Every Contact Leaves a Trace

Crime Scene Experts Talk About Their Work from Discovery Through Verdict

Connie Fletcher

St. Martin's Press

Every Contact Leaves a Trace
One
CRIME SCENE PROCESSING
Do it right the first time. You only get one chance. Once things have been moved, once things have been changed, once you lose that little window of opportunity, it's gone forever.
--Vernon J. Geberth, Commander, Bronx Homicide, NYPD (Ret.), Author of Practical Homicide Investigation
 
A crime scene investigator has to have a positive attitude. You've got to believe you're going to find the evidence. I just learned to play golf. It helps you search the crime scene. My ball goes into the woods. Every time. Now it's like a crime scene. I always come out with, say, six balls, when I lost two. The positive attitude is the same with golf and the crime scene: You don't look at the sand traps. You look at the green. Your objective is always to do your best at that crime scene.
--Dr. Henry C. Lee, Chief Emeritus and Director, Forensic Science Laboratory, Meriden, Connecticut
 
A DROP OF BLOOD ON A GYM SHOE. A PIECE OF FIBER FOUND on a stairway. The impression of a spade used to dig a basement grave. DNA picked up from a sneeze. A few microscopic traces of glass, blown back on the clothing of an intruder.
These have been the first threads of forensic investigations, discovered and collected at crime scenes, leftover particles from actions that have ripped the fabric of people's lives.
Before any investigation can start, evidence must be collected. The scene itself, whether inside, outside, or mobile, has to be gone over as if the processors were exploring a site on Mars. What's this? Why is this here? Why isn't this here? What does this all mean?And--how do we get the evidence back to the lab without destroying it?
Generally, once the police call for assistance from the crime lab, crime scene teams consisting of evidence technicians and any forensic specialists needed--like blood spatter interpreters, trace analysts, firearms examiners--are sent to the scene. These processors start the chain of evidence that may stretch from the scene through the detectives' investigation, through the crime lab, all the way to trial. Processors and investigators have a term for the ideal: "keeping the chain tight." And they have only one shot at picking up the links left at the scene.
This chapter follows crime scene processors, presenting what they've found in their own words. Their comments are anonymous, but their expertise is indicated after their quotes (unless an entire section contains one type of expert, indicated before the section). Follow the processors and specialists as they work the scene from the outside in.
In late '81, they were training new crime scene team members in Minnesota. Of course, none of us was smart enough to ask, "Well, why is everybody who's been here for a long time getting off crime scene?"
We're all young and stupid, thinking, "This sounds great." Back in those days you started out as a crime scene photographer. We went through the whole course and had to demonstrate our proficiency.
Our final test was out at the stockyards in South St. Paul. We were in part of the stockyard that was unused, but there were cows waiting to become steaks kind of all around us. There was this large unused building. They made crime scenes in all these different rooms. They did footprints in snow, so we had to capture those. With crime scene photography, you take an overall picture, and then a medium-range, and then a close-up. So we had to take all these outside shots, in the old stockyards and out in the snow.
I can now appreciate the humor of the gentleman who put us through this whole process--he sat in the heated van the whole time, smoking--because here we are out there, documenting these crime scenes, in these smelly old buildings--they just reeked of cow manure and blood and dead animals. And he made us be out there all day long, doing this, demonstrating what we could do with our abilities on the camera. It was smelly and bad, it was January, which I didn't appreciate the humor of till later either, and our cameras were freezing up while we were out there, because it was about ten below outside all day long. So we became certified crime scene photographers.
I know now what they were trying to do with us that day. They were trying to get us used to what actual crime scenes are like. They're smelly. They're messy. And you're there for hours and hours and hours, processing them.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
 
When the new people in the crime scene response team come on board, they're given a pager, and they watch the news, and then they look at their pager all night long, waiting for it to go off. They call me the next morning and say, "We didn't go on a crime scene!" And I said, "Well, there's a reason why you didn't go to a crime scene. First of all, somebody has to be killed. Definitely. Secondly, their local agency has to call us in. And thirdly, you have to be on call. If all three of those things fall together, then you'll go."
CSI is very much responsible for this. They're just so eager.
CRIME SCENE COORDINATOR
 
It's not like CSI. I think I've been in one crime scene that might even look remotely like something from CSI. Usually, the scene is in a trailer home, or an older home where there's piles of garbage around ... You never get a nice clean scene like on TV.
I've got pictures of crime scenes I've worked on that I use in teaching. And trainees say things like, "Well, on CSI they can tell if there's been a struggle because the lamp's been overturned."
Well, at every scene I've been to, the lamps are usually overturned, and they're laying next to the eighty crushed beer cans laying on the floor--and the White Wolf vodka bottles. I show the trainees a picture of this. The trainee might say to me, "How do you tell there's been a struggle in this room, sir?" "Well, see how the garbage has been disturbed in this area, but not over here?"
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
I remember the first burglary scene I ever walked into. The house was totally ransacked. Stuff all over the place. And I just remember standing there thinking, "Where the hell do I start?"
CRIME SCENE SERGEANT
Getting to the Scene
The crime scene call comes in. You figure out, first of all, the type of crime committed, whether or not the scene is inside or outside, whether or not there's a victim still at the scene, and whether or not there's a suspect. Based on the type of scene, the manner of death, and the information from the desk officer, I put together a crew that covers the various disciplines of science that I would expect to find at that scene.
The call might be, "Hey, we got a crime. It's a double homicide, it's in a house, the victims have been shot, there's been forced entry, and it looks like they ransacked the place."
Based on that information, I would put together a couple of latent print people, because there's gonna be a lot of fingerprints to do, I would make sure there were evidence people to handle footwear and tire tracks and fibers, I would aska firearms person to handle the shooting end of it, and we would pull in perhaps one more person to help with scene documentation and photographs. So you might have a crew of four, five people.
Then we pick up the equipment truck and take off for the scene.
SCENE SUPERVISOR
 
I think everybody's had a couple near-death experiences getting to scenes. Like the time we're doing seventy mph, trying to get to a scene quickly, and the tire blows out, it's completely shredded and we're on some back country road. If we were driving a Humvee, like they do on CSI, we wouldn't be in any trouble. But we're just driving these big old bread trucks.
CRIME SCENE PROCESSOR
 
We had just driven to a scene one time. We're standing around outside the scene, waiting for the search warrant to show up. This was not in one of the better neighborhoods. The evidence people and the cops are all waiting around outside the crime scene van. Our van is fully marked, you know, BUREAU OF CRIMINAL APPREHENSION in big letters on the side and everything.
Suddenly, you hear gunshots in the neighborhood, and all of a sudden, all the cops are gone. I'm standing there thinking, "This is not good. We're sitting here with this beacon almost--Come shoot us." We evidence people don't carry weapons. And all the cops just grabbed their guns out of the van and ran off, leaving us there.
A lot of times, there'll be the sound of gunshots or news of a high-speed chase comes over the radio, and you can see--all the cops at the scene, supposedly there to protect us, they'll all come up and ask, "Can I go? Can I go?" It's a testosterone thing with them.
CRIME SCENE PROCESSOR
 
Getting to a crime scene in Alaska is unique in that, if a crime is reported, timewise it may take a while to get there. Our crime lab covers the whole state.
There's basically one road that runs up the middle of Alaska, and that goes along the railroad; it goes to Fairbanks and then there's a four-hundred-mile gravel road up to the North Slope, where the oil is, with essentially no real gas stations on the way up. Out in western Alaska, there are no roads except for maybe a few miles around a town. We have to use snow machines, Ski-Doos, a lot.
Our crime scene investigators have backpacks prepared ahead of time, with most of the essential crime scene processing items in them. Usually, you take commercial aircraft as far as you can go. Let's say you're flying to Bethel [about forty miles inland from the Bering Sea]. You take Alaska Airlines to Bethel and then you take a commuter flight from there, and then maybe you get picked up by a department, and from there you go to a remote area. It might be by a four-wheeler or a snowmobile, or by ferry, or small boat. The Department of Public Safety has some small planes also. The weather's a factor, of course. You can take off in a plane in a snowstorm and not be able to see the end of the runway.
We go to the remotest regions of Alaska. We went to a scene--flew Alaska Airlines out to Bethel. Then I was picked up by the state troopers there and driven to the Kuskokwim River, and then we took a boat five miles up the river to a fishing camp, where the natives dry fish and catch salmon. There was a woman missing who was finally found killed.
I remember one crime scene where the investigators flew to a southeastern area, like Juneau, and then they took a smaller plane from there with floats, and they flew to a little fishing village. Some of the floats on these planes have wheels also. This time, they had to put the wheels downand go up a boat ramp to get up on land and get to the scene.
FORMER CRIME LAB DIRECTOR
Securing the Scene
I was teaching crime scene investigation one time and a patrolman says, "I'm a uniform guy. I'm a patrolman. What does this stuff got to do with me?" I said, "Thank you, God, for asking that question." I said, "Stand up and ask it again, son." He did. I said, "Contrary to what all the homicide assholes of the world will tell you, you're the most important guy. That first uniform cop sets the tone, sets the stage for everything that follows. If you do what you're taught to do in the academy and do it well--protect that scene and protect the evidence--you're giving us a good start. If you don't, then everything's lost. You're the most important guy there. That's what it's got to do with you."
HOMICIDE COMMANDER
 
For forensic people, a pristine scene would be: Police are called to do a well-being check at a house. A couple of cops show up and see that the door's been kicked in. One cop goes inside, sees an old lady dead on the floor, goes up and checks that she is dead. There's no need to transport that person to the hospital if she's dead. Why scoop her up and run her to the hospital? A lot of important evidence is going to be on, or nearby, that body. Then the officer withdraws, secures the scene, and calls forensics to come and process it. Now that's gonna be a terrific scene. And that's pretty rare. Everybody wants to come and see what's going on at the scene.
HOMICIDE DETECTIVE
 
We've literally had scenes where we've asked the officer at the scene how many people have been down to see the body inthe basement, and the officer will say, "One." Well, we'll get down there and dust up footwear impressions around the body and find that there's six or eight or ten pairs of shoeprints in a circle around the body.
FORENSIC SPECIALIST
 
If you get a crime scene in winter, snow on the ground, an effective way to get rid of extra officers at the scene: Hand them a shovel and say, "Here, why don't you hold onto this with both hands and help me shovel here in a few minutes?" You turn around and they're gone because now they've realized they might have to work.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
Working from the Outside In
What I love about doing this: Any scene you walk into, you have to use any knowledge, capabilities, skills that you have to try to decide, "What is the best way to approach this scene?" It's like--If you like jigsaw puzzles, it's like doing a different jigsaw puzzle every time you go in there. It's a brand-new puzzle each time.
CRIME SCENE TEAM LEADER
 
I get sent to a scene. I'll do a walk-through to see what I'm dealing with. My observations usually start on the outside, mainly because one of your main objectives when you're processing a scene is to identify your fragile evidence and take steps to protect it, to document and collect that first. So, anything outdoors obviously has the potential to be more fragile than evidence indoors, because of the weather and everything else ... . If there's a footwear impression in the dirt outside, and there's a thunderstorm coming, that footwear has just become a piece of fragile evidence.
FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR
 
When I'm on a scene and when I train people, I always tell them, "You have to think like a crook." How did the suspect handle this? How did he get in?
Well, he got in by prying this window open. Okay. How did he pry the window open? Well, he took a crowbar and jammed it in the window, got it loose, and he used his hands to push open the window. Right there, what do you have? You have a crowbar and you have pry marks that might have a little gouge on it from the crowbar. We have a rubber cast for this; we can actually cast those imprints, and we have people in the lab that actually get paid to compare stuff like that.
Or you deduce that the guy used his hands to push open the window. Well, are there prints on the outside of the window? Now, the window's open. How did he get inside? The window's kind of high, so he probably grabbed up underneath the inside of the windowsill and pulled himself up. You want to look for prints there on the underside of the windowsill.
You wouldn't believe how many people are sitting in prison in South Carolina now because I went behind them and dusted for fingerprints underneath the windowsill and, lo and behold, there the fingerprints were--upside down. A jury sees that it doesn't take too much to figure out that the only way those fingerprints could get on there was the burglar was jumping in from the outside.
LATENT PRINT SPECIALIST
 
You have to have an extremely open mind when you go into these places. Nothing's off-limits. Let your mind wander. Think about it. Think about what this person did, how they did it, where they were, what would they do. You need that thought process to kick in.
For example, we had a homicide case in Kansas. There was a little back porch with a single lightbulb, which wasn'tworking. The latent print guy figured that maybe the killer unscrewed the lightbulb before he came into the house. So he took off the lightbulb, got some nice prints from it, and we got the killer.
LATENT PRINT SPECIALIST
 
There was a homicide in a home and a blood path in the snow, going away from the house. We were trying to figure out where the guy went. It was night, and dark, and out in the middle of nowhere. We actually sprayed Luminol--it reacts with blood and gives a kind of glow-in-the-dark effect--on the snow and we were able to pick out the blood trail.
This was a party. As soon as we showed up, everybody scattered, of course. So there were footprints all over the snow. But we were able to determine which path our wounded person took because of the blood trail that was next to the impressions.
CRIME SCENE PROCESSOR
 
I make up kind of a mental list as I go along. Sometimes, especially if it's a more involved scene, I'll write down some notes about what I'm seeing and ideas for processing.
I start with the documentation process. Then I start photographing the scene--from the outside to the point of entry through to the crime scene itself. Still photographs for the majority of scenes, sometimes video for homicide cases. You get a feel for the scene before you start collecting anything.
SCENE PHOTOGRAPHER/INVESTIGATOR
 
Sometimes you may have to approach far enough into the scene to have a real good handle on what you're looking for. If a body, say, is in a living room, right inside the front door of the residence, you may wish to enter the house through a back door, and get close in enough to see if the person's been shot, or stabbed, or what's going on, and then go back andprocess your way back into the house correctly, knowing now the manner of death.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
Moving Inside ... Protecting Against Contamination of Evidence
Let's say you got a situation where--dead body in a house. Baseball bat. With a whole lot of blood on the end of it, and the guy's head is caved in. Cop goes in and, you know, clearly, here's the murder weapon. So he picks up the murder weapon by the handle and he puts it in a bag. Well ... is the blood on the end of the bat really that big a deal? No. Because--pretty good guess where it came from. I mean, we'll want to do the testing, but it ain't gonna be brain surgery to figure out that the blood on the end of the bat comes from the dead guy.
However, what do we really want to get? We want to get the skin cells that are left on the handle of the baseball bat. Because it takes a reasonable bit of force to crush somebody's skull with a baseball bat. There's gonna be friction. The killer's gonna leave some skin cells on the handle of the bat. That's the important stuff. Not the blood, even though it looks like the blood is gonna be important.
It's like, "Look, boss, I got the murder weapon!" "Yeah, and you also just contaminated the whole handle."
DNA EXPERT
 
The general rule for everybody at a scene is: Make sure you know where you're walking. You want to avoid direct entry and exit ways through doors. Walk on the outside border of a floor. If the body's in the kitchen, for example, walk close to the counters. Really straddle the common walking areas so you're not obscuring footwear impressions or other evidence.
Other rule: Hands in pockets. Don't touch or pick up anything. It's another instinct police officers have. Whenthey see a gun on the floor, they want to pick it up and look at it. They're transferring their own DNA and prints over whatever evidence is on there.
SCENE SUPERVISOR
 
With DNA technology, contamination has become a huge issue. It's because--just in the past two to three years--we can get so much more DNA from evidence than we ever could before, with smaller and smaller samples
If we can get DNA from a single hair, then a single hair dropped onto a body from one of the processors can cause us problems. Thirty years ago, we weren't worried about dropping a hair at a crime scene.
DNA EXPERT
 
It's hard to explain to cops that now that they have to take these really insane, bizarre precautions that they never did before when they went into a crime scene. So now we have to tell everybody, "You want to remember: You want to keep your DNA out of the scene as much as possible So--you have to wear a mask. You have to wear gloves. And you don't want to touch anything. And if you drop your hairs onto the scene, we'll end up testing your hair."
We tell them, "If you want to talk, or cough, or sneeze, you don't want to do it at the scene." Not talking at a scene? That's really hard for cops.
DNA EXPERT
 
I do a lot of training of new crime scene team leaders. That's when I teach them my little tricks of how to get rid of the unwanted police officers, or people who just hang around.
It's sometimes hard to control a scene, because it is their scene, and everybody wants to see it. Mostly, they like to hang around. Or you go to some small towns and they'll say, "Gee, we never had a homicide before." And the county attorneywill show up, and the county attorney's family ... . Everybody wants to see a dead body and a crime scene.
But when they won't leave--You know the alternate light source they show every once in a while on CSI? I used to always slap a big old LASER HAZARD sticker on it.
You know, "Watch your eyesight." And all I do is say, "Let's go get the light." And you'd bring it into the room and say, "Okay, guys. I don't have enough goggles for everybody. Apparently, this could cause you to go blind, but I've gotta turn it on now ..." And they'd disappear.
If you have chemical processing, you just put a big BIOHAZARD sticker on that chemical process and bring it in, or slap on a CANCER-CAUSING AGENT. That has a good way of clearing the room.
Or you--At some point the body has to be turned over. That releases all the pent-up gases. I've seen a lot of guys run out at that point.
CRIME SCENE SUPERVISOR
 
Everything you do at a scene is important. We had a homicide case in 2000 where a woman and her daughter were murdered. It was summer, and they'd been left in their closed-up apartment for a long time. When the paramedics went into that house, one of the paramedics got sick and threw up in the sink. And he was too embarrassed to say anything to anybody.
The vomitus was collected as evidence. It had to be analyzed in the lab. When the case went to trial, the defense attorney said that the guy accused of the crime was just an innocent person, wrongly accused, and that the real killer was the person who vomited in the sink.
The police officers investigated everybody who had ever been at the scene, talked to everybody. And I'm sure as soon as that officer came up to the person, he said, "Yes! I did it!" "We want your DNA." "Okay!"
That incident shows why it's really important--If theparamedic had admitted throwing up as soon as it happened--"I contaminated your crime scene; I threw up in the sink"--they would have known it was his. That would have gone into their documents. They might not even have collected it. And the poor analyst at the lab wouldn't have had to analyze this paramedic's vomit.
The brother-in-law of the victim was ultimately convicted of the murders, but if the paramedic hadn't owned up to it, the brother-in-law could have gotten off. That could have been reasonable doubt for the jury.
DNA ANALYST
 
You have to be very adaptive and flexible. You can't walk in and say, "It happened this way." You weren't there when it happened. It might seem like it happened this way, but it can be completely different.
A crime scene I had last time I was on call: A dead body was found on the side of the road in a swamp in a rural area. Our crime lab supports the smaller agencies that don't have the money or the manpower to process a crime scene. So, by the time we got there, the local detectives, they already knew who the victim was, they knew who did it, and they knew where the suspect was, and all they were waiting for was for us to get there and process the scene so they could go arrest this guy.
We got there and started processing the scene. They were sure the victim was male. But, of course, we started looking around and, lo and behold, it was a female. She was fairly heavy and she was lying on her back, so her breasts weren't really that well-defined and she had on a coat.
They didn't get the perpetrator right, either. They had a missing person in the county, male, and they thought this was drug-related and that their suspect killed him. The truth was that it was domestic-related. The boyfriend killed her. It was completely different from what the local police had.
They had taken what they'd seen, and inserted their own facts into the situation, and arrived at their own conclusions based on those facts, which were faulty.
This was just a perfect example of tunnel vision, not just at a crime scene, but in detective work. They saw it. They knew it. That was it. It was over. Not even close to what the actual truth was.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
 
One of the weird things about doing bodega robberies--which is what most of the groceries are in the neighborhood where I work--you go in after you get the robbery call and you'll see a couple of bucks in the register. And you think, "What the hell. Did the robber leave something?" Nope. It's Dominicans who run the bodegas, and it's like, "Okay, robbery's over. Back to work. Let me un-duct-tape myself and get back to selling lottery tickets." It's a great work ethic, but not good for the crime scene.
DETECTIVE
Identifying Fragile Evidence
The basic premise of all crime scene investigation: Somebody entered. Somebody left stuff. Somebody exited, and they took stuff with them.
SUPERVISORY SERGEANT
 
There was a burglary at a rather expensive home in Anchorage. It had snowed that night, nothing unusual. The burglar had wrapped the ends of his fingers with black electrical tape. After he left, at the side of his car, he unwrapped it from his fingers and left the black tape in the white snow.
We took that tape back to the lab. One of the guys in the lab, some time before, had been having trouble getting fingerprints off curved surfaces. If you photograph the curvedsurface, you would only get a partial print that was in focus. So he developed a device where you would rotate this curved surface and get the photograph with the open-shutter camera on film, and you could get the entire fingerprint.
So we used this method on the black tape the burglar left. We took that tape and put it around an object and then rotated it, and got all his fingerprints off that tape.
FORMER CRIME LAB DIRECTOR
 
You take care of the most sensitive evidence first. It's like when you get home from the grocery store, you put away your perishables first.
So, that means anything that's in a high-traffic area, or in danger of getting picked up by anyone else. It means footwear and tire tracks, shoe impressions, trace evidence: hairs, fibers, blood samples. Quite a ways down the list would come the firearms evidence, because the bullet itself is quite hardy. Powder particles stay put fairly well. The gunshot residue on hands and clothing can be collected. But before you get to that point, you're looking for very fragile stuff.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
The definition of fragile may change, depending on circumstances. DNA, especially in the form of blood, isn't necessarily fragile. But, certainly, if you've got a victim at the scene, then other types of transfer evidence, like hair and fibers, may be fragile, since they may disappear once the victim's moved. Or you've got a point of entry in a burglary, and there's a hair or fiber there, that could be lost, too, if it's not collected right away.
FORENSIC SPECIALIST
 
You mark and document evidence as you go through the scene. There's a general order we go through. First, photographs. Then, footwear impressions. More photographs. Then wemark the items we're going to collect, with a playing card, or little signs, or flags to indicate where it is, with a photo of the object with its number. Then we start collecting the items. We'll start powdering the walls and surfaces for fingerprints. If there's blood, we'll do serology before we process for prints in that area.
LATENT PRINT SPECIALIST
 
We like to mark the evidence as we go. It's kind of like how the referees put out the chain to mark yardage in a football game. We like to get a sense of how everything relates to everything else before we collect it.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
We got a call. There's been a break-in and a murder of a man in his cabin. This is in the North Woods; there are still some cabins up there with no electricity. We go up there, and it's about ten or twenty below.
The first thing we had to do was build a fire in the old woodstove, to get the whole cabin up to heat. When it's that cold, you can't do any latent print processing. The reason is, if you put a fingerprint down in freezing temperature, the water you transfer, the perspiration you transfer, is going to freeze. And the fingerprint powder will not stick to that print. It'll run right off. You basically need a little bit of humidity in the air to process prints. If it's cold, you warm the area up, and, basically, what you're doing is, you're thawing the fingerprint out.
We spent the first four, five hours at the scene, building a fire and warming the place up, just so we could go through and process for fingerprints and collect everything else.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
Sorting Through Chaos
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.
FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR
 
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.
SCENE SUPERVISOR
 
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
Assessing the Body
It's the paramedics' job to try to save the victim's life, if they're not dead at the scene. That effort can wreck a crime scene. Through the treatment, it can mask or damage physical evidenceon the body. It can get rid of DNA evidence. Medical treatment can cause problems for us. Obviously, we're not going to demand that it not be done.
Same thing with firemen. Very often a fire is set to destroy a crime scene. Firemen are gonna go in and put out the fire. That often hurts us because they're washing our evidence away, as they have to. These are agencies with their own missions, and necessary ones, but it often makes it harder for us.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
Everybody always talks about how the paramedics came in and ruined the scene. Well, their job is to save lives, and if they can work on somebody first, that's the priority.
I can easily tell the difference between what was placed there by the medical team and what was placed there by the crooks. Usually, you don't get little sterile pieces of paper that say Johnson and Johnson on them from the criminals breaking in.
The only thing I ask the emergency team is, once they've done their action: Don't move anything. If you have to pull a guy, move a guy, throw stuff around, leave it there. There have been cases where they've cleaned up their medical stuff and a piece of tape grabs a cartridge case. We've actually gone through the bag of stuff that they've cleaned up and found evidentiary items. So we just ask: Just leave everything there. And if you touch something, just let us know. We're gonna find out sooner or later, anyway.
The body is the last thing we're going to look at. Once the paramedics, or whoever, have determined the victim can't be saved, there's no point in rushing up to the body. It's not going anywhere.
SCENE LEADER
 
The body itself is a wealth of information. There may be evidence in the body, on the body, around it, under it. Bullet holes. Exit holes. Gunshot residue. Knife wounds. Blood spatter evidence. The body has a ton of probative evidence. Unless the victim is slightly breathing, we never let them move the body until we can get a good look at it.
FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR
 
We photograph the body. First, we take long shots of the body, to get the position relative to other objects in the room, or evidence that may be in the room, like bullet holes or blood spatter. Then we take close-up photographs--of the face, for identification purposes, of any wounds, and of any identifying marks, like tattoos.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
At the scene, you're looking for bullet entrance and bullet exit on the body. The body, at some point, is going to get rolled over at the scene and, oftentimes, after everything else has been collected, an ET [evidence technician] or the firearms examiner, will be looking for bullet holes. I'm also looking for powder particles adjacent to that hole to see how close the shooter was to the victim. That helps me establish how far the line of flight might be. If they're struggling over the gun, then both the shooter and the victim are going to be very close and perhaps I'll have bullets sprayed in different directions.
FIREARMS SPECIALIST
 
The body tells its own story. Let's say someone is shot or stabbed and they die on the living room floor, on a carpet. And blood is running out of their wounds for several minutes or hours. That blood will seep into the carpet all the way down into the padding and into the floor below that.
The killer might remove the body and then steam cleanthe carpet or spray something on it. He'll clean the surface to the extent that, "Hey, lookit! It doesn't look like there's any stain there!" But there's still a large amount of blood that's gonna be in the padding and on the subfloor below. We will find the blood.
It's all about thinking about what you need and then going the extra mile to get it. There might be blood in a bathroom or under a carpet, but people miss it, because they're not looking in the right place. The tile, the grout in a shower stall--if the blood is wet and it's allowed to move, it's going to absorb into whatever it can, and it goes up underneath a tile, or a wood floor, or a carpet, or a sofa cushion, or the threads of a garment. You just gotta get all in there and try to find it.
DNA ANALYST/TEAM MEMBER
Reconstructing the Scene
You use your observations to try to determine what occurred, in what sequence, and the positional location of individuals and objects at the scene. Bloodstain pattern analysis. Blood patterns on the clothing of the individuals involved. Objects that are knocked over. Other damage. Bullet holes.
It's basically trying to bring everything together to offer a logical sequence of how events occurred and the position people were in when they occurred. It can be as simple as going back to, let's say, a living room. If you were to lift up your chairs or your couch, if you have carpeting, it leaves indentations as to where the feet of those objects are. You can tell if an object has been moved or repositioned, based on whether those marks are directly under the feet of the chair or the couch, or whether they're next to it. Even something as simple as that may be a good indicator.
Even dust on a table--that's another good indicator. If you get good light, and there's a little bit of dust in thatroom, you can tell if a lamp, or a bottle, or a figurine, or a planter has been relocated from where it usually is, based on the dust pattern on the top of that object.
These objects can tell what really happened. They might have been used as weapons. They might have been knocked over in a struggle. And the suspect is denying that anything occurred in there. Or they're saying that things happened a certain way. The location of that object in the living room may directly contradict the individual's statement.
SCENE LEADER
 
Rule number one for people who conduct reconstruction: Keep an open mind. Don't develop a TV syndrome, where you think, in two seconds, "Okay. I've got it!" Reconstruction is not that straightforward. It's not always a black-and-white issue. Presence of evidence is important. Absence of evidence may be equally important.
CRIME SCENE RECONSTRUCTIONIST
 
Bloodstain pattern analysis. Typically, you look at three things: size, shape, and distribution of the stains. Stain size relates to how the stain was most likely formed. Distribution tells you where the blood-shedding event started and where it continued. Early areas of bloodshed will have fewer numbers of stains. The later areas of bloodshed will have a greater number of stains. You can tell the beginning point versus the ending point. Shape of stains will tell us if the stain struck the surface at an angle, or if it struck the surface straight on.
What has been found over the years is if you take a stain that has struck a surface at an angle, and you measure the length and width of it--because it's always going to have a elliptical shape to it if it strikes the surface at an angle--and you plug those into some mathematical calculations, essentially trigonometric calculations, you can determine the approximateangle that the blood drop hit the surface at. And with enough stains originating from the same blood-shedding incident, you may be able to calculate the area that those stains originated from. That can help us position the location of the victim. It may, under certain circumstances, help us position the location of the offender.
The best example I can give is, if someone is standing up and is struck in the head to the point where they've got an open injury, and they're hit again, blood is going to come off that injury. If they're close to a surface, like a wall, that the blood could land on, that's going to give us a pattern on the wall. And we might be able to say something like, "Okay, at the time this blood spatter originated, the source was five feet above the ground and three feet away from the wall." That may be significant because that may go to the story we're being told by the offender or a suspect.
BLOOD SPATTER ANALYST
 
It can be hard to sort out. The math applies to a certain type of stain, typically, your forceful-impact, spatter-type stain. But there's a lot of stains that you can see at a scene. Bloody footwear impressions, blood dropping on the floor, blood that gets flung off the weapon as the weapon's being swung. You may have other patterns in the blood. Obviously, if somebody walks in the blood, you're going to have footwear. If somebody kneels down in the blood, you're going to have fabric impressions. Somebody puts their hand down in the blood, you may have fingerprints or palm prints in the blood. You may have one pattern on top of another pattern. There's actually a lot there to process.
BLOOD SPATTER ANALYST
 
Especially with bloodstain evidence, if there's a lot of it, a big part of the final evaluation is just sitting there and absorbing the patterns that are present. Maybe running into some hypothesesabout how they were formed. And just trying to take it ... one section at a time. "Okay, this happened here. This happened here. What happened first?" Just take one piece at a time.
SCENE LEADER
 
In the beginning, blood was something you cleaned up. People didn't think it had any forensic value at all. We've come a long way.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
Firearms analysis at the scene works sort of along the same lines as blood spatter analysis. But we use two points of reference: Where the bullet enters an object and where it exits, or if the bullet passes through an object, for instance, a wall or a window and a screen, we can use those two points of reference, those two lines in space, and draw a line between those and extend that line out, back along the path that the bullet took, to establish a relative line in space along which the gun had to have been located when the shot was fired.
FIREARMS SPECIALIST
 
Single homicides are not a big deal to process for firearms evidence. Doubles--I've been on many, many of them. Triples--I've gotten. A six-person homicide--that's the most bodies at one time that I've walked into a house on. That one was a challenge to reconstruct.
This happened in Flint, Michigan, about 1987. It was a drug house. A vie for power was going on within this drug family. A fellow who was presented to us as a lieutenant in this organization, he was an enforcer, for whatever reason, turned on the family. It was probably over money or drugs.
The way we reconstructed this scene was, there were two people when the shooting first started. The suspect killed both of them. One is a male; he's next to a bed in a backbedroom. There's a female that is naked, and she's in a bathroom, slumped over the bathtub. She'd been shot at very close range, center of her back, with a shotgun.
After that, two people enter the house: A female who came in with her coat on. She makes it as far as the dining room, which is about halfway into the house. Lying next to her is a black male, who also has his coat on. Then there are two more, closer to the front door, that are shot. We could figure out what happened from the relative positioning of the bodies. It's difficult to shoot six people in a house and not have the other folks aware of it. The bodies were in positions where they had obviously been surprised.
The suspect was killing them in pairs as they came into the house. Two people in the house, and then two more pairs of people coming in.
The scene took us hours and hours and hours to process, because we had to do each body as we worked our way into the crime scene. The suspect had used guns from the house. Ultimately, I found bullets, not only used in the shooting, but many, many bullets that had been fired at cockroaches and other things in the house. I went down to the basement, for instance, to look for a bullet that we knew had passed through one of the victims, only to find many, many bullets laying on the basement floor from previous shootings in the house.
There were several weapons, a handgun and a revolver, that were used. They were reloaded several times during the shooting incidents; there were groups of cartridge cases ejected out of those two guns in various locations. A shotgun was used to kill one of the victims. That was recovered. Literally hundreds of items of firearms evidence were collected from this scene, all inside the house. We used strings to get the flight paths of the bullets. We got firearms residues on various people's clothing, and on the center of the female victim's back. Those were measured and we could determinethe distance from the shooter to the victims based on this.
What ultimately led to the shooter's capture: There were fingerprints on a shotgun. This was one of the exceptions to the rule that guns aren't good for picking up prints. This was a smooth shotgun that had good prints.
Police officers figured out who the suspect was, from the fingerprints and from people on the street, and found out where he stayed--it was in another drug house. They enacted a raid on the house, and got him. This guy was a member of the family. A bad guy killing other bad guys.
DETECTIVE
 
We've had scenes where objects are placed in hands to make the victim look like they had the weapon, after the fact. And we've had scenes where, after the fact, the murder weapons are moved, repositioned, wiped off, cleaned, put away. That happens, not on a regular basis, but pretty often.
DETECTIVE
 
We went to a scene where the husband shot his wife. The story that he gave was that she came at him with a knife and tried to stab him. So he was saying he killed her in self-defense. But there were a couple things that just didn't make sense.
There was a knife in her hand. But it was in the wrong direction to be used as a stabbing-type instrument. It was very apparent that he had placed the knife in her hand after he shot her and, probably in his panic, he had it facing the wrong way.
There was blood on the palm of her hand where she had touched the entrance wound when she was shot. The normal reaction is to grab where it hurts. And she did. And she had blood on her hand, but there was no blood on the knife. That was a staged afterthought.
CRIME SCENE RECONSTRUCTIONIST
Collecting the Evidence
You've got to do it right, or everything down the road, investigation through trial, is tainted.
We generally save evidence collection for the end--except for the most fragile evidence. That we collect as we find it. But, with other evidence, it's important to get position and location first.
So, once the photography is done, and items have been identified as needing to be processed, maybe for fingerprints, or footwear impressions, or blood evidence, whatever--you just start doing the collection.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
 
How you touch objects is crucial. I always tell detectives: When you're collecting evidence from the scene, and you know how a person would usually pick up an object--like picking up a wineglass by its stem, say--then pick it up in a totally different way, so you're not going to touch any prints. And secure it in a box, so the whole surface is protected and isn't going to move.
LATENT PRINT SPECIALIST
 
When I teach police about collecting blood, I always say, "If you learn one thing from me today, it's paper, paper, paper." When you put a bloodied object into a sealed plastic bag, that's a sealed environment. If there's humidity or moisture on the garment--and you know half of blood is water--that water cannot evaporate off, and it creates a very humid environment in that plastic bag for the microorganisms to multiply. But paper is porous enough--there's enough air infiltration in and out of the bag in between the fibers of the paper--that some of that moisture can get outside the bag. It evaporates off. Once the blood is dried, it's much, much more stable than if it's in a moisture-humid environment.
DNA ANALYST
 
The most difficult things to collect are, of course, the smallest things. And if offenders have tried to clean up. If they're trying to hide the crime scene, offenders will clean it up to the extent that they can't see it anymore, and they think that's good enough to get by.
I look at blood at scenes all the time. Even cleaned-up scenes. Most people don't do a good enough job to put one over on us. We can usually find trace amounts in cracks or in places the blood got so thin when they were cleaning it up that they couldn't see it. But because of chemical enhancement techniques, like Luminol, or you can use Hungarian Red, Luco-Crystal Violet, Malachite Green--there's a plethora of them--or because of the use of optics, or alternate light sources, we can still find the blood at crime scenes.
I always tell people: Although this stuff is great for CSI, that is a last resort. Because any time you add a chemical in an enhancement technique to a surface that may have blood on it, you are diluting any blood sample that is there because you're adding a chemical to it.
You want to get down on your hands and knees with a microscope--literally, like Sherlock Holmes--and look for blood that has been pushed into cracks and crevices or into the grain of wood floors.
FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR
 
We had one case where we had a murder where the guy cleaned up afterwards, and we had a faint image on the faucet handle. We made six lifts off of it. We identified who he was from the bloody impression. It was funny--somebody had identified him as having lived in the area. So the detectives were bringing him in to be interviewed at the same time that we got a hit on the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System).
This case was pretty bad. Here was a young mother who owed money to her neighborhood dope dealer and he used ahatchet and a couple of knives and tried to decapitate her. And he left her there and stole some things out of the house.
The girl worked in a casino. When she didn't come to work, some friends and family came looking for her, and when they opened her apartment, they found her eighteen-month-old child curled up in her arms. Not very pretty.
He had stolen her car and this dumb jamoke took a trip out of state for a couple days. We examined the car, and here he had receipts for every place he had been and we had an actual time line, based on the receipts he threw in the car.
DETECTIVE
 
If you walk into a place where there's been a crime scene and you smell bleach somewhere, we're gonna get the Luminol out because somebody's tried to clean it up.
Some things will give you false positives. Metal pipes and lead, for example, will light up like a Christmas tree, but it's not blood. I've used Luminol to spray the bed of a pickup truck. You get an overall glow, because it's metal, so you just have to let your eyes settle on that, and if there's anything brighter than that, that's what you're going after.
Luminol is used in a completely dark environment. Except on CSI. They like to use it in broad daylight.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
 
This was a case in Kansas. This guy was beaten to death, he was face up on the kitchen floor. One of my partners had done a blood spatter analysis and agreed that, yeah, the guy was kicked right there where he was lying. And then it looked like there were a couple of bloody shoe prints leading away from that area. We used the Luminol later that night.
This turned out to be pretty creepy. The guy had a spiral staircase that went up to a loft bedroom. Now, think about the offender. He's probably got his left foot planted on the kitchen floor and he's kicking the guy with his right foot. Now he goeswalking through the house. So, as he goes up those stairs, every other step lit up with the Luminol. To enough detail that we were able to photograph it in the dark and get a shoe pattern. It was like following a ghost walking up the stairs.
LATENT PRINT SPECIALIST
 
I remember a case in northern Michigan. One roommate had shot another in the kitchen and then transported him and buried him behind his dad's house. The shooting was at a party, and a witness finally came forward. We went to the house, looked at the kitchen, and it had been cleaned up.
The suspect had even painted the wall. But because the witness could tell us so precisely where it happened, I could go over that area with a fine-tooth comb. And the baseboard, the trim along the bottom of the floor, stuck out, just a little bit. And the paint hadn't been able to go into that little crack there. Some of the blood had run down the wall, from the shooting, behind that crack in the baseboard. I was able to pull that back and find blood. No problem. A large amount of blood.
EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN
 
Latent print work, especially with nonporous items or surfaces in a house, is the last thing we do at a scene, because once we start throwing powder around, we're basically going to destroy that place. We're going to be tracking powder everywhere and it gets to be a real mess. I did a house, took a day and a half, I used all black powder, and that's why they call me "Dusty."
LATENT PRINT SPECIALIST
 
I was at one scene where there were eight bullet holes in a wall. A man had shot his girlfriend six times, three times while she was standing up, and then three more times while she was lying on the floor. The weapon found was a six-shooter. I couldn't figure out what was going on. There wasno reloading or anything. I finally talked to one of the locals and he said, "Oh, you can ignore two of those bullet holes. That was from last year." I was determined not to miss any bullets.
That was the one where my crime scene partner and I had to climb down in the pit and kill the snakes. There was a crawl space under the floor. The whole crawl space was just covered by garter snakes. I absolutely hate snakes. I am deathly afraid--I mean, I'll kill anything with my hands; I'll pick up most anything, but snakes I cannot stand.
I asked my counterpart if he'd mind going down there and collecting the bullets for me. I found out he hated snakes almost as much as I did.
We made the agreement to go down there together. This was just like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. We're crawling through this, and these snakes are all over the place. He'd dig for a while and I'd circle around and kill snakes as they were advancing on us--that's one advantage to having those really heavy flashlights. Then I'd dig for a while and he'd kill snakes.
We knew we had to get those bullets. At one point, a snake fell on my partner's back and I felt compelled to pull it off. If it was anything else, it wouldn't have been a big deal. But it had to be snakes. We did find all three bullets.
CRIME SCENE TEAM MEMBER
 
Collection is just as important as any other part of the process. The best way to describe it is, junk in, junk out. If evidence isn't collected properly, or packaged properly, or transported properly, the scientists are going to be limited as to the opinions they can give about the evidence. But if the chain from beginning to end is preserved, the opinions in a trial are going to be much more informative.
SCENE LEADER
 
Crime scene processing today is a gigantic pain in the ass, to do it right. If you do it right, you could be at a crime scene ten hours, twelve hours, not unusual at all.
SCENE LEADER
 
The most important thing? Making sure you leave the scene with all the evidence.
We had a married young woman who was murdered in a garden apartment. Her throat was slashed. She was nude from the waist up. And she was in the bathtub. The tub was partially filled with water. Her husband came home and found her only about an hour or so after she had been killed.
So, there's blood all over this bathroom. We're in there taking our pictures and we collect some blood samples and make some fingerprint examinations on the doors.
Then we remove the body. And we're packing up our stuff. We're just about to leave.
But, just as we were leaving, I noticed that we didn't look at the toilet seat very carefully. And I said to my partner, "We better take another look at that before we leave."
We went over and looked at the toilet seat. We lifted it up. And here's two bloody fingerprints on the bottom of the toilet seat, and they were pointing toward the bathtub. I thought, "That's probably ... the victim's trying to hang on to this when the guy was putting her in the water." We took the bolts out and we took the whole toilet seat with us.
We almost left that at the scene. Almost. But we didn't. And guess what?
They were the offender's prints in the victim's blood, which is the best evidence you can have. He was the husband's cousin. He went there when the husband wasn't home. It started off as a sexual assault. He didn't complete that part of it. But he murdered her, with a box-cutter knife.
FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR
Effects of the Scene on Crime Scene Processors
I was called to process a scene with four people dead inside a home in a Seattle suburb, about '97 or '98. I had just gotten back from a crime scene two hundred miles away--this is a large state. So I'd been at this scene near Vancouver where I was way up in the mountainside, covered in mud, in January, pouring rain, just miserable. I got back about eleven A.M., after being up all night. At four in the afternoon, I got another phone call to go to this homicide. This was the first really big scene I went to.
There was a family of four found dead: the mother, father, and two daughters. The older daughter had actually been found in a park about a quarter of a mile away, strangled. When the police officers went to the house to inform the family, they walked in and found that the mother and father and the younger daughter had been beaten with baseball bats and stabbed. There was blood in every room in the house. The amount of blood was startling to me; I didn't anticipate seeing so much. Now, of course, I've seen much worse. This was the first time I ever came home and said, "My God!"
It was like a three-thousand-square-foot home. I did one of those classic--which is what we all do--"Oh my God, where do I start?"
And then your training takes over. The whole thing is, "Wait a minute. This whole thing needs to be documented, photographs, notes, sketches, whatever. It all has to be done."
There's only one way to do it. You go outside and form your team. I was in charge of that.
You basically treat each room like a cube. You think of the room as a six-sided box: You've got ceiling, floor, north wall, south wall, east wall, west wall. You draw diagrams of each wall, the ceiling and floor, you mark it, you photograph it, you take notes. I was there for something like four and a half days.
The killers got rid of everything. We never found theclothing the killers were wearing. They cut their hair immediately after the event. They wore T-shirts over their heads, to cover themselves in case blood came on to them. We found one of those in the bedroom that had come off. They wore socks over their hands.
The only thing they didn't get rid of was one pair of shoes that we found at the house of one of the suspects. I noticed that on one of the shoes were six areas of blood staining of different types. There were some smears, there was some general stuff. But what was really important--there was some blood spatter which was indicative of expi-rated blood, which is blood that has been coughed up through the lungs. You can recognize it by three things: One, it's got a mixture of sizes, some big, some small; also, it's a little bit diluted because it's coming through the mouth, so it's mixed with the saliva; and then, thirdly, it has the property of having air bubbles in it. It's like a soap bubble. When you pop it, you can still see the ring left behind.
One of the killers had these on the ankle of his shoe and it was perfectly circular. That means it can only come from directly horizontal to that shoe. In other words, he was standing close, and the victims coughed blood onto him when they were dying. The DNA turned out to be from the younger daughter. The other blood on the shoe came from the father. So we had blood from two of the victims on him. I want to give credit to a guy we consulted, a bloodstain expert, Ross Gardner, who helped us wonderfully.
What had happened: The older daughter had two friends who killed her. One of them owed money to her and she was asking for it back. These were two young guys who deliberately did it before they were eighteen, because they didn't want to get the death penalty; they'd already discussed that. Couple of dropout kids. They wanted to know what it was like to kill somebody.
There were three trials. They were tried separately; thesecond guy was tried twice. They eventually were both convicted. They're in jail for life. Absolutely.
One of the prosecutors told me this: One of them basically kept saying, "We did it." He wouldn't tell them who the other guy was, even though we all knew it was his best friend. He told the prosecutors that if he was ever convicted, he would tell them.
So the prosecutors went out to visit him about six months after he was convicted. He was there for life. And they found out that he had gotten engaged to this girl who was in jail in Texas. They had become pen pals. So now he's engaged to this girl who's in jail in Texas for life for killing her mother. And this kid--this is after he'd been convicted of brutally killing, with baseball bats and knives, a family of four, and strangling the older daughter--he said, "Wouldn't you know the first time I fall in love it has to be when I'm in jail for life and so is she. I must have done something terrible in a former life."
The prosecutor told me he and this other prosecutor with him just stared at each other, like, "What?"
CRIME SCENE TEAM MEMBER
 
The one I remember the most: This little girl, she was about seven, she disappeared and they were searching for her, and they found her in a dumpster. Since I was a young investigator working with an old-timer, I had to take my camera and go in the Dumpster and take pictures of her laying in there. I can remember that like it was yesterday. The Dumpster was about half full of trash. And she was laying in there. I had to move a couple of things around to take some pictures of her. But I was always lucky--when they had other child murders like that--I didn't get them. Somebody else got them.
CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHER
 
People always talk about what homicide detectives must go through, seeing all the horror. They never think of the evidence technicians and the specialists. And we see everything close up.
I've done four or five hundred crime scenes. And I'm thinking to myself, "Should I be upset by this?" You hear about critical incident stress syndrome and all that kind of stuff. Should I be getting it?
I've seen things that the average person shouldn't be seeing and I've seen lots of it. And I'm just wondering, should I be feeling upset? It worries me that I--don't get upset.
I went to a psychologist on staff with our state patrol. I went to him and said, "Should I be experiencing some of this stress syndrome?" And he said, "Do you get flashbacks?" "No." And he said, "Well, but you go to these scenes and they never come back to you?" "Well, when I'm writing my report, I have to look through all the photographs every single time." He said, "Wait a minute. You go to your crime scene, then you have to look at all the photographs again?" I said, "Oh, yeah. Repeatedly." "How many times do you do that?" "About fifty times a year."
He said, "Oh my God! If this isn't affecting you, then it isn't affecting you. Some people it does; some people it doesn't." So that was it.
I had a person who worked for me, she was a very, very good forensic scientist. She still works in the crime lab. She'd go to crime scenes with me. She was wonderful at the crime scenes, but then she would come back and think about it a lot and say things, like, "I wonder what the last thing the person saw was," and stuff like that. That was kind of a warning sign for me that maybe she shouldn't be doing this.
It's funny--there's a very well-established procedure for police officers seeing things, to have psychological support, but for the people from the crime labs who process thescenes it's considered, "Ah, it's just something you do. Don't worry about it." They think what we see shouldn't bother us because we're scientists.
FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR
 
The thing is, when you're dealing with homicides, especially when you're on the actual forensic team, you relive the actual last moments of this person's life. You see the struggle. You see the fight. You see the capitulation. And that kind of sticks with you.
CRIME SCENE RECONSTRUCTIONIST
On the Aftermath of Scenes
When I come home from a crime scene--and I've talked to all my colleagues who do this and they all say it's exactly the same for them all--when we come home--say we go out at ten o'clock at night and get home at three o'clock--there's no way on God's earth, even if you're tired, you can ever go straight to sleep. All of us do the same thing. We immediately come home and shower. Or we change our clothes in the garage before we come in. Even if you don't get anything on you, it's kind of like a cleansing thing. Even if you know you're not going to take anything in with you, you've taken all the precautions, you still do it anyway. It's just weird.
But all of us do the same thing. We all sit and watch TV, even mindless TV. We're watching reruns of the Three Stooges or something, three or four o'clock in the morning. We probably couldn't even tell you what we watched. But we know that if you go to bed and close your eyes or whatever, you will look at the ceiling, you know that your mind will still be going a hundred miles an hour from the crime scene.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
EVERY CONTACT LEAVES A TRACE. Copyright © 2006 by Connie Fletcher. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.