Type O Personalities

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

Dan Christman, a chunky, red-haired medical investigator from Seattle, shifts the focus to fire. His presentation, "Burning Down the House: Fire and Its Effects on Bloodstain Pattern Evidence," features a video of a room going up in flames, and half a dozen variously charred corpses.

His research, which consisted of setting controlled fires and watching blood burn, yields intriguing results:

Damage to bloodstains hinges on fire temperature and length of exposure
Soot buildup sometimes preserves bloodstains
Blood does not boil
Heads explode

About this last, Christman elaborates: "The human head is a closed system. At least it should be. When subjected to fire, the fluids surrounding the brain begin to boil. If the pressure becomes sufficient, the cranial cavity explodes. Boom! Now you're saying, 'Dan, what's all this got to do with blood spatter?' Well, if you go to a fire scene and find an exploded head with blood spatter on one side of the room, you should realize it isn't necessarily due to an injury sustained before the fire."

Christman goes on to describe two especially poignant forms of internal bloodstain: "grape-jelly hemorrhages," the result of massive blunt trauma to the head, and "chocolate-pudding hemorrhages," the product of a grape-jelly hemorrhage subjected to fire.

Before Christman can reach his seat, Herb MacDonell rises to offer his dose of criticism. "Dan, you can in fact boil blood. At 63,000 feet."

To commence the afternoon session, a Canadian professor demonstrates a bloodstain-analysis computer program, and a police captain from California sings the praises of computer-generated re-enactments. Everyone listens dutifully and claps when appropriate. But they are plainly awaiting the final speaker, Rafael Martinez, a Santeria expert who works for the Metro-Dade Police Department and the county medical examiner.

The interest in Santeria, however, is not limited to its status as a source of animal-blood spatter. A growing number of police agencies, it turns out, are reporting crimes that appear related to ritualistic religions.

Martinez does not disappoint. A short, intense man possessed of breakneck eloquence and a vowel-thickening accent, he quickly outlines the basics of Santeria: a polytheistic synthesis of Catholic and African faiths, favored by dope dealers. "You got a lot of cops skeptical of Santeria," he reports. "Until they find a beef tongue with a spike through it and their business card underneath."

On-screen, images of ritual sacrifices tumble past. A priest draped in beads hacks at the jugular veins of goats, chickens, and lambs. He drips the blood onto elaborate icons, along with salt, pepper, and honey, the results bearing a striking similarity to a child's earliest culinary efforts. "Years ago, when I started studying Santeria, I could never film a ritual like this. Now the priests call me to bring my video camera, because they want a tape," Martinez boasts.

"How long before Cuban immigrants grow out of this stuff?" asks one especially dense Midwesterner.

Martinez winces. "Santeria is not something you grow out of. It is a belief system for dealing with the world, a social network. The high priest you're looking at right now, for instance, has 3000 'godchildren.' Of course, he was just arrested for dealing dope."

Having said this, however, Martinez quickly adds, "More than a million people practice Santeria, and it isn't just dopers. We had a case a few years ago where a couple of kids killed a man. One went to his santero for a cleansing and the old man turned him in for the cash reward. Also, you should know that all those animals you saw were cooked and eaten."

Freestyle case presentations are up next.
Herb MacDonell steps forward with a summary of some ancient experiments he uncovered in the nether regions of a Hungarian library, concerning the drip patterns of blood, India ink, mercury, and mucus.

Dan Christman shows slides of tests he conducted, which involved shooting bloody bags with guns of various calibers. (This gives rise to a round of jokes deriving from the phrase Dan shot his wad.)

A slightly dithering consultant named Ed discusses a case in which police have accused his client of shooting herself through the stomach to fake a self-defense claim against her husband, whom she shot during a quarrel. He shows a lengthy video of police finding the dead husband. "Don't worry, we're going to get something to eat real soon," one of the cops on the video notes repeatedly. The crowd issues a chuckle of recognition.

"That'll do it for today," Toby Wolson announces finally. "Remember, we've got the banquet at 6:30. The ritual sacrificing of the animals starts at 5:30."

(Rim shot!)
How do bloodstain analysts, freed from the daily grind of drip dispersal and serology tests, cut loose? The answer, at this year's meeting anyway, is a bit of a letdown. They tend to clump into small groups and discuss drip dispersal and serology tests. They are also apt to watch snippets of the O.J. Simpson hearing and gab about the prominent role blood spatter plays in the case.

Few leave the Holiday Inn. This is thanks to the general aura of tourist paranoia in Miami, a fear magnified by the smorgasbord of local mayhem displayed at the conference. Apparently the safety tips offered in the IABPA orientation kit (Avoid displaying large amounts of cash; don't wear your convention badge when going out at night) offer little comfort. This goes double for those who have folded the conference into a family vacation. The wife and kids tend to stick close to the pool.

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