Forensics for Writers: Toolmarks and Firearms

A great deal of the forensic scientist’s time is spent peering into a microscope. Our fictional heroes aren’t interested in that tedium, and neither are the readers of their adventures. But understanding what the results of that microscopic inspection reveals, and what it means to an investigation, that’s important. And as with any other aspect of this, a hero or villain getting it wrong through incompetence or malice adds to the conflict in a book, even if we don’t want to see it in real life.

comparison microscope

A comparison microscope allows observation of two objects without bringing them into contact with one another.

I think all of us can grasp the concept of a tool leaving a mark when it is used to, say, pry open a window or a door. But logically, this isn’t going to be terribly helpful in identifying the specific tool that was used – after all, hundreds if not thousands of crowbars have been made in various configuration. However, through the use of a comparison microscope that allows the side-by-side comparison of the marks and the tool, individualization can be made in some – not all – cases.

I’m not sure I covered the two classes of evidence before, so this is a good place to touch on it. Classification is the sorting of physical evidence that will match a class of something. Cotton fibers, that mark was made by a crowbar, those footwear impressions were made by Doc Marten boots. Classification is useful in narrowing the field down, but what every investigator wants and hopes for is individualization. This cotton fiber with cochineal dye belongs to that shirt. This crowbar with the nick in the pry surface made that mark. These boots with the cut on the sole made that impression. Such evidence can tie a suspect or his tools to a scene.

Tools can acquire unique characteristics through wear and tear. I’ve chipped and dented many by dropping them, personally. Tools that have come in contact with paint can carry away traces of that paint, which can be classified or individualized. There is, and this is pretty cool albeit very nerdy of me to call it that, a paint database. The RC Mounted Police maintain PDQ, the pain data query, which is used worldwide to determine where that paint came from, what it was used on, and so forth. Even if you can’t individualize something, enough classifications can resolve into the pointing finger of probability.

Side note for our heroic investigator (or the curling-mustachioed Snidely (sorry, channeling Dudley here)) is that you would never, I don’t care what you’ve seen on TV, attempt to match the tool with the mark on scene. You can alter and destroy evidence that way. The correct procedure is to make a cast of the toolmark with a special kind of silicone called Mikrosil. Later, at the lab, a stereomicroscope will be used to compare the mark with the tool.

Firearm evidence is a huge field, but I’ll cover the basics here, of what marks a gun leaves on bullets and casings. When a bullet is fired, and forced through a rifled barrel, minute striations are left on the soft lead of the bullet by the rifling marks in the barrel, called lands and grooves. In theory, a second test-firing through that same barrel can produce a bullet which will have matching striations, and they can be matched under a comparison microscope. Those of you who are familiar with firearms will immediately see the problems inherent with this. Not all firearms will have rifling. Shotguns, for instance, cannot be matched in this way. Alteration of, or removal of, a barrel can also alter the test firing results. My instructor a while back, an actively serving detective sergeant, would get entertainingly frothy in class about the moron on TV who routinely picked up suspect weapons by inserting a pen into the barrel. Granted, this will not alter the inner map of the barrel much, but it would not take much for the defense to introduce doubts in the jury’s mind.

Sometimes the other end of the action, the casing, can be more helpful than the projectile. While a revolver leaves no casings behind for our intrepid investigator, a semi-automatic ejects them automatically (heh). A savvy criminal might police his brass, if he has time. But the marks left on casings by the ejector, the firing pin, and even fingerprints from loading, can be possible individualized evidence in building a case. It helps if the investigator knows what he is looking for. A while back in a non-investigative CJS class, I had to read and write an analysis of a case. In it, the evidence was listed, and one thing they found in and around the house of the shooter in question were numerous (something like 40 without looking at the case file) unfired casings. That, to me, was hinky. I would have been very unhappy with taking that evidence anywhere listed as it was (the professor of that class got very impatient with my hang-up on the evidence, which I found funny). Do you know why it struck me wrong?

What you could see with the comparison ‘scope allows a very close match of the test fire and the casing collected at the scene.

I will finish up the bulk of the series next week with toxicology (and a foray into serology). You can find the first part here, the Crime Scene here, Evidence and Investigation here, and Blood Spatter and Ballistics here. I’ll wind up the series in two weeks with a linkful post, and a summary with Q&A session in the comments.

151 Comments

Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: CRAFT

151 responses to “Forensics for Writers: Toolmarks and Firearms

  1. So a smart murderer might get rid of pretty much everything he wore or used while committing the crime. Make him use a disposable set of everything, gloves and some sort of head covering (wig?) so that no hairs get left behind, burn everything which can be burned (maybe some other place than his home), drop what will sink into some not nearby large body of water, change the rifle barrel into one which has also already been used so it doesn’t look too new and drop the one used in the same deep lake where he dropped the crowbar.

    What would that leave, besides checking times and finding out if he has an alibi or not? He would, of course, has made sure there is at least some evidence he was on the other side of the country/state/at least the city when the crime happened, even if there aren’t eyewitnesses enough something that the defense lawyer could raise serious doubts if the case were to go to a trial.

    (And I am actually thinking more in terms of vampires and werewolves here, although I am sort of hoping to maybe try writing some sort of ordinary murder mystery at some point too. If possible. For some reason everything I try to write seems to turn into some sort of horror/fantasy/SF, I am a pantser and those elements just force themselves into everything)

    • Werewolf hairs… what would the DNA be like… hm.

      BTW, any ideas what would be a believable response by law enforcement in the beginning stages of a zombie apocalypse? They are usually completely hopeless in movies and most novels I have read, or the story starts when it’s already well past that stage, but it would be fun to read something where it actually gets contained before we quite reach the “apocalypse” stage for a change. (Hint, all urban fantasy writers there… also please give pointers if you know of something which has already been written. I like zombies but I am getting a bit bored with the standard scenario)

      • I don’t know of one where it’s stopped in the early stages. For one thing, zombie either contains elements of magic, or of disease. If magic, you’d need someone who could recognize that, and combat it. Unlikely to be a cop. If disease, the law enforcement can’t do much at first, impose a quarantine once a real disgnosis is made, but they are pretty much restricted in how many ways they can control an infection – the story here would be horror and frustration on the part of a small force, say, faced with zombies and no way to stop them legally. Could be an interesting premise. In the case of a real breakout (look up elizabethkingia for a recent case study) the CDC sends out investigators (which is what I’d love to do, but it’s a master’s or PhD level job). That team then starts looking at the disease, is it really a disease, what causes it, etc. For a book length treatment of this, The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is a fictionalized account of the Ebola Virus. http://amzn.to/1RRYLxu

          • My pleasure! Fun to play with these scenarios. I actually wrote a zombie story where the scientists trying to come up with a solution created something worse than the zombies.

            • Reality Observer

              I have to admit I read that reply with a rather odd thought in my head – who was this poor Elizabeth King who had a nasty disease organism named after her?

              I mean, a new variety of rose…

              • It’s a bacteria, and yes, it was named after an Elizabeth King ๐Ÿ™‚

                • Reality Observer

                  I mean the SO might be a bit more impressed with a new rose.

                  I have no idea (and really do not WANT to have one) what would happen if I were to name a bacteria after the wife. It would probably interest a forensics team, though…

                  • The Other Sean

                    Elizabeth King at CDC isolated the bacteria, so it was named after her. If you discover bacteria, I suggest not naming it after your wife or SO.

                    • Unless of course they are also microbiologists ๐Ÿ™‚

                    • The Other Sean

                      In that case, it might not result in bodily harm. ๐Ÿ™‚

                    • Reality Observer

                      Well, yes, I suppose another microbiologist might think a bacterium is pretty. (Another bacteria, of course, wouldn’t care.)

                      Learned something, though – I hadn’t realized that the latinate rule was broken these days. Now I’ll be keeping my eyes out for others.

                    • Reality Observer

                      Oh, and thank you for telling me how it got that name – my Google-fu was apparently not up to it this morning. That was only one of the theories (Patient Zero? Nerdvengeance? Weird obsession? Hmm, there might be a story, or at least a scene sometime, in that last…)

                    • The Other Sean

                      I think latinate naming continues to apply to every level above genus, and they “latinize” anything chosen for the genus and species. I think subspecies may be left alone, though.

            • aacid14

              So that’s how we got politicians

        • Odd thought:

          Whether a cop would recognize magic would depend on whether they had encountered magic before. If there is a strong undercurrent of folklore in a community, a local cop might pick up on things an outsider would miss.

        • aacid14

          Gah…GMTA. I thought that Preston’s first two were Nonfiction. It is “The Cobra Event” That is fiction.

          And I was in HS when Medical Investigation was on TV and thought of going for Epidemeology for a bit. TBH If I had to go back to being 16 and looking for college majors, I’d probably actually lose my mind and go for the MD

      • bearcat

        Check out Ringo’s Black Tide Rising for a zombie apocalypse story (includes how the cops tried to deal with it) but yeah, it doesn’t get contained before apocalypse stage.

        • I have read that, or three and a half books so far, and it is a nice change (and damn good series), but it’s still something where it happened. The “almost happened, but got stopped” is something I haven’t seen in any story so far.

          • I mean “got stopped before it really got going”, not apocalypse with survivors who can then rebuild afterwards.

            • greyratt

              i’m not sure if this is what your looking for but, MONSTER HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL (Larry Correia) has stopped zombie apocalypse in his series.

              • Maybe, although what I really would like to read would be something with a bit less action and a bit more (I have read a couple of his books in that series, seems not that one though, and they are great when I want action adventure, but when I want less action…), I don’t know, investigation and quarantine measures and how to keep the people from panicking and instead acting more or less sensible. Kind of like maybe the beginnings of a potential zombie apocalypse told almost as a police procedural, and a bit more action happening only towards the end of the story. Or something along those lines. I like blended genres. ๐Ÿ™‚

                • greyratt

                  ok, on the other end. how about Dracula (Bram Stoker) one of the first csi novels (a bit dated, but still enjoyable)

                  • Hey, of course I have read that. ๐Ÿ™‚

                    • And to add, I like the form in which Dracula is written precisely because it is sort of csi investigation. Unfortunately there isn’t much else like it, the idea of vampires maybe took off but the genre right away forgot the style of that novel. And hardly any of the movies, even ones claiming to be based on the novel, follow the style of the novel either, they always go for the horror and shock elements and mostly forget the studious investigation parts (Coppola, damn you… I had hopes for that one back in the day. “Bram Stoker’s…” HAH! And I think that is currently the last one which even tried, sort of, and it’s been well over 20 years).

                • Reality Observer

                  It wasn’t zombie-virus – but Tom Clancy’s “Executive Orders” was about an attack with weaponized Ebola.

                  (IIRC, it wasn’t really all that weaponized – the RIFs only thought they had an air-vectored strain.)

            • ironbear055

              @pohjalainen

              I had to go look through my bookmarks because I have a terminal case of CRS Syndrome (Can’t Remember Sh*t) *grin* and I couldn’t recall the name of the author or the series.

              Jonathan Maberry has at least two novels in his Joe Ledger series, Code Zero and Patient Zero, where the serial Hero Joe Ledger stops IIRC bio research created zombie plagues before they get to the End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine) outbreak stage.

              So far, anyway. I haven’t read any Mayberry in a long while, so I don’t know if he has any more recent books where the contagion got away and killed the world. (Fall of Night and the sequels were loads of fun.)

              Not sure if that’s what you’re looking for, though. The Joe Ledger books are a lot more Dirk Pitt style espionage action-adventure Super Agent stuff than horror/zombie apocalypse. Although Mayberry has written a couple or three standard Zombie Apocalypse novels, and he tends to weave a lot of horror elements even into his action/adventure stuff.

              Worth a read if it clicks for you. Mayberry spins a decent yarn.

              http://www.amazon.com/Patient-Zero-Joe-Ledger-Novel/dp/1250043778/ref=pd_sim_14_7?ie=UTF8&dpID=51w3%2BKdIzYL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR88%2C160_&refRID=1NZVJCBB98QDPD0T50R4

            • I get the sense that a lot of zombie fiction is written by people who feel powerless and beset by forces impossible to understand in real life and son”t know what to about that, either. “There, fixed it!” might not be a happy ending for them.

              • ironbear055

                *raises hand sheepishly*

                I confess that zombie apocalypse fiction has gotten to be a guilty pleasure for me. Reading it and constantly muttering “You idiots! Don’t do THAT! You’ll all DIE, morons!!!” at my computer is half the fun for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

                The other half is being vindicated when they do just that, and yup: they all die.

                • Heh. That can be fun, but I prefer characters I can like, and liking them pretty much requires they aren’t morons, and also when you like them having them perish because the odds are just so bad is depressing, which is something I hate in fiction most of the time (depressing, that is, and it mostly means down endings, I can handle a depressing story if there is at least some ray of hope in the end. I am a pessimist by nature, I don’t need it reinforced by the fiction I consume).

                  And I quite like good professionals acting professionally and solving the problem stories, with not much extra personal life issues intruding into the story. They are not my biggest favorite, but they are the stable I go to when I get tired drama.

                  Drama can be very much fun, but too much of it does get tiring fast. And I am not a big fan of stories where most of the drama happens because the characters insist on carrying the idiot ball. Occasional occurrences, or some unlikable side character who then gets his rightful death or some other unpleasant payback at some point because his stupidity and drops out of the story is okay, often even quite good as long is does not go on for too long, but in zombie stories, especially and above everything in zombie movies but novels can be pretty bad too, more than half of the plot (often all of it, and when it doesn’t it’s mostly because we aren’t told how the apocalypse happened. When we are told how it did usually it seems to be because there were idiots in some research lab) tends to hinge on the idiocy of the characters, either all of them or most of them.

                  The latter can be worse because then usually it’s the one or two sensible characters who pay for it.

                  Professional people (actually) acting professionally is balm for the soul after too many “plot happens because characters are idiots” stories. ๐Ÿ™‚

                  • ironbear055

                    Yup. Like I said, “guilty pleasure.” Hey – sometimes I enjoy seeing idjits get their just desserts. ๐Ÿ™‚

                    I can’t stomach too many zombie apocalypse novels in a row, because they get bleak and then it’s depressing, but as an occasional thing, they’re like popcorn.

                    • Heh, I’ll confess that Lynne Graham romances are my mental potato chips. They serve another purpose though: to help make me cry to relieve my stress levels.

                      http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/06/06/7-good-reasons-to-cry-your-eyes-out/

                      It makes sense from a biochemical perspective, and I can bring on the waterworks over something emotional without having to sink into deep depression. It doesn’t always completely lighten my mood but it helps.

                      Having explained the biochemical perspective to my darling husband, he has put weepy books in with chocolate as ‘therapy’ and buys them for me. I share by reading out the funnier passages, such as “You grew on me, like mold” or “How could you christen a manic goldfish with my name?!” “…because he was always eating the other goldfish.”

                    • ironbear055

                      “He grew on me like mold”? (o0)

                      You should put those up for a Bulwer-Lytton Award. ๐Ÿ™‚

                  • aacid14

                    *whines* Great…now the voices in my head are trying to write this…

          • aacid14

            It’s not exactly what you are looking for but “The Cobra Event” by Richard Preston is a pretty good thriller where the disease is stopped.

      • snelson134

        pohjalainen, given the legal / political / cultural climate of the last ten years, I don’t know that there IS a plausible scenario.Look at what happened with the Ebola cases in the US and Europe two years ago. People refused to be put into quarantine, the politicians wouldn’t impose one, the courts backed up the refuseniks. Think the scenario at the end of the Black Tide Rising where the Education Secretary is in charge and the military is backing her up on not killing infected rather than declaring the silly bint is obviously insane and out of touch with reality followed by shooting her within the first day.

        • ironbear055

          @snelson134

          “pohjalainen, given the legal / political / cultural climate of the last ten years, I donโ€™t know that there IS a plausible scenario.”

          Sure there is:

          #ZombieLivesMatter!

        • Ebola, the migrant situations and what have you have not really touched the elites, so far. Get their bacon in the fire too and things might change. If there is enough time for them to fully realize they are no longer safe, that is.

          • Because while you will undoubtedly get true believers in the group who can’t change their stances even if it’s their own lives on the line because admitting that they have been wrong would be too high a price to pay, but apart from those most of them pretty much have to be pragmatists at least to some extent. You don’t get money and power, or even keep them all that well when you were born with them, unless you are, able to both see reality and willing to make changes to your playbook if it seems the old one is no longer working.

        • Reality Observer

          Not exactly “backing her up” – following the legal NCA. Always an issue for the military, and a line that they have never crossed, and hopefully never really have to. (Note how fast that ended when Faith dug the VP out of her hidey-hole. Then the sane one was the legal NCA.)

      • It all depends how you write that story (My series currently online in first draft form is a UF detective story with weres, Vamps, orcs, Ruamano, etc) If it is magic based it may be unidentifiable canine fur. If scientific may be some sorta pseudo science, e.g. some sorta additional cell structure with foreign DNA like a bank vault. Maybe have certain labs that can test for the mythical/magical creatures.

        As for Zombpocs, It all depends on what actually happens. If it is found thru actual criminal activities…such as killing and eating brains, they may be killed (Think the Florida ‘Bath Salts’ Guy) or rounded up. If introduced into gen pop you could get zombified prisons. If found medically, you would have something like a Hot Zone scenario (Richard Preston does some writing on this type of thing)

        • With zombies, unless the premise is some sort of rage virus, similar to rabies but more extreme when it comes to higher brain functions while also something which doesn’t kill at all by itself (maybe even protects the host to some extent, by helping the immune system or something) or takes a much much longer time to do it, I think it pretty much would have to be magic.

          Or, okay, maybe some sort of nanites and near magical science. Maybe that of aliens. I think that has been done, I’m fairly sure that I have read at least one novel, but not that many times. Hm…

          • aacid14

            Ya. The rotting flesh stuff would be a killer. Without magic or some sort of MacGuffin to handwave the body rotting away the only option would have to be magic. In that case, if magic is a known force you could have some sort of magic detector. But if magic was unknown it would be tough to get under control. Maybe seen as poisoning.

          • Hah! Found the “zombie + vampire apocalypse because aliens” book, it’s Year of the Dead by Jack J. Lee on amazon kindle store. Pretty good beginning, intriguing premise, but falls a bit flat towards the end, as far as I remember, it has been four years since I read it. But I guess I need to buy the other two books in the trilogy, I do still want to find out how it ends.

    • In theory, you could evade Locard’s Principle by doing this. Even though we can amplify and test DNA in the lab from a single skin cell, *finding* that cell in a crime scene could be impossible. So yes, in theory a perfect crime could be (and honestly, probably has been) committed.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        The “best” way to do a Perfect Crime/Murder would to make the death appear to be an accident.

        Of course, that might not be easy to arrange. [Wink]

        • There are many case studies on attempts at that which didn’t *quite* come off as planned.

        • Or commit the murder somewhere where there are no witnesses and so that there are no signs it happened left in the scene (use some poison or something), and then get rid of the body, either dump it somewhere far away (that famous abandoned mine shaft) or destroy it so that there is nothing left to find, at least not anything which would be recognizable as part of a human body and whatever there is is not near where the victim lived or disappeared. If the killer is not caught in the act of either killing or disposing of the body, and there is no body and no clear signs that there has been a crime I think that accusing anybody might be near impossible.

          • I know of a somewhat notorious case where the accused was caught in part by an attempt to dispose of the evidence. Does it say something bad about us here that most of us thought of ways the accused could have made it much harder to find, and with little effort?

            And yet, I recall a hit that might not have gotten the investigation it did had it not been who it involved. It didn’t involve an elaborate set-up or moving the bodies or convoluted alibis. Even then, had someone not turned state’s evidence, it might never have gone to trial.

          • Physical poisons will leave evidence that requires the body be dealt with. But radiation… has its own issues, too.

            • I think there are some which wont show for long. And anyway, you need to look for them in the autopsy, if the body isn’t found no autopsy. Main thing with a poison, no blood etc on the scene as long as it’s something which wont make the victim vomit or cause bleeding or diarrhea.

              • aacid14

                These’ll probably be dealt with next weekend (curse my weekends with no internet) but there are numerous toxins that either do not show up on standard tox screens or are rapidly metabolized by the body. IIRC Succinylcholine is one (don’t quote me).

        • LastRedoubt

          Reminded of a scene from the Danny Kaye version of Walter Mitty.

          Creepy individual is discussing how to murder someone without leaving behind a weapon that can be tested, using an ice knife. The weapon melts away. No prints/etc.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            In one of the Lord Peter stories, there was a murder with a blunt instrument and no blunt instrument was found.

            Fortunately, the blunt instrument found inside a roast before the “baking” destroyed the evidence on it.

            It was a “rod” that was normally used to conduct heat into the insides of a roast. ๐Ÿ˜€

          • I remember some episode of some old television series (could have been something like Outer Limits) where the murder weapon was a frozen leg of lamb (or similar), which was then defrosted and put in the oven by the murderer (wife of the deceased, I think). It’s possible she also served it to some member or member of the police, the story was supposed to happen somewhere (and at a time, but even the story was written several decades ago, and possibly set in a time which was by then already history) where the police would accept a dinner invitation/offer by a possible murder suspect.

            • George

              I believe that may have been based on a short story “Death of a Salesman” I remember reading that story in High School. I remember the scene where the Police are talking and there realization that leg of lamb coming out of the oven may have been the murder weapon.

            • Sam L.

              That was an Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and I seem to recall actually reading the story it came from, and yes, she did offer some to the police. I think it was soup she made of it, not a roast,

          • bearcat

            I seem to remember the ice knife in a Sherlock Holmes Alfred Hitchcock Presents story.

        • Or the trope of making it appear to be something else, like a robbery.

          • Nasty thought: A detective investigates a murder of a hood that looks like a hit. Someone left the hood with a Colombian Necktie. But was the murder a bit more mundane than it seems?

      • aacid14

        As long as you can avoid the circumstantial evidence as well. Shoe leather still a valid crime solving technique

  2. Pingback: Gleanings from the Desk – Cedar Writes

  3. Anonymous Coward

    ‘Unfired cases’ should be exceedingly rare unless one searches the home of someone who handloads his own ammo. ‘Fired cases’ or ‘unfired rounds/cartridges’ I can understand.

    • bearcat

      My thoughts exactly. Also finding numerous unfired cases “in and around the house” sounds like a really poor frameup job. A reloader (the only logical reason to have unfired cases) would not have them randomly scattered around house and yard. Unfired cases would be in a box or bag, most likely stored with his other reloading supplies.

      • mousekt

        And I just spent the last few minutes wondering if the guy had wandered around the yard pulling out the bullets with a pair of pliers, and if he was trying to make home-made bombs from recovered gunpowder or something. Messing up the description makes SO much more sense…

    • Yep, and that was exactly my point. I think that whoever wrote up the case report didn’t know what they were talking about – that should have been fired casings.

      • This was a huge plot point in that Reacher movie, the plot point and reasoning of which was true to the book the movie was based off of.

      • Anonymous Coward

        I suppose the media is not very helpful, often conflating ‘cartridge’ with ‘case’ with ‘bullet’. Of course, any attempt to correct self-styled experts on the details of firearms technology is usually met with either (1) eye-rolling over pointless pedantry or (2) disgust, assuming only the morally bankrupt would be familiar with such details.

      • Alan

        OK, I assumed poor description in the report and thought your point was removing them en masse, rather than noting locations for each and handling them properly to preserve the trail.

  4. bearcat

    While the “pain data query” might be interesting, I’m not sure how it would help solve a crime.
    /ducks/

  5. Draven

    Certain firearms have very distinctive marks- several firearms, including Glocks, have firing pins with a distinctive square cross section. The way the chamber of a firearm is designed can also identify it- where and how much support the chamber offers to the casing can indicate what kind of firearm it was.

    Matching rifling grooves it done under a comparison microscope by a human. At this point, computers are still not very good at it and have a high rate of false matches.

    To ‘change the rifling marks’ on a firearm isn’t as hard as it sounds… a range trip or two is usually sufficient. How many fired rounds it takes to change it significantly enough in order to make it not match varies by the caliber and type of bullets being fired and the material of the barrel.

    Similarly, the tooling marks of the rest of the firearm change over time. This is one reason that Maryland’s fired casing database hasn’t been the crime-solving tool it was supposed to be.

    Fluctuations in powder charge and bullet weight, random incidences at firing (for instance, the brass from the scene hitting the ejection port because of the way the firer held it, but it not happening in the lab because the person in the lab didn’t hold it that way…) and even things like being the top round in the magazine and thus getting scraped against the magazine lips every time the gun is loaded can make things match (or not match) or indicate additional information.

  6. California did a long term study with nearly 500 identical model, state issued pistols. Ballistic “fingerprints” made for each weapon and over the long term the were examined using blind testing of matches.

    In a remarkably short time the fingerprint characteristics dissapeared and the individual pistols were no longer identifiable from the original samples.

    Seems that routine practice sessions, qualification, and cleaning was enough to eradicate the unique markings in the barrel, on the bolt face, and firing pin.

    For some odd reason that study hasn’t had nearly the distribution of claims that “fingerprinting” is necessary to public safety.

    Other tests have shown that a weapon can be altered sufficently with some polishing compound and elbow grease. Pistol barrels can easily be swapped in seconds, making forensic comparison of the firearm valid only if the weapon is found before any alterations can be done.

    Using a lead slug and polishing compound the bore of most any firearm can be cured of machine marks that cause extra friction and rob accuracy. It’s been a common practice on target barrels. The resulting surface only matches the original in land and grove dimensions and rifling twist

  7. Uncle Lar

    There is a process being pushed hard by certain factions to micro etch a unique identifier on the tip of firing pins to aid forensic crime analysis. Mostly this is the darling of anti gun groups who simply want to make firearms more costly or difficult to obtain.
    The primary objections are that it would be trivial to either change firing pins or remove the etching with a bit of abrasive. Naturally, it would only work for guns that eject the casings, and with a shooter who did not gather up their brass. And too, a criminal could easily obtain fired cases from a shooting range and scatter them at the scene of their crime to further confuse authorities.
    As for 40 plus unfired casings found at a residence, yeah raises all sorts of questions. All for the same cartridge, or an assortment? Some folks just collect odd brass. Others reload either for accuracy or to reduce cost. I’ve even seen a fairly attractive line of jewelry made from brass cartridge cases. But in any case, that bald statement without further details is simply unacceptable from an investigator’s standpoint.

    • Draven

      Its being pushed hard by the people that hold the patent for microstamping. of course, they don’t tell anyone that their tech isn’t ready for mass production yet, and takes a bit too long to engrave a firing pin. Before enacting the law requiring it, the CA assembly paid their pet lab at UC Davis to study microstamping and the study recommended against it, as a few swipes with a tool file could completely erase the microstamp and that it only took 100-200 rounds to erase it completely in normal use of the firearm.

      • aacid14

        For the huddled masses they think “Oh! It’s metal. It’ll never disappear and CSI has the beautiful techs in designer clothes pulling patterns from decades old smoothbore muskets”.

    • snelson134

      “shooter who did not gather up their brass. ”

      Considering that there are attachments called “brass catchers” to automatically deal with this problem….

      • Wasn’t going to mention that. FWIW, someone might pick up a shotgun shell, but the wadding is somewhere out there. That would only help in identifying the gauge and the ammo or reload supply company.

      • Anonymous Coward

        As well as revolvers which don’t drop brass.

        • bearcat

          I Guided a retired detective last year, and he mentioned that revolvers are favored by certain of the more intelligent gangbangers planning to do a hit, for just this reason.

          • Uncle Lar

            On the other hand, with the exception of a couple rare and exotic models, revolvers cannot be suppressed due to the gap between cylinder and barrel. And too, depending on the design, a suppressor may very well add striation scratches to a slug further confusing the issue for the forensic investigators.

            • ironbear055

              Outta curiosity, how many gang bangers use suppressors?

            • Draven

              Well, Nagant revolvers aren’t exactly rare and exotic.

              • ironbear055

                I’m really not screwing with you here: curiosity, because I don’t know the answer –

                How many Nagant revolvers get used in crimes these days? Or turn up in gang banger hands?

                What I’m getting at is: they may not be exactly rare and exotic, but are they rare in the context, which is what matters for story purposes? Would having a Nagant revolver turn up in a Crips vs Bloods shooting in LA be unusual enough to make an organized crimes division cop blink and scratch his head? Or seeing a silenced one be unusual enough to make a Federal gang related crimes division agent ask, “WTF, over?”

                To me, that would spark a WTF, over? moment and be the grist for a lot of story driving speculations.

                • Draven

                  The statement that i responded to said nothing about gang bangers, or the use of Nagant revolvers in crimes. the statement i responded to said that revolvers which can be silenced are are and exotic, and the Nagant revolver is hardly rare considering the number of them that have been imported…

  8. Bibliotheca Servare

    I’ve been loving this series, but as I’ve been reading it (and I shamefacedly confess I haven’t been able to read each post as thoroughly as I’d like…I’ve been going back and rereading them when I get the chance) I keep getting an itch to blurt out my (woefully uninformed) concerns about the probability of accuracy and inerrancy in the field of forensics. I’m far from an expert (or even a well-informed amateur) but I do (like most of the folks who visit here, lol) read a lot, and what I read makes me nervous about the way television and other media portray forensic science as being an almost foolproof way of catching bad guys unless the investigator or tech screws up massively. For a while I (embarrassed look) thought that the only real risk in using things like ballistics and fingerprinting etc to make the case for conviction was that someone might have screwed up at some point. I’ve since come to understand (though I acknowledge I could be greatly misunderstanding what I’ve read) that forensic evidence can be “wrong” (so to speak) even if no one screwed up the process of collecting and analyzing it. That there’s always a probability of error in such matters. The reason I finally gave in and posted this comment is…well, I know probability math tends to give *me* a headache, and I actually have done some dedicated research on the subject. The average Juror hasn’t most likely (no pun intended) done such research, according to what I’ve read. I was trying to find a link to something (I thought it was on MGC actually, lol…maybe by Mr. Freer?) that talked about this specific problem, but it seems I failed to bookmark it at the time. I did find this, though, and it was an interesting -depressing- read: http://www.johndcook.com/blog/explaining-probability-to-a-jury/
    What do y’all (I live in the south now. I get to say “y’all” dangnabbit!) think?

    Sorry if I should have just kept my mouth shut, heh. God bless! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Excellent points, and something that yes, we are being taught. Not the probability, but that there is no cast-iron, bulletproof evidence. It’s more about putting puzzle pieces together than finding that one thing that proves it all. There’s an excellent book challenging forensic science concepts, I’ll put in a link when I find it, and include it in the last wrap-up post as well (I’d planned that) because it does a great job of weighing what we know against what we think we know.

      • Bibliotheca Servare

        Yay! I didn’t put my foot in my mouth! *relieved look* I’ve gotten darned sick of the taste of shoe polish, lol. (No, I’m not suggesting I frequently suffer from “foot-in-mouth disease”…whatever could have given you that impression?) On the subject of the puzzle, do you think there’s a case to be made for requiring that forensic scientists/investigators be kept in the dark regarding the details of the case the evidence they’re testing/evaluating came from? Meaning, is it fair to say that letting the lab know who the suspect is might increase the risk of “confirmation bias” so to speak? Is it even possible for a forensic scientist to do the job if they don’t know who is suspected of committing the crime? I’ll stop now. Lol. Can’t wait to read the rest of these posts! ๐Ÿ˜€

        • Mint flavored socks help with foot-in-mouth (or so I’m told ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

          To the best of my knowledge, the lab is provided with a case summary, which usually does not include the suspect’s name (or the victim’s, in some cases).

  9. ironbear055

    “In it, the evidence was listed, and one thing they found in and around the house of the shooter in question were numerous (something like 40 without looking at the case file) unfired casings. That, to me, was hinky. I would have been very unhappy with taking that evidence anywhere listed as it was (the professor of that class got very impatient with my hang-up on the evidence, which I found funny). Do you know why it struck me wrong?” – Cedar

    Without reading any of the other’s responses, I’m going to hazard a guess that it was the same thing that would have bothered me: the fact that the cases were unfired?

    Unless he’s a handloader, which you didn’t mention, and all of the cases were spilled in one area like his workshop (which you also didn’t mention), then the fact that there were so many unfired cases scattered around would seem hinky to me.

    • I don’t believe that he was a handloader, but the case seemed to lean toward ‘mentally ill’ and I’m fairly sure either an investigator or a prosecutor writing up the summary didn’t think through what they were saying.

      • ironbear055

        Huh. All right.

        Heya, you mind if I steal this? You’ve given me a nifty idea for a puzzle to work in somewhere in an action/adventure PI style story at some future point. (The Case of the Unfired Cases. *snerk*)

        Not sure what the hell I’ll do with it, but I can do something, that’s for sure.

  10. tcbobg

    Finally a place where I might find a definitive answer to some questions that have been bugging me for ages: On TV/in movies you have forensics people testifying that ‘so-and-so was shot with (say) a .357 Magnum pistol’. Unless you actually retrieve the bullet and gun and prove a match between them, how do you know for sure? In revolvers, a .358 – inch bullet could be fired from a .38 Long Colt, a .38 Special, a .357 Magnum, and others as well. Velocities might change the wound cavities a bit, but a hot-loaded .38 Special can approach .357 Magnum, especially the ‘reduced recoil’ types. Plus, .38 Special rounds can be fired from .357 Magnum revolvers. This gets worse when you start with the plethora of 9 mm/.38 cal. autoloader rounds.

    Is it just Hollywood? Would a real forensics person say something more like, “The wound characteristics were consistent with those produced by a bullet fired from a (such-and-such) pistol.”?

    Thank you for your attention.

    • A real forensic pathologist would be the only one opining on wound track characteristics. The investigator in the field would be willing to say that yes, it appeared to be a bullet wound. Now, if there was a recovered bullet, either from the scene or the body, and a weapon from a suspect (or the scene) to compare it to, then they could be more certain and specific. Even then, as you say, there are many variables and the ‘consistent with’ would be a big part of the statement. TV and movies – even shows like Forensic Files that were produced with some attention to detail and are used in classes for investigators – are riddled with errors that were inserted to drive the plot and story, not accuracy.

      • aacid14

        In training as the opposite of Ms. Sanderson (Evidence Mangling Technician) for all our legal documents (run forms, testimony, & reports) we will note a puncture wound or penetrating wound to the location. This is because A. entrance or exit does not matter for us. And B. there are legal qualifiers needed for actually making those designations in court

    • ironbear055

      @tcbobg

      That’s always bugged me too.

      I could see it if it’s something that’s a predominate characteristic of a certain round: a .357″ 158gr lead semi-wadcutter, soft point, or hollow point suggests a .357 Mag as those are such standard factory loads for that caliber. A .357″ diameter 158 grain lead roundnose suggests a .38 Special, and a 130 grain FMC a .38 Super or .38 Auto, and a 115 or 120 grain FMJ suggests a 9mm Luger/Parabellum.

      But “suggests” isn’t the same as a certainty, and without fired cases, it’d be difficult to be sure – an educated guess would be the best you could do.

      Even harder with the plethora of bullet styles, makes, and manufacturers in factory ammo these days.

      It’s why I can’t watch any of the various CSI or NCI or other police procedurals: I end up muttering “Oh yeah? And how the hell do you know that for sure, bub?” under my breath too much to enjoy them.

      • bearcat

        I shoot 158 gr lead roundnose through (one of*) my 357’s regularly. Loaded in both 38 special and 357 magnum. I have a 158 gr roundnose mold so I cast bullets and then load them in both cases.

        *I have a Taurus poly protector in 357 mag. Because it is a pocket revolver its cylinder is a cat’s whisker shorter than a regular 357 and the roundnose bullets rub as the cylinder rotates, if you crimp them in the groove. So that gun I don’t fire the roundnose 357’s through.

        • ironbear055

          Yeah. But you just stated that you handload them. How many factory 158gr .357 Mag round nose loads do you shoot? Or buy? or even see on shelves? Or listed in ammo catalogs?

          Probabilities.

          And do, please, note where I clearly stated that “‘suggests’ isnโ€™t the same as a certainty, and without fired cases, itโ€™d be difficult to be sure โ€“ an educated guess would be the best you could do.” My wording was very careful there.

          For that matter, I shoot 246gr factory lead round nose .44 Specials out of my Model 29 as a plinking round – because the accuracy is high, and the recoil in the 48 ounce revolver is damned near negligible. But if I pulled a .430″ diameter 246 grain lead round nose out of a body, .44 Special would be my educated guess, not .44 Magnum.

      • bearcat

        lets see, .358 guns
        357 magnum
        357 maximum
        38 special
        38 long colt
        38 short colt
        9mm parabellum
        380 ACP
        38 super
        38 auto
        357 automag
        9×18
        9x19R
        9×21
        9mm Glisenti
        9mm Styer
        9mm Largo
        9mm AE
        9mm Win Mag
        9×25 Mauser
        9×25 Dillon
        38 Casull
        357/44 Bain&Davis
        357 SIG
        9mm Makarov

        and that’s just the pistols I can think of, I’m sure there are more, plus rifles chambered in .35 caliber.

        • ironbear055

          Good list. Now list the standard and most common factory loads for each one, and peg them to the calibers. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • bearcat

            Well some of those, like the 357/44 Bain&Davis, which I own, are wildcats and don’t have any factory loads. Which makes it even more interesting, because I commonly load rifle bullets in it, that if you were guessing just by the bullet retrieved from the victims body, one would be more likely to think 35 Remington than a pistol cartridge.

            • Draven

              or .300 Blackout, which you would think is 7.62×39 or .308 win unless you have the brass.

              • ironbear055

                Macro time?

                “note where I clearly stated that “โ€˜suggestsโ€™ isnโ€™t the same as a certainty, and without fired cases, itโ€™d be difficult to be sure โ€“ an educated guess would be the best you could do.””

                • Draven

                  yes well, my comment was posted six minutes before your ‘ i can just keep repeating myself’ comment…. and no, you shouldn’t just keep repeating yourself.

                  My comment was largely due to .300 Blackout being something you can go to a gun store *right now* and buy a firearm in, not an obscure wildcat.

                  • ironbear055

                    **grin* I know, I was screwing with you. I watched your comment come in on the “New Comments Posted: show/hide?” while I was responding to bearcat.

                    My smartassery runs away with me at times. ๐Ÿ™‚

                    Seriously, though: if I were writing a DA or a ME in the situation, I would have them respond with, “Unless and until you can show me the likely murder weapon and/or cartridge casings from the scene of the crime, the very best you’re going to get is an educated guess based on probabilities and nothing more.”

                    And, “Given that the vast majority of handloaders and collectors are law abiding gun owners who don’t tend to run around shooting people, the odds of it being an esoteric cartridge or loading are slim at best. To put it another way: if you really do have someone using a Contender in .357 Herret or a .358 Shooting Times Alaskan purposely loaded with handgun bullets – you have a much bigger problem on your hands than a single killing, Detective.”

                    Gun nuts like us who have or have shot a lot of weird guns and loads, who handload, and who are familiar with firearms esoterica don’t tend to be murderers. Gang bangers and guys who stick up gas stations tend to just grab whatever gun they can get ahold of and a box of ammo from Wally World – meaning that a lot of the time, they’ll have a standard factory load of some type, and the bullet *will* suggest what was used based on probabilities.

                    If a gun nut like us grabs a specialized firearm or load to commit a killing… then we probably had a damned good reason to kill someone, and we’re probably serious about it. Serious enough to cause law enforcement a serious problem.

                    See what I’m saying?

                    Typical criminal shooters tend to be lowest common denominator, including the weapons and ammo they use.

                    • Pretty much from the cases I’ve read. And the weird ones are the ones that get attention. For the purposes of this blog series, the weird and unusual is a good subject matter, as fiction tends to be more slanted in that direction than it is to the reality of plumb dumb criminals that commit the vast majority of crimes.

                    • ironbear055

                      “For the purposes of this blog series, the weird and unusual is a good subject matter, as fiction tends to be more slanted in that direction than it is to the reality of plumb dumb criminals that commit the vast majority of crimes. “ – Cedar

                      Agree.

                      Like I just told Draven, this is just exactly the sort of weird situation and oddball conversation between a DA, ME, and investigating officers that I might throw into a novel or story. And it would probably turn out to be an extremely atypical shooter who had a real reason for using an esoteric load, and he/she would be a real problem for the investigating police/agents – much more so that your typical criminal.

                      A lot of the mystery and solution would probably hang on just why they used that particular load, rifle, handgun, whatever, and why they shot that person along the way to becoming a major LEO problem…

                      Alternately, it might turn out that Occam was right and the .358″ jacketed hollow point really was fired from a bog standard .357 Magnum Smith, and the detectives were just engaging in pointless mental masturbation, validating my ME Quincy equivalent and his esoteric gun knowledge database and his “educated guess.”

                      You could run either way with it, and still have a LOT of fun with dialogue and hypothesizing in story.

                  • ironbear055

                    “My comment was largely due to .300 Blackout being something you can go to a gun store *right now* and buy a firearm in, not an obscure wildcat.”

                    *nod*

                    In which case my hypothetical gun savvy DA or ME would include .300 Blackout in his list of possibles if it was a .308″ diameter bullet dug out, and look at that in the list of likely bullet weights and factory loads for giving a list of possibles/probables in his educated guess, possibly weighted toward “most likely” and “least likely”. (Based on other factors like wound channel, velocity estimates, expansion/fragmentation, etc etc etc.)

                    I really, really am giving this a lot of thought, as it’s just exactly the type of oddball situation and discussion that I might throw into a story somewhere.

            • ironbear055

              Again, I believe that you’re providing a good example of responding to what you read rather than what I actually typed. I should link to it in the other thread. ๐Ÿ™‚

              Once again: โ€œโ€˜suggestsโ€™ isnโ€™t the same as a certainty, and without fired cases, itโ€™d be difficult to be sure โ€“ an educated guess would be the best you could do.โ€

              Of course, pointless nitpicking and obfuscation is always fun too. I could come up with numerous examples as well, such as various pistol bullets handloaded for small game and varmints in my .358 Norma Mag – but they wouldn’t fall into the “most likely category for that particular round to be the educated guess.”

              (I have some chamber converters for firing .22 LR in a .44 Mag, too, just to obfuscate the original statement, but “Model 29″ wouldn’t immediately pop into my mind if I dug a 40gr .222 dia hollow point out of some sheet rock at a crime scene. I can play as well, and possibly even better.)

              Carry on. I have the ” โ€œโ€˜suggestsโ€™ isnโ€™t the same as… ” converted to a macro now, and I can keep this up all day long until I get bored. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • *giggle!* There was a character in the book Apaches, a former detective, whose husband complained about her tendency to solve whodunnit mysteries long before he could get halfway through the book.

        That book, by the way, was nightmarish for a completely different reason. It was a very, very good read, but goddamn, I had nightmares about the methodology used to ferry drugs – and still do, actually.

    • Anonymous Coward

      Just to really mess with the heads of forensic experts, there are revolvers that shoot ‘auto’ cartridges (45ACP, 10mm, 40S&W, 9mm, etc), pistols that shoot ‘revolver’ cartridges (.357 Mag, .38 Special, etc), rifles that shoot pistol/revolver cartridges (9mm, .357 Mag, .44 Mag, etc), and pistols that shoot rifle cartridges.

      • ironbear055

        I shot a Smith & Wesson 610 5″ for awhile that was a lot of fun, and more accurate than a friend’s Kimber 10mm Auto. A ladyfriend of mine had a Smith & Wesson ah… Centennial? snubnose revolver in 9mm that she carried.

  11. This is a bit off topic but I kind of wanna share because it’s a guns-related post, and this was enough to get Aff ranting.

    https://shadow.affsdiary.com/2016/04/03/affs-official-thoughts-1/

    Slightly more on topic – I had a flash of a scene where a coroner puzzles over a corpse, then has a sputtering rant when informed that the corpse in question belonged to someone who decided to use the ‘muscles vs guns’ idiocy that resulted in Aff’s rant above.

    • Regarding Final Note: Aff knows enough, if not more than.
      Also: Best damn TL;DR summary I’ve ever seen.

    • ironbear055

      DoSomething.org? #GunsOut campaign?

      Oy. Where’s that gigantic facepalm jpg that some kind fellow gave me a few threads back?

      Even at 56 years old, out of shape, and with COPD, give me my 38″ bladed bastard sword and an unarmed campus, and I could rack up a body and injury count that would make any group of armed school shooters green with envy. Don’t care how big your biceps are, and how many martial arts you know: 38″ of knife sharp blade is hard to take away from someone who knows how to use it without getting badly injured.

      “Iโ€™m far more likely to be attacked by a Magpie;

      *snicker* A flock of grackles can hurt you. I know this from experience.

      “That being said, Australia is not America and any Australians trying to tell Americans what they should or shouldnโ€™t do with their weapons should in fact, shut the fuck up.”

      *cheers!* And cheers, mate. And here! Here! even. Add Brits, Canadians, and Europeans to that list of “Have a nice big steaming cup of shut the fuck up”, please.

      “TL;DR โ€“ fuck you, read it.”

      *snicker* My version is “tl;dr? tlas;dbc” (Too little attention span; don’t bother commenting).

      * Note: Aff is a bit off on one point: In Melbourne recently, IIRC, they busted a warehouse workshop that was making guns on lathes and mills. So even Oz’s long sea border can’t keep firearms out. I can hunt up the link if you want, but Google should turn it up as well – it was at TruthAboutGuns a few weeks back.

    • snelson134

      “Affโ€™s knowledge about gun control and regulations in the US is, as far as I am aware, limited to what the news has about it.”

      That was clear from this sentence: “Others have bought them from retailers who donโ€™t check.” since it’s a favorite media lie. No one gets out of an actual retailer (and no, there are no “internet retailers” who will ship the guns to your house; they ship to other valid holders of Federal Firearms Licenses and you go in person to pick it up and get checked) who has to run a background check.

      The underground market gets 90%+ of its’ guns from theft, and after that they stay in circulation until the police find them and take them away. They’re supposed to get prosecuted, but the Obama admin gave up on that.

      • Draven

        “they stay in circulation until the police find them and take them away”

        and sometimes even after.

      • Looking for clarification: what about private sales? I couldn’t remember.

        Also, I discussed it a bit after the fact, but he has a different definition of retailer versus the concept used exclusively for gun retailers in the US. I’ve forgotten most of the explanation he gave but it basically means ‘someone who is a seller (of anything).’

        Over here, you can order or sell firearms only through gun shops – Rhys wanted to upgrade so he sold a rifle through one of the local firearms stores. The shop charges a fee/takes a fee out of the price for the transfer paperwork, etc, as well as handling the registry stuff.

        • Draven

          A couple states require that. They also have higher gun crime than states that do not. Yes, I know correlation does not equal causation.

          • …You know, I can’t come up with a reply that doesn’t sound bitchy, but personally, I’m just glad at least we can still get guns, versus ‘not at all.’

            • ironbear055

              “โ€ฆYou know, I canโ€™t come up with a reply that doesnโ€™t sound bitchy, but personally, Iโ€™m just glad at least we can still get guns, versus โ€˜not at all.โ€™”

              Do what I do: embrace your inner bitch, and call it your own! And quit worrying about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

              I embraced my inner curmudgeonly old bastard long ago, and I’ve been much happier ever since. Other people around me, however… *grin*

              Being able to still get guns is good.

              I have to admit: I like Australia, and I’ve had more online friends over the years from Oz than almost anywhere else. I love New Zealand as well. But I wouldn’t live in either place specifically because of ya’ll’s gun laws.

              Don’t take that to heart too much: you couldn’t pay me to live in California for the same reason, and it’s nominally in the United States.

              • *sigh* It’s hard to be irritated when I’ve got a parrot climbing all over me wanting to be petted and trying to avoid his bedtime. (He seemed to be satisfied after a little scritchies behind his head… so I got him to bed now.)

                I figure, you take the good with the bad. Fell in love with a good man and he happened to be from Australia, and I figure, I’m lucky enough that his job has him sexily smelling of gunpowder fairly often; and if the zombie apocalypse happens we’ll be better off than most, I reckon.

        • Alan

          Private sales are, AFIK, the only semi-rational “loophole” to total government control. Judging from the gun nuts (a.k.a.hoplophiliacs) I know, most owners are aware they’re responsible for what they sell, and won’t sell to strangers.
          Now, they may make a mistake in judgement from time to time — usually, more about the recipient’s understanding that they need some training to use a firearm well in self-defense — but not so much about whether the recipient just wants to go out shooting people.
          So I think that’s not really a significant source of offensively-used firearms.

          • Thanks. I just couldn’t remember the clauses.

            IIRC even gun stores don’t always sell to potential buyers – after all they have the right to refuse a sale if they feel it dangerous. Nicki F wrote about it here:

            http://thelibertyzone.com/2016/03/28/6224/

            The most recent article on the site is also related to firearms.

            Over here, as far as I’m aware, the majority of guns used in crime are obtained illegally or stolen; but of course every time such a thing happens the MPs squeal about it being the fault of legal gun owners because guns = selfishness. *shakes head at the stupid*

  12. FWIW, there is such a thing as forensic locksmithing. It is the detailed examination of a lock to ascertain whether or not an attempt has been made to surreptitiously open it, normally by lockpicks.

    • Oh, that’s cool.I know we discussed safe insulation in class last semester – it was used to solve a case by the instructor.

    • I found out some time ago you can buy lockpicks and practice locks. I found myself pondering whether I should buy a set for research purposes. I was watching the first Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock movie on TV recently and thought “Hmm, maybe part of a detective kit…?”

  13. tcbobg

    This is completely OT, but all this talk of forensics and mystery solving brings up something that’s been rocketing around in my head for the last roughly decade-and-a-half since my last commercial airplane flight. Maybe one of you Mad Geniuses can run with it, if it hasn’t already been run.

    When I was dropped off to return from Boston’s Logan Int’l Airport on 29 SEP 2001 (and I can tell you that working at Logan a couple of weeks after 9/11 was a *lot* of fun), my driver happened to park in the ramp on Liberty level, row 4, stall J. I immediately had a flash of someone, lifeblood gushing from multiple wounds, gasping their dying words, “Liberty for Jay.” The protagonist wastes a bunch of time looking for someone called Jay who needs to be rescued, but eventually winds up in stall L4J where a disc/memstick/etc. is discovered which blows the case wide open.

  14. Bjorn Hasseler

    c4c