Monthly Archives: August 2009

Fond Du Lac Jane Doe: A Unique Method for Corpse ID

The ME will use any and all tools at his disposal to help identify an unknown corpse. Such is the case with the young lady known as the “Fond du Lac Jane Doe.”

She is unidentified and has remained so since her badly decomposed body was found in a rural wooded area near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin last November. The ME determined that she was between 15 and 21, just over 5-feet tall, and weighed between 110 and 135 pounds. Police believe she might be Caucasian, but a University of Wisconsin anthropologist determined that she was Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. Scouring missing persons reports has not turned up an ID and even though the manufacturer of her clothing was identified, this offered little help. DNA has been obtained but with nothing to compare it to it is of no use.

A forensic artist created a composite likeness and the clothing manufacturer provided copies of her clothing so that police could construct a composite picture. Then they took the unique step of creating a Facebook page for Jane Doe. Hopefully this will lead to her identity.


ABC News Story

Facebook Page

Sheriff’s Department Site


Jasmine Fiore: Corpse ID from Breast Implants

The recent murder of Jasmine Fiore, which took place right here in Orange County, is an interesting case of body identification.  Her corpse was found on August 15th in a suitcase that had been dumped in a dumpster in Buena Park California. The primary suspect in her murder is Ryan Jenkins.


Apparently the couple had stayed at a hotel in San Diego where video surveillance cameras showed Jenkins leaving the hotel with a suitcase. There was no evidence on any of the tapes of Jasmine being with him and in fact no evidence that she ever left the hotel at all. At least not walking. When her body turned up stuffed in a suitcase similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video, Jenkins immediately became a suspect. His whereabouts at this time is unknown but there is speculation that he fled the country to his native Canada.

It seems that she had been strangled and her body mutilated in that her teeth and fingers had been removed. I read one report that stated that only her fingernails had been removed but I think the more reliable sources say that it was her fingers. Why would someone remove the teeth and fingers of the corpse? Obviously to prevent identification of the body. With no dental records and no fingerprints this can make body identification much more difficult.

When the medical examiner is confronted with an unidentified corpse, he must go through several steps in order to identify the victim. This identification is crucial, not only because loved ones and family need to know, but also this is the first and perhaps the most important step in identifying the killer. It has been said that over 90% of the time murder victims know their killer. So identifying the body will help police focus on the proper pool of suspects.

To make the identification, the medical examiner will first determine the size, age, sex, and race of the victim and then compare this with missing persons reports in the hopes that one of these missing people is the victim. He will also rely on the clothing, jewelry, and of course a wallet or purse with a driver’s license would be a big help. But clothing and jewelry are often distinctive and can help with identification. A laundry mark on clothing, an inscription on jewelry, or an unusual and one of a king piece of clothing of jewelry can lead to a positive ID.

Fingerprints would also be obtained and compared with those of any missing persons — if their fingerprints are available — or they can be run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). If the individual is in the database the identification can be made.

Dental records or DNA are useful if dental records or DNA is available from a compatible missing person. Sometimes DNA can be obtained from family members and used to determine that the unidentified body is related and this can provide identification. But if there is no family and the victim does not match any missing person reports then DNA and dental records are of little use.

Other important method for identification are surgical scars, birthmarks, and tattoos. These can often be distinctive, particularly tattoos. In fact, some tattoos can be traced back to the artists that did the work because because their style is so distinctive. Birthmarks are also unique. Remember Gorbachev’s nevus flammus (port wine stain) birthmark?

Artificial devices such as pacemakers, orthopedic implants (artificial hips and knees for example), and breast implants often carry serial numbers that can be traced back to the manufacturer, the hospital where the device was implanted, and the doctor who implanted the device. Medical records will then reveal who the recipient was and the identification can be made that way. In the case of Jasmine Fiore, identification was completed through her breast implants.

Now if the police can only locate Jenkins they can hopefully solve this case.

MSNBC Article

Want to know more? There is an entire chapter on Corpse ID in my book, Howdunnit: Forensics.

Howdunnit 200X267 copy


On This Day: Elvis Presley

On this day in 1977 at approximately 2:30 PM the King Rock ‘n Roll was found dead on a bathroom floor at Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He had not been seen since around 6 AM, right after he finished playing racquetball.


This was a death that reverberated around the world because Elvis Presley was a world icon. The most recognizable name and perhaps the most recognizable face on the planet.


The autopsy revealed no evidence of trauma or stroke or a heart attack or anything else that would cause a 42-year-old man to suddenly fall dead. Then the toxicology reports returned. These reports have been the subject of controversy and discussion for over 30 years now.

The investigation into The King’s death led to Dr. George Nichopoulos, the original “Dr. Feelgood.” He wrote prescriptions for Elvis for many years and some estimates indicate that he gave Elvis over 10,000 doses of downers, uppers, and narcotics. Seems that Michael Jackson found similar physicians.

The toxicology report indicated that Elvis had significant amounts of Ethinamate (a short-acting sleeping pill taken for insomnia), Methaqualone (Quaalude), codeine (a narcotic), and barbiturates (a class of tranquilizer) as well as smaller amounts of chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine), meperidine (Demerol), morphine (a narcotic) and Valium (a benzodiazepine tranquilizer) in his bloodstream. The question that remains is whether this pharmacological soup directly killed Elvis or did he simply have a cardiac arrhythmia and all of these drugs had little or no role in his death?

This may sound like a simple determination but in fact it is quite difficult and it is problems like these that perplex the medical examiner and the forensic toxicologist on a daily basis. Narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and even antihistamines, when combined, can lead to treacherous results. Though the levels of none of these medications found in Elvis’ body, taken by themselves, would have resulted in death, the combination might very well have. These types of medicines tend to be additive and cumulative. Since narcotics and tranquilizers and sedatives all have depressing effects on the brain’s respiratory center, it is possible that this combination caused Elvis to stop breathing, collapse, and die. It is also entirely possible that his heart simply stopped due to a cardiac arrhythmia and these medications had little or nothing to do with it.

This is not an uncommon problem in forensic investigations. The determination that must be made is whether the drug or the combination of drugs was sufficient to cause death in and of themselves, or did they contribute to the death, or were they simply incidental findings and had nothing to do with the death. These are very difficult problems to resolve since each individual reacts to medications and combinations of medications differently. Maybe what Elvis took was too much for his system. Maybe he was used to these drugs and they had little effect on him. We will probably never know the answer to this question.

Cobain, Kurt

The same dilemma was part of the investigation into the death of Kurt Cobain, a death that was ruled suicidal but might very well might have been something more sinister. Also, these types of questions are coming to the forefront in the investigation of the death of Michael Jackson. Stay tuned.

Elvis Wikipedia

Elvis Tox Report from the University of Utah

Kurt Cobain Wkikpedia

Justice For Kurt


Does North Carolina Have a New Gary Ridgeway?

“… if one killer is responsible, he is likely trying to cleanse the world of prostitutes or deliberately picking victims he knows won’t be missed.” So says, Vivian Lord, Chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

If she is correct, and she may very well be, North Carolina has a serious problem. They have another Ridgway on their hands. Gary Leon Ridgway, the Green River Killer, plied his trade in the Seattle area back in the 1970s and 80s. It took over two decades to bring him to justice. Why did he chose prostitutes along the SeaTac area as his victims? Apparently Gary hated prostitutes and felt that should be extreminated. By his own admission he killed at least 48 of them, but many believe the list is longer.


Seattle Times Article

The Green River nightmare began when prostitutes were reported missing and bodies begin appearing in the Green River basin just outside Seattle. Now in North Carolina, at least nine prostitutes have been reported missing and 6 composed bodies have been found. The parallels are chilling.

The victimology in play here is very similar to that of the Green River scenario. Victims can be considered high risk, medium risk, or low risk. A low-risk victim is one who has a family, a job, doesn’t participate in risky behaviors, doesn’t use drugs or alcohol to excess, and doesn’t frequent places where violence could occur. These low risk victims can still become the victim of murder but it is not very likely that they will. One the other hand, high-risk victims cross paths with murderers all too often. Prostitutes are the classic example of such victims and in fact are essentially the perfect serial killer victim. They live on the fringe with a few friends and usually no family support. They move around from city to city so that if they disappear for a few weeks or months it is assumed that they’ve gone somewhere else to work or sadly no one misses them at all. They constantly interact with strangers and climb into their cars all the time. This sets the stage for them to become victims.

High-risk victims are low risk for the perpetrator. Whether the killer is Gary Ridgway or whoever this animal in North Carolina is, it is much easier to ensnare a prostitute that willingly gets in to the killer’s automobile than it is to try to kidnap someone from their office building or their home. High-risk victims pose low risk for the killer.

It is likely that these killings are the workings of a single person and if so his name will one day be a household name. It will be listed beside those of Ridgeway, Bundy, Gacy, Dahmer, Lucas, and the list goes on.

MSNBC Article


Serial Killing for Ratings?

Just when you think you’ve heard everything here comes a story from Brazil. It seems that police have accused state legislator Wallace Souza of drug trafficking and contracting the murder of at least five people who apparently worked for a rival trafficker. Yawn. Read this before. Glad they’re killing each other and not some innocent citizen.


But this one gets weird.

Souza is also the host of a TV crime show called Canal Livre. Police believe that in order to prove his contention that Brazil’s Amazon area is a hotbed of violent crime and to boost the ratings of his show, Souza ordered the murders. Is this a case of killing two birds with a single stone, or creating a self-fulfilling prophesy, or maybe serial killing for fun and profit?

Would you believe this if you read it in a novel?

AP Story

Guardian UK Story


Cattle Rustling and Drug Abuse: Old Crimes Meet New Crimes

This is something you don’t read about everyday. Maybe 100 years ago or so, but in 2009? Seems Texas (and many other states) has a cattle rustling problem. Not that rustling has ever really gone away, but lately it’s been on the rise.

The vaunted Texas Rangers have a cattle theft division, manned by 29 officers. And don’t overlook the power of the Cattle Raisers Association. Still, cattle go missing on almost a daily basis.

In 2008, 6400 head of Texas cattle disappeared, three times that of 2007. And when a fattened steer can rake in 500 to several thousand dollars a head, the money motivation is very real. Also, many ranchers are “gentlemen ranchers.” They live in the city but own and manage ranches out in rural Texas. They don’t always keep tabs on the head count so cattle can slide off the radar and never be seen again.

Case in point: Supreme Farms in Denton, just north of Dallas/Fort Worth, lost track of 122 head of Black Angus worth over $100,000. Enter the Texas Rangers. Most modern rustlers simply sneak on to a ranch, load up some cattle, and drive away. That’s more or less what 34-year-old Marty Kays did. The son of a ranch hand on the Supreme Farm spread, Marty actually used one of Supreme Farm’s pickups and livestock trailers to abscond with the cattle.

Ranger Troy McKinney went to work. Using the state’s registry of 100,000 brands, he found that cattle bearing the Supreme Farm brand were being sold at cattle sale barns by Kays. When confronted with the evidence, Kays confessed, saying that he needed the money to feed his drug habit.

Old crime meets new crime. And it’s not just in Texas, with cases reported in Missouri, Oklahoma, California, Alabama, and the list goes on.

Where’s Randolph Scott when you need him?


LA Times article

NY Times article

Reuters article

1 Comment

Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Police Procedure, Theft


On This Day in Criminal History: The Manson Family

I stood at the end of the road, beneath a clear blue LA sky, fingers gripping the lattice of the 10-foot high chain-link gate. A loose padlocked chain prevented the gate from swinging open and allowing access to the property beyond.

It was May, 1975. I was nearing completion of the first year of my Cardiology Fellowship at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. This was my first trip to California. I had first gone to San Francisco to run in the Bay To Breakers race and had then flown down to LA to see my friend Ben. He lived in Marina del Rey. I had gotten in late the night before so I had seen little of LA.

The next morning, Ben asked, “So this is your first day in LA. What do you want to see?”
“Do you know where Benedict Canyon is?”
“That’s where I want to go.”
“You’ll see.”

So off we went. Once onto Benedict Canyon Drive, we quickly found Cielo Drive and turned up the hill. Isolated, quite, tree-shaded. My heart rate amped up, palms moistened. This was the road the killer’s walked up. I could almost hear their footsteps, their laughter. For them, this was a party. This was for Charlie. Then there it was. The gate the killer’s had climbed. 10050. End of the road.

Tate Gate

Why were we there?

It was so quite, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.

And later on Page 1:

Cielo Drive is a narrow street that abruptly winds upward from Benedict Canyon Road. One of its cul-de-sacs, easily missed though directly opposite Bella Drive, comes to a dead end at the high gate of 10050.

This from Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 masterpiece Helter Skelter. I had just finished reading it, one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever encountered. As someone who grew up in the quiet and safe South of the 1950s, where we didn’t even have a house key, this story was like cold water in the face. Or maybe battery acid. While reading, I would often put the book down, take a few breaths and try to envision this being true. It simply read like crime fiction. It read like something generated in a creative, if sick, mind. But this was not fiction. This was very real.

So, here I stood, at the end of Cielo Drive, looking through that gate, searching for something, anything, that would attach a physical anchor to this story. I needed proof, concrete evidence.

Tate House

Of course, nothing was as it had been that hot August night in 1969.

There was no Steve Parent sitting in his car, slashed by Tex Watson’s knife and shot four times. No Wojciech Frykowski sprawled in the front yard punctured by two bullets and 51 stab wounds. No Abigail Folger in the back yard, white dress crimson from 28 stab wounds. Inside, things had been worse. Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, a rope that stretched up and over a ceiling beam around their necks, waited for a similar fate. When Sharon begged for them to save her baby, Susan Atkins, aka Sexy Sadie, aka Sadie Mae Glutz, said, “I don’t care about you or your baby.” She then stabbed Sharon 16 times and used her blood to scribble the word “PIG” on a door.

Tate, Sharon

Charlie had told them where to go and what to do. Though he wasn’t present, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian followed his orders to the letter. After all, he was Charlie. Jesus to them.


Hard to believe it’s been 40 years.

The next night, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca fell victim to Charlie’s madness. This time, Charlie was there. He entered the home and tied up the couple. Then the same cast of characters plus Leslie Van Houten brutally murdered the LaBianca’s. More blood messages: Death To Pigs, Rise, and Healter Skelter. The misspelling of Helter would play a role in the trial.

Why? What was Charlie’s deal? Helter Skelter. Something Charlie supposedly dreamed up while listening to The Beatles’ White Album. I listened to that album hundreds of times. Guess I didn’t get the message. Helter Skelter was Charlie’s vision of a coming race war. One he would ignite with these murders. One where the blacks would win but would not have the skills to run the world and would come to him and ask him to take over. Really?

To quote the late great Sam Kinison: It’s a f__king album! You were on acid, Manson! It’s a f__king album! You’d have gotten the same message out of the Monkees, you f__kin’ d_ckhead.

I miss Sam.

Kinison, Sam

Charles Manson Wikipedia

Sharon Tate Wikipedia

Six Degrees of Helter Skelter

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