Crime Scene OutlineCrime Scenes - Murder

by Graham Maranda

 

Last article we discussed Crime Scene Examiners; I also touched on the size of crime scenes (who and what determines that).   This article deals specifically with a murder scenario and how various police units respond, roughly in what order and what their functions are, overall command & control along with other bits and pieces significant to this hypothetical.

The Scene

It is a quiet week day, the sun has been up for a few hours and we are in an inner residential suburb of Sydney.  A late aged man is discovered deceased on the front steps of a semi-detached house.  The steps are on the western side of this house beside shrubbery.   It appears the front door is ajar.  The deceased is wearing flannelette pyjamas. 

The postman, delivering mail, sees the body and notices what appears to be blood from a head wound.  It is clear to her [yes, a female postman] this person is dead because she previously worked for an undertaker and knows a dead person when she sees one.  The postie does not enter the yard but uses her mobile phone to call Triple O.  

The Initial Police Response

The Triple O call is diverted to Police Communications.  An urgent police radio call to inner city local cars dispatches a local uniformed vehicle to the scene.  There is a Highway Patrol vehicle in the area that also acknowledges the call and commences heading toward the location.  The local area supervisor hears the police radio broadcast and prepares to leave the police station to assist.   

In the local area police station detectives' office are three investigators chatting over coffee whilst sorting their case load priorities for the day / week.  A supervising detective sergeant is also in the office.  They all hear the urgent police radio message and start mentally preparing to move aside their planned priorities.  They are trying to reassure each other that it will be a straightforward death because the alternative will mean a dramatic spike in workload.  In fact, if it is murder everything will be put aside and all detective staff diverted to assist. 

Initial Response Police Arrive

The postie has patiently waited.  General duties (uniformed) police arrive.  One officer speaks quickly with the postie eliciting brief but concise details while the other approaches the body to ensure there are no signs of life. The officer talking with the postie records her details (name, date of birth, time the body was seen, work location, telephone contact details).   

Whilst examining the body the officer notes the clothing.  Also, that the body is lying face up with head at the lower end of the steps and with torso and legs facing up onto the small veranda where the front door is situated.  This officer assesses that the body may have been in this location for some hours.  Other careful observations include blood on the steps from a head wound (this could have happened by falling onto the concrete steps).  However, this initial scan also reveals a large blood patch on the front of the bottom part of the pyjama shirt.   This is now a highly suspicious death.  The officer confirms the front door is ajar.  

The open door creates issues that must be urgently addressed.  As the officer returns to his offsider and the postie by the front fence, his mind is racing with questions such as, "Are there any other bodies inside?  Is someone in there dying from wounds inflicted?  Did the dead man outside, inflict a wound on a person inside the house?  Is the dead man's killer inside the house sleeping?" 

Just as the officer reaches the front fence a Highway Patrol car arrives.  The first officer beckons the other officer away from the postman.  He discretely advises his offsider and the Highway officer that the circumstances are suspicious and the front door is open.  

The police radio is immediately advised, "Deceased located at the side of premises - suspicious circumstances - Front door of premises open - detectives required - supervisor required".  This radio call from the local car puts all other local area police into a heightened state of alert; more cars immediately start heading towards the location. 

What To Do Next?

At this point in time, the golden rule comes into play: 'Protect the crime scene - don't let unnecessary people in (including other police) - maintain a log of police / experts who are entering the premises, their name, reason for being there and time leaving".  Do you recall 'The Locard Exchange Principle'?  You don't?  Then go back to my previous article on Crime Scene Examiners. 

"But", I am hearing you loudly exclaiming, "what about who is inside right now - there might be someone dying".  Yes, yes - the police officer knows that.  He has many, many things to consider in split-second stagings.  Front line policing does not have the benefit of hindsight.  Nor does it have the time - such as is taken by the media, a judicial or other inquiry to slowly dissect each single step then come to a noble conclusion that 'this is how it should have been done'. 

Officer Safety is paramount; therefore, in cases where an offender may still be on premises, police return to their vehicle and put on heavy ballistic vests before entering.  Simultaneously, those front line police have the golden rule bouncing around in their head: 'Preserve the Crime Scene, Preserve the Crime Scene.....' as they cautiously enter the house together.  Their adrenalin is starting to push around their bloodstream as they nervously wonder what will confront them, room by room. 

The Cavalry Arrive

More front line police arrive.  The general supervisor should have arrived; he ensures the crime scene perimeter is set to the best of his ability (in this case, the entire yard of the house).  He allocates taskings such as permitter guards, Crime Scene Log officer, police to keep crowds & media away from the front of the premises.  This Supervisor maintains communications with the Police Radio Dispatcher.   

A Police Duty Officer responds to the scene and takes overall command and control of the scene including local area police involved. The Duty Officer relies heavily upon his local detectives who will manage the crime investigation and they rely upon the Duty Officer for authorisation / approval of resource use and expenditure.  At least two detectives arrive from the local police station to make their own final assessment/s.  

Alternate Circumstances

Let's say the man lived alone, came out early in the morning to collect the newspaper and while walking back up the stairs (with paper in hand) suffered a heart attack, falling backwards and striking his head on the bottom step.  

Lying there, felt his head and got blood over his hand, wiped this on the front of his PJs and subsequently died in that position.  The local police would still require attendance of a crime scene examiner and local detectives.  They must ensure no foul play has occurred so the Coroner can comfortably record the death as natural / accidental causes. 

The Coroner

Quick surf of the internet (http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/Coroners_Court) tells us that in New South Wales, "the role of the Coroner is to determine the identity of the deceased and the date, place, manner and medical cause of death.  The Coroner relies on information obtained from pathologists, police personnel, general medical practitioners and specialist physicians".  Here in New South Wales, when the Coroner makes a formal finding this is under civil law process (balance of probabilities) as opposed to criminal process (beyond reasonable doubt).  If the coroner finds a case to answer for serious criminal charges, the matter is referred to a criminal court to deal with. 

Murder She Wrote

For our scenario however - it is foul play. 

The interior of the house is searched (with the "Golden Rule" in mind, therefore preferably without touching anything).  No bodies (alive, dying or dead) are within.  Local detectives examine the deceased (from a short distance - no touching at this stage because that is a crime scene examiners' domain).   They are convinced the blood on the lower front pyjama shirt came from a further wound somewhere in the lower stomach area. They note the deceased appears to be wearing under his flannelette PJ top, a singlet and a white crew neck t-shirt.  

Crime Scene Examiners arrive.  They converse with local detectives receiving an up-to-date briefing of who, what, why, when and how the body was discovered and what circumstances / history have been determined so far.  The Crime Scene Examiner photographs the body and immediate surrounding area, making a closer but still careful examination of the blood on the front of the PJ shirt.  Lifting the shirt and under garments away from the torso, the examiner discovers a puncture wound to the lower stomach.  A murder investigation is formally underway. 

More crime scene specialists are called (refer to my previous article).  Additional detectives are called in from surroundings areas to assist in the short term - detectives on days off are recalled to duty.  The Local Area Commander along with the Crime Manager (the most senior criminal investigator at the local area command) is notified and attends. 

Crime Scene Examiners undertake physical / photographic examination of the body, immediate crime scene, then inside the house and yard.  Where available, the Department of Forensic Medicine (Glebe, NSW) will provide a Forensic Pathologist to attend the scene to help police unravel the 'cause of death'.  

Body is removed

The Beginning

Eventually the body is transported for further forensic examination and autopsy.  Crime Scene Examiners go back to their offices and undertake further examining, testing and / or filing of things seized.  The majority of detectives at the scene on the day go back to other investigative duties.  A small band of dedicated detectives continue the investigation. 

A long foot slog begins.  Many hours of taking statements from all types of witnesses, numerous hours conducting follow up inquires, chasing rabbits down holes and ending up with a myriad of further inquiries, links to other crimes, further suspects or more motives why others may have wanted to kill the deceased.  

At the same time, the dedicated band must maintain the filing system, ensure all exhibits have been / will be examined, get statements from examining experts, review crime scene photographs, deal with relatives/friends of the deceased, keep the coroner formally appraised with updates, keep the police hierarchy appraised - the list is goes on.  Oh by the way, if you have electronic surveillance up and running (listening device installed in premises or a telephone service intercepted) that is another workload on top of everything else. 

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker.   The working life of a Detective.

copyright Graham Maranda.

 

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