Category Archives: General Forensics

Are the Brains of Psychopaths Different?


There has been a long running debate on whether those labeled as psychopaths, or sociopaths, have an anatomical, or perhaps a chemical, basis for their aberrant behavior. It’s actually a debate that has raged for many years. Back to the days of phrenology, and before. Phrenology was the study of the shape of the skull and its use in predicting behavior and personality. It didn’t, it couldn’t, but it was a belief that had its loyal followers.

Dr. Kent Kiehl has spent years studying the possible connection between brain anatomy and physiology and behavior. As part of his research he performed MRI brain exams on thousands of prisoners. His findings have shown that the amygdala—an area of the brain involved with emotions and decision making—-tends to be smaller in psychopaths.


Also he uncovered evidence to suggest that assessing the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), an area of the brain involved in error processing, might be useful in predicting which inmates might be prone to re-offend after prison release. Those with reduced ACC activity were twice as likely to re-offend when compared with those with high ACC activity.


This, of course, will require further study but it’s an interesting concept and could be useful. It could also lead to the creation of a real “Minority Report.” Remember that movie? A futuristic sci-fi story that dealt with the ability to predict future crime—called predictive policing. The future just might have arrived.



Muscle Proteins and the Time of Death


In any homicide, one the most important things, along with the cause and manner of death, that the ME must determine is the approximate time of death. This will help eliminate some suspects—-if they are far away from the scene and with many witnesses, for example—-and point the finger at others—-who might have been in the area at the time the murder occurred.

The problem is that most methods used to determine the time of death are inaccurate at best. They tend to be best guesses. And they are mostly useful only during the first 48 to 72 hours.

Check out my article “Timely Death” for a brief overview of how the time of death is estimated.

Or grab a copy of Forensics For Dummies or Howdunnit: Forensics for an in-depth discussion of this topic.

Researchers at the University of Salzburg are working in a new method that might allow the time of death determination to be accurately made up to 10 days after death. Their research suggests that measuring the rate of muscle protein degradation yields a clue to the time that has lapsed since death. If this technique proves to be accurate and reproducible in humans, it would be a giant step forward in criminal investigations.

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Wildfires and Forensic Science


Here in Southern California, we are not strangers to wild fires. Other parts of the world are similarly afflicted. Some are natural, from lightning for example, but all too often they are the result of arson.

Forensic wildfire investigators face a difficult problem when analyzing a potential arson scene since often most, if not all, of the evidence is consumed by the fire. But not always. They search for the point, or points, or origin and then apply their knowledge and skill to determine how the fire progressed. This can often lead to crucial evidence in uncovering who started the fire. And why.

Wildfire pattern


Crime and Science Radio: A Fly for the Prosecution: An Interview with Forensic Entomologist Dr. Lee Goff

Join Jan Burke and me as we discuss bugs and bodies with forensic entomologist Dr. M. Lee Goff.

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BIO: Dr. M. Lee Goff is one of the founding members of the American Board of Forensic Entomology, from which he retired in 2013.  Professor Emeritus, in Forensic Sciences at  Chaminade University of Hawaii and Dept. of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Hawaii, Manoa,, he received his B.S. in Zoology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1966, M.S. in Biology from California State University, Long Beach in 1974, and Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1977. He was Professor of Entomology and Chair of the Entomology Graduate Program at University of Hawaii at Manoa from 1983 until 2001. He then moved to Chaminade University of Honolulu as Director of the Forensic Sciences Program. Dr. Goff has been involved in forensic entomology for a period of over 25 years. He is currently a consultant in forensic entomology for the Office of the Medical Examiner, City and County of Honolulu and other state and federal agencies throughout the world.  He also serves as a consultant for the crime dramas CSI and Bones. He is curator of a traveling museum exhibition called CSI: Crime Scene Insects.

Additionally Dr. Goff has served as a member of the instructional staff for the FBI Academy course in Detection and Recovery of Human Remains taught at Quantico, Virginia. He has published over 200 papers in scientific journals, authored the popular book, A Fly for the Prosecution, co-edited the recent publication “Advances in Forensic Entomology” and participated in over 350 homicide investigations, consulting on cases worldwide.



Professor Emeritus Goff’s faculty Page on Chaminade University’s site

PBS Nature‘s Crime Scene Creatures Interview: Forensic Entomologist Lee Goff

Dr. Goff Interviewed on KHNL-TV

National Geographic Channel 2004 Interview with Dr. Goff

American Board of Forensic Entomology

Acarological Society of America

Acarology: The Study of Mites and Ticks (UK’s Natural History Museum)

Entomological Society of America

Insect Collections, Zoos, Museums, and Butterfly Gardens in North America

Amateur Entomologists’ Society: Forensic Entomology

How Stuff Works: What do bugs have to do with forensic science?

Smithsonian Channel Catching Killers: Insect Evidence

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Your Hair Dye Just Might Sink Your Perfect Crime


Hair and fibers and other trace evidence are often unknowingly left at the crime scene by the perpetrator. And those clever CSI folks can find these tidbits and analyze them. From hair, they can usually determine the species (human, cat, dog?), the color, the thickness and curliness, whether it was cut or yanked out, and other things.


But what if the hair has been altered with coloring or various chemical treatments? No problem. In fact, such alterations could add another layer of individuality to hair found at a crime scene. Using Surface-enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS), dyes and chemical treatments can be analyzed and such analysis can lead to the type of treatment and even the manufacturer of the product. This could prove to be critical evidence in connecting a suspect to a crime scene.



With Modern Forensic Science Is the Perfect Crime Impossible?



Probably. Likely. Not to mention that getting away with any crime requires a healthy dose of luck.

Professor Wesley Vernon of Huddersfield University agrees. To commit the perfect crime he says you must “get as far away as possible from the crime scene” and “pay someone to pay someone to pay someone to do it for you.”

And even these tricks are not likely to work. Bad luck being what bad luck is.


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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Crime Scene, General Forensics


Crime and Science Radio: Forensic Science On Trial: The Honorable Donald Shelton On Forensic Science And The Courts

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Join Jan Burke and me as we welcome Judge Donald Shelton to Crime and Science Radio as he discusses the CSI Effect and many other legal issues.

BIO: Currently the Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Michigan, the Honorable Donald E Shelton served as as the Chief Judge in the 22nd Judicial Court — the Washtenaw County Trial Court, where he had been a circuit court judge from 1990 until his retirement from the bench last year. In addition to his law degree, he has advanced degrees in Criminology, Criminal Justice and Judicial Studies, and has taught at the college level since 1971. He is the author of numerous books, articles, and studies on forensic science evidence and the judicial system — as well as other topics concerning criminal justice. Two of his most recent works are Forensic Science in Court: Challenges in the Twenty-first Century and Forensic Science Evidence: Can the Law Keep Up With Science?



Links to Selected Works of Hon. Donald E. Shelton

Selected works on Research Gate

Curriculum Vitae of Hon. Donald E. Shelton

“Forensic Science Evidence and Judicial Bias in Criminal Cases” The Judges’ Journal, American Bar Association 49.3 (2010): 18-24.

“Juror Expectations for Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases: Perceptions and Reality About the “CSI Effect” Myth” Thomas M. Cooley Law Review 27.1 (2010): 1-35.

“Criminal Justice System Sees ‘CSI Effect’,” Tell Me More, National Public Radio, August 6, 2007,

“The ‘CSI Effect’: Does It Really Exist?” National Institute of Justice Website,

“Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton will retire in September, ” The Ann Arbor News, April 08, 2014

Studying Juror Expectations for Scientific Evidence: A New Model for Looking at the CSI Myth

An Indirect-Effects Model of Mediated Adjudication: The CSI Myth, the Tech Effect, and Metropolitan Jurors’ Expectations for Scientific Evidence

Forensic Science Evidence and Judicial Bias in Criminal Cases


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