Sunday, December 5, 2010

From Sue Ann - Memories Are Made of This

What is the most memorable (good or bad, icky or enlightening) forensic experience you've ever had? And how did it affect you and your work, if at all?

I’ve never worked a life-altering case, but I’ve learned various lessons from many of them. Always have water, sunscreen, bug spray and a pen. Don’t try to fill out the evidence sheets from memory. When you look back, you’ll have taken four photos from one angle but none showing the area you need.

In one of the saddest cases I’ve worked, a twelve year old girl was shot by a twenty-one year old acquaintance of her older brother. The man had become obsessed with her. Her parents did everything right—they told him to stay away from their daughter, they called the police, they got a restraining order. Short of locking the kid in a closet for the next decade, they did everything they could. But as she walked to school one morning the guy came up and shot her point-blank in the chest. Her terrified girlfriends ran into the first storefront they saw—which happened to be a donut shop where two cops were having breakfast. But the response time didn’t matter. The assailant made no attempt to leave, and EMS was already too late.

One of the most visual was the fifteen year old who stabbed his closest friend, also fifteen, upwards of one hundred and seventy-five times. This occurred in a hallway of the victim’s home. He used seven knives, breaking three of them. The blood spread from wall to wall, and a series of his shoeprints led from the body to the kitchen island (where the knife block stood) and back again, back to the island, back to the hallway—but this also created a sort of locked room (lack of) mystery. No one else could have committed the crime without creating a second set of footprints.

I still think the funniest involved a burglary to a restaurant. The miscreant had broken through a window to attempt to steal the flat screen TVs mounted over the bar. (They always expect those things to pop off the wall like a picture frame.) They didn’t succeed, and when I arrived the officers walked me through the scene and added that there was a mysteriously un-ant-covered fish filet in the field out back—possibly involved since there seemed to be no other explanation for its presence. I began to photograph the perimeter, went back to this dim field—forgetting, as usual, to take my flashlight with me, but in the dimness I could see movement. I realized that a stray cat had already located the filet and I gave a shout. Instead of running away, this cat turned to me, gave me the coldest, hardest look I have ever seen on an animal, picked up the rapidly thawing fish and ran off.

I could just picture myself on the witness stand, explaining to a jury how a cat had stolen my evidence.

Lisa Black is a full time latent print examiner/CSI and the NYT bestselling author of the Theresa MacLean series, including Takeover, Evidence of Murder and the recently released Trail of Blood. Please visit her website at


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks for answering my question, Lisa. While both the gun shot and the stabbing were horrifying, I find the stabbing particularly fascinating and frightening due to its rage. Who does these things?!!! As for the cat, I get those cold, intimidating stares every day here at home.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for visiting us all week, Lisa, and answering all our questions. You've been a wonderful guest!

Love the story about the cat stealing the evidence...

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks for hanging out with us all week, Lisa--you're such a wonderful Grand Master! :)

Now, of course, I want to know if you ever caught the guy who tried to steal the TV, and whether or not you found out why the fish was outside ... ;)

Shane Gericke said...

Lisa, what happened to creeps No. 1 and 2? Convicted? What kind of time did they get?

Likewise on all the praise for your appearance ... I like your writing so much.