marks called stippling, or tattooing. These marks are discolorations of the skin caused by burning gunpowder.

Evidence of contact with hot gunpowder can be seen just above the “V” opening of the shirt (the blackened area) in the photograph above. 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 stayed in the body even from a shot at this short distance.

The next photograph (post autopsy) is of the wound the victim received in the upper image.

* WARNING! ACTUAL GUNSHOT WOUNDS BELOW – GRAPHIC  IMAGES *

The wound in the image below is round and neat, and it’s approximately the diameter of an ink pen. It’s not like the wounds seen on television where half of the victim’s body is blown into oblivion, or beyond, by a couple of bullets from a bad guy’s gun. Sometimes exit wounds are nearly 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. I’ve seen officers who easily mistook exit wounds for entrance wounds, at first glance. A closer examination reveals stark differences. Exit wounds normally present pieces of avulsed flesh angled slightly away from the wound. And, usually, there’s little or no trace of gunshot residue around the outside of the wound.

bullet-hole.jpg

(Above) The hot bullet entered the flesh leaving a gray-black ring around the wound. The impact of the bullet, gunshot residue, and hot gases striking the tissue left behind a distinct bruising (ecchymosis) around the wound, as well as stippling/tattooing. The zig-zag pattern above the wound is the post-autopsy stitching of the Y-incision.

(Above) Stippling is clearly visible below the wound. Above the wound, hair prevented the hot gunshot residue from contacting the flesh.

(Above) Contact wounds/muzzle imprint may be present when the the barrel of a gun was in direct contact with the skin at the time the weapon was discharged.

Wounds sometimes show an abrasion ring (a dark circle around the wound) that’s caused as the hot gases from the weapon contacts and enters the flesh. The force of the gas blows the skin and tissue back against the gun’s muzzle, leaving the circular imprint. Other markings from the weapon are sometimes visible as well, such as the checkered pattern and barrel shape below.

 

background: #bd081c no-repeat scroll 3px 50% / 14px 14px; position: absolute; opacity: 1; z-index: 8675309; display: none; cursor: pointer; top: 844px; left: 20px;”>Save

Lisa Black author photo

 

A typical Tuesday in November. I trudge from the subway station to the medical examiner’s office. No one plows the sidewalks but there are enough med students and hospital workers from next door to tamp the snow down. When I reach the trace evidence department it is still dark; my boss has not yet arrived so I take care of the most important thing, which is to get the coffee started. Then I head back downstairs for the ‘viewing’, at which all the cases currently waiting to be autopsied are wheeled out and the deskman reads their history. This is so the pathologists can observe, suggest and decide who is going to do which autopsy. Exactly how they work that out, I’ve never quite determined. One doctor has been around so long that he sometimes pokes a body, testing for lividity or some such, without putting on a latex glove first. Not a big deal. If you’re hyper about germs you don’t get into this line of work. So far I’ve been exposed to opened-up victims with HIV, Hepatitis A, B, and C, spinal meningitis and tuberculosis.

I have a plan for the day, a set of tasks I’d like to accomplish, but that is always dependent upon what the morning brings. If a homicide victim arrives, all plans go out the window and the case is worked until there’s nothing more you can do on it.

For those dead of unnatural causes, I come in. If the victim died from a gunshot, I will swab their hands for gunshot residue. If they’ve been beaten, bludgeoned, strangled or stabbed, I will scrape their fingernails for foreign skin and fibers. If they’ve hung themselves, I will mark and remove the ligature. If they were run over by a car, I will look for paint and glass fragments. If it’s a homicide I will collect hair samples, including pubic hairs if there’s signs of sexual assault. I’ll get someone to help me remove the clothing if it hasn’t already been cut off by EMS. Then the deceased goes back into the hall for their next appointment, with the pathologist, and I go upstairs to get my coffee. But they have not seen the last of me, because now I move on to their clothing.

I pop in and out of the autopsy room to see if there are holes in their clothing that correspond with bullet holes or stab wounds in the body, and I note that. If the holes don’t correspond, then the person just needed some new clothes. The area doesn’t smell good. One of the photographers insists that one of the deiners always puts an extra cut in the bowel so that it will smell worse, because he doesn’t like white people, but the photographer is an alcoholic so I take this with a grain of salt.

Then the clothes are examined for gunshot residue, hairs and fibers, and semen. I cut out a piece of the bloody cloth and save it in a manila envelope in case some attorney asks why we didn’t check to make sure the blood on the victim’s shirt belonged to the victim (well, gee, because he had five stab wounds so we kind of assumed the dark red stains on his shirt might well be related).

I break for lunch and, if I’m lucky, sit down for the first time in about five hours. After lunch, provided all the victims and clothing are taken care of, I will work in the lab. It had chairs but it also has my boss. I will take test tubes of blood from the day’s autopsies and drop the blood on pieces of sterile cloth to be frozen and retained for future DNA testing. I will analyze the gunshot residue swabs for barium and antimony, two components used in primer caps, and identify the fibers and compare them to samples from the victim’s and suspect’s clothing.

I might have to go to a scene; the victim might still be there or the crime may be several days old and the officers just want me to examine the blood spatter pattern on the wall. Part of all of the day (and I don’t get to choose which part) might be spent sitting at the courthouse waiting to testify. I may have something to say that will put the suspect in jail for life or I may just be there to say yes, this is the victim’s clothing. Either way I have to sit there as long as they tell me to, out in the hallway with a crowd of people. I don’t dare strike up a conversation with any one of them because they may also be there to testify in that case. So I read a book and avoid eye contact for one or two or eight hours.

Then I grab a cup for the road and head back to the subway station, already planning out what I’d like to get accomplished the next day. Provided there isn’t another homicide.

It’s not as glamorous as it looks on TV. But I wouldn’t trade it for a corner office with a view of Public Square.

Lisa Black’s fourth book Defensive Wounds was released by Harper Collins on September 27. Forensic scientist Theresa MacLean battles a serial killer operating at an attorney’s convention. Lisa is a full time latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida.

 

 

 

Morgue: Pictures

 

Jodi found the body lying beside the path, her favorite jogging trail. She stopped for a closer look, thinking that maybe her mind was up to its usual nighttime tricks—another boogeyman or zombie that turned out to be a bush, or a trash bag filled with leaves left by the park’s “mow, blow, and go” guys. After all, there was no moon, and the closest streetlight was awfully far away. And the shadows, well, they were long, and pretty dark. But this bush had…yes, those are arms and legs and…a head! It was a man. A dead man. Blood. There was so much of it. A knife on the ground. Don’t touch it. Run! Run and then call 911. Yes, 911.

She stood there talking to the detective, but her mind was now focusing on the coroner and his investigators as they loaded the body into the back of the van, shoving it inside as if it were no more than a roll of new carpet. They closed the rear doors, and the one who looked like a stump with arms and legs climbed into the driver’s seat. The brake lights flashed for a second, painting the pavement behind the van a faint red. Then it was gone, leaving a trail of wispy steam in its wake. She wondered what would happen next. I mean, what do they do with murder victims? Where do they take the bodies?

*Warning. Images below are graphic and may not be suitable for some readers and/or children. Please exit if images of death upset or offend you. We’ve posted this this particular piece solely to assist writers with their research.

The body is weighed, sometimes by rolling the gurney onto a set of digital floor scales.

Bodies are placed inside a cold room, or cooler until autopsy.

The body is brought into the autopsy room.

The gurney carrying the body is positioned in front of a station such as this one.

Side view of same station.

Scales for weighing organs.

A pathologist’s tool kit.

Bone saw.

Suturing the rear scalp after examining the brain.

The “Y” incision is closed post autopsy, and the body is released to a funeral home. (Top left is the neck, presenting a ligature mark. Bottom left of photo is the victim’s right, upper chest area).

 

 

 

 

background: #bd081c no-repeat scroll 3px 50% / 14px 14px; position: absolute; opacity: 1; z-index: 8675309; display: none; cursor: pointer; top: 412px; left: 20px;”>Save

Life after death

 

It’s 9pm and Officer Smith has just left the scene of a homicide. The father of two small children, and husband to a loving wife, had gone to the store to pick up a gallon of milk for morning cereal when he was caught in the crossfire between two rival gang members. He was killed instantly by the barrage of bullets that pierced his flesh, striking more than one vital organ. It was all over in mere seconds. Luckily, a passerby saw the whole thing, and with his testimony the police were able to arrest the suspects within hours of the killing. The two shooters were convicted and sentenced to serve ten years in the state penitentiary.

But let’s back up to the night of the shooting. Officer Smith had the unpleasant task of delivering the bad news to the victim’s family. So he locates the man’s wallet and ID, and writes down his address. Within a few minutes the officer parks his patrol car in front of a small brick rancher on the east side of town. He switches off the ignition and waits for the headlamps to click off before calling in his location. He searches his mind for the right words and how to say them.

The house is well lit, and the driveway is littered with plastic kid toys. A girl’s bicycle is leaning against the chain-link fence that separates the lawn from concrete pavement. The blueish glow flickering in the window tells Officer Smith that the TV is on. It’s Wednesday night. Maybe they’re watching the remaining eight American Idol contestants croon their way toward the final prize. Someone on that Hollywood stage will go home tonight. The man of this house won’t ever come home again.

Officer Smith steps out of the car, adjusts his gunbelt, and heads for the front door. He takes his time walking up the three brick steps and then slowly reaches for the brass knocker.

She’s young with short curly brown hair. She holds a little boy on one hip. The girl is around six or seven and clings to her mother’s dress. She’s missing a tooth. Somebody on TV is singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, the newer version of the song.

The woman smiles at first, then she knows why he’s there and the smile fades. Tears fill her eyes. Next comes the trembling. Officer Smith has seen it all before, many times. He feels the lump forming in his throat, but he can’t get emotional. It’s part of the job and he must be strong while doing it. She cries and he leads her to the living room. She has a seat on the couch while Officer Smith finds the remote and switches off the TV, stopping Ryan Seacrest from announcing who’s in the bottom three. Officer Smith sits in a chair and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He begins…

So what happens next? You know, long after the funeral. What happens to the families of murder victims then? Do they simply go on with their lives? Not hardly.

The families of murder victims say they must deal with many unexpected things that aren’t always associated with death by natural causes. Things such as:

– Always seeing and remembering the condition of their loved one as he/she lay in the morgue. Remember, sometimes family members must go there to identify the body, and this can be extremely devastating to see.

– The general public can be extremely cruel, sometimes blaming the victim for their own demise.

– Some less than reputable media outlets want sensational headlines, even if that means publicizing inaccurate statements about the victim and the victim’s family. After all, they can always retract the statements later, right? Please know that not every media source is this insensitive. In fact, most are not, but the inaccurate stories that do make their way to the eyes and ears of the families of the deceased are very hurtful.

– The financial burden that comes with losing one income. There are sometimes medical bills left behind as well.

– Often times, the family must deal with public sympathy for murderers.

– The murder trial is difficult to sit through, hearing all the details of the act.

– The sentences often cause outrage (too lenient for the crime).

– Having to see and hear about the case on TV. Family members do not consider the death of a loved one as prime time family entertainment.

– It’s extremely frustrating to be told, as a family member, that you cannot be in the courtroom during certain parts of the trial.

– Being the last to know anything.

– Wondering if the victim suffered.

– Remembering the things you said the last time you saw the victim alive.

– Plea bargains that allow some participants in the murder to walk away free and clear of the crime.

– The appeal process

– The parole process

And the grief goes on and on and on…

 

 

 

Murder: Locating The Smallest Of Clues

 

Sure, anybody can pick up a bullet casing and toss it into a plastic bag. But what about the tricky, hard to find evidence? What do the pros use to collect that stuff?

Self-saturating foam swabs are ideal for the collection of trace DNA, such as shed skin cells. The investigator breaks the isopropanol-filled handle by giving it a squeeze, which causes the foam tip to become saturated with the 91% isopropanol solution. The foam tip is then wiped across the target surface to collect the DNA evidence.

Cuticle sticks for retrieving evidence from the cuticles and other hard-to-reach places.

Swab Shields provide a physical barrier that protects against evidence contamination, mixing with other samples, and they prevent transferring your sample to another surface.

Trace evidence tape is a great tool for locating and picking up items such as, hair, glass particles, and fibers. Simply touch the “sticky side” of the tape to a surface and then lift. Any item on that surface will cling to the tape. To remove the item/evidence place the tape in water (the adhesive is water soluble), then pour the water through a filter. Your evidence can then be retrieved from the filter.

Tacky MatTM is used to collect trace evidence from the bottom of shoes. Have your suspect step on one and you’ve just collected samples from places he’s walked. The Mat can also be placed at the entrance of a crime scene to remove items from the bottoms of officer’s shoes to prevent contaminating the scene with foreign material.

Hand sifters are used to screen out dirt and debris, leaving behind bone fragments and/or other small evidence (shirt buttons, teeth, etc.).

 

*     *     *

Registration is open for the 2011 Writers’ Police Academy!

Murder solved by a mushroom

Toss out the confessions, fingerprints, tire tracks, and DNA. After all, who needs them when you have perfectly good fungi just waiting to join you on the witness stand. That’s right, mushrooms and other fungi have taken their place in the world of crime-solving. In fact, investigators can use macroscopic and microscopic fungi to help determine time of death (TOD), the time since a body was placed in a particular location, and if the body has been moved since death.

In 2002, the bodies of two young girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, were found lying in the woods near Lakenheath, Suffolk (UK). Without a clue to go on police called in forensic botanist Patricia Wiltshire, a former archaeologist, to see if she could “dig up” any evidence.

Patricia Wiltshire

Wiltshire agreed to help and traveled to the scene where she examined the foliage in the area where the girl’s bodies had been discovered. She noticed something a bit unusual with a group of stinging nettles growing in a ditch.

Stinging nettle plant

A closer look revealed the sprouting of new sideshoots on the nettles, something that only occurs when that particular plant has been damaged by trampling, or other such disturbances. Not only did Wiltshire’s find indicate that someone had walked there, the new shoots have a very specific growth rate—13 days at that particular stage. Therefore, Wiltshire was able to provide police with a time-line. The bodies of the girls had been dumped in the woods 13-and-a-half days earlier, which was when the girls were last seen.

When police finally located a suspect, Ian Huntley, Wiltshire was also able to positively match pollen found on his shoes and in his car to the type in the ditch where the bodies were found.

Connecting plant material and soil to the scene of the crime and to the murderer is nothing new. I once worked a murder in the 80’s where the only clues I had were two small pieces of dried, grayish mud found in the floorboard of a suspect’s car. Long story short, the mud matched the soil found only on a particular riverbank. The clumps of mud also contained a few seeds from plants also found only in that particular area. Guess what? Yep, the mud and seeds were from the area where the murder victim had been discovered.

Remember, fungi (trace evidence) grows just about anywhere, such as stone, leather goods, plastic, lumber and other wood, tile, brick, and concrete.  In fact, approximately 50-100 different species of fungi can be found in a single soil sample. So, the clues are there for the harvesting, and plenty of them. Someone just needs to do it. After all, a good investigator is a creative investigator.