Category Archives: Trauma

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.





Dr. Wecht’s Website:

Dr. Wecht’s books and videos:

50 Years Later, Wecht Continues To Poke Holes in Report on JFK Assassination:

Dr. Cyril Wecht Believes Killers of JFK, RFK, MLK Had Help:

Dr. Cyril Wecht Lectures on the JFK Assassination:

Dr. Cyril Wecht on JFK Assassination: Let’s Uncover the Truth:

Crime Library: JonBenet: From Impressions To Book by Dr. Katherine Ramsland:

Dr. Cyril Wecht Discusses Forensic Challenges of Cold Cases:

Dr. Cyril Wecht: The Benefits of Forensic Credentialing:

Cyril H. Wecht: What I Know:

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht: Pittsburgh’s Polymath:








Joseph Rivera: The New Andrew Luster?

Joseph Rivera

Joseph Rivera


In a case that seems to echo that of Andrew Luster, Joseph Rivera has been arrested and charged with multiple sexual assaults involving the use of sedative drugs. Exactly like Andrew. Andrew’s drug of choice was GHB and that might also be what Rivera used. No details yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s the answer.


Andrew Luster

Andrew Luster


GHB is one of the so-called Date Rape Drugs. Their treachery lies in that, unlike true intoxicants such as alcohol and the various narcotic and sedative drugs out there, the victim appears more or less normal. Maybe a little giddy but certainly not sloppy drunk. But the victim becomes very complaint and suggestable and has no memory of what happens while under the drug’s influence. Scary stuff.


Q and A: Can a Blow to the Head Render My Character Blind?

Q: My male character hits his head on a wall, rendering him blind. How long would he be blinded for, once the swelling that caused it goes down? Any long term effects, such as headaches and that?

Michelle Cunin, Alliance, Ohio

A: Blunt trauma to the head if it is severe enough to cause a cerebral contusion (brain bruise), where by definition there is some degree of bleeding into and swelling of the brain tissues as a result of the trauma, can easily cause a malfunction in that area of the brain. If it is the area of the brain that controls vision, your victim could easily have blindness. We call this cortical blindness since it arises from the cortex of the brain and not from the eye or from the optic nerve. In other words the loss of the ability to see comes from the brain itself. The visual cortex, the part of the brain that controls seeing, is in the very back of the brain in what we call the occipital lobe. In order for your victim to be completely blind both halves of the brain would have to be damaged otherwise he would only lose vision to his right side or his left side but not both. But this could easily happen with a blow to the back of the head or can occur after a fall where the back of the head strikes a wall, the floor, stairs, or almost anything else.




If the injury were severe enough to significantly damage the optical cortex then his blindness could be permanent but in most cases once the bleeding inside the brain stops and the swelling resolves, vision will return. This could take a few hours or many weeks so you have a broad range to consider when constructing your story. Any of these are possible.

The victim’s blindness might be complete or only partial in that he might be able to see shadows and shapes or one half of his visual field might be clearer than the other. This later situation would indicate that one side of the brain was damaged more severely than the other. If it were the left occipital lobe that was more severely damaged then the right half of his visual field would be the most affected. If he were struck in the left back side of the head, for example, he could lose vision of the entire right side of his visual field. It would appear as if a line had been drawn down the center of his visual field and everything to the right of the line would be black while to the left all would be normal. But since you want him completely blind it would require injuries to both occipital lobes.

Whether his vision returns or not, he could suffer from long-term headaches, dizziness, poor balance, and a few other symptoms but he could also return to complete normalcy. These symptoms could last a few days, months, or forever. All is possible.




Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma


Are Bite Marks Junk Science?

The forensic examination of bite marks left on victims, both alive and deceased, is being brought into question. If someone has an unusual tooth pattern and leaves bite marks on a victim, it seems logical that a match between the tooth pattern and the bite mark pattern would indicate that this person was the one who did the biting. And that just might be the case.



The poster boy for serial killers, Ted Bundy, had an unusual dental pattern and was convicted in part on bite mark evidence. No doubt old Ted was guilty but was the bite mark evidence used against him reliable?


Bundy's Teeth

Bundy’s Teeth


It comes down to exactly how accurate these comparisons are?



It mostly depends on the “quality and clarity” of the bite mark and the skill, experience, and attention to detail of the observer. The key being that it varies from case to case and from examiner to examiner. Forensic science doesn’t like such unpredictable variability. In general, such variability means that either the technique is not useful or accurate, or the protocols for making the comparison are inexact. Time will tell, but a couple of upcoming court rulings could derail the entire process. We shall see.

AZ Daily Star

The Daily



Q and A: Can My Character Survive An Arrow to the Back Yet Have Long-term Pain?

Q: In my fantasy world, a healthy young man of about twenty-three gets shot in the lumbar portion of the back with an arrow. The physicians manage to remove most of it, but left behind fragments that were too close to his spine. He lives until fifty years old, but suffers from bouts of agonizing pain, numbness and tingling in his legs and feet, and sometimes trouble walking. Would it be viable for someone to live almost twenty-five years with pieces of an arrow lodged in their back? And do the symptoms I describe coincide with that sort of spinal trauma?

Liz Penn, author of ISHTAR FLUX



A: Yes, this could easily happen and it doesn’t even require that fragments are left behind because the scar tissue left from the injury and from the surgery to remove the arrow could also irritate the lumbar spinal column and the nerves that arise from it. This scar tissue would remain forever and could cause chronic low back pain, pain down the leg, numbness and tingling, and could even interfere with what we call proprioception–the feeling of where your foot is. This could easily cause him pain and trouble with walking. If you want fragments to be left behind it would be best that the arrow were made of ancient materials such as flint, which is what many American Indian tribes used, since modern metal arrowheads don’t easily fracture and would likely be easily removed as one piece. It is of course possible that a small piece could break off the tip but if you want fragments I would go with the flint variety.



Posted by on January 27, 2013 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma


Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland: Who Killed Nicole?

Who Killed Nicole?


Nicole Brown Simpson’s Body at her Bundy Home


A serial killer claims credit for the Simpson/Goldman double homicide.

Confessions come out of the woodwork in high profile cases: the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Black Dahlia murder, and JonBenet Ramsey all attracted voluntary confessors, but most just craved an association with fame. John Mark Karr had even picked out Johnny Depp to play him in the inevitable movie about the murder of young JonBenet. And then there’s the Nicole Brown Simpson/Ronald Goldman double homicide from 1994. We have a suspect who’s once again getting some attention, compliments of Anthony Meoli.

A consultant with a master’s degree in forensic psychology, Meoli has corresponded with and interviewed numerous serial killers and death row inmates. Among them are Danny Rolling, Loran Cole, and Lee Boyd Malvo. Next week, Meoli is set to appear on My Brother, the Serial Killer (Nov. 21) on the ID Network regarding his interviews with serial killer Glen Rogers.

It’s not the first time that Rogers, convicted of three murders, has been in the picture for this infamous double homicide. However, Meoli has information that suggests we should reconsider past dismissals of Rogers’ claim. I invited him to tell me more about it.


Rogers and Meoli


“My motivation for writing Glen Edward Rogers,” Meoli said, “was triggered after reading several Internet articles and a book about his crimes. What really garnered my attention was that he had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death in not one state but two – Florida and California. The fact that California was willing to extradite an already convicted man from Florida’s death row made me curious as to what had happened in all the states in between. It seemed, at least from a cursory review of some of the cold cases surrounding him, wherever Glen Rogers went, someone either ended up missing or dead. What I would find was rather astounding.”

I asked about the start of their correspondence.

“My first letter from Glen was received on October 4, 2009,” said Meoli, “as he sat on death row at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida. He responded by saying, ‘I received your letter a while back and debated about writing back because someone in Georgia had caused other inmates lots of trouble.’ I dispelled his fear with my next letter, knowing that trust had been a core issue with Glen his entire life, and he was quick to respond. By the end of 2009, he’d written an additional seven times. A bond had been struck between us, what it was I cannot explain, but it was set.”

Rogers soon started writing on a regular basis, two or three times a week. Meoli said that on May 6, 2010, a revealing letter arrived.

“It concerned his first murder as a teenager, with his father. After twelve years of writing to death row inmates, I’d grown accustomed to ‘stories’ about unsolved crimes (often these boastful claims are merely a test or a ruse to elicit money to get more details), but his letter seemed different. Glen narrowed the year to between 1975-1976 and described the female victim in vivid detail. He also described the car that they’d used and where he and his father had buried the woman. He asked me to look up this cold case to see if this woman had ever been found. Glen even hinted at an ability to draw her face, which I convinced him to do and which was sent about a month later.”

Within about six weeks, Meoli sent Rogers a second questionnaire. With it he asked Rogers if he had anything to do with the 1994 Brown Simpson/Goldman murders?

“Surprisingly,” Meoli told me, “he answered in the affirmative. Glen began divulging more information about his past crimes and his family. Each letter was now 5-10 pages in length.”

Rogers placed Meoli on his visitation list, and on November 6, 2010, they met for the first time. Because Meoli had requested special approval, he was able to spend several hours.


“It was during this visit that Glen described how he became involved in the Goldman/Simpson murders. He explained that he’d detailed his involvement in some of the art he’d sent me prior to my visit and if I looked closely I would see the clues. In a July 2010 drawing, he’d depicted the basic design of the murder weapon along, with the victims’ skulls.”

Post-visit, another drawing also depicted the weapon. Rogers had killed Goldman, first, he’d said, which had drawn Nicole outside.

“This was a murder-for-hire plot,” Meoli stated. “Glen explained that it was designed to be inside the condo, but Goldman arrived to the wrong place at the wrong time. Since Rogers was a much larger man, standing nearly 6’2” and 240 lbs, he’d subdued Goldman without leaving much evidence.”

This, apparently, was his MO: leaving little evidence. Other artwork depicted other murders, seemingly taking place over several decades – many more than the three for which he’d been charged and convicted.

“Considering that most death row inmates usually remain quiet, especially in Florida, and especially those who are well past the average time of execution,” said Meoli, “I found it peculiar that Rogers was readily admitting his alleged involvement in the Goldman/Simpson murders, and others. Why Rogers has kept up his insistence on these murders remains a mystery.”

Meoli has spent nearly 50 hours during eight visits with Glen Rogers. He insists that he’s detected no malingering during Rogers’ repeated recollections of this infamous night. “Glen has had time to believe it.”

Meoli points out that Rogers had lived in California at the time of the murders, just 25 minutes away from the scene. He’d worked for a painting company that had performed an estimate on Nicole’s condominium. The truck used for work was identified by a detective as one of the vehicles at the scene, (a white, Ford F-350, primarily used by contractors) along with an unidentified strand of long blonde hair allegedly found beneath under Nicole Simpson’s body, which was not hers. At the time, Rogers had long blonde hair.

Yet, what about the DNA evidence against OJ – the stuff that wasn’t contaminated or problematic?

“Rogers admits O.J. is not innocent,” Meoli counters, “but says he did not commit the murders. If we look at the case for which O.J. Simpson was convicted in Nevada, he hired someone to do his dirty work. So, is Rogers the actual perpetrator of the ‘Crime of the Century?’ It is my professional opinion that Glen Edward Rogers believes this to be the case. As to why he is so vehement about implicating himself, it remains a mystery. It could be a ruse to buy him more time or, as he puts it, ‘I needed to tell the world what happened.’”

It’s about time that some crew at ID put this case together for the rest of us to ponder. Since Meoli has collected so much information, I, for one, am looking forward to watching it.


Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 46 books and over 1,000 articles. She teaches forensic psychology and her area of specialization is serial murder. Her latest book on the subject is The Mind of a Murderer.



Lizzie Borden Took An Ax—120 Years Ago Today

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one

Everyone is familiar with this little ditty even though the author is unknown. Over the decades since this horrific double homicide there has been great discussion and controversy over whether Lizzie did the deed or not. And if so, what her motives might have been.

Adding to the discussion is this excellent article in Psychology Today by my friend Dr. Katherine Ramsland.


Q and A: Can a Blow to the Chest Kill an Adult Male?

Q: In my WIP I was planning to have someone killed by a strong blow to the chest. I know death has occurred this way in children, specifically young baseball players who get hit in the chest by a ball or bat. Could such a blow kill a grown man?

Nora Barker, Author of Murder in Primary Colors

A: This is an extremely rare occurrence but can happen in either children or adults. A blow to the chest can cause a cardiac death in several ways.

The trauma could be of sufficient force to directly damage the heart muscle, causing it to rupture, resulting in sudden death. Or, a heart valve could be damaged so severely that the heart could no longer function efficiently as a pump and the victim could die from the resulting shock. Here death could take many minutes or hours. The blow could bruise the heart muscle (called a cardiac contusion) and this could cause a deadly cardiac arrhythmia, again with sudden death.

Also, the trauma, even without an overt cardiac contusion, could cause electrical instability and a deadly arrhythmia–usually either ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF).

Another possibility is that the force of the chest trauma could cause the heart to be propelled backward where it could bounce against the spinal column. The atrioventricular node (AV node or AVN) is found on the back side of the heart. It is the relay station that carries the heart’s electrical pulses from the upper chambers to the lower chambers. If the AVN is bruised or damaged, complete heart block, where no electrical impulses travel through the AVN, could result. If so the heart rate might drop to 25-30 per minute and this could lead to sudden collapse and death.

So yes a blow to the chest can kill by any of these mechanisms but each is exceedingly rare and very unpredictable. This unpredictability makes it a poor choice for murder as killers like things to be more certain—like gunshots and stabs and poisons. Still, it’s possible.


Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma


Q and A: What Injuries Might Cause My Character’s Amnesia and How Would It Be Evaluated and Treated?

Q: I want my victim and her best friend to be in a car accident. One girl dies instantly, and it looks like the second girl will die too, but she survives. I need her to be in a coma then wake up and have temporary amnesia but then after several days (specifically around 10) she completely regains her memory of the events immediately before the accident, so that she can tell the police that the driver (the deceased) was trying to use her brakes, instead of simply running a red light. Is this realistic? Could the exact cause of the coma (blood clot, structural damage, etc) be diagnosed and if so how? What kind of head injury would cause these injuries? What treatments if any could be used to bring her out of the coma and amnesia? What about any long-term neurological effects?

A: The short answer is that all of this will work for your story. Comas and amnesia are funny things and virtually anything can happen.

A comatose person may remain so for days or months or years and then wake up gradually, in fits and spurts, or suddenly. The victim would likely be somewhat confused and disoriented for a period of time—this could be minutes, hours, days, or weeks—and might then return completely to normal or might be left with all sorts of mental deficits such as confusion and disorientation, and could have personality changes. They could be withdrawn, very talkative and outgoing, paranoid, angry and combative, quiet and passive, or any thing else. Or not. They could wake up and be normal is every respects. All is possible.

She would have no memory for the time she was comatose and may or may not remember what came before. This is called retrograde amnesia. Her loss of memory could go back any period of time before the accident—a few minutes, a few hours, days, months, years, or forever And her memory of previous events may be partial, spotty, or complete. It may return slowly over days, weeks, or months or may return quickly. Again, all is possible.

The bottom line is that coma and amnesia are both poorly understood and come in thousands of flavors. This is good for you since you can craft your story any way you wish and it will work.

When she came to the hospital she would go through a battery of tests designed to find out if she had any serious brain injury. These could include skull X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, EEGs (Electroencephalogram–a measure of brain wave activity), spinal taps, and other things. When the tests all came back normal, the diagnosis would be a cerebral contusion (basically a brain bruise). She would be given steroids (like Decadron 8 milligrams IV twice a day) to lessen any brain swelling. Other than that, time is the only treatment.

Once the victim woke up the MD would perform a complete neurological exam to assess brain function. This is complex and I doubt you really need it for your story anyway. He would then perform a mental status exam, which is designed to assess orientation, memory, and cognitive function. He does this with a series of questions. The victim may be able to answer them all, only some of them, or none of them depending upon her mental status. This is a huge subject but a few things he might do would be:

Orientation means does the person know who he and others are, the date, his location, and what situation he is in. The MD might ask: What’s your name? How old are you? Point to the victim’s sister, friend, etc. and ask Who is this? What is today’s date? Who is the president? What type of building are we in?

Memory would be tested by asking: What do you last remember? He might then tell her the name of everyone in the room and ask her to repeat them. Or say a sequence of numbers and get her the repeat them back.

Cognitive function means the ability to understand concepts and connections. He might ask her to subtract 7 from 100 and 7 from that number and so on. Answer: 100, 93, 86, 79, etc. He might ask her what does the phrase cry over spilt milk mean? Or a penny saved is a penny earned. Such questions test her ability to reason and use abstract thinking.

It’s more complex than this but this should help.

Your victim might not require anything and could go home a week after awakening—depending upon what other injuries she sustained of course. More likely she would need psychiatric counseling and physical therapy (PT). Again, you have great leeway here.


Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma


Q and A: Could My Investigator Determine If the Knife Used in a Murder was Made of Obsidian Rather Than Some Other Material?

Q: I am a lawyer in Tacoma, WA with a hobby of writing detective novels, all unpublished but fun for me. My question is would a knife wound from an obsidian knife be identifiable as from an obsidian knife as opposed to a knife made from another material?

John C. Cain, Tacoma, WA

A: Not likely, unless the knife had an unusual shape or curve or both. Wound analysis will only give the width, thickness, and general shape of the blade as well as its minimum length. The depth of the wound would tell the ME what length of the blade entered the victim. The blade could be longer but not shorter–thus the minimum length. If the ME then had the suspected murder weapon he could measure it and say that this blade was or was not consistent with the victim’s wound. That’s as far as he could go. He could completely exclude the knife as the murder weapon if the wound didn’t match but he could not say that this blade, and no other, made the wound. Only that this blade or one similar to it did the deed. The more unique the blade is the better this would narrow the possibilities.

But there are a couple of ways he could make a more conclusive judgement. If the victim’s blood was found on the weapon, say in the groove between the handle and the blade where the killer would overlook it and where even washing the knife might not remove it all, he could then DNA match this to the victim and say that this knife held the victim’s blood and was very likely the murder weapon. Why else would the blood be there?

Even better, if the point of the knife broke off in the victim and this was found at autopsy, then the ME would know the knife was made of obsidian. A comparison of this tip with the suspect weapon could prove very conclusive. If the tip fit the suspect blade in an exact jigsaw fashion this is very conclusive and individualizing evidence. That is, the ME could confidently say that this tip came from this knife to the exclusion of all others. The science behind this is that no two things fracture exactly the same way.


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