by Chris Goff
For years my non-writer friends have thought me crazy. After all, who but a mystery/thriller writer would spend Thanksgiving weekend, their family in tow, at a machine gun shoot just so they could fire an AK47? Or give up precious free time tailing (and/or eluding) other mystery writers around 16th Street mall, practicing surveillance (and or evasion) techniques? Any wonder they all thought I was crazy, a few weekends ago, when my first outing post Covid-19 lockdown was playing CSI at “Body in the Park?”
My local Mystery Writers of America chapter was meeting in person for the first time since Covid-19 put us all in isolation, and we were gung-ho to do something BIG.
Let’s stage a murder in the park and get someone to walk us through a crime scene investigation from start to finish.
A hands-on day of fun! Unfortunately, the local cops didn’t take to the idea. For some reason, they thought a bloody body under a bush in a local park surrounded by a mob of thriller writers might spook the residents and draw unwanted attention. Game over?
Not so fast!
Arapahoe County Sheriffs to the rescue
Not only did the Arapahoe County Sheriffs have game, but they had the facility. With their main precinct located on 4 square miles, they had ample room, PLUS they had eleven employees willing to play.
Kudos to the officers, they were awesome. They were not only willing to help, but they took our request and ran with it. One officer drafted a storyline, then together they tweaked it, came up with a clever naming device, and staged two murder scenes, complete with blood and brain spatter.
From Start to Finish
The intro was simple. There were a few things they couldn’t do.
- They couldn’t call out Rescue. In all cases, Rescue is first on the scene. They come in under full lights and siren, and in cases like this with guns drawn.
- They didn’t deploy the drones. Arapahoe County has a fleet of eight they use to take aerial shots of crime scenes. However, the main precinct campus sits too close to the airport and they would have had to pull special permits to fly their arsenal.
- The also didn’t use their 3D radial scanner, something they use at almost every homicide. Way too expensive, and they couldn’t justify the expense just to entertain us.
Important truths, or things we learned.
- Running a real crime scene is different than CSI Miami. For one, you have to keep an open mind and factor in all the evidence.
- NIMS (National Incident Management System) standards are followed. This allows all the different players to know the ground rules of every investigation.
- If there is an officer involved shooting, a Critical Incident Research Team (CIRT) will be assigned to achieve an objective review of the incident.
- Arapahoe County has their own crime lab, and they sometimes help counties that don’t.
- They very seldom interact with any alphabet agencies (the FBI, DEA, etc.). In fact, most departments have officers assigned to multiple task forces that combine with the larger entities so there is no need to reach outside their jurisdiction for information or help.
- If a crime is committed on tribal lands, tribal police handle it. If it falls outside of tribal jurisdiction, the feds (not the local or county police) are called.
- Crime Scene Investigators are law enforcement. Crime Scene Techs are civilians. In our state, the coroner is an elected official. (In Summit County, years ago, our coroner was elected because he had a station wagon and could transport the bodies.)
- Dispatchers are not law enforcement personnel. In our case scenario, even though the incident took place right in front of the building where they were working, they did what we would. They called the cops!
At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, dispatch received a call from a pay phone in front of the Sheriff’s Offices door. The person calling said, “Come and get me,” and then hung up the phone. Dispatch watched on camera as the man hangs up the phone, sits down and using his left-hand places the gun under his chin and shoots himself.
A suicide, right? It wasn’t quite that simple.
Dispatch called the cops. They arrive, set up a parameter, and call the on-call Crime Scene Supervisor (Sergeant Bud). He arrives and clears the scene. Until he pronounces it safe, it is treated like an “active shooter” scene. What if it’s a trap and there’s a second shooter on site?
Once cleared, Bud flips open his posse box (a cop clipboard) and starts filling out the report.
Case # AC21-00022
Bud takes the statement of the first responding officer (Deputy Thompson), who tells him an ID was found at the scene, stashed in the outer wrapper of a cigarette pack lying next to the body. Bud records the victim’s info, then points out that picking up said cigarette pack is considered altering the evidence. Deputy Thompson is thrown under the bus!
Dr. Reiccio, South Metro Run #54321, is contacted via telephone, and he pronounces time of death as 10:15 a.m., at which time the Crime Scene Tech (Karen) can get to work. She walks through to verify the scene, then convinced it won’t take long to process (maybe an hour or so), she calls the coroner. While we wait (coroners are notoriously slow to arrive—or so say the CSI guys), Karen takes photos to ID the location and places markers with scale beside the evidence. Anything touching the body is ignored. It’s considered “attached” to the body and usually is bagged and taken to the morgue. In this case, a liquor bottle and cigarette pack. She takes more photos.
Bud meanwhile runs the info on our vic. His name is Kelly Galaxy (one of the CSI’s middle names and the first street he lived on). Kelly is clear of warrants, but there have been two call outs to his place of residence in the past year—both times with complaints of loud noise. The first complaint, Kelly is arguing with his roommate, who is worried about paying rent. Kelly won’t come to the door because he’s “afraid of the cops.” The second complaint, his roommate (Ann Stagecoach) answers the door in her lingerie and reports she was “having a really good time with an internet friend.” Kelly Galaxy isn’t there.
The truth of the matter
- It’s hot outside. Everyone is guzzling water and wishing they had a place to sit down while we wait for the coroner.
- When the coroner does arrive, she conducts her own investigation of the scene. Everyone guzzles more water, and a few have found places to perch and observe.
- Under the coroner’s supervision, things are removed from the body. One item is a note signed by the victim leaving his brother Jethro his pickup and dog. (We later learn that in the upper parking lot, police have found the body of Ann Stagecoach in said pickup. She had been stabbed to death.) Might be why Kelly has blood all over the front of his jeans?
Kelly also disinherits his sister in the will, stating it was because she was the one that Ann was having so much fun with on the internet.
- The note is considered a “holographic will,” and the coroner keeps it for use in probating the victim’s estate.
- The coroner finds a bloody knife on the body. It’s hers to take. She chooses to leave it with CSI to process. It makes sense! It’s easier than taking it back to the morgue only to send it out for processing later.
- The body is tagged and bagged (just like on tv). More photos are taken. Evidence is collected. The Crime Scene Tech uses mainly paper bags. Plastic is used only for wet or messy items, as it speeds up degradation of the evidence.
- When all is said and done, the Crime Scene Tech pretend-calls the fire department to come hose down the scene. “Any excuse to pull out their hoses.”
Back inside, we eat lunch and debrief, look at some 3d radial scans, and some crime scene photos taken using LCV (Leuky Crystal Violet) light and another Alternative Light Source (ALS). They use something called Bluestar, a new type of luminol that is less destructive to DNA, to spray down the scene, and we determine that a large amount of blood, semen, saliva or sweat was left behind. Not to mention the visible blood and brains!
- “Gallows Humor” is real!
- The job of a CSI can play havoc with the psyche. Certain crime scenes can push emotional triggers in a responder. Unfortunately, in most cases, they just have to tough it out. They may be the only investigator or tech on call. There may be other scenes being processed. Bottom line, they rely on each other to help them push through.
- Most of the CSI techs have special training (even advanced degrees), but it’s not required.
- Shrimp Ramen makes great brain splatter!
Dear reader, what was your first BIG outing? It’s okay if it was going to the park to splash in the river. Most important is, did you have fun?