I Have tried to document and share knowledge through the experience of one working in the field. Hopefully this will be another in the series of experiences that will assist someone in their task of crime scene investigations.
An investigation can take many turns and twist during the time it takes to seek the truth. The crime scene investigator or evidence recovery technician completes his/her assigned task and submits his/her work product for analytical evaluation. The results of that work are passed on to the detectives in charge of that investigation. As a support unit those results may never become known to us.
As an investigator we try to maintain a step by step approach in the processing of the scene. Many times in the field we are confronted with unforeseen factors and conditions. These conditions may alter the guidelines which we try to follow to assure an organized and effective response. An important trait for the investigator is to be flexible and adaptable to the obstacles that may be present in his/her environment. In many investigations the limits to making challenging decisions to those obstacles will be his/her imagination.
One such challenge was presented to me in June of 1995. I was asked to assist members of our Traffic Homicide Division and the Medical Examiners office in possibly locating more remains of a victim needed to determine a positive identification. Partial remains of a deceased person had been found in a vehicle that had been under water since September of 1994.
In June of 1995 employees of the water management were removing vehicles from a canal. As one of the vehicles was being removed, a human skull and some remains were seen inside the vehicle. The investigation began and revealed that the vehicle and its driver had been reported missing some 8-months earlier. A thorough investigation had been conducted, however to make a more positive identification I was asked to assist in the task of attempting a further recovery, namely missing teeth.
I first spoke with the investigator who had done the initial crime scene response some 3-days earlier. I wanted to obtain as much information about the case as possible. The vehicle had been towed and secured at a local tow yard. I then responded to the tow yard to evaluate the vehicle and formulate a plan of operations. Examination of the vehicle revealed most areas inside were caked with a thick layer of mud. By this time it was early afternoon. Arrangements were made to assemble all parties that would be involved in the task early the following morning.
If given a task I prefer to start as if handling the incident from the beginning, so that nothing is left undone. I begin early the next morning by photographing the vehicle and its condition as it was seen. A site was selected at the rear of the tow yard where we would be able to work uninterrupted and had the necessary resources.
Our assembled team set up large sifting screens on saw horses to sift through the mounds of caked dirt throughout the vehicle. A team from the local fire department responded with hydraulic equipment to assist us. We had asked them to assist by cutting the car into sections which we would be able to handle and which would fit on to our large sifting screens. We had connected several lengths of hose to the water spikets at the rear of the tow yard and worked nonstop from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. wet sifting every section of the vehicle.
To our surprise we were successful in recovering portions of the missing skeletal remains. whether the results of our work was successful in assisting in a more positive identification I cannot say. For like most investigations the results were never brought to my attention. As with many investigations I went home drained. By the time I was able to reflect on the work that had been done I was already into my next, newly assigned investigation. Don't limit yourself. Innovative ideas come from the imagination. Learn what resources you have and how you can best use them to accomplish your tasks.
Mike Byrd (1955-2005) joined the Miami-Dade County Police Department in 1983 and started with the Crime Scene Investigations Bureau in 1987. He took an exceptionally active part in the science of forensic crime scene investigations, including development of new techniques, publishing methodology of crime scene procedures, and teaching. Mike developed new techniques for gathering and cataloging crime scene evidence including the lifting of fingerprints, vehicle tire impressions, and footwear impressions.
Mike's methods and analysis withstood the scrutiny of the criminal justice process. He published more than thirty crime scene articles on crime scene evidence collection and for the International Association for Identification and was awarded The Good of the Association Award in 2002 for his innovative identification methodology and techniques. He taught crime scene investigation procedures and techniques at police departments around the country and took great pride at instructing smaller Florida police departments in the latest techniques in evidence gathering.
Mike performed the tough detailed oriented forensic work at many major crime scenes and disasters over two-decades. He gathered, processed, and identified the DNA evidence used to convict the Tamiami Strangler for a string of heinous murders in 1994. His thoughtful gathering of evidence at the Valujet crash allowed families to reach closure for the deaths of loved ones.
Mike Byrd died after a more than two year battle with multiple myeloma cancer. Annually, the Police Officer Assistance Trust awards the Mike Byrd Crime Scene Investigation Scholarship in his honor.
Article submitted by the author