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From Building Design to Prime Time: Forensic Engineering
(Released July 2008)

 
  by Marianne Stanczak  

Review

Key Citations

Visual Resources

News & Scholars

Glossary

Editor
 
So . . . Whodunit?

Contents

THE CSI EFFECT
police line banner
We want action, we want blood, we want DNA tests, fingerprinting, fiber analysis - the works. Due to the influence of television dramas, we are afflicted with what has become known as the "CSI Effect". Symptoms include:

  • The belief that juries demand more physical evidence
  • Police collecting more physical evidence, in turn inundating crime labs
  • More forensic programs in colleges and universities
  • Jurors wanting DNA tests performed more frequently
graph showing increase in forensics degrees
Number of Forensics-related Undergraduate Degrees

"Approximately 40% of the forensics science on CSI does not exist." (Houck)

So what does exist in criminal forensics?

Forensic entomology - the study of the succession of insects at a crime scene This, coupled with meteorological and geological data, can be used to determine time of death, also called PMI, Post-Mortem Interval (American).

fingerprint
Fingerprint
DNA tests

Fingerprinting

Ballistics - the science of projectiles in flight; the study of firearm characteristics when fired

Questioned Documents works hand in hand with visual analysis as well as fingerprint analysis (fingerprints on paper or other supplies used to produce a document) and criminalistics. Criminalistics is the analysis of physical evidence that links the crime scene to the victim to the criminal(s).

How does everything forensic tie together to catch the killer?

In the case of the BTK killer of Wichita, Kansas, it was metadata. Behind word processing documents, spreadsheets and the like, information is produced; this is metadata, or data that provides information about other data. Dennis Rader, using a computer at his church, unknowingly sent metadata to a television station. This subsequently led to his capture in 2005 (National).

Erik and Lyle Menendez, accused of killing their parents in the sensational 1993 trial, also were forced to pay heed to computers. This time, it was a computer re-enactment of the crime. Despite many flaws - the main one being the re-enactors lack of experience in criminalistics (it was a firm dealing mainly with the automotive industry)-the brothers were convicted.

The one that got away - again and again. A diary from the Jack the Ripper case was analyzed in 1991 using aforementioned questioned document techniques including:
classic sleuth

  • Handwriting and ink analysis
  • Infrared testing
  • Ultraviolet testing
  • Electrostatic detection
  • Chromatography
  • Ion migration
These techniques, not available at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, did prove that the diary in question was a fake. Unfortunately, they did not did not bring the mystery any closer to being solved.

CSI: Egypt??

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time, carried via tales through the eons, was the death of King Tut in the 14th century B.C. Claims of a traitor double crossing the Boy King were negated by using computer tomography, which showed no blow to the skull.

King Tut's tomb Profile of King Tut's tomb
King Tutankhamun's Tomb
The scan also showed that he did not die from disease. However, any damage seen is not certain to have occured during his lifetime, or at his death, or from archaeologist Howard Carter's unearthing of him.

Perhaps more forensic engineering is called for?

© 2008, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals

References

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Note: All webpages cited here have been downloaded in June of 2008