KN, p. 320 “The Power of Forensic Geology”

3 soil samples found within 50 feet of each other

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The practice of Forensic Geology helps resolve legal disputes, can determine the location of the scene of a crime, can absolve (or help convict) persons of interest in murder cases, and more.

Several TV crime shows feature forensic geology as part of the process of solving a case. From dirt on a victim’s clothes, to odd fibers in the area of the body, the CSI evidence collection team assesses the crime scene (if known) and gathers everything they deem pertinent to the deadly deed. If the person was found in a pond or lake, samples of the water itself are collected to be compared with water found later during an autopsy. If a vehicle is used to transport a body, floor mats are a treasure trove for the discovery of soil samples that can reveal where the killer was, and therefore may point to the actual crime scene.

North Carolina Forensic Geologist, Heather Hanna, spoke at a Writers’ Police Academy conference in 2019 and mentioned the principle of Locard’s Exchange, acknowledged by forensic scientists in murder cases: “Every contact leaves a trace. Everywhere you go, you pick up something and leave something behind.”

Comparison of unknown to known
Soil analysis begins with the collection of samples. Whether CSI techs in the lab, or forensic geologists, they must have something with which to compare the potential evidence. These days there are national data bases that contain specific files dealing with the area of interest –  bullets, guns, tire treads, sneakers…and the list goes on. For the geologist, specialty sources deal with rocks, dirt, feathers, plants, and mineral samples, etc. from around the world. A click on the computer keyboard leads to (almost) readily available comparisons.

Hanna also revealed that forensic geology can be used to authenticate old papers. It can be determined whether they are forgeries or the real thing by checking what’s in the ink. Over the years, different minerals have been used in the making of ink, and some inks are now made with synthetic materials – a dead giveaway when an ‘ancient’ treasure map has a modern chemical contained in the drawing of the tomb that hides the gold.

The Dodson Case *
In order to create an airtight case for murder, the suspect should have motive, means, and opportunity. In 1995, investigators suspected that Janice Dodson had killed her husband of three months while on a hunting trip. The prosecution had discovered the motive: cashing in on the life insurance policy.

A search of the area uncovered a .308 caliber shell casing and a bullet. The husband had been shot three times, but since it was a hunting location, it was impossible to connect the bullets to the murder without the rifle. Perhaps coincidentally, the ex-husband was hunting nearby and owned the rifle most likely to be the murder weapon, but he had reported the rifle and bullets stolen while he was away from the tent. His whereabouts were substantiated. The rifle was never found in order to prove the means, but the initial investigators were savvy enough to collect and keep the wife’s clothing in evidence.

Janice Dodson said she was in a specific hunting area while her new husband was being murdered, but the soil sample on the clothes retained in evidence for several years, later proved otherwise. Only one muddy region yielded the exact match to the dirt on her clothes, but it wasn’t her alibi spot, finally proving she had the opportunity to commit the crime. Her alibi didn’t hold up and she was arrested in 1998. The jury felt that meeting two of the three requirements was sufficiently compelling and Dodson was convicted in 2000.

Murder is not the only crime that can be solved through the use of forensic geology. Mine fraud can cause millions of dollars of loss to investors.

Bre-X Mine Fraud Case
Worthless mines and desperate engineers can create a dangerous combination, so it’s good to know that there are ways to keep swindling in check. Felderhof and de Guzman, two geologists short of cash, sought to sell a gold mine in Borneo. One small problem: hardly any gold was left in the mine. But, undaunted by that detail, de Guzman went to Borneo in 1992 and reported it as a viable mine.

A year later, Canadian businessman David Walsh, owner of Bre-X, bought the mine in Borneo for $80,000 because of de Guzman’s report. A few months after that, drilling revealed the truth, that very little gold was actually there…in the first two holes. Mysteriously, lots of gold was found in subsequent drilling and the mine became a hot commodity on the stock exchange.

Enter the Americans. In 1997, an American mining company opted to buy part ownership of the mine. That company’s geologists tested the third hole and discovered from samples that the hole contained man-made gold and copper alloy. More sample testing divulged planted gold that came from other mines. When they sought to check the core samples from the original testing, it appeared those samples had all been thrown away, all the records gone. The American company contacted Felderhof and de Guzman, wanting to know what was going on. Nine days later in Borneo, de Guzman died in a questionable fall from a helicopter, his body found with hands and feet removed. The mine was declared worthless. Billions of dollars had been lost.

David Walsh died of natural causes. Felderhof was charged with insider trading, but was acquitted in 2007. The massive fraud perpetrated by Bre-X prompted the Canadian government to stiffen its mining regulations. Victims included pension funds.

Fake Art
Before art collectors plunk down millions of dollars for paintings created by the Old Masters, the work is authenticated by experts, and certified by the art houses brokering the sales. The basic things to check are the age of the canvas, the brushwork techniques, and the provenance (who owned it and where it’s been). Part of the forensic detection of art fraud might include  identifying a mineral contained in the paint that had not been available during the century the painting was purported to have been created.

Art fraud is a serious problem for collectors. Skilled forgers can make several copies of an original. Eager collectors might not realize they’ve been duped in a private sale, where not enough questions are asked. I was told recently that some museums commission forgers to paint a duplicate to hang on the wall, while the original is kept safely out of sight of would-be thieves.

*Information about the Dodson case:


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KN, p. 308 “Tax Fraud”

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In 1789, Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

235 years later? It’s still true.

April 15th is tax day in the USA. By midnight that day, the bill must have been paid, either via mail date-stamped by the Post Office, or online. After that, if you owe money and don’t send it in, penalties began to add up.

Government at every level imposes taxes in order to pay its bills. Roads, schools, civil defense, water control, government employees, and more…all get a piece of the revenue pie.

So what happens if you don’t file taxes? It is a crime not to pay and a definite no-no not to file. Since this is about money and the government needs more of it to run the programs, there are fines if you forget (or don’t want to pay), even jail time in certain cases.


  • Not filing taxes: 5% of the tax owed for each month the return is past due.
  • More than 60 days late filing: A minimum fine of $435. Maximum fine is 25% of the total owed. (Plus the amount you owe)
  • Not paying at all: 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month the outstanding taxes aren’t paid, plus interest. Ouch.

The government can choose to play nice with people “who have never done this before” and there are extensions available. BUT, not everyone gets a pass and only in rare instances.

Your house burns down? Better call the tax people and get an extension in writing. Those taxes are still due and penalties still accrue, but there might be a bargain to be struck if the agent is having a good day. You might be able to negotiate a six-month extension, but you still owe the money.


True story: a former colleague hired a tax firm to do her taxes – fill out forms and assess the amount owed. The firm underestimated the debt and overestimated the deductions. The IRS conducts random audits and contacted her one year – after she had left the paperwork to the firm for about five years in a row. Short version: the firm had done a lousy job. She wound up paying back taxes and fines of over $20,000. Yup. Four zeros. She appealed. She was allowed to pay it back over time, but she still owed all the back money. The firm did little to help her, citing that they based their figures on the information she gave them. Hmmm.


How long can you avoid filing taxes?
The powers-that-be have “six years to charge you with criminal tax evasion.” It can take as long as it likes to collect the money owed. Don’t forget, there’s interest charged on top of the penalties and money owed. Jail time is possible if they get you for criminal tax evasion. It’s a felony, folks. PLUS, you’ll probably get audited for years afterward.


What’s the difference between evasion and avoidance?

  • Tax evasion is fraud and means that you have used illegal ways to conceal income, with fines, penalties, and possible jail time (maybe five years) if found guilty. You lied on the forms. They can even charge you for the cost of prosecution.
  • Tax avoidance uses legal ways to reduce income with tax credits and allowable deductions.

WAIT!  What counts as under-reporting?
Not reporting cash ‘under the table’ for legal or illegal activities. Whether child-care or gun-running, income is income, according to the IRS.

Cryptocurrency transactions are taxable, so if you thought there were no rules, think again.

There is a special IRS office that pays for information leading to the arrest (and conviction) of major tax fraud perpetrators. Big bucks are at stake if money is hidden in illegal overseas accounts. If it involves a criminal organization, witness protection might be part of what happens next.


My advice? Pay what you owe. There are legitimate tax planners out there who can possibly help reduce your tax bill, but to evade altogether? Seriously bad idea if you’re allergic to jail and big fines.

*information source: the IRS.


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KN, p. 307 “St. Patrick’s Day Mischief”

Sure n’ begorra, we hear lots of stories about shenanigans on St. Patrick’s Day. And the night before. And the day after. And all weekend when the holiday falls on the weekend. That includes Fridays. In case you hadn’t looked at the calendar, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year.

Pubs will be jammed and green beer will be flowing. Cops will be out and about, patrolling as precincts ask for all hands on deck while The Irish, and wannabe Irish folk all over the world celebrate. And drink. The amount of alcohol consumed that day is phenomenal. Guinness (beer company based in Dublin) reports that people in 150 countries drink about 13,000,000 pints worldwide on St. Patrick’s Day alone.

Listen closely to the people sloshing as they walk – or fall down.

That day, law enforcement has to deal with more than the usual traffic stops – drunk drivers get feisty when pulled over. If arrested, the ‘boozed up’ are likely to toss their cookies in the back seat of the patrol cars, and/or use that back seat as a bathroom. Yup. Not pleasant for anyone, and it’s the reason those back seats and floors are industrial strength vinyl, rather than cloth. Easier to wash out with a hose between arrests.

Some criminals get creative and dress up in costume on St. Patrick’s Day. Back in 2010, a bank in Tennessee was robbed by a guy dressed as a leprechaun. There was a car chase, a gunfight, and two dead bank robbers at the end of that ill-conceived day. The money was recovered.

One of the most famous crimes committed on St. Patrick’s Day was an art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.

Impersonating Boston police, two men arrived at the museum, tied up the guards, and made off with 13 paintings valued at a half billion dollars. The paintings have never been recovered, but the heist has been the topic of several fictional versions of their whereabouts over the intervening 30+ years. I visited the Museum 15 years ago and saw the empty frames still hanging on the walls as placeholders. A sad reminder to the public of their loss.

A few responsible people do help when they see something tragic occur. In 2014, a drunken 22 year old decided to drive anyway. He hit and injured a woman and her boyfriend with his car. One of his friends in the car tried to get him to stay put after the accident, but he drove away. A cabbie witnessed the accident and followed the 22 y.o.’s car until he lost it in traffic. BUT, the cabbie called the police, shared the plate number, and the cops were waiting for the young man when he got home. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to second degree vehicular assault and leaving the scene of an incident without reporting it to police.

A garage roof collapsed and eight students were injured at an off-campus party in California attended by close to 1,000. They had been ‘brewfing,’ (sitting on a roof while drinking beer). Afterward, the town mayor decided to prohibit people being on a roof unless repairs were being done.

A man set himself on fire during a New Jersey St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl. In 2015, the police arrived at a pub to find a man on fire in the middle of the road. 25 bars in the area were on the pub crawl list. The officers put the fire out, so he was lucky and not seriously injured. The crawl never stopped, and by the end of the night, 11 people were arrested for drugs, assault, public drinking, and more…

Then there was the “Blarney Blowout” in 2014 near UMass in Amherst. Police in riot gear showed up for that one, trying to control thousands of drunken partiers. Some students threw beer bottles and cans at the cops. 52 arrests were made and people were injured on both sides of the melee.

In general, being drunk at a private party won’t get you arrested unless somebody gets hurt, or you wake the neighbors. But, what happens to you when you are arrested for drunk driving?

Penalties for DWI in North Carolina (similar in other States)

For a first offense, you will be required to pay a fine of up to $200 and stay in jail for at least 24 hours and up to 60 days. You will also lose your driver’s license for 30 days and be required to perform 24 hours of community service. You are taken straight to jail and your car is towed at your expense.

For a second offense, you will need to pay a fine of up to $500. You will have to stay in jail for at least 48 hours and may be required to stay for up to 120 days. You will also lose your driver’s license for 60 days and be required to perform 48 hours of community service.

For a third offense, you will pay a fine of up to $1,000. You will be required to serve a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours, but it could extend to six months. Additionally, you will lose your driver’s license for 90 days and be required to perform 72 hours of community service.

 Some offense info found at:


Enjoy yourself on St. Patrick’s Day, but please stay safe and be mindful of the safety of others.


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