Installment #2 “My First Case…Multiple GSW to Chest…Suicide?”

I was car sick. The death scene was bloody, but that never bothered me before. I think the combination of smell and the bouncing trip out was all it took. The vet thinks to this day I threw-up because it was a bloody mess and it was my first case.

forensic files

We took pictures of everything. The vet put on gloves and moved to the body. The first thing he did was check to be certain the man was dead. That was not always the case, which is a topic for a later post. He felt the neck, the carotid artery. Then he felt the wrist, the radial artery. He was dead.

The .22 caliber revolver was in his right hand resting on the porch swing. We counted five GSWs (gunshot wounds) to the upper left chest. The patterns on the shirt suggested the gun was pressed against it at time of discharge. There were five distinct entry wounds and no exits. The gun was removed, briefly examined and bagged. The deceased hands were also bagged (paper). There was no other signs of trauma. I was still sure it was a homicide. I couldn’t figure out how anyone could shoot themselves that many times. Surely they would have dropped after one or two?

Following routine documentation of the scene, collection of physical evidence that included the newly opened box of fifty .22 caliber bullets…minus six. We interviewed family members and neighbors and we looked through the house for anything that could help define the dead man; interests, recent activities, medications (indication of medical conditions) and to get name of attending physicians for additional interviews prior to the inquest. The Medical Examiner would have a hundred questions at time of the autopsy. It was our job to have a hundred and one answers or the process stops and waits.

In our jurisdiction all evidence was taken by Field Agents to the medical examiner’s office (the county morgue) along with the body. That was the location where most case assessments and testing was conducted…including ballistics (test firing guns and measuring residues, etc.), toxicology, fingerprinting evidence retention. Over the next decade the CSI agency was further established within the police department and certain evidence was moved to their processing areas in coordination with the medical examiner’s inquest.

We were standing next to the autopsy table when the morgue clerk wheeled the deceased out of the “full body x-ray” room and the medical photographer had taken his early round of pictures. After placing the deceased on the stainless steel table, the deaners started to take off the clothes with the medical examiner’s close supervision or intervention. When directed, the medical photographer took more pics. A lot of time was spent by the M.E. looking at the shirt and the chest of the deceased, matching bullet paths and assessing every wrinkle and every burn patch and residues.

The medical examiner carefully examined the hands of the deceased. A saline solution was used with swabs to wash both hands and to collect the residues on the cotton swabs. They would be used later to determine if the gun was in the deceased hand at the time of discharge.

I still “privately” believed Mr. X was the victim of a homicide made to look like a suicide. I theorized a family member wanted to collect on the $100,000 life insurance policy taken out three months earlier. I was feeling pretty good because Mr. X paid a premium to cover all manners of death, surely encouraged by members of the family and possibly the actual killer.

When the M.E. asked me what I was thinking about, I was smart enough to say, “Well sir, I am thinking about the questions you might ask and whether we have the answers.” Turned out that was the right answer. If I told him I thought it was a homicide and the veteran investigator is not looking at the evidence the way he should, well…that could have been my last day.

The deceased was lying on the table naked. The M.E. dictated as he walked around the body and completed his external examination. Then he spent ten minutes talking about the multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, the contact wounds, the stippling and other things I had never heard before. Then he asked for the scalpel. It was time to crack the chest and see what was going on inside…the bullet paths…where did they end up? The autopsy proved to be the shining light on the case.

Installment #3 May 10, 2013