A Forensic Kind of Day

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My apologies I’ve been away for so long while I’ve über-focused on revising Ocean Effect for the publisher who asked. But yesterday I took a breather and went to a seminar by Geoff Symon, a Federal Forensic Investigator who has investigated high-profile cases and conducted countless autopsies. You might not call that much of a breather, but it was really cool and I came away feeling a lot smarter.

As fiction writers there are times we want to dramatize for effect, but Geoff offered a glimpse into how things really work. For instance, who has the right to be at a crime scene? Who sets up that perimeter tape and decides who comes and goes? The lead investigator, once assigned, has a lot of power and a lot of responsibility.

I learned about search patterns, blood spatter, the difference between a clinical autopsy and a forensic autopsy and how to tell if a body had been tampered with or moved. I knew the phrase rigor mortis, but there’s also livor mortis (settling of blood) and algor mortis (body temp, which is notoriously unreliable). And that at the scene, the body belongs to the coroner or medical examiner, not the police. Investigators cannot interact with the body.

He also covered search and seizure - when and where can you search and what consent covers - so you avoid the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” A phrase you’ve heard in a crime drama or movie. Speaking of phrases, Geoff has never heard an investigator say “perp” or whether they “like” someone for a crime, nor give a time of death within a 15 minute window. Thanks, Hollywood.

Another item Hollywood perpetuates: the visual identification of a body. That’s not done much anymore because there have been so many mis-identifications. There are only three positive identifications you can take to court: DNA, fingerprints, dental impressions.

For my writer friends, if you ever have the chance to go to one of his seminars, it’s well worth it. (geoffsymon.com) He also has three reference books out, though I’ve not had the chance to check them out.

Thanks, Sisters in Crime/NE for hosting!