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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!

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.
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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.

 

Evidence = The thing or things that furnish proof.

Proof = Something that establishes the validity of truth.

Truth = A body of real things.

Real Things = Evidence.

Okay, now that we’ve established the fact that evidence is/are real things that offer proof of the truth, let’s examine a few places where police investigators sometimes find those real things.

Above all, though, before beginning the death scene investigation detectives should first check for signs of life. There’d be nothing worse than wrapping up a crime scene investigation and then have the victim sit up and tell you that you’d missed the most obvious clue of all … a heartbeat.

The savvy detective knows to always look up, down, and all around. After all, tunnel vision can be a cop’s worst enemy in more ways than one. Detectives also know to never smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink while inside a crime scene, and that’s because doing so could deposit “real things” that crime scene techs could be confuse with actual evidence, such as cigarette ashes or a gum wrapper.

And, since there are no “do-overs” with a crime scene, you only have one shot at it before the scene is forever altered. Remember Locard’s Principle from yesterday’s article—“always, without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.”

A head-to-toe visual exam of the body/victim includes making note of its position and if there’s something abnormal, such as an arm or leg in an unnatural angle. The eyes. Are they open or closed? Any obvious signs of a struggle. Defensive wounds on the hands?

Check for lividity. Is it fixed? If so, where does it show up. Lividity, when present, should appear at the lowest points of the body. If not, that’s an indication that the body was moved after death.

Lividity

Lividity, aka Livor Mortis is the pooling of blood in the lowest portions of the body. It’s caused by gravity and begins immediately after death. The telltale signs of livor mortis, the purplish discoloration of the skin, begins the moment the heart stops pumping. This process continues for approximately 6-12 hours, depending upon surrounding conditions, until it becomes fixed, permanently staining the tissue in the lowest parts of the body. When large areas become engorged with lividity, the capillaries in those areas sometimes rupture causing what’s known as Tardieu spots. Tardieu spots present as round, brownish blacks spots.

Lividity can help investigators determine an approximate time of death. The staining of tissue normally begins within the first two hours after death. The process reaches it’s full peak (fixed) in eight to twelve hours.

If the victim is moved during the first six hours after death the purplish discoloration can shift, causing the new, lowest portion of the body to exhibit lividity.

After a period of six to eight hours after death, when lividity becomes totally fixed, the patterns of discoloration will not change. Therefore, investigators know a body found lying face down with lividity on the back, has been moved.

Rookie officers have often confused lividity with bruising caused by fighting.

Remember, ambient air temperature is always a factor in determining the TOD (time of death). A hot climate can accelerate lividity, while a colder air temperature can slow it down considerably.

Missing Jewelry

Before bagging the hands (use paper bags) to preserve any evidence that may be located around and beneath the fingernails, investigators should carefully examine the hands and wrists, visually, making note of marks or other indications that jewelry had been worn, such as a tan line or indentation on the ring finger. This is a sign that robbery could have been the motive for the death. And that the missing items may appear on an upcoming pawn shop daily report. In most areas, pawn shops are required to submit a daily list of all items purchased. This aids police in tracking down stolen merchandise.

Paper bags are used for bagging the hands because plastic aids in the incubation process of bacteria and, as you know, bacteria growth accelerates decomposition. Bacteria can also destroy DNA.

Alternate Light Sources (ALS)

The use of various alternate light sources are used to detect stains and body fluids, fibers, and even fingerprints, all evidence that’s often not visible to the naked eye.

ALS equipment/RUVIS – Sirchie ~ 2018 Writers’ Police Academy

 

 

 

RUVIS (Reflective Ultraviolet Imaging System), a system of locating latent (invisible) fingerprints) without the use of powders, fumes, or chemicals, was developed by Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories, a sponsor of the Writers’ Police Academy, and the U.S. Army. The system focuses on one specific section of shortwave ultraviolet light, the germicidal spectrum of light, which cannot be seen by the naked eye.

A particularly unique feature of RUVIS technology is that it works in both total darkness and in bright sunshine, a must for use by police investigators.

Sirchie’s Krimesite Imager uses RUVIS technology to detect invisible residues from fingerprints. Those residues reflect UV light projected from the device, which immediately captures the reflections with a 60mm UV lens. A built-in scanner then converts the images to visible light, allowing the investigator to see the fingerprint. All this is done instantly, in real time. And, the detective is able to see images from up to fifteen feet away.

Once the print is located, the investigator uses the Imager to photograph it and, with the use of a micro-printer, print a copy of the desired evidence. All this without the messy powders that never seem to wash away. The KS Imager can also be used to greatly enhance prints developed using cyanoacrylate fuming (Super Glue).

*By the way, keep your eyes and ears open for a major announcement regarding the Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie. You are going to lose your minds when you hear the news!

Bloodstain Patterns

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.

 

Always look up, down, and all around

As I stated earlier, this rule of thumb is extremely important when search for evidence and it’s especially so when examining a scene for blood spatter. This includes the undersides of table tops and seat bottoms. The insides of door frames and windowsills. In fact, a peek inside a refrigerator can sometimes save the day when all else come up empty.

Yes, bad guys sometimes cannot resist the urge to grab a quick snack or something to drink while taking a break from dismembering their latest victim. Therefore, it’s not at all unusual to find a bloody fingerprint on the container of onion dip, or loose hair from the head of the killer that’s lodged between the Swiss cheese and plate of leftover hotdogs.

Spatter is often found on ceilings and overhead lighting. On doorknobs and bedroom slippers that sit by the fireplace.

Other bits of often overlooked evidence can be found under rugs or carpeting, behind light switch covers …

Removing the plastic wall cover to reveal a thumb drive concealed inside the electrical box housing wall light switch.

… inside statues, faux spray cans, sewn inside the hem of clothing and bath towels, inside appliances and handheld electrical gadgets, shoes and, well, you name it and a crook has probably hidden something there.

Locating evidence in an outdoor crime scene – this, my friends, is a topic for another day. In the meantime, remember to have the heroes of your stories to “always look up, down, and all around, because without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.”

The evidence, proof and truth of the crime and who committed it, is always there. It’s up to the detective to find it.

 

Police often keep certain case details secret, away from the public and media. It’s nearly maddening, I know, to people who’d like to help locate a missing person. However, there is a purpose or two to keeping these important and oftentimes scant particulars, those known only to the perpetrator, out of public view. One is to afford police the opportunity to solidly place the suspect at the scene if the person in the hot seat mentions those undisclosed, key details during an interview with investigators.

In the case of Mollie Tibbitt’s disappearance, it seems as if she vanished from the face of the earth without leaving a single trace. However, those who’re familiar with Locard’s Exchange Principle—theconcept that was developed by Dr. Edmond Locard—”that every time someone makes contact with another person, place, or thing, an exchange of physical materials takes place.” The item(s) could be as large as a footprint, a leaf, or a fingerprint, or as small as DNA, skin cells, or body fluid.

The same is true in reverse. The unsuspecting criminal, no matter how careful, will also take similar material away from the crime scene—carpet fibers buried in the tread of a shoe, DNA transferred to the suspect from an item only found in the apartment belonging to the victim, a unique plant seed stuck to the gas pedal of the suspect’s car, and so on. The list is nearly endless. Actually, I once solved a murder using soil and plant material found on a gas pedal and carpeting of the killer’s car. The material was unique in that its characteristics were exclusive to the location where the murder took place.

It’s quite possible that police have in hand one of those a tiny bits of evidence that would or could place a kidnapper or an accomplice in one of the five or six areas police have identified as locations of interest in the case of Mollie Tibbitts’ disappearance. Keep in mind, though, there may be other areas they’re keeping to themselves in hopes the suspect will relax, thinking police are not closing in, when in reality the net is slowly and methodically tightening as clues are revealed.

For the safety of Mollie Tibbetts, it’s imperative that a kidnapper, if this is indeed the case, not be alerted that police are hot on their heels. Desperation on the part of the criminal could led to an unfortunate end to the investigation.

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who confess to crimes they didn’t commit. These individuals often crave attention so badly they’ll march into a police station where they admit to crimes ranging from burglary to murder. When this occurs, it takes away from the valuable time needed to focus on real leads because each false-confessor’s story must be thoroughly scrutinized.

Others who falsely confess to crimes do so because they sometimes succumb to effective and often intense questioning tactics used by skilled police interrogators. For example, The Reid Technique, a method that utilizes three distinct components—factual analysis, interviewing, and interrogation—is designed to help eliminate those who aren’t good candidates as suspects for the crime in question. Once the pool of suspects is narrowed down to a single person, well, police typically have their man, or woman.

A person who seeks notoriety by falsely claiming to have committed a crime that’s receiving national attention will use the information announced by the news media to concoct a believable story. This is a second example as to why police closely guard some details about a case.

Regarding those false confessions, when the innocent confess to crimes they didn’t commit. We see this in cases where death row inmates are exonerated based on physical evidence, even after confessing to the crime. The same was true when John Mark Karr falsely confessed to killing Jon Benet Ramsey back in 2006. Karr’s DNA didn’t match the DNA found on the body of the six-year-old girl’s body. Or, in 1932, when over 200 people who confessed to abducting Charles Lindburgh’s infant son.

Several other factors contribute to confessions offered by innocent people. For example, after being subjected to lengthy, hours-long intense interrogation, some individuals simply become exhausted and profess guilt simply to end the process. In addition, police interrogators often “minimalize” the crime, making it seem less severe. The idea is to convince the suspect that it’s in his or her best interest to confess. And they often do.

Stress leads to false confessions. A person’s level of anxiety generally increases when accused of a crime they didn’t commit; however, those who are not guilty of the crime in question typically feel their innocence will allow them to breeze through the interrogation without fear. They feel protected by their guiltlessness. Unfortunately, this lack of concern sometimes puts them at risk to admit to a crime they didn’t commit because their guard is down, and they’re weary, which increases the likelihood they’ll succumb to a skilled investigator’s use of tried and true tactics and techniques.

With these factors in mind, police try to hold insider information to themselves, away from the public eye. It’s sort of like playing poker. The idea is not show your hand until the last card is dealt and all bids are in. Otherwise, the criminal, who is well aware of the details of the act, could call their bluff and literally get away with murder. That, and have dozens of people confessing to the crime merely to see their names on national news.

I do find it interesting that on the official police-generated “Finding Mollie” website, they use the pronoun “he” when describing characteristics or changes in behavior patterns of individuals who would be likely to commit a violent crime that could be associated with Mollie Tibbitt’s disappearance.

And, there’s the possibility that Mollie Tibbitts is with someone she knows and now that person is afraid to come forward fearing prosecution. This case is a head-scratcher for people not in the immediate circle of people in the know. And it may be a real puzzle for police investigators. But my bet is that the police have a piece, or pieces, of evidence that could tie someone to the case—piece of evidence known only to them and they do not want to suspect(s) to know “they know.”

*Anyone with tips in relation to Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance is urged to visit findingmollie.iowa.gov. A reward for information about the case leading to her safe return has nearly hit $400,000 ~ Fox News

Excerpts from this article are featured today in the Fox News article “Mollie Tibbetts’ father says Pence meeting was ‘touching’ as 200 new tips pour in.”

To read the entire article, please click here.

Did you know …

The FBI maintains an Anonymous Letter File. The file is searchable and contains images of anonymous and threatening letters. Letters may be examined and compared to those from other cases. Original documents are preserved in the manner in which they were received. They may not be folded, stamped, written on, handled excessively, or altered in any way. Avoiding these problematic issues preserves unseen evidence, such as indented writing.

Bank Robbery Notes – Like the Anonymous Letter File, the FBI also maintains a searchable file containing images of notes used in bank robberies (“Gimmie all your money,” signed I.M. Wearingamask). Notes may be compared to others used in other robberies. Original notes are preserved in the condition in which they are received. They, too, are checked for unseen evidence.

Bullet Examinations

The FBI’s Forensic Services is available to examine fired bullets. Measurements collected are – bullet weight, specific design, caliber, direction and characteristics of the grooves (rifling) carved into the bullet by the lands and grooves formed into the barrels of rifles and handguns.

Bullets collected as evidence must be packaged separately to prevent contacting other bullets and/or other objects. Bullets are generally soft and easily marred by contact.

Spy Stuff!


Coded messages are sometimes used by criminals such as terrorists, gang members, and even prison inmates. They devise the secret codes to relay messages they want to conceal from authorities and rivals/enemies.

Cryptanalysis

Knowing the content of these hush-hush communications is key to solving crimes and sometimes protecting life. Therefore, the FBI employs a team of Code Breakers whose job is to decipher the encrypted notes. They often find directives of murder, prison escape, confessions to crimes, drug activity, and more.

Collecting DNA Evidence – Bone, Tissue, Teeth

The FBI is quite specific about the evidence samples needed to complete proper testing/examination. The requirements for bone, teeth, and tissue are as follows:

  • Submit whole bones, if possible. Cutting increases the risk of contamination
  • Pick up bone and teeth using a clean gloved hand or some type of forceps
  • Teeth are to be collected in order of preference for testing
  1. molar (no dental work)
  2. premolar (no dental work)
  3. canine (no dental work)
  4. front tooth (no dental work)
  5. molar (restored)
  6. premolar (restored)
  7. canine (restored)
  8. front tooth (restored)

Tissue

Handle/pick up tissue with clean gloved hand or forceps. The ideal sample would be 1-2 cubic inches of red skeletal muscle, placed into a clean, airtight container. NO Formalin! Samples may be frozen, placed in Styrofoam containers along with dry ice and shipped overnight to the FBI lab.

This One’s For the Birds!

FBI experts are on hand to examine bird feathers. No, you didn’t imagine this. It’s very real. FBI scientists can determine species from feathers or bits of feather found on clothing, shoes, vehicles, etc. Then they compare those finds with feathers discovered at a crime scene. A positive match could place a suspect at the scene of a crime.

Feathers (evidence) are packaged in either paper or resealable plastic bags.


The FBI is far more than what we’ve seen lately in the news. I’ve worked with a number of agents over the years and they are wonderful people who’re dedicated to performing their duties as professionals. They’re very good at what they do.

So please don’t let headlines and a couple of bad apples destroy the work and credibility of the more than 35,000 employees of the agency. On the other hand, I’ve had personal dealings with one of those bad apples and those times left me feeling absolutely disgusted. Oops, I’ve come close to violating my own rule of NO POLITICS on this site. Therefore, it’s time to follow my own advice and … ZIP IT!

Available soon!

 

 

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

We’ve discussed the issue of probable cause (PC) many times, and we all know it’s one of the very few things that remains consistent in law enforcement. PC is a “gotta have it” sort of thing when making certain arrests and obtaining search warrants.

One more time – Probable Cause is the existence of facts (not mere suspicion) that will satisfy an officer of ordinary caution that a crime has been, or is being committed … and the item to be searched for is reasonably connected to the crime in question. Oh, and that evidence of the crime can be found at/in a certain place (PC for a search warrant).

Okay, with that reminder in place, let’s take a look at a few more rules regarding search and seizure.

1) Information used to obtain a search warrant absolutely must be current information. “Stale” information is not a valid basis for a search—evidence could have been moved, suspects might have moved on, other people may now be inside the residence, etc.

2) An informant’s name need not be revealed in the body of the search warrant or affidavit. That’s sort of why they call them “confidential” informants.

3) Search warrants must be served (executed) promptly. Not a week or two after the judge signs it. Actually, delays of three or four days have rendered searches unreasonable in the eyes of the courts.

Search Warrant Execution – No Knock

4) Police officers must knock and announce their presence when serving a search warrant. However, there’s no written rule/law that states a required amount of wait time before using a battering ram to gain entry. But, a good rule of thumb is to wait a few seconds, long enough for a reasonable person to open the door. Any longer allows the suspect enough time to destroy evidence.

5) Officers may obtain “no knock” warrants if there’s a threat of danger to officers should they knock and announce their presence. Also, warrants must be served during daytime hours unless otherwise specified on the warrant.

6) The law says that officers may damage private property while entering, as long as the damage was necessary under the circumstances (breaking doors and windows, etc.). And guess who’s stuck with the bill? Yep, the suspect. However, some jurisdictions have policies in place that require the municipality to cover the cost of repairs.

7) Members of the media should not be allowed to accompany officers into a private home during the execution of a search warrant.

8) Officers do not need a search warrant when conducting a search of a suspect’s personal property during the booking process at the jail. This includes any closed container found in the suspect’s pockets.

9) Officers must limit their searches of electronic devices to only the files named on the search warrant.

Sergeant Search

10) Evidence seized during an improper search may not be used during criminal proceedings. However, if the officer relies on a warrant issued by the court that was later found to be accidentally inaccurate (at no fault of the officer), it is possible that a court would allow the evidence to be introduced.

11) Evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment (protection against illegal search and seizure) may not be used in criminal trials. However, that very same evidence may be, and is, used in other court proceedings, such as parole violations/revocations.

12) It’s Probable Cause, NOT Probably Cause. Yes, I see and hear this (probably cause) quite often.

Homicide investigations are the crème de la crème of all investigations.

To solve a murder investigators use all available resources. No-holds barred. No sparing of the horses. No waiting for the obese lady to start her song. Sometimes it’s a race to catch the killer before he strikes again. But detectives must still use caution and care when evaluating and examining all evidence, including the crime scene.

To maintain order, and to prevent disaster in court, detectives and other crime-scene investigators follow a mental checklist of things to do at a murder scene. Some use an actual written guideline. The list is actually a series of common sense questions that need to be answered before moving to the next stage of the investigation.

Crime Scene Dos and Don’ts – Click here.

Investigators should always determine what, if anything, has changed since the first responders arrived. Did the officers turn lights on or off? Did they move the body to check for signs of life? Did anyone else enter or leave the scene?

Crime Scenes … Watch Your Step!

Did the patrol guys open or close windows and doors? Did they walk through blood or other body fluids?

Crime-scene searches must be methodical and quite thorough. Every single surface, nook, and cranny must be examined for evidence, including ceilings, walls, doors, light switches, thermostats, door knobs, etc. Not only are they searching for clues and evidence, they’re looking for things that aren’t there, such as a missing knife, jewelry, or even the family car. Did the suspect take anything that could be traced back to the victim? Where would the killer take the items? To a pawn shop? Home? Toss them in a nearby dumpster?

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?

Is there significant blood spatter? Is there high-velocity spatter? Did flies cause false spatter?

What is the point of impact? Where was the shooter standing when he delivered the fatal blow, or shot

False spatter – “Hey, it’s what I do,” said the fly.

Once the detective is satisfied that all the checklist questions have been answered she can then move on to the next phase of the murder investigation, collecting physical evidence.

A.

AAFS – American Academy of Forensic Science

Abandonment:  Knowingly giving up one’s right to property without further intending to reclaim or gain possession. Abandoned property can be searched by police officers without a search warrant. Most states deem it illegal to abandon motor vehicles, and the owner may be summoned to civil court to answer charges, pay fines, or to receive notice of vehicle impoundment and disposal.

Abduction:  The criminal act of taking someone away by force, depriving that person of liberty or freedom. A person who has been kidnapped against their will has been abducted. This definition does not apply to a law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duties.

*FYI writers – Local police agencies can and do investigate kidnapping/abduction cases. I’ve worked and solved several. The FBI does NOT have to be called for abduction cases.

Abscond:  To covertly leave the jurisdiction of the court or hide to avoid prosecution or arrest. A suspect who “jumps bail” or hides from police, while knowing a warrant has been issued for her arrest, has absconded from justice. Film director/producer Roman Polanski absconded to France before he could be sentenced for having unlawful sex with a minor.

Adipocere – Waxy substance found on decomposing bodies (consisting of fatty tissue). Also known as grave wax.

Affidavit – Written statement of facts given under oath.

ALS (Alternate Light Source): Lighting equipment used to enhance/visualize potential evidence.

APIS – Automated Palmprint Identification System.

Armed Robbery:  Robbery is the act of taking, or seizing, someone’s property by using force, fear, or intimidation. Using a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, to carry out the same robbery constitutes an armed robbery. You have NOT been robbed when someone breaks into your home while you’re away and steals your TV.

 

B.

Badge Bunny:  Nickname given by police officers to females who prefer to date only police officers and firemen. Many of these badge bunnies actively pursue recent police academy graduates to the point of actually stalking the officers. Some have even committed minor offenses and made false police complaints to be near the officers they desire. Many police academies mention badge bunnies near the end of the officer’s academy training to prepare them for the possible situation.

BDU – Battle dress uniform (often worn by crime scene investigators, SWAT, canine officers, and entry teams).

BioFoam – A substance used to make impressions.

Bond – Money or other security posted with the court to guarantee an appearance.

 

C.

Case File: Collection of documents pertaining to a specific investigation. The case file specific to a particular homicide investigation is sometimes called the “murder book.”

Case Identifiers: Specific numbers or alphabetic characters assigned to a specific case for the purpose of identification. For example – Case #ABC-123 or #987ZYX

Chalk Outline – This is a myth. Police DO NOT outline the bodies of murder victims. Why not? Because doing so would contaminate the scene. Tracing around the body could also move vital evidence. Crime scenes are photographed, not color-in with fingerprints or pastels.

Chase: Empty space inside a wall, floor, or ceiling that’s used for plumbing, electrical, and/or HVAC ductwork. A chase is a common hiding spot for illegal contraband and/or evidence (murder weapons, narcotics, stolen items, etc.).

CI – Confidential informant.

CSM – Crime scene management.

Complaint – Statement given under oath where someone accuses another person of a crime. Officers may also refer to a call as a complaint. “Man, I caught two loud music complaints in one hour last night.”

Complainant – Person who accuses another. Or, someone who called the police. “Go to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The complainant’s name is Herman Munster.”

Cook – Make crack cocaine or methamphetamine.

 

D.

Dying Declaration: Statement about a crime made by a person who is about to die.

 

E.

EDTA – Anticoagulating agent (tubes containing EDTA have purple tops).

Electrostatic Dust Lifter: Device that electrically charges a piece of plastic film that’s placed over a print made in dust (a shoe or palm print, for example), which in turn causes the dust to adhere to the film. The result is a perfectly captured print that’s ready for photographing.

Fire triangle – Three must-haves for a fire to burn—heat, fuel, and oxygen.

 

F.

Floater – Body found in water.

 

H.

Hit – Outstanding warrant, or stolen. “We got a hit on that car.”

Hook ’em Up – To handcuff a prrisoner.

Hot – Stolen.

 

I.

IABPA – International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis.

Information – Paperwork (document) filed by a prosecutor that accuses someone of a crime.

 

K.

Knock and announce – Requirement that officers knock on the door and announce their presence when serving a search warrant. “Police. Search warrant!”

 

L.

Latent Print: Print that’s not readily visible to the human eye.

 

O.

OIC – Officer in charge.

 

P.

PC – Probable cause. “Do you have enough PC to get a warrant?”

Patent Print: A fingerprint that’s easily seen/visible with the naked eye, without the use of powders and/or chemical or other enhancements.

Plastic – Credit card.

Priors – Previous arrests.

PPE – Personal protective equipment.

Projectile Trajectory Analysis: The process used to determine the path traveled by a high-speed object (bullets, arrows, etc.).

 

R.

Ride the chair – Die by electrocution.

Ride the needle – Die by lethal injection.

Roll up – Arrest someone.

 

S.

Stripes – A sergeant’s patch or insignia.

 

T.

Tache noire – Drying of the eye that results in a black line across the cornea.

T-Bone – Broadsided in an crash.

Trace Evidence: Small bits of evidence, such as fibers, hairs, glass fragments, gunshot residue, etc.

 

U.

UC – Undercover officer.

 

V.

V Pattern – Pattern formed by fire burning on or against a wall. Usually the fire’s point of origin is at the peak of the V.

Verbal – A warning. “I gave him a verbal, but next time his butt’s going to jail.”

VIN – Vehicle Identification number. (“Run the VIN on that car to see if you get a hit.”)

Visual – Able to see something or someone. “Have you got a visual?”

 

W.

Walk – To get off a charge. Released without a record.

Write – Issue a summons.

“Did you write him?”

“Yep. 87 in a 55.”