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Category Archives: General Forensics

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

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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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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

 

Coffin Birth: An Ancient Egyptian Mystery and the Solving of a Famous Case

Coffin Birth is a term used to describe the delivery of a baby postmortem. That is, the mother is dead and sometime later the child is expelled from the uterus. How does this happen?

During human decomposition, which begins almost immediately at death, the bacterial destruction of tissues leads to the formation of gas within the tissues as well as within the abdominal cavity. Most of the bacteria of decay reside within the G.I. tract so abdominal gas accumulation would be expected. As this accumulation progresses, the intra-abdominal pressure rises. If the victim is a pregnant woman, this pressure can collapse the uterus and force the fetus through the cervix, the vaginal canal, and out into the world. This is called a coffin birth. This can occur days or even weeks/months after death. The timing mostly depends on the speed of the decay process, which in turn depends on the ambient temperature.

Italian researchers have recently found a medieval grave that suggests exactly that. From the arrangement of the maternal bones and those of the near-term child, it appears a coffin birth may indeed have occurred.

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Remember the famous Scott and Laci Peterson case? This is what happened to Laci and her unborn son.

Laci Peterson

Laci Peterson

Once the eight-month pregnant Laci was dumped into the San Francisco Bay, the decay process began. The coldness of the water caused a slowing of the decomposition so it took several months before enough gas accumulated to cause two important events that ultimately led to solving the case. First, her corpse became buoyant and floated to the surface and washed ashore, where it was found. The second is that a coffin birth occurred and her unborn child, Connor, was delivered and also washed ashore nearby. The location was near where Scott had said he had gone fishing on that Christmas Eve day. Locating the bodies placed him squarely at the disposal site. Gruesome and sad. Fortunately, Scott now resides in San Quentin.

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The Recovery of Laci and Conner

 

Crime and Science Radio Rewind: Dr. Mike Tabor: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

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This show originally aired on Crime and Science Radio on 7-26-14. This transcript is courtesy of Suspense Magazine.

To listen to the original podcast go here:
http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/dr-michael-tabor.html

mtabor

Dr. Mike Tabor: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

Dr. Michael Tabor has a long list of talents, from being a respected suspense/crime author, to a doctor, and a public speaker. Beginning his career as a family dentist, the good doctor’s work took a unique turn in 1983 when he delved into the highly specialized field of forensic dentistry. Being one of only a handful of forensic dentists in the U.S., Dr. Tabor became a highly sought after expert in this field, performing identifications/examinations on homicide victims, as well as aiding police officers and medical examiners in the prosecution of thousands of crimes.
Dr. Tabor sat down with D.P. Lyle, MD and Jan Burke, to be interviewed on “Crime & Science Radio.” He talks in-depth about everything from his early background and how he got into the field of forensic odontology, as well as his work on some high-profile cases, such as the autopsy of James Earl Ray. He speaks poignantly about his work helping to identify victims of the 9/11 tragedy, and tells readers what to expect from his upcoming titles. 

D.P. Lyle, MD (D.P.L.): Welcome Mike. Being a forensic odontologist (which is a big word for dentist), can you tell people what attracted you to this field in the first place?

Dr. Michael Tabor (M.T.): In addition to dentistry I also have a passion for football, and for 25 years I have been a back judge for high school football in Tennessee. One day, while in my officiating role, our new state medical examiner at half-time came up and said, “You know, I’ve got an interesting body that’s just been pulled out of the Cumberland River here in downtown Nashville that has numerous gold fillings in their teeth, and I have no clue where to begin. Would you like to help me?” And 20-odd years later, here we are on “Crime & Science” radio. True story.

D.P.L.: There’s a big difference between doing fillings and extractions in the office and then moving into forensic odontology, did you have any special training (like they do now) at that time; or did you just kind of learn by the seat of your pants the things you needed to know and how you were going to approach this field?

M.T.: Actually, there weren’t many training programs at that particular time. I had the good fortune, however, to be mentored by three good friends—all of whom were giants in the field then. One, Doctor Richard Souviron, in particular, I had the pleasure of meeting when he served as my opposing expert witness in the first bite mark case ever admitted into a Tennessee court of law. This was just a few years after he testified in the Ted Bundy case, which literally made this “David vs. Goliath” in the Nashville court case. What was strange about it is that afterwards we became the best of friends and have enjoyed a great relationship since then. 

Jan Burke (J.B.): You’ve obviously had a long and storied career. I wanted to bring up that you have served as a past president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. It is clear you’re dedicated to high standards in your field. Could you tell us a bit about the recent study/report by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences that spoke about how to maintain these high standards? In other words, what’s in and what’s out in forensic odontology? 

M.T.: I have to start by saying I certainly respect the Academy and certainly appreciate all suggestions they have for the field of forensic odontology. It’s important to note that forensic odontology is not a specialty of dentistry, it is a specialty of forensic science. When it comes to jurisprudence, everyone from toxicologists to document examiners…we all want to get it right. We want the best possible chance of solving a mystery using our specific field. We have many recognized disciplines within the realm of forensic science and anytime the American Academy comes out with concerns, ideas or suggestions the American Board of Forensic Odontology, as well as the odontology section of the Academy, pay very close attention. 

We’ve made several changes when it comes to the ways our diplomates consider and come up with their opinions for courtroom testimony. We’ve seen roughly 10 cases or so during the last few years that involve people on death row, who have been found guilty of a capital offense, have their conviction overturned since the refinement of DNA analysis. In other words, the wrong opinion was given at the onset and a person was falsely imprisoned as a result. We still maintain that bite mark analysis, when used by a properly vetted expert—and that’s the key term right there, a properly vetted expert witness—adds value to the case. Yet, we are going a step further now, because we want to make sure that we don’t have ten more of these cases appear over the next decade. 

I think one thing that happens, take The Innocence Project, for example, is that people are quite quick to point out these ten cases and fail to mention scores and scores of other cases where bite mark evidence was used properly,  and as a result was a key tool in achieving the right verdict that the jurors came up with. We pride ourselves in knowing this very small niche of forensic science, but there are lots of other witnesses, evidence, and factors that jurors have to consider. It was not the forensic dentist that put this person on death row. Jurors will also review the medical examiner report and one side will have an expert stating that a death was the result of, say…shaken baby syndrome, while another well-respected expert offers the opinion that it is not SBS but death by SIDS, for example. Then jurors have to decide if this is a homicide, suicide, and the list goes on. We recommend that every board certified forensic odontologist seeks a second opinion before trial, and we’re really trying to make sure we adhere to the recommendations and principles the Academy has suggested.

D.P.L.: Can you speak about what is required in order to enter the field?

M.T.: Interestingly enough, only knowledge in the profession of dentistry and an interest in the field of forensic odontology is required. Most of my training, and even up to this day, a lot of it has been on-the-job training. I am proud to announce for the first time however, on this show, that we are getting ready to change that because the field is linking arms with forensic anthropology. And, what better place to have it done than at The Body Farm in the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Starting soon we will offer the first post-graduate degree program in the U.S. where you can earn a masters degree in forensic human identification. We are actually linking arms because we do have a lot of overlap between the fields; forensic anthropology focuses more on age, sex, and race, whereas odontology deals with comparing a known to an unknown, which is how forensic dentistry really started out. There are 32 teeth in the human body and each tooth has five sides, the possible combinations according to what the math professors tell me is five to the thirty-second power which equals a number bigger than the actual number of people living on earth. So let’s just say that the field is going to be around a long time. 

As these programs grow and develop, hopefully forensic dentistry will increase and there will be more courses available to take. Right now we have one in San Antonio and another in Detroit, with a new one starting in Las Vegas. But this in Knoxville will be the first of its kind, and not just for dentists. This is available to dental hygienists, crime scene investigators—anyone with an undergrad degree who wants to further their education in human cadaver identification. We are pretty excited about it.

J.B.: That is worth being excited over, and we are honored that you chose to announce it here. Now, some people are not really sure what a forensic odontologist does, so can you give us a brief overview of what the work entails?

M.T.: I’d be happy to. First off, most all major cities are affiliated with or have a certified forensic odontologist on staff. We only have 105 in the U.S., so there aren’t a whole lot to go around. But the National Board of Medical Examiners, which is the credentialing service for all medical examiner offices in the U.S., recognize the importance of having a forensic odontologist in their morgues. As a result, when each office has to get recertified, one of the points the Board checks on is whether the office is affiliated with a board certified forensic odontologist. If they’re not, they get a ‘ding’ and you can only have so many of those before losing your credentials. It’s like a medical school not being accredited with the AMA; they might just as well not exist.

When it comes to the job requirements, we compare knowns to unknowns. Basically, there are three ways to identify a person: DNA, fingerprints, and dental records. So, say we have a body brought into the morgue. We have to know from the investigator, before we can lend some credible info, who they think the person might be. If they have no idea, we start at the end of the fence and work backwards by making a chart of each of the 32 teeth, and each of those five sides and record any type of fillings there are, what surfaces have been fixed or altered, etc. We x-ray and photograph and make a complete record, just like when it’s a live patient. Our next step is to enter this information into NCIC or NAMUS. These are national databases, with NAMUS being accessible to the general public and NCIC being for law enforcement officials only. These databases record any and all distinguishing characteristics on a body that is currently being held in medical examiner’s offices. We keypunch in our data which goes into national and international databases and searches for a match. It also calls up information on missing persons across the country to attempt to locate a match. 

More often than not we are trying to identify victims from auto accidents, house fires, plane crashes, etc., where the body has been harmed to the point where age, sex and race cannot be determined. That’s where dentistry becomes so valuable. Teeth are virtually indestructible, yet even if a body has been lying on the bottom of the ocean for a hundred years, when they are brought up the teeth will look exactly the same as the day they died. You can’t say that for fingerprints or DNA. We can compare the knowns that come from teeth analysis with the unknowns and use this to identify a victim.

D.P.L.: You mentioned anthropologists earlier. Are both forensic dentists and forensic anthropologists called out to a crime scene at same time? Do they work in tandem? 

M.T.: When it comes to bones that are discovered, say, in the woods, often the anthropologist is called upon first. They are such bloodhounds they can find things no one else can. We wait and take the info the anthropologist gathers, such as the person was six-foot-two, African American, male, etc., and we will use that to try and match their data with a missing person. From then on, we work together. 

Along these lines, the book I wrote is the story of the most bizarre case I ever worked on in my career, which was actually at The Body Farm in Tennessee. I was working there with Dr. Bill Bass (the founder), and Dr. Murray Marx, and his contingency. It was there that they were actually able to develop the age, race, and sex characteristics of a body yet it still remained a John Doe for decades. At the farm what they developed was a system/program called TSD (AKA: time since death.) They have studied and honed their skills for identification by taking a body that has been donated to science and placing that body in a field (inside a protected area, of course), subjecting the body to all environmental conditions. They study and photograph the body on a regular basis to determine even more information such as, what it looks like in the decomposition process (i.e., the insects, the maturation levels of the insect larvae). They record wind speeds, humidity, temperature changes, etc., and from all that they are able to provide a very valuable tool to investigators; in addition to the norms of age, sex, and race, they are able to determine how long this body (or discovered bones) has been there. The time since death is very important to everyone from investigators to crime writers. 

J.B.: You were involved in identifying the 9/11 World Trade Center victims. How did it come about that you got involved with that? What did you do as part of the team? 

M.T.: That was the year I was serving as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. A member who held the same position in NY that I held in TN spoke to me and addressed the enormity of the aftermath. Death investigations were going on just like always, before and after 9/11, and these facilities were quite taxed. Quite a large percentage of experts volunteered their time to assist New York’s medical examiner with this task of trying to identify the victims. 

We first worked to accumulate accurate flight manifests so we could attain various medical and dental records for those on board the planes. When you reach a number of victims north of 25 to 30, you need to use a computerized system to organize records and data. We utilized a software program called WIN ID that was written by one of our diplomates, Jim McGivney. We entered all the information we collected and the antemortem (before death) records into the database, and began identifying remains. We had information from the manifests, port authority records, data given from wives and husbands whose significant others didn’t come home that night, firefighters and police officer records, etc. We also had people who jumped from the buildings, choosing to end their lives instead of having to experience the inferno that would have taken them. We ended up identifying approximately one-third, 1,000 out of the 3,000 who died that day, with many being identified from just the dental records. 

We had rehearsed being on what is called a Mass Disaster Dental ID team, and learned how we would grid off an area and how we would set up ID logistics if a 747 went down and hundreds of people perished. There were days, if you remember, where we didn’t know if we were going to find 3,000 or 30,000 people in the aftermath. In fact, if the planes had hit 30 minutes later, the total would have been even more horrific. It took us approximately 11 months to a year before we had the chance to sift through each bit of evidence and enter it into the postmortem database and let the computer do its’ work. Amazingly, we were pleased to be able to identify a third of them. People will ask, “How come the other 2,000 weren’t identified?” But, to be honest, some just didn’t even exist; they were vaporized by the crash. And, as you might imagine, there was a lot of comingling of remains…but we were (and are) just trying to get it right. To put this into perspective, jumbo jets have two black boxes on board. These are nearly indestructible and yet no black boxes were recovered. 

J.B.: The 9/11 tragedy was horrific. How did it effect you personally?

M.T.: Well, I have given about two or three talks a month for the past 13/14 years. Yet it took quite a while for me to even be able to talk about this without getting choked up. We have little to no training when it comes to dealing with the emotional impact of such a tragedy. I have seen lots of things in my 39-something years and most have been pretty ugly. But I never saw or experienced anything like 9/11 that stayed with me, and still won’t go completely away. 

Buddies would talk about PTSD and their time in Vietnam and I had a hard time getting my arms wrapped around that emotionally. But after spending time at Ground Zero, I can say that it is for real. We were not used to dealing with this; having to walk through a sea of people holding up pictures of their missing husbands, wives, or their only sons and daughters…people coming up to us, pulling on our arms and saying, “Please help me.” 

After our work was done, we were told to prepare ourselves for when we returned home and our close family members commented on changes they saw in us, changes in our spirit. And they were exactly right. They did send us all through a psychological debriefing workshop before we left. Part of it to address the enormity of the situation and part was to help us deal with the emotional aspects that we were ill-equipped to deal with. The last thing is that red, white, and blue that still flutters among all of us and having to deal with the fact that a foreign entity came to our country and did that to us. 

I had a dream many times in that first year after 9/11 where I was driving on a certain road in Nashville and saw a 727 going, nose-down, behind a hotel. I woke up when it hit the ground and exploded. This is a prime example of PTSD. Like opening the body bag and seeing the firefighter still clutching his axe…it gets to you.

D.P.L.: Sobering. Thank you. I hope everyone appreciates you sharing that information. Moving on to your writing, you worked with Dr. Cyril Wecht on a case with quite an infamous name attached to it, that of James Earl Ray. 

M.T.: I’ve actually worked on two cases with Cyril. My third book “Grave Mistake” will focus on one of those. I think the one you’re referring to, however, is the forensic autopsy of Ray. In a nutshell, Ray was serving his life sentence after confessing, recanting, re-confessing and re-recanting to killing Martin Luther King, Jr. 

He actually died in prison of Hepatitis C that he had gotten from being stabbed by a fellow prisoner with a broken Coke bottle. Tennessee law states that if you die in prison you have to have an autopsy done by the state medical examiner. I was called one day by our local M.E. and asked to come down to the office. I thought it was a little odd, needing me to confirm the identity of someone everyone already knew. Of course, just a few years before, there were so many naysayers and conspiracy theorists dwelling on the JFK assassination that a court order was finally gotten to exhume the body of Oswald so it could be re-identified using forensic dentistry. Oswald was in the military and had records on file, so this wasn’t a difficult process. Ray’s family had decided that as soon as the autopsy was complete, they would cremate the body. The family hired Dr. Wecht to oversee the autopsy on their behalf.

The second case I worked with him on was a tragic accident; a van holding six prisoners was in an accident and all were burned alive when the van caught fire. A wayward medical examiner ended up misidentifying bodies based on seat locations. These victims lived all over the United States, so Wecht and I worked together to sort out which body really belonged to which family. It is a true puzzle that we had to solve backwards. It was a wonderful experience getting to know him, work with him, and I cherish the time I get to spend learning more from him.

D.P.L.: Time to talk about the book. Please tell us about “Walk of Death.”

M.T.: “Walk of Death” came from me finding my most favorite thing to do in the world, write down exactly what happened on a case. 

I had a cold case murder that I worked on for over a decade before finally solving. It began in 1998 and wasn’t solved until Christmas of 2010. That’s when my wife told me, “You’re gonna write a book on this.” It was actually bizarre. You cannot make this stuff up. The case involved a staged death utilizing a pair of killers, a hitchhiker, and a life insurance policy. The plan gets a little sloppy, and law enforcement does not know who is buried in a grave. The next ten years are spent trying to put a name with an unknown face. 

This was the first time in a Tennessee court of law (and I believe in the entire U.S.) where a jury has to find someone guilty, without anyone in the courtroom knowing who the victim is. That will get you an upside-down jury. After all, you usually have someone weeping, yelling, angry about killing “Uncle Joe,” and talking about the family. Here, you have a body but it’s very hard to get emotional sympathy from jurors. Using forensic dentistry helped solve the crime, but I can’t tell you the whole thing or you won’t want to read the story. 

J.B.: And you are now working on your third title?

M.T.: Actually, I just finished the second one which is called “Out of the Darkness” and involves a bite mark case in a murder trial that I testified at in Arkansas, and the controversy around the evidentiary value of that bite mark evidence in this particular homicide. The third, based on the case with Dr. Wecht, will be “Grave Mistake.” 

Talk about sending readers running to the library. Dr. Michael Tabor is an unforgettable interview; a man whose background and incredible work on cases has not only created amazing thrillers, but has also made the realm of forensic odontology one of the most fascinating to learn about. For more information, check out http://www.drmiketabor.com or listen to other fantastic interviews from “Crime & Science Radio” with Doug Lyle, MD. and Jan Burke at https://crimeandscienceradio.com.  

Originally aired on Crime & Science Radio; July 2014. 

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Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Predators and Prey

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PREDATORS AND PREY

When my husband and I were buying our second home, the bank we went to suggested an adjustable-rate mortgage. It had a nice rate, much lower than the 30-year fixed, which “couldn’t go up more than 2% per year,” and we “could lock it in at any time.” Period. For some reason I cannot recall, something made me check into this further. I was not good at math and certainly had no head for business, which had always bored me silly, but I did have a job as a secretary, which meant I had a phone, an office in which to use it all day long, and time. I wound up talking to four different people at three different banks before I got the situation clear. The rate that could be “locked in” was a completely different rate—not the adjustable rate at all, but the prime rate plus whatever the bank currently tacked on, a rate that was already higher than the 30-year fixed. When we met with the loan officer I reconfirmed this, and she said only, “But the adjustable rate might go down.” (As it turned out, it did, but still—I’m going to base thirty years of payments on “might”? I don’t think so.)

We passed on the ARM.

But questionable, risky and downright deceptive loaning practices went on, and my hometown, the setting of my books, suffered greatly. As a consumer activist explains to my detectives in Perish:

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“If you remember the housing bust, 2008, thirty percent of Slavic village homes went into foreclosure, Cleveland led the country in vacant homes, etcetera etcetera?”

Riley said only, “Yes.”

“Because mortgage originators like Sterling made loans to people they knew bloody well could never pay them. They set it up, collect their fees for doing a little paperwork, the investors get monthly payments, borrowers begin paying off their house, everybody’s happy.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“You know how that Greek guy said everything had to be in moderation?”

“Yeah?”

“When there’s money being made, moderation goes out the window. Even people with bad credit don’t want to pay high rates and, obviously, don’t have the money to pay high payments, so . . . creative math. Adjustable rates that you can ‘lock in’—except the rate you’re locking in is a completely different rate, prime plus whatever the bank feels like tacking on, so from day one this will already be higher than a thirty-year fixed. Low rates with balloon payments, which would work out fine if you know you’re going to win the lottery in three years. Interest-only payments, in which you aren’t paying a penny of the principal until the payment leaps up by one or two hundred percent in, say, seven years.”

“But—” Riley began.

“Exactly. Why make loans you know are going to fail? Because Wall Street compensation is based on that year’s performance. All the higher-ups get bonuses based on a percentage of profit—for CEOs this can be millions, double- and triple-digit millions. So when they will make more in one year than most people could make in several lifetimes, they don’t think in the long run.

“These firms—Ameriquest, Long-Term Capital, Long Beach Mortgage, and now Sterling—they don’t care if they falsify paperwork, whether they let their clients lie about their income, whether they flat out defraud their clients by pretending to sign them up for a fixed rate and then fake the papers to put them in an adjustable rate—because by the time their monthly payment suddenly triples and they default, the original firm is long out of it and the borrower is arguing with a company that never knew them and only knows what the original firm told it.” Ned went on, using both hands for emphasis. “People have to fight back. Cleveland and a bunch of other cities sued the lenders, but the mortgage banker’s association donated a few million to the state political parties and the lawsuits were thrown out. The Federal Reserve, the SEC, Congress threw up their hands and said there was nothing they could do. In 2008 the music finally stopped and some dancers collapsed, the government bailed out the rest, and our lawmakers were supposed to make laws so this couldn’t happen again.”

Jack’s legs twitched, aching to move, to do something.

“Except with caps on their compensation the investment banks and mortgage banks had plenty of money to keep up the kickbacks to the political parties, so the new laws wound up watered down into trickles.”

“Wait,” Jack said. “Are you protesting things that happened ten years ago, or things that are happening now?”

“The past is preface,” Swift said, but wiped away the smug tone when he saw Jack’s lack of appreciation for it. “The behavior I protested in 2008 slunk away for a while, laid low but never went away. Mortgage securities were a cash cow, and just because we slaughtered the cow doesn’t mean people lost their taste for milk. The big firms reined it in because no one, not even them, wants to go through that again, but little places like Joanna’s saw opportunity. Have you noticed commercials for instant credit and cold calls from barely legal sharks offering anyone who answers a no-collateral, pick-a-payment loan? They’re baaack—doing all the bad things they did before, but this time having the sense to get out before someone blows too hard on their house of cards.”

Borrower beware.

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Lisa Black has spent over twenty 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 six languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s list and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

www.lisa-black.com
@LisaBlackAuthor

 
 
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