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Crime and Science Radio: Burning Down the House: An Interview with Fire Investigator John Lentini

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Crime and Science Radio: Burning Down the House: An Interview with Fire Investigator John Lentini, Saturday, March 15 at 10 a.m. PDT

John Lentini will educate us about scientific fire investigation, what can be learned from examining the scene of a fire, and why improved training and scientific approaches to fire investigation are so important.

John Lentini, author of Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, is one of the leading fire investigators in the U.S.  He is the president and chief investigator of Scientific Fire Analysis, LCC.  He is a certified by both the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) and the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). and is a certified Diplomate of the American Board of Criminalistics, with a specialty in Fire Debris Analysis. He was a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences 2009 President’s Panel on Scientific Integrity.  He has authored over 3000 technical reports and testified in over 200 cases since 1975.  He has testified for both Plaintiffs and Defendants, and as a neutral court-hired expert. He has appeared on Frontline, 20/20 and other television programs.



Scientific Fire Analysis:

ABC News: Fire Expert: How I Nearly Sent An Innocent Man to the Electric Chair:

Lime Street Fire: Wikipedia:

International Association of Arson Investigators:

National Institute of Justice: A Guide for Investigating Fire and Arson:

Fire Investigation: Wikipedia:

InterFIRE: The Anatomy of an Arson Case:

Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition, by John Lentini

Scientific Fire Analysis, LLC

A Basic Explanation of How Fire Works (from

“Arson Forensics Sets Old Fire Myths Ablaze” NPR interview with John Lentini

“Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials?” Discover Magazine

“Arson Myths Fuel Errors” Chicago Tribune

“Trial by Fire: Did Texas Execute An Innocent Man?” Story on Willingham case in The New Yorker

Trailer for Incendiary: The Willingham Case

Frontline’s Death by Fire program on the Willingham case

“Fire Expert: How I Nearly Sent an Innocent Man to the Electric Chair” 20/20 article

Link to downloadable fire science publications by John Lentini 

ABC News’s 20/20: Evidence Under Attack in Two Texas Arson Convictions

National Association of Fire Investigators

National Fire Protection Association

International Association of Arson Investigators

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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


Book Review: FEAR NOTHING by Lisa Gardner

Fear Nothing.



Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner

Dutton Adult

January 7, 2014

ISBN-10: 0525953086

ISBN-13: 978-0525953081

400 pages

If this story has a theme, it’s pain. Physical, emotional, psychological pain.

Fear nothing? Fear everything. And everyone.

There are dysfunctional families and then there are dysfunctional families. Some have quirks, idiosyncrasies, while others are down-right pathological. Fear Nothing  deals with a family that redefines the term dysfunctional.

This is Gardner’s sixth Detective D.D. Warren novel, and like her other psychological thrillers, this story will keep you awake and make you think. D.D. is her usual ballsy self but the engines that drive this story are Dr. Adeline Glen and Shana Day, estranged sisters, daughters of Harry Day, an infamous and brutal serial killer who ravaged his victims by removing strips of skin as trophies. Now a series of eerily similar killings attracts D.D.’s attention. The perpetrator is dubbed the Rose Killer for his, or her, habit of not only taking away strips of his victims’ skin but also leaving a bottle of champagne and a single red rose at the scene. Who is the Rose Killer? Is there a connection between him and Harry Day? Or maybe Adeline and Shana?

If this story has a theme, it’s pain. Physical, emotional, psychological pain. D.D. suffers pain after a fall—or was she pushed?—down a flight of stairs at a crime scene she foolishly re-visited at night, alone. A serious and painful shoulder injury results. This plagues her throughout the story and leads her to the offices of Dr. Adeline Glen, a woman incapable of feeling pain. She suffers from a rare neurological disorder that renders her immune to painful sensations, a condition that has severely limited her life, making sports and many other activities unwise. How could she know if and when she injured herself? Devoid of painful sensations, bruises, breaks, and bleeding could easily go unnoticed and ultimately be life-threatening. But this limitation leads her to a career in psychiatry where she specializes in pain management. It is the management of her shoulder pain that leads D.D. to Dr. Glen’s office.

And what of Adeline’s sister, Shana? She has been in prison for thirty years of a life sentence for killing a childhood friend. Or did she? Was she simply so anti-social that her conviction was inevitable or was she truly a deeply disturbed sociopath, capable of killing without remorse? One thing for sure is that Shana relishes pain, repeatedly inflicting it on herself, and others. Fellow inmates, and even the prison guards, tread carefully in her presence.

The Danse Macabre that unfolds among D.D., Adeline, and Shana creates a convoluted plot that will keep you guessing, and intrigued, until the final page.

Lisa Gardner writes great psychological thrillers and Fear Nothing is yet another excellent example. Highly recommended.

Original Review for the NY Journal of Books:

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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


Anthony Award Nominations Announced

Nominations for the Anthony Award have been announced and MORE FORENSICS AND FICTION is one of the nominees.


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Congratulations to all my fellow nominees. They are:


Dare Me – Megan Abbott [Reagan Arthur]

The Trinity Game – Sean Chercover [Thomas & Mercer]

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn [Crown]

The Beautiful Mystery – Louise Penny [Minotaur]

The Other Woman – Hank Phillippi Ryan [Forge]



Don’t Ever Get Old – Daniel Friedman [Thomas Dunne]

The Professionals – Owen Laukkanen [Putnam]

The Expats – Chris Pavone [Crown]

The 500 – Matthew Quirk [Reagan Arthur]

Black Fridays – Michael Sears [Putnam]



Whiplash River – Lou Berney [William Morrow]

Murder for Choir – Joelle Charbonneau [Berkley Prime Crime]

And She Was – Alison Gaylin [Harper]

Blessed are the Dead – Malla Nunn [Emily Bestler]

Big Maria – Johnny Shaw [Thomas & Mercer]



“Mischief in Mesopotamia” – Dana Cameron, EQMM, Nov 2012

“Kept in the Dark” – Shelia Connolly, Best New England Crime Stories: Blood Moon [Level Best]

“The Lord is My Shamus” – Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder, p.97 [Wildside]

“Peaches” – Todd Robinson, Grift, Spring 2012, p.80

“The Unremarkable Heart” – Karin Slaughter, Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance, p.177 [Mulholland]



Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels – John Connolly and Declan Burke, eds. [Hodder & Stoughton/Emily Bestler]

Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950 – Joseph Goodrich, ed. [Perfect Crime]

More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered – D.P. Lyle, M.D. [Medallion]

The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery Agatha Christie – Mathew Prichard, ed. [Harper]

In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero – Otto Penzler, ed. [Smart Pop]



Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


Q and A: What Drug Might Make My Character Impotent?

Q: My story is about a woman who, for various reasons, does not want to have sex with her husband. She decides to obtain an antiandrogen drug and administer to hubby sub rosa to prevent him from having erections. What drug might be best for this? How would it be administered? Could it be obtained from foreign pharmacy in Canada or Mexico?

Herb Vest, Dallas, TX


A: There are many drugs that can potentially cause impotence or erectile dysfunction. Most are unpredictable and they work in different manners but since she would have access to his food and drink and even his medications on a daily basis she could easily perform a trial and error study to see which ones work best for her needs.

One would be simply giving him her birth control pills. These would be easy to crush and add the food and over time could cause an elevation of estrogen and a lowering of testosterone levels and this could interfere with his sexual function. This would take weeks or months to work and he could have certain side effects such as slight breast enlargement and tenderness but for the most part the drug would go unnoticed he would simply have a more difficult time getting and maintaining an erection.

Many classes of blood pressure medications can do the same thing. Diuretics, ace inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers can do this but by far the most likely are the beta blockers: atenolol, metoprolol, and propranolol are the most common. These drugs tend to lower the blood pressure and slow the heart rate and this is how they lower blood pressure but they are also notorious for causing sexual dysfunction in men. Besides the sexual problems the other side effects that he could experience would be fatigue, sleepiness, forgetfulness, and possibly some shortness of breath. In most people these latter symptoms are mild and he might simply write them off to being overworked or under stress as these symptoms are also associated with that.

The medications used for prostate cancer such as Flutamide and Leuprolide, can also cause impotence.

HERE is a useful chart of the drugs that can cause sexual dysfunction.

Each of these medications is easy to obtain as they are very common and widely used. She could forge a prescription, steel some from a neighbor, or get them prescribed for herself. Many can be ordered from Canada if a valid or forged prescription is available. If she or someone she knew worked in a pharmacy or a medical facility they could easily be stolen as they are not controlled drugs and therefore not locked up and often accounting is lax.

Of all of these possibilities I would go with the beta blockers. The dosage can be adjusted up or down to cause a more or less affect on his sexual performance and also to lessen any side effects he might have. Each comes as a pill that can easily be crushed and added to food.



Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Writers Forensics Blog: Top 25 Forensic Science Blogs of 2012



I just learned that The Writers Forensics Blog has been selected as one of the Top 25 Forensic Science Blogs of 2012 by

I have been following most of the other blogs on the list for years and am honored to be in such excellent company.

Check out the list. There are some fun and useful sites here.



Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


Smoothies Are On The Case




I’d bet Roger Taylor never suspected quenching his thirst would land him in jail. It seems that while committing an armed robbery Roger became thirsty and drank some of his victims smoothie. This of course transferred his DNA to the straw and the crime lab was able to sample it and make a match with the unfortunate Mr. Taylor.

I guess the take-home lesson here is one that your mother always told you: Don’t drink after others.

What a concept.


Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


You Did What? Alcohol Is A Dangerous Drug

With New Year’s Eve just days away I think this post might be appropriate. File this under a fraternity prank gone wrong.

We’ve all heard stories of college students binge drinking, passing out, being tucked in by classmates to “sleep it off,” and then turning up dead the next morning. The reason this occurs so commonly lies in the way the body metabolizes (destroys or breaks down) alcohol. It does so in a linear fashion as opposed to a dose-dependent fashion. This means that the system for destroying alcohol runs at its highest level at all times regardless of how much alcohol is consumed. With increased alcohol intake there is no way to “rev up” the system to handle the excess because the metabolic pathways are already running at maximum capacity. This allows the blood-alcohol level to rise rapidly and this is what leads to death from respiratory depression and asphyxia.

This nearly happened to University of Tennessee student Alexander Broughton, but not in the usual fashion. Most students drink alcohol but it seems that Alexander was given an alcohol enema as part of a fraternity hazing ritual. An activity that seems to go by the colorful moniker “Butt Chugging.” Really?

Broughton denies that this is the case but, whether it happened to him or not, it is still a lesson for anyone who might wish to try this. Though for the life of me I can’t see why anyone would.

It is important to note that many drugs can be given through the colon because they are absorbed very rapidly into the bloodstream through the lining of the lower G.I. tract. Alcohol is no different. So taking the alcohol as an enema is probably more dangerous than drinking it as it is absorbed very rapidly into the bloodstream when given by this route.


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Alcohol Metabolism: From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

The body eliminates most toxins in what is called a dose-dependent fashion. That is, the higher the dose taken, the more rapidly the toxin is metabolized. A small amount will activate only some of the enzymes that break down the toxin, whereas a larger amount will activate more enzymes in order to handle the increased load of toxin. In other words, the body calls up enough workers to get the job done quickly.

But, alcohol is metabolized in a linear fashion in that any amount of alcohol intake activates all the enzyme systems that destroy it. This means that from the first drink, the system operates at almost maximum efficiency and there is little or no ability to increase it. The average rate of ethanol destruction in the body is roughly equivalent to one drink per hour.

Why is this important? With rapid intake of alcohol, as is seen in binge drinking, so common among college students, the body has no method for increasing the removal of the alcohol. The system is already running at top speed and excessive intake overruns the body’s ability to deal with it. The result is that the concentration of alcohol in the blood will rise rapidly and this can lead to coma and death. You’ve no doubt read about such tragedies in the newspaper.

The story usually goes something like this: Joe gets very drunk at a party and passes out. His friends tuck him onto bed somewhere and continue partying, thinking Joe will “sleep it off.” Unfortunately, Joe still has a stomach full of alcohol, which continues to enter Joe’s bloodstream. Since Joe’s alcohol-destroying enzyme systems are already working at maximum capacity, the level of alcohol in the blood continues to rise, finally reaching a level that causes Joe to stop breathing. His corpse is found the next morning when everyone has sobered up. Happens all too often.

The blood alcohol content (BAC) correlates very well with degree of intoxication. The BAC level is expressed in grams percent, which means the number of grams of alcohol in each 100 milliliters of blood. As the level rises, the toxic effects of the alcohol become more pronounced. A level of 0.08 is the legal limit for intoxication in most jurisdictions. You may be impaired at a much lower level, but at 0.08 they’ll cuff you. The correlation of the BAC with the signs and symptoms of intoxication are well established.

BAC of 0.03: Most people will become giddy, but their motor skills will be little affected. This is equivalent to a single beer or one high ball in most individuals.

BAC of 0.03 to 0.08: Coordination, reaction time, and judgment decline.

BAC above 0.12: Nausea and vomiting can occur.

BAC of 0.25: Slipping into a coma is likely.

BAC of 0.30: Usually leads to a deep coma.

BAC of 0.40 or more: Death is likely.



Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


DNA Imaged

Using an Electron Microscope, Enzo di Fabrizio and his team at the University of Genoa have produced the first clear image of the DNA double helix.

Very cool.


DNA Double Helix Structure

DNA Double Helix Structure



The DNA Double Helix

EM Picture of the DNA Double Helix





Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


RUN TO GROUND, Finalist for the 2012 USA Best Book Award

USA BEST BOOK AWARDS 2012, Thriller/Adventure Category



Run To Ground by D.P. Lyle
Oceanview Publishing

Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon

Collision of Lies by John J. LeBeau
Oceanview Publishing

Greco’s Game by James Houston Turner
Comfort Publishing

Q: Awakening by G.M. Lawrence

The Calypso Directive: A Novel by Brian Andrews
Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Tidal Wave 23: A New World Order Thriller by Thomas J. Ryan
Thomas J. Ryan


Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon


Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


Arson, Heart Attacks, and the Manner of Death

Back in May, I discussed the issue of Cause and Manner of death and the two killers who went to trial for murder when their victim died 30 years after the initial attack. The victim died from “natural causes” but the cascade of events that led to his death began with the assault by the two defendants.

In a slightly different situation, but one that weighs equally on the manner of death, Rickie Fowler has been convicted of the murder of five people who died from fatal heart attacks. But aren’t heart attacks natural events? How could he be guilty of murder?


Back in 2003 in San Bernardino County, CA, dear old Rickie decided to set the countryside ablaze by driving around the drought-dried hillsides and tossing flaming objects out the window of his vehicle. Here in California we deal with these morons every fire season. The result of Rickie’s little spree was a nine-day fire that consumed 91,000 acres, more than 1000 buildings, and the five heart attack victims, who suffered their fatal events while trying to escape the flames.


Sure heart attacks are natural, but the inciting event in the death of each was their fear, anxiety, stress, and physical activity as they rushed away from the conflagration. If not for the fire, the heart attacks would not likely have occurred. At least not on that day. A jury agreed and convicted Rickie on all five counts.


Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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