Monthly Archives: June 2012
Picking up where we left off…
F4F: What kinds of police powers does an agent have on base? For example, if a General or other high ranking officer were a suspect, could you arrest them as easily as if they were a private or sergeant?
RG: This is an interesting one to answer. In the 70′s due to inappropriate command influence from senior officers on installations, the CID Command was set aside as a separate command. It answered directly to the CID HQS (headquarters) in the state of Washington. This prevented unwarranted local command influence when investigating anyone, particularly senior officers. In restructuring the military over the past few years, that has been undone and as I understand the Command is effectively back under the control of the Provost Marshall, the senior MP on the installation, who by the way works for and answers to the local Installation Commander.
Under either system, nothing is done in the military without the chain of Command being aware. Thus if a senior officer were under investigation, someone in the chain of command (maybe as high as the Pentagon) would be aware and if an apprehension were pending, they would also know of it. Not that they gave approval, but you just didn’t trash (disrespect) the local commander by doing things and then letting him find out the hard way, particularly apprehending one of his senior officers.
So the short answer is yes. Officer or enlisted, the authority to apprehend is the same. If someone is in the act of violating the law, MP’s, MPI or CID have a duty to act. Senior officers (field grade and general officers) rarely get involved in situations that require on-the-spot apprehension (DUI might be the only true exception). It just isn’t the nature of the beast, but nothing precluded it. Younger company grade officers were a different story. I’ve seen arrogant company level officers try and obstruct on-going investigations, violating crime scenes and such. They were apprehended on the spot and not always in a way that took their rank into consideration. CID Agents used to have a simple warning for those who thought they were going to direct our operational decisions on the street based on the fact they out-ranked us: ” Sir do not mistake your rank with my authority.”
F4F: Some of the better known stories involving ARMY investigations include Lee Child’s books featuring Jack Reacher, The General’s Daughter, Basic, The Presidio, etc. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see depicting military investigations in books or on television?
RG: The single biggest mistake I think is they show CID Agents as Officers. Although at one point in time there were actually a small contingent of commissioned officer agents, that program was short lived. The majority of working (on the street) agents are either enlisted, E-4 through E-7 or Warrant Officers WO-1 through W4. The senior enlisted are still agents (E-8 and E-9) but they work at BN, Group or Command. Senior Warrants are fewer on the street, and most W-4 and CW5 are at BN, Group or Command levels as well. There is a contingent (an ever growing contingent) of civilian Agents who work in the Procurement Fraud area. They hold 18-05 positions (gun toting federal agents) but they are primarily conducting major fraud investigations at Depots or operating out of WA (the state of Washington). If you ever saw (the movie) Off Limits with William Defoe, although dramatized it represented the CID of the time (Viet Nam era) pretty well.
F4F: Does every ARMY base have a CID unit or are they limited to certain bases? Also, how many CID agents are there in the ARMY?
RG: Every post typically has an assigned CID agent. There may be some changes in that regard, due to restructuring of the military over the past few years, but as a general rule if you have a post there is at least a CID Branch Office. This might be 1, 2 or 3 agents assigned to handle that post. The BO (branch office) would be supported by either a Resident Agency (RA), also known as a CASE or TASE. All three are a slightly larger contingent for small posts. The BO might be supported directly by a Battalion or Field Office. This larger organization, the BN (Battalion) supports the smaller RA’s and BO’s and conducts investigations on the larger bases. A CID Battalion is different from any other BN in the Army. It is much smaller in terms of manpower (often the size of a large Army company) and its people are distributed in a wide geographic area of operation (the RA’s and BO’s). Larger posts such as (Fort) Bragg or (Fort) Benning have a BN supporting them. There you could find 20 or more CID agents. In some odd circumstances if there is a grouping of small installations in a relatively small area (say within 100 miles of each other), the BO would be at one post, but support all.
The total number of Agents Army wide is a number I’m not absolutely sure of. I believe it is now in the area of about 900-1000. At one point in time after the cold war there were about 1400 active duty Special Agents (not counting the Procurement Fraud Civilian Agents). But CID went through a major restructuring during Quicksilver in the late 80s as the Army itself downsized.
F4F: Military court proceedings are different than civilian courts. Can you talk a little about those differences like the judge, jury, and defense lawyers?
RG: In some ways a military court is no different than a civilian court. But in other ways they are completely different. The biggest difference lies in the type of court. A summary courts martial can be held for minor offenses by a unit. Thus the Commander acts as the judge. A company officer is the prosecutor. The types of action and punishment a summary court can assign are limited. This concept allows a commander to control minor infractions within his unit without having to drag everything up the chain of command.
A Special Courts Martial and the General Courts Martial are for more serious offenses and consist of a typical judge, prosecutor and defense counsel, with a jury of peers. The jury however is always senior to the accused in rank. In a General Courts Martial, which is reserved for the most serious offenses, the accused can also hire civilian counsel to co-represent him with the military defense counsel.
One oddity to the military system of justice is the Article 32 hearing. Think of it as a form of probable cause or a preliminary hearing. A senior officer ( and it doesn’t have to be anyone with legal experience) is assigned to hear the evidence. The Staff Judge Advocate prosecutor presents a summary of the evidence against the accused in the form of witnesses and evidence and the defense has the opportunity to cross examine. The defense may also offer witnesses at the hearing. The Art 32 Officer hears the arguments and can himself ask questions of any witness and then based upon the testimony and evidence decides if sufficient reason exists to move forward with a trial. F4F Note: I have testified as an expert witness in two Article 32 hearings and it was an eye opening experience! One oddity was that the “judge” was a high ranking officer. There was a JAG prosecutor (Major) and a civilian defense attorney. At one point the defense counsel objected to some testimony I was giving, arguing that I had not laid the proper foundation as an expert in that field. The “judge” turned to the prosecutor and asked if the defense counsel could object to which the prosecutor said “no”. I don’t know who was more shocked, me or the defense, because we both sat in silence for a few seconds not knowing how to proceed. I broke the ice and just continued with my analysis and that was that. Very unexpected.
F4F: Are there any books (biographies, true crime, or fiction) that you could recommend for someone to learn more about the ARMY CID and it’s history?
RG: There are not a lot of good books written about CID. The Command has a web site that speaks to the missions and organization, its history etc.
Thank you Ross for an informative peek inside the world of a CID Agent!
Check back in a few days for part 2 of this interview and learn more about real life ARMY CID agents…
Imagine you are a park ranger on Trail Ridge Road and you come across this strange mark on a roadway. You look around but see nothing unusual. What would you make of the mark and does it give you an idea of what to do next?
I guess I need to make these a little tougher because you all did really well. The mark was produced by a spinning vehicle tire on it’s side (during a roll over). It is what I would loosely call “impression” evidence. I like this photograph for a couple of reasons. First it forces the young CSI to consider associations. In this case if a student were stuck I would simply begin by asking what kinds of “circular” objects could be found on roadways? This is a very simple and common problem solving tactic in crime scene investigation and reconstruction. We have to do this type of analysis in bloodstain pattern analysis all the time. Consider a “pointy” shaped object leaving a bloody outline on a bed sheet following a stabbing. What kinds of “pointy” things might you find associated with a stabbing? If you said “a knife” you’d be right. Of course there could be a lot of things that could fit that broad description but you get the point. It won’t be a baseball bat right?
So, continuing with this tire photo. The next thing this image forces a student to do is to think of crime scene events three dimensionally. Most of the time cars drive upright (on all four wheels) but not always. When don’t they? Accidents. So if this is an accident on a high mountain road what might you be looking for? Perhaps a vehicle off the side of the road right? In the mountains that may be several hundred feet down a mountain side. Now in reality this mark was found in a city roll over accident, but the investigative process is the same. The last thing I like to use photos like this for is to reinforce that we need more of the picture before we draw any hard conclusions. The same is true in writing. Sometimes as authors we over-simplify our scenes and the evidence. The evidence and the scene makes sense to us because we wrote the scene. But the reader may be coming at it from an entirely different direction. Suddenly your “ah-ha” evidence can be interpreted another way. So, when possible, run some of your evidence discovery scenes past another writer or friend and see if they come to the same conclusion as your characters did.
Next month I promise to give you a more challenging photo that deals with bloodstain pattern analysis and sequencing events. So if you want to get a leg up on your fellow readers take a look at some of my past postings on bloodstain analysis. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts and opinions for this series!
Invisible inks have been around for centuries; used by good and bad guys alike. If you ever thought of using an invisible ink for a scene come join me today at the Crime Fiction Collective to see how invisible inks can be used in a pinch.
To me, one of the most interesting criminal behaviors is the act of returning to the crime scene. It seems so illogical. Why take the risk of being caught or leaving behind additional clues the police can use to catch you? Perhaps it is the risk that heightens the reward in their minds. Whatever the reason there are different motives driving this behavior. As crime authors you are probably most familiar with the scenario of a serial killer returning to the scene where his victim was dumped or buried. This is not fiction. Some serial killers actually do return to the scene of the crime but there are a number of reasons why this may happen. On the ghoulish end of the spectrum some killers return to have “relations” with their victims (pause for vomiting). Other reasons may include the following:
- Checking to see if the body/crime scene has been discovered by police
- Looking for items that may have been left behind. Sometimes in the heat of the moment (and in darkness) a killer may drop anything from weapons, tools, or even a wallet. If they have misplaced something like this they may fear that it was dropped at the dump site and return to look for it.
- Relocating evidence/body. If they believe the police are closing in on the crime scene (like a foot search moving in that direction) or some other activity (land development) may uncover the remains, they may return to exhume the body for relocation. If the body was originally dumped on the surface or placed in a shallow grave they may have a change of heart and decide on a better hiding place or dig a deeper grave in another location.
Of course all of this presumes that the victim is the magnet drawing the suspect back. In truth there is another prominent reason. The killer may be drawn to the location itself. Some serial killers find a good hiding place and they return with additional victims. They may also select a location in which to ambush their victims. I once had a case of several murdered victims in a fairly small geographic location (about the size of a football field). I was called in to examine the insects because the police wanted to know if the victims were all killed at once or on separate days. It was the latter. The evidence available suggested that the killer was targeting the area more than the specific victim.
What about other crimes though? Armed robbers may select certain gas stations over and over because they are an easy target. Maybe the location has no surveillance or is in a remote location and carries a lot of cash. In one unbelievable case I investigated a burglary of an abandoned restaurant in which thieves stole copper piping to sell for scrap. Even though I was there for several hours and left crime scene tape up the thieves returned the next night to finish the job and take the remaining pipe. Our officers were there to catch them but one thief actually had a test footwear lift in his pocket. Apparently he had found it in the trash where I tossed it the day before and must have thought it was pretty cool.
Obviously it is a risky move for the criminal. Police have learned the value of keeping such a discovery out of the press. If the killer thinks the scene is “safe” then they might return; where we will be waiting for them. As an author you can just imagine such a scene. Bad guy scoping out the crime scene while the cops lay in shadows, anxiously waiting to see who shows up. Someone comes into view. Is it the killer or some dope out for a midnight stroll? If you pounce too soon you may alert the killer and lose that golden opportunity to catch them red handed! Obviously this is a bigger concern in an urban area. Most people won’t be strolling around at midnight in the middle of the forest but you never know. If your detectives discover a body consider letting them wait to see if the killer returns. It may amp up the tension and keep your reader on the edge of their seat!
Auto-erotic deaths don’t happen often but they can be confusing when they do. For those unfamiliar, auto-erotic asphyxiation involves the practice of (usually) masturbation while intentionally restricting oxygen to the brain. Restricting oxygen eventually causes a semi-hallucinogenic state called hypoxia and is obviously very dangerous if not reversed. The ritual is practiced by both men (mostly) and women who can use a variety of methods to restrict airflow. Practitioners believe that the euphoric state coupled with sexual climax is extremely fulfilling and addictive. Call me old fashioned but I don’t get it. Anyway, I’ve investigated a few of these over the years and here are some things I look for.
First off, this is a repeated activity. Typically the manner of death is classified as “accidental” by the medical examiner. That means that the practitioner plans to survive. That being the case they will take steps to protect themselves. One of the most common devices used to restrict air flow is the ligature. Other mechanisms like plastic bags can be used but ligatures are the most common. A ligature is any cord/rope that can be fastened around the neck. Obviously, using a device like this can cause an injury so some practitioners wrap the ligature with a towel, clothing, even foam so it doesn’t “mark” their neck. When designing a ligature “apparatus” there is always an “escape” mechanism. Sometimes they don’t function properly (hence the death) but the mechanism is always there. The other component of the repeated activity is that the activity itself may leave evidence. For example, if a practitioner suspends his rope over the top of a closet door and fastens one end to the door knob there should be evidence of numerous “rubs” (grooves caused by the force against the rope or whatever is used as a ligature) across the top of the door. The door handle may also be bent upwards or have a loose housing.
Typically there is also some kind of stimulant present. The most common sexual stimulant is pornography but such is not always the case. The practitioner may have some kind of fetish. I once saw a case presentation wherein a practitioner had a shoe fetish and suspended himself in front of his wife’s shoes in the closet. Obviously, victimology becomes very important in such cases to understand what behaviors, disorders, or fetishes a practitioner may exhibit. The practitioner may also have exposed genitalia but, again, this is not always the case. Investigators should also check electronic equipment in the immediate area for videos or audio that may simply have stopped running after death. It may be a computer screen that has gone into sleep mode or a CD that is no longer playing and the tuner shifted to radio.
Another factor to consider is whether the victim lives alone and who reported the death initially. This behavior is often hidden from spouses, friends, and family. As such, it can be quite a shock to those people should they stumble upon an already emotional loss. CSIs must always be on the lookout for crime scene clean-up or staging. Family may wish to avoid any embarrassment or ridicule based on cultural and social pressures in their community or circle of friends. Staging is a complicated effort and most criminals leave “red flags” for investigators to find. Family members may call police before they consider clean-up which doesn’t give them much time to alter the scene before the cops get there.
This type of death lends itself well to a psychological thriller. There are a number of tangents you can exploit as an author when developing your characters. Some characters may have very strong emotions regarding this behavior. Others may be forced to face their own sexual practices or social paradigms. This is especially true if the victim is a prominent or respected member of the community. Additionally, it is common for people (not necessarily the police) to wonder about other “hidden behaviors” the victim may practice. Also, if there is staging the death may be wrongly classified as a suicide or homicide which carries it’s own potential for collateral damage. If you choose to use this behavior in a novel I suggest you try to do some further reading on the topic to better understand the range of behaviors that may be encountered.
Good authors are look for that little twist of strange for their novels and this might be a good place to start. Forensic scientists are always searching for new ways to link a suspect with a crime and one area of interest is in lip prints! I have to admit that only a small percentage of forensic scientists believe that lip prints can be individualized. Most of the support comes from practitioners in Europe but there are a few Americans as well and with more research who knows? Of course, the research to date has focused primarily on the physical properties of the impressions. The size and shape as well as the characteristics of the creases. Creases have been shown to be unique in other areas of the body like palms, fingerprints, and footprints so there is some support for using these features. Obviously one important factor is the clarity of the reproduction of said features. Are they smeared on with a heavy coat of lipstick or a true latent impression. If the clarity of the impression is poor then even advocates of lip print identification are limited in what associations they can declare.
No matter what camp you’re in however, there is additional value to be found in lip prints. I can think of two cases in my career where lip prints were found. So not real common, but valuable nonetheless. One reason we don’t find too many is that suspects don’t usually leave them. When we find them though the lip prints can reveal some important clues. The location of the print can be revealing. Imagine a set of lips on a dead person’s forehead? What does that say to you? How about on the body of a rape victim? Probably a different message right? What if they are found on a letter from a stalker or jealous spouse? Maybe they are on the shirt collar of a deceased husband. No mater where they are found the location can be very telling to a CSI and suggest motive or suspects that need to be contacted.
One question I get from time to time is whether you can tell the gender of the lip smoocher. The short answer is no. We’d like to assume that lip prints (especially with lipstick) are female but men can certainly leave such prints as well and may even do so to stage a crime scene. Aside from the analysis of the physical properties of the lip prints there are some other key pieces of evidence that may help link the kissing criminal. The first obvious one is DNA. When a person leaves a latent or patent impression their DNA is a part of that impression. Technology has progressed to such a degree that analysts can get DNA profiles from extremely small samples. That is almost as good as a fingerprint. If the impression is in lipstick, gloss, or other material then analysts may be able to classify that cosmetic. This link wouldn’t be unique as many people might own that particular make and color but it helps. Coupled with a DNA profile and physical features it may help to link or exclude a person from leaving the prints.
So if you’re looking for an unusual type of evidence to include in your crime novel consider using lip prints. You can see from the examples above that lip prints may convey anything from compassion to infidelity. They may even be accidental (pressing a face up to a window to look inside). For me, I am not convinced they can be individualized but I haven’t done enough research to know for sure. Regardless, lip prints are cool and they can reveal a number of things to your characters and readers. Consider how you might use lip prints to convey a message or motive in your next scene!
Join me over at the Crime Fiction Collective today where I discuss the difference between using a dog for tracking a live person vs a dead body. You might be surprised to find out that they are two very different things. If you plan on writing a scene using a tracking dog you can’t afford to miss this one. If you just love dogs you’ll find it interesting too :).
Forensics4ficiton has been a project close to my heart and I am so proud of all of you who visit us! We have had 100,000 visitors in the past 12 months and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks for stopping by and giving me your valuable time. Tom
Camouflaged weapons can be a real nightmare for police officers and CSIs alike. These are weapons that are “hidden” or concealed in some common or non-threatening object. Some common “commercial” products over the years have been things like the pen knife, cane sword, or the pen gun. Edged weapons (knives and swords) are one thing but camouflaged firearms are a whole other danger. Thankfully they are pretty rare among criminals and most sales of legitimate items are to collectors. One main reason for this is that these weapons usually only fire a single shot. That’s not too useful to your average criminal. Another reason is that it takes some skill (and time) to build these weapons even if converted from a legitimate product (like a pen). Still, it happens. I once saw a case of a motorcycle that had been modified to fire a single shotgun slug from the handlebar grip. The idea being that as an officer approached (roadside) the criminal could aim and discharge at close range. This is one reason officers are encouraged to approach motorcycles from the curb side (the handle/throttle is more difficult to modify on that side).
In the video below we see an example of a toy gun that was modified to fire a single shotgun shell. The selection of the modified weapon is important to note for fiction writers. Toy guns like the Super-soaker are designed to look like toys. These toys are very common in the United States and most officers with kids have probably been “attacked” with one on a daily basis in the summer. That is what makes this weapon so dangerous. An individual armed with this camouflaged weapon could approach anyone (even an officer) without raising an alarm. Who could blame them? It’s a matter of conditioning. I think if you ask most police about concerns they may have with toy guns it would be the ones that are designed to look and feel like the real thing. Every cop has nightmares about shooting some innocent kid armed with one of these; but a Super-soaker?
As authors, we try to conceal plots, motives, and identities within the fabric of the story we weave. Surprise is a wonderful mechanism to keep your reader engaged. In the real world these weapons can be deadly but in a novel they can cause a lot of nail biting tension. Readers don’t want everything in plain sight. They expect a little mystery and camouflaged weapons might be one of the tools you can use to give them what they want.