Lisa Provost: My First Solo Crime Scene

Lisa Provost: The Body

Born in August 1974, in Brooklyn, NY., Lisa Provost grew up in the Catskill and Adirondack mountains of upstate N.Y. where, from the time she was 12 – 16-years-old, she raised dairy goats.

Lisa studied Biology at RIT in Rochester, N.Y. from 1992-1994. Later, in 1998, Lisa married and moved to the Midwest when her husband enlisted in the US Air Force. The couple moved to N.C. in 2003 when his enlistment term was done. In August 2007, Lisa began studying Forensic Biology at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Lisa is an avid knitter and lover of four legged mammals.

The first scene I handled myself:

Have you ever been robbed? It sucks. I’ve been robbed three times all when I was a little girl.
The last robbery I remember was in 1981. I was seven years old and wide eyed at all the people in our house. My eldest sister was eighteen at the time and distraught. I held onto her arm and cried and cried. I remember the police officers coming in, looking around, taking notes and leaving. That was it.

Fast forward to 2008. I had been on my first internship with the crime lab for about four months. Every scene the crime lab and I responded to, when I wasn’t assisting the team I had my notebook out and was scribbling notes like a woman possessed. I took notes about how they approached the scene. How they photographed the scene. Things to look for and ways to look for them. Things to make sure to do and in what order to do them in. It was the day after Thanksgiving when we got called to a breaking and entering at a residence. By now, I’d been to my fair share of breaking and entering calls so I felt pretty comfortable with the process of approaching and processing the scene.

We rolled up to the scene and as usual, my notebook was out and I was writing down my observations (from my notebook):

1. Very nice house. Well maintained front yard.
2. Nice neighborhood. Middle class.
3. Very little exterior lights/street lights. House (exterior) entirely in darkness.

We walked inside and listened as the first officer on the scene explained the situation (from my notebook):
1. Point of entry, rear kitchen window. Window smashed in.
2. Homeowners gone for a few days.
3. All games systems missing.
4. School book bag dumped.
5. No jewelry missing!
6. Tv’s and compy still there.
7. Guitars, boom box not taken.
8. 3 flash drives missing.
9. Took laptop case but not laptop.

I was still writing when I heard “Okay, this one is yours!”


Have you ever seen a deer in headlights? Yeah… that animal is calm and has their wits about them compared to how I felt at the very moment. I stammered out a very coherent “Whaaa….?” and stared at my notebook. Remember that comfort with the process I mentioned earlier? Yeah that was shot to hell.

I took a deep breath, closed my notebook and then said “Alright. We start at the point of entry. Photograph the apparent route through the home and back to the point of exit from the home. Then we dust for prints on the point of entry, and in the areas where the items were originally as well as the point of exit.” I received a smile and a nod so I knew I was on the right track. For legal reasons, I still was not able to take the photographs so I drew my sketch of the scene along with the plan of how I wanted to process the scene and in what order. When the photographs were done, it was time to really go to work.

It was a cold night in North Carolina and to add to it, it was raining a very cold hard rain. It was the kind of rain that makes every piece of exposed flesh ache and throb. The kind of rain that no matter how much clothing you have on or in how many layers it still gets through to your bones and you feel like you will never be warm again.

The kitchen window above the sink was the point of entry to the home by our perpetrators. One clue was that the window was very small. I’m a full grown woman with very womanly hips and I’ll tell you there is no way I could have made it through that window. Even the officer with us while she was smaller than me in stature and hip width, I doubt she could have made it through that window as well. It was at about my shoulder height yet there were recycling bins and garbage bins stacked nearly to my waist in front of the window. I pointed this out and the homeowner confirmed they had not stacked them that way. The way they were stacked was very neat and orderly, like how a child would stack building blocks. Then it hit me just as hard as the rain pounding on the back of my neck… “These were a bunch of kids that did this.” I got a nod of agreement from the officer and tech on the scene. They had already made the same assumption.

My thoughts were confirmed when as I shined my flashlight against the edge of the glass I could see marks in the dust around the window frame and on the glass of small hands and small fingers. Hunched over part of the wall, cold water running down the back of my neck from the bad gutter above me, I dipped my brush in the powder and started what is now a very familiar twirling to apply the powder to the window and frame. And the prints began to appear. Yup, they were small. I wear a size 4 ½ ring on my ring finger but these were smaller than that. Yup, these were kids.

I was able to lift two prints from the exterior of the glass and then we moved inside. The way the counter and sink were situated as compared to the window it was obvious the people that climbed through that window had to have held onto the sink to get down. Unfortunately the sink offered up no usable prints. The interior of the window was the same. Nothing usable.

As we entered each room, I was quizzed how we should process the room.

-Dust sink, interior window, interior and exterior of door along door knob and locks.
Living room?

-Dust the drawer handle, and interior where the thumb drives had been.
Family room?

This one was tricky. So many of the items involved were electronics and/or were made of composite plastics with a rough textured surface which is not very conducive to lifting prints. Some of the items/areas were so covered with dust from the home that it was obvious these items/areas had not been disturbed. After considering this I decided:

-Attempt to dust the textured surfaces anyway in an attempt to see if a visible print could be produced to photograph, dust the wall unit the games systems had been in as well as the game cases which had been moved.

The attempt to dust the textured surfaces yielded exactly what I thought they would… texture but nothing useful. From the game cases we were able to lift one more usable print and a few partial prints. We took sets of elimination prints of the homeowners as comparison. I could tell though, the ones we lifted would not be the homeowner’s just by the size.

Partial print

Once we were done, we packed everything up and headed out to the truck. My hands were sweating inside the nitrile gloves and yet they were freezing as well. My glasses were fogged. My ears burned and one curl had managed to free itself from my bun and was dripping water onto my cheek. Yet I stood there and stared at that house. I peeled off the gloves and put my cold fingers under my arms, shivered and thought “Could I have done more? Did I miss anything?”

The wind began to pick up and that cold wet curl whipped me in the mouth snapping me back to reality. Without a word I climbed in the truck and we drove off. As my fingers ached with cold and burned from the heat blasting out of the vents the tech with me cut the silence of the ride back to the PD. “No, you didn’t miss anything.” I hadn’t said a word. I looked up and she smiled.

As I blew on my curled fingers I couldn’t help but smile back.

5 replies
  1. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    I can’t remember if it rained or not. I just remember that it was cold. The officer told me that they had hit several neighborhoods the same way. Took money & whatever they could sell easily. They hadn’t hit the same neighborhoods again. I already had kept an eye out for strange vehicles (we live on a dead end street) so that just made me even more aware.

  2. urbanpagan
    urbanpagan says:

    Thank you. I do enjoy writing about my experiences in the field. I hope to write more in the near future.

    I was finished with this internship about one month later so no I do not know if the perpetrators were found.

    When all the cars got broken into in your neighborhood had it rained prior to the police arriving? If so that could be one reason they did not attempt to print the vehicles.

    Lisa P

  3. urbanpagan
    urbanpagan says:

    Thank you. I do enjoy writing about my experiences in the field. I hope to write more in the nrea future.

    I was finished with this internship about one month later so no I do not know if the perpetrators were found.

    When all the cars got broken into in your neighborhood had it rained prior to the police arriving? If so that could be one reason they did not attempt to print the vehicles.

    Lisa P

  4. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    Thanks, Lisa, for coming back and sharing your story. I can tell from your description (even with the nasty weather) that you enjoy your job.
    From the odd assortment of things stolen, my guess would have been kids, as well. With the break-in being done by juveniles, were you able to find out who they were? It seems as if they’d be less likely to have their fingerprints on file.
    Several cars in our neighborhood were broken into one night and the police only took reports, no investigation was really done. They didn’t attempt to get fingerprints or anything. We were lucky. We generally don’t leave anything of value in our cars, but our neighbor’s laptop, digital camera & CD’s were stolen.
    Anyway, interesting post. Hope you can come back again. Take care.

  5. Elena
    Elena says:

    Terrific – I am so delighted for you. I’m grinning from ear to ear. Not only a job well done, but a wonderful descriptive essay. Thanks for taking the time to share with us, I felt with you every step of the way.

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