The crime scene can be overwhelming at first. It took me a couple of cases to kind of get in the groove, to say to myself, "Okay. There's always going to be a point of entry. There's always gonna be a point of exit. And there are always going to be items that somebody had to have touched in between."
CRIME SCENE TEAM LEADER
There are different kinds of searches you can make of a crime scene. In a grid search, you separate your crime scene into grids and you search each grid. In a strip search, you search each strip back and forth. Then there's the spiral search. You start in the middle, which is the victim in a homicide, and you work outwards in spirals. What pattern you choose is up to you, really.
When you walk into a crime scene, probably seventy or eighty percent of being successful is just observing, identifying the areas that are likely to yield useful evidence, and then processing. There's no magic wand that you can wave over a crime scene and just have fingerprints jump out at you, for example.
With crime scene processing, you can have the greatest technology in the world to examine a crime scene with, but you still have to apply it intelligently. And if you can't figure out where you're gonna look for the fingerprints, then it doesn't matter how much technology you have.
Go back to Sherlock Holmes. Doyle made Holmes a master of observation. He had him using different scientific techniques, but the bottom line was, he was a master of observation.
CRIME SCENE TEAM LEADER
What you have to do at a scene is get a sense of how the victim lived. Some people are incredibly tidy. Some people are just slobs. But even there, you can tell the difference between a room that had some recent activity in it versus the ones that didn't.
You look for the atypical. You have to remember that "normal" is established by the scene. Not by what you think normal is.
CRIME SCENE TEAM MEMBER
A gentleman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment. The apartment was locked from the inside. His throat had been slit numerous times. He was lying on the floor in a puddle of blood. And there's a set of footprints leading away from the bathroom to the front door.
We do a lot of blood spatter interpretation, so they called us in to take a look. We were briefing in the crime scene van on the way there, and a guy goes, "Gee, I'm not gonna join you in there because I've been sick with the flu for the last couple days." I said, "Well, thanks for coming into the van and sitting with us."
We get to the scene and sure enough, there's bleeding of significant quantity. The man has several cuts on the neck. Actually, the knife was still in the neck. It was just a kitchen knife.
I'm looking at the footprints leading away, and the rug was a thickly piled carpet. It's not like you could get a nice clean footwear impression in this carpet, just kind of the shape. The prints walk away from the body and stop right at the door.
The interesting thing is, you couldn't lock the door from the outside because this was a deadbolt. It was just an internal throw deadbolt; there was no corresponding key on the outside. So I'm looking at it, going, "Well, nobody left. What's the story here?"
I spent a lot of time just kind of sitting in the living roomand staring at those footprints in blood. His body was still there, in the bathroom. It looked to me like they were stocking feet or bare feet, possibly, because they had more of a foot outline than a footwear outline. And as I looked at them further, I could see there was kind of a darker area, triangular-shaped, leading out on the footprints. Let's say that was near the heel. And I could also see a lighter, triangular shape near the toes.
What we finally concluded: This gentleman had gone into the bathroom and tried to cut himself a couple times. Didn't work. So what he did was, he walked out toward the door, which was also where the telephone was. And I think he made the command decision that "no, I'm gonna go through with it." But what he did is, he walked back to the bathroom on his previous footprints. So that you only saw the footprints leading out because as you walked across the carpeting, you saw that the footprints got lighter and lighter. What I was able to demonstrate was that this triangular shape, which was probably a clot of his own blood that he stepped on originally, showed directionality out and then you could see that directionality and the fainter outline of the footprint on the way back.
That was our explanation. The family became comfortable with it. The medical examiner explained to them why there were so many different cuts on the neck, the idea that suicides often start with hesitation marks, rather than just one slice.
I was discussing the case with my boss, who had done years and years of crime scene work. First question out of his mouth was, "What did his closets look like?" I said, "Why?" He said, "I'd be willing to bet all the shirts were neatly hung up. Everything was totally in order." He described that guy's closet to a T without ever seeing it.
The suicide was a guy who was fastidious about keeping things neat and clean. And I think that drove him. When heretraced his steps going back to the bathroom, I don't think he did that to confuse us. I think he didn't want to put any more blood on the carpet, because that would bother him to no end. He finished killing himself in the bathroom. Nice guy, he does it on the tile floor because that will clean up so much nicer than the carpeting.
I've learned to look at the person's lifestyle, now, when I'm at the scene--to try to get a sense of what that person was like.
A young Asian woman went missing in a very hot Maryland summer. She was in a common-law marriage. The woman had very close family ties. And her relatives hadn't heard from her in twenty-four hours, which was unusual. They started calling more often. The common-law husband gave excuses: "Oh, she's out shopping," or "She's visiting so-and-so." Finally, they really pressured him and he said, "Well, I really don't know where she is and I haven't heard either." He changed his whole tune, which kind of made them nervous.
After a few days, the police did get involved, and the crime lab team went to the home.
The husband was the suspect because, just after her the disappearance, he withdrew a large amount of money from her bank account. And he had major gambling debts.
The investigation was, Okay, where is she? Her body wasn't in the home. Is she buried in the yard? So any place in the yard that looked like it had been recently disturbed, we spent time digging and checking around only to find nothing there, other than freshly planted flowers.
We had the relatives walk through the house. "Does anything look like it's missing?"
And what they noticed was that a sleeper sofa down in the basement was missing. In the summer months, she would routinely go downstairs. And she'd lie on the sleeper sofa,watch TV, do whatever, and sometimes even sleep down there if the evenings were really hot.
And that sofa was missing. When that was found out, I applied Luminol to the area, sprayed it, and--son of a gun!--with the lights turned out, and with this chemical liquid sprayed all over everything, what showed up was luminescence of the wall outlining the back of the sofa, on the floor, outlining where the sofa would have been if it was pulled out, and then showing other luminescent marks going right into the bathroom in the basement. And also, partially, going up the stairs.
With that, we thought, Perfect. Something happened to her, or somebody, where we suspect blood. I took other chemical tests. I touched the areas that were luminescing to transfer the fluid onto a cotton swab surface. And I applied other chemicals, which also reacted--another strong indicator that it was blood.
We had a very, very good indication that all of this reaction was from blood. And it was consistent. If that sofa was open, and a person on it was being attacked, then you'd get this cast-off pattern of blood as it was occurring, with the sofa blocking a certain area, so when the sofa was gone, that area was clean, and then everything else around it was luminescing.
The pattern went into the bathroom. When we sprayed in there, we got a very strong reaction in the tub drain and also on a bathroom stool. And when we searched the stool a little bit more--it was like one of those old-fashioned stools in a fifties soda shop--we noticed a lot of fluorescence around it.
We flipped the stool upside down--I remember this exactly--there was a bit of tissue stuck in blood on the underneath of the stool. Here's something you wouldn't ordinarily see. The bathroom looked clean. The person did a great job cleaning it up. But when we flipped it over: "Oh, this is incredible! Collect it."
And then we went to the tub drain. We unscrewed the cover plate to the drain and opened it up, and there were some more tissue pieces stuck. We're talking some pretty good-sized tissue. Of course, to me anything above a speck is pretty good-sized. But this was like, say, the tip of your little finger. So we had a small clump of tissue stuck on the sides of the drain.
The killer probably moved the stool, not even thinking that where he was grabbing underneath would be a transfer. And the pieces in the drain just weren't thick enough to keep going down through the other parts of the drain. So they adhered really nice to the area.
We combined everything we were finding in there to give the lab enough sample. They were able to run enough samples on the DNA to show that it was consistent with DNA from a family member.
We had that strong evidence. What really put the clincher on the case was the detective work. They started just talking to people who had a reason to come to that house within a certain period of time. And they came upon a trash collector who was one of those private hires you call if you have unusual things--like a refrigerator, or whatever--you want collected at your home. He said he was contacted, went out there, and he was shown this sofa that the husband wanted to dispose of. He said, "You know, I should have thought something was odd, because the sofa looked like it was in great shape. It was in its entirety; maybe had a few tears here and there. The design of the fabric was the same as what I have in my home, so I was thinking I'm just gonna take this home. I can't understand why this guy wants to get rid of this." And the trash collector said to the common-law husband, "If you don't mind, I'll just take this home." But the man said, "No. I want this taken to the dump. I'll pay you extra." And the guy's like, "What the heck, I'll make extra money." He took it to the landfill. Of course, when the detectiveswent to the landfill--this was maybe a week after the event--there was no way they could find it.
The trash collector also said that the sofa was much heavier than it should have been. So we're putting together what happened--he must have killed her. We're speculating that he cut her up, maybe in the bathtub, and then put her in the sofa, and then tied the sofa seat down, and then had the trash collector dispose of it.
All through trial, the common-law husband never said anything. Even after he was convicted of murder, even without the body, he still would not say anything to the investigators as to where she was.
And wouldn't you know it? He won an appeal. So we had to go to trial a second time on this case, two years after the first trial.
The home was sold. New residents moved into the home. They decided they wanted to use the fireplace on the first floor. They stoked the fire. And even with the flue open, the smoke came back into the room. So they called in a chimney sweep. He found a small machete wrapped in Asian newspapers stuffed up into the chimney itself. Unfortunately, because the new occupants started a fire, the initial flames burned the date off of the newspaper and some other identifier words. They were hoping to search the paper for any topics that would identify a date.
I got it into the lab and, literally, it was so charred, it was just falling apart in my hands. Then, when I was looking at the machete, it, too, was so clean, and it was so subjected to the burning, that when I applied chemicals to it, it just wouldn't work, because everything was decomposing. All I could tell them was, "Yeah. Indication blood was present on the machete." There wasn't enough to even think about doing DNA on it. And, of course, if you even say the word "blood," the defense will say, "Well, they could have used the machete to cut some meat up, or chicken, or whatever." Andyou have to say on the stand, "Well, if that's what they do, then that's what they do. And, yes, that's how the blood could have gotten on the machete."
That answered the question, possibly, of what was the murder weapon.
And then the new people--these poor people; I'm surprised they bought the house anyway--but there was a crawl space off of the basement rec room area. They happened to go in there to clean up the space. And they found a few boxes, way, way back in a corner that were empty. But tucked behind the boxes was a strip of fabric that looked like it was stained.
That was what the detectives brought to me to analyze back at the lab. The fabric matched what was described by the relatives as the sofa fabric. And it was stained with human blood, all across. It looked like one of those little skirts that would cover the bottom of the sofa. I wondered if--Maybe putting her body into the sofa, too much got stained down there. And he's thinking, okay, I don't want anything loose. For now, I'll just pitch it in the crawl space. And I bet you he probably threw it back in there and thought he'd get back to it later. And he probably just totally forgot about it.
From that little skirt, we were able to get DNA to confirm again that the blood was from a family member of the relatives.
With that added evidence that we brought into the second trial, we got him sent away.
CRIME SCENE PROCESSOR/FORENSIC SPECIALIST