Installment #1 “My First Case…Multiple GSW to Chest…Suicide?”

As a rookie forensic investigator fresh out of college, I began my training at the Institute of Forensic Sciences and was mentally ready to one day solve every unexplained death case assigned to me. After several months of study, testing, learning procedures and the operations, it was time to go out into the real world, to tag along, to watch and learn. That’s when the call came in to the Medical Examiner’s Office and my organized world got real confusing. We listened to the speakerphone.

The police dispatcher said they found a 68 year-old white male dead on a porch swing in the 1600 block of XYZ, multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. I immediately thought multiple…homicide…no brainer. The vet smiled and whispered, “It’s a suicide, but we’ll start out thinking homicide.”

I thought the vet was messing with me. I had heard the stories, games they play on the rookies. But I knew that a man found dead with multiple gunshots to the chest could not be a suicide…no way. It had to be a homicide. I wasn’t buying it.

Scene Pic

It was 9:00 p.m. on a week night. We pulled up to the small ranch house in a lower middle class neighborhood. There were people standing in the front yard, maybe family members and neighbors. They were in the grass off the front porch. The squad cars were blocking the dead-end street and there were police on the front porch. When we got out I saw people watching from their porches, the crowds were gathering. That was the first time I realized working death scenes drew an audience. On our walk to the front porch through the whispers and parting crowds, the vet said, “Don’t talk…listen…watch.”

The police officer met us at the door. He knew the vet. They had worked a few cases together over the years, but unlike the forensic vet who handled four to seven traumatic death investigations a day, the policeman might see only two or three in his career. He told us the important stuff first, there was a 68 year-old white male on a porch swing in the back. He has multiple GSWs to the chest and a 22 caliber pistol in his hand. There were no signs of break-in or theft. The man lived alone. A daughter and her husband are in the front yard. She found her father. They are available to answer questions. The forensic vet listened and took notes on his little pad, always looking around, finding something, focusing in, and then making another note. I would be amazed later when he showed me what he was jotting down.

I dutifully carried the large, metal suitcase. He told me to get the camera out and when he points he wants a picture, and the first one is from the curb. From that point on I must have taken forty pictures before I was done. As we walked through the small house, he pointed here and there. But when we stepped out back onto the porch he rested his hand on my chest at the door and asked if I was ready. Before I stepped out I was sure I was ready. He said take three wide-angles the moment you step out the door, one on the deceased, one from his head up to the ceiling and one from his head down to the floor. He pulled my shirt at the chest and I stepped out from the kitchen door frame onto the back porch and looked to the right. I saw the man on the porch swing and the gun in his hand and the blood soaked, flannel shirt and the way he was sitting on that lonely swing…and his face…and his eyes. I don’t know how long I stood there, but the vet stayed there with me, watching me, concerned. He had seen that look before, other rookies. I just remember him taking the camera and leading me off the porch into the grass where I puked.

Another Case Reported:

Installment #3 coming April 9, 2012