Analyzing Crime Scene Characteristics

crime-scene-picCrime scene characteristics are extremely important to all criminal investigations, especially homicides and all serial crimes.  After the forensic analysis of the physical evidence found at the crime scene is completed and the victimology is established, then the task of determining the specific characteristics of the crime scene begins.

This is the most interesting part of the investigative process of finding out who committed the crime and why.  It definitely piques my interest and it is one of the main reasons that I studied criminology.  I find it fascinating what makes people tick and why they chose to commit a crime in a specific way.

What were they thinking? 

What drove them?

Did they actually think they could get away with it? 

Why do they pick certain weapons or points of entry? 

Did they have other choices?

outdoorcrimesceneCrime scene characteristics are the overall distinguishing features of the crime scene left by the offender’s behavioral decisions toward the victim and the actual crime location.  It’s important to remember that every criminal offender leaves behind a crime scene that is distinct in its own way from all the others based on environmental influences, victim-offender interaction, and physical evidence left at the scene.

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Based on Edmond Locard’s Exchange Principle:

“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value. ”

—Paul L. Kirk. 1953. Crime investigation: physical evidence and the police laboratory. Interscience Publishers, Inc.: New York.

All objects in the universe are unique.  No two things that happen by chance ever happen in exactly the same way.  No two things are ever constructed or manufactured in exactly the same way.  No two things wear in exactly the same way.  No two things ever break in exactly the same way.”

This is a simple key observation for approaching a crime scene expressed by authors, Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer.  This is perhaps one of my favorite quotes.

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Important crime scene characteristics examined by investigators or profilers:

Location Type (indoor, outdoor, vehicle, or underwater)

Point of Contact (primary, secondary intermediate, and dumpsite)

Location of Scene

Method of Approach (surprise, con, blitz)

Method of Attack

Use of Force

Method of Control (control oriented, verbal threat, controlling, sexual, lethal)

Weapons

Victim Resistance

Victim Compliance

SherlockHolmesAll of these important aspects listed of the crime scene are evaluated and are generally reflective of the person(s) responsible for the crime.  In combination, the physical evidence, victimology, and the actual crime scene characteristics work together to unravel the investigative puzzle to begin to create the criminal profile and to catch those who are responsible.

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Research and Writing Tip:

If you are writing a detective story or police procedural, take some time to think about your crime scenes. How are you going to write them? How is the protagonist or the killer going to approach them? What are the key pieces of evidence they are going to discover? How are you going to piece it all together for the reader? Try sketching out the crime scene on a piece of paper first.  Good luck!

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BEST THRILLERS REVIEW: Mystery Fans Looking for the Next Tana French

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Book Review: Dark Pursuit, an Action Thriller by Jennifer Chase

By Bella Wright for Best Thrillers

The Bottom Line: Mystery fans looking for the next Tana French will find new thrills in Jennifer Chase’s EMILY STONE SERIES.

Can a notorious serial killer be stopped before his next victim is executed?

That’s the challenge facing detective Emily Stone, the heroine of author Jennifer Chase’s eponymously named series. Emily hunts down serial killers for a living, but she’s never seen a case quite like the one portrayed in Dark Pursuit.

Her adversary has become known in local media as the Tick-Tock Killer, so named for his four-day kill cycle. Emily, who is an expert profiler, is searching for a narcissist who loves the notoriety that his work has brought him. The victims are young girls between six and twelve years old. They are smart and popular, from good families, with above average intelligence. While the killer has a consistent profile, the way he disposes of the bodies is another matter. According to Emily’s theory, he working on a rating system, which lower-ranked girls dumped in a grave, and higher-ranked girls are put on display.

Chase’s writing is particularly good when her heroine is making deductions based on new data that factors into the killer’s profile.

The Tick-Tock Killer isn’t Emily’s only challenge. She also faces gender discrimination from a powerful deputy won’t hesitate to use violence to push Emily out of her profession. Fortunately, Emily’s partner and lover, retired police officer Rick Lopez, has her back.

Dark Pursuit races right out of the gate (with an chill-inducing pursuit on a creepy dark road) and never lets up until the final play is made. Thankfully for Chase’s new fans, readers can jump into Dark Pursuit even if they haven’t yet read previous books in the series.

So what are you waiting for? Tick-tock…

Amazon US

Amazon UK

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Meet Emily Stone:

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Modern Forensics: A Criminal’s Worst Nightmare

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Photo courtesy of kuulapaa.com

Cutting-edge technological innovations in the field of forensic science has always been spurred by criminals and their insatiable pursuit of the perfect crime. Here are a few modern forensic advances that strike fear in the hearts of those nefarious characters who walk amongst us.

Ballistics: High-Speed Photography

The precise and skillful investigation of a crime scene is a crucial first step towards unlocking the mystery surrounding a crime. Modern advances in high-speed photography have led to the development of ballistic investigations that literally slow down time.

Now, investigators can see (to a microsecond precision) the trajectory and velocity of projectiles such as bullets, glass and debris. The high-speed photography provides ballistics specialists with an opportunity to pinpoint and match contact marks and exit wounds. The result of this technology has led to more efficient, informed and productive crime scene investigations.

Digital Surveillance: X-Box

The ever increasing popularity of smartphones and gaming consoles has opened the door for criminals looking for covert locations to store their illicit data, such as photos, audio and video files. Specifically, game consoles have been used as place to store incriminating data because of the knowledge that law enforcement will generally focus on the home’s desktop or laptop computers, as opposed to their seemingly innocuous X-Box machine.

Because of the different nature in which X-Box’s are designed, the identity and extraction of data, for forensic investigators, is more challenging than with a personal computer. In response to this issue, computer scientist David Collins has designed a utility that enables investigators to extract an image of the data from an X-Box, which subsequently allows them to explore the directory structure of the hardware.

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Photo courtesy of itsgov.com

Bodies, Chemicals and Blood Spatter

There are many more exciting advances in forensic science technology, including a new device that detects chemicals released by decomposing bodies. This is highly useful in missing persons cases. In the Pacific Northwest, a chemist is mastering a technique which detects the source of impurities in a certain chemical. This technique will hopefully lead to more arrests from terrorist attacks.

A couple of physicists recently came up with a mathematical equation that analyzes how droplets from blood spatter falls off ceilings and walls. This will aid investigators in better determining what specifically happened during the criminal attack.

Whenever criminals find a new method to aid them in their illicit behavior, forensic science is usually right there with a potent response. What are some ideas or techniques that you would like to see in the future?

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In Search of the Cadaver in My Garden

uglyflower (2)What you are about to read is a true account of an actual event.  The names have not been changed because no one will care.

First, let me start at the beginning, and don’t worry it won’t take long.  I moved to the country a few years ago.  It’s lovely with wide-open spaces, room to breathe, tons of trees, and wildlife.  Many times when I wake up in the morning I think that I’m at a vacation house instead of my own home.  Also, I can jump in my car and drive ten to fifteen minutes and I’m on the beach.  It’s the best of both worlds.  It’s a perfect place for a writer to work.

My academic and consulting background is in forensics and criminology.  Basically, I study crime and criminals.  I love to blog about all kinds of things pertaining to these fields.  I don’t know about you, but I seem to gravitate toward any new information about thrillers, crime, criminals, and serial killers.  I hope you are enjoying my blog.

I would like to think of myself as being aware of what’s going on around me.  I pay attention to who is near me either at home or out in the community.  I’m a detail oriented person who has a lot of curiosity thrown in for good measure.  So you can imagine my surprise when I was taking a break from writing one afternoon from writing and I smelled… well… something dead.  There was absolutely NO mistaking that smell.  Unlike what was reported from murder trials – you know the smell of death. You might think since I live out in the country it’s most likely a dead animal, like a pack rat, squirrel, or even (heaven forbid) a neighbor’s cat.

Right?

Wrong.

Or should I say dead wrong.

I smelled this dreadful “odor” for a couple of days.  I looked around in my flowerbeds and around some potted plants, to no avail.  I decided to ask my husband if he’d smelled the “dead” smell.  Maybe he had some insight?

“Honey”, I said.  “It smells like something’s dead in the front yard.”

He agreed with me.  “I smelled it too.  You mean you haven’t found it yet?”  He said with a cynical smile, knowing how much it irked me not being able to find its source.

I told him that I was going to hunt it down no matter what.  The temperature was rising and it was going to soon ratchet up to all time stinkfest.

I began at my front door and used my nose.  I wasn’t going to quit until I found the source of the smell.  I felt like I was Emily Stone in one of my novels hunting down a serial killer.

I was on a mission.

The stink kept getting stronger and stronger.  I knew I was close… So I followed my nose so to speak…

The smell was the strongest at a particular area.  I searched, but there was nothing there.

It was very curious indeed.

I just had to know where that horrific smell was coming from.  Now it was personal.  I was going to stay outside until I found the little decomposing critter.

Then it hit me…

I turned and looked under a large bottlebrush bush and there it was!  It was… one of the most striking and amazing looking lily I had ever seen.  The plant was three feet tall with a deep magenta bloom, which was at least twelve inches long.

I remembered something a gardening neighbor told me about this plant.  It actually SMELLS just like ROTTING FLESH!  Yes, you read correctly – rotting and decomposing flesh.  I cannot imagine anyone planting this plant in their garden or even near their house.  It is called appropriately by many street names: stink lily, voodoo lily, cadaver lily, dragon lily and so on.  Its official name is Dracunculus vulgaris.  The photo posted above is the actual culprit or victim in my garden.

I finally found the cadaver in my garden.

Case solved!

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You can follow a real serial killer hunter searching for the victim.  If you have not checked out this live-action 5 minute thriller yet, you might want to…

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Books: Compulsion  Dead Game  Dark Mind Dead Burn Dark Pursuit Silent Partner  Screenwriting
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Would You Take a Shortcut on the Dark and Deserted Road? #Horror #Free

FirstWatch_cov_ebookSummer is a great time to catch up on reading, whether it’s a full-length novel or a short story. If you’re looking for a quick horror read, try FIRST WATCH.  It’s FREE today and through the weekend!  PLUS, a bonus of the first three chapters of DARK MIND.

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What started as a routine traffic stop on a deserted country road, turned into a terrifying battle of life and death. Could all the horror stories be true?

The chase is on… in FIRST WATCH

“Fright of the night.”

“Gives a whole new meaning to protect and to serve.”

” It was definitely a worthwhile read for fans of horror.”

Available at:

Amazon US

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My First Character Profiles

Toys_scriptwriting“If we experienced life through the eyes of a child everything would be magical and extraordinary. Let our curiosity, adventure, and wonder of life never end.”              ~Akiane Kramarik

Many times I have been asked when I first began writing and at what point did I want to become a writer. As a child, we have many hopes and dreams. And sometimes, these dreams do come true, but maybe not exactly as we had envisioned.

I have loved books for as long as I can remember.  I would spent weekly visits at the library and would borrow as many books as my little arms could carry. Stories about animals were my favorite. It was no secret, but I was a child of the dreaded “flashcards” phenomenon, which meant that I could read and add and subtract equations before I attended the first grade.

I was about four-years-old when I devised a new slant for my tea table guests. You see, I did not like to play with dolls, but rather I would play with my stuffed animal menagerie. Imagine if you will, that I would arrange my animals from my favorite bears, dogs and wild cats around the table. I did not stop at that – I took tiny pieces of paper and wrote simple lines for each character. It was perhaps simple chitchat or a silly comment. I guess that was my first rough draft of a screenplay!

I guess the moral to the story is that you never know when or how you will become a writer, author, and yes, even a criminologist when you are young. The tricks is to stay young at heart and always see through the eyes of a child.

Would love to hear your comments on how you see the world and writing as a child.

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Research and Writing Tip:

The next time you are outlining a new storyline, try to imagine what your characters would say to each other if they were sitting around a table. It does not have to be a child’s teatime table of course; it could be a boardroom table or a quiet corner table in a restaurant. Then turn the tables and imagine your characters as children. What would they say or do? What would their mannerisms be? Would any of them get up and leave. It is a great way to begin to profile your characters. You’ll be amazed by the growth and depth that will emerge from your characters.

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Corruption and Incompetence: Crime Labs Gone Bad

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Photo courtesy of corruptionblogdotnet.wordpress.com

The American justice system is designed to not only keep us safe from criminals, but also – to protect us from the potential intrusions of the state.

So, when we hear stories of systematic corruption and incompetence in state mandated forensic labs, it should cause all of us to stop and ask this one vital question. Who can we trust?

Although state-level corruption is nothing new, over the past decade or so, there has been an increased awareness of crime lab corruption and incompetence.

Due to the recent advances in forensic science, it is now easier to determine the supposed guilt of someone. But, it is also easier to determine if a particular lab was erroneous in its findings, and whether such error was simple negligence, or whether it rose to the level of criminal fraud.

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Image courtesy of: artinliverpool.com

Recently, there has been a slew of cases involving serious crimes committed by seemingly highly-regarded lab technicians. Here are just a few examples of this widespread epidemic of corruption.

  • In St. Paul, Minnesota, the crime lab recently underwent an independent review, at which time it was determined that there were major errors in almost every area of their work. Between filthy equipment, faulty techniques, and lack of knowledge of basic science, the lab had an abysmal record of extremely deficient work. In fact, it was discovered that the lab technicians were sometimes using Wikipedia as a ‘technical guide’ and they would often store crime scene photos on a computer that was not password protected.
  • In Massachusetts, thousands of drug convictions that led to imprisonment of thousands of people have been called into question. Why? Because a crime lab chemist admitted to faking tens of thousands of drug cases. Fortunately for the state’s residents, the chemist is now behind bars.
  • And, finally. In North Carolina, it was discovered that crime lab agents either withheld exculpatory evidence or distorted evidence in over 230 cases. This reprehensible behavior occurred over a whopping 16-year time period. The most horrific aspect of this travesty is that – three of the corrupted cases resulted in execution.

Based on these examples and numerous others, it is clear that our current system needs an overhaul. One of the main criticisms of the current state of public crime labs is lack of neutrality. These labs are intended to analyze evidence in an un-bias manner. However, even if there is no intentional corruption, there is often a cognitive bias that leads to skewed findings.

There is clearly a dire need for drastic improvement in the way these labs conduct their work. What’s your thoughts on a solution?

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