AMU Law Enforcement Podcast Protect & Secure Public Safety

Podcast: History of Crime Scene Investigation Technology

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Podcast featuring Glynn Cosker, Managing Editor, Edge and
Jennifer BucholtzFaculty Member, Criminal Justice

Technology used by law enforcement to solve crimes has evolved dramatically over the last century. In this episode, Glynn Cosker talks to AMU Criminal Justice professor Jennifer Bucholtz about the history of criminal investigation tools and techniques. Learn about the development and use of photography, fingerprints, algor mortis analysis, ballistics, DNA, Touch DNA, genetic genealogy, and more that has helped law enforcement officers solve crimes throughout the years.

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Read the Transcript:

Glynn Cosker: Hello and welcome, I’m Glynn Cosker, your host. Joining me today is AMU faculty member, Jen Bucholtz. How are you, Jen?

Jen Bucholtz: I’m doing pretty well. How are you Glynn?

Glynn Cosker: Hanging in there. So Jen, you’ve worn many hats in your career, but today, we’re going to take a look at your experience in criminal justice. Today, we are going to experiment by traveling backwards in time, and we’re going to take a look at how crime scenes were investigated back in the day, the 19th century onwards, and especially the kind of tools that law enforcement had at their disposal.

I mean, when you think about crime scene investigation today, compared to what it must have been like in the 1880s, when people like Jack the Ripper were at large in London and other types of the first serial killers, it’s a lot different today, of course, than it was back then. That’s what we’re going to take a look at.

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, this will be a very interesting discussion.

Glynn Cosker: I agree. I think it will, definitely, be a very interesting discussion. These days, there’s so much investigation that goes on between things like profiling of suspects. We have fingerprints, of course, we have DNA, but all of these things were not available for the most part, of course, back in the 19th century. So why don’t we start there?

If I’m law enforcement in the 1800s, the late 1800s, and I stumble across a crime scene, Jen, what do I have? What do I have to go by? What are the tools at my disposal? What are some of the things that law enforcement officer is going to use?

Jen Bucholtz: But believe it or not, back in the 1800s, law enforcement did have some tools at their disposal, probably more than listeners might think they had. And of course, some of those are pretty rudimentary, and over the decades, law enforcement worked on advancing those tools and technology.

But what I can do is give you an idea of some of the more common things that they used back in that time, in order to try and solve crimes and investigate crime scenes. So actually, photography was around in the 1800s, and it was fairly common for police officers, or detectives, or investigators to photograph the crime scenes, and then later use those photographs to try to get clues about the killer.

How did they gain entrance? If this was, say, a murder, where did they encounter the victim at? Where was the victim left at? There actually were many clues that they could get from those photographs that could help them put together a rudimentary profile of a criminal back then.

Glynn Cosker: Well, that’s an interesting thing, of course, photography did start to come in, in the late 1800s, and I was going to ask you about Jack the Ripper in particular, I’ve seen those photographs, they’re public domain, and anybody can look at them. I look at those photographs, and I’m thinking, first of all, “eww.” And second of all, there’s not much I could really ascertain from looking at them. But what kind of things were the police looking for back then?

Jen Bucholtz: Well, one thing they really didn’t need a photograph to notice this, but he often disemboweled his victims, and so in their rudimentary profile, they often wondered if Jack the Ripper was a doctor or somebody who had surgical skills, because not too many people would know how to properly cut open the stomach of another human being. So that was one thing that they studied from crime to crime, and was kind of a pattern that they noticed over the months and years that he committed his crimes.

In terms of other photographic clues, like I said, where he or any other criminal would gain entrance to a crime scene. Do they leave anything at the scene? How do they leave their victim? What did they steal? What did they not steal? All those things can provide little clues about a particular criminal.

Glynn Cosker: It’s interesting, you mentioned clues. Of course, nowadays, if a police officer or law enforcement was to go to a crime scene, the number of resources that law enforcement officer has at his or her disposal today to seek out clues, it was so much more than what they had, of course, back in the 1800s.

We’re focusing on Jack the Ripper, and you mentioned how there were some theories about him having some sort of maybe a doctor’s background or anatomical knowledge or something of that nature. So, do we think or do you think that that was one of the first times law enforcement used profiling? And did they go with that after they took that profiling method and used it going forward in other ways.

Jen Bucholtz: I think it’s fair to say that that was probably one of the first series of crimes where profiling is being used, even if law enforcement didn’t necessarily realize they were using the art of profiling, they were, because they were comparing details from each of his crime scenes and victims in order to try to narrow down their suspect pool.

Something else that I thought was pretty interesting and actually makes perfect logical sense is that he probably wasn’t like this scary looking guy. He was probably a pretty normal, maybe even a good-looking guy who was able to approach these women without them being alarmed, if that makes sense. That’s just another clue.

Glynn Cosker: It makes perfect sense. And of course, that hasn’t changed ever, has it?

Jen Bucholtz: No, not at all.

Glynn Cosker: Serial killers ever since that time, usually they’re sociopaths, am I correct about that? And they think that they have a very high opinion of themselves, and they’re very charming, and everything else. And Jack the Ripper probably was one of the first people in history that used that tactic.

Jen Bucholtz: You can’t get access to multiple victims if you are angry, or a scary looking person. Or if you don’t have some charm or the gift of gab. You have to have something that puts your victim at ease, and so most serial killers have that skill.

Glynn Cosker: Exactly, and I think Bundy is a very good example of a 20th century criminal who employed those tactics. Now, what about fingerprinting in the 1800s? Was there any science behind that yet?

Jen Bucholtz: So fingerprinting was being used in the 1800s, but not really for law enforcement, it was originally used where people would dip their thumbprint or their thumb in ink, and then use their thumbprint as a signature on official documents.

It was in the late 1800s, that that area of study was transferred over to law enforcement and law enforcement began using fingerprints to help identify unknown suspects who had left their prints at a scene. Then of course, throughout the next century, we greatly advanced the field of fingerprinting.

Glynn Cosker: Of course, today we’re focusing on Jack the Ripper initially, but there might have been some other tactics that police at the time could have used. Tell me something about algor mortis. I’m probably mispronouncing that, but go ahead and tell our listeners a little bit about that.

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, actually you have it correct. So, algor mortis is the use of a body temperature to help determine the time of death or determine the approximate time when somebody died. In the 1800s, there was a scientist who discovered that, in most situations, the internal temperature of the human body will drop at a consistent rate each hour after death.

That discovery greatly helped investigators in terms of coming up with an approximate time of death. We can never nail down, “She died at 3:52 in the afternoon.” That’s not how it works, but you have a window of death. So the body temperature can really help with that, as long as the person is found before their body temperature becomes the same as the environment around them.

Once your body temperature is the same or reaches the ambient temperature of your environment, it’s no longer really useful. The only thing it can tell us is that, well, the person was not killed very recently, it took time for their body temperature to drop in order to be the same as the environment around them.

Glynn Cosker: It’s interesting, but of course, that part of the science remains intact today. I mean, obviously, the technology is more advanced. But staying in the 1800s, and maybe thinking about the United States, not too many guns in the UK, in the 1800s or today, in fact. But obviously in the U.S., we would be getting into bullet comparison, even back in the 1800s. Right?

Jen Bucholtz: That’s correct. That’s when that field of study came to light for law enforcement. And again, it was pretty rudimentary, it took many decades for them to perfect the field of ballistics, which is bullet to weapon comparison. But they did start that study back in the 1800s, and there was actually one gentleman and unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, but he was the first one who noticed under a microscope that a bullet had a defect in it, and he was able to trace that defective bullet back to the manufacturer. So that was like the first case, a bullet comparison.

Glynn Cosker: Right. I mean, in a way, what you’ve just described, where you can see the markings on a used bullet on a shell, is almost as unique as a fingerprint. But that, again, is another crime scene investigation or investigating tactic that has survived, is still being used today. But the fingerprints, that must have been a huge breakthrough when it went mainstream in the 20th century in the early 20th century. Now, I believe the first case ever, where a fingerprint led to a conviction, perhaps was back in 1910. Is that correct?

Jen Bucholtz: That’s correct.

Glynn Cosker: So tell us a little bit about that.

Jen Bucholtz: So in that case in 1910, a guy named Thomas Jennings who shot and killed another man named Clarence Hiller. And as Jennings ran off from the crime scene, he touched the railing of a set of stairs, and that railing had just been painted. So the paint on it was still wet, and he left his fingerprint in the wet paint, and police were able to match the print in the paint to Jennings fingerprint. So he was the first case in which a perpetrator was convicted based on fingerprint evidence in a court of law.

Glynn Cosker: Was that just coincidentally, just because there was wet paint? Somebody came up with the idea, “Hey, look at that.” You get paint on your thumb or your finger and you smudge something somewhere, and we can go compare it to the other records. Or was it something that obviously, they’d been working for a while in the 1800s –they weren’t quite there yet, but this is what set the ball rolling as far as fingerprinting when they started to fingerprint criminals or suspects at that time after that case, correct?

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah. I think that’s fair to say. It had been in development for a few decades prior, like we discussed a little while ago, but it just took several years for fingerprint evidence to be accepted in courts of law, and for the experts to prove that every human being has a unique fingerprint. A lot of people were skeptical about that in the beginning. So there were definitely some obstacles that experts had to get past in order to get fingerprint evidence allowed in court, but they did.

Glynn Cosker: It’s interesting, you mentioned skeptical, all throughout our history, but particularly the last 100 years, there are skeptics for everything. I can imagine back in 1910, the people of the time thinking, “Wow, what if I get brought into this case because my fingerprint looks like that other guy?” I can imagine what that’s like, or what they were probably thinking back then, and it’s been the same ever since really. I mean, DNA, of course, is the “fingerprint” of the late 20th century. We’ll get to that a little bit later.

But, yeah, I can imagine that the time people would have been skeptical about fingerprints. Especially the part where it’s individual to every person because it’s true, of course, that even identical twins have different fingerprints.

Jen Bucholtz: And even today, or recent years, there’s been mistakes made on that. One of the most famous cases where unfortunately, our FBI made the mistake, was the Madrid train bombings in 2004. They retrieved a partial print off of, I think, a backpack that was left on the train. The FBI thought they matched it to a gentleman who lived in Oregon named Brandon Mayfield, and he was actually arrested. Then it was the European law enforcement who came back and said, “That’s not his fingerprint. They look similar, but that’s not his.” Thankfully, that mistake was righted, but Mayfield did go through quite a bit before he was let go, and I think there was probably a civil suit.

Glynn Cosker: So, we’re in about 1910 moving into the 1920s, what happened then for law enforcement? They’ve nailed down the fingerprinting kind of, it’s not bulletproof, no pun intended, and they’ve got the bullet comparisons, and the time of death. We’ve got some photographs of crime scenes perhaps, obviously we’ve got eyewitness accounts, we shouldn’t just skip over that. There’s sketch artists, those have been around for a long time.

So, by the 1920s and into the ’30s, am I correct in saying that mug shots were introduced as well because the photography got better. And the FBI would put posters of their most wanted and that would help as far as catching the criminals instead of talking about investigating them, but what they had as tools to actually go out and catch these guys?

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, definitely, as you said. As photography got better and better, and photographs became more clear and crisp, the FBI was able, well and other law enforcement agencies too, but they were able to use mug shots or other photographs of persons of interest to put out to the public so that people could keep an eye out for them. There’s always a running joke that I heard before about how they should have put the criminals’ photographs on postage stamps back then, they would have been better circulated and they would have resulted in catching more criminals, but that didn’t happen.

Glynn Cosker: I have to ask you this, as you know, I love to watch those TV shows, which have a lot of this stuff in it. You know what I’m talking about. Shows like Homeland and CSI is the big one, of course. But those shows, they go to a computer, a lot of the experts on these shows and the scientists or the law enforcement, and all of a sudden they make this match of fingerprints. They have a fingerprint, and somebody types in a few things, and then points at the screen and says, “Yeah, here we go, that’s him.” Does that happen in real life?

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, and in under four seconds too. No, it does not.

Glynn Cosker: It does not.

Jen Bucholtz: It does not. I’m sorry to burst your bubble on that one.

Glynn Cosker: You have ruined the last 30 years of my TV viewing, and I’ll never forgive you for it.

Jen Bucholtz: I’m so sorry.

Glynn Cosker: No. Okay. So there’s some poetic license on TV then?

Jen Bucholtz: That’s correct. Obviously, they can’t have a show run for 24 hours while they wait for potential fingerprint matches to be returned from the computer. And actually, nowadays, it’s much quicker than that. But there is an international fingerprint database that the FBI runs, and if a print that we cannot match to a person at a crime scene is found, they can scan that print into this database, and the computer will bring back potential matches, it’s usually around 20 to 30 potentials. But then a human fingerprint examiner still has to sit down under the comparison microscope, and compare all the points that each print have in common with each other.

We actually, believe or not, do not have a national standard for how many matching points you must have on a print. It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it’s usually in the range of 12 to 15. So you have to be able to find 12 to 15 unique pieces or designs, I should say, in each of those fingerprints that match each other.

Then in theory, what’s supposed to happen after that, if this first fingerprint examiner claims a match, then a second fingerprint examiner is supposed to come in not knowing the findings of the first one, so we have like a blind comparison going on. Then if the two fingerprint examiners come up with the same conclusion, it’s usually figured that the prints are a match, but it’s quite a process, it’s lengthy and time consuming.

Glynn Cosker: So it’s not just pressing a button on a computer or on a laptop?

Jen Bucholtz: Nope.

Glynn Cosker: I kind of did know that really, but it does ruin the whole illusion. But interestingly, there are still human beings that look at these things, which is quite an exciting thing to hear in the world of AI that we have now that there’s not some bot that decides someone’s fate, there is some people who examine these things still, which is good. I’m glad to hear that we haven’t quite got that far along.

Jen Bucholtz: Not yet.

Glynn Cosker: We started with Jack the Ripper, and those kinds of cases. Didn’t we? And now we’re through to about the mid-century, mid 20th century, and we were talking about the 1930s just before the break.

Correct me if I’m wrong Jen, after the war, the Second World War, there wasn’t too many breakthroughs, but it wasn’t really until the 1980s when DNA came in and changed the way everything was examined at a crime scene, correct?

Jen Bucholtz: Most definitely, yes. I’ll just point out that there was a couple other techniques that developed over the early 1900s, I wouldn’t call them necessarily breakthroughs, but one would be analyzing tool mark impressions. Like if somebody used a crowbar to pry open a door, depending on the shape of the crowbar and stuff like that, you could actually do some comparison there.

Then the other one I want to bring up is Locard’s principle, which basically states that, “Anytime a perpetrator enters a crime scene, makes it a crime scene, they leave something and they take something away.”

That thing might be that they leave one of their hairs and they take away a carpet fiber, for example. Or they leave a speck of their blood because they cut themselves on a window trying to break in, and they take away, maybe there’s a dog in the house, and they get some loose dog hairs on them and they’ll stick to their clothing as they run away. So that was a principle that came into use in the early 1900s.

Glynn Cosker: Effectively, it matriculated forward in time to the 1980s and further because that same principle, of course, it’s been used throughout the 20th century.

Jen Bucholtz: Absolutely.

Glynn Cosker: So let’s return to DNA. That is basically the silver bullet, the thing that crime scene investigators look for, they want to have it, they want to be able to present it in court. But of course, in the early days of DNA evidence in the ’80s, it was a little bit touch and go just like with the fingerprints that we talked about earlier, 100 years before, people were a bit skeptical about it, weren’t they?

Jen Bucholtz: Definitely, there was a lot of skepticism, a lot of worry about, “Could my DNA be transferred somewhere? Could it have been planted? Could it be mistaken for somebody else’s?” It was just a new technology that people did not really understand. Just to give the listeners a little background on DNA, we all have our own unique DNA profile. DNA is unique to every human being, we can even differentiate DNA now between identical twins. And DNA generally if found at a crime scene, it comes from biological fluids of the perpetrator, so blood, saliva, semen, and sometimes hair. But hair is tricky, because you have to have the root ball on the end of the hair in order to get the DNA of the person. So hair’s not always 100% useful.

Glynn Cosker: Yes, that’s another thing that TV brushes over. “Oh look, we found a hair.” Then somebody at their magic computer about 10 minutes later comes back with a full profile of whoever owned that hair. As you just said, there’s a lot more science to it than that. Just from historical point of view, when was the first DNA core case that convicted someone and what kind of case was that?

Jen Bucholtz: The first case where DNA was used as the primary evidence to convict a person was in Florida in 1986. The perpetrator’s name was Tommy Lee Andrews, he had committed multiple assaults and rapes against women. At the last rape scene, he left semen. So the forensic lab was able to make a match between the DNA and the unknown semen and match it to Tommy Andrews.

Naturally, because his was the first case where DNA was the main piece of evidence, he appealed, trying to argue that it’s junk science, or it’s not well tested, but he lost the appeal, and so his conviction remained.

Glynn Cosker: And of course, that brings me on to a podcast that you and I did earlier, which is about catching these criminals who left their DNA evidence at a crime scene – for instance – the 1970s, before DNA was part of the process. And, of course, now, any serial killers listening, probably a little nervous that they might be getting that visit from the law enforcement who has tracked them down via a genealogy database, correct?

Jen Bucholtz: Yes, that is one of the amazing new technologies that’s developed since 2018, is the ability to use open source ancestry databases online to piece together someone’s family tree, and narrow down the likely suspect of a crime. So as you said, serial perpetrators out there, beware, because we’re going to get you.

Glynn Cosker: That’s right. For our listeners, you can listen to that podcast, it’s very interesting, it’s something that’s going to be around for a long time into the future, and it’s going to catch a lot of people, it’s already caught a lot of people. Since we did that podcast, Jen, which I think was probably about six months ago, they’ve caught a lot of people since that podcast.

Jen Bucholtz: Oh, definitely. We’re now in the hundreds of unknown perpetrators who have been caught through genetic genealogy, and of course, it’s just going to grow.

Glynn Cosker: It will, the amount of cold cases is tens of thousands of cold cases, where if the perpetrator is still alive today, because we have to remember, a lot of these crimes took place almost 50 years ago, but if they are still alive, then watch out. Okay. So, DNA in the early days, people were skeptics, Tommy Lee Andrews, the person you mentioned, the first person that went to jail, tell me about what’s happening today, and what’s Touch DNA for instance?

[Podcast: Covert Surveillance — Training and Techniques]

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, Touch DNA is one of the, I guess, more recent developments, it’s been in use for about 10 years now. But Touch DNA is literally individual skin cells that slough off of your skin when you touch things. So imagine if you run your hand over a rough couch cushion, there’s going to be several of your individual skin cells that are going to slough off onto that couch cushion. A good forensic analyst can take that cushion, and will find those skin cells under a microscope and then extract the DNA profile from them.

So, this is also helping us catch more perpetrators, because, again, Touch DNA doesn’t have to come just from your fingers, it can come from anywhere on your body, we shed skin cells from all over the body. So unless you’re wearing like a full PPE suit, when you’re entering your crime scene, which most perpetrators don’t, there’s a good chance of a perpetrator leaving their individual skin cells at that scene.

The trick, of course, is finding them because they’re so miniscule, microscopic, but we’ve had some pretty good luck in terms of solving cases through Touch DNA. The issue I’ll explain about Touch DNA is, it’s pretty easily transferable. So, Glynn if you and I meet and we shake hands, I literally may walk away with a few of your skin cells on my hand. Then if I touch my couch, I might transfer your skin cells to my couch.

So, grain of salt, of course, when police are investigating a crime scene, and the Touch DNA that they find has to make sense in terms of where it is and who it ends up belonging to and stuff like that. But there haven’t been too many issues that I know of with false convictions based on Touch DNA. In fact, I don’t think I can come up with a single one off the top of my head.

Glynn Cosker: That’s very interesting, and I’ll be honest, I had not heard of that concept. And of course, the technology is just going to improve in the coming decades to make that even more accurate. So, let’s change course a little bit, staying in the later part of the 20th century and the early 21st century, and today, of course, cell phones have now become a big part of investigating crimes. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how cell phone data can nab a criminal?

Jen Bucholtz: Well, cell phones have obviously evolved since the 1990s when they first came out. So early 2000s is when they became pretty popular among the general public, most people could afford them by 2003, 2004, somewhere in that, but we didn’t have smartphones then. So back then really, if a cell phone was seized as evidence, police could look at the call log or the contact list or the text messaging log. But it didn’t have location information, and Google Maps, photographs, all that stuff. So, we’ve definitely evolved, because now everybody, for the most part, has a smartphone, which is like their own little personal tracker.

Glynn Cosker: Exactly. I was going to say. Right? When you’re setting up your smartphone checkbox, checkbox, checkbox, check that, check that, just want to get to the good part where I can look at Facebook, and all that checkbox, checkbox. Then yeah, you’re driving around, and you’re creating a triangulation of your location, most of the time. Google Maps, if you are opted in, or any maps service that uses satellites, and the cell towers and everything else. Of course, that is a huge breakthrough for law enforcement.

Jen Bucholtz: Yes, because there’s a record in your Google Map app, showing the places you frequent. Like you said, depending on what you’re opted in or out of, it may show all of your travels over a certain period of time. My husband and I have map sharing on for each other so that maybe we don’t hardly use it, but I guess it’s a safety thing for us in case one of us goes missing, we can look on our Google Maps and see where that other person’s phone is. But that also records a lot of data about where you’ve been and where you’ve traveled. Not that I want to give hints to perpetrators, but just having a smartphone on you in general, there’s a lot of tracking going on.

Now, it’s not like police can just say, “Oh we think Glynn Cosker committed this robbery. So we’re just going to tap into the cell phone network and see where he’s at.” No, you can’t do that. So there are limitations on this. Usually a cell phone is used after the fact or seized or searched after someone has been arrested to see if the information in it matches up with what law enforcement thinks occurred.

Glynn Cosker: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there are some civil liberties issues there, and it has to be a probable cause and everything else. It is a very interesting topic, it’s fascinating to me. You mentioned, you don’t want to give a warning to perpetrators, but it is a good thing that even 30 years ago, compared to today, I mean, 30 years ago, 35 years ago, a perpetrator is not going to be tracked, there aren’t going to be cameras everywhere like there are today. There are not cell phones or smartphones and all of that stuff.

So, if we keep going in that direction, we keep making it harder and harder and harder, for the perpetrators, it’s a win/win. And hopefully, that’s the direction that we will keep going in to make it harder for the crimes to happen in the first place. There’s one famous, infamous, serial killer that was caught using digital means, so to speak. That is Dennis Rader, also known as BTK. Why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about him and how he was caught?

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, that’s an interesting case in terms of how he was caught, he was caught in 2005. So he might have had a cell phone, but actually, that’s not the digital device that led to his capture. What happened was, he was communicating with law enforcement, believe it or not, through the local media. He had asked police if they would be able to trace a floppy disk to a certain computer if he sent this floppy disk to them. Naturally, they said, “No, no, we don’t have that technology. We can’t do it.” So he sends the floppy disk, and within a few minutes, I think, they looked at the metadata and traced it to a particular church computer.

Then they looked at the church roster, and were able to ascertain that a person named Dennis, who was also the president of the church congregation, had used this disk. So they coupled that with footage of the person who dropped off the floppy disk driving a black Jeep Cherokee, wouldn’t you know when they showed up to Dennis Rader’s house, there’s a black Cherokee sitting in the driveway. He very much slipped up obviously and had too much trust in police. He actually asked during his interrogation, he asked the police officer, “Why did you lie to me about the floppy disk?” He was like shocked that they wanted to catch him.

Glynn Cosker: Well, this has been a very interesting conversation, Jen. Now, I’m a history buff, I love all of the criminal shows that focus on the past. So let’s pretend here for a second that I’m the police officer in, say, 1890, you’re the police officer now. We go on a time machine, you do, and you go back in time, but you bring all of your tools and your resources and everything that you have, that you could possibly use with you. But I’m stuck there in 1890, with my Bobby’s hat on in London, or whatever. Where we go to the hotel room and we find this dead body, and there’s a little bit of blood here and there. There’s a little bit of blood spattering on the wall, perhaps just a little bit. There are some open wounds, you couldn’t really tell what they were by looking at them.

There’s some liquid on the floor, on the carpet, those sort of things. If I’m there in 1890, I go in there, and I might have my camera man with me, and he’ll take a picture, a photograph, and I might get my notepad out and my pencil, take some notes, and then go home and have a cup of tea.

Jen Bucholtz: Right? You might draw a sketch, you might draw a sketch.

Glynn Cosker: I might draw a sketch, right. I might draw a sketch that might be, if I’m lucky, the person managed to put their hand in some, I don’t know, substance and put a fingerprint somewhere, but even then that’s not concrete evidence. But you’re going into that same crime scene with me, and I’m quite impressed by you, by the way, because you’ve traveled through time, and it’s very exciting for me.

But you’re there, and you’ve got all this stuff. What is it that you’re going to use with that sort of crime scene when you’ve got somebody that’s clearly been murdered, and they’ve got all these different wounds, and there’s blood and fluids everywhere? What’s your approach?

Jen Bucholtz: After securing a scene so that you can control who goes in and out of it, after that first step, photographs are the next one, you don’t want to touch anything, until mid-range, long range, and up-close photographs have been taken of the whole room, of any potential pieces of evidence. I will caveat this with, if we arrived and the victim is still breathing, then of course, we’re going to try to render aid. Assuming that the person is no longer alive, this is the steps that you would take.

Nowadays, we have obviously such great digital photography equipment, we can get all different types of viewpoints. And in fact, this is something that we didn’t really discuss. But we even have cameras now that can provide a 3D look at a crime scene, once you take that software back to the computer. So of course, that’s the best way nowadays to preserve a crime scene, so to speak, so that you can see every little detail that was there.

Glynn Cosker: Then of course, you’d have black lights, I mean, you’d be able to see everything in that room with the lights out.

Jen Bucholtz: Yeah, if you felt that the cleanup had occurred, or that there’s evidence not available to the naked eye, you can spray what’s called luminol, which reacts with certain substances, and then you can turn off the lights and use a black light to see where particular substances may have been left by a perpetrator.

Glynn Cosker: Right. So, my 1890 self is looking around that room thinking, “Okay, it’s going to take my photographer about 10 minutes to set up even one photograph, you’ve got your digital phone and even you can take 3D photos of the crime scene. Then of course, there’s all the other things that you would have at your disposal, the DNA database that you’re going to go check later.

Jen Bucholtz: Sure, if we find a weapon that’s left at the scene, we can obviously, properly collect it and bag it, label it and then send it to the lab, and hopefully the lab can pull a fingerprint or a Touch DNA, or maybe it’s a knife and the killer cut themselves in the process. So, their own blood might be on there. Obviously back in the 1800s, those methods and analysis weren’t available.

Glynn Cosker: Anyway, we’re back in our hotel room here in 1890, and you’re there from 2020, because you travel back in time, and you see the blood spatter on the wall. And of course, I’m looking at that thinking, “Oh, is that blood? I don’t know, it could red paint. I don’t know, who knows if that’s blood, probably red paint.” Obviously there are blood spatter analysis that helps solve these crimes.

Jen Bucholtz: Definitely, and actually, if you were an experienced investigator, even in the 1800s, you’d probably be able to make some deductions based off that pattern of blood in the room. I don’t know exactly when blood spatter analysis became an official technique, but I’m willing to bet that investigators who had been in many murder scenes were able to make some deductions back in the day about what the blood spatter meant.

Like you said, back then, you wouldn’t be able to know for sure if it was blood or red paint. Well, now we can determine that on scene. We have quick tests, where you just take a swab and it tells you it’s positive or negative for blood.

Glynn Cosker: Jen, is always a pleasure to speak to you, and I hope we can talk on a podcast coming up again in the coming months.

Jen Bucholtz: The pleasure is all mine, Glynn, and thank you for inviting me back yet again, and engaging me in another very interesting discussion.

Glynn Cosker: My name is Glynn Cosker, thank you for listening today. Don’t forget you can always go to our new site, Until next time, this is me signing off, stay safe.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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