Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inteview with Homicide - Behind the Plot - Part IV

When Smith got back to the precinct, he escorted Ms. Bell to one of the “soft rooms,” an interrogation room with a couch and overstuffed chairs. He asked his assistant to get her some coffee and a pastry, and then went through the questioning one more time. It took another three hours, but nothing new came out of her. He let her lay down on the couch to rest.

After entering updated information into his computer, Smith sat back and stared at the metal balancing man on his desk so he could think. It gave his mind a chance to recoup a bit and to start putting some pieces together. When the head of forensics came in, he gave her his undivided attention.

“You’ll be glad to know your hunches are still good.”

“Yeah?” Smith was pleased. “What have you found?”

The tech slunk into a chair and read from pages on her clipboard. “The envelope revealed no fingerprints. The message on the inside said, "Bring it to me," printed on the same common paper and using the same printer as all the other notes Ms. Bell has received over the last year. The words were different this time. The others were ‘Just so you know.’ The smudge is blood, but the type is one we’ve never seen before. It’s on its way to the lab and I put a rush on it.”

“What do you mean you’ve never seen it before? Is it animal blood?”

She shook her head. “Not that we can tell. It’s whacked. The only thing we can think of is that someone added something to it and placed it deliberately.”

Smith sat back and folded his hand. “We’ll let the lab figure it out. Go ahead.”

She flipped another page. “ME says the throat was ripped out by someone very strong; it was done by hand, but there were no epithelials other than the vics. He verified that the other wounds on the victim’s body were made by the hatchet and your hunch was right; they were placed post-mortem. There were no fingerprints except those of the victim, Ms. Stark, and her roommate in the apartment. There are no fingerprints except the victims on the body. You were also right about the splatter pattern; it occurred when the body was place. The guy wasn’t killed in the apartment. TOD was an hour before Ms. Stark reported it.”

“Do we have any forensics yet from the garage or anywhere else around the building?”

She looked up and frowned at him. “We do, but so far zip. It doesn’t look like this was committed on the premises.”

Sitting up, he drummed his fingers against the desk. “How the hell can someone haul a full sized body to the 11th floor of a very occupied high rise without anyone seeing him or leaving a trace. It doesn’t make sense!” He stopped his tirade and lifted the side of his mouth. “Sorry, Kate. This one’s really a knock out.”

“Yes, sir. It’s kicking out butts, too.”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah.” She went back to her clipboard. “The call Ms. Stark received was placed from the basement of the building, so whoever made it was very near her.” The tech leveled her eyes at Smith and smoothed over the papers. “He had to be almost right on top of her when she got out of her car, if she’s telling the truth. Escalating, do you think?”

Smith rubbed his face. “Yeah. That’s what I’m afraid of. I’ve got a few more questions for Ms. Stark. Thanks, Kate. Keep the envelope secure; we might be able to match it to something later. Stay on top of the labs and don’t let them give you any guff about that rush.”

“I never do.” Kate left the room and Smith called his support sergeant into the office.

“Charley, here’s what I want you to do: Send out officers to talk to anyone who knows Ms. Stark, the roommate, or the victim. Start interviews immediately. I want to know everything; where they go, who they hang out with, hell, what they eat for breakfast. Friends, family, acquaintances, the whole nine yards. This stalker is our primary interest at this point. Who’s the lead on that case?”


“Have him meet me in the interrogation room right away. We’ll work together on Ms. Stark. I want to know if there are other cases like this in the Northwest or on the West Coast. Check with all the other agencies and let’s get a list of anything remotely similar to this. If we find other stalker type cases, then I want to go through the registration, a list of any sex offenders who just got out, and complete background checks on all of them. Start interviews immediately on any in the vicinity. I want to know where they were the night of the killing and where they were on the night of Ms. Stark’s attack last year.”

“You got it. Anything else?”

Smith put on his jacket and headed out the door. “That will get us started. The rest is up to our Ms. Stark.

GENERAL QUESTIONS: A few of my writer friends had some specific questions for the homicide division that I asked during my interview. Here is what he told me:

• Do the detectives order the forensics or is there a special unit that handles that part of the investigation? Detectives determine what tests they want done and have forensics do them.

• Who would have jurisdiction over a case like this? Portland Police Bureau would in this case since it takes place in downtown Portland. If a case happens outside of the city, it is handled by the county sheriff’s office. Oregon State Patrol has jurisdiction in some cases and sometimes PPB uses the OSP labs.

• Would any other agencies get involved? Jurisdiction is determined by where the crime took place; city or county. If there are similar crimes in another state or with the FBI, then the local police will hook up with that agency to exchange information. There is a national database used by most agencies. In some cases, the local police will contact various state police and the US Marshall’s office to get additional information and help, if needed.

• When someone is shot and killed, how does that person really fall? It depends on what they are doing and where they are. Not all victims fall forward, not all die instantaneously, some move on their own volition.

• I've heard that there isn't a fingerprint database where they enter the print and can do a sort quickly, as seen on CSI. Is this true? There is a national database that all agencies use. And how long, on average, would the real process take? Couple of days.

• Can an FBI work undercover in a sting operation with the police? Yes, if it's a joint federal investigation. FBI is involved in federal crimes, bank robberies (because banks are a federal institutions), terrorism, kidnappings, etc. Also the FBI has resources for homicide profiling and other types of profiling that local agencies use, plus a variety of different analyst for different kinds of information.

• Under what circumstances would a victim be tested for GHB or some similar Drug? All victims get toxicology analysis done. They might do more extensive GHB test if there was a reason for it.

• Would they know if DNA testing is done in Mexico? Don't know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Inteview with Homicide - Behind the Plot - Part III

Smith had a long conversation with the DA about what he planned to do next. Satisfied, the DA left for home a few minutes before. The Medical Examiner was just now looking at the body.

Questioning the witness was long and arduous for both detectives and Ms. Stark. What was her relationship to the victim? Where was she between the hours of 3pm and 7pm? Was anyone with her? What time did she leave work? When did she see the victim last? Speak to him last? What exactly did she do when she came home? Hundreds of others.

Ms. Stark was cooperative, but terrified, and it was hard to get her to calm down enough to give them coherent answers. They would probably have to take her down to the van later when she had time to settle down and then start all over again. When she found out she wouldn’t be allowed back in the apartment for two to five days, depending on what they discovered, Ms. Stark was inconsolable. Both of them took special care to treat her as cordially as they could; she was still the prime suspect, but Smith knew you drew more flies with honey than vinegar.

After questioning Ms. Stark and one time over the scene, Detective Smith suspected many things that would guide him as they moved forward. It looked like the body was placed there after the attack; there was minimal splatter and not enough blood. There was what looked like ax marks all over the body and the throat had apparently been ripped out. An ax was taken from the hallway fire case and neatly placed next to the body. No fingerprints, unfortunately. Ms. Stark told them she received a phone call from the victim just before she discovered the body, but that he was very hard to hear. She wasn't sure if it was him. His name had appeared on her cell phone and they verified the date and time of the call. She and the victim had been lovers over the last year, but were non-exclusive. An envelope similar to the ones Ms. Stark had been receiving over the last year from a stalker was discovered under the body. One side was soaked with blood, but the other revealed the witness's name and a smudge on one corner. Based off this information Smith ordered forensics to collect fingerprints and blood samples from the witness, her roommate, the victim, and anyone else close to the scene before they started their run on the apartment.

The roommate was out on a date and seen by dozens of people, so his alibi was solid. Ms. Stark’s, on the other hand, was not; she claimed she was working late, and entries from her work computer confirmed that, but there was a good forty-five minute gap from the time she left the office to the time she arrived at the apartment. Smith has his doubts, however; the extent of damage done to the body was impressive; it was very hard to believe a woman 5’2”, 110 lbs. could inflict the injuries sustained by the victim. Smith knew stranger things had happened, but he had a good hunch this was done by one hell of a strong individual. That all remained to be seen, of course.

Scanning the scene, Smith knew there were four areas they needed to gather evidence on to prosecute the perpetrator when they found him: circumstantial evidence, forensic evidence, witness statements, and a confession, if they can get one. He made certain his officers and the forensic people went over this apartment with a fine tooth comb starting with the victim and working their way out.

He watched his men and women work, trying to see what story the scene was trying to tell: was this an act of passion? A premeditated action? Did the murder take place here or somewhere else, as the evidence seemed to be telling him? If so, where? Is there evidence of a struggle? Who is the victim, his friends, his family, his full background? Did he have conflicts with someone else? What was his life style like? What was he involved in? In other words, who the hell was he? The woman had a history of a stalker they could not locate; was he involved? Smith had someone pulling the files on the stalking case and a call into the detective in charge. Maybe the stalker was escalating. Anything that the suspect touched would have to be examined, but Smith wasn’t hopeful; so far, the only fingerprints they found came from Ms. Stark, her roommate, and the victim.

The forensics team took their time, and Smith was grateful. He watched them collect every piece of evidence, every scrape they could get their hands on, but the pickings were slim. They would preserve is meticulously.

Smith yawned; they had already been on the scene for several hours. He knew it would at least 12 more. Videos, photographs, finger prints, shoe impressions all had to be gathered, not to mention any video surveillance tapes from inside and outside the high rise, traffic cameras, security tapes, etc., etc. All would have to be searched frame by frame. He already had people on it, but it would take weeks to put together. DNA had to go to the State lab and could take as long as six months. Tests on the envelope, the ax, the apartment itself could take days and possibly weeks. That was his concern; the more time it took, the longer the guy was out on the street. Smith always hated that part of the job, but knew a case had to be built brick by brick. They’d get him; it was only a matter of time, but time was his enemy.

After Smith talked to the lead on Ms. Stark’s stalker case, his concern doubled; this was looking more and more like a serial case, one of the toughest to crack. Ms. Stark could be in terrible trouble. He needed to get her into protective custody immediately. She was resistant to the idea of going down to the precinct even though they assured her she would be quite comfortable and safe there. She agreed to stay there temporarily, but said no more than a few hours. Smith knew he would have to find a place where she would be safe. He’d jump that hurdle when they came to it.

Once everything was gathered and the ME had ordered the body taken to the morgue, Smith rubbed his eyes, had the uniforms seal off the apartment, and followed the teams back to the precinct. It was going to be a very long couple of days.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Inteview with Homicide - Behind the Plot - Part II

Here is the second installment on Homicide procedures based off of my interviews with the Portland Police Homicide Division. Again, this is a bit fictionalize as it helps me to focus in on facts and how they can relate to fiction. Note: Names are fictional.


Portland Police Homicide gets a call from the lead officer on the scene. It was taken by Detective Smith, one or two leads on shift that night.

“We’ve got a victim with his throat torn out and multiple wounds consistent with axe or hatchet marks. An axe was found on the scene.” He then tells the Smith everything they have gathered so far. “What are your instructions?"

“Cordon off the area, remove the officers and the witness from the scene, if you haven’t already, and wait for us to get there. Start canvassing the neighbors to see if anyone heard or saw anything.

Smith got off the radio and stared for a split second at his phone. It was going to be a long night.

After informing his commander and his two support detectives, the sergeant, and the lieutenant, to head over to the scene and arranging for Forensics to meet him there, he picked up the receiver and dialed a series of numbers.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir,” he said to the DA, “but we have a possible homicide up at the Overview. Local Tai Kwon Do instructor in girlfriend’s apartment. Do you want to meet me there? We’ve got permission from one of the occupants to search the premises, but her roommate is out on a date. Do you want to get a search warrant now or wait until the roommate comes back?”

“I’ll meet you on the scene and get a search warrant on my way.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve sent out a patrol to try to locate the roommate, but I think we need to get in there as soon as possible.” Smith knew they could not even step through the door until they got permission from both occupants of the apartment. A search warrant would help expedite everything and he was grateful the DA was on top of it.

When Smith arrived on the scene, the lobby of the apartment building looked like a convention. The two support detectives were organizing a large group of officers who were preparing to canvas the neighbors, perform forensics on the apartment, hallway, or anywhere else the evidence led them, and dispersing additional officers needed for crowd control. The high rise occupants, the nosy security guard, and a very disgruntled manager were all clamoring for answers. It was tightly organized chaos. Smith knew it was in good hands, so took the elevator to the 11th floor.

Uniformed officers stood outside two different apartment doors, one right next to the other. He decided to take a quick look at the scene when he arrived, so bypassed the door where they were questioning a pretty woman, probably the witness. He entered the scene and ran professional eyes over every aspect of the apartment, starting with the victim laying across the couch and table and expanding outward from there. That would be how he would run this investigation, from the victim out, just like always. He radioed down to one of the support detectives on the first floor to go ahead and send up the forensics team.

To be continued…

Books by Minnette Meador

THE BELL STALKER an urban fantasy thriller by Minnette Meador EXCERPT - CHAPTER ONE Belle Stark has struggled to conquer fears...