The Day I Found a Body..

As I removed the blue council recycling bin, I saw a pair of feet, covered in a Tesco carrier bag.

That's not right. Blue means paper.

We weren't expecting to find a body here, this was a missing person enquiry. I most certainly wasn't expecting to find a body. 

My immediate reaction was a gut wrenching blow to the stomach. I thought I was going to be sick. I see cadavers all the time. I touch them, I move them, sometimes my face is side by side of theirs whilst I look closely in their ear or eye. I'm use to cadavers. They don't worry me. 

Except this one. This one is different. 

 I've just found a dead body. Normally other people find them and then I rock up expecting to see one.

This one is different.

I called to my colleague, who was in another room. Thing is, I was so confident that we weren't going to find a body, I'd joked only ten minutes ago about finding the occupant in a large compost bin. My colleague fell for it, until I laughed out loud and then we carried on, after an expletive or two.

I said 'Hannah, He's in here. I've found him under the boxes in the lean to'

Hannah clearly thought I was pulling her leg again. 'Ok' she said, 'I'm going for lunch'

'I'm being serious, Hannah, He's in here. I''m not fucking joking.'

She didn't say anything else, she just came to the door way, where I was stood, doubled over, holding my stomach with my right hand. 

She saw his feet and gasped 'Shit' followed by a long silent pause, we just looked at each other.

The family had reported the single elderly occupant missing, he hadn't been seen for more than a day, which was unusual. Police had attended, searched the premise and took misper (missing person) details and left. It's not unusual for people to come back a few hours late, having been somewhere or done something and not told their family. This didn't appear to be any different to that. As time passed over the next two days, family members noticed things missing, like the TV which should have been inside a cabinet in the front room, the iPad which should have been in the sofa tidy. Police came back, re-searched the house, under beds, in sheds, compost bins, nothing. 

The occupant's vehicle was missing, presumed to be with him, so Officers were also searching local areas or it, pub car parks, shopping centres. There was even a press release with a photo of the van. No one had seen it. 

We were called in to examine the house, see if we could find anything unusual, we did, within seconds of arriving. I noticed small amounts of blood on the utility room floor. We're trained observers. 

Someone had tried to clean up, poorly. 

The blood was diluted, as if it'd been washed. I could see small blood stains on the kickboards of the cupboards. Something happened here.

Someone was injured. There were drag marks in blood on the conservatory floor. Towards the door. The flooring was a dark wood, so the blood was difficult to see. I wouldn't have expected Officers to have noticed this. But we're trained observers. 

Now I often wonder if we'd been victims of confirmation bias. We'd been told that the house had been searched, twice, and the occupant wasn't there. The blood raised the game, but the fact that the car was missing and there were drag marks made us wrongly assume the occupant had been taken elsewhere. We relied on the information we'd been given to form our opinion. Maybe we should have challenged our thoughts more. 

Turns out the drag marks were away from, not towards the door. 

The van had been stolen by the suspect.

Even though we thought that the victim wasn't there, we searched anyway, turning beds upside down, moving wardrobes, inside cupboards and the likes. The problem here was that the lean to was tidy, it looked like a lean to was supposed to look, empty cardboard boxes for home appliances, washing baskets, empty recycling bins. But, we're trained observers?

The victim lay here, undiscovered for days. In our defence, the male was well concealed, under a pile of neatly stacked boxes, with a void carefully constructed in the centre. 

'I'll call the SIO' Hannah said. 

'Rather you than me' I said. That's going to be an awkward conversation. 

'Hi Boss? You know that body we said definitely wasn't here? Yea, well, about that'

I continued to uncover the male, box by box, taking photographs after each one. Tesco toaster, in hot pink, Hobbs coffee maker in beige, Britta water filter, Ikea washing basket, times two. 

All of these boxes and baskets can provide forensic opportunities, I handle them with great care. My brain is chucking thoughts and scenarios at a thousand miles per hour whilst I'm working.

Once all the boxes have been removed, the male lays there, covered in black bin liners. His sock covered feet are poking out of the Tesco carrier bag.

For the first time, I felt uncomfortable at a murder scene. I didn't want to touch the male, I didn't want to unwrap the bin liners. When I got to his head, which had been subject to incredible blunt force trauma, I didn't want to look at his face. 

I guess there's a little bit of me that feel responsible for not finding him sooner. If it's any consolation, he was definitely dead before we even got the call about him being missing. The pathologist confirmed this. At least it meant finding him sooner wouldn't have saved his life, which makes me feel better in a strange kind of way. 

I text my girlfriend and said 'I just found a body' Not the text she was expecting when she slid the notification to the right on her iPhone.

Normally, at this sort of job, we get on with the tasks required, like fibre taping exposed skin, swabbing areas for DNA transfer, removing jewellery and clothing. When we do this, we talk to each other, about normal things, like what films we've watched, what we're doing on our rest days and the ridiculous things the boss said to us last week.

This one is different. 

We both worked in silence, only saying the odd word or two, which related to what we were doing at that moment. 

Talk to any Officer or CSI and they'll tell you about that one job that sticks with them. That one job they'd rather not talk about. That one job their family has no idea they dealt with. 

I remember all of the murder scenes I've been to, but I'll definitely not forget this one. 

Time Flies

I'm leaning on one knee whilst resting my right hand gingerly on the window ledge, I'm looking obliquely at the sill. 

There's at least seventy three blue bottles. Some are on their side, some on their back. One or two look like they're spooning each other. 

I'm using one of our new face fitted masks, so there's no smell, yet. 

The occupants haven't been seen for a week. The neighbours noticed the curtains closed for a few days. We don't get a build up of milk bottles on door steps anymore, in fact, I can't remember the last time I saw a milk man.

Officers have attended because of concerns for the occupants by neighbours, they've not been seen for a week or more, which is unusual.

How long do you leave it before raising the alarm? You don't want to worry anyone, or cause undue panic, do you? 

When officers have arrived, they found a side window ajar and the probationer was made to climb through. Not only his first 'concern' call, not only his first discovery of a body. 

This was also his first discovery of two bodies.

Two deceased persons in one place without an obvious cause is good reason to be suspicious. 

Officers are often first to attend scenes where people are discovered dead, but they're not experienced at recognising what petechiae looks like or understanding what blood patterning looks like. Is that blood from the nose or is it purge? Is that an injury or is that fluid escaping from orifices after death? Has the person been moved after death? Does the lividity match the circumstances? 

These are all questions a CSI and CSM will consider when attending a sudden or suspicious death. 

Regardless of the outcome here, there's a bit of work to do, including lifting and moving the people found inside. I'll need help on this one. I called ahead and arranged for two CSIs from the local division to meet me at the address.

Before we do anything, I want to have a look, I want to see what we've got. I like to do this on my own, so I can just look and think, without distraction or bias from anyone else.

We're only human after all, if someone makes a suggestion, gives a reason for what we see, my mind keeps hold of that. I don't want to be influenced unintentionally.

When I do this, I don't touch or move anything. I want this scene to remain exactly as I found until I make a decision with the Detective Inspector as to how we're going to proceed. 

I take my logbook, a pen and my CrimeLite. 

Sometimes it's easy to be drawn to the people in a scene and get tunnel vision. I deliberately leave the deceased persons until last. I want to look at the post, what dates are on it? Has any been opened? How much credit is left on the electricity meter? Which lights are on? What channel is the television on? 

I start in the front bedroom on the first floor. The curtains are pulled. The lights are off, I use my CrimeLite to see the way. The CrimeLite is probably brighter than the 40W energy saving light in the fitting anyway. 

It's like I've walked into a time capsule. This room looks like it's sixty years old. Nothing has been changed or updated in the last half a century. The furniture looks like the stuff you see at the British Heart Foundation, after someone's passed away and the family can't sell the furniture so they give it away. It'll end up being a 'shabby chic' item on eBay in a few weeks. Although dated, there's nothing out of place in here. There's a double bed, but only one side of the quilt is peeled back. On the opposite side of the bed is a pile of genltemen's clothes, neatly folded. There's a perpetual calendar, which shows 'May 1st 1992'.

I'm confident that they've not been dead for 25 years. 

Maybe that's when the wife moved into another room. It's a common occurrence at these jobs, the male and female have separate rooms, normally due to ill health or mobility issues. I've been to one house where the couple had no contact at all on a day to day basis, the house was literally divided in two and they lived separate lives.

Each to their own, I'm not here to judge.

I walk down the hallway and I can't help but stare at the carpet. It's probably the original carpet, as in it's always been here and has never been replaced. It's an odd style. Full of browns and mustard colours. I shine my CrimeLite on the floor as I walk, it'll show up any blood or foreign articles easier. 

This floor looks like one of those colour blind test pages.

I tour the house, taking time to soak up what I'm seeing in each room, I make notes of some things and mental notes of others. Sometimes, something so insignificant at first can become vital as an investigation continues. I remember one job where the murder victim's laptop was stolen and the investigation team were trying to track it down using digital forensics. They needed the serial number but no one had it. I remember noting a HP laptop box in the garage when I did my walk through. We went straight back to the photos, zoomed in on the boxes and there it was, serial number on the side of the box. This helped tracked down the laptop at a Cash Converters which then identified a suspect.

Sometimes, something looks odd or out of place, to me or my colleagues, but may be the norm for the occupants of the address. There was what looked like the corpse of an animal on the kitchen floor. Technically it was. It was a carcass of a chicken, which appeared to have been put down next to the cat bowl. This stank. Even through my mask. 

Sometimes you can't explain what you see. Sometimes you don't need to. 

The female occupant was in an armchair in the conservatory, she still had her glasses on and a copy of the radio times on her lap. On the table next to her was a quaint cup and saucer, with just a small amount of tea in the bottom. There were two 'church window' biscuits on the table next to the saucer. 

She's got a flowery skirt on that comes down to her shins. She's wearing tights and slippers. Her slippers are a blue velvet material with a trim of 'fluff' over the top of the foot. I can see that her legs are deep purple in colour. The blood has settled in the lower extremities, this is normal. If you can call this normal. 

Nothing gives me cause for concern here. When she's been photographed, I'll search her whole body for injuries, I'll open her eyelids and check for any signs of strangulation, I'll open her mouth and check for anything obstructing her airway, I'll check her hands, front and back for offensive or defensive injuries, has she got skin and or blood under her fingernails? I'll only make a decision when I've fully examined her from head to toe. I'll tell the DI what I've seen and noted. Sometimes, the DI will be there whilst I do this, sometimes they'd prefer not to be. 

The male is on the kitchen floor. He has no top on and he's just wearing underwear. Unusual, it's two in the afternoon. However, it could have been two in the morning when he ended up here.

He's got a good head of hair. I'm jealous. I lost mine when I was 19. 

It's easier to search the male for injuries as he's almost naked. He's got what appears to be a skin complaint, with what looks like a bad case of eczema all up one arm. 

I can see that the process of decomposition is well underway. His abdomen is distended, it's purple and green in colour and there's the distinct smell of Pickled Onion Monster Munch that surrounds him. 

Anything that's moist, lovely word, will attract flies who then lay eggs. Nostrils, mouth, genitals and any wounds are all fair game, full of maggots. Looks strange the first time you see it, looks like the person is moving.

I finish my tour, noting everything I can and go outside. It's not a hot day, but the moment I step outside I feel the cool breeze on my face. Wearing this PPE makes you hot and sweaty real quick. I brief the two CSIs as to what I've seen and ask them to photograph the entire address. When they head in, I take my suit off, it's nice to have the chance to cool down.

I finish making some notes out the front of the address. Passers by are stopping and staring, some of the braver ones approach the PC at the front gate and ask them 'What's happened?' And they get the stock answer. 'Nothing to worry about' and the conversation normally stops there. 

The DI is on the phone, he's briefed his DCI as to the current situation. I wait for him to come off the phone and tell him what I've seen and what I've noticed.

There's nothing inside that indicates to me that the couple have died a violent or offensive death. The DI asks if their death could have been as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is a good call when you've got more than one person deceased at a location. I recorded that there is no gas supply to the house and there are no small independent appliances that could have caused this. 

Sometimes, depending on the DI, we have the discussion about 'Let's do a forensic Post Mortem, just in case' and my response is always the same. We can do a forensic PM, but we treat the whole scene and investigation as a 'suspicious or unexplained' death if that's the case. We can't do half a job. It's either suspicious or not. If there's one small thing that doesn't make sense or appears suspicious, then the whole job is suspicious. There's no fifty fifty. 

The CSIs finish and come outside for air. I suit up again and this time so does the DI, I need to show her what I've seen and give my advice and interpretation of the scene.

Now the scene has been recorded, I move each of the couple in turn, checking them from head to toe for injuries and anything that can help with a version of events or circumstances that led to their deaths. There are no injuries on either of them, offensive or defensive.

It appears they've each passed away within a short time of each other. It's a sad story, someone has lost two relatives at the same time. 

People die every single day, sometimes we're involved, sometimes we're not. Sometimes it suspicious, sometimes it's not. 

There's dozens of points to consider when deciding whether or not deaths require further investigation, and I couldn't go through them all here. Every incident is different and unique and each presents varying factors to consider. 

When we're involved, we make sure we're one hundred per cent it's either non suspicious or otherwise, when there's any doubt, we continue investigating until we're convinced one way or the other.