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Read Any Good Bloodstains Lately? The Endings are Killer!

A good bloodstain training class typically uses actual blood, because nothing else accurately mimics the real stuff. Although, a decent substitute for the real deal is a mixture of Karo syrup and red food coloring.

During training classes students are exposed to nearly every type real-life scenario imaginable, but the first order of business is to learn the basics—characteristics of a blood drop.

Characteristics of a blood drop

– blood drops are formed by gravity

– blood drops cannot break apart unless contacted by an outside force

– larger drops travel further than smaller drops (due to mass, not size)

– blood drops always travel in an arcing path (impact injuries)

– size ranges from a few millimeters to few centimeters

– volume of a drop of blood is in direct proportion to whatever it’s dropping from (ax, stick, arm, leg, etc)

Crime scene investigators typically measure bloodstains that hit surfaces on the way up, not stains made by blood that’s on its way back down. Stains made when traveling upward are much more accurate for use as evidence because gravity is not as much of a factor in the pattern’s formation.

Types of Bloodstain Patterns

Impact – caused by high-velocity or medium-velocity wounds—gun shots or blows by an object such as a baseball bat or hammer.

Swipes (Wipes)Caused by a bloody object being wiped across another surface. These stains are the reason for changing the name of the examination from “blood spatter” evidence to “bloodstain” evidence (not all patterns are caused by airborne drops of blood). Remember that in your writing. Patterns caused by spattering, splattering, or wiped-on blood is no longer called “blood spatter.”

Therefore, your characters should reflect the change, as have their real-life counterparts. An example of the change:

Detective Sergeant Catchemall studied the bloodstain pattern on and next to the ticking cow clock hanging on the kitchen wall. He stood there, staring, for what seemed like an eternity before turning toward his partner, Ridley Perkins. Then he tipped his bald, oval-shaped head back toward “the cow wall” where reddish splotches and dots of once-oozing blood contrasted sharply against the freshly painted, snow white surface. The cow’s tail moved from side to side with each tick-tock of the timepiece.

Tick Tock …

“I believe, Ridley,” he said, “that our killer was right-handed, shorter than your own meager five-and-a-half feet, and was standing, not sitting, quite close to our victim, poor Mrs. Ima Ghostnow, when he pulled the trigger on what was most likely a revolver. That, my friend, is what I believe happened to our unfortunate victim.”

Tick Tock …

*Terminology could vary from one area to the next.

The Lingo

Cast-Off– Caused by slinging blood off objects in motion (a swing of a bloody hammer, or arm).

Drip and Flow– Caused when blood drops off one object onto another.

Projected– Caused by arterial spurts. Often seen in stabbings and cuttings.

The ability to effectively interpret bloodstain patterns is a science and an art. But, before investigators can dive into a crime scene, they must learn a bit of terminology, such as:

Angle of Impact– the angle formed between the direction of an individual drop of blood and the surface it strikes.

Back Spatter– blood that’s directed back towards the source of energy, such as a hand holding a firearm, or hammer.

Expirated blood – blood that’s forced from the mouth or nose where air (exhalation) is the propellant.

High Velocity Impact Spatter (HVIS)– bloodstain pattern caused by a high velocity impact, such as those caused by gunshots or fast moving equipment or machinery (saws, drills, etc.)

Point of Convergence – the point (two dimensional) where the direction of travel (blood droplets) intersect. Can be used to help determine where the victim was standing when the fatal injury was delivered.

Point of Origin –the point (three dimensional) where the direction of travel (blood droplets) intersect.

Stringing – a method used to determine the point of origin. Investigators tie strings at the blood drops, following the direction of travel. The point where the strings intersect is the point of origin. Lasers are sometimes used in lieu of strings.

Stringing You Along!


The 2018 Writers’ Police academy offers a fantastic workshop on bloodstain pattern investigations. The class is taught by expert RJ Beam.


Remember, the Writers’ Police Academy is a hands-on training event for writers, readers, fans, and anyone who simply wants to learn more about police, firefighting, EMS, and forensics. Spots are open so click the link above and sign up today to attend this THRILLING event. See you there!

A Six-Pack of Tips: Crime Scene Investigation

Writers sometimes fail to capture what really goes on beyond the yellow tape at crime scenes. The reasons vary for these unfortunate omissions of solid information, but one theme is common … the use TV or film as research tools. How awful, right?

The little things often go unsaid, even though those details are often quite important!

 

So what are authors missing when they use television as their sole source of cop-type information?

Well, here’s a six-pack of helpful hints for those characters whose duty is to investigate a crime scene.

1. Death Scene Documentation, Evidence Collection, and Chain of Custody of the Body

Before the medical examiner enters the scene, be sure to preserve any evidence that may be altered, contaminated, or destroyed. You certainly wouldn’t want the M.E.’s footsteps to wipe out the suspect’s shoe prints, alter blood stain evidence, or mar tire impressions. Document the M.E.’s time of arrival, who called him and when, and what time the body was removed from the scene. Also, make note of the seal number placed on the body bag, if a seal was used. If not, note that the M.E. did not seal the bag and have an officer escort the body to the morgue, if possible. This simple act keeps the chain of custody intact.

2. Water Scenes: What’s Important? – Always document the water type (pond, river, lake, creek, etc.). Record the water temperature and the depth of the water where the body was found, if possible. Make note of and photograph the surroundings. It’s possible that the victim had been swinging from the rope hanging from the limb in that large oak tree, slipped, and then fell onto that large rock jutting out of the water. Everything is a clue. Record the position of the body in the water. Was it face down, or face up? Totally underwater, or floating? That could help determine how long the body had been in the water. Follow the clues!

3. Shoes – Everyone entering a crime scene should wear shoe covers. If not, pay particular attention to their shoes. Yours included. Photograph the bottoms of everyone’s shoes so you’ll be able to recognize the tread patterns when comparing impression evidence back at the office or lab.

4. Photograph Impressed Evidence – Always take a picture of impressed evidence (tire tracks, footprints, etc.). If something were to go wrong while you’re processing evidence and you hadn’t photographed before you started … well, you’re, as they say … SOL.

5. Fingerprinting Wet Surfaces – Don’t let a little rain stop you from lifting fingerprints. There are a couple of ways to obtain a good set of prints from wet surfaces—Wet Print, a spray on mixture that develops black prints instantly, and SPR, another spray on product that requires a little mixing before applying.

6. Gloves – Use a different pair of gloves when handling each piece of evidence. This is an important step that prevents cross-contamination. You certainly don’t want to transfer someone’s DNA from room to room, especially if that makes an innocent person appear to have been somewhere he hasn’t! And, it is possible to leave your prints on a surface even while wearing thin, latex gloves. Cotton gloves eliminate this problem.

Angry DNA says, “Wearing gloves helps prevent contamination of evidence.”

Hidden Evidence: What’s in Your Wall?

In the world of cops and robbers, there are many rules, both written and unwritten. Writers, of course, enjoy the freedom of making things up as their stories progress from one scene to another. However, a touch of authenticity sprinkled throughout the pages can add a nice touch to a well-crafted tale.

Here’s a tasty tidbit that’s a perfect garnish for your next well-baked tale.

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 a different viewing experience, click (at the bottom of the page) on “Hidden Evidence by Lee Lofland,” The link takes you to a place where you can view the entire piece one page at a time without having to scroll at all. For an even better perspective, click on the the little icon that resembles a TV screen. I’m learning, too, don’t worry. Thanks!

Hidden Evidence by Lee Lofland

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8 Things Your Protagonists Should Know About Fingerprinting

Fingerprints found and collected at crime scenes are eventually developed and hopefully lead the heroes of your stories to the perpetrator(s) of the crime du jour. But there’s a bit more to the process than merely using a brush, a bit of black powder, and a piece of clear tape. For example, did you know about …

 

Amido Black – protein enhancer for blood prints. Click this Link for details.

 

 

Gentian Violet is a skin cell stain for developing print on the sticky side of tape. Click this Link for details.

 

Ninhydrin – chemical for developing latent prints on porous surfaces, such a paper. Click this Link for details.

 

Physical Developer – chemical for developing latent prints on wet paper. Click this Link for details.

 

Powders are typically effective on smooth, non-porous surfaces.

 

Small Particle Reagent (SPR) – liquid powder solution effective on wet porous evidence). Click this Link for details.

 

Cyanoacrylate – Superglue fuming for all types of non-porous surfaces.

 

Dye Stains, such as MBD, are used to detect prints in conjunction with an ALS (Alternate Light Source) on non-porous evidence after using Cyanoacrylate (Superglue) fuming. Click this Link for details.

Fingerprinting Birds: The Only Way To Fly

Fingerprinting birds. Sounds crazy, right? I mean, why would someone need to lift a print from a bird? Would an Emu stand still while a crime scene investigator dumped fingerprint powder on it’s beak? Probably not.

Have a seat for a moment and I’ll explain. This is good stuff, starting with …

Chicken Thieves

Years ago, chicken thieves were considered as the lowest of all crooks. After all, stealing someone’s chickens was to take away a family’s source of meat and eggs and even income if the farmer sold his birds to help make ends meet.

Therefore, it was not at all unusual for the local sheriff to receive a call about the shooting of a chicken thief. That sort of “farm justice” was unofficially permitted back in the day, because, well, why not?

Eggers

But it was easier to catch chicken thieves back then than it is to catch modern day bird bandits, the bad guys who poach or kill birds of prey and/or steal their eggs. The eggs, by the way, are most often sold to collectors known as “eggers.”

Eggers go to great lengths to obtain their prizes, climbing tall trees to reach hidden nests and venturing into other even more dangerous situations. For example, in 2006, a 63-year-old egger named Colin Watson fell to his death while climbing a 40-ft tree in search of eggs. Watson, by the way, had been convicted six times in the past, and for over twenty years was on the radar of authorities.

During a raid in 1995, police discovered a collection of over 2,000 eggs in Watson’s home.

The number of egg collectors has decreased over the years; however, the poaching of birds of prey has increased. Many of those killing these magnificent animals are ranchers and farmers who shoot, trap, and poison the birds who hunt on their land.

In the past, all officials could do was to collect the bodies of dead birds, many of which were discovered in odd places, places where deceased birds shouldn’t be found—at the bottoms of ravines, etc. In other words, they were found in locations and in positions that made it obvious they were placed or tossed there by humans who were attempting to hide their crimes.

DNA

DNA and toxicology testing are extremely valuable when investigating crimes involving wildlife (toxicology tells us an animal was poisoned and DNA can help establish whether an animal was involved in an attack, or not), but they’re not useful when it comes to pointing toward a lawbreaker. So …

A PhD student, Helen McMorris, at Abertay University (Dundee) has found a means to develop and record human fingerprints on bird feathers. The exciting discovery will now assist law enforcement with their investigations

In a recent interview, McMorris said, “The structure of a feather is very similar to the fine weave structure of some fabrics such as silk. It has recently been found that fabric with a thread count of three per millimetre can sustain a fingermark or grab mark and, after microscopic examination, it was found that bird of prey feathers have a barb count of three per millimetre, suggesting that they could sustain a fingermark.”

During her research, McMorris found that green and red magnetic-fluorescent fingerprint powder produced the best results when excited with a blue wavelength of light and viewed through a yellow filter. Doing so causes prints to fluoresce.

Bingo! If the person’s prints are on file, well, police would then have their suspect. At the very least, a fingerprint on a wild bird of prey’s feathers 100% proves a human touched the animal, telling authorities it was most likely man, not natural causes, that killed the bird.

Evidence Collection: Paper, Plastic, or … ?

There’s more to evidence collection than merely bagging and tagging bloody clothing and spent bullet casings. Crime scene techs are highly trained, skilled members of police agencies and forensic laboratories who more often than not provide the keys to solving cases.

In the “good old days,” many officers, including patrol officers (some still do, especially in smaller departments), collected their own evidence. They plodded into and poked around crime scenes, determining what items they thought might be of some value, and then tossed those things into some sort of containers—grocery bags, envelopes, boxes, and even the cellophane wrappings from cigarette packs. In those days there wasn’t a lot of consideration for sterility, and DNA hadn’t yet made it’s way on the scene.

When investigators finally discovered plastic sandwich and ziplock bags you’d have thought they’d won the lottery, because packaging evidence had suddenly become a breeze. The problem with those new-fangled containers, though, was that detectives were placing everything in them, not knowing they could be destroying or damaging evidence instead of preserving it. And that brings us to the question of Paper or Plastic?

There’s a simple rule of thumb for deciding which type of evidence packaging—wet evidence goes in paper containers (wet evidence can degrade if placed inside plastic containers) and dry evidence goes in plastic. Items that could be cross-contaminated must be packaged separately. There’s a rule of thumb for other types of evidence, too, and here’s a handy list for the proper packaging of those items.

Hair – 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.

Fibers – Dry, and tape-lifted, fibers may be placed inside plastic containers.

Rope, twine, and other cordage – Paper or plastic.

Paint chips – Place inside folded paper. Then place the paperfold inside an envelope.

Tools – Paper or cardboard.

Tape – Wear non-powdered gloves when handling tape. Submit samples inside plastic. If the tape is stuck to an item the item must be submitted with the tape still attached. Do not remove the tape!

Glass – Wrap in paper. Smaller pieces may be placed inside appropriate size cartons.

Arson and other fire evidence – Airtight metal containers. Unused paint cans work best.

Dried stains – Wrap stained item in paper or place inside cardboard box. Large items – moisten swab with distilled water, swab the stain, and package in paper or cardboard after drying.

Blood – Allow to air dry and then package in paper.

Evidence drying lockers

DNA – NEVER use plastic!
And when I mentioned that wet evidence is packaged in paper containers I did NOT mean to pour liquids into paper bags. Instead, items that contain wet evidence (bloody and/or semen-stained clothing, etc.) should be placed into paper containers.

Where to Find DNA Evidence

 

Can’t seem to find the right clues for your current work-in-progress? Well, here’s a handy guide to help with locating DNA evidence.

  1. Undergarments (boxers and/or briefs, etc.)
  2. Sweat-stained clothing
  3. Semen stains on clothing, bedding, skin and other areas of the body
  4. Pages of books and magazines
  5. Drinking cups
  6. Glass (window panes, mirrors, etc.)
  7. Ear wax
  8. Fingernail clippings/beneath attached nails.
  9. Used towels
  10. Urine
  11. Used stamps
  12. (Inner) cheek swabs
  13. Hair (with root is best)
  14. Dried blood
  15. Whole blood
  16. Chewed gum and similar candies/food items
  17. Dental floss and toothbrushes
  18. Cigarette butts
  19. Used tissue
  20. Dried skin, including dandruff and psoriasis
  21. Used razors
  22. Furniture (couch cushions, mattresses, and more)
  23. Carpeting
  24. Computer keys and mouse
  25. Used/worn stocking masks, gloves, mittens, caps, socks, pants, shirts, etc.

By the way, the odds of two people having the same 13 point DNA profile is approximately 1 in 1 billion. And…

6 Methods of Tracking Bad Guys…and Grandma’s Settee

Six methods of tracking bad guys

 

Working as a deputy sheriff in a rural county often presents its own set of special and sometimes unusual challenges, especially during the days before the existence of GPS, cellphones, and radio repeaters. In other words, it was pretty darned easy to get lost while traveling a convoluted maze of paved (sort of), dirt, and/or gravel roads. Roads with names like Burnt Tree Road, Red Clay Way, or Turkey Trot Lane.

Many of those winding back-roads led to five or six house communities where it was the norm for us to stop and ask for directions, and some of those kind folks, thinking it would be best for us to speak directly to the person we sought, allowed us use of their telephones. Besides, they didn’t want to be known as the one who sent the law after their friends. After all, liquor stills and pot grows were pretty popular in those days.

So, after a couple of rings and a loud “Hell-Oh,” this is what we sometimes heard as a response to our requests for directions to someone’s home.

“Go past Robert Junior’s old horse barn—the old one, mind you, not the fancy new one—and hang a sharp right at the big oak tree. Then go on down until you see a red mailbox. That ain’t ours, but you’re close. We’re just past where John Henry Daniels used to have a store. Now, it burned down 37-years ago next week, but they’s a big rock there with some yaller paint on it. Yaller was John Henry’s favorite color so his wife, Etta Jean—she’s Romey and Winonna Jenkins’ oldest daughter—painted the rock so’s everybody’d remember him and the store. If’n you knowed him you’d know John Henry sold the best pickles and peaches this side of Atlanta. That he did.

Anyways, if you get to where the road splits into a “Y” you’ve done gone too far, so turn around in Mable Johnson’s driveway—it’s the one with the deer head a-nailed to the cedar post next to road (her daddy used to be a taxxy-dermis)—and head back the way you come. Our house is the blue one a’settin’ off the road about two-hundred yards—the one with the goats and chickens running ’round the place. You can’t miss it, ’cause one of them goats ain’t got but three legs. Oh, whatever you do, blow the horn three times when you drive up so we’ll know it’s you, not those pesky Joe Ho’vers Witnessers. We all lay down on the floor behind Granny’s old settee when they come a knockin’.”

True story…sort of.

Anyway, to this day, driving on dirt and gravel roads takes me back to the day when unpaved streets and roads were sometimes my best friend when trying to follow a criminal’s trail. Dirt, mud, grass, and even sandy soil can be quite telling…if you take the time to look. Here are a few things investigators look for when following a trail.

1. Both cars and trucks sometimes lose traction when heading uphill, and when they do the tread patterns aren’t clear. When going downhill, tread patterns usually remain unbroken (clear) because the rubber maintains full traction with the surface. Therefore, investigators can easily determine the vehicle’s direction of travel.

2. When viewing tire tracks in the grass it’s important to note whether or not the tracks are shiny/glossy, or not. Glossy tracks mean the vehicle was heading away from the spot where you’re standing. Off color, or slightly dull tracks indicate the vehicle was heading toward your position.

3. When traveling on slightly muddy surfaces (about the consistency of slush), the vehicle’s tires force (squirt) mud forward at a +/- 45 degree angle.

4. Mud puddles, small creeks, etc. are perfect for telling which direction a car or truck is moving. Vehicles always push and pull water in the direction of travel. The liquid also washes away tracks on the exit side of the water. So, if you see a puddle with clear tracks leading up to the water’s edge, and no tracks and a wet surface on the opposite side of the puddle, then you know the vehicle was traveling toward the wet road surface. You may also see wet spots on the dirt road from where water dripped off the car frame, after it passed through the puddle.

5. Wet soil often sticks in the grooves of a tire tread pattern. As the vehicle moves along, the soil begins to dry and falls off, and it always does so in the direction of travel. Investigators can follow the trail much like following a trail of breadcrumbs.

6. When viewing tire tracks always position yourself where the track is directly between you and the sun. This enables the best view of the track’s details.

The same is true for examining footwear impressions.

6. Be sure to photograph the track for later comparison to a tire or shoe.

Finally, as you travel, be sure to examine the sides of the roadway and down paths and trails for the suspect vehicle. It would be pretty darn embarrassing to discover you’d passed by the crooks who’d parked in Mable Johnson’s driveway to count the stolen loot.

The Rape Kit

 

They have many names and assorted packaging styles. Some are used in one area of the country while others are used elsewhere. They’re often called by their official given names, but many refer to them simply as “rape kits.”

No matter what they’re called, Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK), Sexual Offense Evidence Collection kit ( SOEC), Sexual Assault Victim Evidence kit (SAVE), they’re all designed for one purpose. For the collection of biological evidence in cases of sexual assault and rape.

Typically, when a victim of sexual assault comes to the hospital, an exam is conducted by a specially trained forensic nurse. The victim will also be seen by a physician. First, the medical experts will make sure there are no life-threatening injuries. Then they’ll ask questions about the assault, health history, medications currently taking, etc.

Next comes the actual physical exam conducted by the forensic nurse, including the collection of the victim’s clothing (in the area where I worked the hospital provided new, clean sweat pants and t-shirt if the victim didn’t bring extra clothing), DNA swabs, hair samples, including a combing of pubic hair to collect possible samples left by the attacker. Blood samples are taken, especially if the victim believes she/he may have drugged as part of the assault. A number of hair samples from the victim are also collected.

Victims may refuse any part of the exam, and they may take a break at any time. They may also elect to NOT report the assault to police.

The collected evidence is placed in various pre-packaged containers provided in the evidence collection kits (rape kits). Kits contain items such as swabs, white sheets (placed beneath the victim during the exam), bottles and plastic bags.

In my jurisdiction, the hospital kept a supply of PERK kits in their inventory. The PERK kit is the evidence collection kit authorized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is not the case in all states. Please check with authorities in the area where your story is set if you desire to use an actual name as opposed to “rape kit.”

New Picture (4)

SAVE evidence collection kit – Arrowhead Forensics

New Picture (3)

SAVE evidence collection kitSirchie

FYI – officers DO NOT use the term “rape kit” when around victims of sexual assault and rape. To do so is extremely insensitive, which is why officers in Virginia refer to the kits as PERK kits.

In the meantime, police are busy collecting evidence elsewhere—bedding (sheets, pillowcases), suspect clothing, and the suspect, if identified and located. Sometimes police take an entire mattress as evidence.

Once the forensic nurse completes the exam the evidence recovery kit is sealed and delivered to the lab for processing, which can take many weeks to complete depending upon backlog.

Many writers have asked about the length of time DNA evidence remains viable in sexual assault cases, and where it can be found. Here’s a handy rule of thumb guide. Remember, various circumstances could change or alter these time-frames.

1. Vaginal DNA samples – up to one week.

2. DNA from skin contact – up to two days. If, for some reason, the victim has not bathed it is possible to obtain a suspect’s DNA sample up to a week later.

3. Oral swabbing with positive results – up to two days.

4. Anal – three days.

5. DNA from suspect’s penis – twelve hours after the assault.

6. DNA from fingers in vagina – up to twelve hours.

*By the way, semen can be detected on clothing despite washing. Remember, though, it is possible that DNA can be transferred from one item to another during washing. This is called tertiary transfer.

Those of you who attended Dr. Dan Krane’s presentation at the Writers’ Police Academy may recall when he described how this is possible. In fact, as a world-renowned DNA expert, he’s testified about tertiary DNA transfer in high-profile court cases.

Therefore, writers, it is possible for a DNA sample to show up on the clothing of completely innocent person, such as the unsuspecting roommate who shares a load of laundry with his buddy the psycho- serial rapist. How’s that for a plot twist!

 *Thanks to Wally and crew over at crimescenewriter for the topic idea!

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Murder Really Bugs Me: The Insects

Murder: Really bugs me

 

When investigators find maggots on a body that are in their early larvae stages, say…oh…when they’re 5mm in length, well, officers will then have a pretty good idea that the victim has been there for only a day and a half, or so.

Even the mere presence of certain insects is quite telling.

Now, please do enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner!