A Day at a Murder Scene

I saw my work van on the BBC News at the scene of a murder.  My immediate reaction was that I hope the van was still tidy and well stocked. If I use someone else's van, I'll always return it as I found it- sadly, not everyone has the same qualities.

I turned into work expecting to spend the day either at the scene or at a Post Mortem, I knew this job was well underway.

A colleague was waiting for me when I got to the office. We were going straight to the scene, in his van. 

'Your van is at the scene, CSI Guy'

'I know..' I replied. Turns out my van was in pretty much every photo and video shot taken by the press that day, everyone had seen my van. 

I put a large flask of hot water together to take with us, We were going to be there all day,  food and drink is often overlooked, it shouldn't be but it's the way it is on high profile jobs. It's not unusual to go to a scene for ten or twelve hours with only a mars bar and a bottle of water to keep you going.

This murder had hit the front pages of every paper. It was 'breaking' news on every TV channel- we were under the spotlight.

Thankfully, there was a Police campervan at the scene, this gave us somewhere to change in and out of our white suits. When I say campervan, think more Sooty and Sweep rather than a Winnebago.

I walked in the scene via the side door. The front door was likely to have been a point of entry or egress by the offender and we wanted to ensure we didn't disturb any evidence that may be present. I stood inside the door as I lay stepping plates ahead of me, the kitchen floor was linoleum and the hallway floor was laminate. These surfaces would need to be examined for footwear evidence, but not yet. There was a lot of work to be done before we got to that stage.

The victim had been murdered in the bedroom on the third floor. Despite this, the smell was clearly evident throughout the house. Death, mixed with the rusty smell of blood. The victim had already been taken away by us, late the night before, but the smell gets worse as each day goes on. The longer we spend in the property, the more we get use to the smell. You often think you've got something from the scene on you or your clothes when you get home, the smell lingers in your nostrils, it's not on your clothes. 

I'd been tasked with collecting certain items of interest from the room where the murder took place. I play the game of step on a plate, lay a plate for twenty plates. I got to the stairs and there was carpet. The CSM had decided that the carpet had been checked for footwear evidence and it's clear. I don't need plates here. I've got my footwear protectors on anyway.

I make it up to the third floor, the loft room. It's warm up here, and it doesn't help that I've got all of my uniform on as well as a giant, white onesie- I'm sweating. 

The blood is all over the wall beside the bed. There's hair and skull fragments on the floor. Beside the mess? A claw hammer. These aren't coincidences. This is the murder weapon. 

This victim didn't pass peacefully in his sleep, or  pass in a loved one's arms. He didn't pass of old age. This victim died a horrible and violent death, fighting for his life.

He lost.

The blood spatter was on the ceiling, the window, the bedspread, the wardrobe door and all over the wall. The blood spatter tells a story on it's own- the blood on the ceiling and wall were indicative of what we call 'cast off', where blood transfers from a weapon to a surface when it is swung back and forth. 

We'd most likely get a Forensic Scientist who specialises in blood spatter to attend this scene. Their expertise would go a long way to showing a version of events.

These scenes aren't completed in a day, sometimes they aren't even completed in a week. They take as long as they take, everything needs to be done methodically and thoroughly. One mistake could be the difference between catching the offender and not. 

I'm in a white suit, on my knees, in a stranger's house, inches away from flesh, blood, hair and skull. I don't get this close to my pillow. I didn't see the victim, but from looking at this scene, his face would be unrecognisable.

We come and go from the house all day, each time we change our white suits. The bag of rubbish gets bigger and bigger, each box of gloves contains fifty pairs- I'll use two boxes at a murder. 

It's my task to get the claw hammer packaged for transportation to the lab. I photograph the room from each corner, ensuring that there is something in each photo from the last one. Once I have the room covered, I work my way towards to claw hammer. As I get closer to it, I change to my macro lens. I love the level of detail this lens provides. It shows things I can't see with my naked eye. I lay an 'L' shaped scale next to it to provide perspective. 

I carefully turn it over, taking my outer layer of gloves off before picking my camera up again. I don't want anything from the weapon on my camera. Once it's photographed in it's entirety, I secure it in a box. 

I use a cardboard window box. It folds closed with tabs to keep it secure. The top section has a vinyl plastic window. This allows the exhibit to been seen without opening it. 

The next task is to secure the claw hammer inside the box. Easy you'd think? Wrong. I need to decide where to place sterile cable ties around the hammer to secure it to a card insert in the box. I don't want to put the ties where they could destroy or disrupt DNA or fingerprint evidence. I use only two. One at each end to hold it in place. It's likely this will hand delivered wherever it goes, due to it's great importance. I tape every edge of the box with brown tape. Taping the edges provides the exhibit with some integrity. The tape also prevents anything getting in or out of the box.

All in all, we spent eleven days in this scene. The offender was apprehended and convicted for murder. Our work is one part of a giant jigsaw. We provided a vast amount of information and intelligence from the scene that allowed the Detectives to develop the investigation further.

Now, where's that Mars bar. I deserve it.

There's Been a Murder

Its not Cracker. Robbie Coltrane is nowhere to be seen.

I work in a very busy force area. We have a large number of Murders compared to many other forces.

I've been in service with this force for four years. In this time, I've attended more Murder scenes than some CSIs in other forces will in their entire career.

I've seen some things that are truly horrific and I've seen things I never thought one human could do to another.

Don't get me wrong, we don't have a Murder every day, not yet, although sometimes it feels like it. Most of our time we visit volume crime scenes, we visit dozens of houses a day for burglaries.

Some Murder scenes I've worked on have been high profile, in the news for days and days. Some never even make the local rag. I've seen myself on most of the major News channels- I know it's me, you don't. I look like every other person in a hooded white suit!

I remember all of the murder scenes, I especially remember the people. When you see someone in such horrendous circumstances, you don't tend to forget them.

I remember the first time I saw brain and skull pieces on the floor, as small as confetti. I wondered what it was, now I recognise it instantly.

The smell is unforgettable. Strangely, you get very used to it. I'll never eat pickled onion Monster Munch again.

Murder scenes are ultimately what we train for. There's not many other crimes that will need more attention than a Murder scene.

The jobs come to light in many ways. People report not seeing their neighbour for a few days, the milk bottles are stacking up. Someone calls us after hearing a disturbance. Someone calls an ambulance after bashing someone's head in. They call us.

Whichever way it's reported, the initial attending Officers will secure and preserve the scene. A cordon is raised and no one else enters the scene. A log book is then kept and everyone who needs access to the scene has to give their name and it's recorded.

By the time this has happened and we're notified, it could be another hour before we arrive. There's usually some press interest, depending on the time of day.

We'll often speak with CID before attending. There will be a team of Detectives assigned to the incident too. The Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) will often have a briefing with the Crime Scene Manager and devise an initial plan of action.

We don our white suits, two pairs of gloves, a mask and footwear protectors. This usually gets the press interested, you know straight away that we're not here for a car break.

If required, we'll lay stepping plates. Small, metal, square plates, raised slightly off the ground which allow us to walk through a scene without disturbing any footwear evidence.

Someone is nominated to record the scene with a video camera as well as a digital camera. I hate hearing my voice on a camera, it sounds nothing like I think it sounds, but exactly as everyone else hears it. I often volunteer to do the video, the more I do it, I guess the less I'll hate it... Plus this gives me a good chance to have a look around the scene, take it all in and have a good think about it.

One of the priorities, aside identifying the offender(s), is to process the victim, in order to get them transported to a mortuary for a Post Mortem examination - see my post on my first PM here . Depending on the nature of their death, will depend on what we do when processing the victim.

We'll often try to recover trace evidence before moving the victim. We have a supply of sealed kits for recovering various different types of trace evidence. Being sealed and one use, means that they are sterile before we use them. Taking the time to do this before we move the victim minimises the risk of losing any evidence when transporting them to the mortuary. 

We take hair combings, nail scrapings or clippings, swabs from various external parts of the body and sometimes fibre tapings. These minute pieces of evidence could be the difference between linking an offender to a scene or not.

We'll often take nail clippings from victims. Holding a lifeless, often cold hand, whilst clipping their nails over a large sterile white sheet is an odd task. You think clipping a child's fingernail is tricky? Give this a try.

One thing that I'll never get use to doing is undressing the victim. Their clothes provide forensic opportunities and require seizing and individually sealing in appropriate evidence bags. A colleague once seized Crime Scene Investigation pants from a victim. If only they knew.

The victim will almost always leave the scene naked. They will always be inside two 'body' bags. The inner bag is lightweight and thin. The outer bag is heavy duty and are larger than the first. The outer bag has a number of handles manufactured in it to make it easier to carry.

Standby for a post on a specific Murder case I attended.