At last, I’m able to continue this series.
In the last several “Crime Scene Processing” entries, I talked about what evidence is and some basic handling of it. Now we’re talking about the actual crime scene.
In the book Against Flesh and Blood and in real life, the scene was located about a mile south of what locals call Broyle’s Bridge in Foxcreek. The novel stays true to what really happened.
In the novel, Will and RJ go to that location, and they observe personal effects tossed on the side of the road. Will stops driving well before they enter the area, parks, and defines where the car is (some fifty meters short of the personal effects) as the northern most border of the crime scene. Fences run some four to five meters beyond the sides of the road, and that becomes the east and west boundaries. The southern boundary extends beyond the T Intersection to the fenceline there. If needed, he can adjust the borders accordingly.
Now, here’s a problem. Anything found in that crime scene could be evidence. Oftentimes this works out very well. Other times, not so well. An example was a homicide case I recall reading about. The detectives established the perimeter and collected the evidence. Prior to the trial, when the defense checked over the scene, they found a single bullet casing. They collected it and used that evidence to try to say the cops arrested the wrong guy (the casing didn’t match the perp’s weapon). If the lines of the perimeter had been adjusted two inches, the casing (which the prosecution was able to show where it came from, and had been there for years) would never have been in the crime scene.
While much of the evidence is in plain site, Will and RJ still conduct a search of the area. In police field searches, there’s a couple of different kinds of searches. Note this is an outdoor location. Indoors we might want to use something called an “elevated search,” and is very useful when searching for and mapping out blood spatter. As the name implies, the investigator starts from the floor and moves up.
Faced with a narrow, open scene, the two detectives in the novel use what we call a “strip” or “lane search.” It’s very simple to conduct. Investigators start in a line and start walking forward. The idea is to cover the area in front of them, identify and place markers next to key evidence. Ideally, they’d stop moving when one finds something and marks it. You walk in a straight line to reach the other end of the scene. If you have a larger area and a handful of people doing the search, you move over at the end, and repeat it.
Once you get to the other side, you might come back and do it again. Trading positions might be a good idea to get fresh eyes on the location just searched.
“Spiral searches” are helpful if we’re looking for a specific item. As the name implies, you start on the outside, and walk in ever closing circles till you reach the middle. You can also determine the middle point and do it from the inside out. an example of something I’d be looking for might be a single bullet casing.
The last is a “grid search,” which works well with interior and exterior locations. We break an area down in squares and search one, then another, and so on. The idea is the search areas should overlap a little.
Whatever search pattern is used, the goal is to do it in a systematic, organized manner, and to be through.
Before collecting evidence we need to photograph it. Earlier, we should have placed an ID marker next to whatever the evidence is. Oftentimes this marker is a simple plastic or cardboard box with a number on it. The number becomes associated with that piece of evidence. So for instance, if Will or RJ place a card labeled “5” next to a discarded wallet or a set of footprints, then that number becomes associated with the number in the crime scene sketch.
The final step is to do a sketch of the scene. Sketching it is a bit of an art, and we’ll cover that in the next entry.