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Category Archives: Crime Scene

Criminal Mischief: Episode #35: Corpse ID

Criminal Mischief: Episode #35: Corpse ID

 

 

Most corpses that are the victims of foul play are easily identified because they’re found in familiar places and reported by folks who knew them. But those found in remote or odd places with no ID create problems for investigators. In these cases, identifying the corpse is a critical step in solving the case.

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-35-corpse-id

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

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/35-corpse-id.html

Crime Museum: Postmortem Identification: https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/forensic-investigation/postmortem-identification/

The Conversation: How Do We Identify Human Remains?: http://theconversation.com/how-do-we-identify-human-remains-121315

NamUs: https://www.namus.gov

Crime and Science Radio Interview with Todd Matthews of NamUs: http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/todd-matthews.html

 

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

 

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

 

Your Hair and Your ID

 

We’ve known for years that DNA can be obtained from hair and this can be used for identification. If part of the follicle, or bulb, is present, then nuclear DNA can be retrieved and a complete DNA profile can be created. If only the hair shaft is available, then mitochondrial DNA is available and this can help narrow the identity of an individual by showing that the person belongs to a specific maternal line. Not nearly as good as nuclear DNA but this does focus the suspect field to a single maternal line.

But what if the hair shaft could be even more discriminatory? What if it could ID a specific individual and not just someone in the maternal line? Most hair found at crime scenes has been shed naturally and therefore has no follicular material, which might be present if the hair had been yanked free. This means that typically only mitochondrial DNA is available to the crime lab. 

But new studies have found an ultra-sensitive method for determining proteins within the hair shaft itself and it turns out that the types and amounts of the proteins present might be highly specific from individual to individual. This technique obviously is not ready for prime time yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Science Article: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/scientists-can-now-identify-someone-single-strand-hair

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #31: Body Disposal Isn’t Easy

Criminal Mischief: Episode #31: Body Disposal Isn’t Easy

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-31-body-disposal-isnt-easy

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

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/31-body-disposal.html

Details/Order: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

From HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS:

GETTING RID OF THE BODY 

Some criminals attempt to destroy corpses, the primary pieces of evidence in homicides. They think that if the police never find the body, they can’t be convicted. This isn’t true, since convictions have in many cases been obtained when no body is found. And destroying a body is no easy task. 

Fire seems to be the favorite tool for this effort. Fortunately, this is essentially never successful. Short of a crematorium, it is nearly impossible to create a fire that burns hot enough or long enough to destroy a human corpse. Cremation uses temperatures of around 1,500oF for two hours or more and still bone fragments and teeth survive. A torched building would rarely reach these temperatures and would not burn for this long. The body inside may be severely charred on the surface, but the inner tissues and internal organs are often very well preserved. 

Another favorite is quicklime. Murderers use this because they have seen it in the movies and because they don’t typically have degrees in chemistry. If they did, they might think twice about this one. Not that quicklime won’t destroy a corpse; it just takes a long time and a lot of the chemical. Most killers who use this method simply dump some on the corpse and bury it, thinking the lime will do its work and nothing will remain. Quicklime is calcium oxide. When it contacts water, as it often does in burial sites, it reacts with the water to make calcium hydroxide, also known as slaked lime. This corrosive material may damage the corpse, but the heat produced from this activity will kill many of the putrefying bacteria and dehydrate the body. This conspires to prevent decay and promote mummification. Thus, the use of quicklime may actually help preserve the body. 

Acids are also used in this regard, and once again the criminal hopes the acid will completely dissolve the body. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer tried this with little success. Indeed, powerful acids such as hydrochloric acid (HCl), sulfuric acid (H2SO4), and
chlorosulfuric acid (HClSO3) can destroy a corpse, bones and all. If enough acid is used over a sufficient period of time, that is. But this is not only difficult but also extremely hazardous. The acids will indeed destroy the corpse, but they will also “eat” the tub the body is in and chew up the plumbing. Acid fumes will peel the wallpaper and burn the perpetrator’s skin, eyes, and lungs. 

FORENSIC CASE FILES: THE ACID BATH MURDERER 

John George Haigh came to the English public’s attention in the 1940s when he confessed to not only multiple murders, but also to drinking his victims’ blood and destroying their corpses with acid. He seemed to favor sulfuric acid, which he kept in a vat in his workshop. He took the victims’ money and, through forgery, their property and businesses, and then basically laughed at the police as he admitted to the killings, believing they could not prosecute him without a corpse. He was wrong. He was convicted through forensic evidence and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on August 10, 1949. 

So, whether it’s Mother Nature or the work of the perpetrator, something almost always remains for the ME and the other forensic scientist to work with. It may be an intact body, a partially destroyed corpse, or a single bone, but it will give them something to use in identification. Let’s take a look at how they do this—first with a body and then with only skeletal remains

BODY LOCATION 

With the exception of some photographic comparisons, all these forensic identification techniques require a corpse or skeletal remains. No body, nothing to work with. Often a discovered body is what instigates this identification process. But sometimes, investigators know a homicide has occurred, or has likely occurred, but they can’t find the corpse. The Laci Peterson case is an example. When Laci, who was eight months pregnant at the time, went missing on Christmas Eve 2002, in Modesto, California, it was not long before it became obvious that she had been murdered. Authorities launched a search of her neighborhood and the bay where her husband, Scott, had been fishing. In April 2003, the bodies of Laci and her unborn son Conner washed up on shore in San Francisco Bay. Scott Peterson was later convicted of the double murder. 

In homicides, finding and examining the corpse is critical. Searchers use a number of low- and high-tech location methods. All evidence is used to narrow the search area, including the victim’s work and leisure habits and witness statements. The victim may work several miles from home, so searching along this route would be undertaken. Maybe he frequently ran or walked in a nearby wooded area. Or maybe the suspect’s vehicle was spotted or some of the victim’s clothing was found in a remote area. These bits of information can greatly focus the search. 

One basic rule is to “look downhill” for a burial site. Let’s say it is believed that the body in question was buried near a remote roadway. In the area, the terrain rises above the road on one side and falls away on the other. Search downhill. Why? It is much easier to carry a body downhill than up. It’s just that simple. 

Once the area of search has been defined, a systematic approach to cover- ing the area should be followed. Freshly turned dirt, trenches, elevations or depressions in the terrain may be helpful. Fresh graves tend to be elevated above the surrounding area, while older ones may be depressed. This is due to settling of the soil, decay of the body, and collapse of the skeleton. Interestingly, the depth of the depression is greater if the body is deeply buried. This is likely due to the larger amount of turned dirt, which is subject to a greater degree of settling. Another factor could be that in deeper graves, the increased weight of the dirt over the corpse causes earlier and more complete skeletal collapse. 

Tracking dogs, if provided with an article of the victim’s clothing, may be able to follow a scent trail to the burial site. Specially trained cadaver dogs search for the scent of decaying flesh. They can often locate bodies in shallow graves or in water. Deeper graves may present problems.

Another important clue may come from changes in the vegetation over the gravesite. The turning of the soil in the digging process and the presence of the body change the soil conditions in the area over the grave. Changes in compaction, moisture, aeration, and temperature may attract plant species that differ from those around the grave. Or, the plants typical for the area may be present but the changed soil conditions may increase the thickness and richness of their growth. This may be visible, particularly from the air. 

Aerial reconnaissance and photography can be coupled with thermal imaging. Freshly turned dirt loses heat faster than normally compacted soil; it appears “colder” by such a device. Alternatively, a decaying body releases heat, which may reveal a measurable difference when compared to the surrounding area. So, the thermal images are inspected for either cold or warm spots, and these areas are then subjected to a more aggressive search. 

If a suspect area such as a mound or depression is found, special devices that locate sources of heat and nitrogen, both byproducts of the decay process, or that measure changes in the physical properties of the soil, may be employed. Ground-penetrating radar can “see” into the ground and often locate a buried body. Measurement of the electrical conductivity may prove helpful— a buried body often adds moisture to the soil, and the moisture increases the soil’s electrical conductivity. Two metal probes are placed in the soil, and an electrical current is passed between them and measured. Changes in this current may indicate where the body is buried. 

Magnetic devices may also be employed. A simple metal detector may locate the victim’s jewelry or belt buckle. 

A special device called a magnetometer, which measures the magnetic properties of soil, can also be helpful. Soil contains small amounts of iron, so it possesses a low level of magnetic reaction. Since the area where the body is buried has proportionally less soil (the corpse takes up space), it will exhibit a lower level of magnetic reactivity. The magnetometer is passed above the soil and locates any areas that have low magnetic reactivity. 

Body Encased in Concrete: https://www.breitbart.com/crime/2019/10/17/police-find-missing-womans-body-encased-concrete-arrest-two-suspects/

Body in Concrete in Plastic Storage Container: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/13/14409189-murder-victim-found-entombed-in-concrete-was-former-fla-journalist

Acid in Tub: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-students-dissolve-body-in-acid-after-killing-girl-in-breaking-bad-murder-plot-10447943.html

Body Beneath Another Corpse: https://www.newser.com/story/240700/husband-hid-wifes-body-under-grave-of-wwii-veteran.html

Body Parts in Trash Bags: https://6abc.com/archive/6880388/

Cooked Spouse: https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/09/la-chef-told-police-he-slow-cooked-his-wife-for-days.html

Laci Petersen in the San Francisco Bay: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Peterson

Corpse in Freezer in Truck: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-07-18-mn-17076-story.html

And

https://murderpedia.org/male.F/f/famalaro-john.htm

The Science of Finding Buried Bodies: http://theconversation.com/the-science-of-finding-buried-bodies-77803

The Science of Finding Dead Bodies: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4515430/Researchers-reveal-track-corpse.html

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #27: ABO Blood Typing

Criminal Mischief: Episode #27: ABO Blood Typing

 

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/27-abo-blood-typing

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

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/27-abo-blood-typing.html

 

ABO Blood Type System

From FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES

By simply typing the blood at a crime scene, investigators narrow their suspect list and completely exonerate some suspects by using the population distribution information for the four ABO blood types. 

Population Distribution of ABO Blood Types

O: 43%

A: 42%

B: 12%

AB: 3%

Besides determining the ABO type, serologists are able to further individualize blood samples. RBCs contain more proteins, enzymes, and antigens than those used in the ABO classification system. These include antigens with such catchy names as Duffy, Kell, and Kidd and intracellular enzymes such as adenylate kinase, erythrocyte acid phosphatase, and the very useful phosphoglucomutase (PGM).

PGM is an enzyme that appears in many different forms, or isoenzymes, and at least ten of them are fairly common. Regardless of ABO type, a particular individual can have any combination of the isoenzymes of PGM. The ME and the serologist use that fact to further narrow the list of suspects for further DNA analyses and confirmation that they were capable of leaving a particular bloodstain.

For example, say that a stain is Type AB and has PGM 2. The ME knows the AB blood type is found in only 3 percent (see Table 14‐1) of the population, and PGM 2 is found in only 6 percent of people. Because these two factors are inherited independently, the probability of a particular individual being Type AB, PGM 2 is only 0.18 percent or less than 2 per 1,000. 

If the police find blood at the scene that matches the blood of a suspect who has Type AB, PGM 2 blood, the probability that that suspect is not the perpetrator is 2 in 1,000. Although not perfect, those odds still are much better than a coin toss. 

Testing for Paternity 

You inherit your blood type from your parents. For that reason, a serologist can assess paternity in many cases. The crime lab is often involved in paternity testing because paternity may be a critical component in determining child support, custody, and visitation. It also may play an important role in crimes and civil proceedings that involve kidnappings, insurance fraud, and inheritance conflicts. 

Inheriting your blood type 

ABO blood types, or phenotypes, come in only four varieties: A, B, AB, and O. But, for some blood types two genotypes, or gene pairings, are possible. A phenotype is what something looks like (in this case the ABO blood type), while the genotype is the underlying genetic pattern. We receive our ABO genes from our parents, one from Dad and one from Mom. 

The important thing to know in this system is that A and B genes are co-dominant (equally dominant), while the O gene is recessive. So someone who receives an A gene from one parent and an O gene from the other has Type A blood, but not Type O, because the A gene is dominant. 

Determining Possible Genotypes from Phenotypes 

Type A: AA or AO

Type B: BB or BO

Type AB: AB

Type O: OO

People with Type O blood must have an OO genotype. They can have neither an A nor a B gene because having one or the other dominates the O gene and produces either Type A or Type B blood. 

A person with Type A blood can either receive an A gene from each parent and thus have an AA genotype or an A gene from one parent and an O gene from the other for an AO genotype. Remember, A is dominant, so when it is paired with the recessive O gene, the A gene determines blood type. People with the AA and AO genotypes both have Type A blood, but genetically speaking, they’re different. 

Type A parents who have AA genotypes can provide only A genes to their offspring, because all their eggs or sperm have an A gene. But Type A parents who have AO genotypes can provide either an A gene or an O gene to their offspring, because half their eggs or sperm have an A gene, and the other half have an O gene. When both parents are Type A, several possibilities exist for the genotype their offspring will have.

In each of the scenarios presented in Figure 14‐1, the child’s blood type is Type A, except when both parents donate an O gene. In the latter case, the child’s genotype and blood type (phenotype) respectively are OO and Type O. These parents can’t have any offspring who have Type B phenotype or BB, BO, or AB genotypes, because neither parent has a B gene to donate. 

Determining Fatherhood

Blood typing can exclude paternity but cannot absolutely verify it. For example, a man with Type AB blood can’t father a child with Type O blood. So if a child has Type O blood, all men with the Type AB are ruled out as the child’s father. A man with Type A (genotypes AA or AO) blood can be the father, but only if he has an AO genotype. Men who have AA genotypes also are excluded. Men with the AO genotype, however, can’t be ruled out at this point. 

To dig deeper into this complex system grab a copy of either:

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

 

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

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #25: A Stroll Through Forensic Science History

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #25: A Stroll Through Forensic Science History

 

 

LISTEN:https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/forensicsciencehistory

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

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/25-a-stroll-through-forensi.html

 

FORENSIC SCIENCE TIMELINE 

Prehistory: Early cave artists and pot makers “sign” their works with a paint or impressed finger or thumbprint.

1000 b.c.: Chinese use fingerprints to “sign” legal documents.

3rd century BC.: Erasistratus (c. 304–250 b.c.) and Herophilus (c. 335–280 b.c.) perform the first autopsies in Alexandria.

2nd century AD.: Galen (131–200 a.d.), physician to Roman gladiators, dissects both animal and humans to search for the causes of disease.

c. 1000: Roman attorney Quintilian shows that a bloody handprint was intended to frame a blind man for his mother’s murder.

1194: King Richard Plantagenet (1157–1199) officially creates the position of coroner.

1200s: First forensic autopsies are done at the University of Bologna.

1247: Sung Tz’u publishes Hsi Yuan Lu (The Washing Away of Wrongs), the first forensic text.

c. 1348–1350: Pope Clement VI(1291–1352) orders autopsies on victims of the Black Death to hopefully find a cause for the plague.

Late 1400s: Medical schools are established in Padua and Bologna.

1500s: Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) writes extensively on the anatomy of war and homicidal wounds.

1642: University of Leipzig offers the first courses in forensic medicine.

1683: Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) employs a microscope to first see living bacteria, which he calls animalcules.

Late 1600s: Giovanni Morgagni (1682–1771) first correlates autopsy findings to various diseases.

1685: Marcello Malpighi first recognizes fingerprint patterns and uses the terms loops and whorls.

1775: Paul Revere recognizes dentures he had made for his friend Dr. Joseph Warren and thus identifies the doctor’s body in a mass grave at Bunker Hill.

1775: Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742–1786) develops the first test for arsenic.

1784: In what is perhaps the first ballistic comparison, John Toms is convicted of murder based on the match of paper wadding removed from the victim’s wound with paper found in Tom’s pocket.

1787: Johann Metzger develops a method for isolating arsenic.

c. 1800: Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) develops the field of phrenology.

1806: Valentine Rose recovers arsenic from a human body.

1813: Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (1787–1853) publishes Traité des poisons (Treatise on Poison), the first toxicology textbook. 

1821: Sevillas isolates arsenic from human stomach contents and urine, giving birth to the field of forensic toxicology.

1823: Johannes Purkinje (1787–1869) devises the first crude fingerprint classification system.

1835: Henry Goddard (1866–1957) matches two bullets to show they came from the same bullet mould.

1836: Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806–1880) develops first test for arsenic in human tissue.

1836: James Marsh (1794–1846) develops a sensitive test for arsenic (Marsh test).

1853: Ludwig Teichmann (1823–1895) develops the hematin test to test blood for the presence of the characteristic rhomboid crystals.

1858: In Bengal, India, Sir William Herschel (1833–1917) requires natives sign contracts with a hand imprint and shows that fingerprints did not change over a fifty-year period.

1862: Izaak van Deen (1804–1869) develops the guaiac test for blood.

1863: Christian Friedrich Schönbein (1799–1868) develops the hydrogen peroxide test for blood.

1868: Friedrich Miescher (1844–1895) discovers DNA.

1875: Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen (1845–1923) discovers X-rays.

1876: Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) publishes The Criminal Man, which states that criminals can be identified and classified by their physical characteristics.

1877: Medical examiner system is established in Massachusetts.

1880: Henry Faulds (1843–1930) shows that powder dusting will expose latent fingerprints.

1882: Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) develops his anthropometric identification system.

1883: Mark Twain (1835–1910) employs fingerprint identification in his books Life on the Mississippi and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1893– 1894).

1887: In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes develops a chemical to determine whether a stain was blood or not—something that had not yet been done in a real-life investigation.

1889: Alexandre Lacassagne (1843–1924) shows that marks on bullets could be matched to those within a rifled gun barrel.

1892: Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) publishes his classic textbook Finger Prints. 

1892: In Argentina, Juan Vucetich (1858–1925) devises a usable fingerprint classification system. 

1892: In Argentina, Francisca Rojas becomes the first person charged with a crime on fingerprint evidence.

1898: Paul Jeserich (1854–1927) uses a microscope for ballistic comparison. 

1899: Sir Edward Richard Henry (1850–1931) devises a fingerprint classification system that is the basis for those used in Britain and America today.

1901: Karl Landsteiner (1868–1943) delineates the ABO blood typing system. 

1901: Paul Uhlenhuth (1870–1957) devises a method to distinguish between human and animal blood. 

1901: Sir Edward Richard Henry becomes head of Scotland Yard and adopts a fingerprint identification system in place of anthropometry. 

1902: Harry Jackson becomes the first person in England to be convicted by fingerprint evidence. 

1903: Will and William West Case–effectively ended the Bertillion System in favor of fingerprints for identification

1910: Edmund Locard (1877–1966) opens the first forensic laboratory in Lyon, France. 

1910: Thomas Jennings becomes the first U.S. citizen convicted of a crime by use of fingerprints.

1915: Leone Lattes (1887–1954) develops a method for ABO typing dried bloodstains.

1920: The Sacco and Vanzetti case brings ballistics to the public’s attention. The case highlights the value of the newly developed comparison microscope.

1923: Los Angeles Police Chief August Vollmer (1876–1955) establishes the first forensic laboratory. 

1929: The ballistic analyses used to solve the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago lead to the establishment of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (SCDL), the first independent crime lab, at Northwestern University.

1932: FBI’s forensic laboratory is established.

1953: James Watson (1928– ), Francis Crick (1916–2004), and Maurice Wilkins (1916–2004) identify DNA’s double-helical structure. 

1954: Indiana State Police Captain R.F. Borkenstein develops the breathalyzer. 

1971: William Bass establishes the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

1974: Detection of gunshot residue by SEM/EDS is developed. 

1977: FBI institutes the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). 

1984: Sir Alec Jeffreys (1950– ) develops the DNA “fingerprint” technique.

1987: In England, Colin Pitchfork becomes the first criminal identified by the use of DNA.

1987: First United States use of DNA for a conviction in the Florida case of Tommy Lee Andrews.

1990: The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is established.

1992: The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique is introduced.

1994: The DNA analysis of short tandem repeats (STRs) is introduced. 

1996: Mitochondrial DNA is first admitted into a U.S. court in Tennessee v. Ware. 

1998: The National DNA Index System (NDIS) becomes operational.

Since then:

Touch DNA

Familial DNA

Phenotypic DNA

 

Guest Blogger: Dr. Katherine Ramsland: The Unique Allure of the Scene of a Crime

 

Visits to murder sites reveal more than mere curiosity.

There’s been a lot of attention lately on why people love true crime. I can recall when publishers considered the subject a waste of their time. Suddenly, it’s big business. Psychologists are weighing in, mostly guessing at the motivation. I’ve seen no representative studies on the topic, but I’ve been among true crime fans for more than two decades, so I can speak anecdotally.

I don’t think it’s because, as one expert put it, people are fascinated with evil. That’s just a superficial sense of something deeper. Crime is specific. The fascination is not with evil itself but with the formation of the motivation to harm and the development of a mind that can think up twisted and cruel treatment of others.

Extreme behavior is difficult to fathom, especially the cold-blooded kind, and TC fans want to try to understand. Women, especially, are attuned to motives and to victim predicaments. They enjoy feeling compassion and empathy. Sometimes, they identify with the woman who snaps or plans revenge.

The intensity of emotion typically involved in murder, whether a domestic homicide or a mass killing, draws us out of everyday dullness. We focus. There’s a heightened sense of suspense and thrill. For some, it also involves the cycle of being scared by what happens in the story and then feeling safe.

Another expert said that the current interest in true crime is driven by the 24/7 news cycle. It does play a part. When news anchors hype crimes with over-the-top coverage, the networks that broadcast “all crime all the time” will scoop up the story. The media certainly contributes, but possibly only to stoke a spark that is already present. The news covers other areas of life every day that don’t become obsessions; true crime stands out. So, it’s not just about 24/7 news.

We get closer to the embrace of TC when we study the core narratives that turn up in one presentation after another. Most TC books, documentaries, and TV series build up to the same resolution. They present the lure of a puzzle, provide guidelines for protection and preparation, and resolve tension by showing how the perpetrator was caught (often by being outsmarted) and punished. Thus, TC narratives play on our desires for catharsis, safety and closure. We enter through the intrigue of mystery and exit feeling better, sometimes even smarter.

Perhaps there’s an evolutionary benefit, as some psychologists suggest, in terms of making us pay better attention to dangers in our environment. Whenever I teach a course on serial killers, multiple students tell me they now lock their doors and notice people around them. But I don’t think this fully explains the fad. It’s true that TC has always fascinated, but recently it’s become much more of a cultural obsession. There’s an emotional payoff that’s become a collective pursuit.

True crime lets us experience anxiety and fear in a controlled way. It’s not happening to us, but we can work our way through it. People gawk at terrible things sometimes for reassurance. We can let ourselves imagine monsters coming for us because they can’t really get us. We purge fear within a frame of safety. As the TC community grows, we can share our “guilty pleasure” and form groups that reinforce the payoff.

Although a small sliver of the TC fan community seeks the bloodiest, most disgusting images they can find, most immerse themselves, then and get out. They’re interested in human behavior, not a gore-fest.

This brings us to visiting actual murder sites. I once wrote a travel column about tourable murder sites and I’m currently creating a presentation about “Dark Tourism.” This involves looking for sites that people visit who want to see where a murder happened: The steps of Gianni Versace’s former South Beach home, for example, where Andrew Cunanan gunned him down, or the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus from which Charles Whitman picked off targets in August 1966 until police killed him.

It may sound morbid, but getting close to the intense energy of disturbing events initially evokes a rush. The energy of madness, anger, lust, or jealousy seems to pervade the place. People linger outside the “Amityville Horror” house where Roy Defeo shot his entire family, the home in Ohio where Jeffrey Dahmer killed and buried his first victim, and the former boarding house where kindly Dorothy Puente murdered men for their welfare checks and buried them in her garden.

In some cases, there are tours. In London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, expert guides will take you to where Jack the Ripper allegedly killed at least five women in 1888. In Wisconsin, there’s a Jeffrey Dahmer tour, and in Los Angeles, you can take any number of tours to infamous places, like where the Black Dahlia’s body (parts) were placed, where Nicole Brown Simpson was killed, or where the Hillside Stranglers dumped their victims. In Chicago, there’s an H. H. Homes tour (“The Devil in the White City”), although his actual murder castle is long gone.

You can see Lizzie Borden’s infamous former house just by walking by it in Fall River, Massachusetts, although it’s worth taking the tour inside – or getting a room. You can also see the JonBenet Ramsey murder house and the house in Villisca, Iowa, where a sensational mass murder occurred a century ago. Now it’s a museum. Another museum graces the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, MO, as well as the Sarah Winchester House in San Jose, California. Frank Lloyd Wright’s tourable Wisconsin estate, Taliesin, was the scene of a massacre in 1914.

Savannah, Georgia, hosts several genteel homes in which murder occurred. The most famous is Jim Williams’ Mercer House, the setting for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which is open to tours. Then, there’s the murder-suicide in poet Conrad Aiken’s former home. Many of the ghost tours in the historic area describe criminal incidents, but Savannah has also added a few TC tours.

New York, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco – practically any large city has a crime history that lends itself to tours or museums. People go to experience the details of the horrendous acts by getting as close as possible to the physical setting.

I said above that, initially, there’s a rush. This often gives way to reflection and sadness. At the sites, people learn more about the victims than they typically know. When I stood in front of the homes where Dennis “BTK” Rader killed his victims, I thought a lot more about them than about him. Whatever one might have learned from offender-centered media, the sites themselves usually humanize the victims and invite us to imagine their plight. It’s about lore, not gore.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology and the assistant provost at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has published over 1,000 articles and 65 books, including The Psychology of Death Investigation, Forensic Investigation: Methods from ExpertsConfession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer; The Mind of a Murderer; The Forensic Science of CSI; Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, and The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including The AlienistCSI and Bones. She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today and has appeared on 20/20Dr. Oz and numerous crime documentaries for the ID and Oxygen Networks.

Originally posted on the Psychology Today website:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201907/the-unique-allure-the-scene-crime

 

Talking About Forensic Science on the For Dummies Podcast Series

 

Had I a great time chatting with Eric Martsolf on the For Dummies podcast series about FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES and Forensic Science. Drop by and take a listen:

http://fordummiesthepodcast.twa.libsynpro.com/for-dummies-the-podcast-forensics

More Info and to order FORENSICS FRO DUMMIES:
http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

 

 

 

 
 
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