What does every mystery writer need to know about the real world of crime scene investigation? I found out yesterday when I spent four hours listening to Eric Lopkin, writer and former NYC auxillary policeman, speak extensively about such topics as rules of evidence, police procedures, and who does what at the crime scene.
Here are some of the take-away points he made:
Private investigators are never hired to investigate a murder. They track a spouse, find a
missing person, locate something that is lost.
The gun never remains in the hand of someone who commits suicide. The gun will always drop out of the hand when it goes off.
Almost impossible for a person to stab someone without getting cut themself. The hand that holds the knife keeps going when the knife slows from contact with the body.
Every suicide, unless witnessed, is investigated as a possible homicide.
The word “murder” is a reader term. The word “homicide” is a police term.
Crime scene investigators never talk to witnesses. They are not the primary investigators. They process the scene, take evidence to the lab, and turn over results to detectives in charge.
Know structure of police department in the setting your story is in before you write your
Gun permits are hard to get in NYC but easier to get in other parts of the country.
Suspected murderers don’t usually go to trial for 2-3 years so writers need to be careful about the time-lines in their books.
Two motives: greed and revenge. For serial killers, it is always about revenge but the
victims are not the real person they want revenge on.
When there is a gruesome body found, the civilian or rookie usually vomits, the veteran
cop/detective will make jokes at the crime scene. The detective is not usually caught emotionally off guard by a particularly gruesome crime scene.
Know the technology that the police force has in the setting of your story. It isn’t unusual
for some police departments to have minimal technology.