bodies

KN, p. 246 “Bodies in the Wall”

 

More bodies seem to pop up on TV at Halloween than at any other time of year. Cop shows usually add a spooky element to body discovery, with ghostly noises and haunted-house sound effects. Standards & Practices (network oversight departments that determine whether certain material is appropriate for public viewing) apparently looks the other way during October when a bit more blood and gore is added to the crime scenes.

 

One popular plot hook is to stow bodies in a wall. In general, the fictional bodies are discovered by accident when a building is being demolished, but in a second season episode of a Canadian P.I. show, Private Eyes, “Brew the Right Thing,” a family brewery is the target of repeated sabotage. An investigation into the puzzling incidents leads to the P.I.s swinging sledgehammers into a wall constructed decades before.

 

Why stow the bodies inside a wall? It would seem safer for the perpetrator to remove the body from the scene of the crime and bury it elsewhere. But consider this scenario: perhaps the murder was a crime of passion and the perpetrator had not planned to ‘off’ anyone at a construction site. A confrontation got out of hand and somebody wound up dead. Not wanting to go to jail, the perpetrator seizes the opportunity right in front of him, grabs some plastic tarp, and rolls the body into it. An unfinished wall turns into a burial hideaway.

 

Let’s take a look at the restrictions of hiding a body at home inside a wall with the help of Kelley, our resident 5-foot skeleton. Standard two-by-four studs actually measure about 1 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches. Kelley is 5-6 inches thick, front to back through the sternum. Sooooo, unless the victim’s ribs have been crushed, his chest will poke out past the studs, requiring an adjustment to the hiding place.

Note: the normal distance between most studs is 16-24 inches. A big man’s shoulders wouldn’t fit straight in the narrower space, even discounting the thickness of the chest.

 

In a Hawaii 5-0 (modern version) 4th season episode, “Buried Secrets,” a wall is extended out into the room to create a thicker wall space that accommodates a body. More than one TV or movie crime boss has had his/her henchmen place new drywall over dead snitches, even using abandoned real estate properties as a final destination.

 

The assumption is that nobody will find the body once it’s in the wall. Honestly, there is really no reason to think otherwise, unless the criminals are caught in the act while mudding the drywall, or a guilty party is overcome with remorse and points a finger, or a homeowner decides to knock down a wall during a renovation.

 

Death in Paradise, a super popular British series, featured a disgruntled husband who buried his wife in the patio cement, after much was made of the construction site at his remote house. That cement truck raised no suspicions.

 

Other popular spaces to stuff a fictional TV body:

 

The bottom of an elevator shaft

The bottom of a dumb waiter

Cinder block construction

Foundation cement at a new construction site

 

Imagine the guys on This Old House discovering a body while doing a big remodel. They might start using thermal imaging devices to thoroughly inspect walls and foundations before agreeing to take on new projects. (this is not meant to imply that there ever was a body found on a This Old House site)

 

Has your favorite mystery/crime show featured a body-in-the-wall plot? Let us know in the comments below. 

 

Please enjoy a safe, Happy Halloween! 

 

Photos: by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

 

KN, p. 153 “Where are the bodies buried?”

 

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I was thumbing through the Kerrian’s Notebook file cabinet, checking for the articles written about bodies – where and how to hide them and various problems with methods used on TV and in the movies. I was a Homicide Detective for a good many years and saw my share of cases that made my jaw drop. I can’t go into detail about my own cases, but the links to real world cases within the Kerrian’s Notebook articles are authentic. Stranger than fiction? Perhaps. But then, criminals often defy logic.

 

Take a look at ten of the most frequently read posts about how people wind up dead, and where some criminals attempt to hide the bodies. (Click on the titles)

 

100 ways to die an unnatural death”  

 

Death by Elevator”   

 

50 more ways to die an unnatural death”   

 

Cemetery at the Golf Course

 

Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies of Water

 

Is that a body in the rug?

 

Crime Scene at the Beach”  

 

What does a Texas Ranger do?”  

 

Is that a body under the deck?” 

 

Murder in the Cathedral”  

 

 

Keep checking back at Kerrian’s Notebook for more places to hide the bodies – you know there will be more. 😉

 

 

 

KN, p. 142 “CSI Techs – What is that smell?”

 

Last week’s article about what Crime Scene Techs really do can be read here.

 

Warning: parts of this article are extremely descriptive about the work of a CSI at a murder scene.

 

A Crime Scene Investigator (also known as an Evidence Recovery Technician) is a forensic specialist. A well-trained, experienced CSI tech has an organized plan of action when processing a crime scene. Most go through extensive training, if not in the classroom, then in the field while working with seasoned law enforcement officers, before being allowed to work solo. They study how to recognize evidence, how to document the process and the proper way to prioritize, recover, handle, and package that evidence at the crime scene.

 

Challenges

Some of the TV shows and movies touch on the challenges in the job of a CSI, but generally the scriptwriters try not to gross out the viewing audience.

 

Occasionally, the collection of the evidence requires a strong stomach. If the CSI works a homicide or accidental death scene, they will likely be dealing with strong odors.  Although air/water temperature may affect the rate of decomposition, a dead body begins to stink fairly quickly. Think rotting meat. CSIs have various ways of dealing with the odors. Some apply Vicks under their noses, some use medical masks, but some just get used to it.

In case you were wondering:  A former CSI told me that the Tyvek suits we see at crime scenes during British TV shows, work very well to keep unwanted fibers and DNA samples away from the scene, but do not block the odors at all.

 

Sometimes, bodies are dumped in the water, and that affects the rate of decay. The condition of the body recovered from water is a surprise to most law enforcement officers the first time they see it. Unless recovered within the first day or so, the skin and muscle begin to change at such a rate as to become almost unrecognizable for what they are. Special bags are needed to contain the remains while bodies are removed from lakes or ponds. The bags have holes in the sides to allow the water to escape, without losing the body parts.

 

The condition of a body recovered in the heat can be a challenge on several levels. The body swells up and can pop if not handled correctly. In ‘cold cases,’ where the body has been sitting outside for months, perhaps only the skeleton will remain, requiring identification through dental records or bits of clothing still attached to the bones.

 

Homicide and some accident scenes can be bloody. It’s fair to say that most law enforcement personnel are deeply affected by the surprising amount of blood found at a murder scene or a particularly horrific accident scene. It’s tough to get used to that part of the job, however much experience you’ve had. But, it’s important to stay detached while collecting the evidence, taking the blood spatter photographs, and detailing the information, so that the victims can be represented properly in court.

On rare occasion, gloves and protective clothing that a CSI wears can rip or tear, exposing the CSI to possible infection or disease.

 

Stress and even grief can be factors that might affect the CSIs or ERTs. Working on fraudulent documents or stolen property is worlds away from dealing with dead bodies. Some larger departments offer (and even require) grief/stress counseling after emotionally tough cases, but the smaller departments just don’t have the resources for that. Imagine waking up night after night, reliving a crime scene in nightmares. In cases involving multiple deaths or children, the stress level can be especially high.

 

Rewards

So, with all the possible negatives/challenges in the job of a CSI, why would anybody do it?

Because of the result. A job well done helps to put the bad guys away.

 

Training

The job of a CSI changes based on geographic location and the needs of the department. Some towns have no budget for a full-time CSI and hand off cases requiring special evidence collection to County or State personnel. In general, big cities have more homicides and other crimes, so require full-time CSIs.  In small towns, the Police Chief or Police Officer might do the investigating, collection and analysis of the evidence.

 

With those factors in mind, training requirements vary from region to region and from decade to decade. Some departments require college degrees (i.e. Criminal Justice or Forensics) for their law enforcement personnel, with the understanding that specialized training (i.e. photography, computers, etc) might be required as cases come up.

 

Then after getting hired, the CSI tech will spend some time as an apprentice to a more experienced person – think the ‘probies’ on NCIS, the TV show.

 

One realistic test to see if possible candidates are really suited to the job of CSI at a murder or accident scene is to have them visit a morgue or an ER. If they get through a busy, bloody night at an ER, they might be able to work in Homicide.

 

If not, I’m told that there is lots of work in Forensic Accounting and CyberCrimes for CSIs, that does not involve blood or body parts.

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

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