Tripwire FIRST Division, Part 1. Outdoor Crime Scene Reconstruction: Thinking Outside the Box of Bones

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  • June 14, 2018

‘Bones tell the whole story.’ This is the approach forensic teams have taken with law enforcement for decades and still the most common method of an initial homicide investigation: Law enforcement officers photograph remains at an outdoor crime scene and immediately remove and transport the bones to a lab, with the general assumption that the scenes are highly disturbed and hold little information. There the bones sit waiting for a forensic scientist to analyze them and determine the identity of the deceased. The bones are the primary, and many times only, physical evidence analyzed.

Enter Dennis Dirkmaat, Ph.D., D-ABFA, and FBI Special Agent Michael Hochrein (ret), forensic anthropology and archaeology consultants for Tripwire Operations Group. They take a different approach. Dirkmaat and Hochrein believe that uncovering the full story surrounding an outdoor homicide begins and must include, the reconstruction of the outdoor crime scene. They’re working with Tripwire to develop the new Tripwire FIRST Division and they’re on a mission to help law enforcement officers, medical examiners, and other first responders put homicides into context.

‘Who is the deceased’? This is the main question law enforcement is looking to forensic anthropologists and medical experts to answer when investigating a homicide.

Dirkmaat pieces together how the remains were exposed to the elements, possible tampering by animals, and gravity’s effect on the bones. He’s looking to not just identify the victim, but understand what took place, how the crime occurred, how long ago the crime occurred, and what role humans may have played.

“We want to educate and inform law enforcement officers and medical examiners as to the importance of outdoor crime scene reconstruction. There are simply too many ‘agents,’ such as animals, weather, water, snow, and human, at an outdoor crime scene that can alter evidence after a death event takes place. And each manipulation of that evidence, be it from animals or weather or other factors, can have a profound effect on the types of conclusions we can draw that can impact our understanding of how that individual died,” explained Dirkmaat.

A group of forensic scientists from Kazakhstan is currently enrolled in the Tripwire Operations Group Forensic Anthropology course, learning best practices to take home to what is a young department. After years of civil war with mass graves still being uncovered, these medical experts are discovering a new approach to analyzing an outdoor crime scene.

“The Kazakhstan government contacted FIRST looking to enroll their team of medical experts in a forensic anthropology course. This team of nine students will be in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with Tripwire for three weeks as they are immersed in outdoor crime scene reconstruction education, so that they can return home and apply these methods to their practice,” continued Dirkmaat.

We’ll take you through the three-week class in a series of posts to come. The next Tripwire FIRST Division forensics course is being scheduled now for Fall 2018. Contact us for more information and to register.

The Tripwire FIRST Division is co-directed by internationally recognized experts and forensic anthropology and archaeology consultants Dennis Dirkmaat, Ph.D., D-ABFA and FBI Special Agent Michael Hochrein (ret). They provide a wide variety of services to the law enforcement, medicolegal, and jurisprudence communities focused on forensic scene recoveries (outdoor and indoor), mass disaster incidents, forensic DNA interpretation, forensic anthropology cases, and general criminalistics.

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