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Category Archives: Crime Scene

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #10: Rattlesnakes and Murder

rattlesnake

Episode #10: Rattlesnakes and Murder Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-10-rattlesnakes-and-murder

Past Criminal Mischief Podcasts: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES

“Good fences make good neighbors”—Robert Frost, “Mending Wall” 

I suspect Ryan Felton Sauter’s neighbor, Keith Monroe, would agree.

People commit murder for a host of reasons. Things like financial gain, revenge, lust, anger, to cover another crime, and many other motives. It seems that these motives can even include a dispute with the dude who parked his RV next to yours.

All sorts of weapons are used for committing murder. Guns, knives, poisons, explosives, ligatures, drownings, and gentle pushes off buildings or cliffs. Oh, don’t forget rattlesnakes. This seems to be what Mr. Sauter decided to employ. Simply slipping the reptile into his neighbors RV might not work since rattlesnakes make that buzzing noise to warn people away. So, wouldn’t it be best to simply remove the rattle. And I guess the best way for that is to bite it off.

You simply can’t make this stuff up.

But snakebites are not always the result of some criminal activity. In fact, they rarely are. Most snakebites occur accidentally. Hunters and hikers know this all too well. As a kid growing up in Alabama, and stomping around in the woods on a daily basis, I knew snakes well. I knew which ones to avoid and which ones were harmless. A black racer was scary and fast, but harmless. Stumble on a rattlesnake or a copperhead and that’s a different story. And until you’ve seen a water moccasin, or as we call them cottonmouth, you haven’t seen an evil looking serpent. These guys are thick, dark, and prehistoric looking. And very dangerous. Yes, they can bite you in the water. So before you jump into that swimming hole deep in the woods, you better make some noise and shake up the water runoff any cottonmouth might be around.

But other people are bitten while they are handling snakes. I don’t mean just biologist or herpetologist, those that study these creatures, but also those who use them in religious ceremonies. You might think that snake handling is a thing of the past and something that is only found in the South, but that’s not true. There are still several snake handling churches from coast-to-coast. Even though in many locations snake owning and handling is not legal, the laws get shaky when it’s under the guise of religion.

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Their justifications come from Mark 16:17-18

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Snake handling in churches is often traced back to 1910 when George Went Hensley began incorporating them into his services at his Church of God with Signs Following. Many others have followed in his footsteps. And many have been bitten such as John Wayne “Punkin” Brown and Jamie Coots, whose son Cody was also bitten while preaching but saved when friends defied the church dictates and got him medical treatment.

For the most part, medical treatment is not offered in the circumstances because it is felt that it’s up to the Lord whether the preacher survives or not. After all, it is religion and the Lord can save you then what’s the point? Not to mention, that many of these groups feel that sipping strychnine is also good for you and will prevent you from dying if you are bitten by a snake. Yeah, that makes good medical sense. Add another poison to the poison authority in your system.

I use much of this in my third Samantha Cody book, Original Sin. One of the bad guys in this story is a snake-handling preacher. During my research for this book, I stumbled across a wonderful book titled Salvation on Sand Mountain. Sand Mountain is maybe 30 or 40 miles from where I grew up so obviously the title intrigued me. Once I got the book and began reading it I discovered it was wonderfully written and then discovered that it was nominated for a National Book Award. It is written by Dennis Covington and is the story of Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling preacher who attempted to kill his wife with a snake.

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From ORIGINAL SIN:

“I knew you’d come back to us,” John Scully said as Lucy and Sam walked into the church. He and Miriam were standing near the pulpit. 

“Back?” Lucy said. 

“Back to the church.”

“That implies I was ever here.”

“You were,” Miriam said. “From the moment you breathed your first breath.”

“You’re not making sense.”

Scully smiled. “You have always been a part of us. Martha and your parents saw to that.”

Lucy glanced toward Sam. “Am I missing something here?”

“Doesn’t make sense to me either,” Sam said.

“You were baptized into the church when you were only days old.”

“No offense, but I don’t remember that. And no one ever bothered to tell me.”

“But deep inside you know it’s true,” Scully said.

“I don’t think so.”

Felicia walked in, carrying a wooden box. She placed it on a table to Scully’s left. The unmistakable buzzing of snakes rose from the box. Scully raised the lid and casually removed a fat rattlesnake. Its buzzing now adopted an angry tone.

Lucy and Sam each took a step back. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sam said.

“Don’t worry. I’m immune to the poison.”

“I’m more worried about me and Lucy,” Sam said.

“He’s been bitten a dozen times,” Miriam said. “His faith protects him.”

“That and a little strychnine,” Scully said.

“Strychnine?” Lucy asked. Her attention never drifted from the snake that now waved its head around as if looking for a suitable target. She felt perspiration gather along her back as her heart rate clicked up a notch. God, she hated snakes.

“A little sip neutralizes the poison,” Miriam said.

“I must have missed that day in med school,” Lucy said.

Miriam offered a maternal smile. “Can’t learn everything from man’s books. Only from the word of the Lord.”

The snake coiled around Scully’s arm, head raised. Lucy felt as if it was watching her. She took another half step back, Actually, she wanted to run out the door, but fought the impulse.

“Why snakes?” Sam asked. “What do they have to do with Jesus?”

Lucy knew Sam was playing cop now. Ty and Bump had told them about Scully’s insane beliefs. And Sam had told her that Gladys Johnston had said the same thing. Sam was merely asking questions she already knew the answer to. Seeing if Scully changed his story in any way. 

Now it was Scully’s turn to offer a paternal smile. It faded and his gaze seemed to glaze over. He spoke.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

The quote Sam had shown her. The one Scully had written on the back of a menu.

“Mark Sixteen,” Felicia said.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Sam said. “This is the scripture that tells you to play with snakes?”

Scully gaze hardened. “It’s not play. But you wouldn’t understand.”

 

LINKS:

https://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/police-caldwell-county-man-uses-rattlesnake-neighbor-dispute/NUFO8d5JNM4ggWDdliKS2I/

Snake Handling In Religion Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling_in_religion

Snake Handling Churches: http://www.cerm.info/bible_studies/Apologetics/snake_handlers.htm

Church of God With Signs Following: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_God_with_Signs_Following

George Went Hensley—the First Snake Handler?: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Went_Hensley

Punkin Brown: http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/religion/pentecostal/snakeskill-fool.shtml

Jamie Coots Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Coots

Cost Coots: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6070685/Snake-preacher-gets-bitten-four-years-father-killed-rattlesnake.html

Salvation on Sand Mountain: https://www.amazon.com/Salvation-Sand-Mountain-Snake-Handling-Redemption/dp/0140254587?_encoding=UTF8&redirect=true

Original Sin: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/original-sin.html

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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.

 

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. 

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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

 

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

 
 
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