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10 Mistakes at Death Scenes

Due to the very nature of sudden and/or violent deaths, many things can and do go wrong in the first few hours of discovery.  Death scenes have a way of bringing together many individuals with various responsibilities and experience.  This unique group can consist of uniformed officers, detectives, CSI, and forensic experts, medical examiner and coroner 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 respective jobs. Not to mention families and onlookers Because of this scene, chaos 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.  It’s not uncommon for the uniformed officers to not stop or detain people leaving or milling around the scene. Further, it’s common that while waiting for investigation and CSI teams to arrive, first responding officers gather and congregate to close to, or in the scene inadvertently contaminating evidence.

Here are a few other examples of errors from first responding officers. They may fail to notify investigators soon enough, or at all, they may assume the death is a suicide or natural, and there is no need to establish a crime scene; they may fail 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 the assurance by the first officers on the scene to isolate and protect the scene as well as maintaining scene integrity as the investigation follows its standard path.  This includes the monitoring and supervising to paramedics and ems personnel in the scene. These personnel must be identified for a future interview.  Officers must also watch family members or others in the area to assure they are not contaminating the scene.  After a perimeter is established, the scene is locked down, and officers should start a log of everyone entering and leaving the scene 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 a homicide and a crime scene 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 thinking that it is unlikely to be a homicide.  Without training, officers could likely miss-interpreted 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 scene as 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 be shortcutting if responding officers make the conclusion of their investigation based upon the initial reported call.  If then, in fact, the death becomes suspicious at a later time officer reports and investigation will be lacking valuable information 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, photographs are cheap and easy to obtain. Back when I start 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, hundreds of photographs can be taken and stored nearly free of charge.

Photographs are a way to document the scene and to freeze that scene in time. They are used in court when necessary and will prove or disprove a fact in question.  Therefore, it is vital that photographs are 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 and 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 also 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 are to collect. Many CSI staff are well trained and have a good idea of what needs to be done. However, each scene can have unique situations, and 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 can leave many unanswered questions. 

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 chance and a first chance.

7. Failing to Evaluate Victimology

It is imperative that investigators know the victim and completes 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 are based on lifestyle, living condition, job skills, neighborhood, or anything specific to the victim.

Victimology is the collection and assessment of any significant information as it connects to the victim and his or her lifestyle, these include areas such as; personality, employment, education, friends, habits, hobbies, marital status, relationships, dating history, sexuality, reputation, criminal record, drug, and alcohol use, physical condition, and neighborhood of residence as well as where they grew up of different than where currently living.

The bottom line is, who was the victim and what was going on at the time they became a victim. The best source of information will be friends, family, employers, and neighbors. You need to know the victim better than they knew themselves.

8. Failing to Conduct and Efficient Area Canvass Properly

I will admit that conducting an area canvass can be tedious and very time-consuming. Sometimes hundreds of contacts are often made without one shred of usable information being unveiled. However, it is that one exhilarating jewel that is occasionally discovered that makes the process so rewarding. 

Most criminal investigation courses and books talk little about an area canvass, other than to suggest doing one. 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. 

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. 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.

Hearsay

Rumors, innuendo, and gossip may not have a place in the courtroom, but they are certainly welcome tidbits that help navigate any investigation.   The type of approach the investigator uses to cultivate this information can often determine how successful he will be.  In certain situations, it may be necessary to coax and cajole the witness. In others, it may be beneficial to appear to confide in the witness and reveal some “inside scoop” about the investigation. This works particularly well with the neighborhood “busy body” who will derive motivation from being “included” in the case.  Also, remember that in certain situations, an area canvass may more resemble an interrogation than a simple interview.  Eliciting information from a witness, who is not predisposed to furnish it, is the essence of any area canvass.

 In high crime, drug infested neighborhoods retaliation for “snitching” to the police is a real-life possibility that must be appreciated.  Witnesses who refuse or are reluctant to cooperate with authorities may have ample reason for their trepidation.  That is why each person approached should be provided with a contact number and assurances that they may remain anonymous.

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 investigators 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. Agencies seem to want to keep what they know to themselves. This occurs from egos and turf wars, which will compromise an effective outcome.  Everyone involved in the investigation is after the same conclusion. Each member has a job to do and has information gathered from that job; this information is combined and evaluated to set the direction and ultimate conclusion of the investigation.

A baseball game is won when everyone playing does his or her job and supports every other player in getting their job done.

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 and make decision and take control for fear of making the boss mad, so the chaos continues and the investigation is compromised, and when the outcome is delayed or not favorable, the command personnel directly the chaos will not see that they caused the confusion but rather the blame may fall on the lead investigator.

Conclusion

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 mention 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 to 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)

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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.

MLDI 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, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


Fingerprinting Mummified Remains ep218

Postmortem fingerprint collection is a routine part of many forensic death investigations. Although the production of postmortem prints is usually straight forward, several obstacles and scenarios can make the collection difficult. A common challenge occurs when finger pads are mummified. Several current techniques allow for softening and rehydration of mummified finger pads; however, despite the employment of such techniques, the production of adequate postmortem fingerprints can remain difficult.

The Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner has earned national recognition for breakthrough work with fingerprinting unidentified bodies of people, including border crossers, who have died in the desert.

In arid conditions such as Southern Arizona’s desert, it doesn’t take long to run out of water. This, as well as sickness, injuries and other accidents, can lead to fatalities and the dehydration process doesn’t stop after death. Many of the bodies brought to the PCOME’s well lit, tiled hallways have begun to mummify.

When nobody knows who the person was, mummification makes identification an even greater challenge.

It’s possible to rehydrate the tissue using sodium hydroxide. The process can take up to 72 hours and requires a mixture of attention and patience.

If printing is attempted too soon, the prints are still distorted — but waiting too long can mean permanently losing the fingerprints.

“The risk again is always you can dissolve the tissue if your solution’s the wrong concentration or you leave the tissue in the solution for too long and that kind of thing,” Hess said. “So we have a fairly rigid process.”

It was a process that Hernandez began helping to develop after he started working at the PCOME in 2000.

This article was an excerpt from a full article by the Tucson Sentinel January 2014, read the full article HERE

To hear the full story with Gene Hernandez with Pima County Arizona on how this process works listen to this episode.

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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.

MLDI 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, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


Hell in the Heartland ep217



On December 29, 1999, high school friends Lauria Jaylene Bible and Ashley Renae Freeman spent the evening together celebrating Freeman’s sixteenth birthday. Bible received permission from her parents to spend the night at Freeman’s home. Earlier that day, the girls had spent time at a local pizza restaurant with Kathy Freeman.

At approximately 5:30 am on December 30, 1999, a passerby called 911 reporting that the Freeman home was engulfed in flames. Law enforcement determined the fire had been an arson. Inside the home, the charred remains of Kathy Freeman were discovered lying on the floor of her bedroom; she had been shot in the head. Initially, no other remains were relocated, leading local law enforcement to believe Dan Freeman had killed his wife and fled with both teenage girls. Lauria’s parked car was in the driveway of the home with the keys in the ignition.

On December 31, Lauria’s parents Lorene and Jay Bible returned to the scene, hoping to find additional clues law enforcement may have missed. While walking through the rubble, they discovered what appeared to be another body, and called police. The second body was determined to be that of Dan Freeman, Ashley’s father; like his wife, he had also been shot in the head. After this discovery, the scene was reexamined, but no sign of Lauria Bible or Ashley Freeman was found. In 2010, the Freeman family initiated court proceedings to have Ashley declared legally dead

Suspects and confessions

In the decade following the disappearance of Bible of Freeman, two convicted killer—Tommy Lynn Sells and Jeremy Jones—confessed to murdering them, but subsequently recanted their admissions. Jones had claimed that he murdered Dan and Kathy Freeman as a favor for a friend over drug debt, then took the girls to Kansas, where he sot them and threw their bodies into an abandoned mine. Searches of the mine Jones identified proved unfruitful, however, and Jones subsequently admitted he had fabricated the story in order to get better food and additional phone privileges in prison

In a 2001 profile on Unsolved Mysteries, it was mentioned that rumors had circulated among locals that the Craig County Police Department had been feuding with the Freemans at the time over the death of their son, Shane, who was shot by a deputy after stealing a car. While his death was ruled justifiable, the Freemans had threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Dan Freeman’s brother, Dwayne, claimed that Dan had confided that deputies had tried to intimidate him.

Article/Info Credit:  Wikipedia


This Episode

In this episode, I talk with Jax Miller and Sarah Cailean as to their involvement in this ongoing investigation and how Jax, as a true crime writer, and Sarah, as a police investigator, team up to uncover new clues and sparked the attention of Law Enforcement which moves this case forward.


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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.

MLDI 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, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


Every Scene – Every Time ep216

The term every scene every time is certainly not new and is not unique to me. This term is credited to Steven C. Clark, Ph.D. of Occupational Research and Assessment, Inc. The term was first used in a 1999 NIJ research study setting out guidelines for death scene investigation and has since been updated to a 2011 revision. 

However, regardless of who first said it, the term is reelevate today as any time and needs to be explored regularly.  Many agencies have checklist and guidelines to help investigators properly complete an investigation and some are very detailed in their approach.  The NIJ guidelines are a bit broader and are meant to establish investigative tasks that should be performed at every death.  The direct quote from the publication is:

The principal purpose of the study, initiated in June 1996, was to identify, delineate, and assemble a set of investigative tasks that should and could be performed at every death scene. These tasks would serve as the foundation of the guide for death scene investigators……..

In this podcast, I break down the areas outlined by the NIJ publication.  Each section has several points and will establish a path of investigation for every death scene.  With these basic foundations, an investigator can insert their local policies and ensure a complete and appropriate investigation every time.

Linking Aspects of Investigations ep215

Every crime scene presents unique obstacles for the investigator, but in a death investigation, three elements will always exist to some degree. These three elements make up the investigative triangle.

Although independent in nature – they are interdependent in the investigation. A complete and accurate investigation cannot be accomplished without weaving these three elements together.

These elements are

  1. The Scene
  2. The Body
  3. The History

The Scene

The scene of every death contains facts of the story. Regardless of the amount of actual physical evidence, the scene does tell a portion of the story; every scene must be worked slowly and methodically. It is our responsibility to listen to that story and let the evidence and subsequent facts, complete the story.  The scene may be one location, or many. Evidence can be overwhelming in scope, or minimal at best.

Cooperation between police investigators and the  Coroner/ ME offices is critical. Each agencies has a major,  and no less important, function in the overall investigation of any death scene. Agencies should have an attitude of cooperation and communicate each other’s roles clearly  prior to any scene presenting itself.  Neither agency can properly perform their function without the information and cooperation of the other.

The Body

The body is the most important piece of evidence of any death scene.  Without a body,  you have do not a death scene, (even if the body is presumed dead and ordered so by the courts) .  Information from the body is what directs the investigation.  First, there must be a body. Then a determination of cause and manner will direct further investigation.  Evidence such as recovered bullets, wound patterns, DNA, wound type and trajectory, are just the basic information located within  the body.  In most states, the Coroner/ME  investigators have complete control of the body and everything associated with it.  Although it is part of the scene, it is a scene within  itself.  Here again is where prior communication and complete cooperation is a must between agencies.  Questions such as collecting evidence, initial photographs, movement of the body, and access for time of death determination needs to have an attitude of cooperation.

History

Decedent  history is the third element of the investigative triangle and an equally important aspect of every death investigation. Anti-mortem activity should be known of every decedent to establish the activities immediately prior to death; although that time frame can be minutes or hours.  An effort must be made to obtain medical history, psychological history, as well as social and sexual history, any and all of these can yield information necessary to establish cause and manner, as well as establish a suspect.


In this episode:

This episode is a panel discussion of the three elements of the investigative triangle and how best to approach each one.  I have included two experts from different parts of the United States as well as differing primary roles of investigation as well as myself; to discuss at length this investigative triangle approach  to death investigation.

Everette Baxter Jr.

Supervising Crime Scene Investigator  with the Oklahoma City, OK Police Department

Paul Parker

Los Angeles County Coroner Office



Death Investigator Magazine

A digital magazine focused on the death investigation community. Dedicated to improving skills and enriching lives of investigators.  

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we only owe the truth.” Voltaire


Medicolegal Death Investigation – Online Academy 

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.

MLDI 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, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


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How Bodies Burn ep.214

The human body burns predictably based it on its anatomical configuration of soft tissues and bones. Fire creates burn patterns to soft tissues: skin, fat, muscle, and then on select areas of the skeleton. These burn patterns convey how the body burned within its environment and if there was any traumatic injury present prior to the fire.

Normal burn patterns of the body involve blisters, skin splits, color banding of skin, exposure and rendering of subcutaneous fat, followed by protection from thick bulky muscles that overlie the inner skeleton. After the outer skin splits, subcutaneous fat melts and liquefies into a fuel source that keeps the fire burning, and can do so for several hours under the right conditions.

Muscles protect the skeleton but even they shrink and retract along the shafts of long bones when exposed to heat. Inner bones of the head, torso, and extremities gradually become exposed to the fire and they undergo color changes of blackened charring and calcination. Burned bone is durable and survives the fire when all of the other soft tissues have burned away, and therefore it stands as physical evidence of the body when all else is burned beyond recognition.

Burn patterns in bone can convey how the body burned and if there was any traumatic injury present during the fire, which would produce abnormal burn patterns, along with the skeletal injury patterns from gunshot wounds, blunt force and sharp force trauma. These injuries remain present throughout all stages of burning and are reflected in the bones after the fire.

Dr. Elayne Pope – Forensic Anthropologist

“The Dame of Flame”

www.burnedbone.com

ebone50@hotmail.com

Dr. Elayne Pope is a Forensic Anthropologist who researches how the human body burns in a variety of structural, vehicular, and outdoor fire environments for the purpose of training law enforcement. Through her research she has burned over 100 bodies in various situations and environments to document the affect fire and heat has on the human body.

Dangers of a Hoarding Environment ep213

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.

Fire

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.

Decay/Decomposition

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.

Infestations

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.

http://mindsleuth.net/

Free 12 week email course.  Receive a new training and video to your inbox every week for 12 weeks.  This is real training and will give in detailed actionable steps to becoming a better investigator. Sign up today at:coronertalk.com/investigator 


 

Medicolegal Death Investigation – Online Academy 

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.

MLDI 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, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect, transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


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30-Years of EMS ep212

In this episode, I talk with Bill Patt. Bill has spent his career in EMS and for the last several years has been the supervisor of a large EMS district. Bill and I discuss the history of the EMS field in where the EMS field and the Coroner – death investigation field merge.

We talk about the first call he ever had that resulted in a death, that happened also be the first call the local coroner. We also talk about scene control, personal decontamination, and mental fatigue of the job.

Bill is due to retire within a few months after a long 30-year career in the EMS field, this conversation is very real and at times can get very humorous. Bill is a fascinating paramedic supervisor and will add a lot to this industry to this conversation.


Death Investigator Magazine

A digital magazine focused on the death investigation community. Dedicated to improving skills and enriching lives of investigators.  

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we only owe the truth.” Voltaire

.



Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


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Sworn Statement – Dead Hiker ep211


Sworn Statement is a podcast exploring local cases and public safety issues here in Collier County.

The first three episodes will focus on the case of the deceased hiker known as Mostly Harmless.

Hikers found the man’s body in Big Cypress National Preserve in July 2018. Facebook tipsters quickly linked a composite image of the man to photos taken of him during his hike along the Appalachian Trail, beginning in 2017. But detectives have not yet made a positive ID.

Sworn Statement will take a deep dive into the case with first-hand accounts from the 911 caller, hikers who met him on the trail and CCSO’s own investigators.

Future episodes of the podcast will delve into other issues and cases taking place in our community.

Listen to the first three episodes here.



If you have information about who this man might be please contact Collier County Florida Sheriff’s Office


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


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Testing Oral Fluids – SteelFusion ep210

SteelFusion offer rapid forensic and clinical toxicology testing utilizing Oral Fluid and Urine for the detection and quantification of illicit and prescription drugs.

SteelFusion are the post-mortem Oral Fluid experts! Are you unsure about the interpretation of your toxicology results? Do you need an expert testimony witness to consult with? Do you know if your laboratory is using the most up-to-date procedures and has the proper accreditations?  Whether you are a coroner, deputy coroner, medical examiner, investigator or work for the judicial system, they can assist you with choosing the right sample and the right test to meet your specific needs.

Codeine is one of the fastest opiates to leave your system. A blood drug test can detect it within 24 hours while urine tests work for 24-48 hours. Saliva testing for codeine is effective 1-4 days after.

Testing blood, saliva, or urine can detect most drugs for 1 to 4 days after use. Oral fluid testing, in its similarity to blood, excels in the ability to detect drug use within the first moments of consumption. Urine testing must wait until the drugs have passed through the body.


Death Investigator Magazine

A digital magazine focused on the death investigation community. Dedicated to improving skills and enriching lives of investigators.  

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead, we owe only the truth.” Voltaire

Medicolegal Death Investigation – Online Academy 

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.

MLDI 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, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.