A dead woman crying: murder in the rain

I’ve seen more than anyone’s fair share of murder victims. More than I’d care to count, actually. I’ve also seen a variety of methods and instruments used by killers to achieve their goal(s)—gunshots, edged weapons, etc.

Some victims were poisoned; others were killed by hanging, strangulation, fire, torture, beatings, blunt instrument bludgeoning and, well, you name the manner and instruments used to kill and I’ve probably seen the end result. Unfortunately, it’s not long before dead bodies—the victims of senseless violence—quickly begin to stack up in the old memory bank.

Sure, cops get used to seeing carnage. They have to in order to survive the job. Still, there are cases that cling to the outer fringes of the mind, remaining fresh in our thoughts for many years. These, the often thought of, aren’t necessarily the most gruesome or the most difficult to solve. Not at all. In fact, what sticks with one officer may not affect another in the same way.

A few homicides occasionally creep back onto the “replay” reel inside my brain—the killing of children, the crazy guy who hacked his sister-in-law with an ax because she wouldn’t give him money for a pack of cigarettes, the kid found hanging from an extension cord in an abandoned factory, and, of course, the case I’m about to describe to you. It came to mind recently because of rains we’ve received lately here in Delaware.

The storms came at night, bringing brilliant displays of zig-zagging lightning followed by earth- and window-rattling thunder. Windblown raindrops the size of chickpeas pounded against our windows and rooftop. This is how it was the night I saw the dead woman crying, and it was the morning after when I had the unpleasant task of doing the “death knock.”

So slip on a pair of boots and a raincoat and join me on a brief journey into my memory. And yes, sometimes tales do begin with the weather…

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It was a brutal storm that night, one that delivered a hard-driving and bitterly cold winter rain. Accompanying winds tugged hard against my long, school-bus-yellow rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.

The ground at the crime scene was extremely muddy, and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, wet soil until it felt as if bricks were tied to the bottoms of my feet.

These were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.

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Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted her smooth and round caramel-colored face. They gathered and pooled at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers following the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.

It was one on one—me and the victim.

Passenger door open.

She’s lying there,

Bottom half in, top half out.

Her face aimed at the sky.

Rain falling into her open mouth.

Cheap dollar-store tennis shoes and half-socks, the socks her youngest daughter—the seven-year-old—called baby socks.

Her wet hair, mingled with mud, sticks, and windswept leaves.

Power lines crackled and buzzed overhead.

The yellow Magnate beam, a spotlight on her dim gray eyes.

No life.

No recollections.

No dreams.

Not a flicker.

Tire tracks.

Different pattern than the rubber on her Chrysler.

Driver’s window down.

Three rounds—one to the head and two to the torso.

Five empty casings.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

Half-empty wine bottle.

Cheap convenience store label.

Not her brand according to the ladies in her church group. “Oh we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”

“Was there a somebody special?”

Eyes cast downward.

Blushes and eyelash flutterings all around. “Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”

More blushing.

A stammer or two.

A good man.

The rain comes harder.

Droplets hammer her open eyes.

She doesn’t blink.

A dead woman crying.

Footprints.

Two sets.

One walking.

Casually, perhaps.

The other, long strides.

Running away, possibly.

Zigzagging to the woods.

Bullet lodged in base of a spruce pine.

One round left to find.

Water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt material.

Blood?

Still visible in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Light finds a shoe in the underbrush.

It’s attached to the foot of an adult male.

Dead.

Bullet in back.

The fifth round.

Coming together nicely.

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

Special wine for special occasion…

A good man.

Sure he is.

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Morning sunshine.

Tiny face peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

A lump in my throat.

Scent of frying bacon in the air.

I raise my knuckles to the door.

It’s the worst job in the world,

To deliver…

The “Death Knock.”

Door swings open.

Worried husband.

“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”

Husband, devastated.

Questions unanswered.

Children cry.

“Yes, I have ideas. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher hangs head in shame.

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But…

Another man.

Another lover.

Angry.

Jealous.

Handcuffs.

Click.

Click.

Murder.

No bond.

Prison.

Today, our rains have stopped.

But I’m thinking of the crying dead woman and her kids, her loving husband and, of course, baby socks.

Special occasion?

Good man?

Yeah, right.

 

We all know how the story goes. A sly, blowhardish and extremely hungry wolf arrives at the front doors of the recently created homes of three very handy pigs, a trio of walking porkchops who’d built their individual abodes on prime pieces of suburban real estate.

The first pudgy, and not so construction-savvy pig fashioned his home from straw, and if you’ve watched HGTV lately you’ll recall that while inexpensive straw homes are susceptible to rot due to high moisture content, fire, and to the difficulty of obtaining homeowner insurance.

I imagine our first little porker thumbed his flat little nose at the rules, and safety, and bypassed the permitting process. I also believe he overlooked the possibility of wind damage and quickly learned of his error shortly after the wolf announced his presence on the front stoop.

“Little pig, little pig won’t you let me come in?” the mangy wolf cried out to pig number one.

“No, no, no, by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin,” said the worried hog.

Well, you know what happened next. The wolf, of course, huffed and puffed and in a matter of seconds enjoyed a tasty pulled pork appetizer.

The twisted and curly “tail” continues with the wolf’s forceful exhalations destroying pig number two’s stick-built home. As a result … pork roast for the entire Wolf family. And, as before, he’d gotten away without leaving a clue. Not even a paw print.

Then the murdering wolf, now deemed a serial killer by the local media, moved on to his next intended victim, the pig who lived in the brick rancher at the corner of Garlic and Rosemary Avenues.

Exasperated police almost captured the wolf thanks to a 911 call from the couple next door, Porky and Petunia, who’d seen the sneaky canine approaching pig number three’s doorstep. But, as bad luck would have it, the wolf escaped on foot, well, on four feet, actually.

The wolf was careless, though, during his third attempt at pig-killing. He’d forgotten it was the time of year when his species sheds their winter coats. Yep, you guessed it. Cops collected a few discarded hairs and subsequently rushed them to the lab where scientists immediately began testing them using an astonishing new process. They ‘d know the identity of the killer very soon. But this is fiction …

The Real Meat of the Story

Okay, the tale above is a bit stupid, I know. But I wrote it as a prelude to the true subject matter of the day—identifying a criminal suspect using his or her shed hairs found at a crime scene.

It’s fairly common knowledge that scientists and other lab experts, as well as law enforcement investigators and writers, are already familiar with the use of human hair from the head as a source used to identify people through DNA testing, etc. Suppose, though, that any hair from any part of the body could be used to identify the person who shed it, not just hairs from the head. To have this capability would be HUGE in the real world of crime-solving.

Sure, writers make up stuff like this all the time to help tie up loose ends in their books. After all, Jack Reacher, Bosch, DD Warren, and Tami Hoag’s Detectives Fourcade and Broussard, well, they’re unstoppable because their creators make it so. But actual cops must use actual evidence and actual crime-fighting tools and equipment to locate killers, such as the extensive catalog of items developed and manufactured by Sirchie.

But here in the world of genuine cops and murderers, the use of wishful thinking and fictional methods and procedures is not an option that’s available to local, state, and federal law enforcement.

However, thanks to a group of researchers, fiction is now a reality.

Yes, a groundbreaking technique of human identification using hairs from ANY part of the body is now possible. It’s the result of a yearlong study by researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Forensic Science Center and Michigan State University.

The process interprets hair protein chemistry and how it effects protein marker identification.

Chemist Fanny Chu, a graduate student and researcher at MSU, along with other researchers involved in the Lawrence Livermore/Michigan State University study, took the hair testing process a step further by studying and comparing arm and pubic hair with head hair. The result—the hairs fundamentally presented the same data as head hair.

Additionally, the protein content of the hairs indicate whether a single hair is from a person’s head, arm, or pubic area, etc.

The team also learned that the protein content of pubic hair is appreciably greater than head and arm hair.

A single one-inch strand of hair has a unique pattern, much like DNA or fingerprints, that distinguish a person from among a population of 10 million people.

Fun Fact: Human hair proteins are chemically more stout than nuclear DNA. In fact, scientists have detected protein markers in human hair that’s more than 250 years old.


SIRCHIE

Sirchie products (mentioned above) are used by law enforcement professional worldwide. Additionally, they’re often seen in use by CSIs and detectives on popular television show/series.

In August, just a few weeks from today, writers, fans, and readers will have the opportunity to attend hands-on homicide investigation training sessions at Sirchie’s elite compound near Raleight, N.C. The event, MurderCON, is brought to you by the Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie. It’s a rare opportunity to learn at a world-renowned facility in classes taught by some of the best instructors in the world. I cannot stress enough how extremely valuable attending MurderCon could be to the knowledge base of crime fiction writers.

The material offered at MurderCON is the identical material taught to top investigators from around the globe. Not only that, classes are scheduled at Sirchie’s facility, the source of crime scene investigation tools and equipment. It’s where ideas are conceived by researchers and are then brought to life by developers and scientists. Next, a team of experts fabricate assemble everything from fingerprint brushes and powders to fuming chambers, alternate light sources and even surveillance vehicles.

The subject material offered at MurderCon has never before been made available to the public.

Again, this is a RARE chance to go behind the scenes, affording you, the writer, to add better realism to your work by experiencing the touch, sight, smells, sounds, and even tastes associated with crime scene investigations. This is the key to activating the senses of your readers!!

We’ve nearly reached maximum capacity for the 2019 MurderCON event; therefore, registration will soon close. So again, I urge you to consider taking advantage of this unique opportunity. It’s a KILLER event!

Sign up today at:

MurderCON

See you in August!

Police Officers are the brave men and women who’s duty is to protect us and to round up the evil folks who commit dastardly crimes against society. They’re enforcers of the law. They run into danger, leaping mud puddles and discarded fast food wrappers along the way. They dodge kids on tricycles and those licking popsicles.

Officers often work during the nighttime among feeding feral animals and smelly winos. Their nerve are cords of steel and their hearts and minds are filled to the brim with compassion.

They train and train and they train, and they’re given all the tools needed to fulfill their duties with the utmost expertise.

Unfortunately, though, cops are human and we all know that humans subject to making mistakes. Cops are no exception. Here, see for yourselves.

Oops!

Serving search warrants and entering homes and businesses to search for killers, robbers, and thieves is risky to say the least.

Before “going in,” though, there’s often a ton of necessary preparation—surveillance, paperwork, briefings, etc, not to mention the hours of training and practice that goes hand-in-hand with being a finely-honed, well-oiled member of police department’s special team. After all, the goal is to make a swift and safe entry, collect evidence, and to bring out the bad guys with no one getting hurt, including the crooks.

But, after all those grueling hours of aforementioned training, often in harsh conditions, repeating the same tactics over and over again until they come as naturally as taking a breath, well, things still happen while executing warrants. Such as …

Knock on Wood

We’ve all seen the TV cops, the officers knocking and announcing their presence and purpose. Bam! Bam! Bam! “Police! Search warrant!” Then the door-kicking starts (battering ram, actually) until the jambs and locks give way. Officers are then able to storm the house like ants on a dropped lollipop.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? But then there’s this …

Officers kick and kick and kick, and pound and pound and pound, trying to get inside a crack house. But the door won’t budge. They’re frantic that evidence is being destroyed with each passing second, so one cop decides to break a window when he suddenly hears a voice calling out from inside the home. “Use the door knob, dumbass. It’s unlocked.”


Lookin’ Through the Window

It’s mid July and a baby is trapped inside a locked car. The motor’s running and the mother is hysterical. She accidentally hit the lock on the driver’s door as she was getting out. “Please hurry! My baby’s so scared, and it’s really hot inside. Hurry!”

The responding officer peeks through the glass of the driver’s side window and sees that all four doors are securely locked, so he uses a Slim Jim to try and pop open the latches. But it just doesn’t seem to work this time and he curses those “newfangled” electric locks and all the wiring that becomes tangled around his cardoor-unlocking device. Precious minutes tick by as the temperature climbs past 90. The baby seems to be okay and the ambulance and fire crews are on the way. Another five minutes of jabbing the metal tool inside the door panel passes before a fire truck finally pulls up. Whew! They’ll have the right equipment to get the kid out safely.

The fire captain hops out of the truck and walks up to the car. He steps around to the passenger door and calmly reaches inside through the OPEN window. Then he gently scoops up the cooing baby and hands her to her sobbing mother.


The Old “Mattress as a Shield” Trick: Please Help Me I’m Falling

The prison Emergency Response Team has been called to extricate a suicidal inmate from his cell. The prisoner is extremely violent and he’s well known for hurting staff members. He’s also built like a bulldozer and is as strong as twenty men.

The team assembles at the cell door waiting for the command to go in. The lead officer, typically the largest of the group, is in charge of a cot-size prison mattress. His assignment is to hold the mattress in front of his body, vertically. The idea is to rush the guy and pin him to the rear cell wall with the padded shield. Doing so allows the team to easily restrain the guy. No problem. They’ve used the tactic several times before with great success. Never had an injury, either. When everyone is ready, someone begins the countdown. One. Two. Three. Go!

The door opens and the 6’4, 250 pound ox of a man, the officer who’s wielding the mattress makes his move. The only job for which he’s responsible, to be a human battering ram. However, he steps on the bottom corner of the mattress and tumbles inside the cell. The rest of the team fall on top of him while the inmate looks on. He slowly begins to laugh and then starts to chuckle uncontrollably as the team scrambles to get to their feet. The prisoner, of course, is laughing so hard he has tears streaming down his cheeks.


Slim Jim

Before the introduction of electronic locks, it was a simple matter of slipping a Slim Jim between the window glass and rubber weather strip, feel around until the tool hit the “lock rod,” and wiggle it around a tiny bit until the lock knob popped up.

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So presto, bingo, all was well and the happy citizen went about their daily routine.

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Slim Jim

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Notches used for “hooking” the lock rod and other mechanisms

After electronic locks replaced the simple, manual ones, things changed. No longer was unlocking a car door an easy task. In fact, it was quite the opposite and many officers, especially the old-timers, found themselves jabbing Slim Jims inside car doors while pushing and pulling and pumping the darn things in and up an down motion that brings to mind a frazzled grandma in the kitchen using a hand-mashing implement to frantically and wildly smash the heck out of a pot full of potatoes.

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Grandma pounded out a week’s worth of frustrations using one of these things while preparing Sunday lunch.

Sometimes during a particularly violent Slim-Jimming session, the device became entangled in the nests of wiring, rods, gadgets, and connections inside the door. When this occurred it sometimes was impossible to remove the “Jim” without damaging an entire network of electrical, well, car stuff.

Therefore, it was not all that unusual for an officer to leave the device protruding from the door of a high-end vehicle while the owner called a professional for help. Then off they’d drive (the car owner), heading to the dealership with long, flat piece of metal flapping in the breeze.

Convicted serial killer, Timothy Spencer, the Southside Strangler, appealed his death sentence. He claimed that he was factually innocent, scientists did not adequately perform the DNA testing in his case, and that DNA testing is a flawed science. Were Spencer’s claims wrong? Is DNA testing flawed?

Spencer also challenged the facility that performed the DNA testing. The court found no flaws in their procedures.

Landmark Case – 1st Death Sentence in the U.S. Based on DNA Evidence

Since so many writers craft stories involving serial killers and other murderers, I thought you would perhaps be interested in seeing a small part of the process involved in those cases as they make their way through the legal system.

* Spencer was the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death based on DNA evidence. This was a landmark case in the United States. I served as a witness to Spencer’s execution via electric chair. Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on Spencer’s case and of the police investigation.

The following paragraphs are excerpts from Timothy W. Spencer’s appeal to The United States Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit. His argument – The DNA testing was flawed.

*WARNING – Parts of the text are quite graphic*

5 F.3d 758

Timothy W. SPENCER, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Edward W. MURRAY, Director, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 92-4006.

United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.

Argued Oct. 28, 1992.
Decided Sept. 16, 1993.

J. Lloyd Snook, III, Snook & Haughey, Charlottesville, VA, argued (William T. Linka, Boatwright & Linka, Richmond, VA, on brief), for petitioner-appellant.

Donald Richard Curry, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Richmond, VA (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen. of Virginia, on brief), for respondent-appellee.

Before WIDENER, PHILLIPS, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

WIDENER, Circuit Judge:

1 – Timothy Wilson Spencer attacks a Virginia state court judgment sentencing him to death for the murder of Debbie Dudley Davis. We affirm.

2 – The gruesome details of the murder of Debbie Davis can be found in the Supreme Court of Virginia’s opinion on direct review, Spencer v. Commonwealth, 238 Va. 295, 384 S.E.2d 785 (1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1093, 110 S.Ct. 1171, 107 L.Ed.2d 1073 (1990). For our purposes, a brief recitation will suffice. Miss Davis was murdered sometime between 9:00 p.m. on September 18, 1987 and 9:30 a.m. on September 19, 1987. The victim’s body was found on her bed by officers of the Richmond Bureau of Police. She had been strangled by the use of a sock and vacuum cleaner hose, which had been assembled into what the Virginia Court called a ligature and ratchet-type device. The medical examiner determined that the ligature had been twisted two or three times, and the cause of death was ligature strangulation. The pressure exerted was so great that, in addition to cutting into Miss Davis’s neck muscles, larynx, and voice box, it had caused blood congestion in her head and a hemorrhage in one of her eyes. In addition her nose and mouth were bruised. Miss Davis’s hands were bound by the use of shoestrings, which were attached to the ligature device. 384 S.E.2d at 789.

3 – Semen stains were found on the victim’s bedclothes. The presence of spermatozoa also was found when rectal and vaginal swabs of the victim were taken. In addition, when the victim’s pubic hair was combed, two hairs were recovered that did not belong to the victim. 384 S.E.2d at 789. The two hairs later were determined through forensic analysis to be “consistent with” Spencer’s underarm hair. 384 S.E.2d at 789. Further forensic analysis was completed on the semen stains on the victim’s bedclothes. The analysis revealed that the stains had been deposited by a secretor whose blood characteristics matched a group comprised of approximately thirteen percent of the population. Spencer’s blood and saliva samples revealed that he is a member of that group. 384 S.E.2d at 789.

4 – Next, a sample of Spencer’s blood and the semen collected from the bedclothes were subjected to DNA analysis. The results of the DNA analysis, performed by Lifecodes Corporation, a private laboratory, established that the DNA molecules extracted from Spencer’s blood matched the DNA molecules extracted from the semen stains. Spencer is a black male, and the evidence adduced at trial showed that the statistical likelihood of finding duplication of Spencer’s particular DNA pattern in the population of members of the black race who live in North America is one in 705,000,000 (seven hundred five million). In addition, the evidence also showed that the number of black males living in North America was approximately 10,000,000 (ten million). 384 S.E.2d at 790.

5 – On September 22, 1988 a Richmond jury found Spencer guilty of rape, burglary, and capital murder. The jury unanimously fixed Spencer’s punishment at death, which was affirmed on direct appeal. Spencer then filed a petition for habeas corpus with the state trial court, which was dismissed. He appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, but because his appeal was filed one day out of time, the Virginia Supreme Court refused the petition. Spencer then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The district court denied his petition. Spencer v. Murray, No. 3:91CV00391 (E.D.Va. April 30, 1992).

6 – On appeal, Spencer raises essentially five issues1: (1) the DNA evidence in this case is unreliable; (2) defense counsel was denied an opportunity to adequately defend against the DNA evidence because the trial court denied a discovery request for Lifecodes’ worknotes and memoranda, the trial court refused to provide funds for an expert defense witness,2 and the prosecution did not reveal evidence of problems with Lifecodes’ testing methods; (3) the trial court should not have admitted the DNA evidence; (4) the prosecution improperly struck Miss Chrita Shelton from the jury for racially-motivated reasons as prohibited by Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986); and (5) the future dangerousness aggravating factor in Virginia’s capital sentencing scheme is unconstitutionally vague.

* Spencer’s major attack was on the DNA testing. I’ve inserted photos of the same type DNA testing  (electrophoresis, or gel testing) that Spencer claimed was faulty.  These photos are mine—I was the photographer. These were not part of the appeal. 

Spencer’s argument boils down to an assertion that the DNA results were flawed and he was wrongly convicted. This is a claim of factual innocence. The errors he points to–potential errors in the results of the DNA test–are errors of fact, not law.

… Specifically, Spencer points to a laundry list of problems that might have occurred with his DNA test, including:

1 – Bandshifting that may have occurred because the tests were not run on same gel (list continues below images);

DNA testing by electrophoresis (gel testing) … the process

Weighing the agar gel.

Mixing the gel with water.

Gel in chamber.

Forensic Facts

Injecting DNA into the gel.

Attaching electrodes to the chamber.

Introducing electric current to the gel.

Completed gel is placed onto an illuminator for viewing.

 Gel on illuminator.

*My thanks to Dr. Stephanie Smith for allowing me to hang out in her lab to take the above photos.

Completed gel showing DNA bands

DNA bands

Spencer’s claims against DNA continue:

2 – Cross-contamination or bacterial contamination of the samples because Lifecodes’ procedures do not guard against these threats;

3 – Invalidity because of the lack of data on the reliability of DNA testing of degraded forensic samples;

4 – Incorrect matching because visual inspection, rather than computer calculations, were used to declare a match;

5 – Invalidity that may have resulted from potentially poor quality control or proficiency standards;

6 – Impossibility of verifying results because Lifecodes did not record what voltage they applied to gel;

7 – Inability to know whether Lifecodes properly performed tests because there are no standards for licensure or required tests that labs must complete;

8 – Improper testimony at trial about the statistical likelihood of finding someone else with same DNA type because of potentially improper application of the product rule;

9 – Lack of validation studies to prove reliability of DNA testing in forensic setting and of using sperm to DNA type; and

10 – Possible inaccuracies resulting from Lifecodes’ use of certain probes

Spencer repeatedly urged, in his brief and at oral argument, that the main reason the DNA evidence in this case was found to be admissible is because it was “too new” to have been criticized, because the criticisms were published after his trial, and because Spencer was, according to counsel, the first person ever convicted and sentenced to death, using DNA evidence, in Virginia.

The Virginia State Supreme Court ruled that the DNA testing had been performed properly and denied Spencer’s appeal.


I sat twenty-feet or so from Spencer as he was put to death in Virginia’s electric chair. The procedure was gruesome, to say the least.

A few minutes after the final burst of electricity surged through Spencer’s body, time to allow the body to cool enough to allow a physical examination, the attending physician checked for signs of life. After a moment or two he looked up from Spencer’s body and said to the warden, “This man has expired.”

It was over.

Later, an unmarked DOC van carrying Spencer’s body departed the prison, passing through a crowd of people lining the roadway outside the main gate—protesters, and the many officers from state and county agencies who were assigned to maintain peace between the pro and anti death penalty groups. Both groups went silent as the van exited the prison gates and passed by on its way to the state morgue in Richmond where an autopsy was scheduled to be performed.

I knew how it felt to stand there watching those vans pass because I’d been assigned to the protection detail several times in the past. One of those times was for the execution of Roger Keith Coleman, a man convicted and sentenced to death for the rape, murder, and beheading of his sister-in-law.

Tension was high the night of Coleman’s execution and the crowds on both sides of the death penalty debate were large and angry.

Coleman’s case drew international attention. He, a coal miner from the mountains of Virginia, pleaded his case on talk shows and in magazines and newspapers. He was even featured on the cover of Time magazine. Pope John Paul II attempted to intervene, pleading to block the execution, and thousands upon thousands of protestors from around the globe sent letters to the governor of Va. Many made phone calls to his office.

But, DNA tests proved that Coleman was indeed the perpetrator of his sister-in-law’s brutal rape and murder. He submitted to a polygraph on the day of his execution as a last attempt to prove that he’d not committed the horrible crime. He failed the test.

Coleman’s final meal was a dinner of pepperoni pizza, fudge cookies, and a 7-Up. He went to “the chair” still proclaiming his innocence.

After Spencer’s execution concluded, prison officials drove me out and away from the facilty to my unmarked car I’d earlier parked behind the state police area headquarters. They’d picked me up there and driven me to the prison to prevent onlookers from knowing that I was to be a witness, a standard procedure.

As the prison van containing Spencer’s body passed by the protesters, I was already on my way home.

Regarding DNA and saliva, I’d like to note that it is indeed possible to expel DNA when coughing or sneezing. However, the fact that it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s always found, just that it could be. And, if found, it could be the DNA of someone other than than a suspect or victim, such as cop or lab scientist who was involved in the collection or testing of the evidence. Here’s why …

First, in the lab, to tell the difference between saliva and sputum, scientists look for epithelial cells. These cells have a nucleus, and within a nucleus DNA is found. Saliva is almost always present in the mouth, especially when we are awake. When we sneeze saliva and the DNA contained within is expelled.

FYI – Lab scientist/techs scan collected sputum samples for the presence or absence of white blood cells. White blood cells, not red, indicate infection. The presence of epithelial cells from saliva indicates the sample is contaminated with saliva, which would result in improper test results. Sputum is tested for respiratory tract infections. 

By the way, red blood cells (erythrocytes) have/contain no nucleus nor do they contain mitochondria. Therefore, red blood cells do not contain DNA because there’s no nucleus in the cells.

Those of you who attended the WPA when world-renowned DNA expert Dr. Dan Krane presented a fantastic session on DNA evidence, may remember when he mentioned how DNA evidence is sometimes contaminated, such as using fingerprint brushes or gloves from one scene to process evidence in an entirely different location. DNA could be transferred using those items. He also pointed out instances where coughing or sneezing could distribute DNA to the surface of an item being processed. (Dr. Krane is a former colleague of my wife, Denene)

On with DNA and Sneezing

As an example of evidence contamination via sneezing, when discussing the Jon Benet Ramsey case, Dr. Krane says, “The DNA in tests could be there because of a contact that was weeks, months, even years before the crime occurred. It’s not possible to make inferences about the tissue source here. We can’t say that it came from semen or saliva or blood or anything. What if one of the medical examiners sneezed on one of these articles of clothing and it came into contact with the other one? There are just so many possibilities.”

Additionally, from another source, “It is extremely easy to contaminate biological samples; this can occur by failing to change gloves or clean instruments properly, failing to wipe down benches properly between testing, or by sneezing or even talking over a sample (Buckleton et al 2005:277).”

And, from the National Institute of Justice:

Contamination

Because extremely small samples of DNA can be used as evidence, greater attention to contamination issues is necessary when identifying, collecting, and preserving DNA evidence. DNA evidence can be contaminated when DNA from another source gets mixed with DNA relevant to the case. This can happen when someone sneezes or coughs over the evidence or touches his/her mouth, nose, or other part of the face and then touches the area that may contain the DNA to be tested.

To avoid contamination of evidence that may contain DNA, always take the following precautions:

  • Wear gloves. Change them often.
  • Use disposable instruments or clean them thoroughly before and after handling each sample.
  • Avoid touching the area where you believe DNA may exist.
  • Avoid talking, sneezing, and coughing over evidence.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth when collecting and packaging evidence.
  • Air-dry evidence thoroughly before packaging.
  • Put evidence into new paper bags or envelopes, not into plastic bags. Do not use staples.

From the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Heath/The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):

4.2. Contamination

For DNA studies, one of the greatest laboratory barriers is the contamination of genetic material from other sources (e.g., from the examiner and other biological evidence). Contamination may occur during the sexual contact (e.g., if there is more than one perpetrator), during the period between the sexual contact and the FME, during the FME, and in the laboratory. In order to avoid it, examiners should take special precautions to prevent cross-contamination between evidences. For this purpose, it is important:

  1. to work under aseptic conditions to avoid microbial contamination;
  2. to always use disposable supplies to ensure individual protection (e.g., gowns, powder-free gloves, mask, or other protective clothing) and to avoid direct contact with the samples;
  3. to ensure that the room where FME takes place is regularly cleaned before and after patient use;
  4. to avoid sneezing, coughing, or talking over the samples;

Dr. Krane is one of the world’s foremost DNA experts, testifying worldwide as an expert witness in well over 100 criminal trials, in which DNA evidence was presented, such as the Jon Benet Ramsey case. He’s been involved as a top expert in other high-profile cases such as the DC Snipers, OJ Simpson case, and the infamous Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton “blue dress,” to name only a few. Dan also developed software that’s used in genetic analyzers, the devices used by scientists who conduct DNA tests.

My other source, in addition to our good friend Dr. Dan Krane, is, of course, my resident renowned expert, Dr. Denene Lofland.

Denene received a Ph.D. in Pathology, with an emphasis in microbiology, from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. As a former biotech company director, Denene managed successful clinical projects that resulted in regulatory filings of four compounds and FDA approval for two new antimicrobial drugs for the treatment of pneumonia and cystic fibrosis. The drugs are currently on the market.

Denene supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance. Her areas of expertise include medical microbiology, bioterrorism, and new drug discovery development. She has published numerous articles in a variety of peer reviewed scientific journals, contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook standard used in colleges and universities, published an article about anthrax in Police One magazine, and she has an upcoming tale in the Writers’ Police Academy’s anthology, After Midnight, Tales From the Graveyard Shift (edited by Phoef Sutton with foreword by Lee Child) ~ Level Best Books, publisher

Currently, Denene is an Associate Professor of Medical and Molecular Sciences at the University of Delaware. She also taught medical microbiology to medical students at a medical college in California. In her early days, prior to becoming a mad scientist, she managed the lab in a large, major hospital.

Over the years, I was fortunate to have the experience of witnessing Denene and her teams, and Dr. Krane’s team, perform numerous DNA testings using both gel electrophoresis and DNA Sequencers/Genetic Analyzers. I was once treated to conducting a test of my own in one of Dr. Dan Krane’s labs, an entire DNA test from extraction of sample to final result. I ran the test on the DNA of a strawberry, but hey, the process is the same as when using human samples. The strawberry was innocent, by the way.

Again, the fact that DNA is present in saliva, it doesn’t mean DNA is always found when someone sneezes or coughs, or talks over evidence (it’s even been found in traces of saliva found on a public phone receiver), just that it’s possible and that it does occur.


DNA Testing: The Process

The first step in the testing process is to extract DNA from the evidence sample. To do so, the scientist adds chemicals to the sample, a process that ruptures cells. When the cells open up DNA is released and is ready for examination.

extract-dna.jpg

DNA is actually visible to the naked eye. The slimy glob in the center of the circle below is DNA.

new-picture-11.jpg

DNA is tested in devices like the one below. They’re called genetic analyzers. This particular device is located in one of Dr. Dan Krane’s laboratories.

new-picture-1.jpg

DNA is loaded into wells inside the genetic analyzer. There are 96 wells in the gray, rectangular block shown below (inside the analyzer).

new-picture-2.jpg

An electric current separates the DNA, sending it from the wells through narrow straw-like tubes called capillaries. During its journey through the analyzer, DNA passes by a laser. The laser causes the DNA loci (a gene’s position on a chromosome) to fluoresce as they pass by, which allows a tiny camera to capture their images.

The image below shows DNA’s path through the genetic analyzer (wells are on the left; capillaries are the arcing lines leading to laser and camera on the right).

new-picture-3.jpg

Capillaries

new-picture-4.jpg

Doctor Stephanie Smith points to the row of eight capillaries, one for each well in the corresponding line of wells (12 rows of 8 wells).

At the end of the testing, the equipment produces a graph/chart called an electropherogram.

Peaks on the graph depict the amount of DNA strands at each location. It is this unique pattern of peaks and valleys that scientist use to match or exclude suspects.

Or, in the case of paternity testing, to include or exclude someone as a parent.

The image below is an electropheragram showing the DNA of a strawberry.

new-picture-8.jpg

Electropheragams are printed and it is this document that’s examined by experts for use in the ID/comparisons of sample contributors, such as suspects and victims.

Remember above when we discusses sneezing, coughing, and/or talking over DNA evidence? Well, here’s a DNA test result (electropheragram) of a contaminated sample, a mixture of DNA found on the body of a rape victim. The evidence was contaminated to the point that it was impossible to tell/prove whether or not Contributors 1 or 2 were involved in the assault. Notice that the peaks in the mixture do not quite match either suspect’s DNA.

Electropheragram showing tested DNA of two subjects, and a mixture of DNA collected from a victim. Results showing a mixture make it difficult to point to any one suspect, or if someone other than the suspect and victim contaminated the sample.

The image below shows a clear match between the DNA of the victim and suspect. The suspect was clearly in contact, in some way, with the victim.

 

DNA Facts:

Identical twins have identical DNA.

Humans are genetically 99.9% identical. Only 0.1% of our genetic makeup is different.

It takes about eight hours for one cell to copy its own DNA.

Red blood cells do not contain DNA.

DNA is used to determine pedigree in livestock.

DNA is used to authenticate wine and caviar.

Detergent and Alcohol will not destroy DNA.

DNA can be transferred from article of clothing to another, even in a washing machine. This is called secondary and tertiary transfer.

DNA testing is not 100% accurate.

*My thanks to Dr. Stephanie Smith and Dr. Dan Krane for allowing me to hang out in their labs to take the above photos.

*Thanks, too, to the good folks at crimescenewriter for the idea for this post. 


Have you reserved your spot at MurderCon? If not, there’s still time to do. Sign up today to attend this rare hands-on training event!

In the meantime, here’s a peek at the 2019 MurderCon instructors and speakers. The lineup is stellar!

MurderCon Instructors

The last time you traveled by air, was it possible you were seated beside someone who had a pistol hidden somewhere beneath their jacket, other than an air marshal?

Before you burn away too many brains cells pondering the question, I’ll answer it for you. Yes, it is indeed possible that a passenger on your flight, in spite of the tough safety checks implemented by security, was carrying a loaded firearm.

This is so because the law permits certain law enforcement officers, other than air marshals, to carry their fully-loaded sidearms even while on typical, everyday flights.

Writers Want to Know

Are cops allowed to carry their weapons on airplanes? I’ve seen this question asked by writers, time and time again on various sites and Q&A groups, and I often see tons of those questions go unanswered, or worse still, answered incorrectly. So let’s set the record straight, today.

First of all, simply carrying a badge and police ID does not automatically grant an officer permission to “carry” while onboard a passenger aircraft. Certain conditions must be met before getting to that stage, and those conditions, set by the TSA, are extremely strict.

The mandatory conditions are spelled out in black and white in a document called the Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed initiative. Of course, the document being official government paperwork, comes with an acronym all its own—LEOFA.

To receive approval to fly armed, the individual must:

  1. Be a government agency employee whose duties require and authorize them to carry a weapon.
  2. Be a sworn officer whose duties are to enforce criminal or immigration laws.
  3. Be a full-time and sworn, federal, state, county, municipal, or tribal officer. The officer must be a direct agency employee, not a volunteer, etc.
  4. Satisfactorily complete the LEOFA training course offered by the TSA.
  5. The officer’s agency must show a need for the officer to fly armed, such as transporting a prisoner, conducting dangerous surveillance (the person being surveilled is traveling on the plane, etc.), or that the officer must be ready for action the moment the plane lands.

Like everyone else who’s legally allowed to possess firearms, officers traveling for pleasure may transport firearms on airplanes simply by storing them (unloaded) in locked, hard-sided containers, and then declare those weapons at the ticket counter. Firearms may NOT be transported in carry-on luggage.

Travel Across State Lines with Concealed Firearms

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (yes, another acronym—LEOSA) states that qualified active-duty and retired officers may carry concealed weapons, without special permit, in any U.S. state. This is regardless of any state law.

There are restrictions, though, and they are:

  1. The officer must be authorized by their agency to carry a firearm.
  2. The officer must not be under the influence of alcohol or any type of drug at any time while in possession of the firearm.
  3. Officers must qualify (at the range) to carry the weapon in their possession.
  4. Must not be involved in any disciplinary conditions that could result in the loss of their police powers.
  5. Must not be prohibited by federal law to carry a firearm.

Special Requirements for Retired Officers 

  1. Must have served at least 10 years of service prior to retirement.
  2. Must have left their department in good standing.
  3. Must not have been deemed unfit to carry a firearm (mental health issues/diagnosis).
  4. Must qualify with the firearm at the firing range within the past 12 months. Qualifying = meets the minimum standards set by their home state and/or agency.

In addition to the above, each officer, or retired officer, must carry a special photo ID with them at all times when possessing a firearm. The ID must certify that they’ve met all minimum standards set above.

*Source – National Sheriffs’ Association

I’ve heard the word entrapment spoken to or shouted at officers, including me, at least a thousand times over the years, especially when undercover ops came to a close and the bad guys discovered the true identity of a person, an undercover police officer, they’d admitted to their inner circle. That it was the undercover agent to whom they’d spilled their deepest secrets. And it was the sneaky cop to whom they’d trusted enough to sell mounds of illegal goods such as cocaine and/or guns. Those officers who, while during the course of their assignments, concealed their identities to infiltrate criminal enterprises.

And it doesn’t stop there, with undercover operations. No, not at all. I’ve had the word tossed at me during traffic stops and during investigations of murders, burglaries, white collar crimes, and even B&Es.

Entrapment is often a go-to word when a bad guy is caught with his hand in the cookie jar. It’s almost as if some people think it’s a “get out of jail free” card.

So what exactly is entrapment?

For starters, it’s more than simple trickery, such as when undercover cops grow long hair and beards, and wear jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes as part of a disguise so that they’ll fit in with a certain crowd. Or, when a female officer wears a tight, short skirt and 10-inch heels while parading along sidewalks pretending to be a hooker who’s fishing for “customers.”

A person is “entrapped” when he is persuaded by police, or their agents—someone acting on their behalf, such as an informant—to commit a crime that he had no previous intention of carrying out. In simpler terms, the officer or agent of the police convinced the person to commit a crime he otherwise would not have committed. Cops may not plant the “commit the crime seed” into the mind of an innocent person.

A defendant who is the victim of entrapment may not be convicted of the crime.

The DOJ – Entrapment

The Department of Justice details entrapment as …

“Entrapment is a complete defense to a criminal charge, on the theory that ‘Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.’ Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 548 (1992). A valid entrapment defense has two related elements: (1) government inducement of the crime, and (2) the defendant’s lack of predisposition to engage in the criminal conduct. Mathews v. United States, 485 U.S. 58, 63 (1988). Of the two elements, predisposition is by far the more important.

Inducement is the threshold issue in the entrapment defense. Mere solicitation to commit a crime is not inducement. Sorrells v. United States, 287 U.S. 435, 451 (1932).”

Solicitation of a Crime is NOT Entrapment!

It’s perfectly legal for police officers to pretend to be someone they’re not in order to get to the bottom of a criminal case. For example, the undercover officer who pretends to be a an arms dealer who requests to purchase illegal firearms from a suspected criminal.

It is not entrapment when a person is ready and willing to commit a crime when approached by an officer, undercover or not.

The mere providing of an opportunity to commit a crime is not entrapment. In order to find entrapment, there must be persuasion to commit a crime by the entrapping party.

Entrapment is a legitimate defense. However, the burden of proof is squarely on the shoulders of the defendant. To claim inducement, a defendant must prove that police conduct absolutely created a situation where a law-abiding citizen (the defendant) would commit an offense. The defendant must prove to the court that he was unjustly persuaded, coerced, threatened, and/or harassed into a situation where he committed the crime for which he was charged.

Again, an undercover officer who merely approaches someone to ask if they’d be willing to sell the officer a quantity of drugs, and they do, this is not entrapment. The officer in no way unjustly persuaded, coerced threatened, and/or harassed the subject. Instead, he asked for a product and the subject delivered the goods.

For example, the case of Officer Ima Agent and cocaine seller Willie Deal:

Officer Ima Agent, dressed in jeans, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and scuffed, red Chuck Taylors, sees Willie Deal, a suspected drug runner, standing on a street corner. She sees Deal make several exchanges with people—cash for small, pebble-shaped pieces of aluminum foil. So she approaches Deal and their conversation goes something like this.

“What’s up?” says Agent.

Deal gives the female undercover cop a head to toe once over. “Just chillin’. Know what I’m sayin’, Shorty?”

“I’m in town for the weekend visiting my boyfriend. He’s in the county lockup and one of his friends, Joe Blow, said I might be able to hook up around here. He point me in the right direction?”

“Depends, Shorty. Whatcha’ looking for?”

“Just a rock or two. All I got is thirty bucks, though.”

Deal gives her another look. Thinks for a minute. Looks around. Another look. “Okay, Shorty. Let me see the thirty and see what I can do.”

Officer Agent shows Deal a crumpled ten and twenty (undercover cops always wrinkle “buy money.)” New bills are dead giveaways to bad guys, that they’re dealing with a rookie undercover cop.

Deal produces two small foil-wrapped packages. Agent opens one to inspect the goods and determines that it is indeed crack cocaine. Then she signals to her partners with a quick a scratch to the right side of her head, the sign to move in to make the bust.

The scenario between Agent and Deal is a legal arrest. No entrapment.

Deal was absolutely ready and willing to sell drugs. Agent in no way unjustly persuaded, coerced, or threatened Deal to sell her the drugs.

 

Have you ever had one of those bosses who knows everything about everything? You know the type, no matter what you say or do, they know best, did it better, faster, and more cost efficient, all while walking uphill during a snowstorm while barefoot.

Well, as bad as it is for you guys to work for one of these know-it-all’s, imagine doing so while working as a police officer where split-second decisions could mean the difference between someone living or dying.

Add to that, the boss decides he wants to come out and play cops and robbers during an important operation, unannounced, making those split-second decisions for you … over the course of an hour or so without knowing details, background, the names of the bad guys and whether they’re armed, or not. Not a freakin’ clue.

Well, I once had one of those bosses, and …

The bust promised to be a good one—cocaine, heroin, and a boat load (just an expression) of shrooms and pills. I’d worked on the case for a couple of months, spending lots of undercover time hanging out with this group of doofuses, and I’d reached the point where I was ready to get warrants for everyone, including search warrants for two properties.

One residence was the single-story modest home of a guy, Carey D. Weight, who held most of the group’s dope. He also did most of the packaging and transporting. The other search warrant was for the home of the top dog in the operation.

In this case, the top dog was a female—a young, somewhat attractive female, Betty Bigbutt, who lived with her elderly grandmother and her grandmother’s full-time healthcare worker. Oh, and I should mention that the female’s family was very much a high-profile family. Quite well-to-do with a very famous relative.

So, the plan was for one team to search the packager’s home, which was basically a dump, while the other team was set to paw through some extremely expensive items inside an elegant and ornate southern mansion. However, just before executing the warrants, an emergency developed and members of one of the search teams were forced to respond to assist troubled patrol officers.

Therefore, left with only one entry team, I had to change my plans, deciding to go for the top dog first, sending one officer over to guard Weight’s home in case he decided to suddenly depart. I had no idea that the chief of police and one of his captains were out, together, snooping around and playing Junior G-Men.

Our team was in position, ready to knock and announce at the front door when a faint voice crackled in my earpiece. I held up my hand, indicating I wanted everyone to stand down. Thinking something had gone wrong I backed away from the house. I heard the voice again, but couldn’t make out what the person had said. So I turned up the volume.

The barely-above-a-whisper voice of our chief of police came through, and he said, “The groceries have landed.”

I turned toward the officer standing next to me to make sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard. He shrugged, also not knowing the meaning of our fearless leader’s words.

So I keyed my mic and softly said, “Repeat your traffic.”

And again, “The groceries have landed.”

Remember, an entire entry team, all dressed in black and armed to the max, were hanging out, attempting to hide in a yard in a prestigious neighborhood. Our vehicles were parked a couple of streets over. And here we were, trying to figure out what message our chief was trying to convey, on a radio frequency monitored by everyone in the country who owned a police scanner. He hadn’t bothered to use the tactical channel.

Finally, the colonel says, in a loud bass voice, “Capt. Ding Dong and I are parked across the street from Carey D. Weight’s house, watching it for you until you finish serving the search warrant at Betty Bigbutt’s place. Somebody just showed up with a package. We think it’s drugs. The. Groceries. Have. Landed!”

So much for the element of surprise. He couldn’t have done more harm by using a megaphone to announce the operation and, as a result, it would be only a few minutes before every media truck in town would be parked in front of Weight’s house, hoping for an action-packed breaking story.

Well, since the entire city, county, and state had just learned of our location and plans, I told the team to back off and keep the house under surveillance until I got back. Then I made a beeline for the chief. My hands had already formed a tight circle, one I’m sure would have fit nicely around my bosses neck.

When I turned onto the street where Weight lived, the first thing I saw was the chief’s sparkling white car backed into a large group of head-high hedges, directly across the street from our target’s home, standing out like a sore thumb. The nose of the unmarked car was a mere six or seven feet from the sidewalk, almost close enough that passersby could slap its hood with the palm of a hand. Blue lights in the grill and in the front of the rear-view mirror glowed hotly, reflecting the light from the streetlamp they’d parked under. Yep, Barney and Gomer were incognito, big time.

Needless to say, the bust didn’t take place that night. And I learned to never, ever, tell the chief of my plans. He could learn about them like everyone else … film at 11:00.

 

 

All cops work cases that stand out above the others. The ones that seem a bit more senseless than others. The crimes that make no sense whatsoever. And these cases, well, they’re typically committed by criminals whose wiring is sometimes wildly cross-connected, or the ends of those wires are attached to wrong terminals inside a damaged mind—positives to negative posts or something of that nature.

Personally, I’ve investigated numerous murders where the killers lived in worlds all their own, including man who believed martians told him to kill. And there was another man who thought he was Jesus, the Son of God, a divine position that gave him license to kill at will.  These folks resided entirely within the confines of their unbalanced imaginations and the illnesses that fueled them.

The Briley brothers of Richmond, Va. were a pair of siblings who  assassinated  people for fun. The two, Linwood and James Briley, were responsible for nearly a dozen homicides during a seven month period.

Linwood, whom I had the “honor” of guarding once he was captured after an escape from death row, was the first of the brothers to kill. In 1971, while still a juvenile, he sat at his bedroom window with a rifle and took aim at his elderly neighbor through her kitchen window as she went about her daily routine. He shot and killed her. Just for fun.

The Brileys were nothing short of walking, talking, and breathing, evil, in every sense of the word.

But one of the most senseless and mind boggling of all murders I’d investigated over the years was perhaps a killing that occurred on a lazy, summertime Saturday morning, near the noon hour. The neighborhood kids were out in force, with a group of boys playing a game of baseball in a street marred by dozens of potholes. The asphalt road was lined with four-room houses of clapboard siding and rusty tin roofs. Front yards were mostly dirt of the southern red-clay variety. One or two gangly weeds clung to life here and there, but that was about it for vegetation.

Old people sat on front porch rockers or battered, old cloth couches, drinking iced tea from Mason jars. They were enjoying watching the children play, perhaps thinking back to the day when they played similar games in the era when the streets were nothing more than dirt paths that connected their area to downtown.

But this Saturday morning was a day I’ll always remember. It was a case that involved two brothers. Twins, they were, and the very much true story goes something like this ….

 

Dog Number Twelve: The Brothers Most Grim

 

Smoke,

Charcoal fire.

Sun,

Blue sky.

 

Balls,

Bats, gloves.

Swing,

A hit.

 

First,

Manhole cover.

Second,

Fire Hydrant.

 

Third,

Wood plank.

Home,

Old tire.

 

Kids,

Laughing, squealing.

Out!

No, safe!

 

Pop,

Apron on.

Cooking,

Hot dogs.

 

Sons,

Both alike.

Twins,

Teen boys.

 

Ah,

Delicious odors.

Wafting,

Mouths watering.

 

Lunch,

It’s ready.

Platter,

Piled high.

 

Seated,

At table.

Blessing,

Give thanks.

 

Amen,

Dig in.

Eating,

Chewing, swallowing.

 

Forks,

Clanging, clicking.

Then,

Eleven gone.

 

Only,

One dog.

Single,

On platter.

 

Mine!

No, mine!

I,

Said mine!

 

You’ll,

Be sorry.

I’ll,

Kill you!

 

Dog,

Number twelve.

Speared,

With fork.

 

Twin,

Number one.

Shot,

By Two.

 

Dead,

Eyes open.

One,

Grabbed dog.

 

From,

Lifeless Fingers.

Chewed,

And Swallowed.

 

Twin,

No more.

Alone,

In solitary.

 

Prison,

For Life.

All,

For dog number twelve.