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Criminal Mischief: Episode #35: Corpse ID

Criminal Mischief: Episode #35: Corpse ID

 

 

Most corpses that are the victims of foul play are easily identified because they’re found in familiar places and reported by folks who knew them. But those found in remote or odd places with no ID create problems for investigators. In these cases, identifying the corpse is a critical step in solving the case.

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-35-corpse-id

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/35-corpse-id.html

Crime Museum: Postmortem Identification: https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/forensic-investigation/postmortem-identification/

The Conversation: How Do We Identify Human Remains?: http://theconversation.com/how-do-we-identify-human-remains-121315

NamUs: https://www.namus.gov

Crime and Science Radio Interview with Todd Matthews of NamUs: http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/todd-matthews.html

 

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

 

HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

 

Dub Walker Is Back

The first 2 Dub Walker thrillers, STRESS FRACTURE and HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL
have new covers and have been reissued by Suspense Publishing.

 

STRESS FRACTURE: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/stress-fracture.html

 

HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/hot-lights.html

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Writing

 

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #34: Toxicology Part 3

Criminal Mischief: Episode #34: Toxicology Part 3

 

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-34-toxicology-part-3

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS

COMMON DRUGS, POISONS, AND TOXINS 

In the remote past, most poisoners favored botanical products such as hemlock, oleander, deadly nightshade, foxglove, hellebore, monkshood, opium, and many others. These were easily available and untraceable. More recently, various chemicals have been added to this long list of plant-based poisons, which has made the work of the toxicologist that much more difficult. 

I said earlier that when the forensic toxicologist is faced with determining whether an individual’s death or abnormal behavior is related to toxin exposure, he will use all evidence, including the results of toxicology testing, the autopsy examination, and statements from investigating officers and witnesses. To effectively use this information, he must be familiar with many aspects of drugs and poisons: He must know the chemical makeup and physiological actions of drugs and their breakdown products; understand how drugs are metabolized in the body and what the potential toxic properties of these metabolites are; know how these chemicals affect a normal person, as well as those with various illnesses and addictions; and be aware of the symptoms and signs produced by these chemicals. In addition, a working knowledge of street and recreational drugs is essential, since these are often involved in injury and death. 

Obviously, a discussion of every known chemical, drug, and poison is far beyond the scope of this book. We will, however, look at many of those that crop up in real-life cases as well as in works of fiction. 

We will examine the things that the ME and the toxicologist consider in assessing the effects of any of them in death, injury, or legal matters. For example, some drugs cause severe depression or addiction and may lead the user to take his own life. Others may distort perceptions to the point that the user accidentally causes self-harm through some foolish act. Trying to fly from a building would fit this description. Other drugs may cause anger, aggression, or an actual psychotic episode, and the user may commit assaults or homicides while under the chemical’s influence. Some drugs are so addictive that the user will commit all types of illegal acts (robbery, assault, or murder) to obtain money to purchase them. Other substances are just downright deadly. 

ALCOHOL

Alcohol is derived from the fermentation of sugars and comes in a variety of types, with ethanol (ethyl, or drinking alcohol), methanol (methyl, or wood or denatured alcohol), and isopropanol (isopropyl, or rubbing alcohol) being the ones most commonly encountered. All alcohols are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Central nervous system basically means the brain. These alcohols cause sleepiness, poor coordination, slowed movements and reactions, and distorted perceptions. In short, all the symptoms and signs you recognize in someone who is drunk. In larger amounts, they can lead to coma, cessation of breathing, and death from asphyxia. 

Ethanol 

Ethanol is by far the most commonly abused drug. Not only are its toxic effects potentially lethal, but the loss of coordination and poor judgment that is associated with its use can lead to violent and negligent acts. There is potential for physical addiction with alcohol and withdrawal can be an arduous and dangerous process. Without proper medical treatment, death rates from alcohol withdrawal syndromes, such as delirium tremens (DTs), can be 20 percent or more. 

Alcohol in the body follows a fairly simple pathway. Once ingested, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and disseminated throughout the body, where 95 percent of it is metabolized (broken down) by the liver into water and carbon dioxide. The remaining 5 percent is excreted unchanged through the kidneys and lungs, a fact that is critical to sobriety testing. 

Alcohol Metabolism 

The body eliminates most toxins in what is called a dose-dependent fashion; that is, the higher the dose taken, the more rapidly the toxin is metabolized. A small amount activates only some of the enzymes that break down the toxin, whereas a larger amount activates more enzymes in order to handle the increased load of toxin. 

Alcohol is metabolized in a linear fashion in that any amount of alcohol intake activates all the enzyme systems that destroy it. This means that from the first drink, the system operates at almost maximum efficiency and there is little or no ability to increase it. The average rate of ethanol destruction in the body is roughly equivalent to one drink per hour. 

Why is this important? With rapid intake of alcohol, as is seen in binge drinking that is so common among college students, the body has no method for increasing the removal of the alcohol. The system is already running at top speed and excessive intake overruns the body’s ability to deal with it. The result is that the concentration of alcohol in the blood will rise rapidly and this can lead to coma and death. 

Methanol 

All alcohols are potentially toxic, but methanol is particularly so. Methanol is the denatured alcohol used in Bunsen burners in high school science or chemistry classes. Unlike ethanol, the liver converts methanol to formic acid and formaldehyde, the same stuff the coroner uses to preserve the tissues he removes from corpses. 

Methanol ingestion causes nausea, vomiting, pancreatic and other organ damage, confusion, loss of coordination, and brain damage that can lead to blindness, seizures, coma, and ultimately death from asphyxia. 

Isopropanol 

Isopropanol is also an intoxicant and a CNS depressant whose effects usually appear within ten to thirty minutes after ingestion, depending upon the amount consumed and whether food or other beverages are taken as well. Fifteen to 20 percent of ingested isopropanol is converted to acetone, which produces acidosis (excess acid in the body). This greatly complicates things. The victim appears drowsy and off balance, and possesses a staggering gait, slurred speech, and poor coordination. Nausea, vomiting (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, sweating, stupor, coma, and death from respiratory depression may follow. Hemorrhage into the bronchial tubes (breathing tubes or airways) and chest cavity may occur. 

Isopropanol also absorbs through the lungs and the skin. Not infrequently, infants experience isopropanol toxicity from alcohol-and-water sponge baths used to treat childhood fevers. 

OTHER CNS DEPRESSANTS

Opiates, barbiturates, and other tranquilizers are CNS depressants. They make a person sleepy and lethargic and are called downers. 

Opiates 

Opiates are in the alkaloid family of chemicals and are derived from the sap of the poppy. The opiates are divided into natural, semisynthetic, and synthetic, depending upon their source and method of manufacture. They are narcotic sedatives (sleep producing) and analgesics (pain relieving) that produce euphoria, lethargy, and, in larger doses, coma and death from respiratory depression and asphyxia. This is more common when an opiate is mixed with alcohol, which is also a brain depressant. Most opiates are taken either by mouth or injection, and all have great potential for abuse and physical addiction. 

Natural opiates come directly from the poppy with morphine, a powerful narcotic much like heroin, and codeine being the basic ones. Codeine is found in many cough suppressants, has a low potential for abuse, and, unless used with alcohol, rarely causes death. Combining morphine with acetic anhydride or acetyl chloride produces heroin (diacetylmorphine), which is by far the most commonly abused opiate. 

After injection, heroin is almost immediately broken down into monoacetylmorphine and then to morphine. In the living user, testing typically only reveals morphine since this two-step conversion process occurs fairly quickly. This means that the testing cannot determine if the person used heroin or morphine, since in either case only morphine would be found. 

The autopsy findings in individuals who die from a heroin overdose are fairly consistent. The ME usually, but not always, finds evidence of pulmonary edema, which is water in the lungs. The lungs often show evidence of talc crystals and cotton fibers, as these are used to cut and filter the heroin, respectively. When the drug is given intravenously, these crystals and fibers are carried through the right side of the heart and are filtered from the blood and trapped by the lungs. 

Semisynthetic opiates are created by molecular alterations of morphine and codeine. Many medical analgesics are of this type. Hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone (OxyContin) are examples. 

Synthetic opiates are constructed in a laboratory and are not derived from either morphine or codeine. Methadone is the best known of this class because of its use in treating heroin addiction. Other synthetic opiates include meperidine (Demerol) and fentanyl drugs.

Barbiturates 

Barbiturates are derived from barbituric acid. Known as hypnotics (sleeping pills), they include pentobarbital, amobarbital, secobarbital, butabarbital, and phenobarbital. Only phenobarbital, an excellent anticonvulsive (prevents seizures) medication, is widely used today. When mixed with alcohol, barbiturates can readily lead to coma and death from asphyxia. 

CNS STIMULANTS 

Stimulants or “uppers” are a commonly abused class of drugs that rev up the nervous system and pump up the blood pressure and heart rate. The ones most commonly used are amphetamines and cocaine. These drugs increase alertness, lessen fatigue, and suppress appetite. However, with continued use, they cause irritability, anxiousness, aggressive behavior, paranoia, fatigue, depression, and death. 

Chronic users tend to develop tachyphylaxis. This means that the body “gets used to” them and their effects are lessened. The user must take ever-increasing amounts to get the same “kick” because the body produces more of the enzymes that metabolize these drugs so that they are destroyed and eliminated at a faster rate. 

Amphetamines 

Amphetamines belong to the phenethylamine class of chemicals and are what we term sympathomimetics, in that they mimic, or act like, the sympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system. This is the fight or flight response. Amphetamines rev up the body for emergency action. To do this, they increase blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, and produce euphoria and a sense of high energy. 

Cocaine 

Cocaine is a CNS stimulant that increases alertness, elevates blood pressure and heart rate, and raises body temperature. In higher amounts, it can lead to seizures, strokes, heart attacks, and death.

Typically, cocaine is snorted, or inhaled through the nose. When introduced this way, it rapidly absorbs through the membranes that line the nose and enters the bloodstream. Its effects are felt in just a few minutes. As with amphetamines, cocaine has the problem of tachyphylaxis so the “high” tends to diminish with repeated use. So, abusers have found even faster ways of reaching the “high” they seek. 

Cocaine can be mixed with baking soda and water, and heated until all the liquid is evaporated; the solid material remaining is crack cocaine. This form has a much lower boiling point (becomes a gas at a lower temperature), which allows it to be smoked. When inhaled, this gaseous form is very rapidly absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream.

HALLUCINOGENIC DRUGS 

Hallucinogens alter perceptions and mood, lead to delusional thinking, and cause hallucinations. 

Delusions are beliefs that have little or no basis in reality. The person might believe that he is being watched or monitored or that his neighbor, boss, or spouse is trying to harm him. 

Hallucinations are sensory experiences that are not real. That is, they are not an abnormal sensing of some sensory input; rather, the entire sensory experience is created within the person’s mind. These creations may involve any or all of the senses. They may be visual, auditory, olfactory, taste, or tactile. Sometimes these sensations are so real that the person can’t separate the hallucination from reality, or worse, the hallucination becomes the reality. 

Hallucinations are part of severe schizophrenia and other mental disorders and can occur in victims of strokes or senile dementia. They are often seen with use and withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs. Hallucinogenic drugs are specifically designed to produce hallucinations. 

The most frequently encountered hallucinogens come from the plant world (marijuana, peyote, and mushrooms) or the chemistry laboratory (LSD, STP, and PCP). Their identification depends upon both physical and chemical analyses.

Cannabinoids 

By far the most commonly used hallucinogen, and one of the mildest, is marijuana. It goes by many street names including Mary Jane, weed, and pot. It is a cannabinoid, which means it is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. The active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is found in marijuana at a concentration of 2 to 6 percent. Hashish is the oily extract of the plant and contains approximately 12 percent THC. 

Though marijuana can be added to food and eaten, the most common method of introduction is through smoking. It is rapidly absorbed through the lungs, reaches peak blood levels in fifteen to twenty minutes, and usually lasts about two hours. It produces euphoria, sedation, loss of memory, reduced coordination, and also stimulates appetite. 

The body breaks down THC into a series of compounds, the most important being 9-carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol (9-carboxy-THC), which is the major urinary metabolite. Urine drug testing looks for this compound, which can be found up to ten months after last use. One problem is that even passive exposure can lead to a positive urine test. For example, if a person is in the area where someone is smoking marijuana, his urine may reveal low levels of 9-carboxy-THC. 

Cacti and Mushrooms 

Peyote is a small Mexican cactus that has enjoyed a ceremonial use by many native tribes for centuries. The active chemical in the plant is mescaline, which is a hallucinogen in the alkaloid family. Either TLC or GC can confirm the presence of the alkaloids. Further testing to identify mescaline is not necessary since the possession of plant material itself is illegal. 

Mushrooms present a different problem. With marijuana and peyote the mere possession of the plant is illegal, while the possession of mushrooms is not. This means that the toxicology lab must identify the psychoactive components (psilcin and psilocybin) of the mushroom before they can be deemed illegal. 

LSD AND OTHER HALLUCINOGENIC CHEMICALS 

There are a wide variety of chemically produced hallucinogens, with the most common ones being lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP or angel dust). 

LSD is very potent and as little as 25 micrograms can produce an “acid trip” that lasts for twelve hours. Though LSD is not directly fatal, the hallucinations it produces are typically vivid and there have been many instances of users harming themselves because of these altered perceptions. The primary screening test for LSD is the Van Urk color test. 

PCP is an extremely powerful drug with unpredictable effects. It comes as a powder or in a capsule or pill. It can be swallowed or smoked. PCP can cause depression, irritability, feelings of isolation, and is notorious for producing psychosis, paranoia, and violent behavior. An acute schizophrenic episode may suddenly occur many days after use. In a large enough dose, it can cause seizures and death. 

Immunoassay of urine is used for PCP screening and may remain positive for a week after last use. GC/MS provide confirmation. 

Other chemical hallucinogens include dimethoxymethylamphetamine (STP), dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as ecstasy. 

DATE RAPE DRUGS 

The date rape drugs are a collection of chemicals of various types that share the ability to make the user relaxed, disoriented, and compliant. Some are pharmaceutically manufactured, while others are cooked up by someone with marginal experience and a chemistry book. The major members of this group are Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), ecstasy, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), and ketamine hydrochloride. 

Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine are commonly used in date or acquaintance rapes, which is where the moniker comes from. They cause sedation, a degree of compliance, poor judgment, and amnesia for events that occur while under their influence. These properties make them effective in date rape situations. 

A small amount of GHB or Rohypnol can be slipped into the victim’s drink or a bottle of innocuous-appearing water. She may appear and act normally, or might seem happy, excited, pleasantly sedated, or mildly intoxicated. Neither the victim nor her friends recognize how impaired she actually is. She might leave with her would-be assailant because her judgment is impaired and euphoria enhanced. Only later will she realize that something happened, but her memory of events will be spotty or absent. This is exactly what happened with Andrew Luster’s victims.

The reactions to these drugs are unpredictable and vary from person to person.

Rohypnol (Street Names: Roofies, Roaches, Rope, Mexican Valium) is a benzodiazepine sedative in the same family as Valium and was developed to treat insomnia. Currently, it is neither manufactured nor approved for use in the United States, but is available in Mexico and many other countries. It is manufactured as white tablets of either one or two milligrams that can be crushed and dissolved in any liquid. It takes action twenty to thirty minutes after ingestion, peaks in about two hours, and its effects may persist for eight to twelve hours. 

Rohypnol typically causes sedation, confusion, euphoria, loss of identity, dizziness, blurred vision, slowed psychomotor performance, and amnesia. The victim has poor judgment, a feeling of sedated euphoria, and vague or no memory of what has happened. 

Ecstasy (Street Names: E, X, XTC, MDMA, Love, Adam) was first manufactured in 1912 and originally patented in 1914 as an appetite suppressant but was never marketed. It disappeared until the 1960s when it was rediscovered and became a drug of abuse. Currently, it is made in underground labs and distributed in pill or capsule form. It has amphetamine (speed-like) as well as hallucinogenic effects. The user has enhanced sensations and feelings of empathy, increased energy, and occasionally profound spiritual experiences or irrational fear reactions. It may cause increased blood pressure, teeth grinding (bruxia), sweating, nausea, anxiety, or panic attacks. 

GHB comes as a white powder that easily dissolves in water, alcohol, and other liquids. Currently, it is often found as “Liquid E,” a colorless, odorless liquid that is sold in small vials and bottles. 

The effects of GHB appear five to twenty minutes after ingestion and typically last for two to three hours. It causes loss of inhibitions, euphoria, drowsiness, and, when combined with other drugs, increases the effects of these drugs. Users might also experience amnesia, enhanced sensuality, hallucinations, and amnesia.

Ketamine is a rapidly acting intravenous or intramuscular anesthetic agent that causes sedation and amnesia. It comes as a liquid, which is often heated and evaporated to a white powder residue. The powder can be added to a liquid such as a bottle of water, compacted into pills, or, most commonly, snorted. Whether swallowed or snorted, it takes effect almost immediately and is fairly short in its duration of action, typically forty-five minutes to two hours. 

Many of its effects are similar to ecstasy, but it also possesses dissociative effects, which means the person “dissociates” from reality in some fashion. Often the user experiences hallucinations, loss of time sense, and loss of self-identity. One common form is a depersonalization syndrome, where the person is part of the activities while at the same time is off to the side or hovering overhead watching the activity, including his own actions. As mentioned earlier, this reaction is also common with PCP. Users call these effects “going into a K Hole.” 

Since ketamine is a sedative and general anesthetic, its potential for serious and lethal effects is real. If too much is taken, the victim may lose consciousness, stop breathing, and suffer brain damage or die. 

MISCELLANEOUS TOXINS 

Cyanide is one of the most lethal chemicals known and can enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or directly through the skin. The most common forms are the white powders sodium cyanide (NaCN) and potassium cyanide (KCN) and the gaseous hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Most poisonings are accidental, but suicidal and homicidal cyanide poisonings do occur. HCN is used in gas chamber executions. Cyanide is a metabolic poison, which means it damages the internal workings of the cells. 

Strychnine is a neuromuscular toxin that causes powerful convulsive contractions of all the body’s muscles. The body adopts a posture known as opisthotonos, which means the back is arched so that only the back of the head and the heels of the feet touch the floor. Death results from asphyxia, since breathing is impossible during such violent muscular contractions. At death, rigor mortis often occurs very quickly because the muscles are depleted of ATP during these contractions (see Chapter Five: Time of Death, “Rigor Mortis”). Strychnine is rarely used for homicide since its extremely bitter taste makes it difficult to disguise in food. It is occasionally used for suicide, but since it has the deserved reputation for being very painful, this is also rare. 

Mushrooms were discussed earlier (see “Hallucinogenic Drugs”). But those of the psilocybin variety are not nearly as sinister as are the mushrooms of the Amanita family, such as the death cap and death angel mushrooms. These poisonous mushrooms have been implicated in accidental, suicidal, and homicidal deaths. 

The death cap is so toxic that a single mushroom can kill. The two main toxins are amanitin, which causes a drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and phalloidin, which damages the kidneys, liver, and heart. The real treachery of these mushrooms lies in that fact that the symptoms—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain—are slow to onset, typically beginning six to fifteen hours after ingestion, but can be delayed as much as forty-eight hours. In general, the later the onset of symptoms, the worse the chances for survival. This is because the toxins go to work on the liver and other organs almost immediately, but since symptoms are delayed for many hours, the victim doesn’t know to seek medical help until it is very late. At autopsy, the ME finds severe damage to the liver and the toxicologist might find a low level of sugar in the blood, as well as the amantin and phalloidin toxins. 

Ethylene glycol is the major ingredient in many antifreeze solutions. In the body, ethylene glycol breaks down into several compounds, the most important being oxalic acid. When oxalic acid is absorbed into the bloodstream, it reacts with calcium in the blood to form calcium oxalate. This reaction consumes the blood’s calcium, and low levels can cause a cardiac arrest and death. The calcium oxalate is filtered through the kidneys where it can clog up the microscopic tubules and severely damage the kidneys. At autopsy, the ME finds the crystals in the tubules of the kidney. Oxalic acid is also found in raw (not properly cooked) rhubarb, which can lead to accidental poisonings. It is rarely if ever used for suicide or homicide. Ingestion of this plant can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and cause mouth, throat, and esophageal pain and possibly bleeding. In those who die from this plant, the autopsy reveals a burned and irritated mouth, esophagus, and stomach, low blood calcium levels, and calcium oxalate sludge in the kidneys. 

Heavy metals are dangerous metallic elements such as arsenic, mercury, lead, bismuth, antimony, and thallium. Arsenic was the major homicidal poison for hundreds of years but is not frequently used now. One reason is that it works slowly. Even a large dose will take hours to kill someone. And since the death is very painful, the victim will often seek medical help before death and sur- vive. It is occasionally used as a chronic poison. 

The most common arsenical compound used in homicidal poisonings is arsenic trioxide, which is a white powder. A dose of 200 to 300 milligrams is usually lethal. Symptoms begin about thirty minutes after ingestion and include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, a metallic taste in the mouth, and a slight garlicky odor to the breath. Arsenic severely damages the lining of the stomach and intestines and the ME will easily see this at autopsy in those who die. He will also find fatty deposits in the liver, kidneys, and heart. 

Lead poisoning is uncommon and usually occurs in an industrial setting. Occasionally children will peel away and eat wall paint that contains lead. Even though lead has not been a component of interior paints for decades, many older buildings still have layers of old lead-based paint. Lead poisoning can cause anemia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, numbness, and seizures.

Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that is essential for life. It is also synthetically manufactured and is a life-saving treatment for many diabetics. On occasion, diabetics die from an accidental overdose of insulin, but it has also been used for suicide and homicide. In fact, for many years it was considered to be an almost perfect murder weapon. The injection of a large dose dramatically drops the level of sugar in the blood, and since the brain needs a continuous supply of nutrition, death occurs very quickly. And since insulin is normally found in all of us, how could its presence raise suspicion? Now, insulin levels can be determined by radioimmunoassay and if the level at autopsy is found to be very high, the ME searches for a rare insulin-secreting tumor in the pancreas. If he finds no tumor, it is logical to suspect that insulin has been administered by someone else and the ME launches a search for hidden injection sites on the corpse. 

Succinyl choline is an injectable drug that paralyzes every muscle of the body and prevents all movement, even breathing. Death is from asphyxia. It has also been considered a nearly perfect murder weapon. 

After injection, it is very quickly metabolized by the body and leaves behind little evidence of its presence. However, since the 1980s the gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) combination has allowed for detection of the drug’s metabolites. If the ME suspects that this drug has been used, he takes blood samples as well as excises the tissues around any suspected injection sites and sends these materials to the toxicologist. Toxicological testing using GC/MS is directed toward finding metabolites of the drug, which, when found, proves that the drug was at one time present in the victim. This sophisticated testing was a direct result of the Carl Coppolino case. 

To dig deeper into this subject grab a copy of either 

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

 

Two Jake Longly Comedic Thrillers Amazon #1 Bestsellers

Love news like this. Calls for a bit of a celebration.
Two Jake Longly comedic thrillers are Amazon #1 bestsellers.

DEEP SIX
Jake Longly #1, is Amazon #1 American Humor Fiction

http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/deep-six/

 

A-LIST
Jake Longly #2, is Amazon #1 Organized Crime Thriller and #1 Lawyer and Criminal Humor

http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/a-list.html

 

And for a very limited time A-LIST is a BookBub bargain for only $0.99. Grab a copy today.

https://www.bookbub.com/books/a-list-by-d-p-lyle?ebook_deal

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2020 in Writing

 

Dry Ice Can Kill You

OK, we all know that dry ice will keep things cool in your cooler, and even freeze things rock hard. You can also make that cool smoke coming out of a glass of water or maybe a centerpiece for a banquet or some such. Guess what? It can also kill you. 

It seems that at a birthday party in Moscow, they wanted to cool the pool down to take a nice bracing dip. So, they dumped some dry ice in. It cooled the water but also created a cloud over the top. Bet it looked really, well, cool.

The problem is that dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2). That’s the gas your body exhales through the lungs in order to get rid of it. High CO2 levels in the body are deadly. Normal ambient air is about 21% oxygen but contains only 0.04% CO2. So when the cloud of CO2 gas collected over the pool that obviously increased the level of CO2 while decreasing the level of oxygen (O2) by simple replacement. That is, each liter of air above the pool now contained a reduced amount of O2 and a greatly increased level of CO2. As the people breathed this mixture they became weak and dizzy and ultimately lost consciousness simply because they were not getting enough oxygen through their lungs to the bloodstream and ultimately to the brain. Apparently three of them died and many others were close. The take-home message is: don’t do this.

https://www.newser.com/story/287606/dumping-dry-ice-into-pool-kills-3-people-at-moscow-party.html

Lake Nyos

In 1986, a similar thing happened on a much larger scale at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. Some sort of geological event—-there is still controversy over exactly what happened—-created a CO2 cloud that spread across the area, killing over 1700 people. CO2 is heavier than air, so tends to hug the ground and settle in valleys and low areas. That’s what happened here. And at that Russian swimming pool.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Nyos_disaster

 

HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL Re-released and Now Available

 

 

HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL, Dub Walker #2, has been re-released with a new cover. Medallion Press crashed and burned but Suspense Publishing stepped in to revive the first two installments in the Dub Walker series (along with STRESS FRACTURE) 

http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/hot-lights.html

 

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2020 in Writing

 

Up Coming Webinar: Forensic Science: What Writers Need To Know


FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES Info

One week left to sign up for “Forensic Science: What Writers Need To Know”
Join me Tuesday, February 25, 2020, 4 pm Pacific for this SISTERS IN CRIME WEBINAR

Topics to be covered include:

What is evidence and how is it used?
The ME’s 3 Questions: What is the Time, Cause, and Manner of Death?
Forensic Toxicology: The How, Where, and How Much
What’s new with DNA?

And more.

Bring your questions and join us.

Info/Registration: https://www.sistersincrime.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1322890

 

HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS Info

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2020 in Writing

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #33: Toxicology Part 2

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-33-toxicology-part-2

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS

TOXICOLOGICAL TESTING PROCEDURES 

The biggest problem facing the toxicologist is that there are literally thousands of drugs and chemicals that are harmful, addictive, or lethal if ingested, injected, or inhaled. Some even absorb directly through the skin. Toxicological testing is time-consuming and expensive, and few, if any, labs can afford to perform such testing on every case. For this reason, the testing must be as focused as possible. 

An understanding of the circumstances surrounding the death is important since clues at the scene often point toward a particular drug. For example, a young girl found on her bed at home with an empty pill bottle at her side would lead to one avenue of testing while a long-term addict found in an alley with fresh needle marks would follow another path. The more clues as to the likely toxin that the circumstances of the death can supply, the narrower the field of possibilities the toxicologist must consider. 

THE TWO-TIERED SYSTEM 

When testing for drugs or poisons, the toxicologist typically follows a two-tiered approach. Initial tests, called presumptive tests, are for screening purposes and are typically easier and cheaper to perform. When negative, they indicate that the drug or class of drugs in question is not present and further testing is unnecessary. When positive, they indicate that a particular substance possibly is present. By using these screening tests the number of possibilities can be greatly reduced and the toxicologist can move on to the second phase, which utilizes more focused confirmatory testing. These tests are more expensive and time-consuming but are designed to establish the identity of the exact drug present. This two-tiered approach saves considerable time and money. 

This same approach is used whether the toxicologist is asked to analyze blood, urine, and other materials obtained from a person (living or deceased) or to test a batch of seized material believed to be illicit drugs. 

Let’s say a corpse is found in an alleyway known for methamphetamine sales and use. If blood samples obtained at autopsy show a positive presumptive test for amphetamines, further confirmatory testing to identify the exact amphetamine present is indicated. If the test is negative, no further testing for amphetamines is done and the toxicologist will search for other classes of drugs. 

To be doubly certain, the toxicologist prefers to find the drug or poison in at least two separate locations. Finding the toxin in the blood and the liver tissue is more reassuring than finding it in either one alone. 

Or let’s say that the toxicologist is asked to test a seized substance and doing so shows a positive presumptive test for cocaine. Further confirmatory testing would then be indicated. If the screening test is negative, the substance may be analyzed for other drugs, but cocaine has been ruled out. 

In most labs, testing for controlled and illegal drugs consumes 75 percent of the lab’s time and resources. The areas most often tested in this type of examination are blood and urine. After one of the presumptive tests shows that a particular drug or class of drugs is likely present, confirmatory testing with the combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC-MS) or infrared spectroscopy are used to accurately identify which substance is present. See the appendix for details on these procedures. 

Presumptive Tests 

Presumptive testing comes in many varieties. Common toxicological screening tests are color tests, immunoassays, thin layer chromatography, and ultraviolet spectroscopy. 

Color Tests 

Tests in which a reagent (any active chemical solution) is added to blood, urine, or tissue extractions, and if the particular chemical tested for is present, a color change reaction will occur. The color change results from a chemical reaction between the drug and the reagent, which produces a new compound that imparts a specific color to the mixture. These tests are cheap, easy, and quick, and can determine if a specific chemical or class of chemicals are present in the material tested. If it does not indicate that the toxin is present, further testing is not necessary.

There are a wide variety of color tests that reveal the presence of many types of drugs. Some of the most common are: 

TRINDER’S TEST: This reagent, containing ferric nitrate and mercuric chloride, turns violet in the presence of salicylates (aspirin and similar compounds). 

MARQUIS TEST: This reagent contains formaldehyde and sulfuric acid and turns purple in the presence of morphine, heroin, and most opiates, and brownish orange if mixed with amphetamines or methamphetamines. 

VAN URK TEST: This is a test for LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. The reagent is a mixture of dimethylaminobenzaldehyde, hydrochloric acid (HCl), and ethanol. It turns purple to indicate a positive reaction. 

DILLIE-KOPPANYI TEST: In this test, the sample is treated with cobalt acetate in methanol and then with isopropylamine in methanol. It turns violet-blue if barbiturates are present. 

DUQUENOIS-LEVINE TEST: This three-step test determines if marijuana or other cannabinoids are present. The sample is treated with a mixture of vanillin and acetaldehyde in ethanol, then with HCl, and finally with chloroform. A deep purple color is a positive result. 

SCOTT TEST: This is also a three-step test that uses a mixture of cobalt thiocyanate and glycerine, followed by HCl, and then chloroform. Cocaine turns blue after the thiocyanate is added, changes to pink with the HCl, and then blue once again when chloroform is added. 

Other Screening Tests 

IMMUNOASSAY: Immunoassays, which measure the concentration of a drug in a liquid (see the appendix), are easy, very sensitive, and useful for rapidly screening urine samples for certain drugs. However, the manufactured antibodies can also react with compounds that are very similar to the sought-after drug, a lack of specificity that makes this a presumptive test rather than a confirmatory one. 

THIN LAYER CHROMATOGRAPHY (TLC): TLC (see the appendix) not only tentatively identifies many chemicals, but is also useful for separating the components of a sample. Once TLC has tentatively identified a substance, its identity is confirmed with mass spectrometry. 

GAS CHROMATOGRAPHY (GC): As with TLC, GC’s (see the appendix) primary use is in making a presumptive identification and separating various compounds from one another. A positive result is confirmed by using mass spectrometry. 

ULTRAVIOLET (UV) SPECTROSCOPY: This test takes advantage of the fact that different chemicals absorb UV light in varying amounts (see the appendix). Since it can’t identify the exact compound, it is only useful for screening

. 

A Typical Screening Protocol 

Each lab has its own protocol for drug screening. What tests are used and in what order they are performed depends on the available staff and equipment, budgetary restrictions, and the bias of the toxicologist in charge. But most labs have certain standard screens they employ when first confronted with an unknown sample. These basic screens might include:

ALCOHOL SCREEN: GC is used to isolate and identify the various alcohols and related compounds such as acetone. 

ACID SCREEN: Immunoassay of urine samples is used to detect acidic compounds such as barbiturates and aspirin. 

ALKALI SCREEN: GC screens for substances that dissolve in alkaline solutions. These substances include many tranquilizers, synthetic narcotics, and antidepressants. 

NARCOTIC SCREEN: Urine immunoassay reveals opiates, cocaine, and methadone. 

By using these general screening procedures, the toxicologist can quickly exclude many commonly encountered drugs and narrow his area of search for those that are present. Based on these results, further screening and confirmatory tests are used to ultimately identify any unknown substance. 

Confirmatory Tests 

A good confirmatory test must possess sensitivity and specificity in that it must recognize the chemical in question (sensitivity) and be able to identify it to the exclusion of all others (specificity). This means that once a chemical has undergone a screening test and a presumptive identity has been established, a confirmatory test will accurately determine the true identity of the unknown substance. 

The most important confirmatory test used by the toxicologist is mass spectrometry (MS) (see the appendix). In MS, the sample is bombarded with electrons, which fragment the chemical into ionic fractions. This fragmentation pattern is called a mass spectrum. It is different for each element and compound. This means that it gives a chemical fingerprint of the chemical being tested and can identify virtually any compound. When the mass spectrum of an unknown substance is compared to known reference standards, the identity of the unknown sample comes to light. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) maintains a database of the mass spectra of known chemicals. 

In the forensic toxicology laboratory, MS is usually employed in combination with gas chromatography (GC). This combination is called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). In GC/MS, gas chromatography is used to separate the test sample into components and MS is employed to identify each component. The GC/MS is as close to being foolproof as any technique available. 

Though used less often than MS, infrared spectroscopy (IR) can also determine the chemical fingerprint of the tested substance (see the appendix). Instead of electrons, the substance is exposed to infrared light. When any light strikes an object or substance, it is transmitted (passed through), absorbed, or reflected. When exposed to infrared light, each compound transmits and absorbs the light in its own unique pattern. These unique patterns determine which compounds are present, and thus identify the chemical substance tested. This test is also used in conjunction with GC. This combination is termed GC/IR. 

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS

After testing has revealed the presence and concentration of a chemical substance, the hard part begins. The toxicologist must now assess what the results mean. He evaluates each of the drugs present with an eye toward the route the drug was administered and whether the concentrations played a role in the subject’s behavior or death.

Route of Entry 

The route of entry of the toxin is very important since it might provide a clue as to whether the victim self-administered the drug or someone else administered the drug. For example, if a drug was injected and the victim possessed no means to do so or if the injection site was in an area that made self-administration unlikely, homicide might be a stronger consideration. 

Another important fact is that the concentration of the toxin is usually greatest at the administration site. Ingested toxins are more likely to be found in the stomach, intestines, or liver, while inhaled gases will be concentrated in the lungs. If injected, the drug can often be isolated from the tissues around the injection site. Drugs taken intravenously bypass the stomach and liver, directly enter the bloodstream, and are quickly distributed throughout the body. In this circumstance, the toxicologist may find high concentrations of the drug in the blood and in multiple tissues of the body, but little or none in the stomach and liver as would be seen with ingestion. This will help him determine the route of intake. 

Drug Blood Level 

Earlier we discussed the concept of bioavailability and how the level of a drug in the blood closely correlates with the drug’s actions and toxicity. This means that finding a large amount of a toxin in the victim’s stomach does not necessarily mean that the drug was the cause of death. The important fact is that drugs in the stomach will not kill. They must first be absorbed into the blood and distributed to the body. 

For example, if the toxicologist found a large amount of a tranquilizers in a victim’s stomach, particularly if most of the pills were intact and had not been digested, and also found a low blood concentration of the drug, he would likely conclude that the pills were taken shortly before death and played little or no role in the victim’s demise. 

There are exceptions. In cases of caustic acid and alkali (lye or caustic soda) ingestion, the blood levels are not important since these chemicals cause direct contact damage and do not need to be absorbed into the body to do harm (discussed later in this chapter). 

Still, in most situations, blood levels are important because they correlate more strongly with the effects of the chemical in question. When the toxicologist determines a blood level of a certain chemical, he might assign it to one of four broad categories: 

NORMAL: This would be the level expected in the general population under normal circumstances. An example would be low levels of cyanide. Even though this is a deadly poison, it is found in the environment, and therefore most people have low normal levels of cyanide in their blood. Smokers have even higher levels, but this would still be considered normal. 

THERAPEUTIC: This is the level that your doctor strives for. If he gives you an antibiotic or a medication for high blood pressure, he wants to accomplish a blood level of the drug that will bring about a therapeutic effect. Patients with certain cardiac problems may be placed on digitalis. The doctor will periodically draw a blood test to check the therapeutic level of the drug. The reason he does this is that too little will offer less benefit to the patient and too much can cause severe problems since digitalis is potentially a deadly poison. 

TOXIC: A toxic level is one that may cause harm or death. When a prescribed drug passes the therapeutic level and reaches the toxic level it has moved from being a medication to being a poison. Using the example of digitalis, a toxic level might lead to nausea, vomiting, and a yellowish tinge to the person’s vision. Or it may cause a deadly change in the rhythm of the heart. These would be toxic effects. 

LETHAL: This is the level at which the drug in question would consistently cause death. In toxicology we use the term LD50 to measure a chemical’s lethal potential. The LD50 of a drug is the blood concentration at which 50 percent of people would die. 

From this, you might assume that the toxicologist simply has to determine the blood level of any toxin and then he can determine if the level was toxic or lethal. Though that may seem logical, it is far from the truth. 

Each person reacts to chemicals and toxins differently. Much of this variance can be related to age, sex, body size and weight, genetics, and nutritional and health status. An individual who is young, robust, and healthy should tolerate more of a given drug than would someone who was old, thin, and sickly. And in general, that is true. As mentioned earlier, a person’s habits also affect how he will react. The toxicologist must consider these facts when assessing whether a given level of a drug is toxic or lethal, or whether it contributed to the subject’s behavior or death. 

Acute vs. Chronic Poisoning 

At times the toxicologist is asked to determine whether a poisoning is acute or chronic. A good example is arsenic, which can kill if given in a single large dose or if given in repeated smaller doses over weeks or months. In either case, the blood level could be high. But the determination of whether the poisoning was acute or chronic may be extremely important. If acute, the suspect list may belong. If chronic, the suspect list would include only those who had long-term contact with the victim, such as a family member, a caretaker, or a family cook. 

So, how does the toxicologist make this determination? 

In acute arsenic poisoning, the ME would expect to find high levels of arsenic in the stomach and the blood, as well as evidence of corrosion and bleeding in the stomach and intestines, as these are commonly seen in acute arsenic ingestion. If he found little or no arsenic in the stomach and no evidence of acute injury in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but high arsenic levels in the blood and tissues, he might suspect that the poisoning was chronic in nature. Here, an analysis of the victim’s hair can be invaluable. 

Hair analysis for arsenic (and several other toxins) can reveal exposure to arsenic and also give a timeline of the exposure. The reason this is possible is that arsenic is deposited in the cells of the hair follicles in proportion to the blood level of the arsenic at the time the cell was produced. 

In hair growth, the cells of the hair’s follicle undergo change, lose their nuclei, and are incorporated into the growing hair shaft. New follicular cells are produced to replace them and this cycle continues throughout life. Follicular cells produced while the blood levels of arsenic are high contain the poison, and as they are incorporated into the hair shaft the arsenic is, too. On the other hand, any follicular cells that appeared while the arsenic levels were low contain little or no arsenic. 

In general, hair grows about a half-inch per month. This means that the toxicologist can cut the hair into short segments, measure the arsenic level in each, and reveal a timeline for arsenic exposure in the victim. 

Let’s suppose that a wife, who prepares all the family meals, slowly poisoned her husband with arsenic. She began by adding small amounts of the poison to his food in February and continued until his death in July. In May he was hospitalized with gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, vomiting, and weight loss (all symptoms of arsenic poisoning). No diagnosis was made, but since he was doing better after ten days in the hospital, he was sent home. Such a circumstance is not unusual since these types of gastrointestinal symptoms are common and arsenic poisoning is rare. Physicians rarely think of it and test for it. After returning home, the unfortunate husband once again fell ill and finally died. 

As part of the autopsy procedure, the toxicologist might test the victim’s hair for toxins, and if he did, he would find the arsenic. He could then section and test the hair to determine the arsenic level essentially month by month. If the victim’s hair was three inches long, the half-inch closest to the scalp would represent July, the next half inch June, the next May, and so on until the last half inch would reflect his exposure to arsenic in February, the month his poisoning began. Arsenic levels are ex-
pressed in parts per million (ppm).

The toxicologist would look at this timeline of exposure and likely determine that the exposure occurred in the victim’s home. The police would then have a few questions for the wife and would likely obtain a search warrant to look for arsenic within the home. 

To dig deeper into this subject grab a copy of either 

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

or 

HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

STRESS FRACTURE To Be Re-released

 

STRESS FRACTURE, Dub Walker #1, will soon be re-released with a new cover. Medallion went belly up but Suspense Publishing stepped in to revive this the first Dub Walker thriller.

Details will be coming soon. http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/stress-fracture.html

 

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2020 in Writing

 

The Date Rape Drugs Are Still Alive

The Date Rape Drugs Are Still Alive

Though you might not have heard much about them lately, the so-called Date Rape Drugs are still around. Make no mistake about that. Many years ago they were in the news all the time. A woman sitting in a bar or a kid at a rave would have something added to their drink and hours later they would wake up in a strange place with a strange person. That’s the danger of these types of drugs. They make the victim very compliant, highly suggestible, and erase any memory for the events that occurred while under the influence of the drug.

Robert Koester

A recent case involving Robert Koester underlines the fact that these drugs are still a problem. I don’t believe it’s been determined what drug he used but allegedly over the past 25 years he has drugged and assaulted many young models. Apparently, he’s a photographer of sorts. I suspect that his most recent victims will have been given GHB because it’s commonly available. Rohypnol, another possibility, is harder to come by these days but is still out there.

http://www.newser.com/story/270990/photographer-accused-of-drugging-molesting-underage-models.html

https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/robert-koester-model-photographer-accused-assault-abuse-misconduct-sexual-minor-plea-guilty-561451771.html

 

 

Andrew Luster

This case echoes the famous Andrew Luster case. You might remember he was the heir to the Max Factor fortune and was accused of drugging and assaulting many young women. He ultimately was sentenced to 124 years in jail but failed to show up for his sentencing hearing—Gee, I wonder why?—and fled to Mexico. Dog the Bounty Hunter tracked him down and returned him to the US for incarceration.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Luster

 

 

 

There have been numerous similar cases in the past. People like Joseph Rivera, the team of Michael Hagemann and Danny Bohannon, and many others.

http://articles.latimes.com/1997/jul/04/local/me-9736

Here is an article I wrote on these drugs:

http://www.dplylemd.com/articles/date-rape-drugs.html

I have blogged about this issue and some of these cases on previous occasions:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/joseph-rivera-the-new-andrew-luster/

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/date-rape-drugs-stealthy-and-dangerous/

In a recent podcast on Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction, I discussed how one fictional character can subdue and control another character by employing various means, including these types of drugs:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/criminal-mischief-episode-05-making-characters-compliant/

 
 
 
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