Sunday, April 17, 2011

Craig's List Ripper: Crime scene may reveal ID of murderer

by Jim Kouri
The remains of ten people have been found dumped along the side of a beach-front road in a peaceful, affluent holiday resort on New York's Long Island. The deaths are believed to be the work of a serial killer.
The search area, 40 miles east of New York City, has challenged police with an enormous crime scene, including the bodies of four other women known to have worked as prostitutes, shrouded in burlap; a bag of arms and legs; a human skull; and the body of a woman lying near the remains of a 5-year old child wrapped in a blanket.

The police have little to go on or are playing their cards close to their vests, as one former homicide detective told the Public Safety Examiner. Police officers and crime scene investigators suspect the killer is a man, intelligent, and perhaps living in the same area where many of the bodies have been dumped.

But most notably, and this is the detail that has captured the dread of New York, is the fact that the killer - or killers - found some of the victims through a social networking site: Craig's List.
What police investigating the case have uncovered so far is that:

* Four of the women's bodies were found dumped in cloth sacks.
* All four were escorts who had used same popular internet site
* The killer's (or killers') methods have led some to believe they are a policeman or ex-officer
* Police fear they may be dealing with more than one killer
* A man and child are among they victims
Police in New York are working feverishly to identify the latest human remains unearthed in a disturbing almost surreal search for the killer who has become known as 'The Craig's List Ripper'.
Frighteningly, the latest dismembered bodies found - those of a man and a child - are perhaps not even the work of the same killer.

In fact, police believe just four of the 10 victims so far were murdered by the same hand. The possibility that they are dealing with more than one killer is very much part of the investigation.
It is difficult for a group of people to arrive at a common or accurate understanding of a particular event or scene when it is orally described to them.  
The problem is further aggravated when the listeners are totally unfamiliar with the situation. Individual differences, past experiences, variances in temperament, intelligence level, personality makeup, social and cultural background cause the listeners to form personalized interpretations of what is being described.  This is especially true in a criminal court case.  These factors, in fact, tend to color and often false interpretations of the facts.
How much easier and effective becomes the task of establishing a common and accurate understanding of a particular physical setting or an object when the courtroom testimony is accompanied by a photograph.  It is this quality to present facts accurately and comprehensively that makes photography a valuable forensic tool.   It allows the jury to obtain an accurate and lucid understanding of specific situations.
In addition, photographic evidence may be stored and be readily available when it is needed.  And finally, it provides the investigator with a visual record of the crime scene and objects related to the investigation.
When photographs are viewed under favorable conditions in conjunction with the investigator's notes, they may help her to recognize an overlooked object or condition that may furnish the key to proving the case.
The trial court determines the admissibility of photographic evidence.  The judgment is based upon legal precedents that have considered two important points of  law:
(1)    The object pictured must be material or relevant to the point in issue.  Any photograph that is in no way instructive or of no assistance in stressing or proving a point should be withheld.
(2) The photograph must not appeal to the emotions of the jury or tend to prejudice the court or jury.  Trial judges have suppressed the introduction of photographs showing a savagely mutilated body, bloodstained clothing, or other grisly subjects.
The courts have also ruled that photographs prejudicial to the defendant may not be admitted into evidence.  Recently, a criminal court judge sustained the objections of a defense attorney regarding a picture taken of the defendant at the time of his arrest.  It portrayed him dressed as a hippie, whereas he was appearing several months later neatly groomed and attired in a conservative suit.
A photograph must be free from distortion and not misrepresent the crime scene or an object it purports to reproduce.  A common error threatening the admissibility of photographic evidence is distortion caused by improper photographic technique.  Tilting the camera, taking a picture from an incorrect angle or point of view are likely to result in distorted pictures.  Insufficient light or overexposure to light also affects the quality of a picture and jeopardizes its value in a court of law.
The size and spacing of objects in a photograph must convey to the viewer the same impression that he would have had he visited the crime or accident scene.   Failure to achieve an accurate photographic reproduction of a setting or object is a major cause for suppressing a photographic exhibit.  Furthermore, when a poorly taken picture is admitted into evidence, the defense attorney may effectively challenge the accuracy of the photo or the skill of the photographer.

The  new and inexperienced photographer who does not keep his camera in a level position will produce distorted photos. Tilting the camera in an upward position will the cause, for example, the photograph of a hill or staircase to appear steeper that it actually is. An incorrect camera angle will also cause objects closest to the lens to appear disproportionately larger than they are in reality.  Care must be taken so that spacing, camera angle and height are considered whenever photographing objects which may be introduced into evidence at a trial in criminal or even civil court.
Measuring devices such as rulers, yardsticks and tape measures are often placed within the area to be photographed at a crime scene in order to show relative size, the distance between objects, or the actual degree of enlargement. 
These markers are placed alongside objects so that they will easily be seen yet not obscure any part of the evidence.  It is advisable to then first take photographs without markers, then to proceed to mark the crime scene as much as desired.
Markers can prove to be of significant value at a trial when the photographs are admitted in evidence.  For instance, a three or six foot ruler placed alongside a hole in a roof through which entry was gained gives the viewers an indication as to the size of theng. The photograph can be used to counter arguments that theng was too small to allow the defendant entry into the building.
The purpose of crime scene photography is to provide a photographic record of the facts and to allow viewers to obtain a better understanding of the crime itself: How it was committed, the setting, the manner in which particular evidence is related to the suspect or to the crime, and other aspects of the investigation.
Photographs are taken of all evidence or conditions the investigator is trained to discover during a routine crime scene search.  If a technician is used to photograph the crime scene, the detective or investigating officer should then direct the picture taking.
As many photos as possible should be taken.  The more pictures that are available, the greater the likelihood that a photo may be found to contain some significant information that may have been overlooked during the crime scene search.   The availability of a number of pictures also allows the detectives and the prosecutor a wider choice of selection to better present a point at issue or having the necessary qualities to complement the testimony presented to the court.
Crime scene photography involves a series of pictures taken from various points of view that usually present a general view, a medium view and close-ups.   The clasps should be taken at varying distances depending upon the object.   The photographs are generally introduced in conjunction with crime scene sketches or scale drawings. (See chapter one covering crime scene sketching.)
The investigating officer has the responsibility to direct the photographer at the crime scene.  These pictures should set the scene, provide information concerning the manner in which death occurred, and show whether the homicide was connected to another crime or if it was a deliberate act. 
Photographs are taken from varying distances and different angles before the body or any object is moved or disturbed.
Photographs taken should include:

* Overall view of the scene and the adjacent area.
* Medium and close-up photos of the victim taken from various angles including overhead shots and close-ups of the wound(s) with the instrument of death visible such as knife, robe, blunt instrument, etc., while the body is in its original position.
* Medium range and close-ups of bloodstains, broken furniture, bullet holes in walls or other objects, latent fingerprints, footprints, etc.
When the detective or investigating officer is notified of the date, time and place the trial will be held, there are several things she should remember to do in preparation for the event.  She should review all notes, reports, sketches and photographs that have anything to do with the case being adjudicated.   If a pretrial conference is called, the investigator should be prepared  to discuss any aspects of the case that the prosecutor may wish to discuss.