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- October 14, 2002
- Vol. 58
- No. 16
Esprit De Corpse
'Science Is Cool, and Can Be Edgy and Hip,' Says CSI Series Creator Anthony Zuiker. When It Comes to Teasing Out the Truth from Evidence Like Congealed Blood, Bone Shards and Fibers, Real-Life Crime Scene Investigators Have Enough Amazing Tales to Fill a Prime-Time Season. Sometimes, Their Stories Are Even a Whole Lot Stranger Than Fiction
One probation officer shot dead in her car, another seriously wounded, a third person slain and a fourth injured. During the spring of 2001 a baffling string of attacks alarmed cops in the Atlanta area. The shooter, who left behind notes declaring a vendetta against law enforcement, had apparently picked up a few tricks from TV crime shows. As in the series Profiler, he used a pillowcase to catch the shell casings. He even signed the notes "Jack," just like a serial killer character had done on the same show.
Not surprisingly, there were no fingerprints on the missives. But while studying one of them, Shannon Hale, 31, a fingerprint examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, made an exciting discovery—a well-defined lip print. She passed the note along to her colleague Stephanie Fowler, a DNA specialist, who found enough skin cells to create a DNA profile. From other notes Hale lifted more lip prints, saliva and skin remnants—all of which matched those on the first. "Without Shannon Hale's work," says D.A. Paul Howard, "we would not have been able to go forward with the case."
Authorities got the additional break they needed when probation officer Rosa Lewis was ambushed and shot three times. Gravely wounded and in a coma, Lewis, 41, couldn't talk to detectives, but her friends and others did. A month before she was shot, it turned out, she had told her lawyer that her ex-husband William had threatened to kill her. Lewis had also shared concerns for her safety with best friend Cynthia Rolle—the first officer killed during the spree. Based on this information, D.A. Howard later theorized that Rosa and Rolle were Lewis's real targets and that he'd shot the others to create a false pattern.
William Charles Lewis, 43, has pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges and is awaiting trial. But according to prosecutors, DNA samples from his blood and saliva—as well as a lip print—perfectly matched those found on the notes. A search of his home reportedly revealed additional damning evidence: taped episodes of Profiler. And perhaps most damning of all, months after the attack Rosa came out of her coma and identified her ex as her attacker. "This is one of those cases where it's like, 'Gotcha!'" says Hale, who rescues abused animals in her free time and looks forward to testifying at Lewis's trial next year. "It's really gratifying."
FACTS 1, LIE DETECTOR 0
In mid-November 1986, pilot Richard Crafts, then 48, picked up a blunt object and killed his 39-year-old wife, Helle, a Pan Am flight attendant, in their home in Newtown, Conn. Crafts then cut the body up with a chain saw and, in the middle of a blizzard, fed the remains into a rented wood chipper and apparently spewed her shredded body into the icy waters of a nearby river. "It's a unique case, because the body was never found," says world-renowned criminologist Dr. Henry Lee, then with the Connecticut state police.
But parts of it were, despite incredible odds. Although Richard Crafts passed a polygraph test and had been dismissed as a suspect, a snowplow driver had seen him with the wood chipper near the river. There a police diver found a chain saw. "We took it apart," says Lee, "and found human flesh, bone chips and hair." The saw's serial number had been corroded or filed off, but Lee's lab chemically restored it—and the saw was traced to Crafts. Next, Lee went to work on the riverbank, blanketed under four feet of snow. "We melted it inch by inch with a portable heater," he says. Lee recovered 56 bone chips, a toenail and a painted fingernail. The evidence sent Crafts to prison for 52 years.
Lee, 63, who was an expert witness in the O.J. Simpson trial, now runs the Henry C.Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven and fetches up to $5,000 hourly for investigations. Still, of 7,000 completed so far, the Wood Chipper Murder remains the most memorable. "We had to have physical evidence, the crime scene, the analysis," he says. "And a little luck."
THE MOTHER FROM HELL
As chief medical examiner for Bexar County, Texas, Vincent DiMaio, 61, has helped nail scores of killers. But a case he tackled while training in Baltimore in '69 stands out. It involved a young mother named Martha Woods, whose 7-month-old son Paul had died inexplicably. The autopsy showed no signs of injury—and for DiMaio that added up to murder by suffocation. "When a child is smothered, there is virtually no evidence," he says, "which is evidence in itself."
Mining medical files, DiMaio discovered that since the 1940s six other children had died in Woods's care—three of her own, plus a niece, a nephew and a neighbor's son. Again, he found no hint in the records that any had died of natural causes. His conclusion: Woods, the wife of an army corporal, was a serial killer. Largely on his testimony, she was convicted in Paul's death and sentenced to life. The trial also set a precedent for infanticide cases by allowing the prior deaths as evidence. "It became a rule of thumb," says DiMaio, a married father of two. "One dead baby could be SIDS, two dead babies is suspicious—and three dead babies is homicide."
FAKED PHOTOS, AND A MURDER IN THE MOJAVE
In late 1995, weeks after the end of the O J. Simpson trial, media outlets hungry for the next big crime turned to the death of Linda Sobek, 27, an ex-Los Angeles Raiders cheerleader who had just landed a bit part on TV's Married...with Children. "My boss said, 'This is our O.J.,'" says Heidi Robbins, a CSI at the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. "'Don't screw it up.'"
With that vote of confidence, Robbins launched a nearly yearlong investigation. A freelance photographer named Charles Rathbun, then 38, had told police he killed Sobek accidentally by running into her while joyriding in his SUV in the Mojave Desert. Panicked, he said,' he had buried her in the sand. But when Robbins dismantled the SUV, there were no signs of an accident—only bloodstains and hairs deep in the folds of the upholstery. Robbins spent 18 hours at Sobek's desert grave examining the partly decomposed corpse, finding evidence of suffocation and sexual assault. Then Rathbun offered a new account: He and Sobek had argued after consensual sex; he had sat on her to restrain her, but killed her instead.
The defense even introduced photos of a seminude female in a car-purportedly pictures Rathbun had snapped of a willing Sobek. "I saw immediately they were faked," Robbins says. "This woman has razor stubble on her upper legs; Linda did not." On the stand, Robbins was unflappable. "I remember thinking how scary he was, how cold and empty behind the eyes," says Robbins, 41, a mother of two children and married to police detective Dennis Robbins, 49. Fortunately, says prosecutor Steve Kay, "the jurors were eating out of her hand." Rathbun is now doing life for murder.
LOOKING FOR BLOOD IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES
Three weeks after Sharon Garrison disappeared from her mountain chalet in Breckenridge, Colo., in 2000, her body was found—naked, battered and buried in her recently relandscaped front yard. Cops suspected her husband, Charles Garrison, a self-made millionaire with a short fuse. But with no evidence to point to the place where the 49-year-old mother of three had actually been killed, says prosecutor Mike Goodbee, "it created a lot of options for her husband to come up with stories about how it happened."
Enter Tom Griffin, a veteran lab agent for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Denver, who had taken a lead role in processing the scene of the Columbine massacre the previous year. Griffin, now 50, began by testing stains at the lavish home that looked like blood. They weren't. But as he stood inside the silent chalet, Griffin's "scene sense"—a term he coined—began to kick in. "I thought, 'If somebody is nude, what were the legitimate reasons why?'" he says.
Griffin focused on the hot tub and surrounding rocks in the Garrisons' home spa. There he found a couple of red stains, but they too didn't test positive for blood. "I started thinking, 'If there is blood around here and it's been cleaned up, where is it going to go?'" Griffin recalls. Nose (literally) to the ground, the investigator began crawling on his hands and knees and found blood—real, this time—between the floorboards. That evidence would help convict Garrison, 59, who is now serving a 30-year sentence for murdering his wife after an argument over money. "Without Grif, I'm pretty sure we never would have known where it happened," says Goodbee. "He is relentless. Crime is personal to him."
Writers: Pam Lambert, Richard Jerome Reported by: Jill Sieder, Diane Herbst, Alicia Dennis, Maureen Harrington, Vickie Bane
- Jill Sieder,
- Diane Herbst,
- Alicia Dennis,
- Maureen Harrington,
- Vickie Bane.
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