I was taking the recycles out to the bin and my leg went through one of the planks in the deck. Nothing was damaged except the plank. Well, maybe a scrape on my shin, but not much else. This was the second plank I had gone through – and replaced – in a week, so it was time to get the whole deck redone.
Normally I would replace the thing myself, but my doc said no heavy lifting while I was finishing up the rehab. So I got my former construction partner on the line and gave him the job. He owed me a favor so we agreed on parts + a percentage for labor. Basically I paid for the lumber and the salary for his helper for the day. He would not agree to my paying him for his own labor, but I twisted his arm with the promise of having his family over for a couple of barbecues once the deck was finished.
Sheila and I have had a snake problem under the deck ever since we built the raised garden beds surrounding it. We inadvertently blocked off any runoff and the critters soon had their own swampy little place to live, full of food, shelter and water. They’ve been happy, but us? Not so much.
Since Todd was pulling out all the boards, it was the perfect time to level the ground below, then dig a small drainage trench about three inches wide at the edge so that the accidental pond could empty. After the water ran off, the sun dried out the exposed dirt and for the first time in a couple of years, the frogs/toads were off to greener, damper grassland.
The next step was to put a layer of small stones on top of the leveled dirt. That definitely changed the animal habitat. Without the artificial pond, and no food source that we could see, we hoped that the snakes would be gone as well. Foolishly, we didn’t have all the facts, but that’s for another story.
As I watched Todd and his helper work, I got to thinking that the mini pond wasn’t deep enough to hide a body. The unbelievably rank smell of a corpse rotting in the summer would have been a dead giveaway if I had one lying around, but now there was gravel… and digging….
If I was inclined to do this deck myself, nobody could see me in back of the house and passersby would think nothing of shovels and lumber and gravel and even cement coming in and out of the yard. And Bingo! Hiding place for the body. Who would notice a bag or two of quicklime? The neighbors would be none the wiser.
Hmmm…come to think of it….Milly’s husband has been away on a business trip for a really long time and they have a new patio and a new deck and new, high, lush landscaping around it all. Just kidding. Maybe.
If you think nobody would really do that, take a look at these recent stories in the news.
In April, 2014:
and, in May, 2015:
As for us? We’re both healthy and enjoying the new deck. 🙂
*Photos by Patti Phillips
Last week in “Who are the Texas Rangers?” I chatted about a bit of the Texas Rangers’ colorful history. But, what do they do? Are they really like “Walker, Texas Ranger,” the old TV show? Or the “Lone Ranger” of TV and movie fame? Well…yes and no. Most Rangers do not go around karate chopping the suspects or jumping from car to car on the roofs of trains barreling down the railroad tracks. That makes for great TV, but not for smart investigation and apprehension of the criminal types. Setting aside the flamboyance of the entertainment characters, here is what the Rangers’ area of investigative responsibility might include:
Basically, they are the primary criminal investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety in Texas and serve in whatever capacity will help the local law enforcement agencies. They are ‘subject to call’ at any hour of the night or day, in the counties to which they are assigned. When needed, they also assist in counties outside their own jurisdiction. Texas Rangers are a bit like a State Bureau of Investigation that operates in other States. Think CSI, without the TV glitz or instantaneous results.
These guys do it all, from the beginning to the end of a case, selecting and collecting evidence, photographing the scene, conducting the investigation, searching for, capturing and questioning the suspects, filing the reports, and more.
The Texas Rangers out in the field have to be able to handle every type of case that comes their way. And, I say “comes their way” because they are invited by local law enforcement to assist and/or take over certain cases. If a small town Police Chief normally has nothing more than drunks carousing on a Saturday night to deal with, and a bank robbery occurs or a murder is committed, he/she is likely to call the area Texas Ranger to help out with evidence collection and/or investigation/questioning.
With that in mind, a Ranger maintains a well-supplied trunk load of gear, including tire impression kits as well as chemical testing and other kits, so that he’s ready for whatever he’s asked to do.
If the Police Chief or Sheriff has never had experience with the particular case at hand (serial killers, kidnappings, etc.) he/she may ask the Texas Ranger to take the lead on the case – and then the local law enforcement follows the Ranger’s direction. Local people handle the press and dealing with the public. The smart Rangers work hard at establishing a good working relationship with the cops and sheriffs in their territory. Building trust is key.
The Texas Rangers have ongoing training. They are required to take 30 hours of training a year, sometimes in firearms, but in any area that needs to be addressed. The hours might be spent on:
When blood spatter analysis was being looked at as a viable method of crime scene investigation, the Rangers trained in that. Other areas, such as better ways to collect fingerprints, etc. also became part of the preparation. You can’t be an expert in everything, but they have to know where to find the experts.
As I mentioned in the last post, I’m really a stand-and-shoot guy and would never be able to shoot a rifle while on a moving horse. I was happy to discover that firearms training starts with bull’s-eye shooting for a Ranger. I could at least handle side-by-side with them at that stage. Lol They start with stand-and-shoot, then over the range of their careers, they learn to move-and-shoot, with a moving target and a moving shooter. They become proficient with handguns as well as long guns.
Sometimes, special circumstances require more than just one Ranger to show up. For those times, there is the Special Operations Group. Under that umbrella?
I recently had the privilege of meeting with Texas Ranger, Ret., Richard (Dick) Johnson, who chatted with me about a few of the cases he worked on.
A nurse in small town Nocona, Texas, likely killed 23 people under her care. From December 11, 2000, to February 18, 2001, Vickie Dawn Jackson murdered ten patients at Nocona General Hospital, probably another ten, and attempted to murder five more. She was not a mercy killer trying to help patients who were terminally ill or in terrible pain. Prior to her killing the patients, she had appeared to be a sweet, caring nurse. She knew most of the victims personally. She injected the patients with mivacurium chloride, a muscle relaxant used in surgeries. The only murder that seems to have had any clear motive behind it was the last one, when she injected the grandfather of her ex-husband.
Sergeant Johnson collected the evidence, including exhuming the bodies, and stayed with the case until it was concluded. It took six months to do the collection and investigation and he had to handle all of his other cases and anything else that came up during that time. It was grisly work, not like the glamorous stuff we see on TV.
Another case of his involved chasing four Texas capital murder convicts into Oklahoma. The FBI was called in, and then they deferred to Dick Johnson. It took 160 hours over ten days, but Dick and a team caught the guys.
During a kidnapping case, he was in ‘hot pursuit’ of the kidnapper and had to cross the Red River (the border between Oklahoma and Texas) but he was not about to wait for permission to enter the next jurisdiction and lose the suspect and the victim. So, he radioed the dispatcher and told her he was about to cross the Red River. He figured he could deal with the investigation later. Thanks to his clear thinking, the suspect was caught.
Ranger Johnson had five counties under his responsibility during his time in North Texas. Those counties are miles wide and include everything from small towns to good-sized cities to ranches and mesquite trees. If he got a call in the middle of the night telling him that shots had been fired and a crook was on the loose, he might have asked, “How soon do you need me?” and “Do you need horses or dogs for the manhunt?”
The man had an amazing career, to be sure. He enjoyed working in the trenches, and is one of the guys that preferred the “Mud, blood, and the beer,” rather than the glamor and glory attached to being part of one of the most respected law enforcement outfits in the world.
Many thanks to Texas Ranger, Ret., Dick Johnson for generously sharing his experiences and extensive knowledge of the Texas Rangers organization. Any errors in fact are mine, not his.
For more information about the ‘Angel of Death’ please see:
Next week: The Modern Texas Ranger and how to become one.
*Photos by Patti Phillips
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.
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.
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.
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