The scene was particularly grizzly. The woman lay supine in a pool of her own blood. Her face was a pit, multiple lacerations making it almost indistinguishable as human. A male, most likely her husband or boyfriend, was sprawled on the floor at the other end of the bedroom, prone with his arms extended in front of him at a disagreeable angle. The bed was in disarray, blood splattered and smeared in some places on the sheet. At first glance, the room seemed to contain nothing out of the ordinary, apart from the murder weapon, a Bosch ball peen hammer, lying in the middle of the carpeted floor.
I pulled on a pair of latex gloves, and then another, to reduce the likelihood of leaving my own prints. I concentrated on this task, in an attempt to guard against the cold brutality of the scene. Protocol -routine- is a somewhat effective distraction. The first duty of my team is to preserve the scene and all of the evidence, so it is imperative that the utmost care and attention to detail is employed. This leaves little room for thought about much of anything else and that kind of concentration can be, in more ways than one, a blessing…especially in the aftermath of this type of brutality.
I am the head of a Crime Scene Unit. My unit processes the evidence left behind at crime scenes. It’s not really like you would see on TV. We make no judgments, we do no investigating. We’re not detectives, and we’re not lab scientists. Our job is solely to collect and document what trace evidence and information has been left behind. It’s not always exciting, and it’s almost never pretty.
According to Locard’s Theory of Exchange, it is impossible for a perpetrator to enter a crime scene without bringing something to the scene, or to leave without taking something from the scene. In theory, the same would apply to those of us who process or investigate crime scenes. In order to be done effectively, our job necessitates that we collect what the perpetrator has left behind with as much efficacy as possible, leaving as little of ourselves behind as possible, so as not to contaminate the scene.
For that reason, the first thing we did that day (and always), besides suit up with the standard gloves and booties, was photograph the scene. I began making my way around the room, taking notes and laying numbered placards next to any possible evidence. My team mate Jeordie followed closely behind with his camera, snapping photos. Everything, each piece of suspect evidence, each blood stain, and each victim was photographed from various vantage points, and then photographed again, with each applicable subject measured against a ruler to establish size. Simultaneously, another of my team mates worked diligently on a hand sketch of the crime scene.
When I had finished laying markers, I carefully surveyed my notes again, running through a mental checklist. Were the doors and windows opened or closed? Locked? Which lights in the house were on, which were off? Were there any detectable odors or sounds?
I took a deep breath, preparing myself to examine the bodies. I walked over to the
female victim and stooped down beside her. Leaving the worst and most obvious for last, I started at her feet. By this time the medical examiner had arrived and was taking a liver temperature reading. We gently rolled the body to one side. She was still warm, but rigor had begun to set in. This would have been easily detectable in the features of her face- rigor tends to show in small muscle groups first- had she still had a face. As it were, the rigor was confined mostly to her fingers and wrists, suggesting that she had only been dead a short while, three or four hours give or take. There was only slight lividity present, probably because the majority of her blood lay puddled around her. Though the greater part of the assault had been focused on her face and head, she had a few lacerations on her fingers and forearms, suggesting that she had initially tried to defend herself against her assailant.
The medical examiner, a slight man in his fifties, was stooped down next to the victim. I crouched down beside him and he turned to me with an expression that spoke of endless fatigue and disenchantment. “I’ll do the autopsy first thing in the morning, but cause of death seems pretty much cut and dry. If the blunt force blow didn’t kill her, the hemorrhaging did. Heads tend to bleed copiously, as you probably well know, but I’d bet most of the blood loss occurred after she was already dead, especially considering the positioning of the body…”
“That, and all of the blood loss seems restricted to this area. She went down and this is where he finished her,” I added bleakly, as I dug around in my case for some tools. Glassine evidence baggies, a roll of Diff-Lift tape, tweezers, swabs. The medical examiner stood and went to examine the male victim, and I set about meticulously inspecting the body in front of me for trace evidence.
Peripherally, I heard the medical examiner give a grim diagnosis on the male victim’s cause of death. Exsanguination due to laceration of the jugular artery, signs of post-mortem mutilation present- bloodless wounds, in other words. Despite my best efforts, I found myself pondering the scene in the room. What had precipitated such savagery? How could a human being inflict such mortal and savage damage upon another?
I marveled at how blissfully ignorant most people are of the true nature of biology. This majority walked around thinking of their mothers as loving caretakers, their spouses as brilliant lovers, with selective acknowledgement of the fact that we are all just vessels. Sacks of flesh and bone and gray matter. These people are wonderfully innocent, their senses never suffering the reek of putrefaction, or the grizzly sight of a murdered child, or a young man lying dead of a shotgun wound to the head, his brains unceremoniously ejected from his head.
The worst assault of sensibility is that the putrefying body, the murdered child, the suicide victim, they all mean something to someone. They were someone’s son or daughter, or someone’s parent or friend. And the disenchanted, the devirginized, realize that the deterioration that these bodies go through after death is the same thing that will happen to their own bodies when they die. No amount of faith in God or belief in the soul helps reconcile that fact. These are just the lies we tell ourselves, things we choose to believe so we can live in a hateful world. Lies we tell ourselves so we can go on living, knowing we will die.