New Noninvasive Procedure Could Help CSIs ID Criminal Nuclear Activity

New research has the potential to quickly identify people exposed to fissionable nuclear material over course of the previous year. The new test developed at the University of Missouri in Columbia is a huge advance over existing tests. Currently CSIs use a urine test that only detects recent exposure.

Forensic Magazine described this exciting new research conducted at the UM Research Reactor Center. Professor John Brockman and his team collected fingernail and toenail clippings and hair from workers exposed to uranium in nuclear research facilities around the country.

The team developed testing procedures that could identify uranium exposure and differentiate between types of uranium found naturally and that produced during nuclear fuel reprocessing.

The work has major implications for national security, since it should enable CSIs to determine if someone has been exposed to enriched uranium used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

The work hinged on identifying the specific types (isotopes) of uranium. The different types of uranium include three types found naturally:

  • U-234 which is found in trace amounts
  • U-238 which accounts for more than 99% of the uranium found in nature
  • U-235 which is necessary to power a nuclear reactor or create nuclear weapons

Finding U-235 reveals a great deal since the atom can split and yield a large amount of energy. In addition, there is a manmade isotope—U-236—that is used in nuclear power plants.

The new technique not only determines whether someone has been exposed to uranium, but also which isotopes the person handled over the previous year. Thus, using the right equipment should allow CSIs to ID individuals who have been exposed to special nuclear material over the previous year within two days of the test.

Given the perilous state of the world and the proliferation of nuclear materials by rogue nations, this research will help to make the world a safer place.

WSU Crime Scene Students Get Real World Experience at Skeleton Acres

Grad students at Wichita State University (WSU) get more than they bargain for when it comes to hands-on experience during a crime scene investigation class offered by the school. Students are challenged to solve mock murders in a lab which is not your ordinary college laboratory. Skeleton Acres, as it is known, is a 7.5 acre woodland prairie lab where Professor Peer Moore-Jansen engages students in detailed crime solving.

The anthropology professor’s experience goes beyond his doctorate-level education. Moore-Jansen has worked with Wichita police and state of Kansas detectives in solving many real-life murders over the past 20 years and he is well-respected throughout the state.

Moore-Jansen created the simulated crime lab to allow students the opportunity to identify a crime scene and thoroughly search for clues to solve the case. The trip to Skeleton Acres comes as the final test for the semester-long class in which students are tasked with solving six mock murders.

Moore-Jansen spares no details when it comes to creating the mock crimes. He buries plastic bones meant to replicate human bones while throwing in additional clues for them to find. Some skeletons are buried with shoes, eyeglasses or necklaces. Others have receipts or wallets in their pants or shirt pockets. Shell casings are strewn about in some instances. He even provides body bags for the students to place the remains they find in each case.

The mock murder sites are filled with decoys to throw the students off track as well. Moore-Jansen adds animal bones to the sites to challenge students further into determining if the bones are human. False clues simulate the real world challenges that police face when determining which clues at a crime scene are valid and which are not.

The object of the experience is not for students to necessarily come up with the same answer, but to be able to create a compelling, detailed story that could be reported in court if it were a true crime.

CSI Specialist Gives Damning Evidence in Murder Trial of Former Marine

The murder trial for former Marine Christopher Brandon Lee is underway in the San Bernardino Criminal Courthouse. Sean Daugherty, the Deputy District Attorney trying the case, called the case simple, stating all of the evidence points to Lee.

Lee is accused of murdering Erin Corwin, a 19-year-old woman he was having an affair with. Jonathan Corwin reported his wife Erin missing on June 28, 2014. Her abandoned car was found two days later. Erin’s body was retrieved from a mine shaft near the Twentynine Palms Marine Base, adjacent to Lee’s residence. Her neck was wrapped with a garrote and her body badly decomposed. A propane tank wrapped with blue rope was also pulled from the mine shaft and released into evidence.

Susan Jaquez, a crime scene investigator for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department testified on behalf of the state based on evidence she had collected. According to Jaquez, bits of twine that matched the twine of a torch found with Erin’s body were located in Lee’s jeep. Additionally, she said that tire tracks located near Erin’s abandoned car matched the jeep.

Lee, who went to Alaska after being discharged from the military, was pulled over in a Chevy Suburban by an Anchorage police officer. The officer found out that Lee had a warrant and had the vehicle impounded. The Suburban was registered to Lee’s mother and a garrote similar to the one found wrapped around Erin’s neck was found inside. The garrote was fashioned out of braided parachute cord, PVC pipe and electrical tape. The vehicle also contained a piece of blue rock climbing rope which matched the rope tied around the propane tank.

In other testimony, FBI Agent Kevin Boles testified that Erin’s and Lee’s cell phones placed both of them in the area where her body was found on the morning of her disappearance.

New Protein Sequencing May One Day Replace DNA in Crime Scene Investigation

DNA has been used in solving crimes by comparing a DNA sample from a suspect with DNA found at the scene of a crime and has been the primary decider in suspect identification for years. Now, a study is suggesting that a new scientific method may be even more efficient than DNA. The method of human hair protein sequencing identifies individuals by the proteins found in the shafts of their hairs.

According to Glendon Parker and colleagues, the proteins found in the hair are more ample and durable than DNA which can be damaged by chemical, environmental and biological processes.

Researchers in the study collected samples from 76 modern subjects which included five Kenyans, five African-Americans and 66 European-Americans as well as six samples from England from the early 19th century. Researchers found that even though the older samples had suffered some degradation, their protein analysis placed them in their proper ancestry. It also showed distinct differences between the African-American, Kenyan and European-American samples.

A total of 185 hair protein markers were found using the samples that Parker suggests can be used to identify a single person out of one million people. Researchers hope to identify approximately 100 of the markers as a core set that would allow them to distinguish an individual from the population of the entire world.

Brad Hart, chemist and co-author of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, called the method a “game changer for forensics.” He said that there has been a lot of progress with the new method but there is still work to be done to get the full potential from the analysis. “We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development,” he said.

In the future, hair protein sequencing is likely to be an important tool in crime scene investigation.

Gifted Middle and High School Students Experience CSI Firsthand at Ole Miss

A group of 38 students spent a week of their summer at the University of Mississippi learning about crime scene investigation. The class consisted of gifted students in grades 7th through 12th from states around the country, including Ohio, California, Missouri and Mississippi.

Murrell Godfrey, director of the UM forensic chemistry program, led the week-long camp along with his students. Campers were given the opportunity to learn how crime scenes are processed and evidence is analyzed through hands-on activities. “During the week, students learned the importance of the correct chain of custody procedures when handling evidence that they collect at the crime scene,” said Godfrey.

Activities included were DNA, bullet and drug analysis, gunshot residue and fingerprinting. A mock crime scene included bullets, blood spatters and even a dead body, all of which the students used to sharpen their detective skills. Students formed smaller task force groups to collect data and run analyses in the university’s research labs. The camp also allowed students to tour the UM medicinal plant gardens.

The week wrapped up with a mock trial that was held in a mock court room at the School of Law. Students were tested on the knowledge acquired throughout the week by posing as prosecutors, witnesses, suspects and attorneys.

This is the second time the CSI summer camp has been offered at University of Mississippi. In 2015 the campus hosted 30 students from 15 states. Godfrey said the goal of the camps is to encourage gifted students to choose a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) major in college. The UM faculty hopes that by giving students the opportunity to use the laboratory equipment, they will develop an interest in forensic chemistry and possibly eventually attend the university.

The campers agreed that it was a remarkable experience which taught them the realty of crime scene investigation.

Wallace State CSI Team Brings Home the Silver at 52nd Annual SkillsUSA Competition

Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama took home the silver medal in the 52nd annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. This is the second year Wallace State has taken part in the Crime Scene Investigation event at the national competition held in Louisville, Kentucky in June.

The CSI winning team was comprised of students Micah Oliver, Melissa Kilpatrick and Anthony Martin. The team took home the gold at the state level in May before qualifying for the nationals. The crime scene theme used in this year’s competition was domestic disturbance. Students were required to follow crime scene investigation protocol in collecting evidence and processing the crime scene mockup as part of the competition. The team had 45 minutes to investigate and process the crime scene.

Kilpatrick was thrilled to be part of the winning team. “It was such a great and satisfying feeling when I heard our names mentioned as one of the best,” she said.

Wallace State had concocted a double homicide scene in last year’s national competition where they earned a ninth place finish. This year the team spent even more time preparing, adding four to five hours of practice to their studies each week since October. Kilpatrick noted that participating in last year’s competition allowed them to prepare accordingly and know what to expect this time around. She also thanked the Wallace State President for allowing the team to use the campus to set up practice crime scenes. The improvements paid off with a second place, silver-medal finish this year.

SkillsUSA is a nonprofit agency that allows students training in service, technical and trade careers to show off their skills in an annual competition. Contests begin at a local level and rise to a state and national level where the best of the best compete in each skillset.

Conference Provides a Look into a “Real” Crime Scene

Imagine walking into a deserted building and finding shotgun shells scattered at your feet. The only other evidence is a single footprint of blood.

This is a scenario that students at the University of South Dakota walked into as a part of a conference put on by the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation. The victim was a simple pillow in a tee shirt and sweat pants serving as the touch point for how to properly document and tag a crime scene in a step-by-step process.

At the conference, Dave Stephan and Tyler Neuharth, South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation agents, shared what they learned from an eight-week course at the National Forensic Academy in Tennessee.

They shared many details like being sure to never call something blood until there is total certainty of the nature of the stain. Until then, call the spot a “reddish brown stain” or “suspected blood.” This serves to protect an investigative unit in court.

They illustrated much of what they learned with graphic photos taken at real crime scenes. They even spent time talking about crime scene photography, a segment that took up a whole week of the eight-week course in Tennessee.

Another important note about investigating is making sure that you are in the right place when investigating a crime. Whenever a crime takes place, there is a crime scene. The question is if the crime scene can be found at all.

Students also learned about fingerprinting techniques and how to take a shoe cast. The conference was a success with many criminal science students in attendance, as well as public attendees who were interested in the popular field.

MSU Inherits Super Glue Chamber From Local Crime Lab

Last week the Columbus Police Department Crime Lab gifted Mississippi State University with a super glue chamber to be used as an educational device for its forensics program. A super glue chamber is a tall rectangular box where large guns such as rifles and shotguns can be placed to recover fingerprints.

According to Crime Lab director Austin Shepherd, fingerprints are approximately 95% composed of moisture. So forensic scientists can put a gun into the super glue chamber, rehydrate fingerprint residue using humidity controls, and locate fingerprint impressions.

The super glue itself is a reactionary agent of the fingerprint moisture. In describing the process, Shepherd explains, “Then the super glue heats up, turns into a gas and interacts with the moisture in the print that polymerizes the print and the print will turn like a really bright white. It’ll be pretty much permanent.”

The chamber, which comes equipped with a build-in filter to prevent against potentially harmful super glues fumes, can also process other crime scene materials like shell casings, latex gloves, and other weapons.

The Crime Lab decided to donate the super glue chamber after it received a new one a few months ago. Shepherd is confident that the contribution will facilitate a closer relationship with MSU while also helping to better prepare future forensic scientists. Right now MSU does not offer forensic major option but it does provide a biochemistry major option that includes a concentration in forensic science.

And although Shepherd acknowledges that forensic science programs are more popular than ever, thanks in part to binge-worthy crime shows like C.S.I., he points out that few programs possess a super glue chamber. Shepherd hopes the addition of the super glue chamber will further attract students in the forensic science field and expresses interest in hiring MSU graduates for his Crime Lab team in the near future.

CSI’s Fight Ivory, Help National Security Across the Continent

Elephants play a larger role in the national security and stability of countries in Africa than most realize. Elephants are an integral part of the forest ecosystem, and when they are driven out through poaching the forests can easily disappear. These forests, which for years have held topsoil in place when intense rains pour down, are the only things preventing the fertile soil of many nations from washing into the ocean.

Haiti, which has had issues of deforestation for years, is in economic turmoil because the tsunami of 2010 pushed most of the fertile soil out into the ocean. This in turn makes farming in the region nearly impossible; causing a food shortage that further destabilizes a country still reeling from a massive earthquake.

But, with the help of DNA technology and bloodhound training from CSI experts, the ivory trade is helping to alleviate some of these problems. Researchers from the University of Washington and Interpol tracked a majority of illegally obtained ivory to two relatively small regions in East and Central Africa. These hot spots for poaching are typically game reserves or national parks, with a large population of elephants to draw from and frustratingly underpowered infrastructure to combat poaching.

But government agencies are utilizing CSI expertise to begin to combat these poachers, and they’re using bloodhounds to track them. Crime scene investigators worldwide have long used bloodhounds in investigations to track and identify suspects. The Congohound’s are a unit of nationals who use tracking dogs to pursue ivory and the poachers who steal it, and they’re benefiting from CSI training.

Between the DNA extraction technology, and the exceptional training of crime scene investigators, the poachers who would illegally kill and harvest ivory from African elephants will have a much harder time doing so. And that means healthier environments, which means more natural resources to help lift African nations out of poverty and engage with the global community.

Bay Area Crime Scene Investigators Get a Glimpse Into the Future

The FARO Technologies 3-D scanner has been instrumental in detailing evidence for from crime scenes used to find perpetrators and secure a conviction. This revolutionary technology permits investigators to document many aspects of a crime scene with tremendous accuracy and swiftness.

There are two variations of this futuristic tool, both of which make use of the latest in digital camera technology. The more portable option is a handheld device that is most often used with fatal car crashes. The second option sits on a tripod and takes in everything around it within about 1,000 feet. These scanners take in millions of measurements and images in a fraction of the time it would take for a skilled investigator to do the same. On top of speeding up the process, the data that is collected and depicted in the virtual environment can be worked with in innovative ways, allowing investigators to literally look at evidence from different angles.

By eliminating the chance of human error and by giving investigators the ability to revisit the crime scene remotely and see it as it looked originally, detectives are claiming that this tool could be used to help prosecutors form a stronger case based on the evidence. It also allows investigators to clear scenes faster and permit civilians to get back to their lives (in case of roadside accidents).

This gadget has already been used in documenting and solving several homicides and car accidents (and the disputes that ensued).

Now that the Bay Area law enforcement is able to scan and record crime scenes in minutes, more attention can be given to other cases. Another tremendous upside of this groundbreaking piece of equipment is that now it will be harder to misjudge a crime and lock up an innocent person. This $80,000 scanning device has the power to allow for quick and just actions to take place.

The use of these scanners is gradually spreading all across the nation. Some fear that these devices will infringe upon the job that crime scene technicians do, but this is unlikely since the data that gets scanned and collected is still in need of a well-trained eye to interpret it.