FACT or FICTION: Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation Portrayed in Entertainment

crime-scene-pic(article originally posted on CrimeFictionBook.com 11/19/2015)

If you’re not already reading crime writer/criminologist Jennifer Chase’s blog and Emily Stone series of novels, you’re missing out. In addition to those great reads, Chase cranks out posts on her website worthy of a college course in criminal justice. I’m privileged to host another fantastic post from her here. Enjoy!



Thank you Ben Sobieck for hosting my article on your blog!  Every writer and researcher should check out The Writer’s Guide to Weapons – A MUST READ!



FACT or FICTION: Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation Portrayed in Entertainment

by Jennifer Chase, B.A., M.A.

Who can miss the abundance of crime shows depicted on television these days? Just about every television network has some type of series that is designated to finding a bad guy through careful investigation, forensic applications, exceptionally astute investigators, and criminal profiling. Although entertaining, I will admit, it still leaves me with a bit of a sour note.

Even though most shows are purely fictional or based loosely on actual events, it still gives the viewer an unrealistic view of what can and cannot be done in the forensic world of investigation. If you think that this is no big deal – think again. Everything we watch and cognitively experience from television shows and movies can skew our assessment and understanding of forensic science. These exaggerated events and forensic procedures can be easily taken as fact because they are engaging and realistic to watch.

This phenomenon is called the CSI effect. It can affect our opinions and perceptions about law enforcement, criminal investigations, jury trials, and crime. Some reality roadblocks definitely put a damper on what we see in entertainment portrayals of forensic techniques and crime scene investigations.

Technology & Budget

Technology is changing and evolving at a rapid rate, which contributes to new technology for forensic science. Fact or Fiction?


All police departments in the United States have the budget and state of the art technology to perform all types of forensic tests to investigate and solve crimes. Fact or Fiction?


Criminal Justice TechnologyAlthough there are police departments that have specialized forensic divisions, it is not the standard. Many departments are understaffed and lack the budget to have up to date forensic equipment. All of the cool crime fighting gadgets of high-tech computers, scanning electron microscopes, crime scene vehicles, various chemicals, and many other things to properly stock an efficient crime lab remains the minority.

To make matters more complicated, law enforcement officers often receive inquiries and demands about investigations that stem from unrealistic portrayals from popular television shows.

The need for forensic answers sometimes becomes the forgotten evidence. For example, there are numerous police departments across the U.S. that have thousands of unprocessed rape kits, which nationwide has been estimated to be approximately 400,000. The massive implications of this lack of testing are staggering compared to what we see on fictional TV programs.

Accuracy & Speed

The evolution of DNA testing has accurately exonerated wrongfully accused – many individuals serving life sentences have been released from prison. Fact or Fiction?


DNA testing is a relatively simple testing process that can be performed in a matter of minutes or an hour by a standard forensic technician. Fact or Fiction?


DNA evidence can be screened, extracted, prepped, amplified, analyzed, interpreted, and reviewed within a day or two in a perfect world, and if there was only one assigned job for the lab. It still is not the speedy hour comparison shown on a few popular TV shows. However, due to backlogs, lack of personnel, and not enough equipment, it can take a forensic lab one to two months to process DNA evidence. There are many cases across the U.S. where DNA testing has taken six months or more. In all fairness, testing for such things as paternity can take a relatively short period for the results.

Think about all of the biological evidence (semen, blood, saliva, skin, sweat, etc.) all combined at every type of crime scene that is collected during the investigation. That is a massive amount of evidence transferred to any crime lab. Crime evidence continues to pile up every single day.

Training & Personnel

Crime scene technicians and crime lab personnel have college degrees in forensic science, chemistry, or biological science, and often times a minor degree in psychology or criminal justice. Fact or Fiction?


Crime scene technicians often perform other duties during the criminal investigation, such as assisting the detectives or district attorneys with interviewing suspects, revisiting the crime scene looking for more evidence, or creating a criminal profile. Fact or Fiction?


Forensic technicians are hired to perform a specific forensic duty and sometimes there are combinations of work depending upon the size of the department, such as fingerprint comparison, photography, collection, DNA, toxicology, etc. These key forensic technicians do not take on or perform detective or attorney responsibilities – ever. Finding qualified individuals is generally not the problem for most police departments and forensic labs; once again, it is the budget and lack of funding that is the major setback.

This does not mean that you cannot enjoy a television show, movie, or book that is involved in forensics or crime scene investigation, which pushes the realm of forensic reality with artistic license. Quite the contrary, most movies and television shows are fun and entertaining. It just means that some, if not most things, portrayed in entertainment may not what it appears to be, so view it with some deductive skepticism and reasoning.

About the Author

Dark Pursuit Crime Novel Jennifer ChaseJennifer Chase is an international award-winning author, screenwriter, and consulting criminologist.  She has authored six crime fiction novels, including the award-winning Emily Stone thriller series along with a screenwriting workbook. She holds a Bachelor degree in Police Forensics and a Master’s degree in Criminology & Criminal Justice.  These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent sociopath, which provided Jennifer with a deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling.  She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists.

For more information about Jennifer Chase’s books, forensic articles, and upcoming events, please visit: www.authorjenniferchase.com

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The Elusive Criminal: Unsolved Horrific Crimes


Photo courtesy of wkyt.com.

Every great detective has a catalogue of solved crimes. Moments that made them proud to be cops. But, for most, the cases that are burned into their psyches, are the unsolved ones.

These unsolved crimes not only haunt the dedicated detectives who sought justice, but they also disturb us. The everyday law-abiding citizens who have faith that criminals will be punished for their dastardly deeds.

While many horrific crimes are brought to a just resolution, here’s a few examples of despicable perps that were never brought to justice.

The Axe Man

Terrorizing the streets of New Orleans, this axe wielding killer was dubbed the “boogeyman.” Beginning in 1918, and lasting for almost 2 years, the killer’s deplorable axe wielding crime spree started when he butchered a local grocer and his wife. When the police arrived at the scene, all they found was a blood soaked axe, and a nonsensical, cryptic message written in chalk.

Using axes found in the victims’ homes, the boogeyman went on to murder 8 more people before vanishing into thin air. The crimes stopped. And no one was ever arrested.

The Sierra Nevada Murders

In the early 1980s, in a seemingly quaint community nestled deep with Northern California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, a hauntingly disturbing crime occurred – three people were slaughtered in their cabin. A mother, her son and his friend were brutally beaten and killed with a claw hammer.

Shockingly, though, the woman’s two younger sons and their friend (who were in the adjoining room) went unharmed. Adding to the bizarre crime was the fact that the woman’s oldest daughter remain unscathed in the neighboring cabin. The oddities do not end there. The woman’s 12 year old daughter went missing, and her skull was eventually recovered 3 years later. No one was ever convicted of these crimes.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com.

Jack the Stripper

Yes, that’s right. Jack the Stripper. Not the Ripper. Commonly known as the Hammersmith nude cases, the Stripper was known for targeting prostitutes.

From 1964-1965, the killer terrorized London’s prostitutes, and murdered 8 of them. The Stripper would strip his victims naked, and dump the bodies in the River Thames or in the streets of London. Although many believe that a Scottish security guard was responsible for these murders, he was never brought to justice. Why? Because he committed suicide when some evidence pointed back to the factory where he worked.

Despite the strong inclination to assign guilt to the security guard, it was later discovered that one of the murders occurred when he was out of town. Thus, he could not have committed the crime. The mystery was not resolved, and no one ever was brought to justice on behalf of the victims.

Any interesting unsolved mysteries where you live?


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Do Movies Influence Novels?


I love movies.  I have always enjoyed all genres of movies – especially mysteries, suspense and thrillers. Oh, and cop thrillers of course.  I’ve often wondered if my movie enthusiasm has helped to shape my writing style and subject matter I choose to incorporate into a novel.

It’s true that many movies are adapted from books.  But what about movies generating (or inspiring) characters and storylines for novels?  Writers have written stories inspired from newspaper headlines.  It’s just the idea of some high-profile case or newsworthy article that can prompt an avalanche of ideas.

For me as I outline the action scene, I ask myself questions like:

What pushes the protagonist?

What pushes the antagonist?

What will ultimately be the goal or outcome for all characters involved?

How can these characters use the surrounding to their advantage?

What clever or hair-raising way can the protagonist get out of this predicament? (this is my ultimate favorite)

After I wrote and completed my first Emily Stone Novel, Compulsion, I had a few readers tell me that the warehouse scene made them think of the warehouse in the 1970s blockbuster The French Connection.  Wow, I thought that was a huge compliment because it’s one of my absolute favorite cop films.  If you have not seen this movie, I strongly suggest checking it out.  It has an amazing car chase scene.

Then I started thinking about it.  Did I have that image in the back of my mind and my memory produced it when I wrote a particular scene?  We view so many images from television, movies, news reports, and the Internet.  It is possible that I needed an image ingrained in my subconscious and “poof” The French Connection warehouse came to mind when I needed a creepy, desolate warehouse…  I won’t tell you anymore because I hate spoilers.

Here are two photos from The French Connection… Now this is a very spooky, dark, isolated warehouse.  Would you want to be trapped here?  What kind of storyline would you create from these warehouse images?


I started mentally going through some of my favorite movies like The Abyss, The Flock, Lethal Weapon, L.A. Confidential, Marathon Man, DieHard and many more… There are powerful performances and storylines in these films that help to embrace the imagination of writers.  I like to think of it as visual brainstorming.

What are some of your favorite or most memorable scenes from a blockbuster film? Have you written a scene in a novel inspired by something you saw in a film?



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Gruesome Mysteries: Forensics Cracks the Case

blogpostPhoto courtesy of fineartamerica.com

For many of us, the area in which we live is filled with relative peace and tranquility. But, sometimes, a gruesome and brutal crime will occur in our community. And then suddenly, that harmony is turned upside down.

Fortunately, modern forensic science has enabled law enforcement to uncover the mysteries surrounding these horrific crimes. And, in turn, this has led to the extensive hunt and swift arrest of the inhumane monsters who commit these vicious attacks.

Here are a few cases in which the miracle of modern forensic science helped restore peace to anxious and terrified communities.

A Murder in Holland

Situated between the North Sea and Germany, the small nation of Holland is known to be a generally safe place to live. This quiet image, however, was shattered in 1999 after the brutal murder of a 17-year old girl in small northern town.

Despite a widespread manhunt, involving numerous arrests and an extensive DNA search, the perp’s identity was never determined. After thirteen years of an unsuccessful investigation, the case went cold. Then, one day, a member of the police department decided that the case needed to be solved, and that the killer of Marianne Vaastra be brought to justice.

The police aimed to take DNA samples from every man living within a 5-mile radius of the murder scene. Within a short period of time, the killer was identified – a 45 year old man who resided only a few miles from where the murder occurred.

Shockingly, the killer was not even asked to produce a DNA sample; he voluntarily gave it to the police.

A California Killer

In the mid-1980s, Southern California endured a year-long killing spree by the so-called Night Stalker, who would break into people’s homes during their midnight slumber. He would then brutally attack, and murder his victims.

Claiming 13 lives, the Night Stalker was no closer to being caught until one fateful evening: August 24, 1985. With the entire community on high-alert, a teenager noticed a strange car cruising through the neighborhood. The teenager recorded the license plate, and notified the police. That night, the killer’s latest murder occurred just minutes from where the teenager noticed the car.

Law enforcement subsequently tracked down the vehicle, which had been abandoned. But inside, the police discovered a crucial piece of evidence – a fingerprint. Utilizing a new computer system, the police were able to match the fingerprint to Richard Ramirez, a local 25-year old man.

Within only a few days, Ramirez was hunted down, arrested and sentenced to death.

blogpost1Photo courtesy of news.filehippo.com

The Mysterious Shoes of British Columbia

Over a five year span, beginning in 2007, a total of 11 shoes mysteriously washed ashore in British Columbia’s Georgia Strait. Theories abound, the local police had no idea where these shoes were coming from. One of the main theories was that the shoes were the result of a serial killer with a foot fetish.

Then a breakthrough occurred; one of the shoes contained bones. After forensic analysis, it was determined the remains belonged to Stefan Zahorujko, a man whose boat had capsized in the area over 20 years prior. The coroner determined the cause of death was accidental. The rest of shoes were attributed to the incident.

Mother Nature was apparently the culprit, and the mystery was solved. The question lingered though – why did only the shoes make it ashore?


In celebration of the scariest month, you might want to pick up some chills and thrills from the international award-winning Emily Stone Series.


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Voice your Opinion: I Want to Hear From You

vote-buttonI have enjoyed hearing from so many readers and fans in emails, tweets, and private messages on Facebook.  Thank you so much for contacting me.  Now here is your chance!  I would love to hear your opinion of what interests you the most about my blog and what you would like to see more of in the future.

Please take a moment and cast your vote.  If you choose OTHER, please type in the topic that you would be interested in.


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OCTOBER SCARE: 31 Things that Scare Me

friday13th-picIt’s the scariest month of the year and I thought I’d keep up with the yearly tradition and post what actually scares a criminologist and crime fiction author. Most scary things stay the same, but sometimes I add new ones and get over old ones.

Now, on to my list.  Just in case you were wondering…

  1. People text messaging and surfing the Internet when they drive.
  2. Cleaning the cat litter box.
  3. Men who wear socks with sandals.
  4. People referred to with three first names.
  5. Children that know more about technology than I do.
  6. Gas station restrooms.
  7. The rapidly increasing size of the ordinary garden gopher.
  8. Ambient temperatures over 75 degrees.
  9. Sink holes.
  10. Actually knowing the words to most 80s songs.
  11. Political debates.
  12. Thinking it was only my imagination.
  13. Feeling completely comfortable and relaxed studying serial killers and crime scenes.
  14. Not being able to buy new shoes – more shoes – and more shoes.
  15. Bees.
  16. Enjoying television reruns including reality shows and cooking channels.
  17. Knowing when the phone is about to ring.
  18. Thinking that real superheroes are actually forensic scientists and cold case detectives.
  19. Relating to Sigourney Weaver’s character “Helen Hudson” in the 1995 movie Copycat.
  20. Weeds growing in my yard that triple in size every single day.
  21. The ticking of the clock.
  22. People who don’t like black dogs or black cats.
  23. The increasing number of endangered species.
  24. People without a sense of humor.
  25. Predatory people looking for child victims.
  26. Fast food French fries having the same shelf life as a Twinkie.
  27. Having to find a scarier book or movie than the last.
  28. Feeling comfortable in my own shoes.
  29. Not knowing what’s around every corner.
  30. Making this scary list.
  31. And finally… the most scariest thing of all… not being able to write every day.

Notice how I didn’t say swimming alone with a large man wearing a hockey mask wielding a machete waiting for me on the shore….

So, what scares you?


In celebration of the scariest month, you might want to pick up some chills and thrills from the international award-winning Emily Stone Series.


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Disturbing Movies that Use Psychology to Create Fear

ShowerAs the weather begins to turn cooler and the official start of autumn has begun, maybe you are thinking about curling up on the couch with a scary movie as darkness falls. For me, the most frightening movies are not usually the ones in which there is a lot of blood and gore. Instead, the films that stay with me the longest and sometimes keep me up at night are the psychological thrillers – the ones with characters whose twisted affect or lack of basic humanity can make a horror movie captivating. Whether in books or movies or television, I love to see smart work that incorporates what happens inside the minds both of the perpetrators of violence and their victims.

Silence of the Lambs is one great example. While there certainly are a few graphic scenes, the fear and tension mostly comes from the chilling personality of Hannibal Lechter. He can make your skin turn cold with a simple look.

Or how about Psycho? Of course there is the famous shower scene, but I think that Norman Bates’ eyes and his relationship with his “mother” are much more disturbing.

In Primal Fear, starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton, a young man is accused of killing a priest and appears to have taken on multiple personalities as a way of coping with previous abuse. But the truth proves to be much different.

The Blair Witch Project, if you could get past the unsettling camera work that some viewers complained made them sick, was a terrifying “documentary” that was so scary exactly because of what you could not see.

There are so many movies with a powerful psychological component and that could be discussed as part of criminal or forensic psychology course, but I now want to know your favorites.

What are those two or three movies that really have left an impression on you for the terror they inflicted that had nothing to do with physical violence?


Watch the scary hunt for a serial killer with vigilante detective Emily Stone:


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