Posts Tagged ‘Museum’
Wednesday, May 20th, 2009
The CSI will usually have to first secure the crime scene, which means blocking the scene from public access, as well as from personnel who do not need to gain immediate access to the scene. This first step is crucial in making sure that the evidence at the scene does not get contaminated by unnecessary traffic. The CSI will employ different search techniques at the crime scene to locate all the evidence. At large scenes, a spiral or grid search pattern may be useful in covering the whole area; in smaller scenes, a zone search pattern may be sufficient. The CSI must prioritize, however, the collection of evidence. Perishable evidence, such as evidence under the influence of biological processes, i.e. blood alcohol content, or evidence exposed to harsh weather or in the path of foot traffic, may need to be collected immediately so that they do not get destroyed. Other evidence that will not degrade over a short period of time can be collected in its proper order. The CSI will also use different light sources to locate evidence that may not be visible under white light, which is also a non-destructive process of evidence collection.
Very often the crime scene investigators will go on eye witness testimony to start their search, but they will not limit it to just those areas if they suspect that evidence may be located in other regions. Knowing that a criminal might make use of the facilities of the house, the CSIs might check the bathroom for trace evidence or brush the telephone receiver for fingerprints, since it is reasonable that the criminal might use those items in the house. Once evidence has been located, it’s not always necessary to collect it right away, so it should be clearly marked with an evidence A-frame or other numbered marker so that it is clear to everyone that there is evidence in that location.
Read about other techniques used at crime scenes
Monday, May 18th, 2009
John “Snake Eyes” Dillinger
John Dillinger (June 22, 1903–July 22, 1934), one of the most notorious criminals in American History, was often glorified by the American media for his daring bank heists and thrilling prison escapes. He operated in the 20’s and 30’s during the Great Depression Era and was idolized by many as the modern day Robin Hood because he stole from those same institutions that were capitalizing on the American people’s misfortunes. Dillinger’s “career” as a criminal included over 11 bank robberies throughout the Midwest, in which he stole in excess of $300,000, and three separate jail breaks. The mystique surrounding Dillinger’s exploits was so captivating that people often forgot (or turned a blind eye to the fact) that he was responsible for at least 10 murders including that of a Sheriff, the deaths of several innocent bystanders, and that he left a trail of carnage in his wake. Dillinger’s activities, however, did not go unnoticed by Chief Investigator Melvin Purvis of the F.B.I., who was assigned the task of bringing Dillinger and his gang to justice. When J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. named Dillinger the first Public Enemy Number One on his 31st birthday in 1934, his fame took on a new meaning, and his name and face became recognizable in every household throughout the Midwest and the rest of the country. There was even a $10,000 reward for his capture!
Now a public figure, Dillinger turned to plastic surgery to alter his identity and evade Purvis and the rest of the law enforcement community. In those days, plastic surgery was not as common as it is today, and the medical procedures were primitive, dangerous, time-consuming and very painful. Dillinger underwent several bouts of plastic surgery, some more successful than others, but in the end he only managed to slightly alter his appearance. After one round of plastic surgery from which he was extremely disappointed to find that he still looked the same, one of the doctors suggested that he remove his fingerprints as a way to escape being detected. Dillinger liked this idea and elected to undergo the painful process of obliterating his fingerprints.
A wanted poster for Dillinger, complete with all ten fingerprints
Dillinger was not the first criminal to come up with that idea. In 1933, “Handsome Jack” Klutas had attempted to file down the small ridges on his fingers, but he ultimately failed. Two of Kate “Ma” Barker’s clan, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Ma’s son Freddy, decided to remove their fingerprints as well, so they hired mob physician Joseph P. Moran to do the job. Moran was inexperienced in this procedure and repeatedly hacked and knifed at their prints until the gangsters couldn’t bear any more pain, but when their fingers finally healed, the fingerprint ridges grew back to their original patterns.
Hoover was aware of this trend among criminals and he became wary of the possibility of success. He commissioned several surgeons and dermatologists to report on the likelihood of someone obliterating their fingerprints, and in 1934 they came back with their findings. Dr. Howard L. Updegraff, a member of that committee, had extensive experience in the area of fingerprint alterations and he reported that the only way to permanently obliterate a fingerprint is to graft skin from another part of the body over them. And in 1941, that’s exactly what Robert Phillips did when he got a doctor to graft the skin from his chest on to the tips of his fingers. Phillips, however, was caught because the ridges surrounding the graft areas, as well as on the other joints of his fingers were used to identify him.
Dillinger seemed to have taken the road less traveled when he chose acid to burn the tips of his fingers with in late May, 1934. The procedure appeared to be successful; however, faint ridge markings were still visible on his fingertips after the full healing process, as were seen after Dillinger’s death.
Many people in American history have attempted to elude the authorities by scarring or ruining their fingerprints, but forensics has been able to keep up with those criminals all the while. In fact, as Phillips found out firsthand, just ruining the tips of one’s fingers does not preclude fingerprint identification. The ridges that are found on the tips of one’s fingers are also found on the entire surface of the palm, and they are just as unique to an individual. Furthermore, by introducing scars onto one’s fingers, it makes the identification process even easier, since the scar patterns are unique and less common to the general population.
If one thing can be learned from Dillinger and the other notorious outlaws of the Gangster Era it’s that crime does not pay, and eventually criminals will be brought to justice, and not always the pretty way.
Friday, May 15th, 2009
Life sometimes gives us a second chance to get things right, and such is the case when it comes to our teeth. As children, we are able to eat as much sugar as we want without permanently damaging our teeth because they will eventually fall out! Humans lose their baby (deciduous) teeth and regrow permanent teeth in their place; however, the permanent teeth that grow in are not exact replacements for the deciduous teeth. The first dentition made up of baby teeth consists of 20 teeth, 10 on the upper jaw and 10 on the lower jaw. After several years they eventually fall out (or get yanked!) and new teeth take their place. The new teeth that grow in are actually more numerous than the previous ones and include different types of teeth that children do not have. Adults have premolars, which children do not have, and their final dentition includes 32 teeth (except if you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed).
Teeth, or dental records, are often required to identify victims of disasters because they are often the only identifier that remain from the event. The combiniation of unique features due to modern dentistry and the positioning of the teeth can be used to identify an individual based on comparisons with previous records and x-rays.
Learn about more ways bodies are identified and evidence is collected and processed
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
Earlier this year I went to see the movie Taken with Liam Neeson, in which his daughter in the movie is kidnapped while on a trip to Europe and sold into slavery. Honestly, I was shocked that Hollywood would elect to take on as serious a topic as human trafficking in an action-thriller movie, and I was slightly offended by the nonchalant manner in which they approached the topic. Furthermore, I never realized how prevalent human trafficking is until I was researching the 2005 Natalee Holloway cold case file that we will be unveiling in May at the museum, in which there are theories that Holloway was kidnapped while on a school trip to Aruba to be sold into slavery as well.
From my research, I found that the U.S. State Department estimates that, “approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders into slavery; this number does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Some estimate the global number of trafficking victims to be in the millions–in domestic servitude, sex slavery, forced labor, child soldiers, child camel jockeys, and other brutal schemes.”
In the United States, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is the government body responsible for eradicating human trafficking, victim protection, prosecution of traffickers and prevention of trafficking. But they are not alone in their efforts. Since 2002, what began as a simple idea between 2 undergraduate students at Brown University, the Polaris Project grew into a successful international non-profit organization devoted to eliminating human trafficking and modern-day slavery. They claim that human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. And if you think that the U.S. is immune to human trafficking, think again! According to humantrafficking.org, “The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually.”
Fortunately, there are organizations who try to locate the victims of slavery, eliminate human trafficking, and return peace to the lives of those affected; however, this is a much larger problem than most people can appreciate.
Read more about the Natalee Holloway case here
Monday, May 4th, 2009
That blue light you always see the CSIs shining on the crime scenes while wearing big orange goggles is not some science version of a psychedelic party. What investigators are doing in that situation is making use of a forensic light source to see hidden objects or objects in a different way than under normal light. Normal white lightis actually a combination of all the different colors of the rainbow, and the forensic light source is merely separating out a certain color (typically blue light), so that only one wavelength of light is represented. For example, blue light has a wavelength of around 450 nm, and red light has a wavelength of around 700 nm in the electromagnetic spectrum.
When light is shined on a surface, the surface can either absorb, reflect, or transmit the light. In special situations, the light that is shined on an object is absorbed by that material and then re-emitted at a different wavelength (called a Stoke’s shift), which is known as fluorescence. Typically when an object fluoresces, the light is re-emitted at a lower energy state, and therefore, at a longer wavelength. In the case of blue light as the incident light, the re-emitted fluorescence usually occurs in the orange spectrum – that’s why investigators wear orange goggles! In order to see the faint fluorescence, investigators must block out all the blue light from entering their eyes since that would drown out the faint fluorescence, so orange goggles will only allow orange light to reach their eyes, and hence, the fluorescence is observed.
Many body fluids, organic materials and fibers will fluoresce under the forensic light source, and other materials such as blood, gunshot residue, and some inks will absorb blue light to appear dark under the light source. These substances are often not observable to the naked eye, and especially if the surface was wiped down or cleaned. The forensic light source is always a good starting point in a crime scene search because it is portable, quick, cheap (once the unit has been paid off), and most of all, non-destructive, meaning that it will not damage or harm any of the evidence.
Learn about other techniques CSIs use at crime scenes and in the lab