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Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Scambaiting

scam money tree

The email showed up in my Inbox one morning with the subject line: I have a genuine proposal of great benefit to you. 

Yeah, that sounds totally genuine.

And thus I entered the exciting and dangerous world of scambaiting. Except it’s more tedious than exciting, and not too dangerous when the perpetrators sit on the other side of the planet and can’t afford air fare.

I hate scammers. I hate Rachael from Credit Card Services who calls twice a day (though sometimes she’s Bridget, and sometime Scott, and once in a while she’s Carmen) trying to get me to hand over my credit card numbers. I hate the emails that tell me I won a lottery I never entered in a country I’ve never been to. I am just waiting for some kid to call me pretending to be a grandson I don’t have, asking for bail money to get out of some totally bogus charge in Greece. And the fake Microsoft people are still trying to convince me that my computer is sending out error messages.

So I declared war.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Do Not Call lists, state or federal, do nothing. I continue to report each and every call to them in the hopes of making any charges they do someday press just that tiny bit more massive. The email scammers are almost always outside our borders, sending false phone numbers to your caller ID, and no one has time to track them down. Therefore, all you can do to strike a glancing blow for Cosmic Justice is: Waste their time. Every minute they spend sending you an email or sitting on the phone writing down fictitious credit card numbers is a minute they can’t spend scamming some poor soul who might actually fall for it.

scam person on phone

There are entire websites dedicated to people’s efforts to derail these scammers, and they are a font of good information and some great laughs. Following their advice I set up a new, free email account and instantly became Chloe, a pretty twenty-two year old, complete with a fetching photo from MS Office Clipart. (This wasn’t just wishful thinking—I thought her youth might explain her apparent naiveté in believing every story sent to her.) Chloe lives in a state I’ve never been to and works hard as a waitress at a Waffle House. I borrowed the phone number of Rachael from Credit Card Services, using the town it comes back to in a reverse lookup search—it doesn’t matter, since scammers won’t pay the long distance phone bill to actually call it. I invented a non-existent address on a real road with a real zip code.

scam you have mail

Then I started writing back. I copied the body only of the emails that came to my legitimate email address and responded—they send out too many at a time to notice one coming back from an address they didn’t contact. I told Ms. Liza Wong from Malaysia that I would be happy to help distribute the dead philanthropist’s money to those less fortunate, and MegaMillions winner Jim McCullen that I would accept the responsibility of disbursing his winnings. I wrote back to a helpful FBI agent in New York (though his IP address said Madagascar) who had found a package of 4.1 million dollars with my name on it (literally) and just needed me to fill out some forms to complete delivery. I found this so helpful of him. Who says the federal government is suspicious and obstructive and overly concerned with things like income tax payments?

A co-worker of mine drew the short straw and thus has been trained in the art of downloading computers to find stashes of child porn and other crimes. She has become my go-to person with tentative questions about How This Stuff Actually Works. Unfortunately whenever I ask her something she tends to burst into Swahili, throwing around terms like ‘data dump’ and ‘NTFS access’. I asked her about the IP addresses for the three emails above (the scambaiters’ site taught me how to find those), since the first two said they were in other countries but their IPs came back to the US and Canada. She said they can route through other people’s IPs. I always believed McGee on NCIS tracing an email that bounces through IPs all over the world to be Hollywood hyperbole, but it turns out to be somewhat accurate. My co-worker can’t do it, perhaps because my city can’t afford the cool flat-screens, but it can certainly be done. But, she said, they would need the cooperation of the host IPs. Aha, I said. Unless they hacked them, she said. Oh, I sighed.

I GoogleEarthed (you know what I mean) my three IPs and found that the US one sat on the edge of a closed Air Force base (yikes) and the other two bordered high schools. My co-worker said they were probably using the free wi-fi—the same reason you see cars in the Starbucks parking lot when the place isn’t even open.

scam check

Nothing all that exciting has happened yet. The FBI agent never wrote back about my box of cash. The other two put me in touch with their banker, who sent me a very professional looking email detailing how, since I live in neither England or Malaysia, I have to deposit a sum to open a ‘temporal account’ to which my large windfall can then be deposited. The UK bank wants $1200, and the Malaysian one a more reasonable $640. I pleaded poverty (it would take my 22-year-old months to save that from her Waffle House paychecks!) and put them in touch with my banker at my fictional savings & loan.  Chloe’s banker is an old family friend and looking out for the sweet girl’s interests, which is why he sent their bankers his own forms, which they must complete and return before they can be allowed to make a deposit at his fine institution. This will be difficult since the form demands to know things like your HBG number, which stands for “I Have No Idea, I Just Made It Up.” If they somehow work their way through this impossible task, then they may encounter further problems trying to fax it to another of Rachael from Card Services’ numbers.

Apparently both bankers found this daunting enough to give up on Miss Chloe, as neither she nor her bank manager have heard from them again. Jim McCullar gave up as well. Liza Wong hung in the longest with a forlorn, ‘have you heard from the bank, what’s going on?’ email.

I did have more success with today’s call from the persistent “Carmen” from “Credit Card Services.” They happened to call as I sat in front of my computer. Did you know you can Google “fake credit card number generator” and bring up a list of numbers for the major agencies? I kept a very polite representative on the phone for nearly fifteen minutes as she tried to ‘verify my balances’. I prepared to insist that, of course those are my correct credit card numbers, I’m looking right at them, but instead after a while she simply, quietly, failed to return from Hold.

But somewhere in the country, some other poor telephone owner got an extra ten minutes of peace this afternoon.

They’re welcome.

close to the bone 1

Close to the Bone hits forensic scientist Theresa MacLean where it hurts, bringing death and destruction to the one place where she should feel the most safe—the medical examiner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has worked for the past fifteen years of her life. Theresa returns in the wee hours after working a routine crime scene, only to find the body of one of her deskmen slowly cooling with the word “Confess” written in his blood. His partner is missing and presumed guilty, but Theresa isn’t so sure. The body count begins to rise but for once these victims aren’t strangers—they are Theresa’s friends and colleagues, and everyone in the building, herself included, has a place on the hit list.

Lisa photo

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.

 

Guest Blogger: Sergeant Adam Plantinga: Fiction Versus Reality

As a novelist, one of your main jobs is to keep the story moving. And if your story deals with law enforcement, you probably don’t want to get too bogged down in the minutiae of police procedure. But you also want to present a narrative that rings true to life. It’s a bit of a balancing act. So to assist in this endeavor, I have put together nine key differences between fiction and reality as it pertains to cop stuff. Where applicable, I have also added a possible explanation, or an “out” if you really need that fictional element for the sake of a dramatic story arc. Because, after all, reality can be downright boring.

1. Fiction: The private investigator works closely with the local police force to help them solve the big case.

Reality: In thirteen years as a cop working in two different jurisdictions, I have never once had a meaningful exchange with a private investigator. Neither has anyone I know. In fact, on many murder cases, homicide detectives won’t even share everything they know with other police officers, fearing that the info might leak and compromise an ongoing investigation.

Possible explanation: Quite a few, I think. You just have to sell them. Perhaps the P.I. is an ex-cop who has helped the police before, so he has earned some street cred, like Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Or maybe the police are on a tough case and are desperate for leads. Or your character is a witness or victim of the crime the police are investigating, so he or she is already deeply involved in the case (Lee Child’s Jack Reacher ends up in this position quite a bit). Whatever the case, there probably should still be some mistrust or even animosity between the two parties. The cops might throw a few investigative tidbits your P.I.’s way but perhaps they shouldn’t fully embrace him.

2. Fiction: The lone detective doggedly pursues the serial killer and confronts him alone, insisting “there’s no time for backup.” And if he does call for backup, it takes an incredibly long time for help to arrive, long enough for the hero to resolve the situation completely on his own.

Reality: There’s time for backup. It’s bad business to go after killers alone. You typically have a partner and you often enlist a SWAT team to do the heavy lifting. And if you get on the radio and call for help, your fellow cops will drop whatever they’re doing and come to your side. It’s like the bell-ringing scene at the end of Witness. They’ll get there quickly, and they will be out of breath when they arrive, because they had been running to reach you. 

Possible explanation: The hero tries to call for other units but his handheld radio gets damaged in a struggle with the suspect. Or he’s followed the bad guy into another jurisdiction where his signal is out of range. Or his partner gets wounded and can’t go on. I think it’s okay to get creative here. After all, if you spend your whole book setting up an epic confrontation between the hero cop and villain, only to have the hero step aside in the end so some anonymous SWAT team can take the villain into custody without incident, your readers may feel a bit cheated.

3. Fiction: The cops get DNA results back from the lab in three days.

Reality: I had a burglary that happened in November and I got DNA results from the scene the following July, which was actually pretty quick for San Francisco. Even for homicides, which are fast-tracked, the quickest turnaround for DNA results is probably going to be one to three weeks.

Possible explanation: Maybe your jurisdiction just received a federal grant to hire a team of new lab techs. Or your story simply takes place in a fictional universe where DNA results come back faster than they do in real life. That’s okay. Fiction allows you certain freedoms; your protagonist is probably better-looking and drops more clever one-liners than any real cop anyway. 

4. Fiction: The cop confronts a gunman and tells him to drop his weapon. If the bad guy doesn’t drop it, the cop often will warn him again.

Reality: Odds are the cop will shoot that guy right away. That is what police training dictates. As a firearms instructor once told me, “What are you waiting for? This guy has a gun, he’s ten feet away, and you’ve got no cover. Shoot him.” Warnings are fine when practical, the instructor explained, but action always beats reaction so the bad guy can plug you before you can even get a “Drop the” out of your mouth. So shoot instead of chat. And, he continued, if you feel so strongly about saying “Drop the gun,” say it to the guy after you’ve fired.

5. Fiction: As soon as the handcuffs go on, the cop immediately reads the suspect his Miranda rights.

Reality: As a police officer, you are required to read someone their rights only after they are in police custody and you are about to interrogate them about an offense. Custody plus interrogation equals Miranda, not before.  It is often tactical to wait to Mirandize a guy for a while because the offender may make a spontaneous, incriminating statement prior to formal interrogation.

6. Fiction: Your hero jumps in his ultra-efficient, lightning-fast police cruiser and chases the suspect vehicle through a dozen jurisdictions. The pursuit only comes to a halt after the hero rams the suspect car and shoots out its tires.

Reality: While suspects may drive as recklessly as they wish, as a police officer, you have to drive with “due regard.” This means at each intersection, you have to slow to look for oncoming traffic and take it easy on the hot-dogging, even if you have your lights and siren on. Also, pursuit policies vary by department, but generally speaking, you are only allowed to pursue violent felons and even then, you’re not allowed to ram them. You may deploy spike strips to puncture the fleeing vehicle’s tires, but you’re not supposed to shoot out tires because firing at a moving vehicle is far more dangerous than practical. And there’s always a supervisor listening to the chase on the radio who will terminate the pursuit if it sounds like things are getting out of hand.  Also, in a pursuit, the suspect vehicle may just flat outrun you. Police patrol cars aren’t anything special. Their most exotic feature is anti-lock brakes, which let you steer even in a skid, but they don’t have turbo-charged engines or double-reinforced tires. They’re just big cars made in Detroit, painted in police colors with some lights slapped on them. Sometimes their transmissions blow right in the middle of the chase.

Possible explanation: If your protagonist is chasing a murder suspect, the monitoring supervisor will likely let the pursuit go until the wheels fall off. And if it is an especially heinous murder, perhaps the supervisor will authorize the use of extreme measures to capture your quarry. Just know that if your hero elects to ram the suspect vehicle, it is often considered a use of deadly force—the same as if the hero fired a full clip at the bad guy.

7. Fiction: The cop protagonist recovers fingerprints off just about anything: rocks, stucco walls, quesadillas.

Reality: There are only a few surfaces conducive to the retrieval of fingerprints. Non-coated glass gives you the best shot, but many painted items are also good. Glossy paper and some metals, particularly aluminum, have a decent chance. I’ve heard of prints being taken off live plants before, and Band-Aids. But the list of surfaces where fingerprints don’t show up is longer, and includes undressed wood, bricks, cloth, and, well, most everything else. If a suspect touches a dusty surface, he’ll just remove dust instead of leaving a print and the kind of hard plastic most electronics are made of don’t tend to hold prints because of their textured surface. Also people leave more prints when it’s humid out and their fingers are oily than when it’s cold and their hands are dry. Manual laborers or workers who deal with chemicals for a living often have hands so gnarled and scuffed from their jobs that they couldn’t leave prints at a crime scene if they tried. And then there are, of course, burglars who merely wear gloves, which you can buy for two and a half bucks at any retail outlet and foil the ID tech.

Potential explanation: I’m not really sure. Maybe your fictional CSI team is just that good.

8. Fiction: The cop hero gleans valuable information from a street hooker, who is his informant and perhaps even his love interest. The hooker is alluring, funny, helpful and well-adjusted.

Reality: The vast majority of street prostitutes are out there on the corner because they’re hopelessly addicted to narcotics and selling themselves means earning quick cash to get high. You will likely never encounter a street hooker with a sense of humor, or an athletic, winsome one with a heart of gold like Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places. Real prostitutes have faces so ravaged by street life—pockmarks, sores, caked-on makeup—that it’s hard to look at them. They smell bad. They twitch. They have head lice. Drug addiction has made their daily existence lethargic and bleak, like the final stages of a progressive disease.

9. Fiction: The detectives locate the killer through some exotic means—like the suspect leaving behind traces of rare clay unique to a small fishing village in New Brunswick. Or they find an obscure clue on a surveillance tape that leads them to their man. (“Okay, Ned, play it back. Now forward. Freeze on that!”)

Reality: Criminals are caught because they impulsively shoot someone in front of multiple witnesses. Or because they accidentally drop their wallet containing their ID at the scene of the crime. Or because they tell their crackhead pals about the carjacking they committed and are subsequently turned in for the Crimestoppers reward. Basically they are caught because they’re idiots.

Possible explanation: I wouldn’t sweat this one too much. As a writer, you have some room to operate here. Such exotic and obscure clues can be fun to read about and they propel the story forward. I say let ’em rip.

Adam Plantinga

Adam Plantinga is a sergeant on the San Francisco Police Department and the author of the just-released book 400 Things Cops Know, available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, local booksellers, and from the publisher, Quill Driver Books

 

400 Things Cops Know Cover

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Guest Blogger, Police Procedure

 

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

Holmes

 

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.

 

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

DNA

 

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.

 

 

Guest Blogger: Dr. Mike Tabor: Anatomy Of A Forensic Dental Identification

dental-504

 

The next time you’re in deep thought imagining what your protagonist can do next to draw readers in to your plot, think not only of ‘whodunnit’, or ‘what happened’, but also, ‘who is it’? Many a successful storyline has been written about the first two, but not so many where the mystery is solving WHO this John Doe really is. For now, let’s just explore some details of how forensic identification really works. Here’s how it started out for this forensic odontologist.

In the spring of 1983, I began to assist the newly appointed state medical examiner with the identification of a ‘John Doe’, whose body had been pulled from the murky waters of the Cumberland River, here in Nashville, Tennessee.  The badly decomposed body was bloated, discolored and bore an odor that would choke most. Visual identification would be impossible. Fingerprints were long gone. DNA had yet to be perfected. Fortunately, the decedent bore a mouthful of expensive gold inlays in his molars that would uniquely differentiate him from any other person. That was my baptism in the world of forensic identification.

 

dental

 

 

Barely two years later, I testified in Tennessee’s first criminal trial where human bite marks would be admitted in a court of law. Opposing my testimony as expert witness was Dr. Richard Souviron, Chief Forensic Odontologist for Miami/Dade County Medical Examiner’s office.  Fresh off his appearance in the now world famous Ted Bundy trial, Dr. Souviron later became a lifelong friend and mentor.  Bundy had become the first person in US history sentenced to death where all evidence was circumstantial except for the damning bitemark he left on a victim.   All Tennessee eyes were on Souviron’s testimony, since Bundy had become well known for his serial killing rampage of over a hundred women from Seattle to Tallahassee. Souviron’s testimony was pivotal in obtaining a guilty verdict. The fact that Bundy had been employed at a suicide prevention hotline desk made this case all the more daunting.

Another notorious case in middle Tennessee involved the mysterious disappearance of the wife of a prominent Nashville attorney. Janet March suddenly disappeared in 1996, and her body has never been discovered.

Missing persons departments have worked tirelessly for decades.  Since media presence was so high, any time bones were found, our medical examiner’s team was called to the scene. Many times, it was animal remains, but every time it was a dead end. After over a decade, her husband was the first Tennessean to be convicted of a capital offense without ever producing a body.  Just when you think it is not possible, then the truth often takes a mysterious turn!  It proves that oftentimes, the truth is stranger than fiction.

No forensic experience, however, would surpass the enormous identification task while working with victims of the 9-11 attack of the World Trade Center. I had the privilege of assisting the New York Medical Examiner’s Office in the identification of those victims. Over an eleven month period, forensic scientists identified 1,000 of the roughly 3,000 victims of that horrific event. A large majority of those ID’s were done by dental record comparison. As recent as May 10, 2014, random identifications are made, over a decade since the attack. There are still almost 8,000 remaining unidentifiable body parts stored at the ONYME.  http://news.msn.com/us/9-11-remains-returned-to-world-trade-center-site#tscptme

There are three basic methods used to confirm the identity of an individual. Fingerprints have been used the longest and have become a very reliable method of identification. It makes one assumption: fingerprints are like snowflakes, in that there are no two that are exactly alike. But fingerprints are not durable in weather and environmental factors, and will disintegrate within days in the hot summer.

Around 2000, DNA became, and is now, considered the gold standard for identification. DNA’s reliability is unquestioned, especially since it is the only scientific method able to quantify the accuracy of its determination.  There is one major drawback. The microscopic evidence is very sensitive to the elements. There are several types of DNA, and most are easily destroyed and can be lost within days after elemental exposure.

The third method is that of dental characteristic comparison. Like all methods, it requires the comparison of a known sample to an unknown sample. We must have dental records and/or xrays of an individual who authorities think it might be. The advantage that dentistry has over the other two methods is that human teeth are virtually indestructible.  Most all petroleum based fires will not burn enamel, the hardened outer covering of our teeth. The dental restorations are equally as durable and will withstand all environmental decomposition.

Forensic dentistry has been used to confirm identity of some rather notorious individuals. Back in 1998, I was consulted by the state medical examiner’s office to confirm a dental ID on James Earl Ray, the confessed killer of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Even though he died of hepatitis while in prison, and his face was readily identifiable, our medical examiner wanted certainty. He remembered the controversy with Lee Harvey Oswald’s body just eighteen years after JFK’s assassination. Naysayers claimed conspiracy, so forensic dentistry reconfirmed his identity following an exhumation in Dallas.

What case is the most bizarre mystery I’ve worked? It spanned over a decade and resulted from the murder of a John Doe whose body was placed in a car, burned beyond recognition, while the killer staged his own death.  When his plot was later foiled, it took years to determine the victim’s identity. It was the first time in Tennessee courts of law where a capital murder hearing took place and no one in the courtroom had any idea who the victim was! Think about that for a minute!! This mysterious convoluted storyline gave birth to my first forensic novel, based on this case entitled ‘Walk of Death’.

Why do you do this? I get that question a lot. ‘I don’t see how you stand being around all that stuff all the time!’ Not sure I have a really good answer. The grossness of the endeavor is without question, but that is something that you can overcome. You almost have to look at the project as if you were dissecting a frog in biology class. I don’t mean to trivialize death but by keeping it clinical, the process is more manageable.

Although it sounds somewhat like a cliché, the one redeeming factor in forensic identification is the fact that we are able to finally bring closure to the families whose lives have already been turned upside down from the disappearance of their loved one. The confirmation that truly the ‘search is over’ is somehow able to bring some measure of peace to those families, is an element that probably cannot be completely understood, unless you walked in their shoes. The peace, that’s what I’m after!

Dr. Mike Tabor has served as Chief Forensic Odontologist for The State of Tennessee Office of the Medical Examiner since 1983.  He is past President of the American Board of Forensic Odontology and Section Chair and Fellow for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, as well as past president of the Tennessee Board of Dental Examiners.

He assisted the NYC medical examiner’s office after the 911 event.

 

WalkofDeath_LoRES

 

Dr. Tabor is the author of his first forensic novel, “Walk of Death”, the story of a cold case murder involving forensic dental identification that took over a decade to solve. His second in the Chris Walsh series is entitled “Out of the Darkness”. Since entering the writing phase of his career, Tabor has become a member of the Mystery Writers of America, as well as the International Thriller Writers Association.

For more info on Dr. Tabor’s work, he can be reached at:

http://www.drmiketabor.com

 

 

Guest Blogger: EE Giorgi: I Am My Mother’s Chimera. Chances Are, So Are You

For years now the concept of a “genetic chimera” has sparked the imagination of writers: from Stephen King to Michael Crichton, from CSI to The Office. The idea that an individual could harbor his/her own twin is creepy and intriguing at the same time, not to mention it offers the perfect escape from DNA testing in a police procedural plot.

But if you think that “chimeras have been done already,” think again. All fictional works written so far have exploited the concept of tetragametic chimeras, which results from combining two or more genetically distinct organisms. In humans, this happens when two fertilized eggs fuse together during the first hours of life in the womb.

Yet Mother Nature has invented many other forms of chimerism.

Some genetic defects/mutations can lead to individuals with genetically distinct cells in their body. Usually these defects involve anomalies in the number of chromosomes, but there are also asymptomatic cases, like for example animals whose coat is a patchwork of different colors, as in tortoiseshell cats. This type of chimerism is called mosaicism. Contrary to tetragametic chimeras, which originate from two or more individuals fused together, mosaics originate from a single individual. People whose eyes have different colors are also an example of genetic mosaicism.

Tortoiseshell cat (Source: Wikipedia)

Tortoiseshell cat (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Scientists claim that chimeras are much more common than we think. Chances are, you could be your own twin. But how surprised would you be if I told you that you are actually far more likely to be your mother’s chimera than your unborn sibling’s?

“Microchimerism refers to a small number of cells (or DNA) harbored by one individual that originated in a genetically different individual” (Gammill and Nelson, 2010).

An individual receiving a donor transplant or a blood transfusion is an example of microchimerism. Yet the most common form of microchimerism happens during pregnancy. There’s an ongoing two-way cell trafficking across the placenta, and these exchange cells can actually proliferate long term in the host’s body: fetal cells can be found in the mother years after she gave birth. In fact, because even spontaneous abortions cause fetal cells to be released into the mother’s body, women who became pregnant but never gave birth can also harbor this form of microchimerism.

Mystery writers are familiar with the “Jane Doe scenario”: an unidentified woman that lands on the medical examiner’s table. One of the many things the ME can learn about this woman with today’s technology is whether or not she was ever pregnant—even if the pregnancy ended with a spontaneous abortion. With a single test the ME can find male DNA in Jane Doe and deduce that at some point she was pregnant with a baby boy. A baby girl can also be detected, but it requires more than one test.

Just like fetal cells can be found in the mother years after she has given birth, the inverse is also true: maternal cells have been found in fetal liver, lung, heart, thymus, spleen, adrenal, kidney, pancreas, brain, and gonads. What’s surprising is that in either case (mother-to-fetus transfer, or, vice versa, fetus-to-mother transfer), the extraneous cells migrate to a certain tissue and, once there, they are able to differentiate and proliferate, acting at all effects as if they were engrafted. One paper found circulating maternal cells in 39% of the study subjects (Loubiere et al. 2006).

But even if you are not your own twin, even if you don’t harbor cells from your mother or your child, even then chimeras are closer than you think. Because we all originated from a chimera: roughly 10% of our DNA is made from viral genes, and how this came to happen is a fascinating story.

A long time ago a virus infected a sperm cell or oocyte of one of our ancestors. Once there, the genetic material from the virus fused with the genetic material of the cell —- that’s an old trick viruses play so they can replicate. Except this particular virus never replicated. The sperm or oocyte was fertilized and became a fetus, and that fetus now carried the bit of viral DNA. The viral genes were “stuck”, no longer able to replicate, and thus effectively silenced.

Finally, the last form of chimerism I would like to discuss is far less known because it belongs to a fairly new field: epigenetics.

Genes are packaged inside the nucleus, some deeply hidden inside, and some exposed so that they can be easily “translated” into proteins. This configuration can change in time, as genes can move from the inside of the nucleus and become exposed, while others previously exposed can become hidden. Life events, changes in the environment or in diet, stress, and traumas can potentially affect these mechanisms, causing some genes to turn on while turning off others.

Epigenetics is the study of all mechanisms that can affect gene silencing (turning the genes “off”) and gene expression (turning the genes “on”). In other words, it addresses the question: what causes some genes to shift from being hidden (silenced) to becoming suddenly exposed (expressed) and other genes instead to suddenly become hidden (silenced)?

The amazing thing is that these epigenetic mechanisms are not encoded in the DNA, yet there have been studies that have shown that epigenetic changes caused by stress or diet can indeed be carried over for the next two-three generations.

You’ve probably guessed it by now: an individual whose cells express distinct genes within the same tissue is called an epigenetic chimera.

From a writer’s point of view, this kind of chimerism lends itself to many more scenarios than the genetic one. For one thing, it is much more complicated to detect as the defects no longer lie in the genes themselves, but rather in which genes are expressed and which aren’t. At the same time, epigenetic disorders can give rise to any sort of dysfunctional phenotypes. And you have a wide range of “life events” that could potentially trigger the “sudden change” in your character(s): viruses can certainly mess up with the cells’ signaling and turn on forgotten genes; an accident or physical trauma can spike new sensations/symptoms (have you ever heard of someone’s sense of smell suddenly spiking after a car accident?); a change in diet/environment; etc.

Vampires and zombies may have been done already. But there’s still a lot of room for chimeras of all kinds.

 

EEGiorgi

EEGiorgi

 

E.E. Giorgi is a scientist, a writer and a photographer. She loves to blog about science for the curious mind, especially the kind that sparks fantastic premises and engaging stories. She has done scientific consultations for writers such as Autumn Kalquist (Legacy Code) and bestselling author Carol Cassella (Oxygen). E.E.’s detective thriller CHIMERAS, a hard-boiled police procedural with a genetic twist, is now available on Amazon.

Link to Blog: http://chimerasthebooks.blogspot.com/

Link to book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JI6UNPE

Chimeras Cover

Previous Posts on Chimerism:

 

Q&A: How Could My Sleuth Recognize a Chimera?: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/qa-how-could-my-sleuth-recognize-a-chimera/

Organ Creation and Harvesting: Reality Imitating Art: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/organ-creation-and-harvesting-reality-imitating-art/

Guest Blogger: Elena Giorgi: Deep DNA Sequencing: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/guest-blogger-elena-giorgi-deep-dna-sequencing/

Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong-Guest Blogger: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/human-chimerism-mindboggling-dna-tests-gone-wrong-guest-blogger/

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in DNA, Guest Blogger, Medical Issues

 

Guest Blogger: Ronnie Custer: Cyber Crime: Time To Update International Laws?

Cybercrime

 

 

Universal Law against Cyber Crime Is What We Need

How are cyber crimes perpetuated?

There are many ways in which cyber crimes are perpetrated and technologically savvy attackers are indeed inventing newer ones to outwit law enforcement too. However, the main kind is as follows:

1. Unauthorized or unsolicited access to computer systems or networks with malicious intentions     or motives also termed hacking

2. Data theft of electronically stored information

3. Stratified e-mail bombardment

4. Manipulating electronic data before and after processing

5. Salami attacks mostly on financial and economic data

6. Denial of Service Attacks

7. Virus or worm attacks

8. Trojan Horse or data infiltration to cause damages, or suspension of services

How are they detected? 

Usually, cyber crimes are detected when the individual or institution notices large sums of money are unreasonably withdrawn from their accounts, or their system has become corrupted or malfunctioning. Complaints filed with the relevant Cyber Cell Departments or law enforcement are also ways of detection such genre of crimes. Many new anti cyber crime technology, tools and softwares are now being provided and installed which are able to detect cyber crimes sometimes even before the real damage sets in. Anti Virus Software (AVS) and other lingering software in computer systems are able to detect and resolve many instances of illegal entry.

Universal laws and not country- specific laws are the need of hour for addressing cyber crimes: 

Another major reason why there needs to be universal laws against cyber crimes is that there may be some different sets of cyber laws enacted and enforced by different countries of the world. While the EU may have one set of laws, the Middle East may have another and the Far East yet another, with the Americas, distinguishing itself with the fourth set of different regulatory regimes regarding cybercrimes and its treatment. Thus, enforcement of laws and bringing culprits or perpetrators before the due process of law would be a very difficult proposition, especially if this is of trans border kind with many conflicting enactment, laws and procedures. With country specific laws, it is also difficult to agree on which laws the violators could be tried and punished- the laws of the cyber crime perpetrating country, the laws of the victim’s country or the preponderance of global laws since the crimes were committed  on global internet highway.

There is every possibility that with nebulous laws, the perpetrators could stand good chance of going scot free, due to lack of evidence and even lack of law enforcement techniques.

But if there is preponderance of global set of cyber security laws and their enforcement, there is every likelihood that perpetrators would be made to stand trial and pay for their crimes.

Reasons for apparent need for globally enforceable, universal anti cyber crime 

¬ Changes in global, regional and domestic demographics have indeed warranted the need and urgency for universal laws to combat cyber crimes. Governments of various nations of the world, even involving the Interpol needs to be placed at the disposal of cyber crime fighters, wherever and whenever necessary to do so.

¬ Dramatic and major developments in online communications have indeed aided and abetted cyber criminals, some of whom may be masters of the cyber crime business. They regularly outwit law enforcing agencies and many global cyber crimes remain unsolved to this day due to lack of needed evidence and enforcement laws

¬ Since cyber crimes are now not bound to one country or state, encompassing, as it were, several States and nations through globalization, it has become imperative for States to act together and work in much closer manner to control menace of cyber crime and its after effects, on individuals, cohorts, agencies, institutions and governments. This could indeed be greater advantageous if there is a consistent, cohesive and solid set of Universal laws to which all signing countries need to adhere, abide and to enforce in a consistent, comparable and cohesive manner.

¬ Criminals do take advantage of weak and inconsistent laws to wreck havoc with apparent impunity. They know that current laws are insufficient to indict or even charge them. Global law enforcement with strong legal armory could indeed stop many varieties of online crimes dead on their tracks

Conclusion: Global cyber crime can only be effectively apprehended, prosecuted and eradicated if all nations of the world join together in a determined manner to try and wipe out this scourge from the face of the earth through Universal laws, that act and impact on every nation on earth which is in dire need of robust anti cyber crime fighting mechanism.

Author Bio: I am Ronnie Custer and I am intended on writing academic cases for the past several years that are assisted me to gain knowledge in writing grading assignments for all sorts of students. I have worked in different companies in writing industry.

Links for further reading:

FBI Cyber Crime: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber

Computer Crime, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_crime

Cybercrime: Is It Out of Control?: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/sep/21/cybercrime-spam-phishing-viruses-malware

James Lynn on TED: Everyday Cybercrime: http://www.ted.com/talks/james_lyne_everyday_cybercrime_and_what_you_can_do_about_it

 

 
 
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