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Category Archives: General Forensics

Crime and Science Radio This Saturday: An Interview With Barry A.J. Fisher, Past President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences

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Crime and Science Radio: The Changing World of Forensic Science: An Interview With Barry A.J. Fisher, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences

Join DP Lyle and Jan Burke for a discussion with Barry A.J. Fisher, who spent two decades as the director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s crime labs. We’ll talk about his career, the present and future state of forensic science, new legislation and and how  the public can help to ensure the betterment of forensic science services.

BIO: An internationally regarded forensic scientist and leader in his field, Barry A. J. Fisher retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s crime lab after a 40 year distinguished career, the last 20 as crime lab director. He was responsible for conceptualizing, planning and coordinating the new LASD/LAPD crime lab located at California State University named the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center and the creation of the California Forensic Scince Institute.

Barry received his B.S. degree in chemistry from CCNY, his M.S. degree in organic chemistry from Purdue University and an M.B.A. from California State University, Northridge. He is a past president of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, past chair of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors – Laboratory Accreditation Board, past president and distinguished fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences where he was awarded its highest honor, Gradwohl Medallion. He served as president of the International Association of Forensic Sciences and is a member of many other professional organizations including the IAI, CAC, TIAFT, CAT, and the IACP. 

His current interests concern the interrelationship between forensic science and the law along with public policy issues concerning the timely delivery of quality forensic support services to the criminal justice system. He served as a member of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section’s Ad Hoc Committee to Ensure the Integrity of the Criminal. 

He is a founding director and served on the Board of Directors of the National Forensic Science Technology Center from 1995 until 2007. Fisher is a member of several editorial boards:  the Journal of Forensic Sciences, the Journal of Forensic Identification, Forensic Science Policy and Management and the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. Fisher is an alumni member of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and a life member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and was a member of the IACP’s Forensics Committee. 

His textbook, Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation, in its 8th edition, enjoys wide popularity.  He is a co-author of two other books, Forensics Demystified and An Introduction to Criminalistics: The Foundation of Forensic Science.

Fisher lectures throughout the United States, and has spoken in Canada, England, Australia, Singapore, France, Israel, Japan, China, Turkey and Portugal on forensic science laboratory practices, quality assurance and related topics.  In 2000, he led a forensic science delegation to lecture to forensic scientists in the People’s Republic of China.  In 2012, he was invited again to China to lecture on forensic science developments in the United States.

Since retiring, Fisher has consulted for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United States Department of Justice, International Criminal Investigative Training Program (ICITAP) and Analytic Services Inc., a not-for-profit institute that provides studies and analyses to aid decision-makers in national security, homeland security, and public safety. He also consults on forensic science matters with Park Dietz and Associates.

Fisher, a native New Yorker, is married. He and his wife Susan reside in Indio in Riverside County, California. They have two married sons: David, a criminalist with the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Forensic Biology Department, and Michael, an entrepreneur, and eight grandchildren.

LISTEN: Link will go live Saturday, August 23, 10 a.m. PDT

LINKS:

Announcement of Formation of the National Commission on Forensic Science

LASD Scientific Services Bureau

LAPD Scientific Investigation Division

American Academy of Forensic Sciences

American Society of Crime Lab Directors

American Society of Crime Lab Directors – Laboratory Accreditation Board

Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center

World Forensic Festival, Seoul, Korea, October 2014

International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program

National Academy of Sciences 2009 Study: Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States

National Forensic Science Technology Center

American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section

International Association of Chiefs of Police

American Bar Association Science and Technology Section

 

Mom Knows You’re Lying

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Remember how it seemed that your Mom always knew when you were lying? 

No, I swear, I didn’t do it. 

And then she’d give you that look. The one that melted all your protestations of innocence. Seems to be a universal thing.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, titled “A 9-Item Test to Find Out Who’s Lying to You,” Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne discusses the clues that reveal deception.

I’m sure my Mom knew all of these. Heck, she probably could have written this article.

 

Manner of Death After 33 Years

JBrady

 

Recently, James Brady died. He had received a serious head wound during John Hinckley’s failed assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. That was 1981. Now, over three-decades after that event, Brady’s recent death has been deemed a homicide. At Hinckley’s hand.

His death could result in murder charges against Hinckley. After 33 years? How is that possible?

There are five manners of death: natural, accidental, suicidal, homicidal, and undetermined—-the waste basket into which deaths that can’t be confidently attributed to one of the other four categories. The Virginia ME determined that the gunshot to the head that Brady received began a cascade of medical issues that ultimately led to his death and thus he was the victim of a homicide. This might seem odd but it’s really not all that uncommon. Whether prosecutors will file charges and take on such a difficult to prove case remains to be seen.

I blogged on this very subject back on 5-5-11.

For a more detailed discussion of the cause and manner of death check out my book Howdunnit: Forensics.

 

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Q and A: What Would My Victim of Scaphism Look Like After Two Weeks in a Pond?

Q: My question is what would a corpse be like, a victim of scaphism and encased in leather with only the head, hands and feet protruding, discovered after about two weeks in a stagnant pond in summer in England.

Alicat

 

Scaphism

 

A: This is a very complex situation which means that almost anything can happen. Particularly in face of your killer employing scaphism in your poor victim’s ordeal. There are many forces in this circumstance conspiring to destroy the body. After two weeks the decay process would be well along and the body should be swollen and discolored and there might already be some sloughing of tissues, particularly in the hands and the feet so that the fingernails and toenails might have slipped away. The leather binding might lessen the degree of abdominal swelling but maybe not.

Or the decay might be a little less and the body might appear only slightly swollen and discolored. Either is possible. When you add the insects and marine predators such as fish to the picture, tissue destruction could be significant—-or again very mild. Once the body floated or if it were placed on a wooden float of some sort, the insects would easily reach the corpse. These insects prefer warmer and moister areas so they tend to accumulate around the eyes, nose, mouth, groin, and any wounds such as an open abdomen or a stab wound.

Their activity could be significant or minimal, often depending on the weather. If it has rained a lot or if it is windy or if there has been a great deal of fog, insect activity would be diminished as insects do not like these conditions. But, i the weather was warm and sunny, they would be more active. Often when the medical examiner is determining the time of death in bodies that are several weeks old, he will consult a forensic climatologist to assess the weather effects in play and from this make his best guess as to insect activity and this in turn will tell him how long it took for the insects to reach the level of infestation seen. Again is always only his best estimate. And then you throw in predators, both marine and otherwise, and his problems multiply.

At the end of the day, your body would likely have a great deal of decay as described above as well as insect activity. The latter could be everywhere but would be particularly pronounced in the exposed areas where the tissues were easier for the insects to get to. Still they find their way beneath leather bindings and clothing and coverings in order to get to their next meal.

You have a great deal to work with here in that the body can either be slightly or severely decayed and the insect activity can be great or small and anywhere in between. The old adage is that whatever happens, happens. This actually gives you great leeway in how you construct your plot.

 

Guest Blogger: Juan Dillon: Sherlock Holmes: Forensic Science Pioneer

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There are very few characters that have managed to assume a personality as pronounced as that of Sherlock Holmes. Even though he was a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes was and still is often given the same respect that one gives to a real person. Apart from infusing life into his characters, Doyle was a visionary as well. He created this amazing character that solved crimes with panache and used methods that would be adopted in the field of law making only decades later. Forensic science was not even in its infancy when Holmes solved all those mysteries. When Doyle wrote Holmes, the situation was such that it required eyewitness accounts and ‘smoking gun’ evidence to convict a murderer. It was very easy for murderers to roam scot free as there was practically no evidence against them.

Holmes used fingerprints, blood stains and chemistry to zero in on his suspects. It was fascinating because these methods were not in prevalence at that time. In many ways he has contributed to the existence of the modern detective. Holmes used blood splatter patterns and bullet trajectory analysis to solve some of his cases. Every forensic detective today has a lot to learn from Holmes when it comes to toxicology. There were many cases where Holmes used scientific methods that involved chemical analysis and even analysis of handwriting. One of the biggest contributions to the world of forensic medicine by Holmes is the ‘exchange principle’ according to which when two things come into contact with each other, one leaves a trace on the other.

The ramifications of the exchange principle were enormous. This means that cases could be solved years or even decades after they were committed. There are instances of how people were exonerated years after they were erroneously imprisoned. There have also been cases of how cases were solved years later and the culprits brought to book. This was possible only through the methods made famous by Holmes. Poisoning was one of the most popular methods of murder in those times and the reason for that was because it was virtually impossible to detect many kinds of poison with the technology available at that time. Holmes would use scientific methods to check the presence of poison in corpses and detect whether a death was indeed natural or unnatural.

In fact there were a few avid readers of Doyle who became so fascinated with the world of forensics that they even set up laboratories for the purpose of research. A Frenchman named Edmond Locard built a forensics lab 23 years after Doyle envisioned a similar one in one of his books. In his lab he kept samples of soil, hair and mineral fibre. This was perhaps the first ever lab that eventually evolved into the state-of-the-art labs that are used by Scotland Yard or FBI. Holmes was also obsessed with something that has now become a science of sorts. He used to analyse shoe prints to solve many of his cases and now that is called Gait analysis. He was also the person who came up with the idea of using dogs to track criminals. He was aware of the ability of a dog’s keen sense of smell way before his contemporaries.

The use of footprints, fingerprints, handwriting etc were a few innovations that can be attributed to Dolye’s intrepid detective. He even did decryption of ciphers, a science that would not be developed even decades after Doyle’s death. It can be said without doubt that Sherlock Holmes, if he was a real human being would have been the world’s first ever forensic scientist. And the credit to that goes to his creator, the visionary called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Author Bio: Juan Dillon is a freelance writer and currently working as a review developer at EssaysOrigin.com, and online platform for customers to choose best essay writing services by evaluating the professional reviews on various companies. He loves the profession as it’s also covers some sort of intellectual findings while working on review creation.

 

Can Odor Reveal the Time Of Death?

One of the most important determinations that the medical examiner must make in any death investigation is the Time Of Death (TOD). This alone might help solve a homicide. Who had the motive, means, and opportunity? The time of death relates to the opportunity. If the death occurred while the primary suspect was in another state or had a solid alibi, then he moves down the suspect list. On the other hand, if the TOD was determined to be a time frame where he was in the neighborhood, then he remains a viable suspect.

The ME uses many techniques to help estimate the TOD. Check out this ARTICLE for a brief overview of these techniques. One of the methods he employs is the degree of decay that has occurred. He must take into account the environmental conditions near the corpse and then must make a best estimate as to how fast the decomposition process would have advanced under those conditions. This is always a best guess, as is the case with each of the techniques he employs.

When a corpse decays it undergoes a chemical decomposition and this process releases many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the surrounding air. These compounds are at least partially responsible for the odor of decay and they tend to be released in a predictable pattern as the decay process progresses. What if these VOCs could be sampled and used as a more scientific method for determining the Post Mortem Interval (PMI)? That is, the time since death.

Research is currently underway to assess this technique. Using the combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS), researchers have found that these volatile chemicals can be trapped and analyzed. Hopefully this technique will prove to be useful in narrowing down the TOD. We’ll see.

 

Gas Chromatograph

Gas Chromatograph

 

 

 

Crime and Science Radio: The Skeleton Crew: A Conversation with Deborah Halber

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The Skeleton Crew: A Conversation with Deborah Halber on the Amateurs Who Are Finding the Missing and Solving Cold Cases

For decades, all across the United States, tens of thousands of missing persons cases have grown cold. At the same time, a mounting number of unidentified remains have been discovered and have been stored in coroner’s offices or buried in potter’s fields. But the Internet has been changing all of that. We talk to Deborah Halber, about some of the challenges and changes in the world of the unidentified dead and those who try to name them.

BIO: Deborah Halber started out as a daily newspaper reporter, then turned to the dark side to do public relations. She worked as a writer and editor for Tufts and as a science writer for MIT, where she chronicled everything from quantum weirdness (that’s the technical term) to snail slime. A freelance journalist since 2004, her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, Inked, Technology Review, and Symbolia. Her narrative nonfiction book, THE SKELETON CREW: HOW AMATEUR SLEUTHS ARE SOLVING AMERICA’S COLDEST CASES, is just out from Simon & Schuster. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the National Association of Science Writers, she lives near Boston in a house with a lot of former pets buried out back.

 

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/06/29/crime-and-science-radio-with-deborah-halber

 

LINKS:

Deborah Halber http://deborahhalber.mit.edu/

NamUs: The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System http://namus.gov

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children http://www.missingkids.com/home

NOKR: The Next of Kin Registry http://www.nokr.org

Black and Missing Foundation http://www.blackandmissinginc.com/cdad

Clark County Nevada Coroner’s Office: Las Vegas Unidentified  http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/depts/coroner/unidentified/Pages/default.aspx

Provincetown Site for Lady of the Dunes http://www.provincetown-ma.gov/index.aspx?NID=618

Todd Matthews Tent Girl Site http://www.angelfire.com/tn3/masterdetective2/

Porchlight International http://z10.invisionfree.com/usedtobedoe/index.php?showforum=41

The DOE Network http://www.doenetwork.org

The Charley Project http://www.charleyproject.org

America’s Missing Adults http://americasmissingadults.com/

California State Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit http://oag.ca.gov/missing

Ohio Missing Adults http://www.ohiomissingadults.com/

WDAZ: Remains Found 31 Years Ago in Wyoming Identified as Missing Minnesota Native http://www.wdaz.com/content/remains-found-31-years-ago-wyoming-identified-missing-minnesota-native-0

People Magazine: Murdered Teen’s Remains Given to Her Family 46 Years Later http://www.people.com/article/philadelphia-missing-girls-jane-doe-identified-family

Story About The Skelton Crew by Deborah Halber in Time Magazine: How to Solve a Murder With Just Your Computer http://time.com/2973705/how-to-solve-murder-with-computer/

 

Guest Blogger: Daphne Holmes: How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

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How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

The impetus for determining the paternity of a child likely dates back to the most primitive tribal cultures. Particularly in patriarchal cultures where females were regarded as the property of males, it was deemed important to ensure that a man’s “property” had not been shared, and that the virtue of the female was beyond question. As societies became more sophisticated, the need to establish paternity became as much an economic issue as a moral one. In modern cultures, paternity testing is used primarily to establish whether or not a man is responsible for providing financial support to a child, as well as determining whether the child carries any of the father’s genetic predispositions for health challenges.

Physical appearance – In more primitive cultures (some of which continue to flourish), the objectives behind determining the paternity of a child were culturally and/or emotionally based. If a child was born who lacked identifying characteristics of either parent, it was frequently assumed that the father was someone other than the woman’s mate. The repercussions to the mother were quite severe, often culminating in her death. Unfortunately – especially for the women – the comparison of obvious physical traits was highly subjective, and many women suffered dire consequences, even if their husband/mate was indeed the biological father.

Blood typing – With the early 20th century discovery that different individuals had different blood types, and the recognition in the 1920s that those blood types were genetically inherited, a more accurate means of determining paternity came into common use. It was discovered that by comparing the parents’ blood types, it was possible to determine the most likely blood type of the child. While this was admittedly a step above the “he has his father’s eyes” paternity test, it was still only about 30% accurate.

Serological testing – It was discovered in the 1930s that specific proteins not considered during blood typing could establish the presence of genetically inherited antigens that would more accurately identify the child’s biological father. Unfortunately, serological testing only improved the accuracy of paternity testing to about 40%. Hardly conclusive evidence.

Tissue typing – In the 1970s, the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) was discovered in abundance within white blood cells. When samples of this genetically inherited antigen taken from the mother and child were compared to the sample taken from the father, paternity could be established with roughly 80% accuracy. While this was a significant improvement over previous methods, the collection procedure itself was unpleasant, and the size of the sample required made it hazardous to the child, particularly if the child was less than six months old. Obviously, more work needed to be done.

DNA testing (RFLP) – In the 1980s, the technique called restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) was discovered that looked at a significantly wider spectrum of variables in the blood than had been analyzed with earlier techniques. It was discovered that the offspring of two parents would have half the unique characteristics of each parent. This technique elevated the accuracy of paternity testing to the level of statistical certainty. Unfortunately, the amount of blood required for accurate sampling was, like tissue sampling, large, posing potential problems for the child. In addition, the potential for genetic mutations in the child could render a false negative, indicating that neither the woman or the man was the child’s biological parents. For these reasons, RFLP testing has been all but abandoned.

DNA Testing (PCR) – By the 1990s, the RFLP testing was replaced by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. This technique involves the computerized replication of DNA collected from even a minuscule sample that is collected anywhere on the individual’s body, then comparing the subjects’ profiles. In addition to requiring a very small sample (typically via an oral swab), the subject is not submitted to discomfort as in earlier test techniques, and the computerized analysis takes far less time, while still providing accuracy at the level of statistical certainty, 99.99%.

Author: Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from www.ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.

 

 

Crime and Science Radio: Dealing With the Dead: A Life in the Morgue: In Conversation with Dr. Cyril Wecht

Join DP Lyle and Jan Burke as they welcome Dr. Cyril Wecht, internationally renowned forensics pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht as we discuss his life in criminal justice and the numerous famous cases he has been involved with over his stellar career.

BIO: Dr. Cyril Wecht holds degrees in both medicine and law, receiving his MD degree from the University of Pittsburgh and his law degree from the University of Maryland. He holds professorships at the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University School of Law. He has published nearly 600 scientific articles, is on the editorial board of more that 20 medical-legal and forensic scientific publications, and had published several books on forensic science. His list of famous cases is a who’s who in medical-legal investigation.

 

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LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/03/07/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-cyril-wecht-md

LINKS:

Dr. Wecht’s Website: http://www.cyrilwecht.com

Dr. Wecht’s books and videos: http://www.cyrilwecht.com/books.php

50 Years Later, Wecht Continues To Poke Holes in Report on JFK Assassination: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/5017529-74/wecht-commission-specter#axzz2tuBTchS1

Dr. Cyril Wecht Believes Killers of JFK, RFK, MLK Had Help: http://www.vindy.com/news/2013/may/01/renowned-pathologist-makes-a-case-for-co/

Dr. Cyril Wecht Lectures on the JFK Assassination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-muQL-QPKeM

Dr. Cyril Wecht on JFK Assassination: Let’s Uncover the Truth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtUL-BpZAu8

Crime Library: JonBenet: From Impressions To Book by Dr. Katherine Ramsland: http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/cyril_wecht/6.html

Dr. Cyril Wecht Discusses Forensic Challenges of Cold Cases: http://www.wtae.com/news/local/allegheny/Dr-Cyril-Wecht-discusses-forensic-challenges-of-cold-cases/19648550

Dr. Cyril Wecht: The Benefits of Forensic Credentialing: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/criminal-justice/real-csi/dr-cyril-wecht-the-benefits-of-forensic-credentialing/

Cyril H. Wecht: What I Know: http://www.pittsburghquarterly.com/index.php/What-Do-I-Know/what-do-i-know-with-cyril-h-wecht.html

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht: Pittsburgh’s Polymath: http://www.popularpittsburgh.com/pittsburgh-info/pittsburgh-history/famous-pittsburghers/dr-cyril-wecht.aspx

 

Final-Exams

 

 

 

 

 

Bacteria and Time Of Death

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One of the most important things the ME must determine in any death investigation is the time of death. This determination can support or destroy alibis and suspect and witness statements, and point the finger at certain individuals while directing it away from others.

The ME uses various techniques to make his “best guess” as to the victim’s time of death. Things like body temperature, rigor mortis, lividity, stomach contents, and a few other determinations. Unfortunately, most of these are only marginally accurate.

Here is an article I wrote on this subject: http://www.dplylemd.com/DPLyleMD/Art-Timely_death.html

Any tool that can help make this assessment more accurate would be welcome.

Researchers at Sam Houston State University’s Department of Biological Sciences are looking into just such a tool. Bacteria. Just as insects visit a corpse in a more or less predictable pattern, it seems that bacteria do also.

We’ll see how this pans out but it’s very interesting.

 

 
 
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