Detective Pete Gitterdone had a spotless attendance record, never missing a day for sickness during his entire thirty-three years with the department. He was so proud of his achievement, in fact, that he refused to stay at home on this particular day, a time when his fever hovered at 102.

Coughing and sneezing fits forced him to spend the majority of the morning with his mouth and nose buried deep into a crumpled, crud-dampened, and extremely yucky handkerchief.

Gitterdone, feeling all achy and fatigued, was busy collecting suspected blood samples (brownish red stains for the official record) at a particularly brutal homicide scene, alternating between hacking and achooing, when his partner, Detective I. Lergictowork, told him he looked sickern’ a dog, like death warmed over, and asked if he needed a break.

Gitterdone promptly turned his head away from his partner and fired off a round of wet sneezes directly into the large paper bag of already-collected evidence. “No,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Besides, I’m almost done. Just a couple of prints to lift and I’m outta here.”

He tipped his head toward a desktop where a few sheets of yellow legal pad paper sat among a scattering of pencils, pens, and colored paperclips. “Looks like the suspect might’ve touched these papers,” he said. “How ’bout handing me a can of Ninhydrin. There’s one in my kit.”

Ninhydrin reacts with amino acids to produce a purple reaction product called “Rhuemann’s Purple”. It is useful on porous surfaces—especially paper. ~ Sirchie

So, did you notice anything particularly wrong with Gitterdone’s method of evidence collection? If so, what?

After watching these two work, well, it might be a good idea to have both Gitterdone and Lergictowork read this list of Crime Scene Do Nots. It might help to have your protagonist take a peek as well.

Crime Scene DO NOT’S

1. Do Not blow away excess fingerprint powder! Doing so adds your DNA to the surface.

2. Do Not use Styrofoam to package electronic devices (computer parts, etc.) because it can cause static charges. Instead, use foam padding or bubble-wrap.

3. Do Not alter or add anything to a crime scene sketch after leaving the scene. Memories are not quite as accurate as we may think.

4. Do NOT place bloodstained evidence in plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers can serve as incubators for bacteria, which can destroy or alter DNA. Rule of thumb – paper bags/containers for wet evidence (blood, semen, saliva, etc.) and plastic for dry evidence.

5. DO NOT collect DNA evidence samples (saliva, blood, etc.) from a criminal suspect without a court order, the suspect’s consent, or during exigent (emergency) circumstances.

6. Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, etc. over any evidence sample. This also includes talking over a sample. With each word spoken comes your DNA that’s instantly transferred to the sample.

7. Do NOT fold wet documents. Leave that to the professionals in the lab.

8. Do NOT use fingerprint tape or lifters to collect bits of trace evidence. The adhesion on print lifting tape is insufficient for picking up tiny bits of evidence.

9. Do NOT use dirty digging tools when collecting soil samples. Always clean tools thoroughly after each use to avoid cross contamination.

10. Do NOT use fingerprint lifters in lieu of gunshot residue (GSR) collection materials. (see number 8 above)

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Fingerprint lifter – Sirchie image. I used Sirchie lifters all the time during my career. In fact, I still have a few leftover from my crime-solving days.

11. Do NOT allow shooting suspects, victims, witnesses, etc. to wash their hands or rub them against other surfaces until after GSR tests/collection have been completed.

12. ALWAYS remember #6 – Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, talk, etc. over any evidence sample.
Hapci-fr


Bonus – Transferred Prints

Do NOT write a transferred fingerprint scene without first giving it a ton of serious thought. Here’s why:

Yes, it is indeed possible to transfer a fingerprint, even accidentally. However, a skilled examiner should be able to spot duplicates since they tend to appear very thin and thready. Also, the background area surrounding the “new” print may not match the surface of the place where the transferred print was left. Background pattern(s) transfer along with the print.

Here’s where writers often make their mistakes when setting up characters to “take a fall” for another character. Transferred prints are mirror/reverse images and would be easily recognized by a skilled examiner. It’s possible, though, that an inexperienced print examiner, one who’s new to the field, may not catch it right away. But that scenario is highly doubtful.


BIG, BIG, BIG Writers’ Police Academy news is on the way. The 2019 WPA is a special event, one unlike anything we’ve presented in the past. And when I say special, I mean it’s over the top S.P.E.C.I.A.L.! I am so pleased and thrilled to present such an exciting opportunity for writers. This has never been done before, not ever!

For now, though, I’d like to share the dates and the location so you can make plans to attend. Please keep in mind that due to the nature and location of this unique program space/slots are limited. We’ll soon begin to announce more specific details but, for now …

Date – August 1-4, 2019

Location – Raleigh, N.C.

 

There’s nothing more boring than to read a book where the author lists a bunch of facts without any means whatsoever for us, the readers, to visualize how the crime is solved. You know the ones of which I speak …

The cop, Detective Sergeant Snoozer, found a bag filled with dirty clothing. He said to his partner, “I wonder if those reddish, brown stains could be blood, and I wonder where they got the bag? It looks familiar. Oh, well, we should look for real clues, I guess, such as fingerprints and other junk. And toss that piece of pipe over into the woods before someone trips over it.”

For goodness sake, all it would take to add a bit of zing to this incredibly mind-numbing scene is to insert a few cool facts (not an information dump, though!).

Show us how the detective uses science and personal experience to match the spots where the garbage bag was torn away from the roll to the roll found in the crook’s hideout. Show us how they determined that the stains were indeed blood, and that the pipe could be tied to a suspect who’d not left behind any fingerprints.

Show me, show me, show me this “junk.”

Show us a few details. Details that will surprise your readers. Make them interested in the scene. Impress them with the special knowledge and skills of your protagonists. Or, for a fun twist, show the villain attempting to disguise or erase the evidence. You want your readers to become invested in your characters, right?

To help add a touch of pizzazz to your story, here are 6 Ways to Transform a Boring Crime Scene into Fascinating Factual Fiction.

Tear points and striations

  1.  It’s possible to match tear points and striations of plastic garbage bags to the points where they were torn/separated from the roll. Thus, enabling investigators to prove a bag containing body parts was removed from the roll found beneath the kitchen sink inside the suspect’s apartment.

Laser trajectory

2.  Examining defects and holes in various materials caused by projectiles from firearms  can provide information about the round fired, the position of the shooter, the firearm from which it was fired, the direction of travel, and sometimes the order of shots fired. The use of lasers and/or stringing helps determine bullet trajectory. (See Detective P. Panther above)

Electrostatic dust print lifting

3.  As we walk, our shoes transfer dust and other other particulate matter to the various surfaces that have walked upon, leaving behind latent/unseen impressions of our footwear. Electrostatic dust print lifting provides the ability to successfully collect those impressions.

Author Donna Andrews photographing electrostatic dust print. ~ Writers’ Police Academy 

Jim Reynolds of Sirchie demonstrates electrostatic dust print lifting. 2018 Writers’ Police Academy 

Sirchie’s Shake-N-Cast Kit

4.  Dental stone casting material is used for the collection and preservation of footwear and tire track impressions. Since dental stone casting material emits heat during the process of hardening, a fixative must be used when casting in snow and/or icy conditions.

Investigators often keep an impression casting kit in the trunk of their police car. I did. In fact, mine was a kit comprised of products from our good friends at Sirchie.

Impression casting kits contain a casting material that’s similar in composition to the material dentists use when making impression molds for dentures.  The kits also contain dust, dirt, and snow hardener.

Sirchie’s Shake-N-Cast (center in photo) contains a pre-measured water pouch and the aforementioned dental stone. Apply pressure to break the water pouch and shake to mix the two ingredients. No messy containers and no casting material on a detectives shiny shoes. There’s enough material in a kit to cast an adult-size shoe up to 15″ long.

Metal casting frames are adjustable to fit all shoe sizes and most tire treads.

The spray in the can on the left in the above photo—Dust and Dirt Hardner—is used to strengthen impression evidence (tire tracks, footwear impressions, etc.) found in loose or sandy soil.

dirt-spray.jpg

A squirt or two of Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax provides an insulating medium between the heat-generating casting material and the surrounding snow. Once the spray contacts the snow it locks in the impression details while the casting material hardens.

snow-spray.jpg

Snow impression wax prevents snow from melting during the casting procedure.

The well-mixed combination of water and the dental casting material is poured directly from the bag into the pre-treated impression.

sp1000-pouring-compound.jpg

The result, after hardening, is a cast of suspect’s footprint.

The cast is used to identify a suspect’s shoes by size and unique characteristics, like cuts and indentations. The cast also becomes part of the evidence that’s used in court. Image – 2018 Writers’ Police Academy, Sirchie demonstration

Trace Metal Detection (TMDT)

5.  Suppose the murder victim in your twisted macabre tale was bludgeoned to death with a section of metal pipe used by a psycho killer only you could create from details embedded in that wacky and weird place deep inside your imagination. But there were no telltale usable fingerprints left behind on the murder weapon. How could the hero of your story solve the crime without prints to tie the killer to the pipe?

Aw, heck, this is as easy as solving the convenience store robbery where the crook left his photo ID on the counter.

All your hero needs is a bit of trace metal detection solution and a UV light. Simply apply the solution to the suspect’s hands, or clothing, and then hold the light over the area where they applied the solution. If the person contacted the metal murder weapon/device, the proof appears like magic.

Here’s how it works.

When holding or contacting a metal object, metal ions transfer from the object to our skin (or clothing). The ions then react with the Trace Metal Detection (TMDT) solution applied by the investigator. Immediately upon contact, the ions begin to fluoresce under ultraviolet (UV) light. To make this process even more cool, the color ranges of the fluorescence indicates the precise type of metal contacted, such as aluminum (shows as a bright whitish color), copper (deep blue), and lead (a shade between the former two colors).

To add to the supreme coolness of this stuff, even the patterns observed on the skin can indicate the general shape(s) of the metal object contacted by the suspect. This process is often used in corroboration of suicide when firearms are used. It proves the victim held the weapon used to cause the death.

The game of Clue could end in less than a minute should players elect to use this stuff. Candlestick … check. Revolver … check. Knife … check. Lead Pipe … check. Wrench … check. Rope? Well, you can’t win ’em all.

Phenolphthalein

6.  To determine if a suspected stain discovered at a crime scene is blood, or not, a presumptive test should be performed. Phenolphthalein is such a test and it reacts with the heme molecule present in blood. It is not species exact, meaning the test does not prove whether or not the blood is that of a human. Should the result be positive, samples should be collected and delivered to a testing lab.

But a positive result does provide investigators with the knowledge that blood is indeed present at the crime scene. It doesn’t require rocket science at that point to connect the dots—place is in disarray, potential victim is missing, neighbor heard gunshots, blood of some type is found on the floors, wall, ceiling, and make up a series of bloody drag marks leading to front door, down the steps, and to the driveway. Hmm …

Here’s the test.

 

Have you ever read what you thought was a fantastic book, the kind that forces us to read into the wee hours of the morning, not wanting to stop because the writing is so doggone good? But then on page 1,617, well, there it is, the sentence that makes us scream like the shopper on Black Friday who lost the last 100-foot-flatscreen Kawasaki Supersonic television to the old lady with the great left jab who immediately zipped over to the checkout counter on her suped-up Hoveround with YOUR TV strapped to her back.

Yeah, you know those books. The stories written by the author who figured no one would notice that he didn’t know the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol. Or that cordite hasn’t been used in the manufacturing of ammunition since the last days of WWII. Yep, those books.

We’ve all heard (over and over and over again) about fake news, right? You’ve even heard me mention the nonsensical reporting so often seen floating around the internet. Well, the use of incorrect firearm and other forensic terminology and information has the same stink to it as does the news reporter who kneels down in a shallow puddle of water to make it seem as if he’s standing in raging floodwaters.

So let’s have a fresh start today and we’ll do so by clearing a bit of the stinky faux pas from our writing. We’ll begin the funk-cleansing by quashing a few details about blood evidence. First, up …

Some writers have their crime-solvers rush into a murder scene while soaking the area with a luminol-filled power washer. They spray and spray until every surface—walls, ceilings, and even the family dog and Ralph the goldfish are dripping with the glowing liquid.

Others, well, their detectives have the uncanny ability to merely look at blood droplets and immediately know its type and what the bleeder had for dinner and the exact time the red stuff spattered the family portrait hanging above the mantle.

You put your left eye up, you put your left eye down.

You put ’em both together and then you look all around.

That’s what it’s all about!

~ Sung to the tune of The Hokey Pokey.

So, as the peppy little jingle above indicates, investigators should always examine a scene visually before taking the first step inside. This includes looking up. See if there are bloodstains there. Any brain matter? Bullet holes? Insects?

Next, the walls and for the same items of evidence and/or clues.

The floor and the body, if that’s where it was found. Of course, the victim should be the first concern. After all, he or she just might still be alive and need prompt medical attention. Oh, and a quick check for the suspect is always a good idea. No need to take a bullet or stab wound in the back if not absolutely necessary. Priorities!

Then look all around, and do examine the smallest of details. Evidence, as any seasoned investigator will tell you, is sometimes found in the most unlikeliest of all places.

Crime-scene searches must be methodical and quite thorough. Every single surface, nook, and cranny must be examined for evidence, including doors, light switches, thermostats, door knobs, etc.

For example, removing the plastic light switch or receptacle covers reveals an ideal hiding spot for small evidence.

First responders can be a homicide detective’s worst nightmare!

Was evidence disturbed or altered when first responders arrived at the scene? Did they open or close windows and doors? Did they walk through blood or other body fluids?

Investigators must determine if the body has been moved by the suspect. Are there drag marks? Smeared body fluids? Transfer prints? Is there any blood in other areas of the scene? Is fixed lividity on the wrong side of the body, indicating that it had been moved after death

Does the victim exhibit signs of a struggle? Are there defensive wounds present on the palms of the hands and forearms?

Okay, back to the blood found at the scene. Your detective has detected a bright red and wet substance spattered across a bedroom wall. The victim ju jour is spread eagle on the floor beneath, obviously dead due to a large gap between the eyes. Therefore, the reasonable assumption is that the material dotted and smeared across the wall is indeed blood. But this must be verified.

The procedure for identifying the red, wet substance is not like we see on television.

Officers do not dig through their crime scene kit to pull out a UV light, shine it on the red drops and drips and then turn toward the camera to say, “It’s blood. Type O. She consumed orange juice and a ham sandwich three hours before a left-handed shooter, probably the waiter at the Golden Horseshoe Lounge, popped a cap into her oval-shaped head. I know this, TV viewers, because I magically saw the DNA and it’s a match for all of the above. I’ll be available for autographs later tonight in the lobby of Bucky Bee’s Motor Lodge out on Route 66.”

For starters, unlike saliva and semen, blood doesn’t fluoresce under UV light. Instead, the appropriate light source for viewing (and photographing) blood evidence is an infrared light source. Infrared light is at the wavelength between visible light and microwave radiation. It is invisible to the naked eye.

To avoid altering, contaminating, or destroying blood’s usefulness as evidence, a savvy detective must first determine the reddish-brown substance is blood and not spilled, leftover pasta sauce. To do so, investigators conduct a simple presumptive test such as the Leuco-Malachite DISCHAPS test. This is a field test kit that contains chemical filled ampoules that, when exposed to the evidence, displays an intense blue/green color reaction in 3 seconds if blood is present.

Remember, swab a small sample for testing. Do NOT destroy the entire piece of evidence by exposing it to the testing material. Test only the swab!!

Now that your protagonist has determined that blood is present, the next step is to photograph the evidence/area where blood was found.

Luminol, the chemical used to detect blood at crime scenes, reacts with the iron in hemoglobin. It emit a blue glow that can then be photographed as evidence. It’s helpful with locating the presence of blood even after the place has been thoroughly cleaned. However, it has its limitations because the chemical dilutes blood to the point where DNA is destroyed.

The use of various filters on infrared cameras helps to reveal evidence that can only be seen with specific areas of the infrared spectrum. For example, when capturing images of blood, filters coated with a protein that is found in both egg whites and blood plasma—albumin—are often used.

Other filters are available to detect drugs, fingerprints, and explosives.

Bone fragments and teeth are visible using both UV and blue light. Crack cocaine also fluoresces under blue light.

Those of you who attended the fabulous presentation by Sirchie at the 2018 Writers’ Police academy saw the use of these demonstrated in real time.

To recap in simpler terms:

  • Examine the crime scene visually before entering.
  • Visually inspect the areas above, below, and around so as to not miss evidence that may otherwise go undetected. Looks in odd places!
  • Conduct your search in a methodical manner. Be patient.
  • Identify possible bloodstains
  • Use presumptive test kits to determine if stains are indeed blood and if they’re from a human.
  • Do NOT destroy am entire stain during testing. Use a swab to capture a small sample and then test the swab, NOT the entire stain.
  • Make certain to preserve portions of the blood sample for other testing—DNA, etc.
  • Use proper light sources for locating and photographing blood.
  • Blood does not fluoresce under UV light.
  • The appropriate light source for viewing (and photographing) blood evidence is an infrared light source.
  • Filters coated with albumin are used for photographing blood. Other filters are also available.
  • Sirchie is the Global Leader in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions; providing quality Products, Vehicles, and Training to the global law enforcement and forensic science communities.

*Remember the name “Sirchie” because you’ll soon be hearing more about them. Very, very soon. The news is exciting!

 

 

Murder: Really bugs me

Many useful items fill an investigator’s toolbox—interrogations, fingerprints, footprints, informants, fibers and, well, the list goes on and on. But there’s one group of extremely important tools that are often overlooked—the squiggly and wiggly and fluttering and flittering and sometimes even slimy crime-solving creatures known simply as, well, bugs.

Yes, we step on them and we swat at them and some people even eat them. But as investigators, in spite of the creepy-crawler’s often stomach-churning menu selections, cops must often sign them on as partners when attempting to solve murder cases. Like detectives who specialize in certain areas—rape, robbery, narcotics, and homicide—insects, too, have their own areas of expertise, and they each arrive at various times during the course of the investigations to do what is it they do best. For example …

Maggots are event crashers by nature. They’re clueless when it comes to dinner party etiquette. In fact, they barge right in on unsuspecting hosts, the dead bodies du jour. Their manners are atrocious, actually. They never bother to wait for bacteria to complete the service settings, the breaking down of complex molecules through respiration or fermentation, before storming the scene.

The tiny and gross little squirmers who eat with one end of their bodies while breathing through the other, are the Animal House-type partiers of death. As disgusting as they are, however, they are useful as tools for solving homicides because …

When investigators find maggots on a body that are in their early larvae stages, when they’re 5mm in length, well, officers then will 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.

Dermestidae Beetles have better things to do than to show up early at parties. They’re a bit snobbish, preferring to wait until everyone else had had their fill—the time when the body begins to dry out—before making their grand entrance, at which time they’ll gorge themselves on drying skin and tendons.

Green Bottle Fly

These guys are the drunk uncles of the party. They show up to first to begin drinking the fluids found in and on decaying bodies. Then, after they’ve had their thirsts quenched they’ll often dive into a hearty meal of decaying tissue.

Green Bottle Fly ~ Calliphoridae

  • One of the first insects to arrive on the scene/body
  • Lays eggs in wounds or openings such as the eyes, ears, mouth, penis, and vagina

Rove Beetles

Rove beetles are late arrivers to the party and this is so because they’re scavengers whose meal of choice is the larvae of other insects, those who lay their eggs in and on decomposing corpses. They’re one of the “buzzards” of the bug world.

Ham Beetles are also scavengers, but they find the tougher parts of the decaying body to be the tastiest, such as skin and tendons.

Rounding out today’s lunchtime guests are the Carrion Beetles. These gourmet insects absolutely adore dining on the larvae of other insects, but also enjoy a scrumptious appetizer of decaying flesh.

Now, please do enjoy your own dinner!

 

Proper evidence collection is a must if your protagonists have any shred of hope of winning a murder case in the fictional courtrooms you’ve fabricated solely from ink and paper.

In fact, the only chance your DNA DA has is to present fact when testifying to the make-believe judges and juries you’ve concocted in those fantasy worlds that live in the far corners of your twisted minds.

So here are a scant few basics to correct the errors I’ve found lately while reading during my personal graveyard shift, otherwise known as the hours between midnight and three when insomnia pulls my eyelids wide open.

Anyway, here’s how to properly collect and store the follow items of evidence (please do not use television as a source for this stuff!):

Cigarette butts – Do not use bare hands to collect. Instead, used gloved hands or forceps. Do not submit ashes. Always air dry the butts before packaging and, to preserve DNA, do NOT package in plastic bags or other plastic containers.

Chewing gum – Collect using forceps or gloved hands. As with cigarette butts, air dry and  then place into a clean paper envelope or similar packaging. Never use plastic bags or other plastic containers. Plastic acts as an incubator for bacteria, which could degrade or destroy DNA.

Hair – Use caution to prevent damaging the the root ball. Collect gently, using clean forceps (clean, to prevent cross-contamination of DNA). If the hair is wet or damp, air dry before packaging in paper with edges folded and sealed, or place and seal in a paper envelope.

Human or animal tissue – Collect approximately two cubic inches of red muscular tissue (if possible). As with other DNA evidence collection of solid material, use clean forceps or gloves. Remember to change gloves when handling different items to avoid cross-contamination. Place the tissue in a clean, airtight container. Never use formalin or other preservatives such as formaldahyde. When shipping to a testing lab, freeze the sample and send via overnight transportation service, packed in dry ice in a styrofoam container, or hand deliver.

Bones and teeth – Use forceps and/or gloved hands for collection. Collect whole bones if possible. Place bones and teeth in paper containers with sealed edges. Store out of light and humidity, and may be frozen if samples are previously air dried.

 

 

 

Blood and saliva –  Store out of light and humidity, and may be frozen if samples are previously air dried.

 

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!

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.”

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

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. 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.