Homicide Investigation in the Twenty-First Century

by Elizabeth Hall
Items found in Bundy's Volkswagen, Utah, 1975
Items found in Bundy's Volkswagen, Utah, 1975 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
     “ It doesn’t matter how handsome or articulate a person might be, or how nicely they smile at you, for behind it all, there could reside the most diabolical person you’ll ever meet” notes true crime writer Kevin Sullivan who had the fortune to examine Ted Bundy’s actual murder kit when researching to write a book about him. (Executions Today, 2009) The tools and techniques available to the investigator today have come a long way since the late 1970’s when Ted Bundy was arrested; however, the tools available to criminals have progressed in much the same way. It is the investigator’s duty to determine who committed the crime, and to gather enough solid evidence to convict this person. While the investigative techniques and tools remain the same for most crimes, we will focus on the crime of homicide, because of all crime; this type causes the most fear and unrest in individual communities and society as a whole, and utilizes every available investigative tool and technique available to the investigator. (Osterburg, J & Ward, R. 2007 pp349-439). The investigator must determine if the crime scene is that of a homicide or a suicide, and if homicide is the case, which category of homicide the crime is, all the while, following the guidelines for collecting, and preserving the evidence so as avoid contamination. In conclusion, only a successful investigation provides the justice system with the tools necessary to convict a person of the crimes they have committed.
Human blood droplets. An example of a forensic...
Human blood droplets. An example of a forensics photograph of an imitation crime scene. A scale by a common object (United States Quarter) has been used. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
     When the detective arrives at a fresh crime scene, the first order of business is to make sure that the first responding officer has successfully secured the scene to protect it from contamination. Once this is accomplished, the investigator can isolate any potential witnesses or victims that remain, and perform a preliminary walk through of the scene to determine what crime scene personnel and equipment is needed. During this decision making process, the investigator must also decide what type of warrants are needed, and take the proper steps to obtain them. Once warrants are obtained, the detailed search and careful recording of the crime scene can begin.
     Upon discovery of a body, or enough blood at a scene to constitute that a homicide was committed, the first thing that the investigator must decide is whether or not they are looking at a homicide, where another person caused the death of the deceased, or a suicide, where the deceased willingly took their own life. Many homicides are staged to resemble suicides in order to lead investigators in the wrong direction, but a seasoned 
Skulls on a Beach: "Currents carry many d...
Skulls on a Beach: "Currents carry many dead things to Punuk Island making it the graveyard of the Bering Sea." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 investigator using the previous experience they have gained along with advances in scientific techniques for identifying evidence should be able to distinguish from the two using facts gained from careful examination of the physical evidence, and statements made during interviews and or interrogations of victims, witnesses, family members and friends of both the victim and any suspects that arise from the examination of the evidence found during the investigation of the physical scene, or facts gained from records available to them. These records can be obtained from public databases, family members, and pawn shops, for example, and includes such things as handwriting samples, pawn shop receipts, credit card receipts or any documents that pertain to the investigation of the case.
     When a crime is identified to be a homicide, it must be determined which type of murder has been committed, as there are several types of this offense:
1.      Justifiable homicide- the direct and  lawful taking of a life.
2.      Excusable Homicide- the taking of a life by another without meaning to and not committing gross negligence.
3.      Suicide- the killing of oneself.
4.      Criminal Homicide- the illegitimate taking of a life by another person either classified as manslaughter or murder.
When there is a body discovered at a scene, it must be examined by a forensic pathologist to determine the cause of death. This is part of the corpus delicti which is a compilation of fundamental evidence that proves that a crime has indeed taken place and someone was responsible for it happening. It is the investigator’s duty to make sure that there is evidence to support these statements. Other evidence available from the body includes: time and manner of death, trace evidence on the body, possible DNA from fingernail scrapings or from semen left from the crime, fibers left on clothing, and hairs from the suspect.
     The most important questions that the investigator must answer: who, what, when , where, and why the crime was committed. It is these answers that must be proven without a doubt in order to gain a conviction in the courtroom. The basic functions of an investigation are: “record crime scene, recognize, collect, and preserve all physical evidence to link a suspect to the victim, crime scene, or both, identify the victim, identify a substance (poison, narcotic, blood, semen) or object (bludgeon, gun) to locate its source and trace its owner, establish cause, manner, and time of death, and to ascertain the motive for the crime.” (Osterberg, J. & Ward, R. 2007 pp 349-439)
Crime Scene Tape
Crime Scene Tape (Photo credit: Null Value)
     Ascertaining the motive of the crime can be done by looking at the manner in which the suspect committed the crime, from the people who had any knowledge of the way the victim spent their time, and various documents either from others to the victim or vice versa.
     The investigator must then try to find more information by interviewing people, examining all records available to understand all business activities of the victim, check all available interdepartmental resources to look for similarities, and obtaining any samples needed from any suspects such as DNA, hair, or blood samples. They must also make sure that any suspects are questioned, and that they have been given proper Miranda Warnings.
      Should there be any similarities discovered while investigating, that resemble any other interdepartmental cases, the Modus Operandi, which is  a method that is specific to the criminal, such as Richard Ramirez leaving pentagrams, and entering homes at night.
This is important, because it can link cases together no matter the geographical location, and alert the authorities to other crimes related to the same suspect, or perhaps it is the result of a serial killer, bomber, or arsonist.
     In short, the investigator is the person whose responsibility is to determine what happened, where it happened, and who is responsible for it happening. They are also charged with finding and preserving all of the evidence needed to maintain the burden of proof  required at trial to obtain a conviction. One mistake by an investigator could result in a criminal being set free.          

Executions Today. (2009) 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer. Retrieved From the World Wide Web December 2, 2009.  http://www.executedtoday.com/2009/01/24/1989-ted-bundy-psycho-killer/
Osterburg, J. & Ward, R. (2007). Criminal Investigation: A Method for Reconstructing the Past,  Fifth Edition. Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., a member of the LexisNexis Group. Newark, NJ.

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