War Dogs: The Real Story Behind Police and Military Canines

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Ricky, a Belgian Malinois at Maritime Safety and Security Team San Francisco, is shown outfitted in his vertical delivery gear consisting of a hoisting vest, eye protection and hearing protection during training at Coast Guard Base Alameda, August 16, 2017. (Photo courtesy: Coast Guard/Brandyn Hill)

Dogs are amazing animals. Fierce, loving, loyal and all-around awesome.  They’ve lived among us as companions for over 20,000 years. From the first grey wolves that bonded with ancient hunters to the canines that defended our soldiers on the battlefields of WWII, dogs have been a constant and welcome aspect of the human experience.

All modern dogs are part of a singular subspecies, which is directly linked to wolves, foxes and jackals. And although our pups have domestic temperaments, we all know those wild instincts stir inside of them.

When you combine those primal survival instincts with a dog’s loyalty and affability, it’s no shock that they make excellent partners in high-pressure situations, like combat and policing.

History

Military

Utilizing dogs for military purposes dates back to ancient times. Civilizations such as the Romans, Greeks, Persians and Egyptians used canines in various roles during armed conflict. Sentries and scouts were the most common jobs for dogs during this period, but occasionally dogs would be sent into battle alongside soldiers.

Fast forward a few thousand years to the late 1800s; there, we find the first organized military dog training program, which was implemented by the Germans. During WWII, both the Axis and Allied armies were helped by dogs, which carried supplies to the frontlines, located wounded soldiers, and carried messages between platoons.

Here, in the United States, canines were used in unofficial military capacities dating back to the Civil War. It wasn’t, however, until WWII that the first “official” K-9 corps was established by the US armed forces.

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Tommy, a Chief Explosives Detection canine stationed at Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Kings Bay, receives applause Thursday, July 27, 2017, during his retirement ceremony in St. Marys, Georgia. Tommy has served in the Coast Guard for nine years and has been on 24 deployments. (Photo courtesy: U.S. Coast Guard/Anthony L. Soto)

Currently, there are in excess of 1,500 military dogs being utilized across all branches of service. They play invaluable roles in helping with patrol, search and rescue, tracking, detection of explosives and, of course, combat.  These dogs of war are held in such high-regard, that the military has implemented an unofficial hierarchical policy, whereby a dog is always one rank higher than its handler.

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Lucca, a 12-year-old retired Marine Corps military working dog, visits Camp Pendleton Feb. 29, 2016. Before her retirement in 2012, Lucca completed two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan where she led approximately 400 patrols until she was injured by an improvised explosive device. No Marines were injured on any patrol she led, including her final patrol where the explosion cost Lucca her front left leg. Lucca received the Dickin Medal, a European award that acknowledges outstanding acts of bravery or devotion to duty by animals serving with the armed forces or civil defense. (Photo courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps/Caitlin Bevel)

Police

For over 100 years, dogs have been used by law enforcement in some capacity. In 1899, Belgium was the first country to establish a formal police dog training program. And by 1910, neighboring Germany had police dogs working in over 600 cities across the country.

In the United States, the use of canines by police became prevalent in the 1970s. Presently, dogs are utilized in every major police force across America, with many of the dogs wearing standard-issue badges.

Training

As you can imagine, the training of police dogs is a very arduous task. The first order of business is training the handler, who must first complete the requisite police academy training and have a few years of patrol experience. Once those requirements are met, the police officer is transferred to the special canine unit for intensive handler training.

With respect to the dogs themselves, each pup must pass a basic obedience program, which includes the ability for the dog to obey their handler without any hesitation. If a dog is trained in a foreign country, the officer will generally utilize those commands, even if that language is not the police officer’s native tongue.

Each dog is trained for either “single” or “dual” purpose.  Most “single purpose” dogs are used for tracking, personal protection or backup. The “dual purpose” canines can handle everything that a “single” one can accomplish with the added bonus of explosives or narcotics detection ability.

Breeds

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Photo courtesy: http://www.akc.org

German Shepherd 

They’re obedient, strong and very intelligent. And because of that, German Shepherds are a favorite for many in law enforcement. They excel at many aspects of policing, with particular prowess in the detection of explosives and narcotics. And, of course, apprehension of perps.

Labrador Retriever

Labradors are even-keeled dogs that are utilized for tracking of people and detection work. They are generally not used for suspect apprehension.

Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd

The Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd are both well-regarded in the law enforcement area for their exceptional abilities in the accurate detection of explosives, drugs and arson accelerants. These obedient, easily trained dogs also track suspects and apprehend dangerous fugitives.

Giant Schnauzer

A working breed developed by the Germans in the 1600s, the Giant Schnauzer was originally used to drive livestock to market and guard the owner’s property. These massive beasts became popular for military usage during the two World Wars. Now, they are used as “dual purpose” canines that can handle pretty much any police or military task to which they are assigned.

Military and Police Roles

The role of canines has developed over the centuries. And during the early days, dogs were used for a wide array of unspecified, often dangerous, tasks. But, in the modern age, canines have very specific roles, which are humanely designed to match that breed’s special skillset.

Detection

Due to a dog’s exceptional sense of smell, these animals can detect very faint odors and slight changes in the chemical composition of a substance. And because of their literal superhuman sense of smell, these dogs are critical in detecting the trafficking of illegal narcotics and in securing locations from potential explosive devices.

Apprehension

One of the most interesting and popular roles of police dogs is suspect apprehension. The animals are trained to bite the suspect in specific locations on the body. And to hold the suspect in place until the handler arrives to complete the arrest.

German Shepherds are the most famous suspect apprehenders, but the other herding breeds also conduct these type of operations. The intelligence and brute strength of these herding dogs make them ideal candidates for identifying and taking down a suspect.

Search and Rescue

Whether searching for a lost child stranded in the woods or for the remains of a wartime casualty victim,  these dogs are able to hyper-focus on their objective by placing all senses in a heightened state of alert.

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Dogs are the most popular domesticated animal on the planet. And it’s no wonder. These furry creatures help keep us active, happy and secure. Their dedication to us in dangerous, high-stress situations deserves the utmost respect. Have you ever had the pleasure of encountering a police or military dog? If so, what’s the story behind the encounter?

 

My love for dogs has always been a strong bond for me.

Pictured below: My first rescue dog when I was two years old, and my rescue dog today, Odin. He clearly should have been a police or military dog, but he’s settled in as my buddy now.

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Halloween Murders: The Story Behind 3 Gruesome Killings

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Photo courtesy of yahoo.com.

Halloween is that uniquely fun time of year when we get in the mood for all things scary and spooky.

Whether it’s decorating your yard with creepy zombies – or dressing up as a serial killer for your neighbor’s party – many of us get a taste for the macabre during this holiday season.

Keeping with the morbid theme, here are three true-life murder stories that will certainly send a chill down your spine.

The Candy Man

Every so often you hear a story that sickens your stomach. And this one surely fits that mold.

On Halloween in 1974, Ronald O’Bryan and his neighbor Jim Bates took their kids trick-or-treating around their Texas neighborhood. The kids were having an excellent time going door to door collecting candy.  The evening was turning out to be a success. Until the unthinkable happened.

The kids arrived at a home and proceeded to knock several times. After knocking on the door a few times, the children realized that no one was home. So, they ran off to the next house.

But, before they got to the next door, O’Bryan stopped the kids. With a big smile on his face, O’Bryan told the kids that after they ran off, the homeowners eventually answered the door. And that they gave him candy to hand out to the kids. So, that is what O’Bryan did. He handed five 20-inch long Pixie Stix to his son and his friends.

Soon after, it started raining, so the crew all went back home. Within moments of being home, O’Bryan called 911 to report that his son ate poisoned candy. And he was right – his 8-year-old son Timothy had been poisoned with a potassium cyanide-laced Pixy Stick.

It was soon revealed that the neighbor never opened the door to give O’Bryan Pixie Stix. No, the creep made up the whole story. The poisoning was a pre-meditated murder scheme to collect $60,000 in life insurance off his son’s death.

This horrible man planned on killing the rest of his children for insurance money as well. And if these facts weren’t bad enough, his intention was to kill other parents’ innocent children to make it look like someone else had committed the crimes.

O’Bryan was eventually arrested after police discovered where the poison was bought and that he was the purchaser. Additionally, investigators learned that the killer had recently taken a community college class in chemistry, during which time he had asked the teacher very specific questions about lethal dosages of potassium cyanide.

Dubbed “Candy Man” in prison, O’Bryan died by lethal injection about 10 years after murdering his own child.

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Photo courtesy of nbcnew.com.

The Nun Killer

It was a calm Halloween night in 1981 at the St. Francis Convent in Amarillo, Texas. After finishing her prayers, Sister Tadea Benz started to get ready for bed. And that’s when the peaceful 76-year old nun met the horrific fate of murder.

The next morning, another nun entered Sr. Benz’s room only to find the naked and bloody body of her beloved friend.

The police quickly arrived to begin collecting evidence. Two knives were found – one under the victim’s bed and another in the convent’s driveway. Fingerprints were lifted off the knives. Another key piece of evidence was the cut window screen in the convent’s community room.

Eventually, the police found their suspect – 28-year-old Johnny Frank Garrett. Eyewitness testimony had Garrett running from the scene of the killing on the night of the attack. Also, the knives obtained from the scene matched the kitchen set from his home.

The killer was eventually tried and convicted for the rape and murder of Sr. Benz, a woman who spent her life in poverty in the service of others.

Garrett was sentenced to death, but right before he was scheduled to be executed, he was given a governor’s reprieve at the behest of Pope John Paul II. This reprieve was short lived, as the killer was executed by lethal injection only a few weeks later.

The killer’s infamous last words: “I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. The rest of the world can kiss my ass.”

All Rage, No Motive

Halloween night was going well. This Forth Worth, Texas neighborhood was partying until the wee hours of dawn. While the party raged on, Daniel Haros and Philip Evans Garcia were in a driveway speaking with a few of the neighbors, including Cary Heath and his wife. Most of the neighbors all went home, but Daniel and Philip continued chatting.

Then, moments later, Cary Heath returned to the driveway with a rifle. He shot and killed both men.

And then, after shooting them several times, Heath took the butt of the rifle and began to beat their heads. Some witnesses tried to stop him, but he threatened them with his loaded rifle.

After killing the men, Heath went back home and put his rifle away. He then requested that his wife clean the blood from the gun case.

Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty for this schoolteacher turned killer. Heath got an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole. No one has any idea as to the motive. Heath never revealed the motive to his wife or the police. Family members of the victims cannot fathom how a seemingly cordial conversation resulted in the killing of two innocent men.

Despite no apparent motive, the prosecution was adamant that it must have taken a great deal of anger for him to not only shoot the victims, but then to also viciously beat their heads with the rifle.

The killer’s wife is on trial due to her role in the attempted cover-up of the killings.

Murder is a sad reality of life on this big planet of ours. And, although killings occur pretty much every day, there’s something extra creepy about Halloween murders. Are there any Halloween horror stories from your neck of the woods?

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NEWS UPDATE: Welcome Publication Day! HER LAST WHISPER Is Finally Here!

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Detective Katie Scott is back!  And Cisco too!

HER LAST WHISPER:

An absolutely unputdownable crime thriller

(Detective Katie Scott book 2)

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Katie focuses her mind, trying to keep another anxiety attack at bay. The victim’s long brown hair is slick and wet, her body rigid in the grass. She looks more like a mannequin than the woman Katie had spoken with only yesterday, the woman she had promised to protect…

When a cold, naked body is discovered by a couple on a jog through the lush woodlands of Pine Valley, California, new recruit Detective Katie Scott is stunned to discover the victim is Amanda Payton – a much-loved local nurse and the woman at the heart of an unsolved case she’s been investigating whilst getting a grip on her crippling PTSD.

Weeks earlier, Amanda had run, battered and bruised, out into the headlights of a passing patrol car. She claimed to have just escaped a kidnapping, but with no strong evidence, the case went cold. The Pine Valley police made a fatal mistake…

Katie is certain the marks on Amanda’s wrists complete a pattern of women being taken, held captive and then showing up dead in remote locations around Pine Valley – and she won’t let someone die on her watch again.

But then a beautiful office worker with a link to the hospital where Amanda worked goes missing. With only days before the next body is due to show up, can Katie make amends for her past by saving this innocent life?

Totally gripping crime fiction for fans of Lisa Regan, Rachel Caine and Melinda Leigh. Nothing will prepare you for this nail-biting roller-coaster ride…

Get your copy NOW!

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Everyone is talking about Her Last Whisper:

AmazingI couldn’t put it down. Had my attention from start to finish. Plenty of suspense and twists and turns. Just when I thought I had it figured out, I was proven wrong. Will definitely recommend. Can’t wait for more.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

‘An excellent, exhilarating read. I had to keep reading just another page, another page, as everything raced towards a high tension ending which left me wishing there was more because it had been so good. Hopefully there will be a third book…’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

A twist at every page!Absolutely loved this book… was so engrossed read it in 2 days… well written and enthralling. Couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait for the next one.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

Gripping… plenty of excitement, drama, twists and turns, and a few red herringsI finished it in twenty-four hours.’ Netgalley reviewer, 5 stars

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NEWS FLASH!

LITTLE GIRLS SLEEPING has been busy!

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2019 BRONZE Medal WINNER for Fiction/Crime from Readers’ Favorite

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NEW Cover Reveal for HER LAST WHISPER #crimefiction #preorder #Bookouture

HerLastWhisper_Cover

HER LAST WHISPER:

An absolutely unputdownable crime thriller

(Detective Katie Scott book 2)

***

Katie focuses her mind, trying to keep another anxiety attack at bay. The victim’s long brown hair is slick and wet, her body rigid in the grass. She looks more like a mannequin than the woman Katie had spoken with only yesterday, the woman she had promised to protect…

When a cold, naked body is discovered by a couple on a jog through the lush woodlands of Pine Valley, California, new recruit Detective Katie Scott is stunned to discover the victim is Amanda Payton – a much-loved local nurse and the woman at the heart of an unsolved case she’s been investigating whilst getting a grip on her crippling PTSD.

Weeks earlier, Amanda had run, battered and bruised, out into the headlights of a passing patrol car. She claimed to have just escaped a kidnapping, but with no strong evidence, the case went cold. The Pine Valley police made a fatal mistake…

Katie is certain the marks on Amanda’s wrists complete a pattern of women being taken, held captive and then showing up dead in remote locations around Pine Valley – and she won’t let someone die on her watch again.

But then a beautiful office worker with a link to the hospital where Amanda worked goes missing. With only days before the next body is due to show up, can Katie make amends for her past by saving this innocent life?

Totally gripping crime fiction for fans of Lisa Regan, Rachel Caine and Melinda Leigh. Nothing will prepare you for this nail-biting roller-coaster ride…

 ***

What Readers are saying about Jennifer Chase’s Detective Katie Scott Series!

THERE WAS NO WAY I WAS PUTTING THIS BOOK DOWN!!!!!… I was literally holding my breath… I HAD TO KNOW!!!!! As for the explosive ending WOW definitely not what or who I was expecting.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

I was really wowed by it… I couldn’t put the book down and was trying to read as fast as I could so I could find out who the killer was. The ending took me by surprise… I was literally gasping for air… I would definitely recommend.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

Wow what an absolutely amazing fantastic read. I was hooked almost as soon as I started this book. I am still trying to pick my chin off the floor. I loved it from page one and couldn’t read the pages quick enough. I did not see the end coming…Awesome.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

If you read one police thriller this year make sure that it is this one… it will grip you from the start and will drag you into the story trying desperately to work out who the killer is but I promise you that you will not be able to figure it out.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

‘A great way to start a new series! It’s a wonderfully written roller-coaster ride. A must read!’ Book Obsessed Introverts, 5 stars

Wow!… The hairs on my head stood up with this one!’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

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Out October 21st.

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Evidence Rules: Fundamentals of a Criminal Prosecution

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Photo courtesy of thoughtco.com.

If you’re a fan of crime fiction and even true-crime stories, the issue of ‘evidence’ is usually at the heart of the story. But, what’s the deal with evidence? And how does it help a prosecutor build a case?

Well, it’s probably best to start at the beginning. A person commits a crime and then is arrested. Now, in order for the prosecution to build their case, they need evidence – and usually, lots of it. Because, in order to put someone behind bars, the jury needs to be convinced – beyond a reasonable doubt – that the defendant committed the crime. And “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a very high standard!

Here’s the basics of “evidence”

Simply put, evidence is anything that can help prove a crime was committed. And that the person who was arrested committed the crime. Evidence also helps prosecutors establish all of the key elements of the alleged crime.

For example, say a person is arrested for robbery. Well, in order to convict that perp, the prosecutor needs to establish the following four things: (1) property of another person was taken (2) from their body or in their presence (3) by force, threat or intimidation (4) with the intent of permanently depriving that person of that item.

In that scenario, evidence needs to be lawfully obtained so that the state can establish that the incident satisfied all four of those requirements.

Evidence can be a wide range of items used to prove or disprove the issues that are presented to the jury. Things from eyewitness observations to an analysis of blood spatter all fall within the category of evidence.  Timelines, phone calls, distances between people and places, and someone’s eye color can all be used as evidence.

Taking all of the evidence into account, the jury can then draw inferences about the crime and whether the perp was the true culprit.

Criminal vs. Civil Evidence

In both criminal and civil cases, evidence exists to establish the truth that lies somewhere between the parties conflicting versions of reality.

In criminal matters, however, the introduction of evidence needs to be weighed against the accused’s right to a fair trial. And, because of that, the rules of what evidence is allowed to be seen by the jury is much stricter in a criminal case. The reason is simple – if the evidence’s prejudicial value outweighs its fact-finding value, a person could potentially wind-up in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.

Whereas, in civil cases, almost anything that can shed light on the facts is allowed. And that’s because, only money is involved, and no one is in jeopardy of being deprived of their freedom and potentially, their life.

Who governs the rules of evidence?

The American legal system is derived from the English “common law” system, which is basically a system of laws that are shaped by court cases, as opposed to actual written laws. So, when a new court case decides something novel, all of the following cases must follow that “precedent.” As the American legal system has evolved, more and more of our laws have become written statutes.

And, for the first couple of hundred years, evidence rules were based on precedence. But, in 1975, the United States issued the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE). Only federal courts are bound by these rules, but most state and local courts use the FRE as models for their own rules.

What all of this means is this – every court case in the United States must follow codified, written rules concerning how evidence is used.

Crime scene investigation - collecting evidence

Photo courtesy of walletweekly.com.

Types of evidence

Evidence comes in all forms, and despite fulfilling different purposes, the goal of all evidence remains the same – prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Circumstantial evidence is something we always hear on television. Basically, all it means, is evidence that provides a piece of information that strongly suggests a set of circumstances but does not rise to the level of proof positive. For example, witnesses say that a white SUV was involved in a hit-and-run. The person arrested for the crime drives a white min-van.

Same color. Large auto. But different auto models. The eyewitness testimony is circumstantial, and no one will close the book on the case based on this information. But this evidence is surely a step in the right direction. And combined with other evidence, the case can hopefully be proven.

And that is where corroborating evidence comes into play. Essentially, any evidence that bolsters another piece of evidence is considered corroborating. Let’s say, John is accused of breaking into a house because his fingerprints were found on the doorknob. Then, they find a witness who says they saw John walking around the area of the crime scene around the time of the break-in. That’s corroborating evidence.

Another form of evidence is forensic. This type of evidence can greatly help a case, but in order to be allowed, the science behind the forensics must be well-established. So, DNA and fingerprint evidence are generally accepted science, and therefore, allowed. But, for more fringe science, the court will have a hearing to determine whether the scientific evidence can be presented to a jury.

Last but not least is the infamous “hearsay” evidence. Simply put, hearsay is a statement made by someone other than the person repeating it in court.  For example, Lucy is being prosecuted for the murder of Mike. The prosecutor calls Lucy’s friend Jane to the stand. Jane then testifies that Lucy confessed the murder to their mutual friend Shirley. Since Jane did not hear the confession first-hand, this is considered hearsay.

Generally, since hearsay is second-hand information, it is deemed unreliable and generally not admissible as evidence. But, of course, just like everything in the legal system, there are many exceptions to this rule.

What’s the “exclusionary rule”

If evidence is obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights, it will not be permitted to be used in a criminal case. The most common instance of this situation is when property is seized from someone without a proper search warrant.

And that leads to the concept known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Any evidence obtained after the initial violation of a defendant’s rights is now tainted and not allowed (even if the evidence is a slam dunk.) So, for example, let’s say the police have suspicion that Jack is selling cocaine in his house. But they fail to get a warrant and while searching the home, they discover a stockpile of illegal firearms. The guns will most likely be excluded from evidence, unless the prosecutor can meet one of the several exceptions.

Evidence law is a very complex system of rules that aim to balance the interests of a secure society with that of every individual’s constitutional right of due process. This topic is very broad and interesting, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what area of evidence law you find particularly intriguing.

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You might also enjoy reading:

9 Key Steps for a Successful Crime Scene Investigation

 

FBI Profiling of SERIAL KILLERS: 3 Notorious Cases

 

Are COLD CASES on the Rise? A Chat with Cold Case Detective and Crime Media Consultant Joe Giacalone

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Genetic Genealogy Justice: 2 Killers Arrested Decades Later

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Photo courtesy of independent.co.uk.

Killers be warned. You are no longer safe from the long arm of justice. Years may have passed since you committed your horrendous acts of violence. You may think that your evil deeds are a thing of the past. But, you’re wrong.

The dedicated women and men of law enforcement will not rest until you’re caught. And with the aid of seemingly innocuous genealogy databases – your wicked deeds are catching up to you.

Here are two killers who took innocent lives, and then went on to live somewhat normal existences. That is, until they were finally caught for their murders. And justice was rightfully served.

Justice for Linda O’Keefe…45 Years Later 

The Facts

On July 6, 1973, an 11-year old girl named Linda O’Keefe was walking home from summer school in Orange County, California. Linda was never seen alive again. One day after vanishing, Linda’s strangled, lifeless body was found in a ditch covered in weeds. Tragedy struck the O’Keefe family and the relatively peaceful, affluent area of Newport Beach.

Despite using every resource at their disposal, the police were unable to solve the killing.

Generations of law enforcement personnel worked on the case. But eventually, the case went cold.

Cold Case Heats Up

As technology evolves, so do police methods. So, within the last few years, the local Orange County police began re-investigating cold murder cases. And Linda’s murder was a high priority. Even though DNA evidence was left at the original crime scene, the appropriate technology was not available until decades later.

Police, of course, searched criminal DNA databases for a match. But this method only works when the suspect has been arrested for other crimes. In Linda’s case, law enforcement had no luck in finding a match. Apparently, the killer was able to maintain a low profile. Well, that all changed in January of this year.

The Suspect is Identified

For many years, law enforcement had a rough sketch of the man who they believed committed the murder. But, by the time sufficient DNA technology was available, the sketch was quite outdated – considering the man would now be 45 years older than at the time of the killing.

This past January, investigators found relatives of the suspect on the public website FamilyTreeDNA.com. Using their old sketch of a 27-year-old man, they narrowed the suspect field down to just one person – James Alan Neal. Police determined that he lived in the area at the time of the murder.

And using standard surveillance and other investigative techniques, police were able to acquire further DNA samples from Neal. The case was solid.

So, on February 19, 2019, police arrested 72-year old Neal, who was charged with murder, kidnapping and various other crimes.

Who is James Alan Neal

At the time of his arrest, the killer resided in Colorado with his wife of over 40 years. A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Neal is a retired construction worker who led a seemingly normal existence as a family man. Yet, beneath the surface of his good guy facade, lurked a monster who had been running from justice since 1973.

The Outcome of Excellent Police Work

According to the office of Orange County’s District Attorney, the charges brought against Neal carry a minimum sentence of life without parole, with the death penalty remaining a possibility. Since his arrest, the killer has had other child sexual assault charges brought against him in neighboring Riverside County.

Utilizing time-tested police investigative techniques, coupled with modern DNA technology and community awareness alerts on social media, law enforcement was able to apprehend this monster 45 years after he took the life on an innocent child.

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Murder in Alaska…Caught in Maine

The Facts

On April 26, 1993, Sophie Sergie was discovered dead in a dorm bathtub on the campus of University of Alaska. She had been stabbed, shot and sexually assaulted. Sophie was a former student at the university and was simply visiting a friend for the weekend. She left her friend’s dorm room at around 9pm to smoke a cigarette and was never seen alive again.

The next day, janitors discovered her bruised and battered body. Drawing much media attention, this case was exhaustively investigated for years, but police kept coming up short. No arrests were made. And the case went cold.

A Break Comes 17 Years Later

For the next decade and a half, the case was considered cold, but every so-often the police uncovered a new lead or were provided a tip by the public. To that end, investigators got a huge break in 2010.

In 2010, the police interviewed a man named Nicholas Dazer, who was a security guard that resided in the dorm where the murder occurred. Dazer had been fired for keeping a gun in his dorm room – a .22 caliber. The bullet recovered in Sophie’s body was fired from a .22 caliber handgun.

Dazer adamantly denied ever owning such a gun. Rather, he told police that the gun belonged to his roommate, Steven Downs. And that Downs owned other guns.

Suspect is Identified

DNA taken from the crime scene was tested in the late 1990s and again in 2000. But no matches were ever found in any state or federal databases. But, in 2018, a new Alaskan State Trooper was assigned to the case, and his first order of business was to submit the DNA sample to public genealogy websites. And voila! They had a familial match.

A relative of the suspect was found – it was the killer’s aunt who led police to his door. It turns out that the killer was none other than Steven Downs, the alleged owner of a .22 caliber gun.

Who is Steven Downs

Sophie’s killer had been born on the other side of the country in Maine but had attended the University of Alaska from 1992-1996. The murder took place in 1993.

Since Downs had never been arrested, his DNA was not accessible through standard law enforcement databases. Investigators uncovered that Downs had been living in Maine for most of his adult life and had been working as a registered nurse.

Alaska and Maine police worked together in securing a fresh DNA sample from the suspect. It was a perfect match. Downs was arrested on February 15, 2019 for the murder of Sophie.

Status of His Case

After his arrest in Maine, Downs was held in jail pending extradition to Alaska. The killer, however, fought his extradition for the next several months. Denying that he was the killer, Downs argued that extradition was a violation of his rights.

Eventually, Downs realized that the evidence against him was overwhelming, so he gave up his extradition fight in May of this year. He was transferred to the Alaskan authorities. He now awaits trial for the murder of an innocent young woman.

Although the circumstances surrounding these cases are tragic, it is encouraging to see law enforcement’s seemingly endless pursuit of justice. Are you aware of any similar cases solved in your area?

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Drones: A Valuable Resource for Law Enforcement

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When many of us think of drones, our minds immediately think of how the military utilizes the technology for intelligence gathering and precision bombing. And, although, we are technically correct, drones have become increasingly more common in other aspects of society, including law enforcement.

As the technology becomes more commonplace, costs have dropped, which has resulted in everyday people owning and using drones. In fact, if you were recently at an event with a decent sized crowd, there was most likely a drone flying above taking aerial footage for use by the police, event coordinators or a news outlet.

While drones have done a wonderful job of enhancing our exploration of the world from above, there are of course people who use drones for sinister purposes. Just like most emerging technologies, the advancement of drones is moving quicker than the laws that regulate its usage; especially when it comes to privacy.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles) have existed for over 150 years. In fact, during the Civil War, the military on both sides of the conflict used archaic forms of drone technology. Commanders would launch balloons filled with explosives across enemy lines. The intent was to wreak havoc within the enemy’s camp without detection.

In World War II, unmanned bombers were used to deliver devastation to selected enemy targets. The plan was rather straightforward – a crew would abandon a stripped-down bomber in midair, and then surrender control to a radio being operated in a trailing aircraft.

By the 1970s, American forces were using drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, detect missiles and drop propaganda leaflets in North Vietnam. By 2002, American forces were using Predator drones in Afghanistan to kill selected targets.

And, in 2007, the use of drones trickled down from military utilization to local law enforcement. Here, police in the State of Washington used a drone to locate, and eventually capture, a man accused of sexually assaulting a child.

By 2013, sales in the United States for non-military drones was anticipated to be almost $10 billion over the next decade.

HOW DRONES ARE BEING USED

As drone technology continues to evolve, there will unquestionably be more of those little robots floating through our skies. Currently, the most popular usage of drones (outside of the military) is 3D mapping, farming, weather detection, wildlife monitoring, search and rescue, and law enforcement.

And, of course, criminals are using drones for all types of nefarious activities, such as stealing personal information from above, smuggling drugs, illicit photographs and assaults.

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LAW ENFORCEMENT AND DRONES

Since 2016, the amount of drones being used by law enforcement has doubled.  Wisconsin, California and Texas are the states that have the most public safety agencies utilizing drones.

Police are using the technology to take aerial photographs of car accident scenes, to search for missing persons and murder suspects. One area where drones are particularly helpful is during a mass shooting. Utilizing the drone’s birds-eye view, police can track the movement of every single person involved in the tragedy. This way, cops will know where to deploy appropriate personnel and resources during and after the incident.

One drawback of drones is the issue of privacy. On one hand, it is extremely helpful to have a sharp aerial view of the world. But, on the other hand, critics are quick to point out that these drones should only be used for specific reasons, as opposed to a general spying on people.

And, in that regard, most police departments wholeheartedly agree that the drones shall only be used for emergency purposes.

5 SITUATIONS WHERE DRONES ASSIST LAW ENFORCEMENT

Active Shooter

An aerial view will enable police to pinpoint the locations of the shooter, victims and escape routes. From that vantage point, law enforcement will be able to assess the scope of the situation and deploy officers accordingly.

Crime and Traffic Accident Scene Analysis

Photographing crime and accident scenes from an overhead angle greatly reduces the amount of time needed to capture the entire scene from the ground, using multiple angles. Additionally, the aerial view can capture both the scene at large, as well as smaller areas. This will enable the scene to be examined in a more precise manner using a computer as opposed to on the ground in real-time.

Surveillance

Drones will eliminate some of the headaches that go along with stakeouts. The drones can move about and surveil places where a person or fixed camera cannot. Additionally, in large open areas, it is difficult to conduct proper surveillance without being noticed. A drone, however, can conduct this type of operation with ease.

Crowd Monitoring

Large events like concerts and sporting events require a lot of manpower in order to ensure safety. But, with a drone, police can quickly assess a large area and send assistance where needed. Areas that are quiet and not a security concern can be left unmanned with just a drone overhead acting as watchful eye. This way, the areas that truly require personnel will be adequately staffed.

Bomb Inspection

Although bombs are generally diffused by ground-based robots, an aerial view of the situation enables police to assess the whole location prior to sending in people and robots. A full threat assessment can be conducted in the air, thereby eliminating the potential for loss of life and property.

Drones will continue to grow in popularity and usage. And with that, the government will assess how to maintain freedom of use while curtailing any intention of using drones for criminal activities. Laws surrounding drones are essentially in their infancy. It is going to be very interesting to see how much of future will be impacted by drones. What is your biggest concern regarding drones?

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