Crime Scenes

by Tracey Hawkins

Actus Reus

As a crime/mystery writer you need to know the following term: "Actus Reus", the "guilty act". If a person brings about a result (commits a crime such as murder) which is forbidden by law, and does so by his own conduct, then he has committed the "actus reus" the guilty act (the crime or offence). 

The Crime Scene(s)

The scene/location/place/area where the 'actus reus' has been committed becomes a crime scene. You may have created a story with more than a single crime scene. Your victim may have been murdered or held hostage or taken at some other location. You have createdmultiple crime scenes. In many cases the victim may have been removed from the initial point of murder/assault. All these crime scenes will be loaded with vital evidence. Evidence is a vital part of mystery/crime investigation. From the viewpoint of the investigating team/officer you need to treat each area as an important part in your writing and plot development, when you show the procedure of investigation. The procedures may not be as involved as those I've detailed below, but will be a vital part of the overall mystery. 

Continuity of Evidence

It is essential that you remember the importance of continuity of evidence. If you are proving that your suspect has indeed been the perpetrator of the crime and continue with them through to a judicial level, then it is your responsibility to show continuity in order to prove them guilty. Your crime will fall flat on its face if you have gone the hard yards to write a scene full of implications/evidence for the suspect and then fail to use that evidence. You will not convict a suspect on circumstantial evidence.

Proof is demanded by the judicial system to convict a suspect. The investigating officer/s have a responsibility to collate and construct a case of evidence based on detail, reports, hard evidence and forensic investigation that proves beyond reasonable doubt that the suspect is guilty of the crime. The crime scene will provide you with a body, evidence (not always readily found) and a story that needs to be solved from the victim's point of view. Police have to discover the circumstances that led to the victim's demise. This includes recreating the last movements and actions before their death. 

Make Your Story World Real

Think of a real world. The burden of proof is upon the investigating officer and the prosecution in the judicial process to convince a jury the defendant is guilty. The law states a person is "Innocent until proven guilty." Record all facts at the scene, and look at it from an investigating officer's point of view. What do Police look for? Evidence! There are plenty of unsolved mysteries due to insufficient evidence.

Reasonable doubt will not convict a defendant regardless of how much circumstantial evidence points to him/her. The Police you see on TV may seem to know all about the victim minutes after arriving at the scene. Ignore this. They need to solve a murder in sixty minutes. In reality, time is still of the essence. The longer a crime remains unsolved the harder it becomes to solve. However, the solving of crime does imply a lengthy process. For example, forensic results are not available in minutes or days; they sometimes take weeks. The Forensic department is also working on other investigations. 

Make Your Police Officers Human

Police Officers are human. They do suffer from attending these crimes and will often do something light-hearted after a shift to feel better. Give your investigation team a drink at a hotel or something real and lifelike to do. This is what does happen. Sometimes they may joke around while guarding a scene. They don't intend to be disrespectful to the deceased - it is a way of relieving their unease in the situation. Trust me, it is not easy to stand there supporting bodies that have been half flung out of a car at an accident. It is stressful and unforgettable. The blue uniform is not a magic shield that stops all feeling and awareness of the world around us.


Police Procedure- Crime Scene Investigation.

Identification of the dead is demanded by society. Legislative requirements stipulate the means and responsibilities of certain investigative parties to procure this. The Coroners Acts in each state in Australia are similar in their laws of investigating such matters. Procedures may differ state to state. Any situation in which a person dies unnaturally, suddenly, violently or suspiciously must be investigated. If the incident/death has involved a breach of criminal law, the burden of proof applies. The onus of responsibility in identifying the deceased and the techniques of investigation involved in a coronial inquiry falls upon the Police. 

The process of Police Procedure/Investigation


Attendance at the Crime Scene:

  • Identify the location/whereabouts of the victim.

  • Assess victim is indeed deceased.

  • Assess and preserve the crime scene.

  • First attending Police Officer/s notify Police Operations of situation and those required in the investigation process. The senior-ranking Officer will be in charge of the investigation at this stage.

  • Police Operations (Radio Communications Area) to notify the Officer In Charge of division/squad/station. Police Commonwealth Medical Officer will be notified immediately. The Criminal Investigation Division will be notified immediately. Police Forensic/Scientific Officers will be notified immediately.

  • Identify and record details of all witnesses.

  • Secure and preserve the crime scene- this can involve removing spectators/crowds/press/media and protecting the scene from contamination by others. (i.e. not allowing people to walk in, smoke etc in the scene thereby spoiling any possible evidence such as cigarette butts, footprints, tyre tracks etc.) This scene will later be closed and marked by Police Crime scene tape to cordon off the area.

  • All action, details recorded and statements taken at the crime scene will optimise the investigative process.

  • The OIC (Officer in Charge) generally takes command of the situation upon arrival. The next proceeding Officer in charge of the Investigation will be CID (Criminal Investigation Division.)

  • The CMO (Commonwealth Medical Officer) and CID will view the victim in 'situ'.

  • The CMO has to pronounce 'life extinct' (dead) on the victim before any further procedure. This is always done, even in case where the victim may appear to be obviously dead - such as no head, half a body etc.

  • The Scientific/Forensic team will then proceed to view the scene. They will take photographs of the victim in situ, and murder weapons if at the scene. This entails recording all evidence with the victim - such as plastic bags/mats/rags/container etc body may have been wrapped in. They will then 'bag' the victim/s hands/feet/shoes to prevent loss of evidence. This is vital to continuity of evidence in proving burden of proof. Soil, DNA, hair, fibres and other materials can be scraped from the victim/s skin and nails to provide evidence. Once the body has been recorded on film, measurements in the scene taken, all body parts safely prepared and labelled for further investigation then the process of removing the body can occur. 

    The body will carefully be removed from its location, placed on a trolley, and taken to a mortuary van, then to the Coronial Medical Centre for autopsy. The forensic team will instigate further recording of the scene by photographs and sample removals. All notable footprints, tyre markings, soil disturbances, handprints, cigarette butts, thread, fibres, hair, blood, bloodstain pattern analysis, bullets, casings cartridges etc will be photographed in situ then carefully bagged and labelled for evidence. Again, continuity of evidence is vital to the burden of proof in the investigation capture of the assailant, and the judicial processes that follow.

  • Witness statements will be taken as soon as possible: generally at the crime scene and followed up later in the investigation.

  • Counsellors may be called upon to help traumatised witnesses and in some cases Police Officers that have attended a brutal crime scene.

  • All evidence taken at the crime scene becomes "exhibit #". Each exhibit will be given a recorded number from a register.

  • The seizure/collection of exhibits is duly processed and managed in accordance with legislative and administrative procedure.

  • Scientific matter will be sent to the Forensic Medical Centre for analysis. Cars etc will be removed to Forensic divisions for analysis. This would be recorded to prove continuity of evidence.

  • Various divisions receive the relevant exhibits. (For example, Fingerprint Division would study all prints taken at the scene. Fingerprint identity may be needed to identify the victim.)

  • Forensic may need to identify the body by more visual markings such as tattoos, jewellery, and clothing, in situations where the victim has more identifiable body parts missing - for example, a head.

  • CID would take charge of the investigation using initial statements, documentation taken by the first attending officers.

  • In the event of a major crime scene all uniform Police Personnel would be required to search the area in a regimented grid formation in order to discover further clues or implements used in the murder.

  • During the processes above, all respect is shown accordingly to the victim.

The aforementioned crime scene procedures are also subject to many variables. However, in most cases, the due process will be the same. The initial crime scene may not be the only crime scene involved in the murder and subsequent investigation. Each situation will be dealt with according to proper police procedure. 


The following definitions will explain some of the law terms used in Police inquiry.

Coroner: A public Official who holds an inquiry into violent or suspicious deaths. A coroner has the power to summon anybody necessary to the inquest.

Burden of Proof: A rule of evidence provided to ensure a person proves a certain thing. The Police Prosecution must prove the accused is guilty because innocence is presumed until proven otherwise.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The jury must be convinced that defendant/accused has committed each element of the crime they stand accused of before a guilty verdict is handed down. Evidence must satisfy any prudent person that the event or thing did happen. Doubt must be real not fanciful.

Evidence/Exhibits: Evidence can be summoned up as a proof of fact/s presented at trial. Facts of evidence are supported by: testimony, documents, physical exhibits. The exhibit is a document or object/s shown to the court as evidence in trial.

Judicial: The judicial process is a legal, administrative process. (i.e. A Trial in a court of law.)

Circumstantial Evidence: Any fact that infers the existence of a fact in issue.


In future articles I shall be looking at:

  • 'Deceased persons and Morgue Procedures' The mystery behind the Morgue and Autopsy.

  • A typical day in the life of a beat Police Officer.

  • Crimes Act 1900 - common charges and powers of arrest.

So stay tuned to this crime channel!

(c) copyright Tracey L.R. Hawkins


Tracey Tells Us A Little About Herself...

I graduated from Armidale College of Advanced Education in 1983 with a Diploma in Teaching. Unable to find a teaching position I applied to the Australian Federal Police. They were looking for small, thin graduates at the time. I only just made the height requirement of 5'4" and was a stone underweight.

I spent 5 months living at the AFP College in Barton, Canberra where I marched, ran, marched, ran and studied law. I even resorted to pegging my study notes on the clothesline as I hung out the washing! I graduated seventh in a class of thirty and was stationed at the Civic police station a week later. I started in a squad as one of only two women attached to the squad. I enjoyed my work on the 'road'. Eventually, I moved up the lines to be senior enough as a constable to work alone on day shift.

Scary? Yes, the first time I went out on my own I attended a death. I arrived at the house and couldn't think what I had to do with the body. So I had a coffee and it all came back. I moved to Criminal Investigation Division in the Fraud Squad for a year, trained as a detective (more study) then returned to uniform.

I officially resigned from the AFP after my third child was born in 1995. I am currently a full time mother; writing children's books and running "host a murder workshops" in schools in Canberra. My interests: I love reading, I play hockey well, swim brilliantly and ski badly. I keep skeletons, snakes, and a body bag under the stairs alongside the kids' coats. I write all my notes to teachers starting; "I have to report... " (old habits die hard). I may not be your typical mother; baking, sewing, tuckshop... (Yuk to all) but my children live an interesting life... on the edge.

(c) copyright Tracey Hawkins


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