Monthly Archives: May 2013

Stupid Criminals: Butt Dialing Murder




Scott Simon needs to control his cell phone. It simply won’t behave. I mean all he did was slip it in his pocket. That’s it. Well, and apparently discuss a premeditated murder in progress with his buddy. The problem? His phone did the old 911 butt dial thing. Oops.




Deadly Scotch?

Yesterday I posted about a nut job who apparently whipped up an OJ and Rubbing Alcohol cocktail and left it a Starbucks. Scary. But now it seems that TGI Fridays and other restaurants in New Jersey might have done the same thing with Scotch. Really? If this is true they are guilty of poisoning their Scotch drinking customers.

Some things make you scratch your head.


Scotch bottles


Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Poisons & Drugs


Deadly Screwdriver

Screwdrivers can be dangerous. Not only the ones used to tighten and remove screws, which can be lethal weapons, but the ones you get at your local bar. OJ and Vodka. Nice way to get hammered and up your vitamin C intake. Multitasking.


But Ramineh Behbehanian apparently has her own recipe. OJ and alcohol. Not vodka or even ethyl alcohol (ethanol–the kind you drink), but isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol–rubbing alcohol). It seems she whipped up a couple pf bottles of this concoction and placed them in the refrigerated section of her local Starbucks. Fortunately, someone observed her doing it and called the police.

Maybe this was simply a prank. Maybe she innocently thought isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol were interchangeable. No harm, no foul. Maybe. Except she’s a pharmacist. She knows the difference.

So what is isopropyl alcohol and why is it dangerous?



Isopropanol is also an intoxicant and a CNS depressant whose effects usually appear within ten to thirty minutes after ingestion, depending upon the amount consumed and whether food or other beverages are taken as well. Fifteen to 20 percent of ingested isopropanol is converted to acetone, which produces acidosis (excess acid in the body). This greatly complicates things. The victim appears drowsy and off balance, and possesses a staggering gait, slurred speech, and poor coordination. Nausea, vomiting (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, sweating, stupor, coma, and death from respiratory depression may follow. Hemorrhage into the bronchial tubes (breathing tubes or airways) and chest cavity may occur.

Isopropanol also absorbs through the lungs and the skin. Not infrequently, infants experience isopropanol toxicity from alcohol-and-water sponge baths used to treat childhood fevers.

As they say: Don’t try this at home.

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PTSD: Blame Your Hippocampus/Amygdala Complex


PTSD is an increasingly common psychiatric condition that has many origins and manifestations. As with most psychiatric conditions there has been a long of history of scientists searching for some physical explanation, or at least an underlying substrate for these conditions. Everything from schizophrenia to criminal behavior has been studied. PTSD is no different.

Now a new study from Duke University, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry last November, sheds new light on possible anatomical changes in those susceptible to developing PTSD. This alteration lies deep in the brain in the hippocampus/amygdala complex, which is part of the larger Limbic System, areas of the brain associated with emotions, stress responses, learning, memory, socialization, and many other things. The researchers studied 200 combat veterans and found that PTSD sufferers tended to have smaller amygdalar and hippocampal volumes as compared to “normal” subjects.

Does this mean we now have a test for determining who is vulnerable to developing PTSD? Not yet. But this study is a step in that direction.

My first Dub Walker thriller, STRESS FRACTURE, dealt with PTSD and its treatment.


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Q and A: Can My ME Distinguish Death From Asphyxia From Death Due to Head Trauma?

Q: Here’s my book situation: A man puts a plastic bag over his head to kill himself. His wife wakes up next to him (after he nearly strangled her to death and she discovers he’s killed their son) and in her horror and rage cracks him over the head with a blunt object.

Here’s my question: Can the police/coroner/forensics determine which was the cause of death–suffocation or blunt force trauma? If so, what would the signs be pointing to asphyxiation?  Also, if it matters, this is set in 1969.

Judy Merrill Larsen, author of All the Numbers

A: If the victim died first from the asphyxia, the ME would have no problem since the blow to the head would cause no bruising or bleeding. At death the heart stops and blood flow ceases and a corpse will not bleed or bruise easily. So the ME would see a mark where the victim was struck but no bleeding or bruising and know that the blow was delivered post-mortem.

If he was still alive when struck, things become a little more difficult for the ME but he should still be able to tell. Bruising and bleeding at the site of the blunt trauma would show that the victim was alive when struck but if there is no significant brain injury found at autopsy he would know that the force of the blow did not cause death and the asphyxia must have. If there is a brain injury such as cerebral contusion (brain bruise) or bleeding into or around the brain, he might have difficulty determining the actual cause of death. Of course any evidence of blunt trauma would point to homicide and not suicide since someone using a plastic bag for suicide would not likely also strike themselves in the head.

But I see a bigger problem with your scenario. If she was unconscious from being strangled, she would wake up within 10 seconds to a minute or so after the pressure was released unless she had significant brain injury from lack of oxygen. If she were simply strangled into unconsciousness, which is due to blocking blood flow thru the carotid arteries to the brain and not blocking breathing, as soon as the pressure was released and blood flow reestablished, she would wake up very quickly. Much sooner than he could put a bag on his head and die from asphyxia. For her to be out that long would require some degree of brain injury and I don’t think that’s what you want. Of course, if he drugged her first and then strangled her to the point he thought she was dead, but she in fact wasn’t, then she would awaken when the drug effect wore off. Here he could be dead for hours before she awakened.



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


Mummies: A New Method For Analysis



After death, some corpses mummify rather than decay. This more likely will happen in very dry environments but can happen in almost any circumstance. If the corpse dessicates (dries out) more quickly than it decays, mummified remains are produced. These corpses are leathery, dark brown, and appear as if the skin has been “shrink wrapped” over the bones. They also can be very difficult to analyze.

For years, rehydrating finger pads with water, glycerin, and some other liquids, has allowed investigators to obtain fingerprints from mummified corpses. Now it seems that Alejandro Hernandez has found a way to do this with an entire mummified corpse. Very interesting.



RUN TO GROUND Up For Ben Franklin Award

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I just learned that RUN TO GROUND is one of 3 finalist for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award, Mystery/Suspense Category. I’m thrilled and honored.

Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Writing

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