Isotope fingerprinting can be used to analyze a single strand of human hair for the purpose of determining a person’s location during recent weeks, months, and sometimes years. Obviously, this type of geographical tracking can be extremely useful to law enforcement when investigating murder cases.

These particular isotopes are found in the DNA-free keratin protein shaft of a hair, and contain a sequential record of dietary and metabolic behaviors of the contributor.

Stable isotope analysis (SIA) uses, for example, stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes of human tissues to learn a victim’s dietary preferences.

Properties of various municipal water districts, even in cities and towns adjacent to one another, or within a large metropolitan city with more than a single water supply, can provide water that is isotopically distinct from one another and from other local water sources. Therefore, using unique stable oxygen and strontium isotope signatures, SIA reveals the source of an individual’s drinking water (a person drinks local water and the isotopic record of the water is captured and retained their hair).


There are many uses for Stable isotope analysis (SIA), including:

  • Food authenticity

  • Sports doping

  • Criminal forensics

  • Archaeology


When used in conjunction—stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes, along with stable oxygen and strontium isotopes—investigators are armed with a formidable geolocation tool for pinpointing a region of origin, or the path of recent travels of a murder victim. This is especially helpful when an investigation involves unidentified human remains.

Other Uses

Sample analysis of illegal drugs can reveal their sources (location), discovering whereabouts of clandestine laboratories, and even the trafficking routes used by dealers.

Stable isotope forensics is also used help to determine whether drugs, explosives, fibers, and other evidence share a mutual foundation or past. It’s utilized to differentiate counterfeit products such as pharmaceuticals and food products from authentic articles, and it’s used to determine if an athlete has used drugs to enhance their performance.

The World Anti-Doping Agency requires stable isotope analysis for doping analysis in sports. It’s also used to detect steroid abuse in cattle.

Analyzers, such as Elementar’s AnthrovisION, are the devices and included software used to determine the origin of a sample.


Isotopes

Scientists divide isotopes into two main types: radioactive and stable.

Stable Isotopes

Stable isotopes, those used in criminal forensics, sports doping, and archaeology have a stable proton-neutron combination and do not exhibit signs of decay/radiation.

The stable isotopes used in the testing/analyzing described in this article are oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen and carbon.

Radioactive Isotopes

When an atom has too many or too few neutrons, it is unstable and decays. As a result, these isotopes emit radiation that includes alpha, beta, and gamma rays.

Radioactive isotopes are used in medicine, agriculture, food industry, pest control, archeology. Radiocarbon dating uses the carbon-14 radioactive isotope. In medicine, radioactive gamma rays are used to detect tumors inside the human body. Exposing food to a controlled level of gamma rays kills many types of bacteria.

 

 

I’ve seen a few oddities over the years, especially during Halloween, the night when both kids and adults dress up as their favorite characters before heading out to enjoy tricks and treats, and parties.

It’s also a night that a few ghoulish folks believe is the perfect time to commit the usual plethora of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. But there’s one Halloween crime from my old case files that stands out a bit from the rest and, as always, I have to tell the story. I do so, as irritating and long-winded as it may be, to help you with details for your own writing. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up and believe me, I read a lot and I write a lot, and most of what I see in fiction doesn’t compare to, well, this …

It was late one Halloween night, back in the 1980s, well after costumed trick-or-treaters were long back at home gorging themselves on sugary treats—M&Ms, Whoppers, mini candy bars, Lemonheads, Candy Corn, and Skittles—when I knocked on Miss Evelyn’s front door, a wide plank of weathered wood with rusty strap hinges.

Through the square glass near the top of the door I saw a small slice of yellow light that started in a backroom to my left and stretched across the narrow hallway floor where it disappeared into another room on the righthand side of the passageway.

At the sound of my door-rapping, a shadow moved across the light, first one way and then back.

While waiting for the source of the shadow to respond to my presence, I had a look around the porch. Nothing unusual … a one-gallon vegetable can (absent its label) filled with sand and topped with a handful of cigarette butts, a rickety old rocking chair, five plastic flower pots with each containing the remnants of some sort of unidentifiable plant—all dead, dried up, and crispy—, a well-worn green cloth sofa, and a portable radio that was missing the volume knob.

A foil-wrapped coat hanger poked up from a hole in the top of the radio’s plastic casing. It replaced the former antenna that, at some point, had broken off and was either lost or discarded as trash. Either way, the radio, in it’s present condition, had been there for as long as I could remember.

And, as always, smack-dab in the center of the front door were three fairly fresh chicken feet tied together at their bloody stumps with a piece of bright red twine. The collection of gnarly toes and bony knuckles dangled from a bent nail. Chicken feet, according to Miss Evelyn, bring good luck and, as a bonus, they also prevented evil spirts from crossing the threshold. Nope, nothing odd at all … for Miss Evelyn. The porch “decor” hadn’t changed in all the years I’d gone there. Not a thing.

I knocked again. She yelled from the back of the house. “Just a minute!”

I’d first met Miss Evelyn after arresting a man for burglary and, while searching his pockets for weapons and other illegal items, I discovered a small flannel pouch tucked inside his wallet. I figured the contents could possibly be drugs, probably marijuana or hash, or something of that nature, so I asked the kid to level with me so I’d know what to expect.

I was surprised to hear him say that what I held in my hand was not was I’d suspected. Instead, he said, it was his “medicine bag,” a ground up mixture of chicken bones, tobacco, human hair, and herbs. Its purpose was to keep him safe. This was my first contact with a medicine bag. However, it was far from the last.

Root doctors make medicine bags containing plant and animal matter, such as human or animal bone, sage, garlic, and even dirt from a grave. The purpose of the bag is, for example, to provide safety, heal and prevent illness, and to help ignite or halt romances, etc. Another practically endless list.

This young burglar purchased his bag from Miss Evelyn, a local root doctor. Since this was a totally new experience for me, I decided to pay this so-called root doctor a visit. And, long story shortened a bit, Miss Evelyn “knew all and saw all” and she soon became one of my most reliable informants.

Her customer base was massive and many were criminals, so I basically kept her on speed dial. I also dropped off the occasional gift—a turkey or ham at Christmas, or a turkey in liquid form (Wild Turkey bourbon), her preference, as a sign of my appreciation. The liquid turkey, according to Miss Evelyn, was strictly for medicinal purposes—prevention of colds and flu, etc. Not for pleasure drinking.

This particular Halloween night a young man, Miss Evelyn’s nephew, answered the door and led me to the kitchen where his aunt stood at the head of six-chair red formica-topped table, hard at work assembling her latest batch of medicine bags and other concoctions. Behind her, a large black kettle was at full boil on the wood stove. A foul-smelling steam wafted my way. I didn’t ask.

If I had to guess I’d say Miss Evelyn weighed at just under a hundred pounds. She was so thin that the blood vessels on her arms and hands were visible and looked like someone had draped a squirming knot of skinny earthworms there, much like hanging tinsel on a Christmas tree.

As always when “working”, her face was peppered with tiny beads of sweat. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick. She wore a simple and faded housedress that was three sizes too big, a Winnie the Pooh apron, and pink Flip-Flops with the rubber thong jamming a wad of age-yellowed sock material between the first and second toes of each foot.

When she smiled it became instantly obvious that dentists were not a part of her clientele, nor had she ever, not once, crossed the threshold of any tooth doctor’s office. Her breath smelled like a rotting animal carcass, an even worse scent than the pungent odor emanating from the pot on the stove.

Miss Evelyn was quirky, to say the least, and she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met.

I’d gone there that particular night to see if Evelyn could offer any insight about two bodies that had been dug up in a local cemetery. The vaults had been damaged and the caskets broken open. The grave-robbers took the same thing from each coffin—bones from the lower right arms and hands.

She said she’d heard about a couple who used human bones as part of their religious rituals. Before exhuming remains, though, they had sex atop the grave sites.

Coincidentally, the man and woman visited Miss Evelyn earlier in the night to ask if she knew where they could get heir hands on a fresh corpse because, in order to complete their ritual, they needed blood and they knew that to get it they’d need to reach a body prior to embalming. Well, Evelyn was having no parts of their nonsense and sent them on their way. And that was the purpose of my visit. Miss Evelyn called me the second the grave robbers left her house.

I finally caught up with the couple when I discovered their car parked near a funeral home. They’d planned to break in to steal someone’s dearly departed loved one. Fortunately, we stopped them before they committed the act.

So you see, folks, bizarre and morbid and spooky crime does not always come in the form of murder. Nor are the macabre criminals always the odd characters who reside at the spooky house at the end of the street.

This particular couple, the grave robbers, were as normal as your neighbors. Both were professionals with public jobs. They lived in a typical neighborhood and drove a normal car. However, the contents of their trunk was a bit different than most—shovels, picks, tools for prying open caskets, and a few human and animal bones scattered about. Other than that … as typical as you and I.

Well, perhaps we’re are not the best examples of normal, but you get the idea …


The Graveyard Shift wishes everyone a Happy Halloween! Have fun, but please stay safe. If trick or treating is in your plans this year, please utilize all health and safety precautions, including proper PPE and safe social distancing … and a healthy dose of common sense.

Halloween Safety Tips For Kids

– Avoid costumes that greatly reduce visibility or are too dark for motorists to see. Apply face paint instead. It’s safer than bulky masks.

– Plan the route you and your children will take well in advance. Tell someone else about those plans and what time you’ll return home.

– Stick to well-lit areas.

– Attach reflective tape to costumes.

– Use fire-resistant materials in costumes.

– Carry a flashlight or glow stick, but not a lighted candle. Candles are burn hazards.

– Trick-or-treat in groups, accompanied by at least one adult.

– Attach kid’s names, address, and phone number to their clothes in case they become separated from adults.

– Teach children to exit and enter vehicles from curbside, away from traffic.

– Stay on sidewalks as much as possible, and cross at corners. Do not walk between parked cars. Always look both ways before crossing.

– Children should not eat candy while out, until an adult examines it. Candy should not show signs of improper sealing, punctures, or holes.

– Do not allow children into apartment buildings unless accompanied by an adult, and only visit homes with outside lighting.

– Residents should remove obstacles and trip hazards, such as tools, ladders, and toys from their sidewalks, porches and front yards.

– Keep lighted jack-o-lanterns away from porches or other areas where they could ignite a low-hanging costume.

– Do NOT allow your kids to carry any toy gun as part of their costume, especially those toys that look like the real thing, even if the tips of the barrels are painted orange. The orange color doesn’t show well at night, if at all.

Halloween Safety Tips For Officers

Working as a police officer on Halloween poses special challenges. Think about it. In a world where someone wearing a mask is normally thought to be up to no good, you’re suddenly faced with scores of masked citizens. Kids are out and about darting in and out of traffic. They’re excited and and may not listen as well as they normally would, or should. And practical jokes often go horribly wrong. Needless to say, it can be a wild and trying night for cops.

Here’s a short list of tips for officers working the streets on one of their busiest nights of the year.

1. Stay alert. If it looks wrong, then it probably is.

2. Carry copies of outstanding warrants with you—the people you’ve been unable to locate. This is the one night when the dummies will probably answer the door thinking you’re a trick-or-treater.

3. Carry candy in your patrol car. It’s the perfect time to show kids that you’re really one of the good guys.

4. Keep an eye on lone costumed adults. They may be up to no good.

5. Watch out for people tossing things from overpasses. For some reason, Halloween seems to be THE night to bomb police cars with bricks, rocks, and pumpkins.

6. Be alert for kids and adults who wear actual guns as part of their costumes.

7. Park your patrol car and walk for a while. Mingle with the trick-or-treaters. Keep them safe. It also keeps the bad guys guessing your next move. Besides, it’s a good idea to mix things up. Patrol your areas in a different order. Never get into a set routine (this goes for the rest of the year, too).

8. Drive slower than normal. Watch for kids!

9. Keep an eye on the registered sex offenders in your area. They aren’t allowed to pass out candy. They shouldn’t be opening the door for any kids. And they shouldn’t have Halloween decorations displayed in their yard or on the house. Pay them a pre-Halloween visit to remind them of their court-ordered restrictions.

10. I preferred to patrol with my car window down, even in the winter time. Halloween is the only night of the year when I didn’t. Too many flying objects!

11. If possible, have extra officers working the streets on foot, in plain clothes.

12. Bring plenty of extra handcuffs. You’ll probably need them before the night is over.

13. Please, please, please wear your vest!

And to everyone else …

Female blowflies lay eggs, hundreds of them, on moist and juicy decaying matter that’s rich in microbes. These egg-laying sites include, among others, rotting food and the decomposing corpses of animals and humans.

Immediately after hatching, the creepy offspring of their fly parents—maggots—go to work using enzymes and bacteria to break down their food source into a mouthwatering broth.

Blowfly maggots consume their tasty meals much in the same way as gluttonous Sunday afternoon diners at all-you-can-five-dollar-buffets—heads down and without stopping to breathe.

Maggots, though, have an advantage over human buffet-eaters. They’re able to enjoy their feasts while simultaneously breathing through their specially adapted rear ends. Humans, however, are forced to come up for air at least once or twice during a roadside steakhouse feeding frenzy.

In addition to having poor table manners, maggots are a useful tool for homicide investigators. In fact, the first known instance of flies helping out in a murder case was during the 13th century, when Chinese judge Sung T’zu  investigated a fatal stabbing in a rice field.

Flies Don’t Lie

At the scene of the murder, judge Sung T’zu instructed each of the workers to lay down their sickles. Soon, attracted by the smell of blood, flies began landing on one of the sickles, but not the others. Sure, the murderer cleaned their weapon prior to the judge’s arrival, but the faint odor of the victim’s blood was still present. It was clear to T’zu who’d committed the killing. In 1247, T’zu wrote about the case in the book The Washing Away of Wrongs, the oldest known book on forensic medicine.

Today, in murder cases, a maggot’s rate of growth can help estimate time of death. For example, when detectives find maggots on a body that are in their early larvae stages, when they’re 5mm in length, officers then will have a pretty good idea that the victim has been deceased for only a day and a half, or so.

When maggots ingest human tissue as nourishment, they simultaneously absorb remnants of substances previously consumed by the deceased, such as illegal and prescription drugs, and poisons. Subsequently, traces of those substances are retained within the bodies and exoskeletons of the maggots.

An insect’s hard external skeleton is made of chitin, a substance that’s similar to the keratin protein from which hair is formed. Since an insect’s chitin stores consumed toxins for a long time, and blowfly maggots shed their exoskeletons twice as it passes through each of three larval stages, a toxicology analyses of those exoskeletons could be helpful in determining the drug use of the victim, poisoning as a murder weapon, and more. This is an especially important tool when working with skeletal remains. In fact, a forensic analysis of insects is more dependable than hair as a means to detect drug use immediately prior to death.

Mummy-“Flied”

How long are substances (toxins, etc.) retained in an insects exoskeleton? Shed fly puparial cases been used for toxicological studies of mummified bodies found weeks, months, an even years after death. Some scientists believe it’s possible to detect drugs in the insects associated with ancient skeletal remains. After all, cocaine has been discovered in the hair of 3,000-year-old Peruvian mummies, so why not the same for the bugs who once feasted on those bodies?

Most evidence, of course, comes from live maggots collected from the body at the crime scene. Those specimens are gathered by crime scene investigators and transported to a forensics laboratory for testing. The trick is keeping the wiggly maggots alive until an analysis is performed. Therefore, some scientists recommend that crime scene investigators stock cans of tuna as part of their evidence collection kits.

Pop the top on the can and maggots are then able to feed on the tuna until they’re properly secured and handled by a qualified forensic entomologist.

It’s also important to place maggots in a container with air holes (even though they breathe through their butts, they’ve still got to breathe to survive).

Now, who’s having tuna for lunch today?

Yum …

Each year, somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people commit suicide in the United States. They take their own lives, leaving behind an average of six or more suicide survivors, the friends and family who deeply cared for the deceased person. And it is that half-dozen people who are left to deal with the aftermath and the very real emotional struggle to understand why their loved one chose to end it all.

Additionally, there’s another group of individuals who are unfortunately forced into the survivor category, the police officers who’re chosen as the weapon of choice for the person who elects to die in the manner known as suicide-by-cop. They, the officers involved, have their own special process of grieving with which to contend.

Shame and Guilt

In cases of suicide where a person takes their own life, the hours, days, weeks, and even years after are often filled with emotions that include shame and guilt. Shame, perhaps, because the survivors’ religions or personal beliefs view the act of suicide as a sin. Guilt, because the survivor may think they could have done something to prevent the death. There are other reasons, of course.

Outsiders may shy away from family members of the suicidal person because they simply don’t know what to say or do. Doing so adds to the sometimes self-isolation and feelings of abandonment experienced by survivors.

Then, adding to the trauma, come the police who enter the scene because the death must be investigated. It’s a necessary evil, one that unfortunately causes the family to relive the entire event. It’s an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation for the investigating officers, and a traumatic one for the survivors. Not to mention that survivors sometimes blame the police for the death, placing the fault squarely on their shoulders.

Why Do They Do It?

Some individuals who’ve made the choice to use a cop to do “the deed” for them are often attempting to avoid the issue of committing suicide, the act of taking one’s own life. Since suicide is often thought of as taboo, having someone else do it for you releases them (in their minds) of the stigma of suicide.

Sometimes a person sees suicide-by-cop as a fitting punishment for a sin. Others, well, they simply didn’t have the nerve to jump from a tall building or to use a gun to violently end it all. So they choose armed police officers to do it for them.

Mentally ill patients sometimes see the officer as a stand-in for a parent or other family member they absolutely despise. Therefore, they act out, using the officer as a means to thumb their nose at people in charge by forcing the authorities (the officers) to cause the destruction of the suicidal person. Sort of an “I win because I made you kill me,” scenario.

How Does Suicide-by-Cop Affect Police Officers?

Police officers who encounter individuals who’ve made the choice to use a cop to do “the deed” for them are often psychologically scarred and become depressed, and even angry that they were used as tools to kill another human.

Officers can develop various stages of PTSD, from mild to severe, and may forever second-guess the action(s) they took “that day,” contemplating the “what-ifs” on a never-ending loop that replays inside their minds day after day after day.

Officers who’re involved in suicide-by-cop situations may develop severe insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. They experience nightmares centered around the event. Flashbacks often occur, taking the officer back to the moment when the event took place.

Officers often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt after a suicide-by-cop incident. Reinforcing the guilt is that family and friends of the deceased often blame the police for the death, placing the fault squarely on their shoulders.

Shattered Lives

Officers may become absolutely broken over the incident. Their lives are shattered and they don’t know how to cope with changing from a strong and emotionally sound person to someone who can’t cope with day-to-day life. Even things as simple as going outside for a breath of fresh air can become a terrifying act.

Each officer reacts differently to suicide-by-cop situations. Like snowflakes, no two are alike.

To add to the officer’s troubles, while dealing with the psychological issues along comes a police shooting review board/team who question the officers every movement and action. They interrogate the officer in an attempt to make certain he/she followed the book, or not. The officer is investigated by strangers from outside agencies. They’re placed in the same “hot seat” where they’ve seated numerous criminals over the years.

The officers are most likely suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigations. They’re stripped of their badges and guns. Civil suits pop up, filed by the attorneys representing the family of the deceased person. The public and press quite often side with the victim and place blame on the officer.

If the suicidal person was of a different race than that of the officer, accusations of racism often appear in the media as well as in the form of protests and marches. These actions compound the officer’s feelings of guilt which, in turn, sends depression and anxiety spiraling out of control. They’re hit from all sides with negativity.

The walls around them seem as if they’re closing in. Startle responses become hypersensitive. Paranoia sets in as the officer senses a lack of support from his department and from the general public.

Fear, anxiety, depression, and anger

Some fellow officers give the impression that the officer involved in the shooting is weak and should’ve been able to take the killing of another human in stride. However, this only serves to increase the officer’s feelings of doubt and depression.

Family life for the officers can quickly begin to crumble due to symptoms of PTSD—the flashbacks, irritability, the “I can’t concentrate and can’t seem to do anything right” syndrome. They give up and shut down, basically leaving only two options—seek professional help, or not.

Those who do not elect to accept counseling and other professional services often self-medicate by turning to alcohol and illegal drug use as an attempt to make their problems go away.

Even those who do turn to mental health professionals sometimes find that prescribed medications have adverse effects, enhancing the symptoms of PTSD. That or they’re overmedicated and plunder through life in a near zombie-like state. Sure, mental health care works for many, but a few don’t fare as well.

Many times, unfortunately, officers who are unable to cope with their involvement in a suicide-by-cop incident are unable to return to work as police officers. And, sadly, their mental instability and insecurities make them unlikely candidates for employment in the public sector.

Therefore, they oftentimes remain at home alone, broken, sad, anxious, depressed and, left to their thoughts and day- and nightmares while heavily medicated or high on illegal substances or alcohol.

They’re alone because their families were unable to deal with the angry outbursts and both physical and mental abuse, so they packed their bags and left.

And there sits the once proud officer, alone, scared, confused, and wondering a million times each day … “what if?”

And some, in a weird twist of fate, finally reach the end of their ropes and take their own lives … another suicide-by-cop.

Working the first 240 minutes of the graveyard shift, when the crazies and criminals come out to play, and when many normal and sane folks allow alcohol and drugs to take over the part of the mind that controls mean and nasty, is a timeframe that generates many a tale told by crusty old retired cops who sometimes gather at pancake houses to share breakfasts with their remaining former brothers and sisters in blue. The ones still alive and who care enough to talk about the good old days, that is.

Like weekend fishermen sometimes do, these antecedent cops tell and compare stories filled with run-on sentences detailing events of the “big ones that got away,” and of times when bullets zinged and pinged off the pavement around them as they rushed to capture wanted criminals who’d popped off those rounds before disappearing into abandoned warehouses or alleyways during nights as black as ink with air so still they could hear their own blood zipping its way through the convoluted paths of veins and arteries as nervous hearts worked in overdrive mode to keep up with the amount of adrenaline racing through their bodies.

Yeah, those kinds of jittery and sometimes PTSD-infused run-on comments about remarkable accomplishments and incredible feats of top-coppery. They’re the sort of stories that take center stage while the sounds of sizzling bacon and spattering sausage patties provide the soundtrack to the morning gatherings.

As the scent of warm toast wafts through the air, the men and women who’d instantly shed twenty-five pounds when they handed over their bulky gun belts on the day they’d received their “Retired” badges, fawningly speak of the days before semi-automatics and Kevlar vests and of car radios that weren’t capable of sending or receiving signals out in the distant areas of the county, leaving the solo officers on their own to handle whatever came their way.

The old-timers compare scars—the raised marks on the hands, arms, and faces they’d earned when arresting the tough guys who loved to slash at cops using razor-sharp blades. Of course, occasionally, one of the balding and wrinkled retired patrol cops shows off a zig-zagged raised area on the cheek, a disfigurement caused by being on the receiving end of a downward-plunging ice pick or screwdriver.

It was early morning—2 a.m., according to the portly fellow whose once rock-steady hands tremble unmercifully these days—when he and the other members of the entry team stood on the non-moonlit side of a house deep in the heart of the worst area in town, waiting for the signal to kick the door, hearing only the distant soulful moan of train whistle and the clicking and ticking of windblown dried and crunchy fall leaves as they tumbled and danced their way across cracked pavement. It was cool out, but beads of fear-sweat the size of garden peas wormed their way down his spine, slipping through that void between the waistband and the hot flesh at the small of the back.

The night animals. Those three-legged dogs and wiry cats with matted fur, washboard ribs, and gangly crooked tails and jagged fight-damaged ears. Raccoons with eyes that burn yellow or red when met with the bright beam of the car-mounted spotlight. Possums that hiss and bare pointy teeth when cornered.

The old wino, the guy who wore nine layers of clothing, a filthy watchman’s cap and toeless boots, a homeless man who reeked of body odor so horrific that jailers hosed him down before fingerprinting him. He’s the guy who often had maggots wriggling around inside his ratty underwear, and whose BVD’s were rarely removed before using the bathroom. A waste of time, he’d said. Why bother? Yes, they’d all seen and smelled the funk when they’d arrested him and others like him for breaking into cars or stores late at night.

A turn onto main street after checking the alley between the hardware store and the Five and Dime. Storm drains at the curbs spewed wispy tendrils of sewer steam that combined with hot city sweat before melting into a dark sky spattered with thousands of pinpoint lights.

Stoplights as far as the eye could see, all winking and blinking in an ill-timed discord of reds and yellows and greens.

The street sweeper who passes by, holding up a single finger as a sleepy acknowledgment that he, too, was out there in the night making ends meet the best way he knew how.

Drug dealers and prostitutes fading into darkened storefronts as patrol cars slowly rolled past.

Yes, one last refill, please. No cream. No sugar. Just like the thick jailhouse coffee that kept their motors running back in the day. Then it’s time to take the spouse’s car in for an oil change, or to stop by the market for bread and milk and eggs. One had a doctor’s appointment. The ticker’d been acting up a bit lately.

Back to the stories. There’s always time for one or two more before the lunch crowd began to drift in, the folks wanting to beat the mad rush, especially on Thursdays when chicken and dumplings were the $4.99 special du jour.

The radio crackles and the dispatchers’ voices that cut through the silence. A monotone voice that could’ve just as easily come from the bowels of a machine. They all remember and nod.

A moment to think.

They share silent memories, like it was just last night when they’d each slipped on the uniform and badge and gun and shiny shoes. A pen in the shirt pocket and a slapjack in the right rear pants pocket.

Sirens and red lights.

Wife beaters. Robbers, Rapists.

Murderers.

Three cups of joe in, the old timers reminisce about their war-wounds.

The missing bit of earlobe. The punk was, of course, a biter.

The loss of vision in the left eye. A 2×4 to the head, a blow delivered by a beefy, tatted-up redneck who didn’t want to see his brother carted off to jail.

The lifetime limp. A drunk driver who swerved right while the officer helped an old man change a tire.

The disfigured hand and scar tissue. Rescuing a little girl from the burning car.

Closing their eyes and seeing the face of the dead guy floating in the river, the one whose eyes became a tasty snack for turtles and fish.

The decapitated head at the side of the railroad tracks. Headphones prevented him from hearing the train approaching from the rear. They were found dangling from a thin tree branch along with a clump of hair still attached to a small bit of flesh and shattered skull.

The teen with the knife-punctured carotid artery that spurted long arcing jets of bright red blood onto the hands and arms and faces and clothes of responding officers as they tried to help the wounded youth live.

The punches, the bruises, the kicks.

The foot chase between the houses.

The struggles.

The guns.

The shots.

The blood.

The coroner.

The nights.

The long, lonely nights.

The nightmares.

And then morning comes and it’s time to do it all again.

It’s all they have left.

Memories.

That, and those broken lives and bodies.

And a cup of joe.

Black, no sugar.

Just like the good old days.

 

Pucker Factor. Two simple words that, when spoken separately, have truly harmless meanings.

1. Pucker: a rounded shape by folding or wrinkling, such as puckering your lips.

2. Factor: an element contributing to a result.

However, when those two words are combined into a single phrase they take on a whole new meaning, a meaning that refers to the instant tightening of a particular southerly body part.

It’s odd, but when you consider the usual function of that persnickety body part, things like “early warning system,” “saving lives,” and “draw your weapon,” don’t normally come to mind. Actually, even in a puckered state one wouldn’t normally associate those things with that tiny muscle. Nope, not at all.

“Drawing” a service weapon

However, ask cops about their first reaction to the instant puckering of the factor muscle and they’ll probably mention drawing their service weapon, preparing to fight, or do whatever it took at that moment to stay alive, because danger was imminent.

Yes, the Pucker Factor is indeed a cop’s early warning system. It causes rapid heart rate, sweating and, hopefully, an immediate reflex action that causes the officer to revert to his/her training, because reasoning skills are greatly diminished during a Pucker Factor incident.

The “pucker factor” sometimes causes strange reactions.

For police officers, the Pucker Factor can be triggered by a number of events, usually all related to threats and a crisis at hand. For example, a traffic stop at night where the suspect reaches for a firearm in the glove compartment, or while searching a vacant building for a wanted person the crazed suspect pops out of a closet and charges the officer with knife in hand. Even a radio call directing an officer to the scene of a shots-fired call can bring on an onset of PF.

So what can an officer do to reduce the possibility of encountering PF-inducing situations? Here are 5 ways to decrease the dreaded PF’s.

1. Wear your seat belts, and SLOW DOWN! Losing control of a patrol car while responding to an in-progress call is one of the top causes of PF. Officers, remember the first time you “fishtailed” at 85mph? How about rounding a curve at 90 during a pursuit and meeting a car driving on the wrong side of the road?

Both 10’s on the PF 1-10 scale.

2. Never assume that people see your blue lights and heard the siren. This happens all the time—while running lights and siren to answer an emergency call, officers change lanes to pass a car and suddenly the vehicle in front drifts over into the passing lane to make a left turn. They didn’t have a clue the police car was there because the driver was (a) talking on a cell phone, (b) drunk, (c) daydreaming, (d) were playing their radio at peak volume and never looked in the rear-view mirror, etc. And, let’s not forget the person who slams on brakes when they realize a police car is behind them. PF score of 7.

3. Patience. Take the time to assess the possibilities that could occur during a traffic stop or while answering a call. Is the suspect wanted? Did you run the plates through to see if the car was stolen? Is the guy sitting on the couch agitated? On drugs? Why is he sweating profusely? Where are his hands? Run all the checks before diving into any situation!

You’re in a hurry because your shift ends in fifteen minutes, so you skip running the subject’s name through the system. Result? He’s wanted for armed robbery and decides killing you is better than going to prison. He pulls a gun from his waistband. PF score of 10.

4. Never operate on the assumption that each person encountered will do the right thing or obey your commands. Not everyone respects the badge and your authority. So keep your guard up and be prepared to use force every single time you respond to a call. That young woman in the mini-skirt, or the handsome man in the business suit? They can fight, shoot, stab, and cut as well as anyone.

The woman who catches you by surprise by pulling a gun from her purse while your firearm is still holstered … PF score 8. Stupid score = 10.

5. No ambush. No ambush. No ambush! Always plan an escape route!

You get a call at 3 am. It’s a “female needs assistance” call. She’s in an alley that has only one way in. You wave off backup and head in thinking it’s “only a girl.” Suddenly, a car pulls in behind you and shots are fired. The driver of the car that blocked you in the alley, the person who’s sending a barrage of 9mm rounds in your direction, is the young woman’s boyfriend, the cop-hater you arrested a year ago. He served nine months in the county jail and spent 8 of those months planning his revenge.

PF score 10.

Police officers are human and they, like most people, want to see the good in others. Unfortunately, that “good” is becoming more and more scarce with each passing day, while PF instances are constantly on the rise.

I guess the real trick to reducing pucker factor instances is using commonsense, not taking chances, reminding constantly aware of your surroundings, and attending regular training.

Remember officers (both real and fictional) – Always watch the hands!

Law enforcement officers collect a variety of evidence at crime scenes, such as bullet fragments, weapons, narcotics, and fingerprints. In addition, police gather body fluids, skin cells, bones, and hairs, hoping that one or more of those substances will contain a suspect’s DNA.

But where, you might ask, is the DNA located? Well, it’s certainly not doing the backstroke in the pool of blood that leaked from a fallen victim of a gunshot. Instead, the DNA evidence sought by police—nuclear DNA—is contained within the nuclei of cells.

Cells, the Home of Nuclear DNA

All cells in our body are made up of a cell wall (cell membrane), cell fluid (cytoplasm) and a nucleus, with the exception of red blood cells and platelets. Since neither of latter two have a nucleus they do not contain DNA.

Nuclear DNA is made up of genetic material from our fathers and mothers. The nucleus of each cell contains a pair of chromosomes—, one from each parent.

Each cell typically contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of the pairs are called autosomes, and they look identical in both male and female humans. The 23rd pair are the sex chromosomes and they are distinctly different between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome. Males have one X and one Y chromosome.

As evidence in criminal matters, DNA serves a dual purpose—identifying an individual as the source of the DNA found on an evidence item, or to exclude the individual as the contributor of the collected DNA evidence.

Now, we’ve briefly and generally discussed that DNA lives in cells, and those cells are where scientist go to retrieve the DNA needed for testing. And we know that DNA is readily found in body fluids, skin cells, bones, and for many years it was believed that testing hair for DNA was only possible if the bulb/root at the base of the hair shaft was intact. This was so because the keratinization process that creates the hair shaft during its growth often breaks down (lyses ) cell membranes.

DNA IS present, though, in hair shafts, but in small quantities. It’s quite short and fragmented, which is similar to DNA found in ancient remains. So yes, like testing DNA found remains of wooly mammoths and other beings and bits and bobs from long ago, it is possible to isolate nuclear DNA from rootless human hair samples.

In fact, to make this possible, a company called InnoGenomics uses a magnetic bead extraction system that’s specifically optimized for the process of capturing low-level, highly degraded DNA.

By combining InnoGenomics’ two DNA typing kits together—InnoXtract and InnoTyper 21 (IT21), the isolation and typing of nuclear DNA from rootless hair shafts is quite achievable. And, the process is compatible with Capillary Electrophoresis (CE) instruments, such as Promega’s Spectrum CE System.

So yes, crime writers, the heroes of your tales have a tool to add to their crimefighting toolboxes, because it is indeed possible to obtain nuclear DNA from hair shafts.


DNA Testing in General

The first step in the testing process is to extract DNA from the evidence sample. To do so, the scientist adds chemicals to the sample, a process that ruptures cells. When the cells open up DNA is released and is ready for examination.


Did you know it’s possible to see DNA with the naked eye? Well, you can, and at the bottom of this page you’ll learn how see the DNA that you, in your home kitchen, can extract DNA from split peas.


After DNA is extracted it’s then loaded into wells inside the genetic analyzer.

Scientist placing a well plate containing 96 individual wells into a genetic analyzer. Below right in photo is a closeup of a well plate.

Electric current separates the DNA, sending it from the wells through narrow straw-like tubes called capillaries. During its journey through the analyzer, DNA passes by a laser. The laser causes the DNA loci (a gene’s position on a chromosome) to fluoresce as they pass by, which allows a tiny camera to capture their images.

The image below shows DNA’s path from the wells through the capillaries past the laser.

new-picture-3.jpg

At the end of the testing, the equipment produces a graph/chart called an electropherogram, a chart/graph of peaks and valleys that precisely pinpoints where genes are located.

An allele is a term that describes a specific copy of a gene. Each allele occupies a specific region on the chromosome called a gene locus. A locus (loci, plural) is the location of a gene on a chromosome.

Peaks on the graph depict the amount of DNA strands at each location (loci). It is this unique pattern of peaks and valleys that scientists use to match or exclude suspects.

 

The image below, as ominous as it appears, is an electropheragram showing the DNA of a strawberry.

new-picture-8.jpg


Serial Killer Challenges DNA Results

*The following text regarding the appeal from serial killer Timothy W. Spencer, The Southside Strangler,” is from the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Spencer’s case was the first in the U.S. based on DNA evidence that resulted in the death penalty. I served as a witness to Spencer’s execution. Click here to read about my experience.

“Timothy W. Spencer, Petitioner-appellant, v. Edward W. Murray, Director, Respondent-appellee, 5 F.3d 758 (4th Cir. 1993)

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit – 5 F.3d 758 (4th Cir. 1993)Argued Oct. 28, 1992. Decided Sept. 16, 1993


J. Lloyd Snook, III, Snook & Haughey, Charlottesville, VA, argued (William T. Linka, Boatwright & Linka, Richmond, VA, on brief), for petitioner-appellant.

Donald Richard Curry, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Richmond, VA (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen. of Virginia, on brief), for respondent-appellee.

Before WIDENER, PHILLIPS, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

WIDENER, Circuit Judge:


Timothy Wilson Spencer attacks a Virginia state court judgment sentencing him to death for the murder of Debbie Dudley Davis. We affirm.

The gruesome details of the murder of Debbie Davis can be found in the Supreme Court of Virginia’s opinion on direct review, Spencer v. Commonwealth, 238 Va. 295, 384 S.E.2d 785 (1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1093, 110 S. Ct. 1171, 107 L. Ed. 2d 1073 (1990). For our purposes, a brief recitation will suffice. Miss Davis was murdered sometime between 9:00 p.m. on September 18, 1987 and 9:30 a.m. on September 19, 1987.

Miss Davis was murdered sometime between 9:00 p.m. on September 18, 1987 and 9:30 a.m. on September 19, 1987. The victim’s body was found on her bed by officers of the Richmond Bureau of Police. She had been strangled by the use of a sock and vacuum cleaner hose, which had been assembled into what the Virginia Court called a ligature and ratchet-type device. The medical examiner determined that the ligature had been twisted two or three times, and the cause of death was ligature strangulation. The pressure exerted was so great that, in addition to cutting into Miss Davis’s neck muscles, larynx, and voice box, it had caused blood congestion in her head and a hemorrhage in one of her eyes. In addition her nose and mouth were bruised. Miss Davis’s hands were bound by the use of shoestrings, which were attached to the ligature device. 384 S.E.2d at 789.

Semen stains were found on the victim’s bedclothes. The presence of spermatozoa also was found when rectal and vaginal swabs of the victim were taken. In addition, when the victim’s pubic hair was combed, two hairs were recovered that did not belong to the victim. 384 S.E.2d at 789. The two hairs later were determined through forensic analysis to be “consistent with” Spencer’s underarm hair. 384 S.E.2d at 789. Further forensic analysis was completed on the semen stains on the victim’s bedclothes. The analysis revealed that the stains had been deposited by a secretor whose blood characteristics matched a group comprised of approximately thirteen percent of the population. Spencer’s blood and saliva samples revealed that he is a member of that group. 384 S.E.2d at 789.

Next, a sample of Spencer’s blood and the semen collected from the bedclothes were subjected to DNA analysis. The results of the DNA analysis, performed by Lifecodes Corporation, a private laboratory, established that the DNA molecules extracted from Spencer’s blood matched the DNA molecules extracted from the semen stains. Spencer is a black male, and the evidence adduced at trial showed that the statistical likelihood of finding duplication of Spencer’s particular DNA pattern in the population of members of the black race who live in North America is one in 705,000,000 (seven hundred five million). In addition, the evidence also showed that the number of black males living in North America was approximately 10,000,000 (ten million). 384 S.E.2d at 790.”


How You Can Easily Extract DNA From Split Peas!

Easy “pea-sy” DNA extraction

Cap’n Rufus “Tater” Jenkins of the Cornsqueezins’ County Sheriff’s Office had a long night answering call after call—he-saids, she-saids, chasing a half-nekkid Peeping Tom through back yards and alleys, wrestlin’ with a couple of drunks whose scuffle started over who got the last swig from a bottle of Strawberry Hill, kids spray-painting stop signs, and the guy who insisted he was Jesus and attempted to prove it by damning Tater to hell a few dozen times after he refused to give the man ten dollars for a hamburger he promised to repay on Tuesday.

Cap’n Rufus “Tater” Jenkins

Yep, a looonnnggg night and it was only half over when Jimmy Bob “Peanut” Lawson, Jr. decided to join forces with his good friend Jack Daniels to blacken both his wife’s eyes.

Well, Erlene, the wife, wasn’t about to stand for that nonsense so she poked ‘ol Peanut in the gut a couple of times with a dull kitchen knife. Didn’t break the skin, much, mind you, but the act was just enough to send Peanut off the deep end. Oh, he was plenty mad about it, a yellin’ and screamin’ and a stompin’ his Doc Martens across the linoleum, and kicking at Porkchop, the family’s adopted and long ago retired police dog. But Porkchop, having been to this freak show one too many times in the past, was a nervous wreck and knew to stay six or seven dog-dish-lengths away from his master’s size twelves.

Porkchop, having seen his better days, religiously adheres to the seven dog-dish rule of thumb.

After about ten minutes of plate, bowl, and pot-and-pan-throwing, one of the kids, a snot-nosed, freckle-faced boy, aptly named Junior Lawson, Jr., of around ten or so years of age, picked up the cordless and punched the speed dial button for 911.

So Cap’n Rufus Jenkins showed up with lights and siren blazing and blaring to all get out. And Peanut, a Friday night regular, met him in the dirt and weed-infested driveway leading to the rusty single-wide, huffing and puffing like an old-time, coal-fired locomotive engine. In each hand, a backyard chicken he’d been choking in preparation of the Sunday noon meal.

Peanut is well-known in his town as a backyard chicken-choker.

Now here’s where things could get a little dicey. So it’s best to run down the checklist before diving right in. You know, size him up. Is Peanut armed this time? Is he really going to attack? Or, is all that chest-thumping and Tarzan-yelling just a show for the neighbors? Well, Cap’n Jenkins better find out in a hurry because Peanut’s starting to spin like the Tasmanian Devil.

So how can police tell if this guy means business, or not?  Well, there are a few telltale signs that could help evaluate the situation since weapons and other items that are capable of puncturing your flesh, bones, and organs should be your first concern.

Here are some common indicators that Peanut, or the cousin visiting from the big city who’s standing off to the side of the trailer, is carrying a hidden gun or knife. Some are obvious, while others … not so much.

The first is a clear indicator.

Cousin Jimmy Buck from Swamp Holler, West Virginia

Signs the Suspect May Be Carrying a Weapon

1. It’s 97 degrees outside and Peanut, standing smack-dab in the center of the intersection at 9th and Main, is wearing his heavily-insulated, knee-length, blood-stained orange hunting coat. Yes, Einstein, he’s probably wearing it to hide a sawed-off shotgun, the one Daddy gave him for Christmas when he was three.

2. The tail of his flannel shirt is out, but one side is riding higher than the other. A great sign that he’s wearing a weapon on the “high side.”

3. Even wearing a shirt tail on the outside is a sign that he might be carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign known to bad guys, which means they might recognize you as an undercover officer.

Signs that Peanut is about to attempt to stomp your butt into a mudhole

1. For some unknown reason, many offenders/would-be attackers seem to feel the need to rip off their shirts prior to delivering the first blow. So, when a drunk starts ripping cloth and zinging buttons across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, well, that might be a good time to reach for the pepper spray because he’s subtly announced his intentions.

The standard shirt-ripping ritual is usually accompanied by lots of top-of-the-lung screaming and yelling, especially nasty comments about your wife and mother. Nasty comments about the family dog are optional.

They sometimes decide to rip off their shirts before engaging in battle. Other times, if the mood to fight strikes ’em just right, they’ll throw punches while wearing nothing but …

2. Another clue that a “Peanut” is about “go for it” is when he starts glancing at a particular spot on your body, like your throat, stomach, or even a knee. Instantly, you should go on alert for a possible strike to that area because the subject is announcing his intentions and he’s ready to pounce. Watch the eyes, for sure, but more importantly watch the hands.

3. “Peanut” constantly glances to a spot behind you, or to a place off to your right just out of your line of sight. Watch out, because his partner may be approaching for a rear ambush. And, his partner just might be Mrs. “Peanut.” Yes, even though her “loving husband” had just moments ago beat the ever-loving snot out of her she’ll often defend her man until the bitter end. Unfortunately, the end sometimes results in a funeral.

These quick glances are also good indicators that the subject has a hidden weapon nearby. For example, you’ve stopped good old “Peanut” for drunk driving and he’s constantly glancing toward the glove compartment. Well, there’s a good chance that a weapon or other illegal items are concealed there.

Eyes. WATCH. THE. EYES.

The Spud family

4. The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home – You arrive on scene and you approach Peanut, who is standing still, staring off into space. His jaw is clenched and he’s sweating profusely, even though you’re both standing in two feet of freshly-fallen New England snow (New England snow, to me, is the coldest snow on the planet). He doesn’t respond to you in any way, but you see the anger rising—face growing redder by the second, veins poking out on his forehead, eyes bulging. Yeah, you get the idea. Believe me, it is time to take a step back and start pulling every tool you’ve got on your duty belt because this guy’s getting ready to blow. Silence is definitely not golden in this case.

5. Peanut might be a “I’m not going to look at you” kind of personality. This is another indicator that an assault may be on the way. If he’s staring at place on the ground, refusing to listen and obey your verbal commands, then be prepared for an attack. At the very least, be prepared for a battle when the time comes to snap on the cuffs.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to always assume the worst, hope for the best. Sometimes , though, Mrs. Peanut becomes fed up with her abusive husband.

 

Are you a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels?

Are you also a fan of the REACHER Amazon Prime television series?

Yes?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet the real-life Jack Reacher, stunningly portrayed by Alan Ritchson, and to see him in action?

Another yes?

But meeting the living, breathing, and extremely muscular Jack Reacher/Alan Ritchson could never happen to me, you say …

Well, Lee Child and I anticipated the last statement, the one where you thought you could not in a million years see Alan Ritchson in person. So Lee and I, by way of the Writers’ Police Academy,  thought the proper thing to do was to make it possible for you  to meet the star of the REACHER TV series.

Alan Ritchson as REACHER

But meeting Alan Ritchson didn’t seem to be quite enough to satisfy the needs of diehard REACHER fans.

So here’s what we did …

We’re offering to one extremely lucky person the opportunity to join Lee Child on the set for Amazon’s Reacher Season Two, sometime in the fall, and (hopefully!) show up as a background extra in the show.

Now, here’s how you can be the winner of this jaw-dropping, once in a lifetime prize.

Each year the Writers’ Police Academy hosts a raffle and auction with proceeds helping to offset the whopping expenses of producing the event. This jackpot opportunity, the REACHER Prize, is available by sealed bid. You do not have to attend the Writers’ Police Academy event to enter your bid. Although, sealed bids will be accepted at the June 2-5, 2022 Writers’ Police Academy.

To submit your bid by email, please enter REACHER BID in the subject line. In the body of the email please include your bid (in U.S. dollar amount), your name, address, and phone number. Then send the email to me at lofland32@msn.com.

Bidding ends on June 19, 2022 at midnight EST. The winner of the REACHER Prize will be notified on June 21, 2022.

*The REACHER Prize –  “Will involve international travel to Canada (expenses paid, but winner must provide passport and any necessary paperwork) and might be canceled if Covid affects travel or local regulations. If canceled, the winning bid will be refunded.” ~ Lee Child


Lee Child bio and photo

*I’m extremely grateful to Lee Child for his overwhelming support over the years. His extreme yet humble generosity is most often unseen by you, but will always be remembered by me.

 

Firearms Evidence

Many of the murders that occur in the U.S. involve a firearm of some type. How and what type of evidence recovered from those weapons can have a huge impact on the subsequent criminal trials. 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 nomenclature - ATF photo

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, note 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 plastic tie.

Semi-automatic pistol nomenclature. ATF photo

Pistol

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

2. Proper collection of trace evidence from a firearm (hair, tissue, fingerprints, blood, DNA, etc.).

Again, proper gloves and face masks must be worn during this part of the process. To avoid cross-contamination, gloves must be changed with each piece of evidence handled.

*If detective are unsure or feel they can’t obtain a good, solid fingerprint, or other trace evidence, they should submit the weapon to the fingerprint lab for processing.

Gun evidence box - Sirchi photo

Gun evidence box – Sirchi photo

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 appropriately labeled cardboard box.

Cardboard evidence box used for packaging firearm - Sirchie product

Sirchie photo

NOTE: If a firearm is 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.

Firearms evidence - Post autopsy image of close contact entry wound.

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. The heroes of your stories should 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 the window.