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Category Archives: Crime Scene

The Mystery Readers Journal Forensic Mysteries Issue is Out

2016 MRI Forensic Issue

 

The Mystery Readers Journal Forensic Mysteries Issue is out and it’s excellent. Filled with wonderful and informative articles by some really fun folks. Janet always does such a wonderful job and this issue is a testament to that.

If you don’t belong to Mystery Readers International, you should.

Details and links to join are here: http://mysteryreaders.org

Here is my contribution:

THE QUESTION I GET

Every writer knows that creating an engaging and believable story is the primary goal of fiction writing. Taking readers into the story world and holding them there isn’t all that easy. And making basic errors in fact can all too often snap the reader right out of the story. A writer’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

I have been consulting with authors and screenwriters on medical and forensic science story issues for the last 20 years and over that time have answered around 6000 questions. I am constantly amazed by the creative mind of an author. This is particularly true in the crime fiction and thriller genres. Equally impressive to me is that these are the authors who do the research, who try to get it right.

So, what are the most common things that I get asked? Poisons and rendering someone unconscious for varying periods of time are near the top of the list.

Many great murder mysteries, past and current, deal with poisons. Why not? They’re excellent tools for fictional murder. They require no physical confrontation and can even be set up so that the deed occurs days, weeks, or months later, when the perpetrator is far away. Clean and simple. No mess to clean up.

But poisons do possess limitations. Let me dispel one myth right up front—-there are no untraceable poisons. It might not be found but if it is looked for diligently enough and with the available sophisticated techniques, it will be found. Common poisons such as narcotics, amphetamines, barbiturates, and sedatives of various types are part of virtually every drug screen and therefore are easily found by the toxicologist. Others such as plant toxins, and many unusual chemicals, are more difficult. These require that the medical examiner and the forensic toxicologist have a high “index of suspicion” that a particular toxin is involved before taking the time and expense required to uncover it. These suspicions are often aroused by the symptoms that surround the victim’s death.

Often, for plot reasons, the author would like for the victim to receive the toxin but not have any symptoms until the next day and then suffer a quick and dramatic death. The problem? Poisons don’t have timers. Those that kill quickly and dramatically do so quickly and dramatically. Right here and right now. Not tomorrow, or next week. There are of course toxins that require several days to work their mischief but the victim almost invariably will become ill and spiral toward death over a period of time not suddenly collapse on cue.

In other scenarios, the author needs for a character to be struck in the head and to remain unconscious for an extended period of time. You’ve seen it before. The character is whacked on the head, placed in the trunk of a car, taken to some remote hideaway, remains unconscious for hours, and finally awakens when someone throws water in her face. Hollywood has been doing this for years. Unfortunately, medical science dictates that this is extremely unlikely. A blow to the head that causes unconsciousness but without significant brain damage is called a concussion. Boxers face this with every bout. The key here is that there is no significant brain damage in a simple, single concussion. The victim might go out but usually awakens very quickly and certainly by 10 or 15 minutes. Think about that boxer. He gets knocked unconscious and two minutes later he’s complaining that he was struck with a lucky punch. In order for the victim to remain unconscious for hours, there must be some degree of brain injury. A cerebral contusion (brain bruise) or an intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding into or around the brain) are two situations where unconsciousness can last for hours, days, or much longer. But here, the victim is truly injured and typically requires medical treatment in short order. A simple splash of water won’t do it.

So as you sit at your desk pounding out your next story, don’t assume that what you believe to be true is indeed true. This is particularly problematic if you don’t have a scientific background or if you get your understanding of science from television. Do your research. Seek out credible sources, Ask questions. Never underestimate the power of the word author. People like to talk about what they know so give them the opportunity.

Regardless of how you do it, get the facts right. That’s your job. And your readers will greatly appreciate it.

 

Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition Coming Soon

 

FFD 300X378

 

Just got the new cover for Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

It will be released from Wiley on 2-29-16

Pre-Order now

 

Crime and Science Radio: Tracking Down the Bad Guys: A Conversation with Retired US Marshal and Novelist Marc Cameron

Join Jan Burke and me as we welcome retire US Marshal Marc Cameron and discuss how the Marshals track down the bad guys—from Texas to Alaska. It’s a great show. Don’t miss it.

BIO: Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He’s published eleven novels, six of them Westerns.

BRUTE FORCE, sixth in his USA Today Bestselling Jericho Quinn Thriller series, is available December 2016 from Kensington. A second degree black belt in Ju Jitsu, Marc teaches defensive tactics to law enforcement agencies and civilian groups.

He lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.

 

Alaska Tracking Unit

 

Tracking in AZ

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/01/16/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-marc-cameron

LINKS:

Marc Cameroon Website: http://www.marccameronbooks.com

Marc Cameron on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarcCameronAuthor

Marc Cameron Blog: http://www.marccameronbooks.com/blog.htm

US Marshals Service: http://www.usmarshals.gov

 

Brute Force

 

Day Zero

 

Working with the FBI: A Brief Guide for Writers

Jan Burke and I recently had the FBI on Crime and Science Radio for a 2 part interview. It was outstanding. If you missed it, the shows are archived so go here to listen:

http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio-past.html

Crime writers are always looking for experts to chat with about their plots. The FBI offers just such access.

Need info on the FBI for your next story? Not sure how to approach them. Here’s how:

                                                 WORKING WITH THE FBI: A Brief Guide for Writers

If you are a writer who wants to feature the FBI in a TV, film, and literary project, the FBI may be able to work with you to create an accurate portrayal of the Bureau’s work.

The FBI’s Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit (IPPAU) in the Bureau’s DC-based Office of Public Affairs works with screenwriters, producers, authors, and other industry personnel associated with TV programs, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, films, and books.

What the FBI needs from you:

Company name, point of contact, address, email, and phone number

Project status, i.e., sold, green-lit, commissioned, or speculative

Scope of FBI’s importance in the script

Overview of FBI characters and actions

Copy of the script or treatment

Project status and/or production schedule

Specificity regarding cases, procedures, or information needed

A list of FBI personnel desired for interviews and/or background meeting(s)

What the FBI can consider providing you:

Guidance on content and/or dialogue regarding FBI investigations, procedures, interagency coordination, structure, and history

Information on costumes, props, scenery, or weapons

Fact-checking

Liaison and coordination with local FBI field offices for interviews or B-roll footage

Coordination of visits to FBI headquarters and other facilities

Background briefings

For project assistance, please send your written proposal with above info to: public.affairs@ic.fbi.gov.  For further questions, please contact the FBI National Headquarters, Office of Public Affairs, Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit at: 202-324-5348.

Please note that IPPAU considers and/or approves project assistance on a case-by-case basis. The FBI’s unit has limited resources and cannot assure cooperation or offer reviews or critiques of submitted projects/proposal. Please allow ample time for approval/clearance process.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Biotechnology and WMDs: An Interview with the FBI’s Betsy Glick and Edward You, and Biotech Futurist Andrew Hessel, Parts 1 and 2

Betsy

Betsy Glick is with the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs in Washington, DC.  Her Unit works with screenwriters, authors, producers and other media personnel associated with TV programs, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, books, and motion pictures, to help them write accurately about Today’s FBI.  She recently organized a “Writing G-Man Stories Rooted in Reality” workshop at the FBI New York  for novelists attending the International Thriller Writers annual gathering in Manhattan.

An award-winning communications professional throughout her career, Betsy Glick built a strong track record helping nonprofit organizations. She served as communications director for the National World War II Memorial, was VP Marketing/Communications at the Drug-Free Kids Campaign, and was the Managing Director at startup Life and Health Insurance Foundation. She spearheaded grassroots campaigns for the National Association of Life Underwriters and the American Automobile Association.

Betsy honed her writing skills at two advertising agencies and KYW-TV after graduating cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with courses at Wharton and Annenberg.

Edward H. You (Official Photo 1)

Edward You is a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Biological Countermeasures Unit.  Mr. You is responsible for creating programs and activities to coordinate and improve FBI and interagency efforts to identify, assess, and respond to biological threats or incidents.  These efforts include expanding FBI outreach to the Life Sciences community to address biosecurity.  Before being promoted to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Mr. You was a member of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office Joint Terrorism Task Force and served on the FBI Hazardous Evidence Response Team.

Mr. You has also been directly involved in policy-making efforts with a focus on biosecurity.  He is an active Working Group member of the National Security Council Interagency Policy Committee on Countering Biological Threats and an Ex Officio member of the NIH National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.  He also serves on two National Academies committees, the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Microbial Threats and the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law’s Forum on Synthetic Biology.

Mr. You also provides law enforcement biosecurity outreach by serving on the Strategic Advisory Board for the Synthetic Biology and Engineering Research Center and as an instructor for the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

Prior to joining the FBI, Mr. You worked for six years in graduate research focusing on retrovirology and human gene therapy at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine.  He subsequently worked for three years at the biotechnology firm AMGEN Inc. in cancer research.

 AHessel

Andrew Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the changes ahead in life science. He is the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer. His is the former  co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at the Singularity University and currently a Distinguished Researcher with Autodesk, Inc’s Bio/Nano technology group he addresses the disruptive shifts underway in life. He speaks widely on topics that include cells as living computers, life science as an emerging IT industry, and biological safety and security. He is active in the iGEM, DIYbio (do-it-yourself) communities, and is the 2015-2016 AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador and frequently works to inspire students and young entrepreneurs.

LISTEN: This is a two part show:

Part 1: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/10/10/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-the-fbi-part-1-of-2

Part 2: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/10/24/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-the-fbi-part-2-of-2

LINKS:

Andrew Hessel Website: Website: http://andrewhessel.com

Ed You ’91: From Bio Sci to FBI: http://news.uci.edu/spring-2015/myportfolio/ed-you-91-from-bio-sci-to-fbi/

FBI, AAAS Biotech Outreach: http://www.aaas.org/news/fbi-aaas-collaborate-ambitious-outreach-biotech-researchers-and-diy-biologists

Synthetic Virology by Andrew Hessel Ted Talk: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Synthetic-Virology-Andrew-Hessel

Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense: Surveillance and Detection Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qU13Z9oXZc

GUIDE FOR WORKING WITH THE FBIhttps://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2008/october/a-guide-for-writers-authors-and-producers-1

PAST FBI WORKSHOPS FOR WRITERS:

http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/blog/data-digital-biology-and-21st-century

http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/blog/tour-recap-exchange-brings-entertainers-fbi-0

http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=4672

http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/blog/event-recap-bioterrorism-science-security

 

Bad Air: Sewer Gas and Death

sewer-light

Bad air will kill you. One form of bad air is Sewer Gas. It’s a combination of hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. If you enter a sewer or manure pit or some area where these gases are concentrated, you can be a goner is short order. Breathing this combination of gases can kill, and can do so quickly.

This is what happened to Iowa hog farmers Gene and Austin Opheim. Austin went into the manure pit to salvage a piece of equipment that had fallen in, but he was quickly overcome by the gas. HIs father, Gene followed, trying to save his son, but he too fell victim to this treacherous gas.

FROM HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

TOXIC GASES:

SEWER GAS

Hydrogen sulfide is a byproduct of fermentation and is often found in sewers and cesspools. The combination of the two toxic gases hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide and the suffocating gas methane is called sewer gas. When inhaled or ingested, hydrogen sulfide converts oxyhemoglobin (hemoglobin rich in oxygen) into methemoglobin, which does not release oxygen to the tissues, thus effectively suffocating the cells of the body. Methemoglobin imparts a dark purple color to the blood, which can be seen at autopsy, where the ME is also likely to fi nd high levels of sulfide in the blood of sewer gas victims. These deaths are almost always accidental and occur when the victim enters an area rich in sewer gas.

Howdunnit Forensics Cover

 

Getting Rid Of A Body Isn’t Easy

Killers often think that disposing of a corpse is easy. And important. If there is no body surely they can’t be charged with murder. Right? Fortunately, they’re wrong on both counts.

A case in point: 23 year-old French art history student Eva Bourseau.

eva

Seems that three of her classmates killed her over a dispute about a drug debt. Drug debts are never good things.

So okay, now they have a body. What are the going to do about it? As good students of Breaking Bad, they decided to dissolve the corpse in acid. At least they did use plastic rather than a metal tub, as, yes, acid loves to eat up metal.

BreakingBad

But they also discovered that acid doesn’t always do the trick. Jeffrey Dahmer discovered the same thing.

Dahmer

Hell, even Dexter tried it.

Dexter

 
 
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