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Category Archives: General Forensics

Crime and Science Radio: Facial Recognition and Other Biometrics with FBI Senior Photographic Technologist Richard W. Vorder Bruegge

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BIO: Richard W. Vorder Bruegge is a Senior Photographic Technologist at the Federal Bureau of Investigation where he is responsible for overseeing science and technology developments in the imaging sciences.  He has an Sc.B. in Engineering, and an Sc.M. and Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Brown University. He has been with the FBI since 1995, where he has performed forensic analysis of image and video evidence, testifying in state, federal and international courts as an expert witness over 60 times.  Dr. Vorder Bruegge was chair of the Scientific Working Group on Imaging Technology (SWGIT) from 2000 to 2006 and chair of the Facial Identification Scientific Working Group (FISWG) from 2009 to the present.  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) in the Digital and Multimedia Sciences Section.  In 2010 he was named a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Science and Technology Fellow for his work in facial recognition.  He is currently Chair of the Digital/Multimedia Scientific Area Committee in the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC).

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2017/04/01/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-richard-bruegge

Link will go live Saturday 4-1–17 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Biometric Center For Excellence (BCOE): https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/fingerprints-and-other-biometrics/biometric-center-of-excellence/modalities

Facial Identification Scientific Working Group (FISWG): https://www.fiswg.org

FBI Caught On Camera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5Oj2FDwLXs

 

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Check out the new posts John Raab of Suspense Magazine and I put together. Read the Q&As and listen to the expanded discussions. Hope each proves helpful for your crime fiction.

Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/20/d-p-lyles-forensic-file-episode-1/

In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2017/01/09/in-1863-could-an-autopsy-accurately-determine-the-cause-of-death-d-p-lyle-answers-this/

Can My Female Character Cause Her Pregnancy To Become “Stone Baby” By Shear Will?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/31/can-my-female-character-cause-her-pregnancy-to-become-stone-baby-by-sheer-will/

More to come.

Want more cool questions from crime writers? Check out my three Q&A books.

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More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Smart Phones and Not-So-Smart Criminals

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USING SMARTPHONES TO DEFEAT NOT-SO-SMART CRIMINALS

My boss, the supervisor of our forensic unit, insists that soon we will be able to process an entire crime scene with nothing but a smartphone. Everything from photographs to sketching to measuring to note-taking, all on a 2 ½ x 5” flat item which one needs reading glasses to see unless one is under fifty which I, alas, will never be again.

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Most phones now come with 10 or 12 megapixel cameras, which are more than sufficient for forensic purposes. You can get attachments for tripods and flashes. My boss can open and close the shutter from his Apple Watch (important for taking ninety-degree close-ups of fingerprints or tire tracks where the slightest vibration could blur the details).

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Simply browsing through the tablet he got us for crime scene work and nagged us for a few months to use before he finally gave up, I find:

The flashlight app. Of course. (I was at a crime scene yesterday where the two young men were trying to plug my USB into the video system, cleverly hidden in the ceiling panels. It’s dark up there, of course, and they were stymied as they had never downloaded a flashlight to their relatively new phones. I pulled my mini-Mag out of my pocket and suggested they use an actual flashlight. Sometimes us old chicks rule.)

Pill Identifier, with which you can enter the color and shape of a medication and it will help you narrow down to the name of the drug, then link to information on purpose, dosage, side effects and drug interactions.

Photo Measures, which allows you to take a photo of a room and then annotate it with measurements. This way my boss, the detectives, the prosecutors and the jury no longer have to suffer through trying to decipher my hastily scribbled sketches of uneven walls and amorphous blobs representing the pit couch. I can take a photo of the room and write the dimensions right over the picture, then add the feet and inches from the south wall to the bloody knife on the floor. The only catch is you still have to take the measurements yourself.

And for that, we have RoomScanPro. Simply start it up, give each room a name like ‘dining’, hold the phone against each wall, in order but at any particular spot on the wall until you’ve gone around the whole room. The app will create a floor plan including measurements. Do a complete walk-through and it will give you the whole house. Be warned, however, that these apps may only be accurate to half a foot, so that you could wind up with an attorney grilling you how the murder weapon could have been five and a half inches from the victim’s body instead of six.

For traffic incidents, Vehicle Identification System can give you pictures of nearly every make and model available in the last decade to aid witnesses in describing the getaway car. And Cargo Decoder can translate the four-digit DOT code on a truck’s placard to tell you what kind of materials they’re hauling.

There are a number of panoramic photo apps, so that you can quickly scan a 360° shot of the crime scene as is before EMTs, firemen, reporters, angry mobs or bigwig looky-lous breach your perimeter.

So the next time you see a team processing a crime scene it might not only be the nerdy young guy using the newfangled gadgets to do the job. It might be the grizzled old detective using a smartphone and a rubber-tipped stylus.

And reading glasses.

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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.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Should We Abandon Use of Lie Detector Tests As Junk Science? An Interview With Morton Tavel, M.D.

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BIO: Now retired, Dr. Tavel MD, FACC, is a physician specialist in internal medicine and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to managing patients for many years, he held a teaching position (Clinical Professor) at Indiana University School of Medicine. He was consulting cardiologist for the Care Group, Inc., a division of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis and was the director of the cardiac rehabilitation program. His civic activities include, among others, having been past president of the local and Indiana state divisions of the American Heart Association.

He has presented numerous speeches and lectures before national audiences. His medical research includes over 125 publications, editorials, and book reviews that have appeared in peer-reviewed national medical journals. Dr. Tavel authored a book on cardiology (Clinical Phonocardiography) that persisted through four editions over a period of approximately 20 years, and has been a contributor to several other multi-authored textbooks. He has served on the editorial boards of several national medical journals.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/11/12/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-morton-tavel

Link will go live Saturday 11-19–16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

Dr. Tavel’s Recent Books:

Snake Oil is Alive and Well: The Clash between Myths and Reality. Reflections of Physician. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz., 2012

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Hell in the Heavens: The Saga of a WW2 Bomber Pilot, by Tavel, ME and Tavel, DE. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz. 2013.

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Health Tips, Myths and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz. 2015.

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LINKS:

Dr. Morton Tavel’s Website: http://www.mortontavel.com

Tavel, Morton, “The ‘Lie Detector’ Test Revisted: A Great Example of Junk

Science” Skeptical Inquirer. 40.1 (January/February 2016).

Faigman, David L., Stephen E. Fienberg, and Paul C. Stern. “The Limits of the

Polygraph.” Issues in Science and Technology 20, no. 1 (Fall 2003).  http://issues.org/20-1/faigman

National Academy of Sciences. 2003. The Polygraph and Lie Detection, Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph. The National

Academies Press, Washington, D.C. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10420/the-polygraph-and-lie-detection

Zadrozny, Brandy, “The Polygraph Has Been Lying for 80 Years,” The Daily Beast, (February 4, 2015).

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/04/the-polygraph-has-been-lying-for-90-years.html

Zelicoff, Alan P., “Polygraphs and the national labs: Dangerous ruse undermines national security.” Skeptical Inquirer, (July/August 2001). Online at  http://www.csicop.org/si/show/polygraphs_and_the_national_labs_dangerous_ruse_undermines_national_securit

Iacono, William G., Forensic “Lie Detection”: Procedures Without Scientific Basis, Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 1 no. 1 (2001). Reproduced with permission on https://antipolygraph.org/articles/article-018.shtml

American Psychological Association: The Truth About Lie Detectors (aka Polygraph Tests) http://www.apa.org/research/action/polygraph.aspx

Vergano, Dan, “Telling the Truth About Lie Detectors,” USA Today, (September 9, 2009)  http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002-09-09-lie_x.htm

Barber, Nigel, “Do Lie Detectors Work? Should You Ever Take a Polygraph?,” Psychology Today, March 7, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201303/do-lie-detectors-work

Letter of Aldrich Ames to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, on polygraph tests, postmarked November 28, 2000, reproduced on Federation of American Scientists Website: http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/polygraph/ames.html

Santos, Fernanda, “Vindicated by DNA, but a Lost Man on the Outside,” New York Times, November 25, 2007. [Story of Jeffrey Deskovic, who at the age of sixteen was arrested and told he “failed” a polygraph during a seven-hour interrogation process, and was wrongfully convicted.] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/us/25jeffrey.html?_r=0

Newsweek Article on Mass Shootings: http://www.newsweek.com/serial-killer-mass-shooter-school-shootings-federal-bureau-investigation-367374

 

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/

 

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

 

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So you do all that forensic science research for your story and find a bunch of cool stuff. Now what? How do you use it to make your story believable, and convoluted, and of course suspenseful.

Here is a post I wrote for Le Coeur de l’Artiste that might help.

Original post is here: http://www.djadamson.com/lartiste/archives/09-2016

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

Make the Time of Death Vague: When your disheveled detective is standing over the body and chatting with the coroner and the subject of the time of death comes up, don’t have your coroner/medical examiner say something stupid like, “The victim died at 10:30 last night.” There is no way he could know this. The things he uses to determine the time of death during the first 48 hours – – things like body temperature, rigor mortis, and lividity – – aren’t very accurate. They are merely suggestions. But by using these techniques, the coroner can at least make an educated guess as to the APPROXIMATE time of death. And it is always a best guess. Realistically he should say something like, “The victim died somewhere between 10 PM and midnight.” And that gives you wiggle room in your plot.

Give Your Crime Lab Time to Breathe: Only on television do crime labs get results before the first commercial break. You know, the DNA sample is obtained and three minutes later they have the results, complete with a holographic image of the bad guy. Unfortunately, that is humorously far from reality. DNA analysis, toxicological testing, and most other forensic science techniques take time. The tests not only have to be done, they have to be checked and rechecked, and in high-profile cases, they are often sent out to other labs for corroboration. This takes time. At least days, and often weeks. Remember to allow for this when you’re plotting your story as this delay can add tension.

Make the Evidence Difficult to Find or Not Useful: The truth is that evidence is not always present. Of course, the crime scene technicians look for fingerprints, bodily fluids, shoe impressions, hair and fiber, and any other bits of evidence the perpetrator might have deposited at the crime scene. These might or might not be present, and if present might or might not be found, and if found might or might not be useful. If fingerprints are deposited on a window pane, a tile countertop, or some other smooth, hard surface, then they are often easily found and are clear and useful. If they are on a rough surface, such as a wooden slat or concrete, or if they are smeared or contaminated or altered in some way, they might not be useful. The pattern might be disrupted or difficult to see and if so the print is useless. DNA might be found but it might be so damaged from decay or contamination that it is not useful. So make it difficult for your detective. Don’t make the evidence jump right into his lap.

Make Everyone Involved in the Investigation Honest and Capable, or Not: The best-selling horror writer John Saul has said that he places his stories in small towns because the cops are stupid. This might be true in many cases, but I think what John means is that they are not sophisticated, experienced, or well-equipped to handle many criminal situations. This might be because they are poorly trained, or never worked in a major city, or solved any major crimes and therefore a murder in their small town might be beyond their capabilities. Or perhaps the city’s budget for crime-fighting is so small that they can’t afford to hire experienced officers, or forensic experts, or even do autopsies. It might be that those in power are just flat out criminally corrupt, or lazy, or incompetent. If your story is set in a major city, such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, or Miami, then sophisticated crime-fighting techniques, equipment, labs, and experts are easily available. But if it’s set in a small town, none of these are available. Use this to add tension to your story.

Make the Evidence Controversial: Just because a certain individual’s fingerprints or DNA or shoe impressions are left at the crime scene, it does not mean that person is the perpetrator of the crime. The thing about evidence is that it creates linkage. It links a person, an object, or a place to another person, object, or place. That is, if Joe’s fingerprints are found at the scene of the crime it means that at some point in time Joe was at that location. It does not mean Joe is the one that killed Martha. This is why when police begin their interrogation of Joe they will first ask him if he has been in Martha’s home, or if he even knows Martha. If he says yes, he knows her well and has been in her home many times, then there may be a perfectly innocent reason for his fingerprints to be there. If he says no that he does not know her and has never been in her home, then Joe has some explaining to do. Such evidence that points in the wrong direction is very useful for creating classic red herrings in your story.

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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

 
 
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