I’ve said it before and it’s still true: Kerrian’s Notebook followers are a great bunch. A few of the readers mentioned that some of the posts in 2014 were ‘ripped from the headlines.’ Truth is often stranger than fiction, so while Kerrian is a fictional character, the posts are based in solid fact. As I say in my upcoming novel, “Murder is messy,” and it’s sometimes just plain weird. But, even a Homicide Detective cooks, goes on an occasional trip, and works with other law enforcement officers, so the fan faves were an interesting mix.
Below is the list of the most frequently read new posts on Kerrian’s Notebook in 2014.
Click on each title to take you to that page. 🙂
10. “How many bodies at the yard sale?” (p.122) – Based on a visit to the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.
9. “Death by Elevator” (p.105) – Based on my real-life experience in April, 2014.
8. “50 More Ways to Die an Unnatural Death” (p.111) – The #1 vote getter was so popular that I wrote another list and it made the top 10 as well. 🙂
7. “Cemetery at the Golf Course” (p.116) – Yup, this one is true.
6. “Officer needs assistance!” (p.117) Photos taken at the re-enactment of a high-risk stop.
5. “75 Second Mookies” (p.126) – Created, taste tested and eaten by us. 🙂
4. “Chocolaty Chocolate Banana Muffins” (p.96) – Created, taste tested and eaten by us 🙂
3. “What does a firefighter wear?” (p.119) Info about uniforms and videos of heat resistance testing. Photos taken during the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.
2. “What does a sheriff do?” (p.115) tells the difference between a Sheriff and a Police Chief, as explained to me by an active duty Chief.
…and the most frequently read new post on www.kerriansnotebook.com in 2014 was:
1. “100 Ways to Die an Unnatural Death” (p.100) Written in honor of the 100th Kerrian’s Notebook post. There were LOTS of writers that checked out the two unnatural death lists, used some of the ideas in their own writing and even contributed suggestions. Readers sent me some wickedly funny emails and some of those ideas are in #8!
Thanks to all of you, readership almost doubled in 2014. It was a phenomenal year!
Here’s to a great 2015, with fewer real-life homicides, more crimes solved and always, more amazing mysteries/suspense/thrillers to read.
*Photos by Patti Phillips
Continuing the series of articles about Evidence Collection Training Classes held at SIRCHIE.
Part 4 – “Quick! Grab the glue gun!”
We often hear it said on TV and in the movies that there are items and surfaces that do not hold fingerprints or that fingerprints cannot be recovered from them. On Day #4 of the Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes held at the Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories in NC, we experimented with a variety of surfaces to see what would happen if…
Skin is reported to be one of the most difficult surfaces from which to lift a print, because the prints fade so quickly. But, after three days of dusting and chemically treating and lifting and photographing dubious fingerprints, our group of dogged writer/investigators was not to be deterred.
The set of prints in the photograph below were lifted from an arm. Not clothing, the arm itself. And not by using fingerprint powder on the arm. A classmate kindly offered up her arm to be grabbed. Then a piece of specially treated paper (chromicoat) was pressed onto the area of her arm where the fingerprints were likely to be found. That paper was then dusted with fingerprint powder and the prints popped up. We now knew it was possible to lift the prints if they were minutes old, but we had access to both the specially treated paper and the powder immediately after the grab. We also knew from experience that our grabber always left really good prints on all the surfaces touched during the previous days.
We proposed various scenarios to our instructor (equally curious Robert Skiff, Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist). What if a mugger grabbed a bare arm and tried to drag us into an alley? How close would we have to be to the police station after we got away from the mugger in order to get the prints processed? How much time did we have before they faded away? Would the lift work if we used plain paper, since it was highly unlikely that an ordinary gal would be carrying chromicoat paper in a pocket? What if the police station wasn’t close by, therefore no access to fingerprint powder?
The answers were time sensitive. It was possible to lift prints from a bare arm with plain paper, but only if the lift was made during the first few minutes and only if the suspect left a strong sample. It’s possible to use cigarette ashes as a substitute for the fingerprint powder. Conclusions? There were too many variables for this to be a reliable way to catch a crook. Now…if you were grabbed around the corner from a police station OR were a smoker AND the mugger had dirty hands AND you had a clean piece of paper in your pocket AND you had attended this class… Hmmm…maybe in a sci-fi mystery. However, not completely impossible.
Another difficult surface from which to lift prints is the dashboard of a car. Think about it. If you press your hand onto a dashboard, your skin (with all the loops and whorls and arches) is also pressing into the crevices of the pebbled surface. Same thing is true for an orange or a football. A straight gel lift or hinge lifter will not do the job effectively. A tape lift may only pick up the top of the print.
But, the investigator sees the possible print and doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to catch the crook. The answer in the past was to dust the likely area with magnetic fingerprint powder, then apply a Blue Glue gel and wait for the gel to cure before lifting it off the dash – about five hours. FIVE hours? The crook is getting away! No time to wait!
These days, the preferred lifting product (after applying the magnetic powder to enhance the print) is a transparent liquid silicone (PVS200 – polyvinyl siloxane), applied with an extruder gun. It flows down into the crevices, dries in six minutes, and gets into every bit of the print. After the polyvinyl dries, it can be lifted, and then placed on a backing card to preserve the print. At that point, it can be placed under an Optical Comparator, photographed, and sent off to AFIS for an ID/comparison.
This epoxy is not good for every surface (it rips paper, etc) but is very good for pitted, bumpy surfaces like alligator skin and dashboards. Gotcha!
Another tricky scenario: The cop is in pursuit of an unidentified car thief or robber and chases him through a parking lot. The cop witnesses the suspect firmly planting his palm on the trunk of a car as he cuts through a tight space. The cop grins as he realizes that even if the guy outruns him, he can catch him through the palm print. And, then, it starts to pour. Does the print get washed away? Or become unusable?
Not if the Field Kit is handy! When forced to do a wet lift, it is possible to use SPR (Small Particle Reagent – finely ground particles suspended in a detergent solution). Spray the print with a fine mist of SPR and let set. Lay the hinge lifter just off the print and place it down carefully, employing a squeegee at the same time, to slowly remove the excess water. This method can be used to develop prints on non-porous surfaces – cans, bottles, windows, and other glossy surfaces, but not on paper or cardboard.
Criminals who tie their victims up during the commission of a crime frequently use duct tape for the job. That duct tape is almost always full of prints that get embedded into the tape. It’s practically impossible to manipulate and tear the tape while wearing gloves (I tried this once and the gloves got so stuck to the tape that I threw the resulting mess away), so he leaves prints while unrolling and tearing the tape. Even if he has wiped the smooth surface of the tape clean to cover his identity, the sticky side can’t be wiped without taking away the sticky. Balls of tape tossed aside by a suspect have been processed successfully for prints, but first the tape had to be released from itself.
A 2% chloroform tape release agent is dropped liberally on the area where the two pieces of tape meet. Two people need to work together on this – one person places the drops continuously while the other person pulls the tape apart. The ends of the tape are folded over (about ¼”) and the tape is flattened for 24 hours before further processing.
After 24 hours, adhesive-side developer is applied to the sticky side of the duct tape, allowed to sit for a few minutes, then rinsed off and voila! The prints are clearly visible, can be photographed, covered with clear tape to protect them, viewed under the Optical Comparator, entered into the system, and sent off to AFIS. (Crystal Violet can also be used for processing this type of print, but is toxic and should only be used in a lab.)
AFIS – what is it and does it really help identify a person of interest in a crime?
Anyone who has watched TV crime shows during the last decade has heard the acronym AFIS. It stands for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. In 1924, the FBI started a fingerprint identification system. They fingerprinted several thousand prisoners incarcerated at Leavenworth, and stored their prints on cards.
As of 2012, the system has broadened to include international prints as well, is an electronic database of 70 million, and contains the prints of both law-abiding citizens as well as those of criminals. While newborn babies are printed, their information is usually entered into a local system unless needed in an abduction case. Real estate agents, childcare workers, Federal employees, and people seeking employment with security and law enforcement agencies are fingerprinted as a matter of course now. Depending on the State, the prints are entered into the State AFIS system, and held until needed in the national system. The fingerprints of any person arrested for any level of crime are sent to the State and then on to the national FBI database. The latest FBI version is named IAFIS (I is for Integrated).
Johnny Leonard, a latent fingerprint expert, visited the class in the afternoon to explain what AFIS can and can’t do. He showed us what a fingerprint examiner looks for in every print or partial print he/she sees, using the Henry Fingerprint Classification and Identification method. The average number of minutiae on every complete print is between 100 and 150. There are distinct ridge patterns to look for in a print: arches, loops and whorls.
65% of all fingerprint patterns are loops,
30% are whorls,
and only 5% of fingerprint patterns are arches.
Thumb prints are the prints most often left at a crime scene, because people use their thumbs for leverage when pushing through doors or opening safes, or grabbing those golf clubs to use as weapons, etc.
Identifying 8-12 points of similarity between an unknown latent print found at a crime scene and one in the AFIS database is the standard for declaring a match, but some jurisdictions want more for absolute certainty. An examiner plots the print in question for distinct characteristics, makes notes to that effect before sending the print off and waits. AFIS & IAFIS return a list (sometimes as many as 30) of possible matches. At this point, the examiner reviews the possibles and chooses the best match in his/her opinion. And, it might not be the first on the list. Then, another examiner verifies the possible match. There is no such thing as an instantaneous match with just one print from the AFIS or IAFIS databases. TV tells us otherwise, but sorry, that’s merely for dramatic effect.
Other interesting fingerprint details:
*We know that no two people can have the same fingerprints, but not even the same person’s prints are identical.
*Some people have all three types of ridge patterns on one finger.
*Only positive matches from the state AFIS are verified by examiners; not the negative ones.
*Palm prints are now in the AFIS database.
*AFIS looks for change of direction in the whorls, loops, and arches in order to find a match.
*There has not been a case yet where the DNA has not matched the fingerprints at the scene.
The photo below shows a positive match between a latent print and one in the database. The latent is on the left. The database print is on the right. This match placed the suspect at the scene and along with other evidence, resulted in a conviction.
Having been through four days of training, working with prints on a variety of surfaces, we felt confident that we were up to the challenge of matching a few fingerprints on our own. Mr. Leonard showed us 16 pairs of prints and gave us 15 minutes to make decisions. We looked for cluster highlights, tented arches, spots, bifurcations and other techy details. Guess what? The lines began to blur, and not all of us correctly identified all the matches.
TV makes it look easy, with a click and a less than five-minute response time from IAFIS. Not possible, with 70 million fingerprints to choose from. This is not an easy job, even with the new digital readers that speed up the process of finding likely matches at the scene.
Click here for Part 1 – “Have you been fingerprinted?”
Click here for Part 2 – “Where are the Evidence Collection kits made?”
Click here for Part 3 – “Can’t get rid of the blood?”
*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at SIRCHIE Education Training Center in Youngsville, NC.
It’s no secret that I’m a Gettysburg/Civil War buff. The local bookstore got a new title in, “Last Stand at Bitter Creek,” written by Tom Rizzo, who seems to share my interest in 19th century law enforcement. As I read his tale of a Sheriff back in that era, I began to imagine what it would be like to sit down and chat with that Sheriff about a case.
Meet Sheriff Will Denton.
Sheriff Will Denton leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of him, which gave him a little relief from the pain. A constant reminder that no one can outrun a bullet. He flashed a tired smile at Charlie Kerrian, and wondered how many other lawmen, or detectives, sought this man’s counsel.
Denton occupied the middle ground between the mid-forties and mid-fifties, his face a pattern of deep lines reflecting his experience and competence. His laid-back demeanor wasn’t accidental. It served the purpose of luring most bad eggs he confronted into a false sense of comfort. He wore his holster low and strapped down, the sign of someone who meant business.
“So here’s my problem. I got this railroad detective coming who thinks someone he’s hunting is holed up in my town. But I hear he’s a trigger-happy hothead. I don’t want the folks nervous, scared or edgy in anyway, and I’m trying to figure out how best to handle this.”
Kerrian took a sip of coffee from the mug he was holding and swallowed.
“From my understanding, Sheriff Denton, you have a reputation of being able to handle anything that comes your way. So, why seek input from me on this particular occasion?”
Denton hadn’t realized Kerrian knew anything about him. He admired his thoroughness. “Truth is, I’ve never enjoyed the luxury of talking things out with anyone. The town can’t afford to hire me a deputy. The only ones I ever confide in about anything are Hiram who owns the livery. He does a good job as my unofficial eyes and ears since I spend so much time roamin’ the countryside. And, I share my concerns on occasion with Ms. Brennan, who runs a local tavern.”
Denton, absent-mindedly slid his hand back to the handle of the Peacemaker he wore, making sure the small leather strip at the back of his holster was still looped over the hammer to keep it in place.
“I make it a point to learn everything about strangers who visit our fine town—even if they wear a badge,” Denton said. “Hotheads make me nervous. The last one I confronted put a bullet in my thigh.”
“And, what happened to him?”
Denton frowned. “He’s pretty much dead.”
“I have a feeling strangers who visit your town don’t stay long, Sheriff.”
Denton’s green eyes flickered with amusement. “We’ve had our share of roustabouts with the war ending. I tend to be an impatient sort when it comes to trouble. I figure it’s best to head off a problem rather than fix one. But, just the same, it wouldn’t do me or the town much good to have to shoot Mecklin.” He smiled. “That’s the railroad detective.”
Kerrian returned the smile. “Why does this man concern you so much?”
“From what I’ve heard, he’s quick to take charge. Prides himself on always getting his man.”
“Is that so bad?”
“Only when the innocent get in the way. He’s always left a few bodies between him and the man’s he’s hunting. No one has ever called his hand. Seems to have free rein wherever he goes.”
“It’s all about accommodation. The railroad pretty much calls the shots in small towns like ours. Money talks,” Denton said, lifting his hand to the side of his face and rubbing his thumb back-and-forth against the tips of his four fingers. “If your town’s lucky enough to be touched by the magic wand of the iron rail, it can’t help but grow.”
“And?” Kerrian said, squinting at his visitor.
“And, if the railroad decides to pull up stakes and leave, bad things happen. Those places just die up. They wither away. Become ghost towns. We fought long and hard to attract the railroad. Mecklin is the lead detective, with a long record of success and he pretty much can do what he wants because he has brought bad people to justice and recovered thousands of dollars in stolen gold.”
“What’s your end game, sheriff?”
“I don’t want him turned loose to do as he pleases.”
“So, don’t let him.”
“Easier said than done, Detective Kerrian. The town council has pretty much told me to butt out. Or, if I do butt in, to let Mecklin call the shots and not interfere in a way that puts the town at risk of looking uncooperative in the eyes of the railroad.”
Kerrian didn’t say anything, and closed his eyes. Seconds later, he opened one eyelid and squinted, and then opened the second one, seeming to bring Denton into sharp focus. The movement of the eyelids reminded Denton of a couple of windows opening.
“My intuition tells me you’re not going to allow Mr. Mecklin to have his way, no matter what the risk. No matter what the consequences.”
“Is that your advice?”
“You don’t need advice, sheriff. You just needed to hear the words out loud.”
A smile played on Will Denton’s lips.
“Reckon you’re right about that, Detective. My town. My rules.
A door to another room opened, and a gentle-looking woman smiled at Denton, and nodded to her husband, who glanced at his pocket watch.
“Will, we’d like you to join us for a home-cooked meal and a glass of sweet tea. And, one of Sheila’s wonderful desserts, of course. Would you do us the honor?”
Denton stood up, unbuckled the gun belt, and draped it over the arm of the chair.
“Best offer I’ve had today, Charlie.”
# # #
Thanks to Will Denton (aka Tom Rizzo) for stopping by Kerrian’s Notebook and giving us a glimpse into the life of a cop from another century. If you have any questions for Tom, please leave them in the comments. Tom posts some great articles about the West, so be sure to look for him online.
About the Author:
A passion for 19th century American history, Tom’s debut novel—LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK—includes several elements of historical fact. The novel was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western First Novel.
His second book is entitled HEROES & ROGUES: THE GOOD & THE BAD OF THE AMERICAN WEST.
His writing journey has taken him from radio and television news reporting to the Associated Press, where he worked as a correspondent, followed by several years in advertising and public relations.
He grew up in central Ohio, lived in Great Britain for several years, and now calls Houston, Texas, home.
Tom is a member of Western Writers of America, Wild West History Association, and Western Fictioneers.