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Discovering who killed Kenny

Ah, the mind of a mystery writer. Always contemplating the simpler things in life, like car chases, explosions, and murder.

For me, there’s nothing better than to open a book and instantly feel as if I’ve been transported to another world, and I want the character’s emotions and senses to take me there. I want the black, murky waters of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana swamps to fill my gut with a sense of foreboding. I want to smell the humid southern air after a crab boil, and I want to experience the heartbreak that Dave feels when his wife dies. Those things are important to me as a reader, and they’re even more important to me as a writer. I want readers to see, feel, taste, and hear what I write.

As a reader, I also pay a lot of attention to the names assigned to fictional characters and locations because they also tell us a little bit about the author. Like the town names Hope and Despair that Lee Child used in his book Nothing To Lose.

The road leading to Hope was fresh, new, and smooth ( as smooth as the author). The road to Despair was in disrepair, filled with potholes and was totally worn out. Using those two simple words (Hope and Despair) was brilliant. Lee typed eleven letters and told us a story about two towns that some writers couldn’t have achieved in a dozen pages.

Now, speaking of appropriate settings and naming of towns in crime novels, how about the name in the photo above—Kilkenny Marina? How’s that for a great place to set a story? I suppose we’d need a few facts, first. Like, who’s Kenny? And why do the folks at the marina want to kill him? What exactly does one fish for at Killkenny? Hmm … and what, exactly, would our characters use as bait … pieces of Kenny would, of course, be a perfect means of destroying the evidence of murder, right?

A name alone can serve as a great hook. After all, catchy names can also become a familiar link between fans and their favorite stories/books—Metropolis (Superman), Bedrock (The Flintstones), Whoville (The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who), and Emerald City (The Wizard of Oz), to name a few.

Anyway, Denene and I once stumbled across this little jewel of a place—Kilkenny Marina—while exploring the back roads near Savannah, Ga.

Instead of hanging a right onto Belle Island Road in Richmond Hill (south of Savannah) I kept straight and this is the little slice of heaven we found after passing through the narrow opening in a stand of massive live oaks. A perfect setting for a mystery? Perhaps we should find Kenny to ask his opinion of the situation.

By the way, who says you have to die to see the light at the end of the tunnel? As a more practical means of having a peek at “the light,” simply visit Kilkenny Marina a few minutes before sunset and this is what you’ll see on your way out.

*UPDATE –  We never found Kenny, so we assumed the deed had been done prior to our arrival. His disappearance remains a mystery …

 

The James River, like most major rivers in Virginia, flows west to east. And like the other larger rivers in the Commonwealth, was a barrier to Union army soldiers during their quests to move deeper into the south.

On Dec. 7, 1864, a few miles south of the James River in Richmond, Union general Gouverneur K. Warren led a force of 26,200 soldiers on a mission starting out in Petersburg. The plan was to destroy a rail line that was vital to Confederate troops. However, Confederate forces, anticipating the advance by Warren and his troops, lay in wait at the point where the rail line crossed another river, some 45 miles or so south of Petersburg. They were ready for the attack.

Two days later when the Union soldiers appeared and attempted to reach the railroad bridge they were stopped by the entrenched Confederate cavalrymen. These defenders, in order to prevent the Union from crossing the river, burned the nearby wagon bridge.  Warren ended the attack later that same day.

Lots of lives were lost in or near Virginia’s waterways during the Civil War. But others have died there since. Some, for example, drowned while swimming or as a result of boating accidents.

Finding the Bodies

As a police officer I’ve been involved in the recoveries of a few bodies from Virginia waters. The experiences were unpleasant at best.

It’s an extremely eerie feeling, one that stands the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck on end, when you catch that first glimpse of a pale and bloated dead body floating in the current, or one that’s trapped among branches and limbs of overhanging brush and weeds and downed trees. Sometimes you see wildlife nibbling at the corpse, or a water moccasin nestled in the branches near an arm, a leg, or the bobbing head of the deceased.

But, back to the bridges over Virginia’s rivers. One in particular, actually. It was a wood-framed railroad bridge. A truss-type structure that was nearly 1,500 long and a mere 10 feet wide, approximately 5′ of which consisted of an expanded metal walkway that ran the distance along the west side of the tracks. When standing on the bridge one could see the river below through the gaps between the ties and through the open squares in the metal walkway. The distance to the water below was, well, it was a long, long drop.

At the base of the bridge abutments were numerous large boulders and heavy stones. Some jutted up from the swiftly flowing black water that swirled and whirled and churned around and through the spaces between the rocks. Large trees often became entangled among the stones, causing even more foamy turbulence. Broken and shattered limbs pointed toward the sky, sometimes resembling the punji stick boobytraps used by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to wound American soldiers during the war. Water rushed and swished by the obstructions, and small waves slapped and smacked against the rocks.

An accidental fall from the railroad bridge could be deadly. But when a person is physically tossed from the bridge to the rocks and trees below, well, that’s practically guaranteed death. And such was the case when I received a call to investigate a body seen half in the water and half out. The victim was spotted by a railroad employee as their train traveled across the trestle.

When I arrived patrol officers were already on the scene and they’d called for the fire department and EMS to assist with the recovery of the body. He was a young man in his late teens or early 20s (I don’t recall his exact age). The condition of his body indicated a fall from the bridge above. The gunshot would to his arm and right side suggested the fall was not accidental.

Later, autopsy results told us that it was the combination of the tree limb that pierced his abdomen, entering just below the bellybutton and exiting the lower back, and the severe trauma to the head—a shattered skull and massive swelling of the brain, that caused his death. No surprises there. The gunshot wounds were non-fatal. Also not a surprise.

I attended the autopsy.

The Footwork

I walked the trestle searching the wood and steel for signs of blood and other evidence, things that could tell me what happened and perhaps lead me to the source of the victim’s demise. But there was nothing. Stains that appeared to be blood proved to be oil or grease spilled or leaked from passing the trains.

After holding up train traffic for a couple of hours and finding nothing, not a single shred of evidence, I had dispatch call the train companies to let them know they were once again free to travel the tracks. Then I turned my focus toward the footpaths and dirt road that led to the trestle.

The road was used by railroad workers. The paths were traveled by locals who crossed on foot as a shortcut across the river. Mostly, the pedestrians were poor people who hauled bags filled with aluminums cans and other items to sell to nearby scrap metal dealers.

The trip across the bridge was a dangerous one. There were no side barriers, just two strands of thin cable stretched between a row of vertical metal posts. And no one knew when the next train would come zipping through. So being caught in the middle of the tracks with no means of protection was a very real possibility. The only option would be to jump to the river below, hoping to land in the water and not on something hard. Besides, the fall alone could kill, and it had. Several times.

Clues Emerge

I caught a whiff of smoke and followed it to where I ran across two homeless men who’d set up camp in the middle of a thicket near the tracks. They’d made a barbecue grill by laying a shopping cart on its side. They burned wood inside the basket until they had a nice pile of glowing embers below the “grill.”

They’d caught a couple of fish earlier that morning and were in the midst of grilling them when I approached. I have to admit, the fish smelled delicious, and they invited me to join them for dinner. I declined, of course.

I took seat on an overturned 5-gallon bucket and chatted with the men while they continued their meal preparations, pausing occasionally to drink from cans inside brown paper sacks. Forty ounce beers from the size and shapes of them.

I turned the conversation to the dead man, showing them a photo of his badly battered face, asking if they knew him. They didn’t know his name but they’d each seen him around a few times, crossing the bridge. They said he’d sometimes stopped to give them a few dollars. “Always had a pile of money on him,” one of the men said. “Kept it knotted in a roll held together by a red rubber band.”

The other man said he’d heard that the dead man used to live in a home that “tended to people who were sick in the head.”

So I visited the nearest place that met the description and sure enough, one of their residents hadn’t been seen for a few days. The woman behind the front desk said he’d received a check each month and was allowed to cash it to spend the money as he pleased. The state took care of his day-to-day care and expenses.

Well, the pieces started to quickly fall into place. I located the bank and teller who cashed the checks. She told me she remembered seeing another man with him that day. They seemed friendly and were talking and joking and laughing as friends do.

After questioning nearly every person I knew who used the bridge, I wound up interviewing one of the dead man’s friends who, out of the blue, confessed to the murder. It was he who’d accompanied the man to the bank.

A Crack Attack

He said he went with his friend to cash the check. Then he and his buddy set out to hand over a few of the dollars to a local prostitute. Along the way, though, he robbed his friend at gunpoint. He told me he needed some quick csh to buy crack. His body’s overwhelming desire for the drug, and “the voice”, he said, made him shoot the man. Then he dragged the kicking and screaming man to a predetermined spot in the woods near the tracks where he used a metal rod to knock him practically unconscious.

The killer wouldn’t look me in the eye when he described pushing and pulling his friend out onto the railroad bridge. Finally, after a brief struggle, he said he simply pushed the victim over the edge of the bridge. He then headed to a local dealer where he purchased three cracks rocks for $60. When he finishing smoking those he went back for three more.

He told me he was sorry for what he’d done, but there was nothing he could’ve done to stop it. The urge to smoke crack was far too great for him to set aside. He’d always done whatever it took to get the next rock.

And, he said, he probably always would. Until it killed him.

 

Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing are, of course, excellent guidelines.

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The renowned author also offered another fantastic bit of advice when he wrote, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

So, keeping Leonard’s advice in mind I’ll open today’s article with the weather, followed by the use of the word “suddenly.” The need to break a few more of Leonard’s rules were also far too irresistible to pass up.

The incident, one that’s quite true, went something like this.

The Night Was Dark, But Not Stormy

It was a quiet summer night, a night when the temperature hovered at the 80 degree mark long after the sun disappeared below the horizon, and after lightning bugs began their winking and blinking neon-like displays across fields and yards. Mosquito trucks rolled slowly along city streets, fogging neighborhoods with clouds of stinky insecticide. Humidity-filled air oozed across the skin and filled the lungs like a rapidly spreading disease. Flashes of heat lightning illuminated the distant sky, backlighting dark fluffy clouds and far away trees and tall buildings.

In short, it was a typical southern summer night.

The shift had been reasonably quiet with no real crimes to speak of, when suddenly a sweaty, frightened, nervous, and wild-eyed young man, a teenager, appeared at the lobby window. He was rail thin with long and slender arms and legs that protruded from his torso, resembling the wet and steaming spaghetti noodles that hang loosely from the holes in the bottom of a colander after all the hot water is drained.

He rambled on and on about a body in the woods. He stammered and stuttered about seeing a man shot to death. Between bouts of uncontrollable sobbing he told of helping three of his friends drag the dead man into the woods. Then they left him there to be eaten by wildlife or to rot, whichever came first.

An officer took the teen’s information, filled out a report, and then I was called to investigate.

I first bought the young fellow a cold soft drink and then asked him to take a seat in my office where a window air-conditioning unit hummed in the background as it sent chilled air into the room. I handed him a wad of paper towels so he could wipe the perspiration from his face. He reeked of sour body odor. Bits of leaves, tree bark, and lint clung to his short hair like teensy ornaments on a Christmas tree.

I began the interview.

He told me he was sixteen-years-old and was a member of a small gang. Actually, his “gang” consisted mostly of a few of his cousins and close friends, and that their gang activities centered around committing minor B&Es and selling drugs for a local dealer.

Recently, though, the dealer coerced the boys into doing a bit of “collecting” for him. This duty involved strong-arming people into paying their debts. Sometimes, he confessed, the collections involved extreme violence, such as beatings with bats and metal pipes.

This night, the collection of money owed, took an ugly turn. Four of the boys drove out into the county to the home of a young man who owed the dealer a considerable sum of money. He’d been given crack cocaine to sell but failed to turn over the proceeds to the boss. Actually, he, a former crack addict, had relapsed and smoked the entire amount all by himself. So the dealer sent “his enforcers “to collect, “or else.”

Since the man had no cash the four collectors were faced with a dilemma—fork over the cash themselves, or kill the moocher. Those were their instructions—return with $300 or kill him. So they grabbed the man and forced him into their car. Then they drove him to a remote area of the county where the made him get out of the car in the middle of road. Once outside they forced him to his knees.

The teen sitting across from me wept as he told of the man begging them not to hurt him. Then one of the teens produced a pistol and placed it against the back of the man’s head. The man began to cry, now begging for his life to be spared.

The gun-wielding man pulled the trigger twice.

As a group, the four teens dragged the body across the asphalt pavement, down into a rocky and weed-filled ditch, and then into the woods. They pulled and tugged the body across leaves and sticks and fallen branches and over small spindly young trees and bushes. They stopped to rest a couple of times. Then, after they’d caught their breath they continued onward until they’d dragged the dead man nearly 200 yards or so into the woods.

I called for a team of officers to help conduct a search. The teen rode with me, guiding us to the spot where they’d hidden the body.

We found the dead man after searching until the sun came up the next morning. He was on his back. His eyes and mouth were open, wide. It was as if he’d seen the bowels of hell and at that point died with pure fear freezing his facial muscles in an expression of absolute horror.

Flies buzzed around the wounds on his head. A couple flew into his mouth and then crawled back out. Black ants, and I’ll never forget this as long as I live, walked on the dead mans eyeballs. They stepped first one way and then other, randomly zig-zagging about. It was an odd sight to say the least. They looked liked ice skaters on two tiny frozen and morbid ponds. A wasp stood at the opening of the left ear canal.

So when people ask me about the things I remember most about working death scenes, well, I recall the weather, the suddenness of it all, the vivid descriptions of the people and places, the dialects of the people I questioned and how many times their statements ended in a manner that when written deserved to end in exclamation points. I think of the backstories of the killers and victims—the prologues to murder.

And, I think about the bugs and their lack of respect for the dead.

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.

New Picture

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.

 

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.

 

 

Yeah, well, don’t let those click-bait headlines get your unmentionables all bunched up, because ALL, and I repeat, ALL killings of human beings by other humans are homicides. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

That’s right, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

New Picture

Yes, each time prison officials pull the switch, inject “the stuff,” or whatever means they use to execute a condemned prisoner, they commit homicide. All people who kill attackers while saving a loved one from harm have committed homicide. And all cops who kill while defending their lives or the lives of others have committed homicide. These instances are not a crime.

It’s when a death is caused illegally—murder or manslaughter—that makes it a criminal offense.

Murder is an illegal homicide.

For example, in Virginia:

§ 18.2-32. First and second degree murder defined; punishment.

Murder, other than capital murder, by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction, except as provided in § 18.2-31, is murder of the first degree, punishable as a Class 2 felony.

All murder other than capital murder and murder in the first degree is murder of the second degree and is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five nor more than forty years.

Therefore, those seemingly dramatic headlines that read “Shooting By Cop Ruled a Homicide,” well, they’re often nothing more than words used to affect people’s emotions, induce a reaction, or to encourage people to click over to their website, which, by the way, is how many “news” outlets pay the bills.

So please, un-wad those unmentionables and don’t be a victim of media sensationalism.

By the way, how many of you clicked over to this blog because of the headline/blog-post title? Gotcha …


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MurderConRegsitration

The abandoned factory sat just across the county line. Its towering and crumbling red brick smokestacks stood like fingers pointing to the sky. Portions of the building’s red brick facade and stacks appeared as if they’d been devoured by mounds of deep green kudzu.

A vast asphalt parking lot and an array of driveways surrounded the enormous building, a place where hundreds of employees once buzzed about like bees in a hive.

During its heyday, rows upon rows of workers sat side-by-side at long metal tables, operating industrial sewing machines. Others were charged with dying operations, driving forklifts, and pushing the buttons and dialing the knobs of machinery that clicked and clacked and whirred as they transformed tiny threads into enormous rolls of various types of cloth. Floor sweepers maneuvered back and forth in the corridors and spaces between equipment. Their nonstop to-and-fro movements were much like the mechanical and mindless ducks in a shooting gallery.

An in-house machine shop contained every tool imaginable for the repair of equipment from the smallest of contraptions to the hulking and huffing and puffing metal machinery, some the size of buses. There, highly skilled professionals wore heavily soiled overalls and displayed a shift’s worth of jet-black grease stains on their faces and hands. They went about the business of fixing and mending and fabricating at a never-ending pace, round the clock, seven days per week. Likewise, the factory workers tended to their never-ending tasks that, too, were divided into three round the clock shifts.

A constant flow of tractor trailers arrived empty and left filled with goods, heading to other factories where the materials would be transformed into an assortment of consumer goods.

Then, without notice, came the layoff notices and one by one workers were let go, machinery slowed, lights ceased to flash, motors stopped turning, and the factory quickly began to die. Paint peeled, roofing sagged, and pipes leaked. Weeds sprouted through cracks in the parking lot and driveways. With the end of truck traffic the wild plants and stalks flourished and propagated and spread and grew and grew and grew.

Rats and roaches replaced workers. Raccoons and opossums took over office spaces.

Vandals arrived to break windows and leave behind painted symbols and signs. Teenagers held spooky nighttime seances. Others smoked pot and drank beer and cheap wine and told stories of ghosts who roamed the empty hallways and cavernous spaces.

We received a call from a concerned citizen who’d reported seeing what appeared to be a person inside the factory, using a flashlight to find their way. It was just after midnight and the caller said “something just didn’t seem right.” She was absolutely correct.

Inside the factory, using our bright Maglights to help find our own way, we stepped into a room big enough to contain two high school gymnasiums. Inside the sprawling space we waded through an assortment of monstrous machinery and rows of metal racks. The roof sagged and  dripped oily water. Rust coated the steel supports that crisscrossed the upper spaces. Field mice scurried along tabletops and among the broken glass that littered the floors. Roaches as big as my thumb scattered and slid into cracks and crevices when the powerful beams of our flashlights illuminated them.

And that, in that huge room among the mice droppings, dripping water, massive insects, and eerie echoes, is where we found the boy. His body hung from a thick and long, black extension cord that connected his neck to a steel beam that supported an upper floor. Two loops of cord around the neck were held in place by a granny knot.

The boy, barely a teenager, wore a dark t-shirt, shorts a bit too big for his narrow frame, dirty white socks, and one black Converse tennis shoe. Its mate, the left one, was on the floor beneath the body. Also under the boy’s body was old office chair. The seat was on its side with its wheels two or three inches from the left shoe, which was also on its side.

His eyes and mouth were open, as if locked in a silent, terror-induced scream. His skin was cool and firm to the touch. There was no flashlight and without it there was no way the boy could’ve found his way through the pitch black darkness to find the room, find a chair and cord, attach the cord to a rafter, and so on. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face inside that place without the assistance of a light of some kind.

The knot that held the cord closed and tightly to the boy’s flesh was positioned on the right side of the neck. According to his mother, the boy was left-handed and to use his right would have been extremely awkward, unlike many left-handers who are fairly fluid with the use of both. Still, a knot on either side of the neck is not a particularly strong indication of left- or right-handedness. A point to consider if all else failed.

The victim’s friends said he’d been hanging out with a group of older teens who sold drugs They said the boy was not a user, not even pot. However, an autopsy indicated the presence of cocaine and pot. The examination also showed bruising in various spots on the body, including the areas around the wrists and forearms, as if someone had held him there, tightly. The signs pointed to a beating and a murder.

Still, the medical examiner ruled the death as a suicide. I knew better. Remember, the call came in as a report of someone seeing a light inside the factory. There was no flashlight to be found and common sense told me that flashlights don’t grow legs and flee crime scenes. So, in spite of the official ruling and based solely on the witnesses claim of seeing a light, and common sense, I continued to investigate and it didn’t take long to learn the truth.

The boy sold drugs for a known dealer. While selling those drugs he caved to peer pressure and began using. Then he became hooked. His habit grew to a point greater than he could afford so he started using the drugs he was given to sell. Then, as is often a problem, he was quickly unable to pay his dealer and went deeper and deeper into debt.

So they killed him. And they left his body swaying in an abandoned warehouse among rats and mice and roaches and raccoons and opossums and rust and broken glass, dripping oily water, and eerie echoes.

A few days after the boy’s funeral, teenagers, those who went to the factory at night to drink and to smoke pot and to tell tall and spooky tales, had a new ghost story to tell, one of a new spirit roaming the factory corridors. Many claimed to have seen the dead boy hanging from the rafters, especially on Halloween nights. Passersby sometimes said the boy appeared at the windows, peering out from behind cracked glass.

As a result of those vivid imaginations we’d sometime receive calls of people seeing what appeared to be a person inside the factory using a bright flashlight to find their way. And we’d investigate. Of course, we never found a single ghost, but each time I went, even though it was just a memory, I did indeed see that poor boy hanging from the rafters. It’s one of those things you never forget.

The cause of death, by the way, was changed to Murder, a fact I never doubted, not even for a second. So remember, writers, sometimes it’s “the thing” that isn’t there, such as a the flashlight in this case, that’s the key to solving a crime.

 

It was a cold January night back in 1975, a night when the temperatures dipped to the mid 20s. There were no clouds in the coal-black sky, but the overhead inky nothingness was peppered with thousands of tiny off-white dots—winking and flickering wintertime stars.

The victim, a fragile 88-year-old retired school teacher, Eva Jones, was in her modest home located less than a hundred yards, just short of a football field’s distance, from the local police department. She was at home alone, typical of most evenings, when the stranger forced his way through the front door.

Minutes later the elderly woman had been choked, raped, and robbed of $40 cash, all the money she had in her possession. Her attacker then slipped away as quickly as he’d arrived.

The old woman managed to get to her phone and dialed the number to summon police. When the dispatcher answered the call she heard a female voice gasping for breathe as she pleaded for help. Since the station was within sight of her home, officers arrived right away and found the partially-clad victim of the brutal assault.

Two hours later, after being transported to the hospital, Eva Jones was dead. Before she died, though, she told police that “a negro man had torn her clothes off and had choked her.” No further details. Just the man’s race. And then she was gone, leaving police with little—practically nothing—to help with their investigation.

During the next few days police questioned several men who’d been seen in the area, nearly two dozen, or so, but they were each cleared and sent on their way. Eventually, officers set their sights on a 32-year-old man, Curtis Jasper Moore, who’d been recently released from a psychiatric hospital.

Investigators interrogated the man for approximately six hours, nonstop, but Moore never, not once, admitted involvement in the murder of the woman. During the taped questioning, the man repeatedly hummed the theme song of a popular western television show. His mind and thoughts strayed from the matters at hand, and his statements were inconsistent. Some of his words, though, were taken as incriminatory.

So police took the man to the woman’s house—the scene of the murder—hoping the visit would illicit a confession. Again, some of his words, while confusing, were thought to be incriminating, including a couple of statements that seemed to indicate that he’d been inside the woman’s home on the night of the killing. That scant bit of “evidence” was enough for police officers who desperately wanted to close the case. Public and political pressure to do so, of course, was great. They arrested Moore for the murder and rape of the former educator.

A little over three years later, Curtis Moore, the severely mentally-challenged man, was convicted of murder, rape, and robbery and was sentenced to serve life in prison. His guilt was based almost entirely on the statements he’d made to police. There was no physical evidence that connected him to the murder scene. Due to his diminished mental capacity Moore was sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Court appointed attorneys filed state appeals on his behalf but all were denied. Next, a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed. It was only then when a U.S.  District Judge ordered the confession suppressed and set aside the conviction.

The judge ruled that the interrogation was improper because the man had not been offered the Miranda warning until after at least four hours of interrogation had passed. The judge also determined that the state was unable to prove that the man understood his rights after investigators finally got around to advising him.

It took a year and half after the judge’s ruling for the appeals court to affirm his decision, and when they did, finally, the man was released from prison pending a new trial. It was three years after his conviction that he was able to set foot outside of institutional walls.

Prosectors, with no evidence on which to rely, elected to not pursue the case and dismissed it..

Twenty-four years later, the governor of Virginia ordered testing of biological evidence that was found contained in the files of a recently deceased state crime analyst, Mary Jane Burton. Burton, for whatever reason, secretly taped small swatches of biological evidence—samples she used for blood typing—to her test sheets and then placed those sheets in her permanent hard-copy files.

The Burton evidence was discovered in 2001 when The Innocence Project requested all files on behalf of Marvin Anderson, a man convicted of rape. He fought and continued fighting to prove his innocence after his release from prison based on Burton’s saved/hidden evidence..

But saving bits of biological evidence was not the norm. Actually, by preserving the samples the examiner violated the lab protocol that all evidence was to be returned to the submitting agencies/investigators. However, by breaking department rules, the saved evidence samples were indeed tested per the order of the governor and the results produced were nothing short of stunning.

The rule-breaking, highly-meticulous Mary Jane Burton and I have a couple of loosely-based connections.

  • It was Mary Jane Burton who determined the identifying characteristics of biological evidence that would later convict Timothy Spencer, the serial killer known as The Southside Strangler. Spencer was the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death based on DNA evidence. I witnessed Spencer’s execution via electric chair.

Author Patricia Cornwell worked in the state lab at the same time as Burton. Dr. Marcella Fierro, the state’s chief medical examiner, a colleague of Burton was the inspiration for Cornwell’s character Kay Scarpetta. Dr. Fierro’s office conducted the autopsy on the bank robber I was forced to shoot and kill during a shootout beside a major interstate highway. Dr. Fierro and her assistant had dinner with Denene and me at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond, Va. the night Denene received her PhD.

  • In 2008, the evidence in the Jones murder case that was found in Burton’s file was submitted to the lab for DNA testing. The DNA tests proved that, without a doubt, the murder of Eva Jones could not have been committed by Curtis Jasper Moore.

 

Instead, the DNA was a solid match to a man named Thomas Pope Jr. Pope’s DNA was in the system because he’d been convicted of abduction and forcible sodomy in 1991. He was paroled in 2003.

 

My connection to Thomas Pope, Jr.? I’ve had the “pleasure” of investigating and arresting him a couple of times over the years, including for sexual assault (not in the same area as the Eva Jones murder, though). Unfortunately, at the time I arrested Pope his DNA had not yet been entered into CODIS. Somewhere in my files, I still have a copy of one of the Pope’s arrest warrants.

 

Curtis Jasper Moore didn’t live long enough to learn  that he’d been totally exonerated. He died in California in 2006.

 

The two officers who interrogated Moore have since passed away, as well. One committed suicide in the mid nineties. The other died of natural causes. Both were elected and served many years as sheriffs in Virginia.

 

On March 24, 2010, Thomas Pope,Jr., 55, was finally convicted of the rape and murder of Eva Jones, the retired, elderly school teacher. He was sentenced to life in prison.

I imagine Pope is currently residing in a state-run prison somewhere in Virginia after nearly and literally getting away with murder because two cops flirted with disaster by allowing tunnel vision and political pressure take over their investigation. And for taking advantage of an obviously mentally ill man.

 

It was a Saturday morning, a day when the temperature had already reached the mid 80s and the southern air with was packed with enough humidity to make it appear as if a quick rain shower had passed through. Condensation on the windows of the county jail, the red brick building that also housed our offices, was dense enough to obscure the view outside. Even our brown patrol cars appeared to be perspiring. Moisture dripped from the leaves of the tall oaks that had lived on the courthouse lawn since the days of the Civil War. In fact, one of those trees served as the “hanging tree” back in the day. Jail inmates sat in their cells wearing nothing but sweat-soaked boxer shorts and white socks. The day was indeed on track to be a real scorcher.

I know, never start a story with the weather, but this is real life, not fiction. I’m not writing that first line, the hook, to grab your attention.

This day, the one mentioned above, was brutally hot. I mentioned the temperature because, as is with most instances involving police, it’s important that you know that temperatures and weather conditions often play a huge role in their profession.

It’s also important that each and every word in your tales has meaning and that each one has a purpose. For me, based on personal experience, weather can be “a character” in a story and it’s sometimes as important as the hero, the villain, or the victim. I say this because …

Words Melt Everyone

“Man it’s a hot one
Like seven inches from the midday sun
Well I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone
But you stay so cool” ~ “Smooth” by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas

Weather conditions are part of the equation, just as are criminals, courts, judges, and guns, including being a part of the smallest of details of a murder scene. Winter, spring, summer, fall, snow, sun, rain, and wind all play a role in the real world of cops and robbers. It has purpose and it has meaning.

Such as the mid August day in Savannah, Ga. when heat and humidity make you practically gasp for every breath like it could be your last, and when bending over to have a look at a victim’s body at the precise moment when that lone drop of sweat reaches the tip of your nose and you absolutely must prevent its fall to stop your DNA from commingling with that of the killer.

Or when preparing to enter an abandoned warehouse to search for the armed robber who was last seen going inside. It’s 10 degrees outside and the grip of your gun is ice-cold to the touch. Your hands are nearly numb and you can’t feel your toes because you’re standing in three feet of freshly-fallen Boston snow. The combination of fear, frigid temperatures, and freezing digits cause your hands to tremble ever so slightly. Will you be able to shoot straight and accurately if the time comes and if your very life depends upon that first shot?

The wind howls outside, concealing the sounds of a bad guy’s movements. Is he in front of you, to the side or to the rear? You don’t know because the only thing you hear is the sound of your own heart thumping wildly against the inside of your chest wall. That and the limbs of the old hackberry tree scratching and scraping across the weathered clapboard siding with each gust of swirling air.

So yes, weather is an important aspect of police work.

Saturdays are for Fishing, Not Killing

There were only two of us assigned to patrol the county that hot day, which was not a big deal because Saturdays were typically slow. Weekend nights were the times when the action jumped off. I suppose that most trouble-makers’ daytimes were reserved for rest, fishing, lawn mowing, recuperating from hangovers, and driving out to the back forty to plink a few rounds at tin cans and discarded refrigerators and rusty clothes washers. Fun times.

Some folks visited community swimming pools and a few teens would head out to the old gravel pit to swill cheap beer and to smoke weed and for dip in the water. It’a place where at least one kid drowned each summer and usually within the next day or two we’d find the bloated body tangled in the branches of fallen trees, if a state police diver wasn’t able to immediately locate the victim in the incredibly deep water.

Sometimes we’d interview a sobbing 15- or 16-year-old girl who reeked of stale beer and pot smoke, a doe-eyed kid who’d stand on the ledge and weep and point to where she last saw him, right after she’d begged him to not leap of into the water from the rocky cliff. He’s a good swimmer, she’d say, but we’d been drinking and his buddies dared him to do it. So he did. Of course, she wouldn’t mention the weed or that her top was on backward or that her shorts were on inside out.

The 911 Call

My fellow deputy and I began our shift at 0800 that Saturday and we’d decided to catch up on a bit of paperwork at the office before going our separate ways, making ourselves seen throughout the county. Nothing much happened before noon on Saturdays anyway.

It was 9:30 when a man called the dispatcher to say he’d just killed his sister-in-law and that the “911 lady” should send “the Po-leece” right away. Then he hung up.

So each of us sprinted to our patrol cars and left the front of the jail with red and blue lights winking, spinning, and blinking. Throughout the city streets we blasted our sirens at intersections and when we drove up behind the Saturday morning Q-tips who were in town to do their weekly shopping—the older ladies of a certain age to get their hair styled and molded into those blueish helmet shapes, and the men who stopped in the barbershops for a snip here and there and to have the barber apply enough tonic to keep the combover in place while they visited the feed store to browse through the rows of shiny red or green mowers and tractors. Then, when enough time passed the tractor-lookers would toss their canes into the backseats of their Ramblers or Buicks and head back over to Betty’s Cut and Curl to pick up the wife so together they could do their grocery shopping and perhaps have a bite to eat at the diner before traveling at a snail’s pace back to the farm.

They were slow drivers who never, not ever, looked into their rearview mirrors. So we’d follow behind with full lights and sirens until we caught a break in traffic so we could pass.

This day, though, we pushed the limit, zipping through town until we reached the main county road that led us in the direction of the alleged murder. The location was 30-40 minutes away when driving the speed limit. We reached scene in less than 20. As the truckers’ used to say, it was pedal to the metal all the way. We straightened curves by taking advantage of “the racing line” of the roadway.

For those of you who don’t know, a driver who follows a racing line greatly reduces the angle of a curve by entering it at a the far outside edge of the roadway and then crosses over to the inside edge, the apex. The apex is the point at which you are closest to the inside of the corner. The turn/curve is then completed by moving back to far outside edge of the roadway. This maneuver is sometimes called “hitting the apexes.” It reduces braking and “straightens the curve” which allows the officer to drive safely through curves at a much faster speed. However, it is a must to constantly remain alert for oncoming traffic since some of the officers’ curve-straightening involves driving on the opposite side of the road.

Standing beside a mailbox at the end of a long dirt drive was a man dressed in a red and white striped shirt, white pants, and brown work boots. As we turned into the driveway I noticed what appeared to be a significant amount of blood spatter on his clothing and shoes, so I stopped. He was obviously agitated, excited, and he rambled on incessantly about that fact that he’d just arrived to earth from Mars. I handcuffed him, placed him in the seat beside me (we didn’t have rear cages), and hurried to the house.

My coworker and I raced to the door and went inside, yelling “Sheriff’s Department!”

What we found in the home, in the master bedroom, was nothing short of the stuff horror movies are made of.

Blood ran down the painted drywall in narrow but rapidly drying convoluted trails. Spatter of various sizes and shapes was everywhere—ceiling, walls, the floor. A severed human hand lay next to one wall. I’d later count 13 chop marks in the hardwood next to it. Pools of rusty-red blood separated by drag marks of the same color and substance led to the body of a dead woman, a female who died a brutal death caused by the repeated blows of an ax.

The woman’s forearms were badly cut, signs that she’d attempted to stop dozens of strikes of the ax. A large gash to the right side of her head revealed the white of her skull, bone that had been hacked and chipped away, revealing brain matter. Some of it was found stuck to the ceiling.

Small bits of splintered bone were scattered across the floor.

Blood spatter was also on the furniture, including a king-size bed. It’s dull brownish-red hue was in sharp contrast to the crisp white sheets. More spatter was on the faces, hands,  legs, feet, and kids’ pajamas worn by the woman’s four small children who sat huddled together on the center of the mattress. They’d witnessed the entire act, a murder that occurred for the simple reason that the killer had asked his sister-in-law for enough money to purchase a pack of cigarettes. She didn’t have it so the man walked outside to the woodpile where he picked up the ax and went back inside to kill her.

The first blow was from behind, to the head. We pieced together that at that point the woman went down but turned and held up her arms and hands to fend off the onslaught that followed.

When I questioned the killer, he claimed to have come to earth from Mars and that voices from a tower told him to kill the woman. He also said he’d cut off her hand because it kept pointing at him.

He’d been tucked away in a psychiatric care hospital until two weeks prior to the murder. His release came when a sympathetic judge found him competent to return to life outside, placing him in the care of his brother. Fourteen days later the brother’s wife was dead and his four kids were scarred for life.

The killer was found to be not competent to stand trial for the murder and has remained in an air-conditioned psychiatric facility since.

 

 

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.