Episode Archives

Murdering Moms ep270

Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing their own child. The word filicide derives from the Latin words filius meaning “son” or filia meaning daughter, and the suffix -cide meaning to kill, murder, or cause death.

“Filicide” may refer both to the parent who killed his or her child, as well as to the criminal act that the parent committed.


In this episode, I share a conversation I had with  Ron Martinelli Ph.D on his radio show A Thread of Evidence. In the conversation, I detail three cases where mothers killed their children and how the investigation was conducted and the truth was revealed.

Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., CMI-V, BCFT, CFA

America’s Forensic Expert


“Dr. Ron Martinelli is a nationally renowned forensic criminologist who is the only police expert in the country who is also a Certified Medical Investigator at the physician’s level.

Dr. Martinelli directs the nation’s only multidisciplinary Forensic Death Investigations & Independent Review Team and specializes in forensic investigations including officer-involved and civilian self-defense death cases.

Dr. Martinelli is a retired San Jose (CA) Police Department detective with a background in investigations, medicine and applied sciences including forensics, psychology & psychological profiling; physiology and human factors; violent crimes and death scene investigations. He has been referred to in the forensics and legal community as the “expert’s expert.”

Dr. Martinelli provides forensic expert services to several State Attorney Generals’ Offices, major metropolitan cities, the USMC Judge Advocate General’s Office and numerous nationally prominent private law firms. He is also a contributing forensic investigations expert for FOX News, CNN, OANN, Discovery, History and Investigations Discovery channels and is a contributing writer to USA TODAY, POLICE Magazine, Law & Order Magazine, The Forensic Examiner, The Law Enforcement Executive Journal, PoliceOne.com and Officer.com.

Dangers of Hoarding for Investigators

Hoarding is a psychological condition that results in a person accumulating an enormous amount of trash and things of little-to-no value, or worse, more animals than can be properly cared for. Hoarding of any kind can pose several dangers to the occupant and neighbors, and certainly to animals if they are involved. These hazards can be deadly, and all the more reason people with hoarding disorder should have professional help to restore them to healthy living conditions. If children and animals are in the home, exposed to these perilous dangers, hoarding is also a crime.

Dangers of Hoarding

Structural Integrity

The weight of debris and hoarded items are often more than the floors are able to withhold. The sheer volume of debris in a room can push up against walls, not only damaging their integrity, but also putting the ceiling and roof at risk of collapse. Likewise, the collapse of walls, floors or ceilings can cause gas lines and water pipes to break, resulting in fire and flood damage.


Large amounts of paper, such as newspapers, books, boxes, and discarded food wrappers and packaging, or improperly stored combustibles can pose extreme fire dangers. If space heaters are used, close proximity to any debris can also cause a fire.

Collapse of Debris

Often, hoarders will create precarious paths between large piles of debris, or will crawl over mountains of trash to get around in the house. If these trash piles collapse, they could trap the hoarder underneath, burying the person alive. This could result in death from suffocation or inability to notify anyone they need help.


As is often the case, hoarders not only collect relatively useless items, but they tend to not dispose of much of anything. The decay of spoiled food stuffs and waste can lead to terrible odors and airborne pathogens that can be harmful or even deadly. In a very unusual case in San Francisco, the mummified body of a 90-year-old woman was found in an extreme hoarding case. Officials believe she died 5 years previously.

Harmful Biohazards

In almost all hoarding scenes, biohazards are present. Biohazards can be toxic or infectious, even deadly, and can lead to any range of illnesses and dangers to the resident or neighbors. Common biohazardous materials include spoiled food, feces and urine, blood, bodily fluids, pet waste and dead animals.


The decay and decomposition of organic materials and biohazards, undoubtedly attract pests. Rodents will leave waste and very often get trapped and die within a hoarding residence. This further increases the potential harm to the hoarder, as well as neighbors. This is why hoarding goes beyond an individual and becomes a community problem.

Personal Hygiene and Nutritional Issues

A hoarding situation can become so extreme that debris blocks access to a kitchen and bathrooms. When the kitchen is blocked or is overwhelmed by harmful waste, proper food preparation becomes impossible. And when bathrooms become blocked, makeshift alternatives are used, with an absence of hygiene. In the extreme hoarding case in San Francisco, police found over 300 bottles of urine on the premises.

If a loved one or a neighbor is a hoarder and living in unsafe conditions, we can help with the cleanup and refer you to other helpful resources. If animals or children are at risk, we can also put you in touch with law enforcement agencies that can assist.

Episode Guest – Michelle Doscher Ph.D

A forensic scientist specializing in investigative psychology and crime scene investigation. Diversified experience as an investigator, interviewer, instructor, expert witness, and an analyst. Currently conducting research in the transference of psycholinguistic cues to handwriting during deception. The current quantitative method unites psychological and physical evidence for more concise investigative leads, with expected applications for criminal interrogations and loss prevention interviews.

Evidence v. Personal Property Collection

Evidence collection in and around a death scene is conducted in much the same manner as any crime scene. We are going to look at some scene search methods, evidence collection techniques, and scene interpretation. 

There is a difference in personal property and evidence. Lets look at the definitions of each.

Personal Property

Is property on or near the body that belongs to the body (or decedent) and can be returned to next-of-kin.


Is any material that may contribute to the cause and manner of death and is considered important in supporting facts of the case. What is determined evidence depends on the type and manner of death being investigated.

Crime Scene Investigation Standards – It’s up to you

Crime scene investigation is an indispensable part of our work, which will have a direct impact on the success of the criminal investigation.  With technological progress and changes in social situations, scene investigation work is facing unprecedented challenges.

The standardization of the crime scene investigation should be the goal of all police agencies. Therefore, promoting the standardization of the crime scene investigation is necessary.

As a criminal justice system, the crime scene investigation also has the basic rules and characteristics of the system. So the system can be applied in the field of the standardization of the crime scene investigation. Scientific investigation means applying the knowledge, methods and technology which is caused by the development of science and technology to the criminal investigation.

Crime scene investigation is the work conducted on the physical evidence at the scene. An investigation is a traditional method, in addition to which, many other measures can be used in the crime scene investigation. Scene investigation needs to integrate the use of a variety of scientific and technical means to detect, collect, and store the evidence, which is the most concentrated expression of scientific investigation.

Obstacle of Standardizing Crime Scene Investigations

The biggest obstacle to standardizing crime scene investigations is funding. Many organizations and government committees are working on this issue of standardization and a lot of great ideas and methods are being adapted.

However, with standards in place, funding will have to made available for proper, ongoing training.  Many, if not most, police agencies will agree with the fundamental fact that a set of standards are needed, but they will also quickly say that budgets restrict  the resources of time and money to set in place and train for these standards 

Why Standardizing Crime Scene Investigations is important

We have all seen the issues when working with other agencies during an investigation or a new detective is hired into the department from another area.  It becomes hard to work together for a while until both parties learn the other’s way of doing things, neither may be right or wrong, but different.  

This costs time, money, and can stall an investigation.  Another primary reason for  Standardizing Crime Scene Investigations is that these standards will equip investigators with the latest in technology and methods which will clear cases faster, and prosecutions will be more successful.

In the United States there are over 21,500 police departments  with 20 or fewer officers.  These officers do the best they can with what they have, but many lack training and standardized approaches to criminal investigations.

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Crime Scene inv. book pic

Everett Baxter Jr. has an Associate Degree in Applied Science – EMS and a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry.  He has over 23 combined years in law enforcement.  He is currently assigned to the Crime Scene Unit of the Oklahoma City Police Department.  Mr. Baxter was previously employed with the Norman Police Department where he worked in the EMS and Patrol Divisions.  Mr. Baxter has presented numerous lectures and seminars at conferences, educational groups and various civic groups.  Mr. Baxter has been court qualified as an Expert in Crime Scene Investigations, Crime Scene Reconstruction, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, Shooting Scene Reconstruction and 3D Sketches in both District Court and federal Court.  Mr. Baxter has written papers on the Effects of Cleaning Products on Bloodstains (co-authored), Alternate Light Source.  Mr. Baxter has written the books the Complete Crime Scene Investigation Handbook and the Complete Crime Scene Investigation Workbook.

Public Email address: everettbaxterjrforensics@gmail.com

Women Who Kill and Everyday Murder ep265

Females in the United States accounts for 12% – 15% of ALL murders. Interestingly, women account for roughly the same percentage of serial murders.

  • Most kill for gain – wives, boarding home owners, etc,
  • Care taker killers – nurses and childcare workers.
  • Family Annihilators – protecting their children
  • Lust murder – extremely rare, usually at the  urging  of a man     

Female serial murderers generally do not stalk or torture their victims and usually use poison to kill. They generally kill close to home or workplace rather than showing mobility found in many male killers. The median age at arrest is 37.9 years, with a range of 40 years  (19-59). Average age when kills begin is 32.9 years. (18-53)

Everyday Murder

Revenge Murder

Revenge is defined as the act of committing a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived.  It is used to punish a wrong by going outside the law.

•Victim did something to the suspect or his family

•Suspect sees victim as the cause of some trouble or issue

•The need to right a wrong

•Killing of parents

Anger Murder

Anger murder is an act of killing based on high emotions of anger. Such as in a passion murder, domestic murder, or an immediate wrong that has resulted in intense anger. May be part of a revenge murder if planned. Usually not a planned event but rather an act of passion or circumstances.

Concealment of Other Crime

These murders are committed out of a need to conceal another crime such as; Rape or Sexual Assault – Theft or Burglary – Eliminating a Witness

These are usually planned or at least determined to be a part of the crime event. Such as child assault/murder


The crime of killing a child within a year of birth. Usually for very select reasons:

•Concealment of the birth

•No longer wants the child

•To save the child from danger or Hell

Killer Typologies

It is important for death investigators to have a working knowledge of all death scenarios. You should have a basic understanding of the characteristics and/or non-characteristic of what makes a serial killer, as opposed to a mass or spree kill.

In this way, you can identify the need for more expert involvement or discern if you may have a death committed by a serial killer in your area or one that has passed through.

Types of Multiple Killings

1. Mass Killing

The FBI defines mass murder as murdering four or more persons during an event with no “cooling-off period” between the murders. A mass murder typically occurs in a single location where one or more people kill several others.

2. Spree Killing

According to the FBI, the general definition of a spree killer is a person who commits two or more murders without a cooling-off period; the lack of a cooling-off period marking the difference between a spree killer and a serial killer

3. Serial Killings

Serial Murder is the premeditated killing of three or more victims, committed over time, in separate incidents, in a civilian context, with the murder activity being chosen by the offender.

Stable v. Transient Killers

The Stable Killer     eg. Gacy, Dahmer

  • Lives and works in one location for an extended period.
  • Hunts and kills within the local area.
  • Disposes of bodies in the same or similar areas.
  • Disposal site selected for concealment.
  • May return to the crime scene or burial site.
  • Seldom travels, but when forced to travel it is usually for business, family visits, or personal recreation

The Transient Killer  eg. Bundy, Lucas

  • Seldom stays in one spot for more than a few weeks.
  • Kills are spread out over a large area.
  • Disposes of bodies in random locations.
  • Disposal site selected for convenience.
  • Seldom returns to the region of the crime.
  • Travels continuously either for pleasure, to confuse law enforcement, or for new hunting grounds.

Classification of Serial Killers


2. Disorganized

3. Mixed – organized & disorganized

Organized Killer

The organized offender is described as leading an orderly life that is also reflected in the way he commits his crimes. Highlighting some proposed characteristics, he is claimed to be of average to high intelligence, socially competent, and more likely than the disorganized offender to have skilled employment. It is also claimed that he is apt to plan his offenses, use restraints on his victim, and to bring a weapon with him to commit the murder and to take the weapon away with him from the crime scene.

According to its proponents (e.g. Douglas et al., 1992), in general, organized offenders are hypothesized to kill after undergoing some sort of precipitating stressful event, such as financial, relationship, or employment problems.

Their actions are thought to reflect a level of planning and control. The crime scene will therefore reflect a methodical and ordered approach. This is seen as being a consequence of the organized offender being socially skilled and adept with handling interpersonal situations. Organized offenders are thus more likely to use a verbal approach with victims prior to violence and all these aspects of the offender are presumed to be reflected in the crime scene.


In contrast, the crime scene of the disorganized offender is described as reflecting an overall sense of disorder and suggests little, if any, preplanning of the murder. The disarray present at the crime scene may include evidence such as blood, semen, fingerprints, and the murder weapon. There is minimal use of restraints and the body is often displayed in open view. The disorganized offender is thought to be socially incompetent and to have below-average intelligence

By contrast, Douglas et al. (1992) hypothesize that the disorganized offender kills opportunistically. He or she will live in close proximity to the crime scene.

A lack of planning before, during, or after the crime will be reflected in the spontaneous style of the offense and the chaotic state of the crime scene. This mirrors the offender’s social inadequacy and inability to maintain interpersonal relationships. The lack of normal, healthy social relationships increases the likelihood of sexual ignorance as well as the potential for sexual perversions or dysfunctions as part of the homicidal acts.


The attack may involve more than one offender, there may be unanticipated events that the offender had not planned for, the victim may resist or the offender may “escalate” into a different pattern during the course of an offense or over a series of offenses.

The suggestion is that in this sort of crime, although there may be some evidence of planning, there will be poor concealment of the body. The crime scene might be in great disarray, and there will be a great deal of manual violence committed against the victim. The offender may be young or involved in drugs or alcohol.

Structuring for Cold Cases

Subsequent to the original murder case Cain vs. Abel, there has always been a small percentage of murders that were unsolved for a variety of case-specific reasons. There have also always been detectives who’d occasionally look back at “the one that got away,” but the idea of dedicating a group of professionals to work solely on clearing these cases didn’t originate until the 1980’s.

The Beginnings – Cold Case Investigation 
The first cold case investigation unit is widely credited to detectives within the Miami-Dade police in the 1980’s. In 1995, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) used the Miami-Dade cold case protocols to staff and investigate the death of a U.S. Navy crew member in a two-year-old homicide in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. A task force of six NCIS Special Agents, five local detectives and a Deputy U.S. Marshal worked around the clock on this unresolved murder and 27 days later, the killer was taken into custody.

Following this success, NCIS initiated a full-time cold case investigation program in 1995 based on the Miami-Dade protocols. This was the first cold case unit commissioned by a federal agency. Seasoned special agents were trained in the methodologies, forensics, and concepts. Since 1995, NCIS agents, along with local police partners, have resolved 62 cold murders. NCIS began teaching the cold case protocols to other federal, state and local police, as well as international partners with hundreds of officers trained each year.  (excerpt from Law Officer Magazine)

Cold cases are among the most difficult that investigators confront. For a variety of reasons? lack of evidence, strained resources, ineffective investigation. A case becomes cold when initial efforts to solve it prove futile. Clearance rates for homicides and other serious crimes are far below what they were 50 years ago. Lackluster rates of solution, combined with new technologies, such as  (DNA) and automated fingerprint matching, have prompted the police to form cold-case units, designed to address cases that stubbornly resist solution.

Todays Guest

Joe Giaclone

Joseph Giacalone – is a retired New York City Detective Sergeant and Commander of the Bronx Cold Case Squad. He is currently serving as a professor or criminal investigations and the author of The Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators.  More about Joe and how he can help your agency can be found on his website at:  joegiacalone.net

On this show, Joe and I talk about the steps to take in opening and investigating a cold case. We discuss obstacles and management principles that are required to solve these old cases.  Joe brings years of experience to the conversation and our discussion of actual cases.

STOP letting this happen at your scene!

Due to the very nature of sudden and/or violent deaths, many things can and do go wrong in the first few hours after discovery.  Death scenes have a way of bringing together many individuals with various responsibilities and experiences.  This unique group can consist of uniformed officers, detectives, crime scene investigators, forensic experts, coroner investigators, medical examiner investigators, as well as prosecutors and police administrative staff.  

These scenes may also have fire and EMS staff or other agencies trying to do their jobs, not to mention families and onlookers.  Because of this often chaotic scene, errors can happen. Let’s look at the ten most common mistakes of a death investigation.

1. Improper Response and Arrival to the Scene

First, responding officers may not correctly respond to and secure the scene and the immediate surrounding area.  Uniformed officers may not stop or detain people leaving or milling around the scene. Further, while waiting for investigation and CSI teams to arrive, it’s not uncommon for first responding officers to gather to close to, or directly in the crime scene, inadvertently contaminating evidence.

Here are a few other examples of errors from the first responding officers. Failure to notify investigators soon enough, or at all; assuming the cause of death is a suicide or is natural, eliminating the need to treat the scene as a crime scene; failure to detain all persons present at the scene, which might include the suspect; or they may fail to separate possible witnesses and obtain initial statements.  Also, failing to make an initial determination of the scene boundaries leads to an insufficient area of protection.

2. Failing to protect the Crime Scene

In all death investigations, but even more so in a homicide investigation, crime scene contamination can be and is a significant problem.  No other aspect of these investigations is more open to mistakes than the preservation and protection of the scene and subsequent evidence.

Paramount to any investigation is ensuring by the first officers on the scene to isolate, protect, and maintain scene integrity as the investigation follows its standard path.  This includes the monitoring of paramedics and EMS personnel in the scene as well as identifying them for a future interview.  Officers must also watch family members or others in the area to ensure they are not contaminating the scene.  After a perimeter is established and is locked down, officers should start a log of everyone entering and leaving the vicinity and the reason why they are there.  Also, officers should be observing and taking notes of activities occurring in and around the scene.

3. Not Handling Suspicious Deaths and Homicides

All unattended death should be looked at and treated as suspicious, and an experienced officer/investigator should go to the scene.  These deaths should be treated as homicides and crime scenes until the facts prove otherwise.  Too many departments allow untrained patrol officers to conduct basic death investigation with the assumption of suicide or natural death and with the idea that it is unlikely to be a homicide.  Without training, officers could likely miss-interpret a staged or altered scene.

If the scene is not handled correctly from the beginning and is later found to be a homicide, valuable evidence can be lost, and the integrity of the scene is compromised at best and at worst, non-existent.

4. Responding with a Preconceived Notion

It is imperative that investigators not allow themselves to respond to a death scene with any preconceived conclusion about the case. It’s common for investigators to get sent to a scene and given information based on the initial call.  If the call came in as a suicide and the initial officer who responds arrives with the mindset of suicide, it is common to treat the death as a suicide and thus shortcut any other investigation.  It looks like a suicide, so it must be a suicide, and no other investigation is conducted.   

This type of preconceived investigation results in fewer photographs being taken, witness statements not being completed, evidence not being searched for or collected, and the integrity of the scene is destroyed.

It’s not only suicide this can happen on, but reported natural deaths and accidents can also inadvertently be short cut if responding officers conclude their investigation based upon the initial reported call.  If then, at a later time, the death becomes suspicious, the officer’s reports and any investigative documentation will be lacking valuable information needed for future investigations.  The tendency is for the uniformed officer to write the final report and collect the evidence necessary to fit the narrative given to him by the initial call.  

5. Failing to Take Sufficient Photographs

In today’s world of digital photography, photos are cheap and easy to obtain. Back when I started in this business, we used Polaroid™ instant photography and 35mm film cameras.  These were expensive, and some departments wanted to limit “unnecessary” photographs in an attempt to stretch the budget. That’s not the case today since hundreds of photographs can be taken and stored nearly free of charge.

Photos are a way to document the scene and to freeze that scene in time. They are used in court when necessary and may prove or disprove a fact in question.  Therefore, it is vital that photographs be taken of the entire scene, area, and location where the crime took place, including any sites connected to the original crime. Remember, you only get one chance at your first chance to document a scene.

6. Failing to Manage the Crime Scene Process

The investigator in charge should oversee the investigation and scene documentation. He or she should ensure proper chain of custody and documentation of evidence. They are in charge of maintaining scene integrity. Never allow officers to use the restroom within the residence, or take food or drink from the kitchen. Never allow smoking in the investigative area, never bring food or drink into the scene from an outside source, and always keep non-essential personnel out of the scene area. Designate an area for them to congregate if needed, but it should never be inside your primary scene area.

Lead investigators must also direct crime scene personnel on where and what they are to collect. Many CSI staff are well trained and have a good idea of what needs to be done. However, since each scene is unique, the investigator in charge must ensure evidence is adequately searched for and collected.

The victim’s body should always be inspected and searched for trace evidence prior to being moved or taken from the scene. Not doing so can result in loss of valuable evidence and leave many unanswered questions. 

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, do not allow anyone to cover the body with anything found at or near the scene!  I’ve arrived on death scenes to find victims covered with blankets officers found on beds, sheets from nearby laundry baskets, or coats covering victims’ faces to preserve their dignity.   If the body is found outdoors, barriers should be used.  Using anything to “add” to and subsequently alter the initial crime scene is always harmful to the investigation. Don’t do it and don’t allow it.

Always stop and look around the scene; look up as much as around. See what is missing or what isn’t.  What looks right about the scene, and what looks wrong?  Is what you are seeing matching what you are being told?   Never leave a scene until you are confident every answer to any question you may have has been answered or documented. Remember, this is your only first chance.

7. Failing to Evaluate Victimology

Victimology is the collection and assessment of any significant information as it pertains to the victim and his or her lifestyle. It is imperative that investigators know the victim and that they complete a victimology study. You cannot properly investigate a death without victimology.  Failing to have a complete picture of the victim will preclude you from developing motives, suspects, and risk factors unique to the victim. These risk factors are usually regarded as high, moderate, or low and based on lifestyle, living conditions, job skills, neighborhood, or anything specific to the victim.

 This information includes areas such as personality, employment, education, friends, habits, hobbies, marital status, relationships, dating history, sexuality, reputation, criminal record, drug and/or alcohol use, and physical condition as well as facts about the area they grew up in and if different, the one they resided in at the time of their death.

Ultimately you need to find out, in great detail, who the victim was and what was going on at the time of their death. The best source of information will be friends, family, employers, and neighbors. Your goal is to get to know the victim even better than they knew themselves.

8. Failing to Conduct an Efficient Area Canvass Properly

First, understand the terms “area canvass” and “neighborhood canvass” may be used interchangeably.  They are interviews conducted in the field, as opposed to statements taken on the scene or in the station. I will admit that conducting an area canvass can be tedious and very time-consuming. Sometimes, hundreds of contacts can be made without unveiling one shred of usable information. However, it is that one exhilarating jewel that is occasionally discovered that makes the process so rewarding.

 There are right and wrong ways to conduct an area canvass that will yield better results for the efforts put out.

 Ideally, patrol personnel and plainclothes detectives should perform separate canvasses.  Some individuals respond more readily to an authority figure in a uniform, while others prefer the anonymity of the detective’s plain clothes.  Since it is impossible to know who will respond more willingly to either approach, both should be employed.  This technique will give the investigator the greatest chance of getting vital information. 

 The canvass may be conducted in an area near the crime scene or, conceivably, hundreds of miles away from it.  In the aftermath of a bank robbery, for example, the getaway vehicle may be located several counties, or even states, away.  Two canvasses should, therefore, be undertaken: one at the original crime scene (the bank) and one at the secondary scene (the vehicle).  If a suspect is developed, it may be advisable to perform an additional area canvass in the neighborhood where that person resides to learn about his/her reputation and habits.  A complex case may require that a number of area canvasses are completed at various locations.

 The primary goal of a neighborhood canvass is, of course, to locate a witness to the crime. It is this promise of the elusive witness that motivates the investigator. However, it is not only the “eye” witness you seek.  On occasion, it may be just as significant to discover an “ear witness.”  Someone who may have heard a threatening remark heard gunshots or even heard how and in which direction the perpetrator fled.

This information can point the case in the right direction.  A witness who hears a homicide subject flee in a vehicle with a loud muffler, for example, could be furnishing a valuable lead.  Likewise, intimidating or threatening statements the witness may have overheard could refute a subsequent claim of self-defense.  In an officer-involved shooting incident, a witness who hears the officer yell “stop, police!” or “drop the gun!” is invaluable to the investigation.   Just as crucial as the eye-witness or the ear-witness is the “witness-who-knows-a-witness.”  Even though this person may not have first-hand knowledge of the crime, he or she can direct investigators to a person who does and is, therefore, of great value.

9. Failing to Work Together as a Team

As with any crime scene, cooperation is critical among differing agencies. But with a death scene, this cooperation is ever more important and ever more strained.  Due to the increased severity of the scene, the spotlight, and egos, these scenes can become a disaster quickly. Therefore teamwork is vital, and it is the lead investigator’s role to set a tone of cooperation and teamwork. 

One of the most significant issues in a major case is the failure to communicate information to those working the case. Some agencies seem to want to keep what they know to themselves. This primarily occurs from egos and “turf wars,” which will compromise an effective outcome.  Everyone involved in the investigation has information gathered from the jobs they were assigned and a lack of communication or an unwillingness to share information discovered for evaluation can prevent the entire team from finding the truth and bringing the case to a conclusion.  It’s imperative to remember that the cases you work aren’t about you, but are for the victim, the family, and, at times the protection of society.

A baseball game is won when everyone playing does his or her job and supports every other player in getting their job done. Imagine the bottom of the 9th, the game is tied and the next ball’s hit to the pitcher who misses but scoops it up sits down, and refuses to throw or let anyone else take the baseball from them.  The pitcher did their job and pitched, but the refusal to share the “scoop” with their teammates resulted in a complete failure for everyone.

10. Command and Administrative Staff Interfering

One of the most frustrating mistakes at a death scene investigation is when command staff shows up on the scene with their own agendas which have nothing to do with the actual investigation. Sometimes it’s for political appearance or simple curiosity. But unless they are an actual part of the investigative team, they should not insert themselves into the investigation.

In many instances, because they’re at the scene, command ranking personnel feel the need to direct the investigation. Consequently, they will have investigators running in different directions which have nothing to do with the primary investigation. The result is the loss of cohesive and central command and major miscommunication. Many times, in these situations no one is willing to step up, make decisions, and take control for fear of making the boss mad. The chaos continues and the investigation is compromised, and when the outcome is delayed or not favorable, the command personnel directly responsible for the chaos will not see that they were the cause, but rather, the blame may fall on the lead investigator.


Death investigations are not always simple step by step cutouts. They require real attention and specific actions to protect the investigation integrity. Many of the mistakes mentioned here are from shortcutting and not taking seriously the gravity of the scene you are working.  Our job as death investigators, regardless of what function that is, is to get the truth for the victim and bring justice to anyone responsible for their death, if in fact, anyone is responsible.  Developing and following strict procedures at every death scene will ensure that investigations are worked properly, and evidence is not missed. 

Reference: Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation Fifth Edition, (CRC Press 2015)


Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, Police, and Forensic students. This hybrid course looks at death investigation from a combined perspective of law enforcement and medicolegal death investigations.

MDI online Academy is a Nationally Accredited online training designed to teach all aspects of death investigation and scene management. Unlike any other coroner training today,  this course offers a blended learning style combining online self-paced video training, along with opportunities for live interaction with instructors several times throughout the program.

MDI online Academy is a guided course with certified instructors. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.

Investigating Suicide – An Overview

Suicides account for over 40,000 deaths in the United States annually, ranked the 10th leading cause of deaths in America. This number has been on a steady increase since the turn of the 21st century. By far the most significant manner of death a patrol or investigating officer will be involved in

The definition of suicide is; the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and a sound mind.

Accidents are not suicides regardless of the level of danger or risk involved in the act.

The need for continued advanced training in the area of suicide is the risk of becoming complacent in these investigations. Suicide deaths must be worked as a sudden, suspicious death until the facts and evidence available tell the investigator differently. 

 Your investigation and case report must support a ruling of suicide.  You should NEVER rule a death suicide unless your investigation proves it.

Suicide is a ruling of exclusion of all other manners of death, and the ruling should be a joint conclusion of all investigators, coroner, and medical examiner.

Implications in suicide rulings

  • Family Denial
  • Stigma of Suicide
  • Insurance Issues

As an investigator, you will need to understand these implications and why they exist.  Your investigation will be scrutinized based on these implications.  It is your responsibility to have completed a thorough investigation with the collaboration of all investigation parties. 

Implications may exist, but your report should identify how your ruling was determined. If others do not agree with the ruling, they must understand how you arrived at it.

Here more about this topic on the podcast.