Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: Where There's Smoke...

The Crime

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Editor's Note: The names of the victims in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

LOS ANGELES The body was still smoldering when the police got to the scene. It was burned so badly that at first glance they couldn't tell its age, race, or even sex. The one thing they could tell was that the body had been bound hand and foot. It had also been gagged. Barring some kind of Houdini act gone awry, this was clearly a case of murder.

Dramatization: the Body at the Crime Scene
Dramatization: the Body at the Crime Scene

A detective marked his arrival time in his notebook: 7:30 p.m., November 8, 1989.

Forty minutes earlier, a school system employee drove a shortcut through an abandoned neighborhood in Westchester, on the northern edge of the Los Angeles airport, and spotted something burning on a driveway leading to an empty lot where a house once stood. The school employee stopped his car and jumped out cradling a fire extinguisher. After beating down the flames, he took a long look at the 100-plus pound sizzling lump lying on the driveway. Slowly, it dawned on him that the thing he was staring at was a human being.

Joe Hourigan, SID Criminalist
Joe Hourigan, SID Criminalist

A short time later, homicide detectives from LAPD's Pacific Division cordoned off the crime scene and began an hours-long systematic search for evidence. Assisting them were criminalists from SID, the department's Scientific Investigation Division.

 

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