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Author Archives: D.P. Lyle, MD

About D.P. Lyle, MD

Author, Lecturer, Story Consultant

Toilet Paper to the Rescue

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“I have a gun. Give me $300.”

Here’s a bit of advice: If you plan to rob a bank or a business, say a pizza joint, don’t write your “stick up” note on toilet paper and then leave the roll behind for the police to find when they search your home. If you do, you give the investigators much to work with in connecting you to the crime. Don’t believe me? Ask Eric Frey.

In this case, Frey left behind “indented writing” on the roll and, much to his dismay, investigators were able to match this “writing” that that on the note.

This is definitely an odd case of Forensic Document Examination.

Two other forensic techniques that could enter the picture here would be chemical ink analysis and fracture pattern assessment. The ink on the note could be chemically matched to the marker pen found at Frey’s residence and this could serve to further link him to the note.

Also, since no two things fracture, crack, or tear the same way, analysis of the torn edges could match the note paper to the roll—-if no other tissues had been torn away after the note was removed. The tear line between the roll and the note paper would match and this match is about as good as DNA or fingerprints. Such tears, like broken glass or chipped paint or broken sticks, are called fracture patterns and they are highly individual.

There is an entire chapter on the fascinating field of Document examination in my forensic books Howdunnit: Forensics and Forensics For Dummies.

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And a few links for you to explore:

A Simplified Guide to Forensic Document Examination: http://www.forensicsciencesimplified.org/docs/how.html

FBI Forensic Ink Analysis: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/july2005/research/2005_07_research02.htm/

Glass Fracture Patterns: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/241445.pdf

Howdunnit:Forensics and my other Forensic Books: http://www.dplylemd.com/DPLyleMD/Books-Forensics.html

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Crime Scene, Document Examination

 

Q and A: Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

Q: Was it possible in 1969 (or even today for that matter) to determine if a woman found dead in sub-zero temperatures was raped by more than one assailant. If so, how could this be accomplished? Could a pathologist conclude that the woman was raped, as opposed to consensual intercourse, even if there is an absence of physical evidence such as bruising? What language would the pathologist employ when writing his conclusions?  Could evidence from 1969 be preserved (how would it be preserved?) and used today to identified suspects through DNA testing?

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A: DNA for testing comes from the genetic material found in the nuclei of the body’s cells. Essentially every cell in the body contains a nucleus. The notable exception is the Red Blood Cells (RBCs), which do not contain nuclei. But, White Blood Cells (WBCs) do. DNA testing of blood tests the DNA found in the nuclei of the WBCs.

Adequate DNA samples for testing have been gleaned from semen stains, bite marks, sweat, sputum, hair, and saliva. Even from the saliva left behind by licking a stamp or sealing an envelope. In the case of saliva from stamps or bites, the DNA tested comes from the cells that line the mouth (called buccal cells), which are constantly shed into the saliva. Hair does not contain cells and thus no DNA, but hair follicles do. A single hair follicle may yield enough DNA for testing.

As you can see, very small samples might be enough.

DNA is a fairly hardy molecule and survives time, freezing, drying, mixing with other materials, and many other adverse circumstances. It does not survive heating, however. Heat denatures, or destroys, the DNA strands. It is important to note that DNA testing does not require intact cells, merely intact DNA. This means that clotted blood, dried semen, and tissue fragments found under victims’ fingernails might yield enough DNA for conclusive testing.

The sub-zero temperatures in your scenario would serve to protect the DNA and would thus help the coroner by preserving better samples for his evaluation.

Yes, he would be able to determine that there had been two assailants, since each would have his own distinctive DNA pattern. The finding of two different DNA patterns in the semen sample obtained from the victim would prove this and when the suspects were apprehended, each could be matched to his own contribution to that sample. Mixing the semen would not alter this finding in any way since each DNA strand would be unchanged. It’s not like mixing blue paint with yellow paint to make green paint but rather like mixing a bunch of tiny blue beads with tiny yellow beads. From a distance, they might appear as though they had melted together to form a green mixture, but on close examination, each tiny bead would be seen to have remained intact and separate. DNA strands don’t “melt” into one another.

DNA can last for years, decades, even centuries. It has been found in Egyptian mummies, exhumed bodies, and samples stored from very old crimes. Recently, DNA evidence linked Gary Leon Ridgway to the famous string of prostitute murders know as the Green River Murders in Washington State. The DNA evidence connected him to murders that occurred in the early 1980s. This was possible because the DNA was handled and stored properly. Typically, the sample is dried and placed in a non-reactive container such as a glass vial.

The problem of determining if a rape occurred is a question for the jury. Rape is not a medical term, but rather a legal term. The coroner could determine if penetration occurred and if semen was present. If he found trauma to the vagina or to other body parts that might suggest the victim was struck or restrained, he might conclude that in his opinion the intercourse was not consensual. Still, it would require a judge or a jury to determine whether a rape occurred or not.

Published in Suspense Magazine December, 2014

 

Do Astronauts Hallucinate?

It has long been known that isolation can lead to all sorts of psychological problems, including delusions and hallucinations. Prisoners in isolation, who have limited interaction with others, can suffer just such effects.

In medicine, we see it frequently. Someone has surgery, and then for whatever reason (complex surgical problems, complications, co-morbidities, etc.) must linger in the ICU for a few days. This is a form of isolation as they are limited in their activity and in who they see and talk with on a regular basis. Sort of like prison isolation. Not to mention they might be receiving medications for pain, sleep, or agitation, each of which can alter mental function. After as little as a couple of days, the person can become confused and disoriented and suffer delusions, such as everyone is trying to kill them, or they are being held prisoner and undergoing some alien experimentation, as well as hallucinations where they see, feel, and hear things that don’t exist. Seen it hundreds of times. It’s that common.

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It even has a name: ICU Psychosis.

Astronauts are in a similar situation. They spend months in an enclosed, monotonous environment, interacting with the same people, day after day. It’s like prison, or an ICU. Do they also develop delusions and hallucinations? It seems that the do. In fact, I would be surprised if they didn’t.

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So, during a trip to Mars, where isolation is very real, could such psychiatric problems jeopardize the mission? You bet. NASA takes this seriously and has begun studies into such long-term deprivations.

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MedNet: ICU Psychosis: http://www.medicinenet.com/icu_psychosis/article.htm

NIH: Intensive Care Unit Psychosis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2154033/

Astronauts and Hallucinations: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/05/hallucinations-isolation-astronauts-mental-health-space-missions

NASA Trains Astronauts to Bins, Tranquilize Unstable Crewmates: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/02/25/nasa-trains-astronauts-to-bind-tranquilize-unstable-crewmates/

NASA Has Guidelines for Dealing With Psychosis in Space: http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070224/news_lz1n24read.html

Mars One Astronaut Training Program: http://www.mars-one.com/faq/selection-and-preparation-of-the-astronauts/how-are-the-astronauts-prepared

NASA’s HI-SEAS Training Program: http://www.sci-news.com/space/science-nasas-hi-seas-team-hawaii-mars-mission-02220.html

 

Crime and Science Radio: Chasing Monsters; Running From Monsters: An Interview with Douglas Preston, Best-selling Author of The Monster Of Florence

Join Jan Burke and I on Crime and Science Radio Saturday morning 2-14-15 at 10 a.m. Pacific as we welcome Douglas Preston to the show for a lively discussion of the serial killer known as The Monster of Florence and Doug’s “adventures” while researching this story.

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BIO: Douglas Preston has published twenty-eight books, nonfiction and fiction, several of which have been #1 New York Times bestsellers. He writes for the New Yorker magazine and taught nonfiction writing at Princeton University. His most recent nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a movie starring George Clooney. He is the co-creator, with Lincoln Child, of the Agent Pendergast series of novels

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/02/04/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-douglas-preston

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LINKS:

Douglas Preston’s Website: http://www.prestonchild.com

Crime Library: The Monster of Florence: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/predators/monster_florence/1.html

Florence Webguide: The Monster of Florence: http://www.florencewebguide.com/monster-of-florence.html

The Atlantic: The Monster of Florence: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/07/the-monster-of-florence/304981/6/

Biography: The Monster of Florence: http://www.biography.com/people/the-monster-of-florence-573530

Biography: Amanda Knox: http://www.biography.com/people/amanda-knox-20663285

Huffington Post: Knox and Sollecito: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-drizin/amanda-knox-and-raffaele-_b_4757435.html

The Coronado Expedition: http://arizonaexperience.org/remember/coronado-expedition

Coronado and the Seven Cities of Cibola: http://basementgeographer.com/coronado-and-the-seven-cities-of-cibola/

 
 

ITW’s Online Thriller School Begins March 2, 2015


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Join us March 2nd through April 17th, for ITW’s Online ThrillerSchool, where the craft of thriller writing is front and center!

Seven weeks! Seven bestselling authors! Designed to take your writing to the next level.

Attendance is limited, but there are a few spots remaining.

Register today!

http://thrillerwriters.org/thrillerschool/

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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Writing

 

Medicine Is Strange: Stone Man Syndrome

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Medicine has a lot of very strange disorders in its catalog of maladies.

Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP or Stone Man Syndrome) is one of them.

http://thechirurgeonsapprentice.com/2014/12/17/disturbing-disorders-fop-stone-man-syndrome/

 

Spend a Day With the FBI at ThrillerFest 2015

ITW Black-Red

Are you going to ThrillerFest? Want to spend a day with the FBI? 

Lock In The Date!

Join us for a Pre-Conference Workshop: Today’s FBI: Crime Essentials For Writers

WHEN: Monday, July 6, 2015 (Full-day seminar, exact time to be determined soon)

WHERE: FBI Headquarters, 290 Broadway, New York, New York

WHAT: Hear from FBI experts in Cybercrime, International Terrorism, Criminal Investigations, and More

COST: $75/per person, which includes lunch, drinks, and snacks

Last year’s course was a huge success, so we are offering the seminar again this year. Space is limited.

If you have already registered for ThrillerFest, please email Dennis Kennett at registrar@thrillerwriters.org so that he can add the workshop to your registration. The credit card you used for registration will be used for payment.

In your email, you will need to provide your first, middle, and last name; city, state, and country of birth; birth date; and if you are not a U.S. citizen, your passport number. Please, no middle initials. This information is used by the FBI to vet your entrance into the workshop. Example:

John Jack Doe

Anytown, TX USA

06/12/82

If you are not registered, please go to https://www.regonline.com/TFX. You will find the workshop as one of the choices available.You will need to provide the same information as above.

Whether you are checking facts, or writing and researching your next novel, if you need a better understanding of the FBI, this seminar is for you!

Warmest regards,

Kimberley Howe

Executive Director, ThrillerFest

If you plan to attend, a response is mandatory. Your name must be on the admittance list at the FBI building, so please reserve your spot today! No Audio or Video recording, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled devices.

This workshop is limited in attendance by the FBI and is expected to sell out.

Click Here to Register

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Police Procedure, Writing

 
 
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