Forensic Facts—“VCU Edition” Paint Chips


Forensic Friday continues with more Forensic Facts garnered from Sisters in Crime Central Virginia‘s visit last week to The Department of Forensic Science at VCU log 2Virginia Commonwealth University. Thanks again to Dr. Marilyn Miller for inviting us.



VCU Forensic Fact #2: Paint Chips=Evidence


Mary Burton Forensic Facts VCU paint chips #2A chip of paint can be an important source of trace evidence that helps investigators solve a crime such as a hit and run accident or a breaking and entering.  Paint chips and flakes knocked off of a vehicle during a collision can help pinpoint a vehicle’s make, model and sometimes the year.


Paint can also identify a tool used to wedge open a door or window during a burglary.  Mary Burton Forensic Facts VCU paint chipsIt is often the under layer of paint that provides the most information to an investigator.


Because paint is on most surfaces, it is a valuable source of evidence.

Here Comes On Sale Week and My Final “Countdown To VULNERABLE Grab Bag Giveaway”

Mary Burton VULNERABLE image hi res



It’s just two days and about seven hours until VULNERABLE goes on sale!  I’ve enjoyed counting down with you all to forensic specialist Georgia Morgan’s story and hearing the reaction from winners as they received their books.


So, here it is, the seventh and last of my Grab Bag Giveaways. This one has a much shorter time for you to enter.  It ends at midnight Monday, 3/28. That’s when VULNERABLE is officially published and ready to go on sale when stores open on Tuesday. And, if you pre-ordered, it’ll be waiting for you at your favorite bookstore or will be about to appear on your doorstep.


Enough said, except for two things—thank you for all the great feedback on my Morgan Family novels and here’s a new excerpt. This one’s from—of course—VULNERABLE.  Enjoy!


“Did good tonight, kid,” he said. “The crowd loved you.” He pushed a fresh glass with ice and diet soda toward her.


She took a long sip. “Thanks for letting me share the stage. The day job has been crazy lately and I haven’t had much time. It was fun.”


“So I hear big brother gave you a cold case.”


Big brother was Deke Morgan, who now ran the Nashville Police Homicide Department. He was joined by her other brother, Rick Morgan, who also worked in the same unit. Third brother, Alex, was the outlier. He worked for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, or TBI.


“I should be more careful when I ask for extra work.” She scooped up a handful of nuts from a bowl on the bar and popped them in her mouth. “It’s taken me weeks to read through the files.”


“Deke tells me Dalton Marlowe is putting the squeeze on everyone.”


Dalton Marlowe was a very rich man whose son was one of three teens who went into Percy Warner Park five years ago. The students, from an exclusive high school called St. Vincent, went hiking in the southwest Nashville park that covered twenty-six hundred acres of wooded land crisscrossed by a dozen backroad trails, bike paths, and dead end roads. Their plan was to collect data for a science project and return home by dark.


When the teens had not reported in that night, search crews had been dispatched. At the end of the second day, volunteers found one of the kids, Amber Ryder, at the bottom of a ravine. Her arm was badly broken and she suffered a head injury. When she woke up in the hospital the next day, she swore she had no memory of what had happened in the woods. Search crews continued to look for weeks but the two other students, Bethany Reed and Mike Marlowe, were never found.


Mr. Marlowe has been pressing the Missing Persons Unit relentlessly for answers. This year, he again made a sizable donation to the police foundation, a kind of gesture that expects a return. Marlowe was clear that he didn’t want to hear any more bullshit theories about his son Mike and Bethany running off like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.


“So Deke’s balls are in a vise with the mayor?”


She shrugged. “He’s getting a hell of a lot of pressure from City Hall, but it doesn’t look like it’s fazed him. He hopes to kill two birds with one stone. Give me a cold case that I’ve been clamoring for and pacify the powers that be. It’s a win all the way around.”



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Forensic Facts—“VCU EDITION” Latent Fingerprints


This edition of Forensic Friday comes to you from the heart of downtown Richmond and The Department of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU boasts one of the oldest forensic science programs in the country and members of Sisters in Crime Central Virginia were invited to spend the evening VCU log 2with them this past Tuesday, 3/22.


What a time we had. A thank you and shout out to Dr. Marilyn Miller and her students. There’s too much info for one Forensic Friday post, so I’m sharing some today and will follow up with more next week.



VCU Forensic Fact #1: Developing Latent Fingerprints with Magnetic Powder

Mary Burton Forensic Facts VCU fingerprints


Forensic scientists can use magnetic powder and a magnetic powder wand to develop latent fingerprints.   At the end of the wand there is a magnet that when exposed will “grab” the magnetic powder so it can be gently brushed over surfaces.  Magnetic powder works well on plastics and textured surfaces, and because a brush is not used, there’s less chance of damaging the print. Once the fingerprints are developed and the excess powder removed with the tip of the magnet, an investigator can capture the fingerprint on a clear piece of tape and affix the tape to a white card.

Last Chance VULNERABLE ARC Flash Giveaway!

Mary Burton VULNERABLE image hi resThis is it! Just five days until the publication of VULNERABLE, my latest Morgan Family suspense novel, and enough time for one more Flash Giveaway. Enter now for a chance to win an Advance Reader Copy of forensic specialist Georgia Morgan’s story, in which she and Detective Jake Bishop investigate a cold case that turns red hot.  Giveaway ends at midnight tonight!


P.S. While you’re waiting to hear if you’ve won, you’re invited to read the excerpt on my site. I hope you enjoy it.
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Forensic Friday: Watered Down Evidence

stock-photo-19672810-crime-scene-tapeAlex Morgan is center stage in I’ll Never Let You Go, but that doesn’t mean his law enforcement siblings are out of the picture, especially Deke (Cover Your Eyes) and Georgia (Vulnerable, the fourth of my Morgan Mary Burton VULNERABLE image hi resFamily novels, on sale March 29th).  Both are up to their ears in tenuous clues and scenarios when, first, a headless torso is found and, later, body parts.  The submersion in water in both discoveries presents special circumstances for investigators Alex and Deke, forensic specialist Georgia and the medical examiner.


Mary Burton I'LL NEVER LET YOU GO cover hi resProblems presented include the degradation as well as the recoverable quantity of DNA in a body submerged for, say, more than 72 hours. Also, the appearance of the body or body parts may have been affected by decomposition.


Mary Burton COVER YOUR EYES cover image hi resA fact I learned that really caught my attention, in part because I don’t think I’d even thought about it until I was researching, is what happens to a dead body after it sinks.  One source, the site Operation Take Me Home* addresses this in the context of saving or recovering drowning victims.  The article points out that a dead body submerged in a river or lake (fresh BEAFRAID2water) will rise as gas forms in the body  “due to the action of bacteria” occurring in decomposition. It also notes that how long it takes for the body to come to the surface depends on the amount of fat in the tissue and the temperature of the water.


That said, here’s a quick look at the scene in which Deke and Georgia encounter the body parts that just may turn the tide in their investigation.




Minutes past eight, Deke made his way down the narrow, rocky path that led to the river and the two forensic technicians working the scene. Georgia was on the job today, wearing a thick black skullcap, heavy coveralls that read FORENSICS on the back, and thick, steel-toed boots. She held a digital camera to her eye and focused on a numbered yellow cone placed next to what looked like a severed hand . . .


She faced Deke. Her nose glowed red from the cold. “Great way to start a day.”


He thought about the warm bed he’d left, in which he’d been nestled close to Rachel. She’d accepted his ring last night, and he’d been filled with hope and joy. He’d had very different plans for this morning, but the job had its own ideas. “I can think of better.”


“Join the club.”


“I see a hand.”


She nodded and pointed. “A hand there. Near the river’s edge a foot, and a few yards west is another hand. And there’s no torso or head. But then, I hear you found a torso a few days ago.”


“Stands to reason we have a matched set, but we shall see. Any idea who the guy might be?”


She sniffed, her nose runny from the cold. “Not a clue. But these cold-as-hell temperatures have kept the remains intact, and I was able to pull a clean print from the index finger. Who knows, our guy might have prints on file.”


“Anything you can tell me about him?”


“He had calluses on his palms, and the foot was still encased in sneakers. Nothing remarkable about the shoe. The thumb looked as if it had been broken a long time ago.”


“Any idea how he was killed?”


“Not a clue. That’s for the lovely Dr. Heller to decipher.”


“If he’s a match to our John Doe in the morgue, it was a gunshot to the chest.”


“That will do it.”


Deke moved down the edge of the river and studied the yellow cone that marked the spot where the other hand lay. Even in the cold it had already degraded and could easily have been overlooked as not human. “Was he in the water?”


“I’d say so. My guess is the parts were first tossed into a bag and then into the river. Everyone thinks the river will keep their secrets, but it doesn’t take much for the bag to tear and its contents to float to the top. Head is likely out there somewhere.”


“If these parts connect to my body, why leave it exposed in one location and dump the hands and feet in the river?”


She shrugged. “Maybe our killer likes a puzzle.”


The torso. The bag with Deidre’s card. Now the hands and a foot. Felt more like a trail of bread crumbs.


“How long has he been out here?”


“That’s hard to say. Cold distorts everything. Maybe the prints will match a missing persons report.”


He grinned. “Thanks for the tip.” “Always here to help, bro.”