Firearms Evidence

Much of the violence that occurs in the world today involves a firearm of some type. How and what type of evidence recovered from those weapons can have a huge impact on the subsequent criminal cases. Proper evidence collection procedures … well, they can make or break a case.

Here’s a handy top six “How To” list for the heroes of your stories to use when processing firearms evidence.

1. While wearing proper gloves and a face mask to avoid contamination of evidence, safely unload all firearms prior to submitting to property room.

Revolver

If the weapon is a revolver, first make note of which chamber was in the firing position and of the type/brand/caliber of ammunition in each chamber. Also note fired and unfired cartridges and their position(s) in the cylinder.

When preparing semiautomatics or fully automatics be sure the magazines are ejected and the chamber is empty. Make note of the safety position (on or off) and of the de-cocking lever. If there are no safeties and/or de-cocking lever, make note of that as well. Lock the slide to the rear and insert a plastic zip-tie into the ejection port and down through the magazine well. Then, carefully and slowly release the slide to the forward position until it rests against the tie.

Pistol

Engage the safety if equipped. The weapon is now inoperable and safe for storage.

2. Collection of trace evidence—hair, tissue, fingerprints, blood, DNA, etc.

Again, proper gloves and face masks must be worn during this part of the process. Gloves must be changed with each piece of evidence handled.

*If the detective is unsure or doesn’t feel he/she can obtain a good, solid fingerprint they should submit the weapon to the fingerprint lab for processing.

3. Firearms should be stored in paper-based packaging—cardboard box, manilla envelop, etc. Never in plastic! If a firearm is to be shipped it should be securely packaged inside a cardboard box.

Sirchie photo

NOTE: If a firearm was located in water it must be packaged in the same water from where it was found. The laboratory will handle testing from that point forward.

4. Bullets. Never mark or deface a bullet, and never handle with bare hands. To avoid corrosion and other moisture-related issues never package bullets in plastic or glass containers. Always store or ship in paper-type packaging.

5. Bullets found embedded in an object—wood, drywall, etc. Do not “dig out” the bullet. If possible, submit the entire item. If it’s not possible to submit the entire article (door frame, tree stump, living room wall, etc.) remove or cut away the portion of the article containing the bullet and retain.

6. When removing a bullet from a body during autopsy, care should be taken to not alter the bullet in any way. Pathologists should use fingers or rubber-tipped forceps during the process. Never an instrument with sharp edges. X-rays of the body should be taken prior bullet removal.

Post autopsy image of a 9mm bullet wound (entry). Note the Y-incision stitching on the upper chest area of the victim.

Finally, as always, a little common sense goes a long way. Have the heroes of your stories use it whenever possible. For example, it’s practically impossible to determine caliber and weapon brand/type merely by looking at a gunshot wound. To have the hero of your story say otherwise tosses his common sense, expertise, and experience out of the window.

Working as a deputy sheriff in a rural county often presents its own set of special and sometimes unusual challenges, especially during the days before the existence of GPS, cellphones, and radio repeaters. In other words, it was pretty darned easy to get lost while traveling a convoluted maze of paved (sort of), dirt, and/or gravel roads. Roads with names like Burnt Tree Road, Red Clay Way, or Turkey Trot Lane.

Many of those winding back-roads led to five- or six-house communities where it was the norm for us to stop and ask for directions. Some of those kind folks, thinking it would be best for us to speak directly to the person we sought, allowed us use of their telephones, if they had one, because they didn’t want to be known as the one who sent the law after their friends. After all, liquor stills and pot grows were pretty popular in those days.

So, after a couple of rings and a loud “Hell-Oh,” this is what we sometimes heard as a response to our requests for directions to someone’s home.

“Go past Robert Junior’s old horse barn—the old one, mind you, not the fancy new one he built just after Myrtle’s operation—and hang a sharp right at the big oak tree. Female troubles it was—Myrtle’s operation. Anyways, then you go on down until you see a red mailbox. That ain’t ours, but you’re close. We’re just past where John Henry Daniels used to have a store. It burnt slam to the ground 37-years ago next week, nothing left ‘cept a pile of ashes, but they’s a big rock there with some yaller paint on it. Yaller was John Henry’s favorite color so his wife, Etta Jean—she’s Romey and Winonna Jenkins’ oldest daughter—painted the rock so’s everybody’d remember him and the store. If’n you knowed him you’d know John Henry sold the best pickles and peaches this side of Atlanta. That he did.

Lookahere, if you get to where the road splits into a “Y” you done gone too far, so turn around in Ethel Mae Johnson’s driveway—it’s the one with the deer head a-nailed to the cedar post next to road (her daddy used to be a taxxy-dermis)—and head back the way you come. Our house is the blue one a’settin’ off the road about two-hundred yards—the one with the goats and chickens running ’round the place. You can’t miss it, ’cause one of them goats ain’t got but three legs. Oh, whatever you do, blow the horn three times when you drive up so we’ll know it’s you, not those pesky Joe Hoovers Witnessers. We all lay down on the floor behind Granny’s old settee when they come a knockin’.”

True story … sort of. And that sort of description is sometimes what dispatchers often must decipher before attempting to direct police officers to where it is they’re supposed to go in response to a call.

To this day, driving on dirt and gravel roads takes me back to the day when unpaved streets and roads were sometimes my best friend when trying to follow a criminal’s trail. Dirt, mud, grass, and even sandy soil can be quite telling … if you take the time to look. Here are a few things investigators look for when following a trail.

1. Both cars and trucks sometimes lose traction when heading uphill, and when they do the tread patterns are smeared. They aren’t clearly defined. When going downhill, tread patterns usually remain unbroken (clear) because the rubber maintains full traction with the surface. Therefore, investigators can easily determine the vehicle’s direction of travel.

2. When viewing tire tracks in the grass it’s important to note whether or not the tracks are shiny/glossy, or not. Glossy tracks mean the vehicle was heading away from the spot where you’re standing. Off color, or slightly dull tracks indicate the vehicle was heading toward your position.

3. When traveling on slightly muddy surfaces (about the consistency of slush), the vehicle’s tires force (squirt) mud forward at a +/- 45 degree angle.

4. Mud puddles, small creeks, etc. are perfect for telling which direction a car or truck is moving. Vehicles always push and pull water in the direction of travel. The liquid also washes away tracks on the exit side of the water. So, if you see a puddle with clear tracks leading up to the water’s edge, and no tracks and a wet surface on the opposite side of the puddle, then you know the vehicle was traveling toward the wet road surface. You may also see wet spots on the dirt road from where water dripped off the car frame after it passed through the puddle.

5. Wet soil often sticks in the grooves of a tire tread pattern. As the vehicle moves along, the soil begins to dry and falls off, and it always does so in the direction of travel. Investigators can follow the trail much like following a trail of breadcrumbs.

6. When viewing tire tracks always position yourself where the track is directly between you and the sun. This enables the best view of the track’s details.

The same is true for examining footwear impressions.

6. Be sure to photograph the track for later comparison to a tire or shoe.

Finally, as you travel, be sure to examine the sides of the roadway and down paths and trails for the suspect vehicle. It would be pretty darn embarrassing to discover you’d passed by the crooks who’re parked in Ethel Mae Johnson’s driveway counting the stolen loot.

Detective I. Will Gitterdone had a spotless attendance record, never missing a day for sickness in his entire thirty-three years with the department. In fact, in all of his years of wearing a badge and toting a sidearm he refused to soil that record even though on this particular day his fever hovered at 102, and coughing and sneezing fits forced him to spend the majority of the morning with his mouth and nose buried deep into a crumpled and quite yucky handkerchief. His arms and legs felt heavy and his muscles felt as if he’d been trampled by a hundred stampeding wild pigs.

In spite of the aches, fever, chills, and perspiring like a Savannah ditch digger working in August midday sunshine, Gitterdone was busy collecting suspected blood samples (brownish-red stains for the official record) at a particularly brutal homicide scene. He was also spewing misty spittle via alternating coughs and sneezes. His partner, Al Lergictowork, told him he looked worse than bad and asked if he needed a break. Gitterdone promptly turned his head away from Lergictowork to fired off a round of lung-clearing ah-choo’s directly into the large paper bag of already-collected evidence. “No,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Besides, I’m almost done here.”

So, did you notice anything particularly wrong with Gitterdone’s method of evidence collection? Was there anything he should have done differently?

Well, I think it’s safe to say that it might be a good idea to have both Gitterdone and Lergictowork study this list of Crime Scene Do Nots. It would also be wise to have your protagonist take a peek, just in case.

Crime Scene DO NOT’S

1. Do Not blow away excess fingerprint powder! Doing so adds your DNA to the surface.

2. Do Not use Styrofoam to package electronic devices (computer parts, etc.) because it can cause static charges. Instead, use foam padding or bubble-wrap.

3. Do Not alter or add anything to a crime scene sketch after leaving the scene. Memories are not quite as accurate as we may think.

4. Do NOT place bloodstained evidence in plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers can serve as incubators for bacteria, which can destroy, alter, or deteriorate DNA. Rule of thumb—paper bags/containers for wet evidence (blood, semen, saliva, etc.) and plastic for dry evidence.

5. DO NOT collect DNA evidence samples (saliva, blood, etc.) from a criminal suspect without a court order, the suspect’s consent, or under exigent (emergency) circumstances.

Hapci-fr
6. Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, etc. over any evidence sample. This includes talking over a sample. With each word spoken comes your DNA that’s instantly transferred to the evidence.

7. Do NOT fold wet documents. Leave that to the professionals in the lab.

8. Do NOT use fingerprint tape or lifters to collect bits of trace evidence. The adhesion on print-lifting tape is typically insufficient for picking up tiny bits of evidence.

9. Do NOT use dirty digging tools when collecting soil samples. Always clean tools thoroughly after each use to avoid cross contamination.

10. Do NOT use fingerprint lifters in lieu of gunshot residue (GSR) collection materials. (see number 8 above)

11. Do NOT allow shooting suspects, victims, witnesses, etc. to wash their hands or rub them against other surfaces until after GSR tests/collection have been completed.

Finally, number twelve is one that writers should do, and that’s …

12. Attend the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. We have an unbelievably cool and over-the-moon exciting lineup in store for you. This is an event you will not want to miss!!

Honestly, we’ve outdone ourselves this year. We’ve been sitting on a few exciting secrets about the 2020 event and it’s almost time for the big reveal. So stay tuned, because we’ll soon be releasing the details.


MurderCon is moving forward as planned. We have carefully detailed plans in place for proper social distancing, and we’re furnishing masks. Hand sanitizer will be readily available.

Sirchie, our host, is in the loop with state and local health officials since they’re in the business of making PPE equipment, including hand sanitizer and masks, for 1st responders. Between Sirchie officials and our in-house microbiologist, Denene, we’re closely monitoring the situation and making preparations. Your safety, as always, is our priority.

Sign up today to reserve your spot!

MurderCon 2020

There’s more to evidence collection than merely bagging and tagging bloody clothing and spent bullet casings. Crime scene techs are highly trained, skilled members of police agencies and forensic laboratories who more often than not provide the keys to solving cases.

In the “good old days,” many officers, including patrol officers, collected their own evidence (some still do, especially in smaller departments). They plodded into and poked around crime scenes, determining what items they thought might be of some value and then tossed those things into some sort of container—a grocery bag, department envelope, cardboard box, and even the cellophane wrappings from cigarette packs. In those days there wasn’t a lot of consideration for sterility, and DNA hadn’t yet made its way on the “scene.”

When investigators finally discovered plastic sandwich and ziplock bags you’d have thought they’d won the lottery, because packaging evidence had suddenly become a breeze. The problem with those new-fangled containers, though, was that detectives were placing everything in them, not knowing they could be destroying or damaging evidence instead of preserving it. And that brings us to the question of …

Paper or Plastic?

There’s a simple rule of thumb for deciding which type of evidence packaging—wet evidence goes in paper containers (wet evidence can degrade if placed inside plastic containers) and dry evidence goes in plastic. Items that could be cross-contaminated must be packaged separately. There’s a rule of thumb for other types of evidence, too, and here’s a handy list for the proper packaging of those items.

Hair – Double packaging in paper is best. However, if the hair is completely dry, plastic will work in a pinch. Hairs recovered from different locations must be packaged separately and labeled accordingly. Tape all packaging seams.

Fibers – Dry, and tape-lifted, fibers may be placed inside plastic containers.

Rope, twine, and other cordage – Paper or plastic.

Paint chips – Place inside folded paper. Then place the paperfold inside an envelope.

Tools – Paper or cardboard.

Tape – Wear non-powdered gloves when handling tape. Submit samples inside plastic. If the tape is stuck to an item the item must be submitted with the tape still attached. Do not remove the tape!

Glass – Wrap in paper. Smaller pieces may be placed inside appropriate size cartons.

Arson and other fire evidence – Airtight metal containers. Unused paint cans work best.

Dried stains – Wrap stained item in paper or place inside cardboard box. Large items – moisten swab with distilled water, swab the stain, and package in paper or cardboard after drying.

Blood – Allow to air dry and then package in paper.

Evidence drying lockers

DNA – Do NOT use plastic!
And when I mentioned that wet evidence is packaged in paper containers I did NOT mean to pour liquids into paper bags. Instead, items that contain wet evidence (bloody and/or semen-stained clothing, etc.) should be placed into paper containers.

“Hey, Sarge,” said Officer Trevor “Curly” Barnes. “Would you do me a favor and see if you can get a clear set of prints from this guy? I’ve tried three times and all I get are smudges. I must be out of practice, or something.”

“You rookies are all alike,” said Sergeant Imin Charge. “Always wanting somebody to do the dirty work for you.”

“But—”

Sgt. Charge dropped his fat, leaky ballpoint pen on a mound of open file folders. “But nothing,” he said. “All you “boots” want to do is bust up fights and harass the whores.”

The portly “three-striper” pushed his lopsided rolling chair away from his desk and placed a bear-paw-size hand on each knee. Then with a push and a grunt, he stood. The sounds of bone-on-bone poppings and cracklings coming from his arthritic knees were louder than the Buck Owens song—I‘ve Got a Tiger by the Tail—that spewed from the portable radio on his desk.

“Well,” said the sergeant. “Paperwork and processing evidence, including fingerprinting people, comes with the job too. You might as well get it in your head right now that police work is not all about flashy blue lights, driving fast cars, and badge bunnies. Not all ”

“I’m serious, Sarge. I can’t get a good print. I think the guy’s messing with me, or something.”

Charge sighed and rolled his deep-set eyes. Everyone in he department knew the eye roll as Charge’s trademark “I don’t want to, but will” expression.

“All right,” said Charge. “Go finish up the paperwork and I’ll take care of the prints and mugshots.” Then he pointed a meaty finger at the young officer. “But hurry up and get your ass back down to booking. I get off in thirty minutes and I’ve got plans. There’s a behind the scenes documentary on tonight about how they made the Smoky and the Bandit movies, and I don’t aim to miss it.”

“That’s right, it’s Thursday night, huh? What was it last week, The Best of Swamp People?”

“Bingo. And me and the little woman never miss. So, if you ever want to see day shift again, you’d better be back here in ten minutes to take this slimeball off my hands.”

Twenty minutes later, Sergeant Charge was on the phone with Captain Gruffntuff, the shift commander. “That’s right, Captain. The guy doesn’t have any prints. Not a single ridge or whorl. Nothing.”

A pause while Charge listened. Officer Barnes leaned toward his boss, trying to hear the other side of the conversation. The sergeant waved him away as if swatting away an annoying fly or mosquito. “No, sir. Not even a freckle.”

Another pause.

“Nope, not on either finger.” Charge leaned back in his chair. “All as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Beats everything I’ve ever seen.”

“Yes, sir. I checked his toes, too. Nothing there either. Slick as a freshly waxed floor.”

Sergeant Charge opened a pouch of Redman and dug out a golfball-size hunk of shredded black tobacco leaves.

“Nope. He’s not from around here. Says he’s from Sweden. Says his whole family’s like that. Not a one of them has any prints.”

“Says it’s a condition called adermatoglyphia.”

Charge shoved the “chew” inside of his mouth, maneuvering it with his tongue until it came to rest between his teeth and cheek.

“Looks like a hamster with a mouth full of sunflower seeds,” Barnes mumbled to himself.

“Yes, sir. Beats everything I’ve ever seen,” Sergeant Charge said into the phone’s mouthpiece. “Will do, sir.

A beat passed, then he said, “Yes, sir. I’ll stay to see it through.”

Another beat.

“Right, sir.”

Sergeant Charge placed the phone receiver back in its cradle without saying goodbye. His typical pinkish cheeks were the color of a shiny new fire truck. He sat silent for a second, thinking.

“Won’t be watching the Bandit tonight, I guess,” he said.

The man from Sweden, the prisoner, sighed, knowing it was going to be a long night. He’d been through this many times.

“Better call the little woman,” said Sergeant Imin Charge as he reached for the phone to give her the bad news. “And she ain’t going to be happy. No, sir. I’d bet a dollar to a doughnut that she’s already made a dozen or so of those little meatball sandwiches that I like so much. Probably has an ice cold can of Blue Ribbon waiting for me too.”

After a few “Sorry, dears,” Cgarge returned the receiver back to its resting spot and then turned to the prisoner who sat handcuffed to a wooden bench with the back of his head against the mint green wall. Another grease stain added to the collection, thought Charge.

“Okay,” he said to the man who’d been arrested for breaking into home of an Hazel Lucas, an elderly woman who’d whacked the intruder on the head with a rolling pin while he was climbing through a kitchen window. “Lemme see those fingers, again.”

The burglar held up his hands and said to the sergeant, “Good luck.”

Photo Credit: Nousbeck et al., The American Journal of Human Genetics (2011)

Adermatoglyphia, or “immigration delay disease” as it’s also known, is an extremely rare and unique condition found in members of only four Swiss families. What’s so unique about the condition? Well, for starters, people with adermatoglyphia produce far less hand sweat than the average person. But, perhaps the most startling characteristic is that people with adermatoglyphia do not have fingerprints.

In one instance, a female member of one of the affected families traveled to the U.S. but was delayed by border agents because they couldn’t confirm her identity. Why? No prints to compare.

The cause of adermatoglyphia has, until recently, been a mystery. Now, however, scientists have learned that the affected members of the Swiss families all had a mutation in the gene called Smarcad1. And this mutation is in a version of the gene that is only expressed in skin.

So, all you mystery writers out there…yes, there are people who do not have fingerprints.


A Tiger by the Tail


There’s still time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

Detective Sergeant Carl 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 Hank Handsup. 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 and tock of the timepiece.

Tick Tock …

“I believe, Hank,” said the wise detective, “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 …

In the real world, to reach such a solid conclusion, it’s a must that detectives conduct a comprehensive bloodstain evidence investigation, using proper tools, techniques, supplies, equipment, and training. And, of course, experience always helps.

A good bloodstain training class typically uses actual blood, because nothing else accurately mimics the real stuff. Although, a decent substitute for the real deal is a mixture of Karo syrup and red food coloring.

During training classes students are exposed to nearly every type real-life scenario imaginable, but the first order of business is to learn the basics—characteristics of a blood drop.

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, terminology could and often does 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.

Stringing You Along!

So what are the tools needed to conduct a proper investigation of bloodstain evidence? Well, for starters …

Luminol

Luminol is a chemical that exhibits a bluish-white glow (chemiluminescence) when mixed with an appropriate oxidizing agent. It reveals the presence of iron in hemoglobin, even in the slightest traces of blood found at crime scenes. In fact, Luminol is capable of detecting blood even if it’s been cleaned away, and in situations where the scene has been altered to the point where there’s no indication that a crime was committed. The older the stain the more intense the reaction will be. By the way, Luminol is not recommended for use on visible or wet blood, and the area must be photographed prior to it’s use because the glow tends to fade quickly.

Photo – Sirchie

When your fictional detectives find themselves searching a property with hopes of locating blood evidence, here are some places they should look: kitchen and bathroom sinks and their drains. The same for tubs and toilets. The cracks between moldings and walls and floors, and at the base of tubs and toilet tanks, drains, cracks and crevices of wood. In addition, tile floors, grout, carpeting (beneath carpeting, especially if the carpeting appears to have been freshly cleaned), dirty laundry, hampers, bedding, ceilings, lampshades, beneath table tops and chairs, mops and mop buckets, sponges, door handles and knobs, knife blocks and, well, the list is as broad as the imagination allows.

When using Luminol to detect the presence of blood, it’s best to turn off all lights before applying it to the suspected/targeted area.

Keep in mind that chlorine bleach flashes brightly when contacted by Luminol. This is a sign that someone may have attempted to clean the area. It’s also important to note that iron and copper particulates will react with Luminol, giving a false positive for a suspected presence of blood. As always with presumptive testings (drugs, etc.), a laboratory test is required for confirmation or exclusion.

Other false positives for Luminol include iron and copper particles. Luminol is a blood search tool, and suspected blood areas must be confir

Luminol has been found to deteriorate DNA evidence, therefore DNA evidence should, if possible, be collected and preserved prior to the use of Luminol or similar products, such as BLUESTAR.

Photo – Sirchie

BLUESTAR is also used to determine the presence or absence of blood. However, what sets BLUESTAR apart from Luminol and other blood reagents is that its use doesn’t require total darkness, nor does it deteriorate DNA. Another benefit to BLUSTAR use is that the color, intensity and duration differs from that of Luminol. Therefore, investigators are less likely to confuse blood and false positives.

 

Bloodstain Pattern Investigations at the Writers’ Police Academy and MurderCon

This fall at MurderCon, instructor David Alford is scheduled to present a fantastic and wonderfully detailed hands-on class about bloodstain pattern investigations, called The Art of Blood. Here’s a “first look” at the workshop.

“Violent crimes and accidents frequently involve the interpretation of blood evidence. This class offers the attendee the opportunity to learn how to determine the velocity and angle in which a bloodstain impacted a surface, and the 3-dimensional point of origin – where injury or bleeding event occurred . The instruction will include presumptive testing techniques of stains thought to be blood, as well as, searching crime scenes for latent blood with luminol when circumstances dictate that the area was cleaned by the perpetrator. Attendees will participate in hands-on activities to reinforce the learning objectives.”

About MurderCon/Sirchie instructor David Alford:

David Alford is a retired FBI Special Agent with 21 years of experience investigating violent crimes, terrorism and other cases. He was one of the founding members of the FBI Evidence Response Team(ERT)and conducted crimes scene searches on domestic and international violent crimes and bombings, including the Polly Klaas kidnaping and murder, the Unabomber’s cabin and the 9/11Pentagon scene.

He worked in the Denver and San Francisco field offices and completed his career at Quantico in the FBI Lab ERT Unit.During the 6 years in the FBI Lab, he was primarily responsible for overseeing and teaching basic and advanced crime scene courses throughout the US and many other countries. In the 6 years before the FBI, he was a Forensic Serologist, Hair and Fibers Examiner and Bloodstain Pattern Analyst for the Kentucky State Police Crime Lab.After retirement, David taught crime scene courses around the world on behalf of the FBI and US State Department.David has been with Sirchie as an instructor and sales representative for Sirchie’s RUVIS and ALS products for the last 10 years.David loves teaching and allowing students to learn through hands-on training.


Below, 2018 Writers’ Police Academy instructor RJ Beam details bloodstain patterns and why how they’re formed.

 


Speaking of MurderCon, there’s a murder to be solved there and it’ll be up to you to crack the case by using clues and evidence gained and gathered at the event. Oh, my, it’s going to be a “killer”!!

Details to be announced when the all new website goes live later this week. Registration is scheduled to open this month. Sign up date also to be announced later this week.

It’s exciting, and due to the new format space is extremely LIMITED. So be ready!!

Writers’ Police Academy presents MurderCon

 

Can’t seem to find the right clues for your current work-in-progress? Well, here’s a handy guide to help with locating DNA evidence.

  1. Undergarments (boxers and/or briefs, etc.)
  2. Sweat-stained clothing
  3. Semen stains on clothing, bedding, skin and other areas of the body
  4. Pages of books and magazines
  5. Drinking cups
  6. Glass (window panes, mirrors, etc.)
  7. Ear wax
  8. Fingernail clippings/beneath attached nails.
  9. Used towels
  10. Urine
  11. Used stamps
  12. (Inner) cheek swabs
  13. Hair (with root is best)
  14. Dried blood
  15. Whole blood
  16. Chewed gum and similar candies/food items
  17. Dental floss and toothbrushes
  18. Cigarette butts
  19. Used tissue
  20. Dried skin, including dandruff and psoriasis
  21. Used razors
  22. Furniture (couch cushions, mattresses, and more)
  23. Carpeting
  24. Computer keys and mouse
  25. Used/worn stocking masks, gloves, mittens, caps, socks, pants, shirts, etc.

By the way, the odds of two people having the same 13 point DNA profile is approximately 1 in 1 billion. And…

Investigating a murder can be, and often is, a methodical and meticulous slow-grind of information gathering. It’s knocking on many doors, speaking with countless numbers of people, digging in the dirt and leaves and mud, pawing through mounds of garbage, searching through closets and hampers filled with grimy and disgusting clothing. It’s collecting solid bedding and mattresses, stained underwear, and body fluids. It’s hours and days and months and years of clue-chasing rollercoasters that seem to go round and round and round and up and down and back again. All to catch a person who ended the life of another human.

In the end, it’s extremely satisfying to ratchet cuffs around the wrists of a suspect who used a weapon of some type to kill. All that hard work coming to a close leaves an investigator with a combined sense of relief, success, and satisfaction that they’ve help bring a small bit of closure for surviving family members.

Sometimes, even though mountains of potential evidence piles up during an investigation, it’s the tiniest bit—a trace—such as a carpet fiber, that serves as the cornerstone of a case. And such was the key element that helped Delaware investigators nab a serial killer known as The Corridor Killer.

A dark and story night

As it’s been said to not be said, it was a dark and story night on November 29, 1987, when 23-year-old ex-prostitute Shirley Ellis hoped to to catch a ride into Wilmington by hitchhiking along Route 40 near Bear, Delaware. She was on her way to deliver a Thanksgiving dinner for an AIDS patient who was undergoing treatment at Wilmington Hospital.

At approximately 9:25 p.m. that evening, a teenage couple pulled into a popular make-out spot to do the things teenagers do in those types of secluded locations. It was then that they discovered Ellis’ partially clothed body. Her legs were spread apart and autopsy later revealed evidence of torture and mutilation—she’d been bound at the feet and the ankles and scraps of black duct tape were still attached to strands of her hair. It was likely that the tape had been used to prevent her from screaming. She had not been sexually assaulted.

Seven months later, on June 28, 1988, Catherine DiMauro, a 31-year-old woman with a history of prostitution arrests, was walking along Route 40, near Bear, around 11:30 p.m. It’s not known if she was soliciting customers or simply using the route to go from point A to point B. But it was that night when she accepted a ride from a man driving a blue van. Her nude body was discovered by workers building a nearby apartment complex. Her wrists and ankles were bound and, like Ellis, duct tape had been used to silence her. And again, like Ellis, there was no indication of sexual assault.

This time, though, a vast amount of blue carpet fibers were found on DiMauro’s body. Finally police had a clue. A minor clue. But a clue. And the police were all over it. They assembled a 60 member task force with access to airplanes, helicopters, rental vehicles, and an unlimited budget. No stone or fiber was to be left unturned or untested.

The task force consulted with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, and they concluded that these acts were the acts of a serial killer.

The team decided to send out undercover female police officers dressed as prostitutes to walk the stretch of Route 40 where the killer had picked up the victims. They flirted with the men who stopped, and there were several, but they never got into a vehicle. In the meantime testing was underway to identify the blue fibers found on DiMauro’s body. Without fibers to use for comparison, however, these blue pieces of evidence would remain on hold.

On Aug. 22, a prostitute named Margaret Lynn Finner went missing. She was working the streets along U.S. 13, near the stretch of Route 40 connected to the crimes of the serial killer. Finner was last seen climbing into a blue Ford panel van with round headlights. The van was driven by a white male.

Roughly three months later, Finner was found dead near the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Due to the advanced stage of decomposition a cause of death couldn’t be determined. No clues were found and no one was charged for death.

Undercover Ops Begin

On Sept. 14, 1988, a 23-year-old New Castle County, Delaware undercover officer dressed as a prostitute headed out to walk the Route 40 corridor, hoping to snare the killer. It wasn’t long before a line of 5 or 6 vehicles lined up on the side of the road. The drivers of those vehicles included doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, and they all wanted to talk to “the prostitute.”

But the vehicle that caught the undercover officer’s attention was a blue Ford panel van with round headlights that drove past. Her cops’ alarm bells sounded loudly inside her head when the van stopped a little farther down the road and turned around to make another pass. The driver of the van repeated the action, driving past and then U-turning, seven times within a twenty-minute period.

The officer walked to a more secluded area, hoping to tease the driver into stopping. Finally the van pulled over and a white male opened the side panel. The officer immediately saw blue carpeting covering the van’s interior. She later said the man was different than any other person who stopped for her. His demeanor was cold and he was difficult to engage in conversation. He seemed to stare through her.

The Blue Fibers

While talking to the man, the undercover officer used the time and distraction to rub her hand on the carpeting, pulling out a few blue fibers for testing. The driver, though, demanded that she get in the van, but she refused, saying that she tired from partying and needed to sleep. The man gave up and drove away. A task force member in the area recorded and ran the plate numbers on the van. It was registered to Steven Brian Pennell, a Delaware electrician. His record showed no arrests.

Police sent the blue fibers were sent to a lab for testing. In the meantime, on September 16, Michelle Gordon, a 22-year-old known prostitute was seen on Route 40 climbing into the passenger side of a blue Ford panel van. But there was a witness and she knew both Gordan and Pennell, and she recognized Pennell’s van

This time, however, police caught a major break. The lone witness to the abduction knew both Gordon and Pennell, and she immediately identified the vehicle. Sadly, Gordon’s body was found four days later when it washed up on the banks of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal on Sept. 20. Gordon died while being tortured.

Three days later, 26-year-old Kathleen Meyer was last seen alive hitchhiking along Route 40 around 9:30 p.m. This time the witness was an off-duty police officer who saw Meyer accepting a ride from a man driving a blue Ford van. The officer ran the plates and learned the vehicle was registered to Pennell. Meyer’s body was never found.

After having to wait for evidence (carpet fibers) to be processed and Delaware Attorney General Charles Oberly to approve a search warrant for Pennell’s van, police took matters into their own hands and pulled Pennell’s van over for a routine traffic violation. This allowed them to take Pennell into court to pay his ticket.

Icing on the Investigatory Cake

In the meantime, officers searched the van and immediately discovered carpet fibers that matched those on the victims. They also found hair and blood and even the same brand of duct tape used to silence DiMauro. The icing on the investigatory cake was Pennell’s gruesome “torture kit”—pliers, needles, a whip, handcuffs, knives and various types of restraints.

Police had their suspect.

Pennell opted to remain silent and did not offer a statement.

The blue carpet fibers were indeed the cornerstone of the entire case against Pennell. Without them, the state’s case could not have moved forward because any other actions and evidence would have been ruled as fruit of the poisonous tree.

So, of course the defense attorney attacked the fibers, stating the officer did not have a legal right to remove those fibers from the van without a search warrant. However, Superior Court Judge Richard Gebelein denied the defense claims and ruled that the carpet was in plain view once Pennell opened the door to invite the undercover officer inside the van.

Justice Arrives

On November 23, 1989—Thanksgiving Day—as a massive snowstorm blanketed the area, Pennell was convicted of murdering Ellis and DiMauro. The jury, however, deadlocked on the Gordon case. They also deadlocked on the death penalty.

In 1990, Pennell was sentenced to two life terms in 1990 and, as a result, Pennell filed appeals, alleging that the fiber seizure was unconstitutional. During this time, police continued their investigations and, based on new evidence, Pennell was indicted for the murders of Meyer and Gordon. Pennell asked the court if he could be allowed to represent himself for the new charges. The court granted the motion.

Pennell then did the nearly unthinkable. Even though he did not offer a confession, he pled no contest to both murders and asked the Superior Court to impose a sentence of death.

At a hearing to determine if Pennell’s life should be spared, Pennell offered a bizarre argument for his own death –  “‘The law was developed from one book, and it’s that book I quote from,” he said. “‘In Numbers, chapter 35, verse 30, ‘Whoever kills a person, the person shall be put to death.’ “‘Also, in Genesis, chapter 9, verse 6, ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood by man, his blood shall be shed.'”

“This court has found me guilty on the testimony of witnesses. So I ask that the sentence be death as said by the state’s laws and God’s laws. That’s all I have to say.”

Perhaps it was both fitting and somewhat spooky that, on Halloween day in 1991, Pennell was sentenced to death. As part of Delaware’s mandatory death penalty appeal process, Pennell appeared before the to the state Supreme Court court on Feb. 11, 1992, where he again asked for his own execution. He remains the only person to represent himself before the state Supreme Court, and the only one, of course, to ask for death.

During the entire case, Pennell always referred to himself in the third person. Never in first person.  During the appeal, Pennell said to the court, “The perpetrator must have sensed a pleasure in the killings. Since he did not commit just one, but continued in the same depraved manner on the others, this pleasure is evident.”

On March 14, 1992, Steven Brian Pennell was the first man executed in Delaware in 46 years.

Pennell died by lethal injection, and as a result of a savvy undercover police officer who thought to grab a couple of tiny blue carpet fibers.

 

“Yes, Sam, you heard me correctly. The murder weapon was indeed a wisecracking, bucktooth bunny.”

“Don’t be silly, Daffy. I can’t imagine how she could bludgeon the man to death using a long-eared galoot.”

“No more speculation, please,” said the famous cartoon duck. “Here’s how she did it …”

Tularemia

Tularemia, or rabbit fever as it’s commonly called, is no stranger to the United States. After its discovery in 1911 in Tulare, California, the disease became known as a killing machine. It killed a large number of ground squirrels before finding its way into human bodies where it infected hunters and other outdoorsmen, and any others who came into contact with infected animals.

Today, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports roughly 200 cases of Tularemia (Francisella tularensis) each year in America. Only about two percent of those cases are fatal. However, since it is possible to transform the tularemia microbe to an aerosol form, the plague-like disease could be used as a very effective biological weapon.

Killers in mystery novels might find tularemia a most effective way to murder their victims, since pathologists and toxicologists do not routinely screen for it during autopsy. And, Tularemia is not easily detected by doctors.

Tularemia-carrying organisms are readily found in wild animals—particularly feral rabbits—in their feces. It’s also found in water and mud. Humans can contract tularemia by handling the hides, paws, or flesh of wild rabbits. They can also catch the disease by eating undercooked rabbit meat. Ticks, mosquitoes, and deer flies can transfer the sickness to humans through their bites.

A hunter with an open cut or wound can contract tularemia simply by skinning a rabbit. A murderous spouse could introduce the bacteria into her unsuspecting hunter-husband’s food (Tularemia-tainted meat), then blame the death on the infected rabbits the sportsman shot during his hunt. The wife could easily explain the symptoms away until her husband was too far-gone for medical help.

The disease offers a variety of symptoms, depending upon the way it is introduced to the victim. Inhaled tularemia, the method most likely to be used by terrorists, presents flu-like symptoms—fever, chills, loss of appetite, cough, and headache. Swollen lymph nodes, skin ulcers, and pneumonia can accompany these symptoms.

Certain strains of tularemia are currently incurable because they have been genetically engineered to be antibiotic-resistant. This disease, though deadly, cannot be spread by human-to-human contact.

The use of tularemia in germ warfare is not new to the military. In 1932 and again in 1945, the Japanese studied using tularemia as a possible biological weapon. Thousands of Soviet and German soldiers serving on the Eastern front during WWII succumbed to tularemia. There is some speculation that the disease was introduced to them intentionally.

The U.S. also developed and stockpiled tularemia (by freezing). The military conducted tests on the agent (code named Agent UL) by spraying barges containing monkeys in the waters off Hawaii. The spray was introduced by aircraft over several miles. As a result, over half the monkeys were infected with tularemia. Approximately half of the infected monkeys died.

An American fell ill with Tularemia when he ran over an infected rabbit while mowing his lawn. It was this instance that cemented the fact that tularemia could be contracted by inhalation. In 2000, an outbreak of tularemia occurred on Martha’s Vineyard. The cause of the outbreak .. lawn mowing. In 2003, a Nantucket maintenance worker ran over an infected rabbit with his lawnmower, however, it was not he who contracted the disease. Instead, it was a co-worker who used a stick to remove the animal to nearby bushes.

Terrorists could transmit the bacteria either in food or by an aerosol propellant. Large numbers of people could be infected at once with only a microscopic amount of the bacteria.

So, what have we learned from all this? That’s right, be vewy, vewy quiet when hunting wabbits …

Detective Pete Gitterdone had a spotless attendance record, never missing a day for sickness during his entire thirty-three years with the department. He was so proud of his achievement, in fact, that he refused to stay at home on this particular day, a time when his fever hovered at 102.

Coughing and sneezing fits forced him to spend the majority of the morning with his mouth and nose buried deep into a crumpled, crud-dampened, and extremely yucky handkerchief.

Gitterdone, feeling all achy and fatigued, was busy collecting suspected blood samples (brownish red stains for the official record) at a particularly brutal homicide scene, alternating between hacking and achooing, when his partner, Detective I. Lergictowork, told him he looked sickern’ a dog, like death warmed over, and asked if he needed a break.

Gitterdone promptly turned his head away from his partner and fired off a round of wet sneezes directly into the large paper bag of already-collected evidence. “No,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Besides, I’m almost done. Just a couple of prints to lift and I’m outta here.”

He tipped his head toward a desktop where a few sheets of yellow legal pad paper sat among a scattering of pencils, pens, and colored paperclips. “Looks like the suspect might’ve touched these papers,” he said. “How ’bout handing me a can of Ninhydrin. There’s one in my kit.”

Ninhydrin reacts with amino acids to produce a purple reaction product called “Rhuemann’s Purple”. It is useful on porous surfaces—especially paper. ~ Sirchie

So, did you notice anything particularly wrong with Gitterdone’s method of evidence collection? If so, what?

After watching these two work, well, it might be a good idea to have both Gitterdone and Lergictowork read this list of Crime Scene Do Nots. It might help to have your protagonist take a peek as well.

Crime Scene DO NOT’S

1. Do Not blow away excess fingerprint powder! Doing so adds your DNA to the surface.

2. Do Not use Styrofoam to package electronic devices (computer parts, etc.) because it can cause static charges. Instead, use foam padding or bubble-wrap.

3. Do Not alter or add anything to a crime scene sketch after leaving the scene. Memories are not quite as accurate as we may think.

4. Do NOT place bloodstained evidence in plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers can serve as incubators for bacteria, which can destroy or alter DNA. Rule of thumb – paper bags/containers for wet evidence (blood, semen, saliva, etc.) and plastic for dry evidence.

5. DO NOT collect DNA evidence samples (saliva, blood, etc.) from a criminal suspect without a court order, the suspect’s consent, or during exigent (emergency) circumstances.

6. Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, etc. over any evidence sample. This also includes talking over a sample. With each word spoken comes your DNA that’s instantly transferred to the sample.

7. Do NOT fold wet documents. Leave that to the professionals in the lab.

8. Do NOT use fingerprint tape or lifters to collect bits of trace evidence. The adhesion on print lifting tape is insufficient for picking up tiny bits of evidence.

9. Do NOT use dirty digging tools when collecting soil samples. Always clean tools thoroughly after each use to avoid cross contamination.

10. Do NOT use fingerprint lifters in lieu of gunshot residue (GSR) collection materials. (see number 8 above)

441

Fingerprint lifter – Sirchie image. I used Sirchie lifters all the time during my career. In fact, I still have a few leftover from my crime-solving days.

11. Do NOT allow shooting suspects, victims, witnesses, etc. to wash their hands or rub them against other surfaces until after GSR tests/collection have been completed.

12. ALWAYS remember #6 – Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, talk, etc. over any evidence sample.
Hapci-fr


Bonus – Transferred Prints

Do NOT write a transferred fingerprint scene without first giving it a ton of serious thought. Here’s why:

Yes, it is indeed possible to transfer a fingerprint, even accidentally. However, a skilled examiner should be able to spot duplicates since they tend to appear very thin and thready. Also, the background area surrounding the “new” print may not match the surface of the place where the transferred print was left. Background pattern(s) transfer along with the print.

Here’s where writers often make their mistakes when setting up characters to “take a fall” for another character. Transferred prints are mirror/reverse images and would be easily recognized by a skilled examiner. It’s possible, though, that an inexperienced print examiner, one who’s new to the field, may not catch it right away. But that scenario is highly doubtful.


BIG, BIG, BIG Writers’ Police Academy news is on the way. The 2019 WPA is a special event, one unlike anything we’ve presented in the past. And when I say special, I mean it’s over the top S.P.E.C.I.A.L.! I am so pleased and thrilled to present such an exciting opportunity for writers. This has never been done before, not ever!

For now, though, I’d like to share the dates and the location so you can make plans to attend. Please keep in mind that due to the nature and location of this unique program space/slots are limited. We’ll soon begin to announce more specific details but, for now …

Date – August 1-4, 2019

Location – Raleigh, N.C.