evidence

KN, p. 132 “Fan Favorites – 2014”

 

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

KN, p. 82 “Is that your footprint?”

 

 

 

 

It’s been raining off and on for days. It rained last week during a party, and people were tracking water and a little mud from the driveway runoff onto the porch all afternoon. We had so many different kinds of footprints that it would have made for a great crime scene demonstration.

 

Because, one of the most overlooked pieces of evidence at a crime scene is created by footwear.

 

Imagine: If a window breaks as a thief enters the premises during the commission of a burglary, the glass will fall into the house, and onto the floor or rug below the window. When the thief steps through the window, unless the thief has wings, he/she will probably plant a foot right in the middle of the glass. And walk through the house, most likely tracking minute pieces of that glass. That glass may also become embedded in the grooves of the sole of the shoe, creating a distinctive footprint.

 

If the investigating officer can place a suspect at the scene with the footprint, then there is probable cause to fingerprint that suspect and hopefully establish a link to the crime.

 

A new method of eliminating suspects right at the scene involves stepping into a tray that contains a pad soaked with harmless clear ink that doesn’t stain, then stepping onto a chemically treated impression card. No messy cleanup, immediate results, and it can even show details of wear and tear on the shoe. This can be a way to establish a known standard (we know where this impression came from) to compare with multiple tread prints at the scene.

Footwear Clear Ink Impression

 

 

Another tool for creating a known standard is the foam impression system. It takes a bit longer, (24 hours) but clear, crisp impressions can be made, including of the pebbles and bits stuck deep into the grooves and the writing on the arch. Very helpful when trying to place suspects at the scene. A rock stuck in the sole is a random characteristic that can’t be duplicated, so becomes another point of identification.

 

This is how it works: Somebody steps into a box of stiff-ish foam – a bit like stepping into wet sand.

 

An impression is made instantaneously. The detail is great – down to the wear on the heel.

Pre-mixed dental stone (made with distilled water and the powder) is used to fill the impression.

It takes 24 hours for the cast to become firm enough to pop out of the foam. We now have a permanent record of the footwear tread, which could be used for comparison to other prints found at the scene.

Footwear Casts

 

Occasionally footprints are found on the ground outside a window or in the gardens surrounding a house after a burglary or homicide. Ever see a crime show on TV  where the fictional investigator makes a snap judgment about the height and weight of the owner of the footprint because of the depth of the impression? That’s merely a plot device and is not scientific evidence in real life. A crime scene photographer or investigator can photograph the footprint (next to a measurement scale), make a take away cast, and then compare the impression with those of the suspects or other bystanders at the scene. Beware: making a cast of the print destroys the print, so a photograph must be taken before pouring that first drop of dental stone.

 

Footprints can be found at bloody crime scenes as well. The suspect walks through the blood, tracks it through the house, cleans it up, but the prints are still there, even though not obvious to the naked eye. Blood just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a floor and even behind baseboards.

 

A savvy investigator will collect sections of carpet (or flooring) taken from where the suspect might have walked during the commission of the crime, then conduct a presumptive test for blood (LCV – Aqueous Leuco Crystal Violet), find a usable footprint, compare it to a known standard, and then be able to place the suspect at the scene.

 

 

 

 

Be careful where you walk. That footprint can be used as evidence.

 

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

 

KN, p. 71 “Whose fingerprint is that?”

 

I watched one of the CSI NY television episodes last Friday and was struck, yet again, by the Hollywood look of their crime labs. I like the show because of the actors and some of the cases, but as I’ve said before, TV sets and real life investigations bear little resemblance to each other – not in time, or equipment, or budgets. But, the viewing public expects the local police departments to have all that equipment readily available and is upset with the super long wait for results. It’s called the ‘CSI-effect’ and the guys and gals in real-life law enforcement have to deal with it all the time.

 

In the real world, investigators and examiners prove a case against the possible suspects using proper evidence collection techniques and tools, with hard work – not flash results in 50 minutes.

 

Fingerprint powders, brushes and magnifier

 

Fingerprints found at the scene are still the favored piece of evidence tying the suspect to the crime. These days, using a combination of ingenuity and newly developed chemicals and powders, a crime scene investigator can lift (and/or photograph) prints from many previously challenging surfaces.

 

After dusting for prints with black fingerprint powder,

they can be lifted from various smooth surfaces using (in forefront) a gel lifter, a hinge lifter and (in background) tape.

Prints are photographed and then can be viewed under an Optical Comparator. This machine can be hooked up to a laptop, and the image sent off to AFIS for ID.

 

Contrast image as seen on Optical Comparator

 

 

We hope for a complete print, but the usual occurrence is that most of the time, partial prints are left at the scene. That’s what makes the search for the suspects so much tougher than what the TV dramas tell us. There is no instant ‘a-ha’ moment that comes right after the crime has been committed. In a real lab, AFIS comes back with a list of 10-20 possible matches and someone then makes a comparison by hand of the most likely hits.

 

Some things to keep in mind:

 

*A print can disappear over time and there are too many variables (temperature, humidity, condition of the surface, etc.) to predict how long that will take.

 

*A really crisp print can be photographed right at the scene, using some great digital cameras now available.

 

*Forensic science is not a certainty, even though TV shows may give that impression.

 

*There is no nationwide standard for number of points of ID for a fingerprint. In the year 2013, the acceptable number of matching points (between the actual print and the print in the AFIS database) can range from 5 to 20 depending on where the suspect lives.

 

There is no such thing as a perfect crime, but the jails are filled with crooks that swear they have been framed. One of my favorite excuses: “Somebody planted that print.”

 

Right.

 

That only happens on TV and in the movies.

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at the Sirchie Education and Training Center, Youngsville, NC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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