crime_scenesCrime Scenes

by Graham Maranda 

 

Who examines a crime scene?  Which officers attend? Who is 'who' at a crime scene?  What generally happens at a crime scene?    What is a crime scene?  Who is allowed into the crime scene?  

Over the next few weeks I will attempt to unravel this beast.  Hopefully, this will assist for creating your next crime story. 

The crime scene can be very large or confined to a small space.  The perimeter of a cordoned crime scene depends on what occurred, over what total area, what resources are needed to contain it, plus many other variables.  

The first responding police (highly likely to be uniformed) will cordon off what they believe is the crime scene.  Later on senior police, Detectives and / or Crime Scene Examiners may re-set the area (larger or smaller). By the time criminal and forensic investigators both arrive they will work together ensuring the crime scene is properly identified and cordoned. 

I recall one of the first major crime scenes I attended in my younger years.  Resembling a typical TV drama scenario, it was a dark night and the police radio barked "Stabbing at XX Smith Street, Bondi Junction".  It seemed to take ages to arrive at the address, but we were the first car to "call off" there.  Walking quickly into the house, I saw blood splatters up the hallway walls.  

At the end of the hall I found a bathroom to my right.  Stopping when I saw a man lying there on his back with legs raised and bent - feet resting flat on the ground.  The white tiled bathroom walls were extensively blood splattered.  This man was conscious and covered in blood, with congealed blood in his belly button. 

'Mmm' I thought - 'stabbed in the stomach'. 

An ambulance arrived; then Detectives, and the offender charged was charged.  Subsequent District Court evidence of the St Vincent's Hospital surgeon revealed that the victim was within a minute of dying when he reached the operating table.  He had been stabbed through the heart - hence blood splattered walls from his pumping heart. 

Part I - The Crime Scene Examiner.

They were formerly called Scientific Police. They came to crime scenes to examine for fingerprints, footprints, blood stains, tyre tracks / marks, fibres (clothing or other material, hair, animal or plant), remnants of glass, machinery equipment, motor vehicles, ballistics and travel of trajectory. They take detailed measurements and present plan drawings in court. 

A most important role, both now and in the past, is photographing the crime scene.  Every detail is captured and therefore able to be re-visited over and over again by scrutinising the photographs.  These are later presented to the court as evidence.  Of course nowadays DNA evidence plays a major role in implicating or refuting someone's role in a criminal event. 

In recent times the majority of police forces in Australia have given their crime scene examiners the title, "Scene of Crime Officer" (SOCO).  The skill of assessing and examining a crime scene through the gathering / capturing of all available information from various sources is critical because something overlooked could be lost forever. 

Crime scene examination by a SOCO involves analysing a crime scene then documenting, recording, collecting, examining and subsequently evaluating 'physical evidence'.  It is not unusual for items (physical evidence) to be taken to external forensic experts for advice and / or opinion.  For example, in the murder of Carolyn Byrne who was thrown off a Watson's Bay cliff, Associate Professor Cross (expert - physics of sport and forensic physics) worked on the case by way of conducting tests to answer the question of whether Caroline Byrne jumped or was thrown off the cliff at The Gap.  

"The only method that could have resulted in the trajectory and head first landing of Caroline Byrne's body was a spear like throw, where the man's left hand was on her chest and his right hand on her crotch, with her body tilting upwards. In our swimming pool trials, we found this position allowed launch speeds of up to 4.8 metres per second.  Given our results, it would have been practically impossible for Caroline Byrne to have jumped and land at the distance and in the way she did. She was thrown off the rock ledge at The Gap by a strong and fit person." [www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~cross].

The website of NSW Police Force [www.police.nsw.gov.au] says their Crime Scene Operations Branch provides a specialised technical crime scene support service throughout New South Wales regarding criminal, coronial and incident investigations. This team of qualified experts examines, assesses, records and collects physical evidence from scenes using a range of advanced forensic research procedures, then presents the findings to Judicial Courts. 

A forensic scientist, Edmond Locard (Lyon, France) put forward a theory which is now known as 'The Locard Exchange Principle' which fundamentally says the perpetrator will bring something to the crime scene and leave with something from the scene. 

"Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibres from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value" -Dr. Edmond Locard.  [Wikipedia].   

Physical evidence is considered best evidence. 

SOCOs (nationally) complete a Bachelor of Forensic Science that covers Principles of Forensic Investigation, General Biology, Anatomy & Physiology for Forensic Science, General Chemistry plus Organic & Analytical Chemistry, Maths & Physics for Forensic Investigations, Communication in Forensic science, Crime Scene Investigation (Volume & Serious Crime), Biochemistry, Court Procedure & Protocols, Criminalistics, and Comparative Analysis etc.  

Further studies provide opportunity to specialise in Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, Ballistic & Firearm Identification, Ridgeology & Fingerprint Comparisons, Biological Criminalistics, Forensic Document Examination, Vehicle Examination and Fire Scene Examination. 

Generally, the more serious a crime appears, the more experienced and specialised will be the SOCO dispatched to the scene.  Also, larger numbers of SOCOs will be directed to attend. 

In the next article I will provide you with an overview of a murder crime scene - including who will attend the scene and in what order these different people will generally arrive at the scene.

© Graham Maranda 

 

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