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Crime Scenes

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 22, 2012

Detective R.C. White (retired) spoke at yesterday’s Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Here’s a smattering of what he discussed. Even though my cozy mysteries don’t contain forensics details, you never know when such knowledge will be useful.

  • Consider involving a Public Safety Aid in your story. The PSA doesn’t have arrest power but does a lot of the grunt work.
  • DAVID—Driver and Vehicle Identification Database. If an officer has this equipment in his car, he can bring up your driver’s license photo, driving record, vehicle registration info, and your emergency contacts if you’ve listed them.
  • NCIS is one of Detective White’s recommended TV shows.
  • Bag and Tag. In reality, more than plastic bags are used. Guns may go in boxes. Items may go into brown bags. But on TV, they use plastic bags so the viewer can see the item.
  • Before touching anything at a crime scene, you must carefully observe and photograph.         camera
  • Photographs should be taken from wide angles all the way to close up shots. The camera should be at a ninety degree angle. Tripods or other equipment are sometimes used to steady the camera, which has to be leveled to take the shot. Often a ruler is placed beside the item being photographed. Different types of rulers may be used depending on what’s being photographed. Lighting is important. Footprints, for example, require oblique lighting.
  • A database of shoeprints exists, or at least it did when the detective was active at work.
  • Luminol glows like a wrist watch in a darkened room, and it’s a time exposure. This chemical agent is used to expose possible blood stains. False positives can come from rust, copper, iron, enamel paint, horseradish, etc. So it’s a presumptive test. The next step is to take a swab and test it. Some of the other techniques deploy PTH or phenylthaline and Protein Dye Stains.
  • For fingerprints, besides lifting tapes, Iodine Fuming involves breaking a glass beaker tube and blowing through it. The fumes adhere to grease and oils, i.e. prints may become visible. Must photograph them before the chemical fades. Ninhydrin turns fingerprints into color so you can see them this way, too. (Disclaimer: This is what I heard, so it’s subject to my perception. Accuracy should be verified before using this source).

At this point, Detective White showed us clips from the film, “My Cousin Vinny”, to demonstrate courtroom technique. He said this movie is required viewing at some law schools. I hadn’t seen this movie. It looks hilarious as well as informative. Will have to watch the TV schedule to catch it next time it plays.  detective

I may never use this information in one of my stories, but again, you never know. It’s absorbed into my mental storage unit of crime data from mystery conferences. But it proves one important point. Don’t rely on television for your investigative details. Get the facts, ma’am, and check your sources.


Please visit the sites on my Blog Tour and leave a comment for your chance to win a free signed copy of Shear Murder. This site counts, too, but I’d like to thank my hosts by having folks stop by my guest sites. Today I’m at Lelia Taylor’s Buried Under Books.

**January 22, Sunday, Buried Under Books, “Setting as Inspiration”

Coming Next:
January 25, Wednesday, Escape with Dollycas, “Weddings and Murder”
January 30, Monday, Savvy Authors, “Concluding a Series”

And if you missed my prior ones:
January 13, Friday, Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, “Character Quirks”
January 16, Monday, Author Expressions, Author Interview
January 20, Friday, Jungle Red Writers, “Conferences, Cocktails, and Coffee”


4 Responses to “Crime Scenes”

  1. Great Information, Nancy. And yes, “My Cousin Vinny” is worth the watch.

  2. Nancy,
    Thanks for the valuable info. NCIS is one of my favorites, too.

  3. Jacqueline Seewald said

    Great info! Accurate forensics are so important in mystery writing.

  4. Karthryn, I have to rent that movie! Marilyn, our detective really likes NCIS. He believes it’s much more authentic than that other popular forensics show on TV. Jacqueline, it’s great to have a resource like Detective White to answer crime related questions.

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