Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: Where There's Smoke...

John Doe No. 225

The dead man had what appeared to be a bullet hole in his back, near the right shoulder blade, and a slightly larger one in the upper part of his right chest. Detectives surmised he'd been shot in the back while lying facedown on the driveway. The bullet had gone all the way through his body.

The man carried no identification. There was no car nearby. There were no witnesses. It looked like a dump job with the coup de grace being delivered in the driveway. The spot was one of the best in Los Angeles to carry out an execution.

"It'd be a perfect place if you're going to dump a body," says L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Michael Duarte, "because there's nothing around, and plus all the noise from the jets, the landings and the take-offs, you can't hear anything so nobody's going to be able to hear a gunshot."

The detectives realized that not knowing the identity of the victim was going to hinder the investigation right from the start.

A guiding principle of homicide investigation is that the most important part of a murder victim's life is the last 24 hours. Most murders aren't planned out in advance. They're crimes of passion, spur-of-the-moment killings. In most cases, something the victim did during those last 24 hours led directly to his or her death. If investigators can accurately recreate the last day of a victim's life, they can solve the case. But not knowing the name of the victim makes it impossible to recreate those last crucial hours.

SID Forensic Specialist Scott Hurwitz
SID Forensic Specialist Scott Hurwitz

"Without an identity on the victim, the case could grow cold very easily," says SID forensic specialist Scott Hurwitz. "Having the victim's I.D. will help us find where he was last, and possibly find the suspects."

The Los Angeles coroner tagged the body John Doe No. 225.


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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