Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: Where There's Smoke...

The Scene of the Crime

The area immediately north of the airport was a 200 to 300 yard deep, nearly mile-and-a-half wide, slightly crescent-shaped swath of tree-dotted vacant lots, deserted streets, and empty cul-de-sacs. It was bordered on the north mostly by 91st Street, Pershing Drive to the west, and on the east by Lincoln Boulevard.

The area had once been a tract housing development, but the airport bought the property and leveled the houses. All that remained were the streets and driveways, faint outlines of a once-bustling community that had been erased from the landscape.

Contracted by flames, the body lay curled in a fetal position. As detectives examined it more closely, they noticed the scorched remnants of a light blue shirt and dark pants, then what appeared to be a white undershirt and a pair of boxers. Judging by the clothing, the victim was most likely male, but most of the hair and face had been burned away, making further identification at the scene impossible.

Detective Patrick Barron
Detective Patrick Barron

"The body was charred to the point where we could not recognize the race or the age of the person," says Detective Patrick Barron. "You could tell that he had been bound with duct tape. The duct tape was still affixed. Parts of it had been burned, but you could tell the hands and the ankles had both been bound."

Duct tape found at crime scene.
Duct tape found at crime scene.

Detectives scoured the ground around the victim for clues, but they almost missed the bullet. Under the floodlights set up around the crime scene, the bullet looked like a bump in the concrete or a piece of gravel.

"We were there more than an hour before we noticed the slug," Barron says. "And, quite frankly, I was in the middle of something and my partner said, 'Hey, is that a bullet?'"

Police gather evidence from the crime scene.
Police gather evidence from the crime scene.

It lay nearly a dozen feet away from the body and had dug a divot into the driveway. To the cops, it appeared to have come from either a .38 or .357-caliber revolver. Both pistols use the same bullet. The only difference is that the .357 cartridge has a slightly longer shell casing and holds a little more gunpowder. The extra charge gives it more velocity, and thus produces more energy on impact.

Police find the bullet.
Police find the bullet.

Investigators also found a plastic bottle, an empty pack of smokes, and a matchbook with the name of a bail-bond company that immediately captured police attention.

There was also a fresh tire track on the street, a skid mark really, pressed into a patch of sandy dirt that had pooled on the concrete.

 

Watch this story and many others from the case files of the LAPD's Scientific Investigation Division, which solves crimes using cutting edge forensics. Only on Court TV. Learn more.

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