Patti Phillips: Day #1 Blog from Sirchie Evidence Collection Class

Patti Phillips

Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

Day #1: Sirchie, Evidence Collection Class (July 2012)

Conferences are a blast for the mystery/thriller writing crowd these days. And not just because of the workshops improving our craft and technique provided by the many writing organizations. I appreciate those, I do, but for all out, slam dunk fun, I attend the Writers’ Police Academy held in September – this will be the 3rd  year at the Guilford County, NC location. It’s a three-day, hands-on, mind-blowing experience that demonstrates the nuts and bolts of police and fire and EMS procedure – taught by professionals and experts actively working in the field. All with the purpose of getting writers to improve their technical knowledge so that they can get it right on the page.

Along with several other strands of study, the 2011 WPA conference provided classes in bloodstain patterns, fingerprinting, and alternate light sources (ALS) conducted by Sirchie instructors. Because of the standing room only enthusiasm for these classes, Sirchie offered a five-day Evidence Collection training session for  writers at their own complex in North Carolina. Sirchie makes hundreds of products for the law enforcement community and I felt this would be a great opportunity for Detective Kerrian (my protagonist) to learn more about the latest and best gadgets being used to catch the crooks.

I happily sent in my application and plunked down my credit card to hold my space in the class – ten months ahead of time.

On the first day of classes, our instructor, Robert Skiff (Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist at Sirchie) discussed the ‘CSI Effect’ – the pressure placed by the popular TV shows on real life crime investigation. (By the way, TV labs and real life investigations bear little resemblance to each other – not in time, or equipment, or budgets.) Then we got to work, using the powders and brushes needed to process a crime scene and used by actual techs in the lab.

Fingerprint powders, brushes and magnifier

There is no such thing as a perfect crime, but the jails are filled with crooks that swear they have been framed. Common excuses: “I was at my girlfriend’s house at the time of the crime,” “Somebody planted that shoe print,” etc. It’s up to the investigators and examiners to prove the case against the perps, using proper evidence collection techniques and tools, because trace evidence is ALWAYS left behind by even the most careful criminal.

Fingerprints found at the scene are still the favored piece of evidence tying the suspect to the crime. These days, using a combination of ingenuity and newly developed chemicals and powders, a crime scene investigator can lift (and/or photograph) prints from many previously challenging surfaces.

About a month before class started, we got a letter in the mail telling us NOT to wear good clothes to class. Hmmm… My thought was that we were going to be doing some messy evidence collections outdoors or in the mud, etc. Nope. Black fingerprint powder gets all over everything when newbies are handling it for the first time. We must have used 50 wet wipes each during the morning alone.

After dusting prints with black fingerprint powder, (caption)

they were lifted from various smooth surfaces using (in forefront) a gel lifter, a hinge lifter and (in background) tape. (caption)

We had to be careful not to contaminate the powders and jars or smear the samples themselves before looking at the prints under the magnifier. By the end of the day, most of us had black eyes and streaks on our hands and faces. It looks much easier on TV.

Our prints were photographed and then viewed under an Optical Comparator. This machine can be hooked up to a laptop, and the image sent off to AFIS for identification purposes. No crooks in our crowd, so we omitted that step.

At the end of the first day we left happy, tired, and still wiping powder off our hands and faces. A tip from an investigator taking the class with us: add a cup of vinegar to the wash load to get those powder stains out. J

Did I mention that we had loads of fun?

Up next: processing documents with chemicals.

Patti Phillips writes Detective Kerrian’s blog at


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Our good friend, Steve Brown, has been an extremely valuable asset to writers over the years, sharing his expertise as a former FBI agent and as a private investigator. He’s never failed to help anyone who asked, and there have been many, including me. Well, now Steve desperately needs our help during his battle with leukemia.

Steve has recently undergone a bone marrow transplant and has no medical insurance to help with the $500,000 medical bill that has accumulated to date. So, a group of his writer friends have joined together today to “Sell Books For Steve.” Here’s a word from Neil Plakey describing how you can help.

“Steve Brown, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, and a member of MWA’s Florida chapter, is fighting leukemia with a bone marrow transplant. To help him with his escalating medical bills, a group of fifteen fellow authors have banded together with a “Sell Books for Steve” day.

On Monday, July 16, we’ve promised to donate all or part of our e-book royalties to Steve. The authors & books & links, as well as info on Steve, can be found at

The books include mysteries, romances and thrillers. It’s a way for all of us to help Steve– as well as to introduce our work to new audiences. I hope you’ll stop by on Monday to check out the promotion– and perhaps find a book or two that interest you.

Neil Plakcy

*If you’d prefer to donate directly to the Help Steve fund, visit to use the Paypal link at the left of the screen.

Please join us in helping Steve.

Every single dollar donated and each book purchase is greatly appreciated.

Thank you all!

Lee Lofland

4 replies
  1. Mary Brookman
    Mary Brookman says:

    I took the Sirchie course and would be interested In taking future courses as well. It was helpful that there was an investigator in the class as well as writers. It made for interesting discussions. Still absorbing all of the information. Thanks Lee.

  2. Melanie Atkins
    Melanie Atkins says:

    Me, too! I absolutely loved the class. What great information! I’m already changing details in my current WIP. I’d love to take more classes there in the future. What a fabulous opportunity. Thank you so much, Lee, for helping to make this possible.

  3. Kylie Brant
    Kylie Brant says:

    I can attest to everything Patti has described. I took advantage of the course too, and wow! It was absolutely fascinating. I’m hoping they’ll offer another course soon. Absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done for research.

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