Monthly Archives: January 2013

Shoeprints on Clothing: A New Forensic Science Technique

Dr. Kevin Farrugia and his fellow scientists at the University of Abertay have developed a new technique for imaging latent (invisible) shoeprints left on clothing. The finding of any shoeprint is dependent on many factors, not the least of which is the substrate on which the print is laid down. Glass and other smooth, firm surfaces are best, and coarse surfaces such as carpets are often an insurmountable problem for crime scene investigators. Dr. Farrugia modified existing technology to develop his new technique, which could prove useful in future criminal investigations.




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: Karl M McDonald: DNA Testing Methods, Part 2

Forensic Analysis: Mugs, hair and other samples

From Bones to CSI, these TV series have fed our curiosity and interest in forensic science. We are absorbed and intrigued by how criminal investigations get solved, the science, rationale and the workings of great minds to solve these puzzling murders.

These TV series regularly show forensic experts searching crime scenes, inch by inch, deeply absorbed into their task of trying to pick up that tiny piece of forensic evidence that could be key to solving the crime in question. Here is some interesting information you might enjoy reading about various samples and how they are collected.

Amplification of DNA #2

The omnipresent hair

The single hair always elicits a sigh of relief. We seem to believe that hairs provide incontrovertible evidence in court, the DNA profile extraction is always successful with such a sample. But hairs are actually a very particular sample because they do not always contain the right DNA. We have two types of DNA in our body:

  • Nuclear DNA: this type of DNA is found in every type of cell in our body, except red blood cells. Nuclear DNA is enclosed in our cell nucleus and contains the vast bulk of genetic information. Each cell has one copy of nuclear DNA.
  • Mitochondrial DNA: this type of DNA is found in a different part of the cell, specifically the cell mitochondria. These are specialize cell organelles which provide energy for the cell to function. There are thousands of copies of mitochondrial DNA in every cell.

So let’s analyze a human hair: a hair is made up of two basic parts, the root and the part which emerges from the root known as the shaft. The root contains nuclear DNA but the shaft contains only mitochondrial DNA. Our body naturally sheds hair and we of course also cut our hair – but these hairs have no nuclear DNA in them. To be able to accurately link DNA found at the crime scene with a specific person we must have samples of nuclear DNA. In other words, for a hair DNA test to be viable, we need the hair to have the root or follicle attached.

Is Mitochondrial DNA useless?

Mitochondrial DNA has a very particular hereditary pattern: it is passed on from a mother to her children, be they male or female but is never passed on by males. People with a common maternal line (perhaps with the same mother) will also share the same mitochondrial DNA profile. However, because people with the same maternal line will have exactly the same MtDNA profile, the profile does not become a good distinguishing factor between people.

Stamps and Licked envelopes

Licked envelopes and stamps provide quite a challenge when it comes to successful extraction of DNA profiles. There are a number of reasons for this:

First and foremost the adhesive glue on the adhesive strip causes any DNA to degrade. Moreover, it is hard to know whether the person actually licked the stamp or envelope. Often, people use a wet finger to lubricate the adhesive part or a damp cloth or glue. This clearly means that there would actually be no DNA at all. Moreover, a lick on the back of stamp using the surface of the tongue would at most provide a minute quantity of DNA. The surface of our tongue is not the best place to collect exfoliated mouth cells. In fact, relationship tests, ancestry tests, paternity tests and the bulk of DNA tests available use oral swabs which need to be rubbed under the tongue rather than above it.

Mugs, cups and glasses

Again, these samples can be rather challenging and extraction of a DNA profile might not always be possible. Forensic DNA evidence can be contaminated in a number of ways or absent for a number or reasons. To bear in mind that any cells collected are by contact of the inner lip with the surface of the glass rather than from the outer lip.

  • People sometimes share glasses. If the glass was shared, it might be impossible to extract individual DNA profiles.
  • People sometimes use straws. The DNA on the tip of a straw would be less than that on the rim of a glass.
  • Make up and cosmetics, such as lip stick, may affect the validity of the sample. Certain chemicals in lipstick can degrade any DNA left on the glass.
  • Contact with the glass might have been minimal or the person might not even have drank anything.

Of course, forensic scientists use every means available and will attempt to extract DNA even from the most degraded, old and unfeasible samples in the hope of getting a few genetic markers. It is thanks to advances in the methods of DNA amplification and analysis, namely polymerase chain reaction, that many crimes are nowadays solved.

Bio: Karl M McDonald is a free lance writer specializing in the field of genetics and DNA testing. Articles by the author can be found on many blogs and info sites, including the article knowledge base for homeDNAdirect.  Karl currently lives in West Sussex, UK with his wife, kids and 2 dogs.



Posted by on January 23, 2013 in DNA, Guest Blogger


Guest Blogger: Karl M McDonald: DNA Testing Methods, Part 1

Method used in Forensic Analysis and Crime investigations

CSI and the many other forensic fictions we so often see on TV have spurred an interest in forensic DNA testing to solve criminal investigations. However, these TV serials also sometimes provide incomplete or inaccurate information and details about the genetic aspect of forensic investigations. Moreover, we rarely get to get a glimpse into some important factors live the validity of a DNA sample and the method chosen for laboratory analysis. Let’s take a look.


Blue research photo


Methods of DNA analysis 

Any suspected trace of genetic material at a crime scene needs to of course be analyzed in a laboratory. Nuclear DNA is relatively stable due to the strength of hydrogen bonding in base pairs on the helical structure of DNA. However, there are some external factors which come to play and which can affect the validity of the forensic DNA sample:

1–The type of genetic samples (whether it is blood, semen, nails clippings or hair. Different samples provide different chances of successful extraction of a DNA profile)

2–The age of the sample and the conditions, environmental and chemical, to which it has been subject. Has the sample been exposed to very high temperature? Have any caustic agents been used on it?

3–The way in which the sample is collected. The forensic team must be scrupulous and meticulous, following protocol so as not to contaminate the sample. The Meredith Kercher case in Italy is a good example of how callous forensic sample collection can lead to unviable results.

Whilst we are brought to believe that DNA testing is infallible, the truth is somewhat different. The criminal justice system and the individuals that make it up may not be fully aware of the complications and intricacies of DNA evidence. There may be misevaluation of forensic evidence by lawyers involved. Moreover, the statistical calculations undertaken by genetic testing facilities ignore or often fail to exclude two possibilities:

  • A possible match between the DNA profile extracted from the suspect and the real perpetrator of the crime.
  • Whether the possibility exists of the laboratory concluding a match between the profile of the suspect and the forensic evidence at the crime scene, when in fact, the match is not complete.

The following are the two main methods used in forensic analysis

RFLP or Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism is a method of analysis that is based on the comparison of variations in DNA sequences. This method of analysis is used less frequently since it is only possible if large quantities of DNA are available. This means that tiny blood stains or single hairs will not be suited for this type of analysis.

PCR or Polymerase chain reaction is a method of DNA replication and amplification which enables scientists to create thousands of copies of DNA. This makes it a much more effective method when compared to RFLP as it makes sample analysis possible even with tiny, degraded quantities of DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis is used in cases where there is no viable nuclear DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is a special type of DNA found in a different cell component to nuclear DNA. This type of DNA is exclusively passed on down the maternal line. Mitochondrial DNA is extremely stable and there are moreover many more copies of this existing in the cells when compared to nuclear DNA.


Bio: Karl M McDonald is a free lance writer specializing in the field of genetics and DNA testing. Articles by the author can be found on many blogs and info sites, including the article knowledge base for homeDNAdirect.  Karl currently lives in West Sussex, UK with his wife, kids and 2 dogs.



Posted by on January 20, 2013 in DNA, Guest Blogger


Edgar Nominees Include More Forensics and Fiction

MORE FORENSICS & FICTION has been nominated for the Edgar Award in the BEST FACT CRIME category. I am honored and humbled.

MF&F 300X481

And congratulations to all the Nominees:

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 204th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, its Nominees for the 2013 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television, published or produced in 2012. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at our 67th Gala Banquet, May 2, 2013 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.


The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishers)

Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Sunset by Al Lamanda (Gale Cengage Learning – Five Star)

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley (Penguin Group USA – Riverhead Books)


The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay (Random House Publishing– Ballantine)

Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman (Minotaur Books – Thomas Dunne Books)

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (Random House Publishing– Bantam Books)

The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown Publishers)

The 500 by Matthew Quirk (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Reagan Arthur)

Black Fridays by Michael Sears (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)


Complication by Isaac Adamson (Soft Skull Press)

Whiplash River by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow Paperbacks)

Bloodland by Alan Glynn (Picador)

Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books – Emily Bestler Books)

The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)


Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (Penguin Group USA – Penguin Books)

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)

More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers’ Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered by D.P. Lyle, MD (Medallion Press)

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre (Crown Publishers)

The People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil that Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry (Farrar Straus & Giroux Originals)


Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: The Hard-Boiled Detective Transformed by John Paul Athanasourelis (McFarland and Company)

Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books – Emily Bestler Books)

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics by James O’Brien (Oxford University Press)

In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero edited by Otto Penzler (Smart Pop)


“Iphigenia in Aulis” – An Apple for the Creature by Mike Carey (Penguin Group USA – Ace Books)

“Hot Sugar Blues” – Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance by Steve Liskow (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)

“The Void it Often Brings With It” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Tom Piccirilli (Dell Magazines)

“The Unremarkable Heart” – Mystery Writers of America Presents:  Vengeance by Karin Slaughter (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)

“Still Life No. 41” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Teresa Solana (Dell Magazines)


Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger (Abrams – Amulet Books)

13 Hangmen by Art Corriveau (Abrams – Amulet Books)

The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo (Abrams – Amulet Books)

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dial Books for Young Readers)


 Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Brook Press)

The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George (Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking)

Crusher by Niall Leonard (Random House Children’s Books – Delacorte BFYR)

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dutton Children’s Books)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney Publishing Worldwide – Hyperion)


“Pilot” – Longmire, Teleplay by Hunt Baldwin & John Coveny (A&E/Warner Horizon Television)

“Child Predator” – elemeNtarY, Teleplay by Peter Blake (CBS Productions)

“Slaughterhouse” – Justified, Teleplay by Fred Golan (Sony Pictures Television/FX Productions)

 “A Scandal in Belgravia” – Sherlock, Teleplay by Steven Moffat (BBC/Masterpiece)

“New Car Smell” – Homeland, Teleplay by Meredith Stiehm (Showtime/Fox21)


“When They Are Done With Us” – Staten Island Noir by Patricia Smith (Akashic Books)


Ken Follett

Margaret Maron


Oline Cogdill

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, San Diego & Redondo Beach, CA


Akashic Books


(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Wednesday, May 1, 2013)

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)

A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell (Forge Books)

The Reckoning by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books)

The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)

Sleepwalker by Wendy Corsi Staub (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)


Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Writing


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


Guest Blogger: Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Abuse of a Corpse

Abuse of Corpse

Some people prefer the company of the dead.

This article was originally published on November 27, 2012 by Katherine Ramsland in Shadow Boxing

Recently, the bones of a nearly complete skeleton were discovered in the home of a 37-year-old Swedish woman. Allegedly, she was using them as sex toys. Along with the bones was a CD labeled “My Necrophilia,” which supposedly provided the evidence. Apparently, photos depict this woman licking skulls. Among her effects were documents about people who enjoyed having sex with corpses. She was charged with “violating the peace of the dead.”

Here in the States, we call this abuse of corpse. This can range from corpse mutilation or rape, to corpse storage to mere exploitation. A man in Cincinnati, Ohio, for example, convinced morgue workers to allow him to take photographs of corpses posed with objects like sheet music and syringes. Into the hands of a deceased young girl he placed a copy of Alice in Wonderland.

When I was writing Cemetery Stories, I found plenty of material on the erotic attraction to corpses. The most common motive cited by psychologists is an attempt to gain possession of an unresisting or nonrejecting partner, although I’ve met a few people “half in love with death” who reject this shallow analysis.

During my research, my contacts in the funeral industry told me I’d never get these people to admit to anything. On the contrary, I found a few who were quite willing to describe why they find decomposition, skulls, and bones so erotic. As long as I could stomach it, they were happy to talk.

One female apprentice embalmer claimed that during the first four months of her employment, she’d had sex with an average of ten corpses a month. She admitted that she couldn’t achieve satisfaction with the living, in part because she’d been molested as a child and later raped. She could sexually express herself without fear, she insisted, only to corpses.

A self-styled vampire told me he liked drinking blood from the dead. He called himself Anubis and said that as a boy he got to watch an embalmer at work. “I wanted to taste the blood,” he said, “because I thought it would save their memory.”

Drs. Jonathan Rosman and Phillip Resnick list three basic types of “true” necrophilia:

1: Necrophilic homicide, or murder to obtain a corpse for sexual pleasure

2: Regular necrophilia, the use of corpses already dead for sexual pleasure

3: Necrophilic fantasy, envisioning these acts but not acting on them

In their study of 122 cases, most fit into the second category.

The Swedish woman’s bone-eroticism doesn’t surprise me. In fact, it’s quite tame compared to other acts of necrophilia. Over time, I’ve collected stories from clinical sources and arrest reports. Among them are the following:

Police psychologist J. Paul de River documented the case of an Italian gravedigger who grew aroused whenever he buried a beautiful young woman. In time, he began having sex with the dead. When caught with his mouth on the genital area of a decedent, he admitted to having violated hundreds of corpses.

In 2006 in Wisconsin, three young men were caught digging up the grave of a 20-year-old female accident victim. Their intent had been to have sex with the body. The proof: they’d stopped on the way to buy condoms. (The same state produced Ed Gein, who dug up graves to make himself a bodysuit from female parts, and Jeffrey Dahmer, who abused corpses in extremely vile ways.)

And necrophiles aren’t always male. Karen Greenlee was to deliver the body of a 33-year-old man to a cemetery for a funeral, but instead she abducted it. She was charged with stealing a hearse and interfering with a funeral. Into the casket she’d put a letter that detailed her erotic episodes with what she estimated had been between 20 and 40 male corpses. Calling herself a “morgue rat,” she said it was an addiction.

During the 1840s, Sergeant Francois Bertrand dug up fresh corpses with his bare hands in several Parisian cemeteries in order to have sex with them. His youngest had been only seven. He, too, claimed he’d been compelled beyond his ability to control it.

Henri Blot was 26 when he began digging up graves in France. A ballerina had died and he pulled her body from the grave to rape it. When he was finished, he fell asleep, waking only when the groundskeeper discovered him. After his arrest, he reportedly said, “Every man to own taste. Mine is for corpses.”

Victor Ardisson, a mortician, reputedly had sex with over 100 corpses in his care. He sometimes dug them up and took them home. It was there that police found the decaying body of a three-year-old girl. Ardisson had heard that she was ill and had fantasized endlessly about her corpse. When she died, he’d stolen her from a graveyard and had performed oral sex in the hope of reviving and restoring her. He kept her next to him when he slept. He also possessed the head of a thirteen-year-old girl, which he kissed and called “my bride.”

Abuse of corpse is a crime, stipulated according to what would outage normal family and community sensibilities. In most cases, these acts are misdemeanors. However, some states have much stiffer penalties for necrophilic sexual acts.

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.


Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Forensic Psychiatry, Guest Blogger


Q and A: Can My Serial Killer Make His Victims Float Face-up?

Q: My serial killer has predilections that make him want his (female) victims to float face up when they are found. He strangles them and then places them in the water, so they don’t actually die of drowning. Would plugging the throat or taping the mouth and nose shut (so air stays in the lungs) be a good way for him to achieve this effect? What else might work?

S.K. Davenport, Pittsburgh, PA

A: Plugging the throat or taping the mouth and nose would make little difference since there is not enough air in the lungs to cause a body to float. Virtually all bodies sink when first tossed into water. This is not absolutely universal as sometimes clothing can gather air and keep the victim afloat but for the most part they sink. They do not float again until the decay process has progressed to the point that gases have collected within the abdomen and the tissues and the body becomes buoyant. Most bodies float facedown for a very simple reason–the arms and the legs tend to fall in that direction rather than backwards so their weight keeps the body face down.

In order to make the body float he would have to do something to increase the rate of decay and since this is predominantly temperature dependent it would be best if the body was placed in warm water such as a heated pool, a Jacuzzi, or a swamp in Louisiana. Alternatively–and this is over-the-top sinister–he could inject air into the victims abdomen and chest and even the tissues of the legs and arms. If he injected enough the body would float immediately. In order to keep the body on its back, he would have to apply weights of some type that would weigh down the backside of the corpse. Maybe some large fishhooks placed deeply into the flesh and muscles with weights attached. Just a diabolical thought.


Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Asphyxia, Crime Scene, Q&A, Time of Death

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