Part 2 of “Underwater Evidence and Recovery” covers some of the search methods available to rescue and recovery dive teams.
Read Part 1: “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies” here.
The divers each have different roles. In a three member team, one does the bagging and tagging and the other has primary responsibility to bring the evidence or a body back. The divers try to stay with the bag on the way up, so it doesn’t get snagged on rebar, fish hooks, or other debris known to be present in ponds and swamps. The large pond near my house has castoff evergreen trees around the edges – great hiding places for fish, but tough to work around when moving retrieval equipment near them.
One search method for remains thought to be in shallow, but cloudy, ponds is to form a ‘skirmish line.’ The team members lock arms and walk the area, to see if they can bump into the body. In deeper water, grappling hooks might be used if there is a suspicion that a body is snagged on a log or other large object. Sometimes, people drown in their cars after going off a road, and must be extricated before the car is towed out.
As upsetting as it might be to the families of missing loved ones, searches cost money. The men and women in charge of the searches must weigh their past experience in finding people under different circumstances and decide when to call it off officially.
Highly experienced divers have found bodies and evidence at a depth of fifteen feet, where it is extremely cold and almost pitch black. It’s not always possible to recover anything at that depth, with currents, storms, or toxic waste in the mix.
Searches are conducted with ropes because of the zero visibility. The bottoms of lakes are silky and murky and the divers see shades of dark. Lights don’t help because they bounce off particles in the water. The divers have to work by feel.
During training, already certified divers practice evidence recovery in clear water, then duplicate the exercise in black water. Some practice dives are done while wearing blackout masks. Trainees have been known to close their eyes and hum when getting used to the darkness. As one diver said, “It’s scary down there the first few times.” The job is definitely not for everyone. I certainly couldn’t do it!
The procedure after finding evidence or a body is to bag it while still in the water. The body bag has fine mesh on side to let the water out, but not the evidence. A design improvement created 6 points of attachment to lift the body bag, allowing more stability during the lift.
For a drowning, the divers buoy the body. For a homicide, the divers wait with a body bag and buoy it. Attaching a buoy allows for easier lifting.
Once out of the water, a record of the chain of custody is kept on the outside of the bag by the Medical Examiner.
Experts say that drowning deaths can be avoided by following some simple rules:
“Ninety percent of our fatalities could be prevented if they were wearing a life jacket (while boating),” North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Hannah Shively explained.
If you see someone in distress, try and throw an object towards them, whether it’s a stick, fishing pole, cooler, or life jacket, to pull them to safety. Don’t let yourself or anyone else become a statistic.
*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations and to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is an intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security organization with both intelligence and law enforcement responsibilities.”* It is the chief fact-finding branch of the Department of Justice and helps other agencies by sharing that information and providing training.
Its mission is:
“To protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.”*
In 1908, the United States had about 100 cities with 50,000 people. The rest of the population (about 83 million) was spread throughout the rural areas of the country. Law enforcement personnel at the local level were often poorly paid (and were sometimes volunteer) members of the community. Murders were handled by local investigators and still are to this day. For the majority of the cases, murder is not a federal crime, unless carried out across State lines.
Prosecution of border security issues or organized crime was limited in 1908 since there was no adequate way to enforce the law at a national level. In fact, few criminal laws even existed at a federal level. For the most part, individual States and local jurisdictions handled their own criminal investigations, and sometimes that led to political corruption, corporate criminal behavior, and even slave labor in factories. Federal agencies were stretched thin or were nonexistent in some parts of the country.
President Teddy Roosevelt supported the idea of modernizing law enforcement, so when his Attorney General hired 34 of his own investigators (including nine seasoned Secret Service agents) to assist the Department of Justice, Roosevelt wholeheartedly endorsed the action. A few months later, the Bureau of Investigation was officially created. Hardly a large force, but it was a start.
At the beginning, incidents involving car theft across State lines, civil rights, and various kinds of fraud were the typical cases. The FBI also took on treason and domestic terrorism, and Congress (previously reluctant to loosen the purse strings) began to see the value of a national law enforcement agency.
It’s interesting to note that the Mann Act or “White Slave Traffic Act,” was passed in 1910 to help stop interstate prostitution and human trafficking, and the FBI had a role in the early investigations. One hundred years later, it has become an international problem and requires cooperation from many different agencies to obtain successful prosecutions.
World War 1 brought us the problems of sabotage by foreign agents against our military ships and munitions plants, as well as international smuggling. The FBI had entered the so-called spy business and worked hard to eliminate those threats.
In 1924, it was recognized that fingerprinting was a reliable way of connecting (or eliminating) individuals to a particular scene, and to collect that information in a central location would be helpful to other law enforcement agencies in the United States. Now, the FBI gathers and classifies fingerprints from convicted felons and other criminals, military personnel, federal applicants and employees, and shares that information with appropriate agencies. Additionally, fingerprints of military detainees and other persons of national security interest are being collected for national security purposes.
Formerly called Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), the program processes over 63,000 prints a day, is now integrated with other forms of identification and called IAFIS, and can deliver digital information in as little as two hours. It is used in connection with biometric databases (facial and voice recognition) for more accurate identifications. Next Generation Identification (NGI) combines biometrics, fingerprints, and palm prints to expand identification possibilities.
One of the programs developed by the FBI is the ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list. It began in 1950 as a way to call attention to fugitives who might otherwise remain at large. Each new list is posted in United States Post Offices and on the FBI website.
Since 1950, 518 fugitives have been on the list, and 484 have been apprehended or located. The stats below are from the FBI site:
With the advent of increased world-wide terrorism, the computer and cyber-security age, more complex corporate crimes, and a global awareness of human trafficking, the focus of the FBI has shifted.
At the end of 2017, there were over 35,000 employees, made up of intelligence analysts, field agents, language specialists, scientists, and information technology specialists. They are tasked with investigating:
Stay tuned for posts about Quantico and training for the FBI, and interviews with former FBI agents.
*Photo and quotes credit: (from FBI website)
1969 Latent Print Match
A latent print removed from a 1969 murder victim’s car was later determined to be a match to the suspect’s fingerprint (inset) contained in the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). The Houston police detective and Texas Department of Public Safety latent print technician instrumental in solving the cold case were honored by the FBI with the 2011 “Latent Hit of the Year” Award.
A recent vacation week took us to the beach and we were lucky enough to rent a cottage right on the ocean. What a pleasure to wake up to seagulls calling to each other as they found breakfast on the incoming surf at the edge of the broad expanse of sand. Morning coffee was extra special as we breathed in the sea air and planned the day ahead.
Aside from all the great sunsets, fabulous seafood restaurants, and much-needed relaxation, we found time to chat about fictional bodies and where to find them.
TV shows and movies feature their share of corpses that have washed up on the rocks lining the shores of lakes, bays, or oceans. Any crime scene at water’s edge has its own challenges for the CSI techs processing the area for evidence, and our vacation spot highlighted a few.
Consider footprints on the sand:
This print had been fully visible until a wave washed it partially into oblivion.
Sneaker treads next to the barefoot print, showed the traffic on the dry part of the beach just a few feet closer to the dune.
There was more than one kind of sneaker tread to be seen.
The sneaker and shoe companies have data bases going back several years indicating the treads and styles of the various shoes they have manufactured. A search warrant or a friendly conversation with the people at the companies will reveal specialty editions of their footwear and the year they were produced. Matching the footwear to the prints on the beach can narrow the suspect list – helpful if the culprit remained in the area and the sneaker was an unusual brand.
Consider the tire tracks:
A windy afternoon caused this tire tread to lose its definition.
This new tire tread was just ten feet away from the footprints.
Beach bikes were in use as well. I didn’t have a ruler with me, so Sheila donated her sandal. This gives you some perspective of the width of the tread, essential in determining the type of vehicles near the ‘scene of the crime.’
Tire companies have data bases as well, and make their information available to law enforcement officers when needed. CSI techs take photos of the various treads for later ID and if needed, make casts of the footwear prints. Read “Is that your footprint?” here.
All three vehicle treads were within 20 feet of each other, along with all the footwear prints seen here – and it wasn’t high season yet, when a greater variety of cars, dune buggies, bikes, and shoes would be around.
Any crime scene in such a well-traveled place means it will be tough to find the killer. Nature washes or blows away the evidence and the crime scene is compromised by all the foot and vehicle traffic.
Law enforcement officers have to hope for witnesses to the dastardly deed.
We turned our attention to the places to hide the body:
This lovely walkway leading from the cottage to the dunes gave access to an area that looked suitable for body stashing. Except that it wasn’t really all that great for anything covert. Three houses near ours had direct line of sight to that walkway, and all had overhead lights strung along their own paths to the beach.
Each of the other houses had three floors – ours was the smallest of the group. That meant that anyone looking out at the ocean could also see anyone dragging a body out to the beach grass next to/under the boards.
But, let’s say that nobody is looking out the window. While it is illegal to dig up the beach grass in the dunes because of erosion programs in most oceanside communities, a killer would have no such concerns. BUT, that Beach Grass (actual name is American Beach Grass) is tough. It’s meant to be, so that it holds the sand in place during stormy weather. It would not be practical or at all speedy to dig a hole in a grass-covered dune in order to hide the body.
Maybe that’s why so many bodies in the TV movies are dumped elsewhere and merely wash up on the beach. Then the writers don’t have to worry about how to hide the body at the scene of the crime.