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Category Archives: General Forensics

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

 

Q&A: Will a Decaying Corpse Actually Produce Alcohol?

whiskey glasses

 

Q: Is it possible or likely for blood alcohol levels to increase or decrease in a decomposing body, and if so during what stages of decomposition?

A: Alcohol is usually consumed in the decay process but may actually be produced and this might cloud any toxicological examinations on the corpse. Make it look as if the victim consumed more alcohol than he actually did.

I must point out that alcohol is not commonly produced but it does happen in rare cases. The alcohol is a byproduct of the action of some types of bacteria that are involved in the decay process. This means that alcohol can only appear during active decay. What is that time period? A little about putrefaction.

The decomposition of the human body involves two distinct processes: autolysis and putrefaction. Autolysis is basically a process of self-digestion. After death, the enzymes within the body’s cells begin the chemical breakdown of the cells and tissues. As with most chemical reactions the process is hastened by heat and slowed by cold. Putrefaction is the bacterially mediated destruction of the body’s tissues. It is this decay that might cause some alcohol formation. Not always, but sometimes. The responsible bacteria mostly come for the intestinal tract of the deceased, though environmental bacteria and yeasts contribute in many situations. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments and become sluggish in colder climes. Freezing will stop their activities completely. A frozen body will not undergo putrefaction until it thaws.

Under normal temperate conditions, putrefaction follows a known sequence. During the first 24 hours, the abdomen takes on a greenish discoloration, which spreads to the neck, shoulders, and head. Bloating follows. This is due to the accumulation of gas, a byproduct of the action of bacteria, within the body’s cavities and skin. This swelling begins in the face where the features swell and the eyes and tongue protrude. The skin will then begin to “marble.” This is a web-like pattern of the blood vessels over the face, chest, abdomen, and extremities. This pattern is green-black in color and is due to the reaction of the blood’s hemoglobin with hydrogen sulfide. As gasses continue to accumulate, the abdomen swells and the skin begins to blister. Soon, skin and hair slippage occur and the fingernails begin to slough off. By this stage, the body has taken on a greenish-black color. The fluids of decomposition (purge fluid) will begin to drain from nose and mouth. This may look like bleeding from trauma, but is due to extensive breakdown of the body’s tissues.

The rate at which this process occurs is almost never “normal” because conditions surrounding the body are almost never “normal.” Both environmental and internal body conditions alter this process greatly. Obesity, excess clothing, a hot and humid environment, and the presence of sepsis may speed this process so that 24 hours appear like 5 or 6 days have passed. Sepsis is particularly destructive to the body. Not only would the body temperature be higher at death, but also the septic process would have spread bacteria throughout the body. In this case, the decay process would begin quickly and in a widespread fashion. A septic body that is dead for only a few hours may appear as if it has been dead for several days.

As opposed to the above situations, a thin, unclothed corpse lying on a cold surface with a cool breeze would follow a much slower decomposition process. Very cold climes may slow the process so much that even after several months, the body appears as if it has been dead only a day or two. Freezing will protect the body from putrefaction if the body is frozen before the process begins. Once putrefaction sets in, even freezing the body may not prevent its eventual decay. If frozen quickly enough, the body may be preserved for years.

So, whether a particular corpse actually produces alcohol or not is totally unpredictable. How long it takes depends upon the conditions the corpse is exposed to. In a corpse in an enclosed garage in Houston in August, this process will be very rapid and the corpse will be severely decayed after 48 hours. If parked in a snow bank in Minnesota in February it might not even begin the decay process until April or May when the spring thaw occurs. And anything in between. The appearance of any alcohol would coincide with the time frame of the bacterial activity.

So how does the ME get around this possibility? How can he determine the actual alcohol level that was present prior to the decay process kicking in? He can’t with any absolute accuracy, but he does have a tool that will help him make a best guess. He can extract the vitreous humor from the victim’s eye—this is the jelly-like fluid that fills the eyeballs. The alcohol level within this fluid matches that of the blood with about a two-hour delay. That is, the level within the vitreous at any given time reflects the blood alcohol level that was present approximately two hours earlier. And the vitreous is slow to decay so it might be intact even though the corpse is severely decayed. By measuring the vitreous level the ME will know the blood alcohol level two hours prior to death and he can then estimate the blood alcohol level at the time of death.

 

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This question originally appeared in MORE FORENSICS AND FICTION

http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/more-forensics-and-fiction.html

 

Crime and Science Radio: The BTK Killer and Other Serial Murderers: An Interview with Psychologist and Author Dr. Katherine Ramsland

This Saturday at 10 a.m. Pacific Jan Burke and I welcome Dr. Katherine Ramsland to the show to discuss her years of research into one of America’s most notorious serial killers Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer and her wonderful book that has resulted form this work.

 

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland

 

BIO: Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at DeSales University, also teaches the forensic psychology track. She has published over 1,000 articles, stories, and reviews, and 59 books, including The Mind of a Murderer, The Forensic Science of CSI, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Ivy League Killer, and The Murder Game. Her book, Psychopath, was a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s list. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored a book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators among Us, with Dr. Henry C. Lee, The Real Life of a Forensic Scientist, and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, judges, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including CSI and Bones She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today called “Shadow-boxing” and consults for numerous crime documentary production companies. Her most recent book (August 2016) is with serial killer, Dennis Rader, called Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. She will also publish The Ripper Letter, a supernatural thriller based on Jack the Ripper lore, and a textbook, Forensic Investigation: Methods from Experts (2017).

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/03/30/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-dr-katherine-ramsland

Link goes live Saturday August 13, 2016 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Website: www.katherineramsland.com

Blog: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Kath.ramsland/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatRamsland

 

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Crime and Science Radio Goes Live at MWA-LA

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Mark your calendars for this event. Jan and I are recording an episode of Crime and Science Radio live with our special guest Criminalist and Forensic Science Professor Don Johnson. This will be a fun and informative event. Sign up now.

From MWA-LA

We have a special luncheon planned in August:

D.P. Lyle and Jan Burke Live Radio Podcast with special guest interviewee Criminalist and Forensics Professor Don Johnson

This will be a unique opportunity to experience a live podcast with three outstanding experts

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tam O’Shanter Restaurant

2980 Los Feliz Blvd.

Los Angeles

Doors open at 11:30

MORE INFO:

http://www.socalmwa.com/2016/05/tam-luncheon-dp-lyle-jan-burke-live-radio-podcast/

 
 
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