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Category Archives: Crime Scene

Weather Balloons and an Elaborate Suicide

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Alan Abrahamson went for a morning walk. The security cameras where he lived documented this and they also recorded the sound of a gunshot. Later, Abrahamson’s body was found, the victim of a gunshot wound. Looks like a murder. But it wasn’t. It was an elaborate suicide.

No weapon was found at the scene. How could someone commit suicide with a gun and yet the gun not be present? Did someone pick it up and walk away? Without reporting the crime? Didn’t make sense. But the scene revealed other things—-most notably a red streak of blood angling away from his chest wound and toward his shoulder. In addition, it was found that in the days prior to his death he had purchased a pair of weather balloons and a tank of helium. As investigators reconstructed the scene, it appeared Abrahamson had rigged the balloons to the weapon, shot himself, and as he died, the weapon slipped from his hands, was carried skyward by the balloons, ultimately out over the Atlantic Ocean never to be seen again.

Why he wanted to stage his suicide as a murder is unclear but it’s a very elaborate scheme. Maybe it had something to do with insurance, or framing someone, or maybe just to have a clever exit. The only person that knows is no longer with us.

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Criminal Mischief: Episode #07: Famous and Odd DNA Cases

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #07: Famous and Odd DNA Cases

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-07-famous-odd-dna-cases

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

 

FAMOUS AND ODD DNA CASES NOTES:

 

Colin Pitchfork: The Beginning

http://aboutforensics.co.uk/colin-pitchfork/

Timothy Wilson Spencer, The Southside Strangler” First US DNA Conviction

(David Vasquez—first to be exonerated by DNA)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Wilson_Spencer

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/352011

Brown’s Chicken Murders:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown%27s_Chicken_massacre

https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2018/01/08/browns-chicken-massacre-25-years-anniversary/

Lonnie Franklin, The Grim Sleeper: Familial DNA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grim_Sleeper

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/grim-sleeper-serial-killer-everything-you-need-to-know-252246/

James Lynn Brown: Familial DNA

https://www.ocregister.com/2012/12/04/family-members-dna-solves-1978-killing/

Gary Ridgway, The Green River Killer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Ridgway

Pierre G: Kiss DNA Foils Jewel Thief

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10616806/French-jewellery-thiefs-fate-sealed-with-a-kiss-after-conviction-from-DNA-on-victim.html

David Stoddard: Dog Bite DNA Case

https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/akron-canton-news/dna-from-dogs-mouth-solves-barberton-home-invasion-suspect-david-stoddard-also-charged-with-murder

Maggot DNA Case:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22971153

Willow Martin Arson Case and Potato DNA:

http://www.courant.com/breaking-news/hc-strippers-arson-drugs-0713-20160712-story.html

https://www.mycitizensnews.com/news/2018/05/woman-sentenced-to-8-years-for-arson/

 

 
 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #06: Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today?

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Criminal Mischief: Episode #06: Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today?

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-06-is-it-harder-to-write-crime-fiction-today

Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today? Notes:

Do modern forensic science and police investigative techniques make creating compelling crime fiction more difficult? Are there simply too many balls to keep in the air? Too much to consider? Or is now little different from then?

The Past, the present, and the future

Forensic Science timeline—-a fairly new discipline

Basic Science, then Medicine, finally forensic science

Personal ID

Visual
Bertillon
West Case
Facial recognition
Behavioral Profiling

Prints, ABO type, DNA, DNA Phenotype

Fingerprints—-then and now

Vucetich—the Rojas case
Stella Nickell Case
Touch DNA
Touch Toxicology

Toxicology

From arsenic to GC/MS

Blood Typing

ABO can exclude but not ID

DNA

Nuclear
Mitochondrial
Familial—Grim Sleeper case
Phenotypic Analysis

Electronics

Cell phones, computers, emails, texts, VMs

LINKS: 

Forensic Science Timeline: http://www.dplylemd.com/articles/forensic-science-timeline.html

History of Fingerprints: http://onin.com/fp/fphistory.html

Brief History of Poisons and Forensic Toxicology: https://www.okorieokorocha.com/poisons-and-forensic-toxicology/

History of Forensic Ballistics: https://ifflab.org/the-history-of-forensic-ballistics-ballistic-fingerprinting/

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

Stella Nickell Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Nickell

DNA Profiling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_profiling

Mitochondrial DNA: http://www.dplylemd.com/articles/mitochondrial-dna.html

Familial DNA: http://www.dnaforensics.com/familialsearches.aspx

Grim Sleeper/Lonnie Franklin case: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grim_Sleeper

Is DNA Phenotyping Accurate: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-accurately-can-scientists-reconstruct-persons-face-from-dna-180968951/

DNA Phenotyping Examples: https://snapshot.parabon-nanolabs.com/examples

Bertillon and the West Brothers: http://www.nleomf.org/museum/news/newsletters/online-insider/november-2011/bertillon-system-criminal-identification.html

 

Does Your DNA Contain Your Image?

DNA-Based Sketches

 

To say that DNA had revolutionized criminal investigations would be a huge understatement. Prior to DNA profiling, identifying a suspect with absolute certainty was more difficult. Fingerprints would work, of course, and eyewitness accounts, though flawed in many ways, could also help. But a criminal leaving behind biological evidence such as blood, semen, saliva, hair, skin cells, and other little bits, offers a method of identity that is second to none. DNA profiling has been used to catch many a criminal. But, in order for it to do its work, there must be something for the DNA analyst to compare the crime scene sample against. The DNA database, CODIS, helps because it stores millions of DNA profiles and if the perpetrator is in the system, a match can be made. But if he is not, the database is of little help.

DNA analysis can reveal the gender of the person who left behind the sample quite easily. But our DNA controls more than that. It determines how tall we will be, what our hair and eye color will be, our intellectual level, our ability to play music, and many other things. Familial DNA has been used to narrow down unknown samples to a smaller group, such as an extended family. And lately, this is been used in conjunction with the various ancestral databases to solve some crimes. But a newer technique offers another tool on the DNA front. It’s called DNA Phenotyping.

The principle seems simple: Since our DNA determines what we look like, would it not be possible to take a DNA sample and then create an image of the individual it belonged to? Maybe. At least great strides have been made in that regard. A case in point is that of research biologist Le Bich-Thuy, who was raped, battered, and strangled 24 years ago. DNA obtained from that scene was subjected to DNA Phenotyping and an image of the individual who likely perpetrated the crime was generated. Not only that, the image was age altered so that it would more accurately reflect what he might look like now. Fascinating case.

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #03: Time of Death

Criminal Mischief: Episode #03: Time of Death Notes

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/03-timeofdeath

The ME’s 3 most important determinations: Cause, Manner, and Time of Death

Part II: Time of Death Notes

DETERMINATION OF THE TIME OF DEATH 

Determining TOD is critical
Both an art and a science
The sooner after death the more accurate the estimate
Changes death variable and unpredictable. 

Physiologic TOD, Estimated TOD, Legal TOD

Always a best guess
None of the methods are very accurate

Body temperature
Rigor mortis
Livor mortis (lividity)
Degree of putrefaction
Stomach contents
Insect activity
Scene markers 

BODY TEMPERATURE 

Normal body temperature is 98.6F
Body loses or gains heat until it equilibrates with that of the surrounding medium.
The formula is: Hours since death = 98.6 – corpse core temperature / 1.5
Cold/wind/water increase heat loss
Obesity, heavy clothing, warm still air, exposure to direct sunlight, and an enclosed environment slow heat loss. 

RIGOR MORTIS 

Spasm due to chemical reactions within the muscle cells after death.
Loss of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) causes the muscles to contract and stiffen.
Later loss of rigidity from the putrefaction process.
Rigor begins throughout the body at the same time
Appears first in smaller muscles- face, neck, and hands
Relaxes in same pattern
General rule for rigor mortis is 12-12-12
Changes due to: activity, body temp, ambient temp,
Cadaveric spasm 

LIVOR MORTIS (Lividity)

Purplish—exceptions for CO (carboxyhemoglobin), Cyanide (cyanohemoglobin), Freezing
Dependent areas—lying, sitting, hanging
Pale support areas
Gravity, then leaking into tissues
Shifting vs Fixed—Onset 1/2 to 2 hours/fixed by 8 hours
Mismatch of pattern and body position

THE RATE OF BODY DECAY 

Time Since Death
Putrefaction—ambient temp/humidity
Internal bacteria—sepsis hastens
Water X2/BurialX4
Ultimately skeletonize
Floaters
Mummification
Adipocere-from chemical process called saponification-reaction between certain bacteria and the body’s adipose (fatty) tissues.

Stomach Contents:

Stomach empties in 2-3 hours—protein, fatty meals
Intestine transient @ 24 hours

Insect Activity

Forensic entomologist

Insects help in two basic ways: Predictable developmental stages (blowfly); succession of insect species
Changed by body location, weather, season, night

Scene Markers

Includes information at the scene or from witnesses or family and friends.
Missed appointments, uncollected mail or newspapers, and dated sales receipts
Victim’s clothing—dressed for work, or morning jog

Follow the shows on FB: https://www.facebook.com/criminalmischiefwithDPLyle/

See all shows here: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

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Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: CAUTION: CHILDREN AT PLAY

My current release revolves around a series of deaths at a juvenile detention facility—and seeing as I don’t even have children of my own, this represents a world I know nothing about. Much research was in order. 

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Among many other topics, I read a book about play therapy. Playing—unfettered, unstructured running around, preferably outside, is not only vital to a child’s development but vital to understanding what is going on in their lives. Apparently, children have as much trouble just being ‘themselves’ as adults do. We all bring a suitcase full of ideas and expectations into the room with us, ideas inherited from family life and other experiences. Watching how a child functions on the playground can give great insight as to how they’re functioning in their own mind. 

 child play 1

Every family assigns roles. Mom is the sensible one, while Dad is a soft touch. The oldest child is the go-getter and the middle one is the whiner. Sometimes these roles can be a good thing, providing support and encouragement, but no one wants a child to feel locked into only one way of being by the age of eight. At school, at activities, at play, a child should be able to experiment with alternative personalities, perhaps finding a better fit or at least rounding out the one they have. 

Making_friends

Here are some common family roles:

The sensible child is the one that’s helpful, cheerful, mature past his/her years. They’ve been encouraged to be mummy or daddy’s little helper and that’s wonderful, as far as it goes, until they begin to feel so burdened by this role as pseudo-adult that they miss being a little kid. They may begin to withdraw from others. This child would be helped by teachers and playgroup monitors giving him no responsibilities for a while, letting him be free to simply enjoy his childhood.

Another version of the sensible child has been forced into the role of peacemaker by warring parents. At home, this child tries to soften the parents’ messages to each other and perhaps distracts them by acting out so that they focus their aggravation on the child instead of the other parent. In the schoolyard, this child can try to manage their peers’ conflicts to the point where they’re told to butt out. While they may be initially hurt, it’s important to relieve them of the weight of constantly having to solve other people’s problems. 

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Every family has one—the black sheep, the sibling who always starts the fight or never does their homework or lets the goldfish die when it’s their turn to feed it. A scapegoat, who—not coincidentally—helps out by making everyone else look good by comparison. Sometimes this is due to, again, warring parents who enlist the child in their attacks—I’m not mad, but little Timmy was so disappointed that you weren’t here, that he missed the bus and forgot his lunch. Didn’t you, Tim?

Or the opposite—children who are good at everything they do. They allow their siblings to slack off and their parents to feel great about their parenting abilities. But the praise heaped upon them can become crushing if they come to believe the slightest stumble will render them unlovable. 

Similar to the scapegoat is the troublemaker, the one who starts fights and objects to the instructions. Troublemakers usually come from families in which there is a large and hard to manage the problem and it’s much easier for everyone’s psyche to define the problem as child #whatever. The child’s peers who might occasionally feel oppositional don’t have to be, because ‘the troublemaker’ will kick up a fuss for them. They relieve the stress of those around them but need to be guided into ways to relieve their own stress. 

Children’s behavior at play can tell you what you need to know about them. We only need to look more carefully.  

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Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office she analyzed many forms of trace evidence as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI in Florida and is the author of thirteen traditionally published novels. Some of which have been translated into six other languages, one has been optioned for film and one reached the NYT bestseller’s list. The latest is Suffer the Children, which involves forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner in a series of deaths inside a center for violent children. 

http://www.lisa-black.com

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Crime Scene, Guest Blogger, Uncategorized

 

Criminal Mischief #02: Cause and Manner of Death Notes

Criminal Mischief #02: The ME’s 3 most important determinations: Cause, Manner, and Time of Death

Part I: Cause and Manner of Death Notes

CAUSE/MECHANISM OF DEATH:

Cause of death is why the individual died
Heart attack, GSW, traumatic brain injury, diseases

Mechanism-physiological derangement that causes death

One cause—several mechanisms

Example: MI-arrhythmia, cardiogenic shock, rupture 

Example: GSW—heart or brain damage, exsanguination. wound infection

One mechanism—several causes

Example: Exsanguination—GSW, ulcer, meds, disease 

Just as a cause 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 could be deemed homicidal, suicidal, or accidental.

MANNERS OF DEATH: For what purpose and by whose hand

NATURAL: Natural deaths are due to the workings of Mother Nature in that the death results from a natural disease process. Heart attacks, cancers, pneumonia, and strokes are common natural causes of death. This is by far the largest category of death that the ME sees. 

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 that come by the person’s own hand. Intentional self-inflicted gunshots, drug overdoses, or self-hangings are suicidal deaths. 

HOMICIDAL: Homicides are deaths that occur by the hand of another. Note that a homicide is not necessarily a murder. Homicide is a determination of the ME; murder is a legal charge that is determined by the courts. Though each would be ruled a homicide by the ME, the legal jeopardy is much different for a court verdict of negligent homicide as opposed to first- or second-degree murder. 

UNDETERMINED OR UNCLASSIFIED: This extra category is used in situations where the coroner can’t accurately determine the appropriate category. 

Examples:
Car/pedestrian
Heroin/Drug OD
GSW

Psychological Autopsy

Manner determines whether there is an investigation

Manner not fixed—can change
Proximate cause— the cascade of events

To Learn more about this subject grab a copy of
FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES

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Listen to the Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-02-cause-and-manner-of-death

Follow the shows on FB: https://www.facebook.com/criminalmischiefwithDPLyle/

See all shows here: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

 
 
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