Monthly Archives: June 2012

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Vishnevsky: Forensic Dentistry: Bite Marks

You probably first heard of forensic dentistry back in January 1978. Ted Bundy went to the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University where he sexually assaulted Lisa Levy. He also bit her, leaving clear bite marks. When Bundy was recaptured after a manhunt, he went on trial. Investigators took casts of Bundy’s teeth, which showed that his teeth were unevenly aligned and that several were chipped. A forensic dentist showed that these casts matched photographs of the bite mark from the body of Lisa Levy. If Bundy hadn’t bitten Levy, he may not have been found guilty.


Forensic dentists identify the dead by their teeth and determine who did the biting when bite marks are found. In children, dentists can determine the age of the teeth. Bite marks are usually seen in cases involving sexual assault, murder and child abuse. They can be a major factor in leading to a conviction.

Bite marks change significantly over time, so analysis must be done immediately. The dentist first identifies whether the bite was human. Secondly, the dentist swabs the bite for DNA, which may have been left in the saliva of the biter. Forensic dentists take photographs and measurements of each individual bite mark. Finally, bite marks on deceased victims are cut out from the skin in the morgue and preserved in a compound called formalin. Forensic dentists then make a silicone cast of the bite mark. Investigators work with forensic dentists to help identify a suspect. Then, dentists take a mold of a suspect’s tooth and compare the mold with bite-mark casts.

Forensic dentists are also capable of learning about the biter by analyzing the bite mark. If there’s a gap in the bite, the biter is probably missing a tooth. Crooked teeth leave crooked impressions, while chipped teeth leave jagged-looking impressions of varying depth.
Bite marks are very different depending on whether the body is living or dead. However, the better the bite mark, the better a dentist can make a comparison. Forensic dentists are aware of the fact that no two mouths are alike, so bite marks will also be different.
While forensic dentistry can be extremely valuable in the justice system, bite mark comparison has been called into question. Dental profiles are subject to change, so comparison after a significant amount of time can be inaccurate.
Guest blogger Jennifer Vishnevsky is a freelancer for as well as other online sources.


Posted by on June 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


Don’t Miss The Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference: The Best Little Conference on the Left Coast

Every July the Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, CA puts on their Mystery Writers Conference. This year it will be July 19-22. It’s run by Jackie Winspear and Sheldon Siegel and this year’s keynote is the great Don Winslow. Other instructors are Cara Black, Karin Slaughter, Tarquin Hall, Robert Dugoni, Rhys Bowen, Tont Broadbent, John Lescroart, Tim Maleeny, Kirk Russell, and many others. This conference is devoted to craft and to making attendees better writers and storytellers. It’s the best small conference around.

As we have done for the past few years, David Corbett and I will do pre-conference workshops on Thursday evening.

Check out my classes:

Best Laid Plans: What Were They Thinking?

Voice: Whose Story Is It?

Or sign up for BOTH at a discounted price.

Hope to see many of you there.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


How Could My Time-traveling Physician Save the Life of My 15th Century Heroine With a Blood Transfusion?

Q: I am writing a time travel where one of the characters is a modern doctor who is sent back in time (15th century) with his family. I want to have him do something medical to save the life of the heroine (I was thinking heroine needs blood transfusion which would require a blood typing system) Any idea how it could be accomplished? I was also thinking that the heroine has rare blood type. Would that be Type B?

Doreen Jensen, Ontario, Canada

A: This is an interesting scenario in that you have someone with modern knowledge transported back to medieval times. This means he would have all the medical knowledge of transfusions––which of course did not exist then––but no scientific equipment to help. Not to mention that merely bringing it up might get him killed by the church––but that’s another issue.

The first human transfusion took place in France in 1667 when Jean-Baptiste Denis successfully transfused sheep blood into a fifteen year old boy. The first human to human transfusion was in 1818 and was performed by James Blundell on a patient suffering from postpartum bleeding. Even he had no way of matching the blood and, in fact, didn’t understand that there were blood proteins that made transfusions incompatible between many people and successful between others. It wasn’t until 1901 that Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood groups and begin to understand the nature of transfusions and transfusion reactions. In 1939, the Rh factor was discovered, also by Landsteiner along with several other physicians, thus refining the process further.

So your time-traveling doctor would know all of this and would also know that transfusions are only successful if the donor and recipient match one another as far as blood type is concerned. But he would have no way of testing the donor and recipient for blood type and compatibility, which of course is essential to avoid harming or killing the recipient. But, there is a way around this. He would know that two compatible bloods could be mixed and no reaction would occur while if they were not compatible clumps would form. We call this agglutination and it is the basis of a transfusion reaction. He could simply mix the blood of the donor with that of the recipient––which is more or less the way it’s done today––and look for this reaction. The problem? This agglutination can only be seen microscopically and there were no microscopes in the 15th century.

The microscope was discovered in 1590 by two Dutch spectacle makers–Zacharias Janssen and his son Hans. They employed the glass lenses they used in their spectacle making, which had been around since the 13th century. When they placed these lenses in tubes, they discovered that they magnified any image viewed through the tube. This was the precursor of the true microscope which was developed nearly 70 years later (1660s) by Anton van Leeuwenhoek. So, your modern physician would know this and could perhaps fashion his own crude microscope from spectacle lenses. This would allow him to see any agglutination that might occur. He could then simply take the recipient’s blood and test it against several potential donors and see which one had the least reaction. This would be crude cross matching but it could work. He would then know whose blood to use in the transfusion process.


Guest Blogger: Jaclyn Nicholson: Modern Crime Scene Science

There are many parts of an investigation that work together to solve crimes. From forensic specialists, CSIs, coroners, to detectives and the police, it is a highly detailed and intelligent process. Some of the most important steps include lifting fingerprints, estimating the time of death, utilizing forensic entomology and DNA profiling, analyzing bloodstains and doing an autopsy.  Each step is intended to supply clues that lead to more evidence. The modern methods for solving crimes are ever-changing and continue to advance.



World’s Smallest Artificial Heart

Denton Cooley tried to implant one in the 1960s, an act that led to the great feud between him and Dr. Michael DeBakey. The war is chronicled in Tommy Thompson’s wonderful book, HEARTS.


Dr. Denton Cooley

When I was training at the Texas Heart Institute, founded and directed by Dr. Cooley, the device was still undergoing its growing pains, but in recent years artificial hearts have vastly improved. There are folks out there with what are called Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs), basically mechanical boosters for the heart, who have been walking around, playing sports, and doing very well for many years.


LVADs pump blood from the left ventricle (the heart’s main pumping chamber that sends blood out to the body) into the aorta (the main artery leaving the heart). When a heart has been damaged and is failing at its primary function of circulating an adequate volume of blood to the body, an LVAD can boost the heart’s output. The LVAD was designed to assist a weak heart and keep the person alive while awaiting a donor for a heart transplant. But the newer devices are so effective that some patients have removed themselves from the transplant list as they are doing just fine with the mechanical device. Some for nearly a decade now.

Now the group at Rome’s Bambino Gesu Hospital has implanted the world’s smallest LVAD into a 16 month old. It weighs only 11 grams and is smaller than the surgeons little finger. This is amazing stuff.



Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


Guest Blogger: Drew Hendricks: Athletics and Brain Injuries

How Clinical Psychology Schools Can Help Former Athletes Go Amateur Again

Junior Seau’s recent suicide is one of several that have occurred over the past few years, all involving former professional football players. The tragedy of his death has once again sparked discussion of why so many athletes suffer from depression after retirement and at times take their lives because of it. Though more research has yet to be conducted, medical experts are pointing the finger at the extensive physical toll contact sports have on players and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result.


CTE, which causes both behavioral and bodily disorders, has been linked to the hard blows and concussions that many football players are subjected to over the course of their careers. No known cure has yet been found for CTE; however, as medical experts become more adept in recognizing its symptoms, those suffering from it have a better chance of stabilizing this condition to live productive lives outside of professional sports. Yet to do so, clinical psychology schools must teach their students what to look for and how to treat it.


Whether retiring from professional football or any other sport, individuals can experience a significant amount of stress upon exiting their athletic careers. For many, they have been trained both physically and mentally to be only a pro sports player and struggle to redefine that self-image when their calling is no longer an option. Moreover, it can be a shock to players’ sensibilities and bank accounts when the lifestyle they have so long enjoyed is suddenly taken away from them. No longer do they have the accolades, camaraderie, and financial rewards that come with playing professional sports. Rather they are left with deteriorating bodies and no livelihood before 40 years old. Some individuals such as football players may also begin to see signs of depression and dementia, both symptoms of CTE.


Sports psychologists can help former athletes transition through this period in their lives. Perhaps the hardest step is recognizing that help is needed, as many athletes are taught to ignore their problems. They are told that discussing their failing physical state or depression is a sign of weakness, which is why individuals such as Seau may take their lives instead of seeking treatment. Yet should their loved ones or the athletes themselves notice any of these symptoms, contacting a clinical sports psychologist can literally save their lives. Patients can begin therapy sessions to both combat their destructive thoughts and construct a new outlook for their lives post professional sports.


Given the increase in CTE and its effects, sports psychologists can help patients who suffer from this disease to recognize its impact on their behavior and teach them how to monitor their moods either with continued therapy sessions or medication if required. Most importantly, sports psychologists can aid these individuals through the mourning process of accepting the end of their professional sports careers. No matter if they retired weeks or years ago, many individuals cannot let go. By talking them through the grief and discussing other possibilities that life may hold for them, clinical psychologists can alleviate the depression that athletes experience and put them on the road to recovery toward fulfilling lives once their playing days are over.


Drew Hendricks is an SEO and SMO in Seattle who enjoys writing about everything!


Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Medical Issues


Forensic Firsts Begins June 17th on the Smithsonian Channel

A new series titled “Forensic Firsts” will begin on June 17th on the Smithsonian Channel. I worked on and was interviewed for the episode on fingerprints but unfortunately won’t be able to watch the series as my cable provider COX, in their infinite wisdom, doesn’t carry the Smithsonian Channel. But from what I’ve seen it’s going to be a fun series. Watch if you can. I think the episodes will also be available on their website.



ThrillerFest and CraftFest Are Just Around the Corner

With just over a month until ThrillerFest, everyone is getting excited about the incredible workshops, panels, and cocktail parties lined up for this year.  We’ve posted both the CraftFest ( and ThrillerFest ( schedules on the website.  If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so today at, as you won’t want to miss out on all the fun.


Spotlight guests include 2012 ThrillerMaster Jack Higgins, 2011 ThrillerMaster Bob Stine, Lee Child, Catherine Coulter, John Sandford, Richard North Patterson, Ann Rule, and Karin Slaughter.  Reconnect with old friends and meet new ones at ThrillerFest VII in NYC!


Looking forward to seeing you all soon!



D.P. Lyle, MD
ITW VP, National Events
2012 CraftFest Director


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Posted by on June 9, 2012 in Writing


Me and Mr. Bradbury: A Brief Brush With An Icon

Every author has signing stories. Some fun, some less so. Some well attended and others very lonely. For me, my first signing was memorable and then some. It was many years ago at the unfortunately now-defunct Mystery Bookstore in LA. It was a Saturday. As the store often did, it was an entire day of signings with various authors assigned an hour. If I remember correctly, mine was at noon. Since this was uncharted territory, I had no idea what to expect.

Arriving around 11:30, I was greeted by a line out the door and down the block as I drove along Broxton. My thoughts? This book signing deal is pretty cool.

Once I entered the store I saw that the line plugged directly into a table where the great Ray Bradbury sat. For the next half hour he signed books and chatted with fans, the line gradually evaporating, until only he, the store staff (Shelly, Linda, and Bobby), and I remained.

I guess the line of excited fans weren’t there for a rookie after all. Big disappointment. But then I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Mr. Bradbury for a few minutes and that made up for everything. A very gracious gentleman.

My brief brush with true literary greatness.

God bless you, Mr. Bradbury. You are indeed a national treasure.


Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Writing


Q and A: Do Tight Corsets Cause Medical Problems?

Q: In my story, set in 1908 in Toronto, a 35 year-old women who has been using corsets strenuously for many years (perhaps for 20) suffers the ill effects of the tight lacing common at that time. I want the effects to be sudden and dramatic, to threaten her within an inch of her life, or kill her. However the result, she is rushed to the hospital and doctors try to save her. In the weeks leading up to the emergency event where it is discovered that the effects of the corset on her skeleton and her organs is the cause of the medical crisis, her face is showing the effects of the impending crisis. When the emergency occurs, her dress is torn off and the medical effects, or at least their exterior consequences, are revealed. One of the problems may be that she tied the corset in such a way that it flattered her figure as much as possible (the ‘wasp waist’) but that had dire bodily effects.

Whitney Smith, London, England


A: Medical problems with corsets are exceedingly rare but there are a few things that could happen. If the corset was so tight that it fractured a rib, it could puncture and collapse a lung––we call this a pneumothorax. Though this is not typically lethal, in 1908 it very easily could have been. Now we treat these with chest tubes—plastic tubes inserted through the chest wall into the space between the lung and the chest wall. The tube is attached to a suction device and left in place for a few days until the lung heals and re-inflates. These weren’t available in 1908.

Also a tight corset can restrict breathing so that the person does not take a deep breath for extended periods of time. This can lead to areas where the lung tissue collapses––we call this atelectasis. This can serve as a location for pneumonia to develop, which could be lethal, particularly in 1908 as there were no antibiotics available to treat this.

The binding effect of the corset could also cause chronic gastroesophogeal reflux, where acids are constantly pushed up into the esophagus. This happens in people who overeat and go to bed and then wake up with heartburn. With a corset this external pressure will keep pressing on the stomach and pushing the undigested food and acids up in the esophagus. This can lead to esophagitis––an inflammation of the esophagus. This in turn can lead to bleeding, which could result in death.

If the corset was extremely tight and the victim moved in certain positions, she could damage internal organs such as the spleen, liver, or bowel. The spleen, which sits in the left upper part of the abdomen, is particularly vulnerable to this type of injury. It is often injured in motorcycle and bicycle accidents and could be injured by a corset if the victim bent over suddenly. A ruptured spleen, liver, or bowel often causes severe internal bleeding that can be deadly.

Corsets can also cause a reduction in blood return to the heart through the major veins of the abdomen and lead to dizziness and fainting. Here the victim could fall down stairs or strike her head on the floor or furniture, leading to death from bleeding into and around the brain.

Your lady could also survive any of these events. If she had a collapsed lung, it could heal itself and she could do fine. If she contracted pneumonia, she could survive even without antibiotics. If she had a bleed from esophagitis, the bleed itself could stop on its own and she could do fine. If she ruptured an internal organ, surgery could be performed to repair the injured organ or, in the case of a ruptured spleen, to remove the spleen––the spleen is almost never repaired but rather is removed when damaged. We do not need it to survive and it’s very difficult to repair. If she struck her head and suffered bleeding into or around her brain, she could be unconscious for a few hours or a few days and yet survive even though there was no real medical treatment at that time for this type of injury. With a bleed around the brain–called a subdural hematoma–the one technique your 1908 doctor could employ would be the placement of what we call Burr holes (trepanning). This is simply opening a hole in the skull with a drill or similar device, which allows the doctor to remove the clot and relieve the pressure that builds in the brain with this type of injury. If a secondary infection didn’t arise your young lady could survive even this event.

This should give you several options for your story.

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