We’ve all heard talk about CSI Effect—people watch crime shows and movies and read mystery and suspense novels and start expecting all sorts of cutting edge forensic technology is available at crime scenes and to analyze evidence. Some think that test results can happen in hours or days, instead of weeks. When a case goes to trial, it may be that some jurors are anticipating lots more forensic evidence than is possible or they’re putting less emphasis on circumstantial evidence.
Also discussed is another element of CSI Effect—criminals knowing more than ever before about police and forensic procedure and behaving accordingly.
Vernon J. Geberth is the Former Commander of Bronx Homicide, New York City Police Department and author of Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques, which is used by the FBI, homicide departments, lawyers and investigators across the country. He addresses the criminal side of C.S.I. Effect in his article for PI Magazine: Journal of Professional Investigators in which he refers to “staging” the scene of a crime.
He defines the process saying “staging a scene occurs when the perpetrator purposely alters the crime scene to mislead the authorities and/or redirect the investigation. Staging is a conscious criminal action on the part of an offender to thwart an investigation.”
He also points out the perpetrator’s side of C.S.I. Effect. “The problem is that criminals read the same books and watch the same TV shows as everybody else, so they are gaining insight into the investigative process as well as the value of trace evidence and have become more savvy. These ‘CSI Criminals’ attempt to prevent leaving evidence at crime scenes. Offenders are now ultra-careful not to leave any blood, fingerprints, body hair or anything else that may identify them in the crime scene.”
Here’s an excerpt from VULNERABLE showing just that—names and some narrative have been changed to avoid spoilers.
“He pressed his finger on the back doorbell. As bell chimes echoed in the house, he pulled a clean handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped the doorbell button clean. Lights clicked on inside. Fast, determined footsteps approached. By the sound of it, the old man wasn’t happy about the interruption . . . the door jerked open to Jim Simmons’s frowning face. An instant passed as the old man stood and stared . . .
Ken grinned. “Mr. S. How’s it going?”
Mr. Simmons blinked. The anger that always buzzed behind his gaze softened. “Ken. What are you doing here?”
He removed a silver flask from his pocket. “I thought we could drink a toast . . .”
They moved down a carpeted hallway into the brightly lit kitchen . . . “Can I get you something to eat? . . . Let me make you a sandwich.”
“I’d like that.”
Ken took another drink from the flask, replaced the cap, and stuck it back in his pocket. He settled on a bar stool . . . Mr. Simmons carefully made the sandwich, set it on a plate, and pushed it toward him before turning back to the refrigerator to dig out a couple of beers . . .
The old man twisted the top off his beer and carefully set the top on the counter . . . “You spent time in Texas, didn’t you?”
“Sure.” Ken balled up his napkin and tossed it on his plate.
“The cops showed me a picture of a guy in Austin. I didn’t recognize him at first.”
Simmons looked at him, his gaze hardening as if pieces of a puzzle clicked into place.
Ken smiled and reached in his pocket for latex gloves . . . He tugged on the gloves . . . “She told me what you made her do . . . if the cops find out what you did . . . you’ll be ruined.”
“You wouldn’t do that.”
“I can crush you without breaking a sweat, kid. Don’t ever think you can threaten me.”
Ken shifted his grip around the neck of the beer bottle as if it were a club. Moving with swiftness he’d learned on the football field, he raised the bottle and lunged across the kitchen island, cracking the glass against the side of the old man’s skull . . .
Ken’s brain morphed from thinking to primal as he moved fast, scrambling around the island and landing hard blows with the bottle on the old man’s face. Simmons staggered and fell back to the floor. A look of panic and disbelief swept over the old man’s gray eyes.
Ken reached in his pocket and pulled out a clear plastic bag. With a snap he opened it and straddled Mr. Simmons. He pulled it over the man’s head and twisted the ends shut, cutting off his air flow. Ken settled his weight on Simmons’s chest and held the bag in place as his victim struggled for air. Several minutes passed until finally, Simmons’s eyes rolled back in his head and Ken was certain he was dead.
Ken removed the bag and checked for a pulse. There was none. Satisfied, he poured out the remaining beer in the sink. He dumped both bottles in his plastic bag as well as the remains of the sandwich. He turned on the hot water tap and when steam rose from the now hot water, he washed the plate and dried it with a paper towel, which he used to wipe down the counter.
As he backed away, his heart still thundered in his chest.