January 26th, 2013
By Tierra S. Briscoe
Humans aren’t the only ones who require special investigation when it comes to criminal cases. Yes, bugs you heard it right, bugs are also required for forensic investigations and analysis. Believe it or not they have been used in forensic investigations since the 14th Century but only in the last 30 years the study of insects has become more prevalent in forensic. This is referred to as Forensic Entomology, which is the study of insect and arthropod biology that relate to any criminal matters. These studies include but aren’t limited to homicide cases, the detection of drugs and poisons, the location where an incident occurred and to determine where and when a wound was inflicted.
There are three subdivisions in forensic entomology: urban, stored-product and medico-legal forensic entomology. Urban Forensic Entomology focuses on pest infestations in buildings gardens or agreements between tenants and their service providers. Forensic entomology is used to determine what types of pesticides are required to treat the area and who may be at fault for the infestation. Stored-product forensic entomology is the investigation of commercially distributed foods that are subject to insect infestation or contamination. Lastly, Medico-legal forensic entomology is probably the most relatable to the name. It deals with the evidence associated with insect studies at scenes including murder, suicide, contraband trafficking, rape and physical abuse. At murder scenes the different life stages of flies could help determine when the murder occurred and also where. Entomotoxicology is a new field covered under medico-legal forensic entomology which focuses on using entomological specimens found at crime scenes to test for possible drugs that could’ve been used to kill the victim.
As much as we hate flies they are one of the most depended upon insects when it comes to death investigations. They are the first insects on the scene of a murder and are attracted to a fresh moist body for their larvae to feed on. The different life stages of flies located at a crime scene could help detectives determine the post mortem interval. The next insects to show up are beetles that feed on a more decomposed body when it begins to dry out and can be replaced by moth flies. They are followed by mites and moths who are key factors in the last stages of total decomposition of a corpse.
From the stage of insect development to the type of insect present there are different factors that determine these things. Bugs aren’t the hardest to accommodate but they are picky when it comes to inhabiting bodies. Factors such as moisture levels, sun exposure, air exposure, bodies of water, geography and weather all determine the different insects present at death scenes and the stages of development. If the body is humid and low in moisture maggot levels will increase rapidly.
Whether we like it or not we all depend on each other one way or another. Investigators depend on insects to determine factors that are impossible to find out unless you were actually present and humans provide these pests with a means of survival. New techniques are being developed and advanced everyday thanks to new discoveries.
November 30th, 2012
There are many different things that could happen with forensics in the future. It may look a lot like what you see on TV or even more high-tech and imaginative. With the way the science and technology fields are growing one can only hope that we will see advancements in forensic science techniques.
Many of the forensic accomplishments that are seen on TV are just not possible with current technology, but could be sometime in the future. For example, we currently do not have the technology to definitively match an unknown fingerprint or bullet casing to one that is in a computer database of known criminals or crimes. The database will give us some possible matches but it is not able to actually find an undisputed match. A trained examiner is responsible for ultimately making the identification from the possible matches the database has produced. If a computer could actually get to that standard of analysis it could save the examiners a great deal of time. Of course legally an examiner would most likely still have to verify the computer’s work.
In the future there may also be new techniques and methods for dusting for and lifting fingerprints, such as what is being accomplished with gel lifters. The gel lifters have recently been introduced to forensics in the United States and are able to lift prints from surfaces that have historically been impossible to lift prints from. There may also be new chemicals or methods to detect if there is blood or even DNA at a crime scene. These possible advancements all depend on the research of scientists working today.
There are more and more people going to school to pursue a career in forensics. They range from the crime scene investigator to the forensic accountant. If you are interested in forensics but not all of the science that often accompanies it, try to see if there is a way to relate your particular area of study to crime solving. Forensic science is really any discipline that you can relate to the law, so even though being an accountant is not really a “science” it is part of forensics because it can be used to solve a case.
November 5th, 2012
The past year of Amanda Knox’s life may have been better than the previous four years, but it was still far from normal.
Freed from Italian prison for now a little over a year, Amanda Knox is currently living in Seattle, lying low in a “seedy” part of town, and working on her memoir. She is dating a former boyfriend, James Terrano, a classical guitarist, and spends most of her time alone.
Amanda Knox and former-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are both releasing books this year based on their nightmarish experience.
In September, her previous boyfriend and supposed-accomplice, Raffaele Sollecito, just completed his memoir, Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox. While Knox still hasn’t given her first formal interview, considered “one of the most coveted ‘gets’ being fought over by the American networks,” Sollecito has commented on his experience extensively, even admitting to being jealous of the attention that she got. Sollecito and Knox recently met up at Knox’s grandmother’s birthday party, which helped him come to terms with the girl he once dated. Says Sollecito, he realized almost immediately after seeing her after their release that she was not the she-devil that the media played her out to be, but instead “the Amanda that [he] loved for one week.”
Knox’s book is expected to come out in spring of 2013 and will supposedly net $4 million, most of which will go towards Knox’s staggering legal fees. Until then, Knox seems content to pass unnoticed through the ethnic neighborhood of Seattle in which she lives. Not surprising, considering her nightmarish four years spent in an Italian prison. As Sollecito explained, after getting out of prison, “everything was new…[it makes you] feel like a kid inside, just discovering.”
For more on the Amanda Knox story, visit her page under In the News!
October 23rd, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
A young Rayful Edmond, draped in expensive jewelry
Called the John Gotti of Washington, D.C., notorious gangster Rayful Edmond terrorized and awed the Washington metropolitan area in the mid to late 1980’s with his tight control of the crack cocaine trade and accompanying lavish spending sprees. Known for dropping several thousand dollars a night at clubs, Edmond supposedly spent over $400,000 at a single store in the Georgetown neighborhood, whose owner was, coincidentally, convicted of money laundering soon after. Partially thanks to Edmond’s reign as drug lord, Washington, D.C. became known as the “murder capitol” during this period, as civilians grew too afraid to move about the city.
An entrepreneurial prodigy, Edmond controlled most of the drug trade within the city by his early twenties, importing millions of dollars in Columbian cocaine every week. His arrest at the age of 24 in 1989 and his subsequent trial created a media circus to rival Casey Anthony’s. Jurors were kept anonymous before, during, and after the trial, and the jury box was kept behind bulletproof glass. Edmond was transported to the court everyday from the Quantico maximum-security facility (also the location of the FBI Training Academy) via helicopter. Although these measures may seem extreme, authorities fears were far from unfound.
|At his peak,
Edmond moved 2,000 keys of cocaine a week,
and brought in $70 million
Edmond’s gang was notoriously violent. In one year, Edmond’s “employees” committed 30 murders. Overall, the gang is believed to have committed over 400 murders over the course of their run, not including the attempted murder of a local pastor during an anti-drug march.
Edmond was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Several members of his family also received sentences, including his mother, several of his sisters, and some of his cousins. Being incarcerated did not stop Edmond at first, however, and, along with his new contacts in prison, Edmond conducted his drug business via phone privileges. He received another 30 years sentence after his misconduct was found out. Since his second conviction, Edmond has become a government informant, and is now a part of the Federal Witness Protection Program. His current location is confidential.
Want to learn more about crime and punishment in our nation’s capitol? Visit our D.C. Cases page!
October 12th, 2012
By Emilee Amihere
There are 29 bones (hyoid included) in the human skull, and for many years anthropologists have been using markers from this area of the body to determine sex, age, race, and to make personal identifications. However, forensic anthropology is a science that is greatly affected by changes and new developments in social morays and folkways. Simply put, what was once socially unacceptable often becomes acceptable, and even encouraged, with time. This fact is abundantly clear when one thinks about the checkered history of the United States. While being a nation of freedom and equality, our history is colored with racism and intolerance as well. Allow your mind to travel back to the 1960s and 1970s, and think about how the idea of intermarriage and interracial relationships was taboo. Nowadays, however, these things are commonplace.
Now pseudo-science, phrenology was the science of determining an individual’s personality by studying their skull. There were 27 defined areas on the skull, including one that supposedly represented the likelihood of said individual committing murder. While phrenology is no longer a valid branch of science, it paved the way for the work that forensic scientists are doing today.
An ever-changing and in flux society makes the work of a forensic anthropologist difficult. As a result of social changes, there have been subtle and gradual changes to our skeletal make-ups. Those once clearly defined markers on the skull (as well as the rest of the body) are becoming a little less definitive. It is the responsibility of scientists to grow with the times and expand their arsenal of examination in light of these events.
For many years, it has been posited that the frontal sinus pattern in the human skull is unique to an individual, similar to the idea that fingerprints and DNA are unique. In 2008, a study was published in the Journal of Forensic Science by Roberto Cameriere and colleagues, that sought to test the accuracy of this position. As an added wrinkle, they sought to measure the rate of false positives between persons that were closely related (kin) to better understand the strengths of using sinus patterns to truly identify human remains.
Cameriere x-rayed skulls of 99 individuals from 20 families between the ages of 15 and 74 (from Northern Ireland). These specimens comprised the test group. The control group was comprised of 98 Caucasian individuals, aged between 17 and 98 years. This enabled the scientists to test the effect of closely related persons for false positives. After all the skulls were radiographed and digitally imaged with both anterior (front) and posterior (back) views, they were then statistically analyzed. They used functions and probability to measure the rates of false-positives within their sample.
The results showed that even when examining individuals from the same family group the probability of falsely identifying is very small. As well, based on their results, they posited that the rate for a false positive did not change significantly when family relation was a factor. This research and its results can be helpful when trying to solve cases (especially with closely related kin) where other heavily relied upon identifying methods (DNA fingerprints, etc.) are inconclusive. These results can provide a level of comfort to the scientist(s) attempting to make identification and serve to improve accuracy in
For more information on identifying individuals through fingerprinting, DNA, and forensic anthropology, visit our Forensic Science section!