Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The C.S.I. Syndrome

If it Leads, It Bleeds

Bleach destroys DNA, or so said actors playing investigators. Criminals take note, adding bleach to their shopping list. Some also include razors to shave off body hair and gloves to prevent leaving fingerprints. Offenders and would-be criminals pay attention to these shows because they seek to commit crimes and evade capture. Some are even encouraged by the seeming ease of destroying evidence.

Jermaine McKinney flanked by police escorts
Jermaine McKinney flanked by police escorts

Jermaine McKinney, 25, was arrested near Youngstown in Trumbull County, Ohio, for a double homicide, and investigators found that he'd relied on crime shows to figure out how to eliminate evidence. A fan of C.S.I., he had used bleach to wash blood off his hands after he'd used a crowbar to kill a seventy-year-old woman. He then shot her daughter, 45, twice in the head. Apparently he was looking for money in their home to support a cocaine habit.

After the killings, he told an accomplice who drove him there that he was concerned about his sweat and DNA on the younger woman, as he'd had sex with her. He burned their bodies in the basement and used a blanket to prevent transferring anything from the scene to the seat of his car. Although he had smoked at the crime scene, he removed the cigarette butts, knowing that investigators could use these to get his DNA. He also burned the clothing he had worn to commit the crimes and tried to wipe out his fingerprints. However, he still did make a few mistakes.

It was winter in the Midwest and lakes were frozen. He threw evidence into a lake, including the bloody crowbar, but it remained on the surface. When he was arrested after using the victim's credit card, investigators found the crowbar. Apparently McKinney forgot that these shows also illustrate how offenders overlook details like this, leading to their arrest. It was a scenario perfect for a quick hour-long show.

McKinney was tried and convicted of both murders, receiving two life sentences. Ten jurors had even wanted him to be executed.

This story and others have made headlines because of the C.S.I. angle, but it's not possible to say whether any offenders who watch the shows have actually managed to get away with their crimes. Certainly, the three young men who killed Marina Calabro would have done so had one of them not revealed it nearly a year later. If they haven't been caught, we don't know about them.

Investigators do say, though, that the trend these days has been to find fewer clues than previously at crime scenes and more sophistication in covering up those which remain. Even the Locard Exchange Principle, which dictates that every contact leaves a trace, works only when a criminal fails to take the time to remove his or her traces. Even so, the equipment is actually becoming better at detecting traces the criminals can't see, and several investigators have insisted that it's impossible for anyone to remove every trace.

Yet it's not just about how offenders cover up a crime. There is also a concern that, if not for the inspiration these shows afford, some might never have committed a crime at all. The excitement and glamour that adhere to the television investigations can play on minds already primed for mischief.