Criminals & Their Hidey-Holes

False cable box used to hide money

A common question writers ask me is “where do criminals hide things?” It is a question that detectives and CSIs have pondered throughout their careers and we continue to learn as we encounter more crime. The answer to that question depends largely on two critical components; sophistication and planning. Professional criminals look for ways to hide the evidence of their criminal acts. Police look for ways to find that evidence. It’s an age-old dance where sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. For both the criminal and the cop a lot depends on the capabilities of your dance partner. I’m not sure how I stepped off on this dancing metaphor but I’m leaving it :).

The sophistication of the criminal is one major factor influencing their choice of hiding places (of course, a lot depends on what it is they are trying to hide but I’ll get to that later). Is the criminal savvy or a punk?  An inexperienced or novice criminal will likely have an unsophisticated hiding place. They usually operate under the “out of sight” premise. Similar to a teenager they may “hide” items under the bed mattress, couch, the freezer, etc. Police usually just have to open a container and look inside to find what they are looking for. Some criminals, however, are more sophisticated. It may be from personal experience, from education by other criminals, or a combination of both. These criminals may choose more sophisticated hiding places that may be missed by casual observation. This may include hidden compartments, burial, fish tanks, empty spaces of appliances, etc. The most effective hiding places are those that don’t draw undue attention and can pass casual scrutiny. Ideally, the item remains “hidden” in plain sight. Think about diamonds  mixed in with crushed ice. Finding the items requires greater scrutiny by detectives and, unless they are specifically looking for that item, the evidence may go un-noticed. This plays into the second criteria; planning.

There is a big difference between a criminal who gives a lot of thought to a hiding place as opposed to one who casually takes on the task. A criminal hiding a gun as the police are battering the front door obviously chooses a hiding place out of expediency. This might lead to the gun being hidden in an obvious spot like beneath the couch cushions. A sub-component of this issue is whether the criminal wants quick access to the item. Some criminals need quick access to guns, drugs, money, etc and thus can’t “afford” a sophisticated or complex hiding place.  But what if the criminal doesn’t need to access the item quickly? A drug runner moving a load of cocaine 1,500 miles will likely create a hidden compartment in the vehicle, while a guy dealing drugs out of his car may not have that luxury and may have to use a more accessible place.  Planning also indicates premeditation. If a killer hides their victim under the foundation of a new swimming pool they are building there’s a good chance they had planned out the crime.

Obviously all of this depends on the size of the item being hidden. Stolen diamonds are easier to hide than a stolen car. So when planning a hiding place for your criminal character consider how quickly they may need access to the item. A killer likely won’t want or need access to a dead body. In contrast, a thief wanting to pawn stolen guns or jewelry will need better access. There is no absolute rule but give some consideration to how sophisticated your character is. Look around your home and ask yourself “where would I hide something?” Keep in mind that criminals may choose a location away from home (like work or a girlfriends house) because of the increased risk of their home being searched.

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About forensics4fiction

Hi there. Thank you for visiting my BLOG for crime writers. I hope you will find it interesting. I would love to hear your questions and thoughts regarding forensics and criminal investigations. I hope that the information here will help answer your questions or ignite your imagination. I am a retired senior criminalist with 15 years of forensic experience. I have served as the president of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, Rocky Mountain Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and the Rocky Mountain Division of the International Association for Identification. I am triple board certified in forensic related fields and one of only 40 board-certified bloodstain pattern analysts and 80 board-certified footwear examiners worldwide In addition to writing over 60 scientific papers, I have worked as the editor of the Journal of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, been interviewed by and consulted for television, books, magazines, and newspaper articles including documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Posted on January 23, 2012, in General, The Crime Scene and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Good information. For my book, Hidden Fire, I had to come up with a way for my crooks to hide diamonds, as well as distribute them. My idea might have been a little out of the box, but no readers have complained yet. I met an Orlando homicide detective who gave me a small piece of Chattahoochee–part of the patio under which they found a body missing for years.

  2. I’ve never written crime because I’m scared I won’t be accurate enough with details like this. Of course, if I ever choose to give it a go, this blog would definitely be a great resource!

  3. Crime writing isn’t for everyone but you should give it a try! Maybe even just a chapter. Although I advocate getting the facts right I think a good story can overcome little errors :)

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