Type O Personalities

The world's foremost bloodstain-pattern analysts convene at a local Holiday Inn to trade gore stories and chatter about spatter

The IABPA's president-elect, Wolson is also the man responsible for this year's conference, a curious odyssey into the underbelly of forensic medicine. It is he who presides over the gory slide shows, the technical niggling that greets each corpse. To the casual observer, the exercise might seem perverse, like a dissection of snuff films. But to Wolson and his colleagues, there are vital judgments to be made in the aftermath of violence, ones they regard as professional duty.

"Take a look at this pattern right here," says Norm Reeves. With a red beam of light, he circles a small blotch of blood on the pair of green sweat pants projected on the screen. "Doesn't look like much, does it? Watch what happens." Reeves clicks to the next slide. "See it now? How's that for a claw hammer?"

A murmur of admiration rises from the fellow bloodstain analysts clustered at a dozen tables in the Atlantis Room. A slight and sardonic New Jerseyite, Reeves is showing off the computer technology he uses to improve the quality of poor crime-scene photos. "The idea is not to alter evidence, but to enhance," he stresses.

The next slide shows a figure that hardly appears capable of alteration. "I call this guy my Mr. Tool Time," Reeves announces. "He was worked over with a sledgehammer, a Skil saw, and a one-and-half-inch drill bit, on reverse." At this last detail, Reeves cannot resist emitting a giggle. "Anyways, when I got the call on this guy, I figured it was going to be like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But you can see, he's pretty much intact." By increasing the contrast on certain photos, and electronically embossing others, Reeves explains via subsequent slides, he was able to catalogue the source of the victim's abundant injuries, and, more important, to identify a bloody footprint at the scene.

"Guy actually died as a result of blood loss," Reeves notes absently.
He clicks again. "Just to show you folks how obsessed some of us become: This is my license tag." The appellation BLOODY1 flashes on-screen. Reeves exits to spirited applause, Tic Tacs rattling in his pocket.

Toby Wolson bounds to the podium.
"Time for a door-prize drawing! Get your tickets out, folks, because we're giving away the autographed Miami Dolphins pennant!"

Wolson's spunk is understandable. Some 65 IABPA members have shown up this year, nearly triple the turnout in 1993, when the conference was held on a cruise ship out of Los Angeles. Most are middle-age white guys with glasses (like Wolson), though the congregation includes a smattering of women and minorities. By afternoon of day one, the group has begun to subdivide. Burly Canadians at one table, wisecrackers at another, computer nerds at a third, and so on. MacDonell, the source of periodic critiques and bad puns, sits in back.

David Redsicker, an insurance investigator from Endicott, New York, opens the session with a dry history of forensic photography before seguing to a demonstration of compact-disc photo technology.

A patch of shattered safety glass appears on the screen. "We got this from the scene of an accident," Redsicker says. "An obese woman flew through this windshield. Well, most of her flew through the windshield. Take a look what happens when I enlarge the photo. See? See! That's blood there, and some tissue to the left, and those are eyebrow hairs.

"The best thing about CD photos," Redsicker concludes, "is that they're virtually indestructible." To illustrate the point, he whips a shiny disc across the room. It comes within inches of hitting an elderly bloodstain analyst in the head.

Next up is Stuart James, one of MacDonell's disciples. A tense, balding forensic consultant from Fort Lauderdale, he opens with a solid domestic tragedy. A ten-year-old boy, shot while asleep; his young mother found dead in the bunk bed beneath him, a gun in her hand.

"The problem is how to explain those bloodstains at the mother's feet," James notes. "This is low-velocity spatter. The directionality of the droplets is downward. But the lab tests show the blood is the kid's. So we're wondering, did someone shoot the victims and try to make it look like a suicide? Then we take a closer look. Turns out blood was dripping from the kid's head wound, hitting the bed railing, and producing satellite spatter on the wall. Yep. Mom had just learned she had brain cancer."

James takes a deep breath. "Now, this next case is one that troubles me quite a bit."

On-screen, a woman slumps in the passenger seat of a car, her white outfit stippled in red. "Many of you may be familiar with this case. It involves a German couple who were vacationing in Miami. The boyfriend says they went out to have a good time and got lost on the way back to their hotel. They stopped to get directions from a man on the street, who allegedly shot the woman at close range. But police believed the boyfriend did it."

A small commotion erupts in back. Two men get up from their seats, and storm out of the room, past the table laden with coffee and Danish.

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