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Category Archives: Crime Scene

Sonny Liston: Cause and Manner of Death

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Former Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston is best remembered from his two losses—first to Cassius Clay, then Muhammad Ali. Ali changed his name between the two fights. But Sonny was a tough guy. He ruled the heavyweight division with an iron hand. Until Ali burst of the scene anyway.

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But Sonny was no match for the needle. The cause of his death is easy—-a heroin OD. But, the manner of death isn’t so apparent. A situation not uncommon in drug OD deaths.

The cause of death is what actually killed the person while then manner of death is the by whom and why. It basically comes down to—-by whose hand and for what purpose did the death occur?

The four (plus one) manners of death are: Natural, Accidental, Suicidal, Homicidal, and Undertermined—-the latter a fancy way of saying “I don’t have a clue.”

A heroin OD is not natural but can it be accidental, or suicidal, or homicidal? You bet. And it’s not always possible to determine the manner in heroin-related deaths.

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FROM FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES:

Uncovering the four manners of death

The manner of death is the root cause of the sequence of events that leads to death. In other words, it answers these questions:

# How and why did these events take place?

# Who or what initiated the events and with what intention?

# Was the death caused by the victim, another person, an unfortunate occurrence, or Mother Nature?

The four manners of death are

Natural: Natural deaths are the workings of Mother Nature in that death results from a natural disease process. Heart attacks, cancers, pneumonias, and strokes are common natural causes of death. Natural death is by far the largest category of death that the ME sees, making up over half of the cases investigated.

Accidental: Accidental deaths result from an unplanned and unforeseeable sequence of events. Falls, automobile accidents, and in‐home electrocutions are examples of accidental deaths.

Suicidal: Suicides are deaths caused by the dead person’s own hand. Intentional, self‐inflicted gunshot wounds, drug overdoses, and self‐ hangings are suicidal deaths.

Homicidal: Homicides are deaths that occur by the hand of someone other than the dead person.

Undetermined or unclassified: These are deaths in which the ME can’t accurately determine the appropriate category.

Just as causes of death can lead to many different mechanisms of death, any cause of death can have several different manners of death. A gunshot wound to the head can’t be a natural death, but it can be deemed homicidal, suicidal, or accidental.

Though the ME can usually determine the manner of death, it’s not always easy, or even possible. For example, the manner of death of a drug abuser who overdoses is most likely to be either accidental or suicidal (it also could be homicidal, but it’s never natural). When the cause of death is a drug overdose, autopsy and laboratory findings are the same regardless of the victim’s or another’s intent. That is, the ME’s findings are the same whether the victim miscalculated the dose (accidental), intentionally took too much (suicidal), or was given a lethal dose (homicidal). For example, perhaps the victim’s dealer, thinking the user had snitched to the police, gave the victim a purer form of heroin than he was accustomed to receiving, so that his “usual” injection contained four or five times more drug than the unfortunate soul expected. Simply put, no certain way exists for determining whether the person overdosed accidentally, purposefully, or as the result of another’s actions. For these reasons, such deaths are often listed as Undetermined.

So was Sonny’s death an accident? A suicide? Or did the hand of another intervene and murder Sonny? We may never know.

Was Sonny Liston Murdered?: http://theundefeated.com/features/was-sonny-liston-murdered/

 

Crime and Science Radio: Meet Iris, the FBI’s Only Electronic-sniffing Dog: An Interview with Jeffrey Calandra

Criminals and terrorists often hide data on electronic devices and then hide these devices—-and are often very clever about doing so. In such search situations, many subjects hide flash drives, hard drives, and other electronic components so if the police come, the instruments of their crimes may not be found. Take the example of a child pornography case where a subject will put pictures of innocent children on a thumb drive and hide it in the yard, behind walls, and all sorts of other places. In a normal search, a human investigator may not find the media

What’s the FBI to do? Enter Iris, a young, eager, lab who is the FBI’s only canine capable of sniffing out these devices. And she’s one of only seven in the world. How does she do it? How was she trained for such specialized work?

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In this episode Jan Burke and I talk with Jeffrey Chandra about how all this accomplished, as well as how dogs are used in other criminal detection activities.

BIO: Jeffrey Calandra possesses a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Masters in Criminal Justice with concentration in Computer Forensics. He spent 6-1/2 years as a special agent working child pornography, criminal computer intrusions, fraud, and bomb threat cases. HE has also assisted on Counter Intelligence, Counter-Terrorism, Drug, and Gang cases and has served as a member of the Hostage Negotiator team. He is currently a K9 handler for the FBI Electronic Scent Detection K9 Iris.

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Iris, a 20 month-old black lab, is the first of her type in the FBI and one of 5 in the world. She will be the future of law enforcement. Already we are getting requests from across the country for her assistance. For a little background, Iris was trained as a seeing eye dog for a year and then was selected to be a law enforcement dog.

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LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/10/01/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-jeff-calandra

Link will go live Saturday 10-1-16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Video link from WNBC:

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/New-Jersey-FBI-Dog-Electronics-Sniffing-Dog-NJ-Police-380560881.html

http://nj1015.com/how-this-dog-will-help-fbi-take-bite-out-of-cyber-crime-in-new-jersey/

http://www.northjersey.com/photo-galleries/photos-iris-fbi-s-electronic-sniffing-dog-1.1604524

http://www.fox5ny.com/news/164540928-story

 

Crime and Science Radio: Crime Scenes, Criminalistics, and the Cutting Edge

Crime and Science Radio: Crime Scenes, Criminalistics, and the Cutting Edge in Los Angeles: An Interview with Former LASD Criminalist Professor Donald Johnson of California State University, Los Angeles

BIO: Professor Donald James Johnson is an expert on criminalistics, with emphasis on crime scene investigation and reconstruction (homicides and sexual assaults), and forensic biology. His research interests include the application of new technologies to the field of criminalistics. He was formerly a senior criminalist at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he was involved in the scientific investigation of violent crimes.

NOTE: This show was recorded live at the MWA-LA Chapter meeting in Los Angels, CA

LISTEN: LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/09/10/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-dr-donald-james-johnson

Link will go live Saturday 9-10-16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

California Forensic Science Institute: http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/cfsi

School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at CSULA: http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/crim

CSULA Masters in Criminalistics http://ecatalog.calstatela.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=11&poid=3452

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SboLJ7WwnXQ

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: http://sheriff.lacounty.gov

American Academy of Forensic Sciences http://www.aafs.org

 

Crime and Science Radio Goes Live at MWA-LA

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Mark your calendars for this event. Jan and I are recording an episode of Crime and Science Radio live with our special guest Criminalist and Forensic Science Professor Don Johnson. This will be a fun and informative event. Sign up now.

From MWA-LA

We have a special luncheon planned in August:

D.P. Lyle and Jan Burke Live Radio Podcast with special guest interviewee Criminalist and Forensics Professor Don Johnson

This will be a unique opportunity to experience a live podcast with three outstanding experts

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tam O’Shanter Restaurant

2980 Los Feliz Blvd.

Los Angeles

Doors open at 11:30

MORE INFO:

http://www.socalmwa.com/2016/05/tam-luncheon-dp-lyle-jan-burke-live-radio-podcast/

 

Q&A: What Injuries Can Occur With a Car Bomb?

Q&A: What Injuries Can Occur With a Car Bomb?

Q: How far away would you have to be from a car bomb (the kind that is detonated by starting the car) to survive with injuries and what sorts of injuries might you sustain in the blast?

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A: This is a question that is virtually impossible to answer with any degree of accuracy. There are entirely too many variables involved. How big is the bomb? How big is the car? How close is close? What direction does the shrapnel fly and in which direction is the concussive force of the bomb directed? Are there any intervening walls or structures that might dampen the concussive force or block or redirect the shrapnel? Each of these variables, and many others, must be taken into account before any prediction of possible injuries can be entertained.

Lets look at a few general principles however. Big bombs cause big problems and little bombs cause less. A large bomb can produce a massive concussive force that will spread out for many yards in every direction. It can also produce shrapnel that can fly many hundreds of feet. A small bomb, needless to say, would release a smaller concussive force and any shrapnel would move at a slower rate and therefore do less damage.

Let’s assume that this is a moderate sized bomb and the victim is standing close enough to receive injuries from the explosion. There are several types of injuries that can occur with a bomb.

If the person is close enough and the bomb is of the type that produces a great deal of heat, then burns over the skin and face can occur and even the victim’s clothing might catch fire. This could produce severe injury to the flesh and the lungs.

The concussive force of the bomb is simply a wave of air molecules that are accelerated to very high speed. When the wave strikes an object or a person, damage and bodily trauma will result. This is why a bomb will destroy a building, knock down a wall, or kill a person within the concussive umbrella. If the force is strong enough it can burst eardrums, cause sinuses within the nose and face to bleed, rupture the lungs, rupture the abdomen and internal organs, and many other nasty injuries. If the person is slightly further away, or if the concussive force is dampened somewhat, then injuries to the eardrums and sinuses may occur but the other more severe injuries to the lungs and internal organs might not occur.

Shrapnel presents a very difficult and dangerous situation. With a car exploding all types of shrapnel can be fired in every direction. Chunks of metal and glass, complete doors or windows, beams of metal and even the engine can be launched in any direction. The types of injuries that someone would suffer depends upon exactly what strikes them, where they are struck, and with what speed and force they are hit. I think it would be obvious that if a car door or engine or some large piece of metal struck someone at very high velocity it would most likely kill them instantly and if not their injuries would be so severe that without very aggressive medical treatment and luck they would die from these in short order. But what about smaller pieces of glass and metal? These can penetrate the head, the chest, or the abdomen and damage vital organs and lead to death very quickly. Or they can enter the same areas and lead to massive injury and bleeding, which can then lead to death in minutes to an hour or so. Or they could simply be flesh wounds and the person could survive but would likely require surgical repair of the wounds and treatment with antibiotics to prevent secondary infections.

You can see almost anything can happen in this explosive situation.  A large explosion at a great distance could easily do the same damage as a smaller one where the person was standing close by. Any bomb where the concussive force and shrapnel were directed away from the person might produce no injuries while if the victim were standing in the path of the concussive wave and the shrapnel he could be killed instantly. And anywhere in between. This great degree of variation in what actually happens is good for storytelling since it means that you can craft your story almost any way you want.

 

Can a DNA Sample Reveal Age?

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DNA found at crime scenes can be extremely useful in identifying a perpetrator. But this only works if they have a known suspect and a DNA sample from that suspect, or if the perpetrator is in the national DNA database—-CODIS. Without something to compare the crime scene DNA sample against, DNA is not very useful. Same can be said for fingerprints. But perhaps DNA offers something else.

Employing DNA obtained from a crime scene, Familial DNA has been used to narrow the list of potential suspects and this has proven useful in many cases—such as the famous Grim Sleeper serial killer. I have blogged on this before in cases such as The Boston Strangler and the amazing case of Yara Gambirasio.

DNA will of course reveal gender, but there is also research suggesting that race, hair and eye color, and physical features such as stature might also be determined from a DNA sample. These aren’t completely worked out yet but they are intriguing aspects of DNA analysis.

But what if a DNA sample could be used to determine the approximate age of the person? This would definitely help as, once again, it would narrow the suspect list. For example, if the crime scene DNA could be shown to have come from someone who was approximately 25 years old it would effectively eliminate a 60-year-old suspect. But is this possible? Maybe.

A new approach, using a process of gene expression called methylation, seems to offer hope. Researchers at the KU Leuven University in Belgium have developed a technique for assessing the degree of methylation in a DNA sample. They believe that this analysis will narrow the age range of the individual down to a four or five year window. If this proves to be true, law enforcement will have another useful forensic science tool.

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Everything Old Is New Again

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

My character, Cleveland forensic specialist Maggie Gardner, is unrealistic in one respect—she still spends a lot of time at her microscope looking at tiny bits of trace evidence, hairs, fibers, paint, and glass.

No one does that any more. Well, maybe Abby on NCIS, but she’s the most unrealistic forensic person on screen, even though she’s so cute we don’t care.

Sure, on old episodes of Dragnet you can see some nerdy guy in a lab coat explain how these pollen spores are only found in one quadrant of the city, but that art had already died before I started in forensics in 1994. We got spoiled by DNA, by ‘absolutely yes’ or ‘absolutely no’ answers. No one wanted to hear that this red nylon was ‘consistent with’ the suspect’s shirt, because they wouldn’t be hearing how many red nylon shirts were manufactured, how many were sold in this area, and while we’re at it let’s hack into Macy’s sales figures and find out who they were sold to. Unlike television, forensic labs do not have databases of all this information and would probably be violating a few important laws if they did. Nope, ‘consistent with’ was all you got. Take it or leave it.

 

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POLYURETHANE FIBERS

They left it. Microscopic analysis became more or less a thing of the past. Forensic techs today wouldn’t recognize a pollen spore or know what to do with it if they did. Fibers are ignored. Hairs are examined only to screen out candidates for, well, DNA.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I peruse the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences and stumble on an article about using something called palynological scanning to rapidly evaluate suspect and victim testimony.

 

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POLLEN

Palynology, it turns out, is a fancy name for…pollen. Pollen and spores and other ‘microscopic entities’ of trees, shrubs and herbs. No hairs, fibers or paint, but you get the idea. This analysis proved useful in some cases of rape or assault, in situations where the victim and suspect both contacted the ground and pieces of the ambient flora could attach to their clothing.

 

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In one case the suspect said he and his victim engaged on a lawn behind a public building. The victim said he attacked in a heavily wooded area, the spot surrounded by beech, birch and sycamore trees. Each site had a distinct mix of items—palynomorphs– with complicated Latin names. The suspect didn’t deny that he had made contact with the victim so willingly gave up the clothing he’d been wearing at the time, and sure enough, all those little palynomorphs indicated that he had been in the woods and not on the lawn. This did not prove that he had committed the crime. It only proved that he had lied about the sequence of events, and that was sufficient to prompt a confession. Otherwise this case would have languished in an eternal hell of ‘he said vs. she said.’

Of course had this guy listened to legal counsel before he made a statement, he probably would have figured out to come up with an alternative, and innocent, reason to have been rolling on the ground near the crime scene, and all these spores would have been for naught. As it is, surely the defense will bring out statistics regarding the vast number of beech and sycamore trees in the area, perhaps in the suspect’s own neighborhood, and the idea that maybe he had been doing some gardening earlier in the week in that same pair of pants. This is why things like pollen analysis fell out of favor with the courts…but the spores are still out there, voluminous, distinct and quite concrete little buggers that will stick in all sorts of places one might wish they wouldn’t. So are hairs, fibers, and paint. Maybe ‘consistent with’ is all you can get out of them. But maybe, sometimes, that’s enough.

So in my books Maggie still looks at all this stuff because it’s more visible and visceral than yet one more DNA sample. Let’s face it—you’ve seen one cotton swab, you’ve seen them all. Bright clothing fibers are much more entertaining.

And this trace evidence will lead her down a number of roads—some of which, it turns out, she’d be better off avoiding.

Wiltshire et al. “A Rapid and Efficient Method for Evaluation of Suspect Testimony: Palynological Screening.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 60, #6, Nov 2015, pp 1441-1450.

 

L Black

Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Lisa’s Website: http://www.lisa-black.com

 

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Hello! Just a quick note to let you know that my new book, That Darkness, is now available wherever books are sold!

It seemed like a typical week for crime scene specialist Maggie Gardiner–a gang boss shot in an alley, a lost girl draped over an ancient grave, a human trafficker dumped in the river–nothing all that out of the ordinary for the Cleveland police department as spring turns toward summer along the Erie banks. The methods are usual, the victims unsurprising–but when she notices a pattern, a tenuous similarity among the cases, she begins to realize that her days will never be typical again. How much of her life, her career, her friends, will she be willing to risk to do what’s right?

Jack Renner is a killer who does not kill for any of the conventional reasons…no mania, no personal demons. He simply wants to make the world a safer place. He doesn’t think of himself as a dangerous person–but he can’t let anyone stop him. Not even someone as well-meaning as Maggie Gardiner.

Maggie has the self-sufficiency of a born bit-of-a-loner. She works with a bevy of clever experts surrounded by armed police officers. She is both street smart and book smart, having seen the worst the city has to offer.

But Maggie Gardiner is not safe. And, until she can draw Jack Renner into the light, neither is anyone else.

Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter series, says: “Lisa Black always delivers authentic characters in riveting stories. That Darkness takes things to a spellbinding new level with a taut and haunting story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.”

Publisher’s Weekly says: “The intriguing forensic details help drive the plot to its satisfying conclusion.”

“Black is one of the best writers of the world of forensics, and her latest introduces Maggie Gardiner, who works for the Cleveland Police Department. Her relentless pursuit of answers in a dark world of violence is both inspiring and riveting. Readers who enjoy insight into a world from an expert in the field should look no further than Black. Although Cornwell is better known, Black deserves more attention for her skillful writing – and hopefully this will be her breakout book.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars (Top Pick)

 
 
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