Tag Archives: Forensics


A7In 1991, the mummified body of a 5,000-year-old murder victim was discovered in melting ice at a rock-gully crime scene high in the Italian Otzal Alps. Nicknamed “Otzi”, the estimated 45-year-old man and his possessions were incredibly well preserved. His skin, hair, bones, and organs were cryopreserved in time, allowing archeological researchers a phenomenal insight into human life in the Copper Age.

The frozen corpse also gave modern science the opportunity to forensically investigate and positively determine how Otzi The Iceman was killed.

A44On a sunny September day, two hikers were traversing a mountain pass at the 3210 meter (10,530 foot) level and saw a brown, leathery shape protruding from the ice amidst running melt-water. Closely examined, it was a human body which they thought might be the victim of a past mountaineering accident.

They reported it to Austrian police who attended the following day and quickly realized they were dealing with an ancient archeological site. A scientific team was assembled and, over a three-day period, the remains were extracted and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck.

B9Such an incredibly valuable find soon led to a jurisdictional argument between the Austrian and Italian governments and an immediate border survey was done, finding Otzi had been lying ninety-two meters inside of Italian territory. Italy gained legal possession of the body and artifacts, however in the interests of science and history, everything was kept at Innsbruck until a proper, climate-controlled facility was built at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi the Iceman now rests.

Many, many questions arose. Who was he? Where did he come from? How long ago did he live? And, of course, what caused his death?

Technological  advances over the past twenty-five years have answered some questions surrounding Otzi’s life and death and surely the next twenty-five will answer more. This, so far, is what science knows about the Iceman.

A6Otzi was found lying face down with outstretched arms in a protected, rock depression near the Finail Peak watershed at the top of the Tisenjoch pass which connects two forested valleys. The trench measured 40 meters (131 foot) long, between 5 and 8 meters (16–26 foot) wide, and  averaged 3 meters (10 feet) deep. For millennia, this area was covered by glaciers which, by the end of the twentieth century, had receded.

Four separate scientific institutes conducted C-14 radiocarbon dating on Otzi, equivocally agreeing he came from between 3350 and 3100 BC — more than 5,000 years ago. This was the oldest-known preserved human being; far older than the Egyptian and Inca mummifications or the corpses found pickled in peat bogs.

A8Something exceptionally unique about Otzi was that he was a “wet” mummy—an almost unheard of process for a cadaver of this age where humidity was preserved in his cells, unlike the intentional dehydration processes used in Egypt and Peru. As well, Otzi was perfectly intact and not dissected or embalmed by a funeral ritual. His entire body achieved a state of elasticity and, although shrunken, remained as in the day he died including vital clues stored in his digestive tract.

Researchers felt Otzi must have been preserved through a chain of coincidences. It was evident that no damage had been done by predators, scavengers, or insects so it was obvious that the body was covered by snow and/or ice immediately after death. Secondly, the gully lay perpendicular to the main ice flow, allowing the grinding action of the glacier to pass overtop. Thirdly, exposure to air and sunlight was only a brief period before being found by the hikers.

It was vital Otzi remain frozen to avoid an irreversible decomposition and remain intact to preserve his historical significance. This gave researchers limited ability to examine the cadaver as would be done in a conventional autopsy.

B3A thorough external exam was done in 1991 along with Xray radiography images. Notable was a cut to the back of the right hand which showed early signs of healing as well as breaks to the left ribcage, which had healed, and breaks to the right ribs which were fresh at the time of death. A depression in the skull was thought to be caused by the weight of ice compression and analysis of the only remaining fingernail found that the Beau-Reil Lines, which are like rings on a tree trunk, showed significant stress to his immune system in three periods—16, 13, and 8 weeks before death.

A46Other factors told of Otzi’s failing health—understandable for a 45-year-old in the Copper Age who’d then be considered elderly. He suffered from tooth decay, gum disease, and worn joints. What shocked the researchers were the amounts, designs, and placement of tattoos on Otzi’s body. There were 61 separate markings, all made by incisions and insertion of charcoal—not ink as has been used by other cultures for centuries. The locations were consistent with known acupuncture points as practiced for pain relief thought to be discovered by the Chinese two thousand years after Otzi’s existence. It seemed these markings were therapeutic, rather than symbolic.

Despite examination by many leading experts, no exact cause of Otzi’s demise was determined and it was speculated this old man may have fallen, injured himself, then succumbed to the elements. That was until new technology was developed.

A47One of the great challenges was to examine Otzi endoscopically—that is to look internally at his organs. Special high-precision titanium instruments were invented—steel probes that were inserted through tiny incisions in Otzi’s back. Using computerized navigational aids, the tools were guided to exact spots were evidentiary samples could be taken. This was recorded with a hi-definition camera and an entire 3-D map of the mummy’s thorax and abdomen was made.

Lung and digestive tract contents told a time-of-year travel story through the presence of thirty different pollens which entered Otzi’s body by the food he ate, the water he drank, and the air he breathed.

A48Most pollens were from trees and indicated he ingested them during a bloom in the late spring or early summer. The locations and digested states of different pollens in different sections of the stomach and intestines showed Otzi had made a climb from the valley floor to the top of the pass where he died within a twenty-four hour period. Pollens in the lower gastrointestinal tract were identified to low elevation trees and pollens in the upper GI were from higher elevation species.

So, it was known that Otzi had left the populated valley and headed for high country where he met his death. Speculation rose that he might have been fleeing some danger.

A3This theory strengthened in 2001 when new Xrays identified a small, flint arrowhead in Otzi’s left shoulder which was missed ten years earlier. A close examination of Otzi’s back revealed a two-centimeter slash and established the arrow’s path. He’d been shot from a rear and lower position.

In 2005, Otzi was put through a high-resolution, multi-slice CT scanning machine which enlightened the arrow wound. Clearly, the arrowhead had caused a one-centimeter gash in Otzi’s left subclavian artery which is the main circulatory pipeline that carries fresh oxygenated blood from the heart to the left arm. Such a serious tear would have caused massive internal bleeding and rapid death—probably within two minutes.

A49The CT scan showed something else. There was serious bleeding at the base of the brain which corresponded to the depression in Otzi’s skull. He’d suffered a serious head injury right at the time of death. With the cause of death now certain to be from a violent act of homicide, the prime question centered on the circumstances of how all this went down.

Researchers felt the answer may lay in the Iceman’s possessions.

A50Among the artifacts found on and around Otzi’s body were a copper ax, a flint dagger, a quiver with twelve blank arrow shafts and two completed arrows with stone heads. There was also winter clothing and supplies to support wilderness survival.

This speaks to motive, for if robbery was behind Otzi’s murder, it’s certain that the perpetrator(s) would have made off with these valuables. Glaringly missing was the shaft of the fatal arrow, especially in light of Otzi’s quiver arrows being perfectly preserved.

A51Egarter Vigl, a leading archeological expert on the Iceman, believes that the assailant tried to pull out the fatal arrow to destroy evidence, only to snap off the arrowhead inside. Vigl was quoted in the archeology magazine Germani, “telltale markings in the construction of prehistoric arrows could be used to identify the archer much in the way modern ballistics can link a bullet to a gun. The killer yanked out the arrow to cover his tracks. For similar motives, the attacker did not run off with any precious artifacts that remained at the scene, especially the distinctive copper-bladed ax; the appearance of such a remarkable object in the possession of a villager would automatically implicate its owner of the crime.”

I’d have to agree with Mr. Vigl and I’d like to add an observation of my own.

A33In the hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies I’ve examined as a cop and a coroner, I’ve never seen a cadaver with its arms outstretched in a hyperextended position like how Otzi the Iceman was found. This is absolutely unnatural and shrieks to me that someone placed the arms in that position after death.

I think it’s safe to speculate on what might have happened and here’s what Otzi’s crime scene evidence suggests to me.

A52The day before Otzi’s death, he was in a physical altercation down at the village on the valley floor where he suffered the cut hand and possibly the broken right ribs. This caused him to pack up and flee, climbing to the elevated pass where he was overcome by his attacker(s) and shot with the arrow from behind and below. This wound would have put Otzi into hemorrhagic shock and he would have quickly collapsed and internally bled out. Following his collapse, the murderer(s) went up and caved-in the back of Otzi’s head to finish him off.

I don’t think this happened in the gully. I’ve looked at the scene photos and can’t envision how Otzi could have been shot from below in that tight gully, which is what the forensic evidence clearly shows on the arrowhead’s track through the body—even if Otzi were bending over.

A53No, I suspect Otzi was shot elsewhere, dragged by the arms, dumped in the gully with all his possessions, rolled over to remove the arrow, and then covered with ice and/or snow to hide the crime.

After 5,000 years, the answers to “By who?” and “For what reason?” are unlikely to be known—despite what future technology might bring—and the murder of Otzi the Iceman will always remain a really cold case.

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For a fascinating look at the entire Otzi story, including exceptional photos, visit the official website www.Iceman.it at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. Click Here


AA43Bloodstain Pattern Analysis is the forensic interpretation of human blood evidence in crime scene investigations. It’s used to recreate actions that caused the bloodshed. Because blood has chemical properties that behave according to specific laws, trained analyists can examine the size, shape, and distribution of bloodstains to draw conclusions of what did—or did not—happen.

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) applies the sciences of anatomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics to answer questions like:

  • Where’d the blood come from?
  • Who’d it belong to?
  • How’d it get there?
  • What caused the wound(s)?
  • From what direction was the victim assailed?
  • How were the victim and perpetrator positioned?
  • How many victims and perpetrators were there?
  • What movements were made after the bloodshed?

AA24You’ve seen the CSI shows where investigators, dressed in their ‘bunny suits’, photograph drops, streaks, smears, and pools of blood, then swab for DNA and String the room back to Area of Convergence points. Well, that’s pretty much how it happens, except today most Stringing is done by 3D computerization.

Bloodstain pattern interpretation is nothing new. It’s been around two hundred years and became increasing sophisticated as technology advanced. I’ve been involved in a number of BPA examinations during my time as a cop and coroner. One that really stands out was when Billy Ray Hennessey axe-murdered his ex-girlfriend and her new lover. The room looked like a bomb went off in a red paint factory. I’ll tell you more about it at the end of this article. First, let’s look at how blood behaves.

Blood has three components that are suspended in plasma.

AA25Erythrocytes are your red cells that transfer oxygen through hemoglobin. It’s what gives blood the red color. Leukocytes, your white cells, are your body’s defenders and support your immune system in fighting infection and disease. Platelets are formed in your bone marrow and play a major role in hemostasis, or plugging up breaches in vessels.

Blood composition is about 55% plasma and 45% formed elements, or cells, which remain suspended due to agitation caused by your circulatory system. That’s called viscosity—it’s density or internal friction. Once blood leaves your body’s pressurized containment, it’s subject to the forces of gravity and surface tension which dictates its resting shape. That can be in drops, streaks, or pools.

Crime scene bloodstains take different forms due to factors like velocity and distance of travel, amount of blood flow, angle of impact, and type of surface or target it lands on. There are eight categories of bloodstain patterns:

AA26Single Drop – These stains are typically from a vertical fall and under low velocity, like when your cut your finger and blood drips to the floor. Blood molecules are very cohesive. They attract and bind in a surface tension that makes a sphere. The drop stays in a ball until it strikes an object or a force acts on it. This is called bleed-out.

AA21Impact Spatter – These result from forceful impacts between an object and wet blood, causing the blood to break into little droplets. Greater force produces smaller droplets. The study of impact staining provides huge insight into the relative positions of individuals and objects involved in the crime. There are three sub-categories of impacts:

  1. Low Velocity Impact Spatter (LVIS)

AA4Also called Passive Impact Spatters, these are the largest bloodstain drops with a diameter of 4mm or greater. They travel at a slow speed, no greater than 1.5 m/s. They’re associated with being struck by a large, blunt instrument such as a chair or leaking from an open wound. They’re also formed when a large amount of blood has been transferred to another surface and the excess drips down.

  1. Medium Velocity Impact Spatter (MVIS)

AA1These spatters are associated with an intense beating like from a club, a hammer, a gun butt, or a bag of frozen pork chops. (Yes, I once had a homicide case where a guy’s head was caved-in with a bag of frozen pork chops.) MVIS drops are less than 4mm and get propelled at speeds between 1.5 and 7.5 m/s. The further from the target surface that blood is expelled, the larger the drops will be.

  1. High Velocity Impact Spatter (HVIS)

AA2This stain pattern is caused by gunshots, explosions, or contact with high-speed objects like having your throat cut with an electric carving knife. (Had one of those, too.) They’re evident by masses of tiny droplets less than 2mm in diameter and occur at velocities far in excess of 7.5 m/s. There’s no mistaking this type of bloodstain. The angle of impact is evident by an elongated shape – the longer the stain, the longer the angle from vertical.

AA19Cast-Off Stains – COS are common in scenes such as Billy Ray Hennessey’s axe-murders where straight and curved lines of blood are made on the walls and ceiling by the centrifugal force of back-and-forth swings. They produce tear-shaped or oblong stains with ‘tails’ that point in the direction of travel. By reversing the line of travel, the path can be traced or stringed to its area of convergence.


AA18Transfer Bloodstains – These are generally patches and smears of blood deposited secondary to the main, violent event. They say a lot about sequence. It can be when a victim tried to crawl away, the body was dragged, the perpetrator placed a bloody hand on a wall, or when he hid the axe in a closet like Billy Ray did. Tell you more about him soon.

AA20Projected Pattern  This is from arterial damage, such as severed carotids, femorals, radials, and brachials where pressurized blood ejaculates via the still-beating heart. You’ll see groups of big to small splotches, usually in an arc pattern. Very common in stabbings.

Pooling – Usually occurs once the victim is unconscious and passively exsanguinates. That’s the fancy term for bleeding to death. Something telling to a Bloodstain Pattern Analyst is where large pools of blood occur in different locations—no doubt the body’s been moved.

AA28Insect Stains – Not long after death, the bugs show up. They land in the bloodstains and make little tracks all over the place. These are easily confused with HVIS to the untrained eye and known in the industry as Flyspeck.

Expiration Stains – These are incidental bloodstains associated with injuries to the respiratory and abdominal tracts where a gasping victim expels through the mouth or nose. They appear diluted, more brownish in color due to mixture with saliva or mucous, and look like a fine mist.

Examination of a bloody crime scene is a slow and methodical procedure.

AA3The area is still-photographed from wide, medium, and close-up angles as well as videoed. Each stain pattern is marked, catalogued, and a swab taken for serology or DNA typing. The patterns are then Strung to their Point Of Origin, or area of convergence, and a complex application of trigonometry begins to tell a compelling tale of just what went down.

The visual absence of blood can be misleading.

Criminals occasionally clean up a scene or there may be only a small bit of blood emitted. Chemical reactive agents like luminol and phenolphthalein can be applied which visualize latent stains. Light spectrum tools, such as LumiLights, are also used to amplify spots not visible to the naked eye.

AA40Getting back to Billy Ray Hennessey — This guy hid in his ex’s attic with an axe for two and a half days, waiting to catch her screwing a new beau. Sure enough, she brought one home from the bar. At 3:00 am, Billy Ray crept down from the hatch, snuck into the bedroom, and chopped them to pieces. Like I said, the crime scene looked like a bomb exploded in a red paint factory.

It took us three days to catch Billy Ray. He did the right thing and fessed-up, then reenacted the murders on video. It was the coldest thing I’ve seen. Billy Ray described what he did as if he were watching Jason or The Shining, going through repeated motions of chopping, and back-swinging, and chopping some more. He demonstrated with a 2×2 stick as a prop. (We were nervous about giving him a real axe.) He showed how he modified body positions after death, where he hid his axe in the closet, and where he cleaned himself up.

Billy Ray did the right thing again. He pleaded guilty, receiving two life sentences.

AA30During the three days that we hunted for Billy Ray, the Forensic Identification team had sealed the crime scene and independently conducted their Bloodstain Pattern Analysis. Once Billy Ray was done, we (the detective team) compared notes with the forensic team and — unbeknownst to what Billy Ray reenacted — the forensic folks got it bang-on. They’d reconstructed how many blows each victim received, various positions everyone was in, and… who fought back.

I’ve been sold on the science ever since.

*   *   *

Here links to more information on Forensic Bloodstain Pattern Analysis:

A Simplified Guide To Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

The Forensics Library – Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

Principles Of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis – Theory and Practice

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis – Crime Scene Reconstruction


grodgers-write-deadly-fiction-cover-online-use-3debook-sml[1]Crime fiction is the second largest-selling book genre, slightly behind romance. It’s a craft an author must have passion for, as well as having the writing skills and subject knowledge to make their story believable—and hold their reader’s interest. Passion has to pre-exist in the writer but, thankfully, the techniques can be learned. I’m betting that 808 Killer Tips on How to Write Deadly Crime Fiction will help.

The No BS series of crime fiction guides is a project I’m passionately working on. It started as a self-teaching venture when I began fiction writing. I quickly found that, although I might be an adequate technical writer, I knew little about the tricks of the fiction trade.


grodgers-write-deadly-cover-online-use-3dbook-sml[1]I researched and developed a list of pointers—mostly notes to self—on some of the most important tips. Thinking it would be helpful to others, I published it as a pdf under the title Dead Write with 99 tips and offered it as sign-up bait for my blogsite. It’s now matured as Guide One with a more professional look as 101Killer Tips on Writing Deadly Crime Thrillers. It’s still available free on this site.

The series goes beyond diction and syntax. It gives writers a unique look into the real side of crime writing based on my actual experience and a hell of a lot of research—never mind help from a gem of a source.

AA2My friend and fellow crime writer, Sue Coletta, generously offered to critique and edit the guides. Sue is an accomplished author on her own with a new crime thriller Marred hitting the shelves on November 11, 2015. Sue recently renovated her website and it’s an excellent source of information for crime writers and fans. Visit Sue at www.suecoletta.com and get her own free tips: 60 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters.

grodgers-deadly-selfedit-cover-online-use-sml[1]Guide Two is How to Self-Edit Deadly Crime Thrillers. Researching this has taken my writing knowledge to a whole new level and I hope it does the same to others. What’s opened my eyes is how the process of editing actually works. The takeaway—it’s as vital to learn editing skills as it is to develop writing skills. Editing is revision. Re-Vision.

Writing Deadly Crime Scenes is the third guide. It deals with what really goes on behind the ‘Scenes’. People. Places. Processing. It gives you tips on how crime scene investigators recognize evidence and how you can accurately portray the scenes in your books. The guide has sections on legal requirements, responsibilities of investigative roles, and how personalities intertwine on the CSI ‘food chain’.

grodgers-write-deadly-dialogue-cover-online-use-3debook-sml[1]Deadly Dialogue goes beyond the do’s and don’ts of fiction dialogue. It gives a look at how cops and crooks think, hence how they talk. There’s tips on formatting dialogue so your novel will read like a crime book and not like some soap-opera script. There’s also a glossary of crime terms to get it just right.

Guide Five is on Characters. Let’s set this straight. Plot is all about characters doing something to forward the story and their own development. It makes you think about development of your characters on three levels. One dimensional that have no names. Two dimensional with an occasional appearance as supporting cast. And the three dimensional stars of the show that your reader needs to love or hate.

grodgers-write-deadly-forensics-cover-online-use-3dbook-sml[1]With Guide Six, the series takes a scientific turn and looks at the world of Forensics which no crime story can ignore. You’ll get tips on fingerprinting and footwear impressions. A tour through the lab. Recognize bloodstains and semen stains. Microanalysis. Fires. Explosions.Trace evidence and toolmarks. Entomology, serology, and odontology. It covers psychiatric profiling and you’ll take a ride on the polygraph. (Tough to compress this into 101 single tips.)

You’ll get a bang out of Guide Seven. It’s all about Firearms where you’ll get tips on ballistics, lands, grooves, and striations. It covers types and terminology as well as ammunition and actions. You’ll learn about yield thresholds and fragmentation, the difference between GSW and GSR, and how to snipe off a suspect. You’ll never again call a cartridge a bullet, or a primer a casing, and you’ll know where to turn to for help.

grodgers-write-deadly-autopsies-cover-ebook-interior-1024px[1]Guide Eight takes on Autopsies and the role of forensic pathology. You’ll bag some bodies and slice some Y-incisions; cross-section organs with the tools of the trade and meet with who’s who in the morgue. Experience the stages of mortis (changes in death) and understand why things smell the way they do. How to Write Deadly Accurate Autopsies helps you write convincing causes of death and backs it up with scientific support from the lab.

All eight guides will be condensed into one resource titled How to Write Deadly Crime Fiction — A No BS Guide with 808 Killer Tips. The individual guides will be available online as eBooks with an internal link to printing it as a pdf. The big guy, 808, will be in both digital and print-on-demand.

Guides Two through Eight will be out in the fall of 2015, date TBA. In the meantime, help yourself to Guide One: How to Write Deadly Crime Thrillers — A No BS Guide With 101Killer Tips. I’d appreciate your feedback, so please comment with your thoughts and suggestions.


How to Write Deadly Crime Thrillers — A No BS Guide With 101 Killer Tips.

PS – If you’re already a subscriber to DyingWords and want the new guide, email me at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca and I’ll send you the pdf direct.