Support us with Kachingle!
May 12, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
This is the fictional account of my death. I wanted to know what would happen should I — or anyone within the Boone County jurisdiction — become a victim of homicide. So many television shows and movies focus on the criminal, but what happens to the victims, especially the various bits of it pulled off by investigators for use as trace evidence? And what would become of the things left behind: money, belongings, relatives and commitments? This is the story of what would happen to my body and possessions if I were shot, chopped into pieces and my limbs were buried.
The morning of my death, the Boone County Police Department dispatched a squad car of two officers, what it calls its “front line,” to the scene of the crime after receiving a phone call from operators at the Boone County Joint Communications. The call came from the person unlucky enough to stumble onto an even unluckier corpse on her morning jog. The two officers saw the gore caused by multiple gunshot wounds and dismemberments and called for backup. In a scene such as this, a swarm of 20 officers is common.Related Articles
Also on the scene was one-third of the city’s 12-member forensic team. The four members summoned to the scene were the four who happened to be on-call. They included two important individuals: a chief forensics investigator and a detective. The investigator photographed the scene to record what had and hadn’t been present and where: the corpse, shrubs, weapons, witnesses, limb angles, bullet shells, footprints, bruises and hairs. She assessed the low number of insects, flies and maggots on the scene. These critters begin devouring a body within several days and can indicate a time of death. The detective documented the scene investigation and helped coordinate which officers performed the necessary sweeps, collections and protections of the site.
The site itself was sectioned off and divided into grids marked by cones to aid evidence recording. A thin yellow line of barrier tape surrounded not only the body, but also a sprawling crime scene. Such a vast area was covered because my limbs were buried far from the corpse, and the weapons were deposited yards away. The total sweep of the scene took several hours. A simple single-gunshot scene might take only an hour.
Cadaver-finding dogs were brought in to sniff out missing limbs and weapons. Officers bent low to collect dirt from my body and compare this to surrounding dirt, in case a perpetrator had trekked some in from another region. The paleness of my corpse’s upper-facing surface, my face in this case, helped pinpoint just how long I had been dead. Lifeless blood loses its ability to avoid gravity’s pull and drains to the bottom of the corpse. Metal detectors revealed bullets and their casings in the soil, rocks, shrubs and my body. All these items were secured in brown bags. Some items, such as a detached limb, were double-bagged because they were messy and were sent to either the Columbia medical examiner for analysis or the state forensics crime lab for testing in Jefferson City.
The medical examiner, who was also a forensics pathologist, conducted a series of external observations by documenting the height, weight, hair color, eye color and clothing of my corpse onto a paper body outline. He pulled hairs, dirt, unidentified residue, gunshot soot, which indicated a close-range shot, and other physical proof, called trace evidence, from my body to send to the crime lab in Jefferson City. Afterward, he snipped off my clothing and recorded my injuries on the back side of the diagram: bruises, incisions, bullet holes, missing limbs, cuts, scratches, punctures and other abnormalities. He X-rayed my dental structure and took my fingerprints. Although the latter didn’t show up on record anywhere, the dental structure was linked to a dental record of mine after the medical examiner subpoenaed the dentist for my X-rays. The medical examiner had been tipped to ask for my records because the police detective suspected my body fit that of a missing person’s report.
The trace evidence was shipped off in contained bags to the forensics crime lab while my body was released to an undertaker my family chose. My corpse was found before heat and pressure bloated and decomposed its innards, so I could be embalmed. The state of Missouri doesn’t require embalming before burial, but the funeral home my family chose does in order to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases. The funeral director was also the embalmer, and the embalming room where he baseball-stitched and duct-taped my limbs on and applied thick, animal-based makeup to my skin sat yards away from the chapel where my service was held that night. The casket cost about $3,000 and arrived overnight. Flowers perfumed the air as my body was carried out to meet its tombstone.
Meanwhile, forensics lab technicians examined the bits of me received from the medical examiner and police. A serologist, or bodily fluid technician, detected syphilis in blood that had been found on my clothes. This blood was type O, the most common blood type. In blood the examiner had extracted from my body, the serologist detected neither syphilis nor type O and therefore concluded a foreign human blood was on my corpse.
Another technician extracted DNA from several strands of hair. Most matched mine, but two didn’t. One was later matched to my roommate’s, who had borrowed my outfit while the other remained unidentified.
A ballistics technician at the crime lab ran a water-chamber test on a murder weapon that had been procured at the scene. He re-loaded the gun and shot his bullet into a pool of water that prohibited any markings but those of the barrel’s grooves to imprint on the hot bullet. These striations on the test bullet were matched to striations on a bullet extracted from the crime scene, thus linking the weapon and bullet. If no bullet had been pulled from the scene, the striation patterns could have been loaded into a statewide computer system called Integrated Ballistics Identification System, which links weapons on record to bullet patterns and can assist in arrests. The bullet patterns this technician recorded were uploaded into the system for future investigations.
All of these items were returned to the police department, where they lay for years until defense and prosecuting attorneys, investigators and additional technicians had reason to review them when a suspect was taken into custody after confession. The suspect knew details about the body the police department had deliberately not released in order to assist in linking a perpetrator to the crime. Transporting evidence from the police department to either an attorney or technicians required completing a meticulously detailed checkout ensuring evidence was not tampered with.
These items were more preciously cared for than my own. Left to my family, my belongings were parsed into the recyclable, unusable and too heartbreaking to keep, including clothing, diaries, my laptop, bedding, jewelry and a wallet. My money was sectioned into four equal parts for my nieces, per the stipulations on my bank accounts. An aunt opened my laptop for the last time and accessed email accounts whose passwords had been auto-saved to log in. She responded to emails that had piled up from long-distance correspondences, including bosses and longtime friends. When my optometrist, dentist, podiatrist and others called soliciting appointments, she silenced them.
My apartment lease had no death clause, so my mother paid out my rent until my lease’s termination. She notified the school I attend of my death so that when nobody crossed the stage on graduation day, it would be because nobody had called my name. They trucked my salvageable belongings to their own homes and sometimes brought one along to therapy sessions, until the day the Columbia Police Department arrested a suspect who confessed to my murder. Unable to agree that this suspect knew enough insider details about the murder scene and without circumstantial evidence linking him to the DNA or blood still sitting in a box in the police department, the county prosecuting attorney decided against charging the suspect. After that, the case went cold. The bits of my hair, clothing and bodily fluids remained in an evidence room at the police department. Relatives dispersed my belongings, and underneath a tombstone, the maggots did away with all but my bones.