Welcome to our GUEST SPEAKERS page, where you will find descriptions of talks given by some of the fascinating speakers who have presented at the Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime (DVSinC) mystery / crime writers and readers group.

September 2019 DVSinC Meeting

September 21, 2019: Kimberlee Moran

by Jane Kelly

Kimberlee Moran talked about forensic evidence based on the principle that whenever two things come into contact, they leave a trace. It is a matter of give and take among individuals, objects and the environment.  It takes only three seconds of contact for DNA to be left.

She discussed the difference between Forensic Anthropologists, who focus on the remains, and Forensic Archaeologists who study activity discernible from the remains and the scene. Calling forensic archaeologists crime scene examiners, because every scene should be treated as a potential homicide, she discussed the procedures around grave location, grave excavation, recovery of evidence, and site interpretation. She introduced the term taphonomy, the study of the way organisms decay. In autolysis, cells self-destruct.  In putrefaction, matter is broken down by bacteria. She provided details on the timeline from rigor mortis to the skeleton state.

This is just a taster of the many topics she covered. Very generously, she shared her entire presentation. It is available online at https://prezi.com/osrtm3vfksgp/human-remains-recovery-id-time-since-death-determination/?utm_campaign=share&token=8f63640a3f4bb752790e1a3a48f23a538482d87d93c9838b93809b82c7b536b6&utm_medium=copy&fbclid=IwAR20beMFjgOChaYZRptRCGeuWEoHhAt6Kftu7cgCAeCQOFskZpkkb7eRwwA.

April 2019 DVSinC Meeting

April 20, 2019: Dr. Steven Phillips

by Jane Kelly

At our April meeting, Dr. Steven Phillips discussed his work with A New Leash on Life USA, an organization devoted to improving the lives of inmates and saving the lives of dogs.
 He discussed the history of humankind’s relationship with dogs that goes back more than 10,000 years and provided examples throughout history of the value humans have placed on dogs, including their presence in burial sites. He also put the 4,500 years of incarceration in a historical perspective, describing past trends where prisoners lived in total isolation, worked on chain gangs or suffered as subjects of scientific experiments.
 Then he addressed the New Leash on Life program where inmates are paired with a dog to train. Shelter dogs, some facing death, move into the cells where a crate is provided for sleeping. The goal of putting the inmate and the dog together is to help the prisoner restore their life and to rescue the dog. The stated goal is for the prisoner to aspire to be as good a person as the dog expects. The goal for the dog is to be socialized to enhance their chances for adoption. The dogs from the program go on to good homes.
Every three months, twelve inmates join the training program to work with six dogs. The program runs for twelve weeks after which there is a graduation ceremony in the prison gym where the prisoners turn over the dogs to their adopters. A grief counselor is available to help the inmates deal with the dogs’ departures.
 The program has additional benefits for the inmates. Those who participate in the program leave prison with a marketable skill to help them gain employment. The program includes classroom work that prepares them for work as a vet tech. A reentry manager provides life and job advice and works with the released convicts’ parole officers.
 The recidivism rate is very low for the inmates who participate in the program. Current statistics showed a rate after one year of 7.94% for inmates who participated in the program versus 33% for the general population. After three years, the statistics are even more striking: 14% versus 66% for the general population.
 Training dogs is just one part of New Leash on Life’s efforts to save inmates as well as dogs.

March 2019 DVSinC Meeting

March 16, 2019: Dr. Dian Williams, PhD, RN, CLNC, Professional Arson Profiler

by Jane Kelly

Dr. Williams visited the Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime to provide a glimpse of how arson profilers identify issues in children and adults using art. She displayed samples of drawings by individuals, male and female, at range of ages from 3 to 73.

The task that the individuals were asked to perform was to draw a house, a tree and a person. Each subject was given a plain white piece of paper and 24 color choices of crayons. No time limit was imposed and the artist was allowed to start over if they wanted to.

The subjects came from a variety of backgrounds with some sign of a mental health issue. Many were seen in prisons. Some, on death row.

Profilers did not interact with the artists as they drew. They did not react to the artwork as it was submitted. They simply said thank you and put the drawing away.

Profilers who assess the drawings know only the age and gender of the artist. Armed with that information, they look for clues to pathology by evaluating the ways the artists portray the components:  the house, the tree and the person as well as overriding characteristics of the pictures.  Dr. Williams reviewed drawings and pointed out some specific features that provided a key to the mental health of the artist.

The person represents the self. There are a total of forty-four factors profilers look for including making the figure too big or too small, showing the head or limbs as unusually big or small, or drawing the person with missing limbs—even with a hook for hand.  Showing figures with no hands or feet is indicative of psychotic behavior. Small hands belie a feeling of no power, while hair is a sign of power. If only a person appears in the drawing, profilers look for highlighted part of the body to show areas of abuse.

The placement of the figure is also important, but not only to the person. Trees and houses also float. In a psychotic’s art, everything is floating.

Profilers look at many aspects of the drawing of the house besides whether or not it sits on the ground. A house without a roofline indicates that the artist cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. A roofline indicates an effort to make sense of their situation. When there are no windows it shows that the artist cannot see out; a small door indicates they can’t move in out.

The size and treatment of trees is also relevant, but the way the tree is shown is also significant. Dr. Williams pointed out a tree adorned with flames.

She also addressed some basic factors. Grids in the picture indicate an effort to control anxiety. Red and orange are colors used by firestarters.

Arson profilers look at all aspects of the artwork for clues to pathology, not only to confirm pathological behavior but to identify the proclivity in advance.

February 2019 DVSinC Meeting

February 16, 2019: Dr. Samantha Cox, Anthropologist, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Museum

by Judith Skillings


Samantha Cox, PhD

Everyone loves a mystery, Sisters in Crime most of all. When the mystery is unsolved and close to home it’s impossible to resist. No surprise, then, that it was standing room only on Saturday, February 16, 2019 when we were treated to an inside look at the mass grave at Duffy’s Cut by Samantha Cox, an archeologist and anthropologist with degrees from University of Pennsylvania and Cambridge University.


Duffy’s Cut refers to Mile 59 along what started out as the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Begun in 1928, the railroad was built largely to connect inland canals for transporting goods. The first railroad cars were articulated canal boats, which were unlinked, loaded on wheeled platforms and taken by rail to the next canal where they were put back into the water. Construction of each section of track was bid out to local firms with the lowest bidder being awarded the job. At the time, it was estimated that the entire length would cost two million dollars. 

Mile 59 in Malvern, PA was also known as “Sugartown Curve.” There was nothing sweet about it. From the beginning, the site proved a construction nightmare because the track had to cross a steep ravine, on a curve. Since there was no bridge to span the gap, earth was moved from the high side to the low to build up the road bed. Construction of that particular mile of track had been contracted out to Patrick Duffy for the sum of $2000. By 1832 over $10,000 had been spent in the attempt to lay the track.


In the mid-1800s the Irish were fleeing the home country in droves for America. Most were men between eighteen and twenty-five who worked to send money back to their families until they could come over. In 1820 one third of all US immigrants came from Ireland. By 1850 that percent had doubled. Conversely, the Irish population dwindled from 8.1 million in 1841 to 4.7 million in 1891. 

In 1829, needing workers, Patrick Duffy hired all fifty-seven men freshly debarked the British ship, “John Stamp,” to work his mile of track. Living in West Philadelphia he is presumed to have been from Irish aristocracy for he spoke both English and Gaelic, a background that gave him the inside edge with Irish laborers. Each man was to be paid $.50 a day plus a bottle of whiskey. The records indicate that as many as one hundred and twenty men worked on Duffy’s cut with a camp stationed at each end of the mile. Half were on the high land and the others deep in the ravine where a shanty town was erected alongside a stream. There may also have been one woman, a 27-year old spinster and her two-year old child.


The middle decades of the 1800s were chaotic in the Philadelphia area. Cholera was prevalent on the east coast from 1829–1851 in what has been labeled the Second Pandemic. The illness had come to the United States from Asia, via Europe where one hundred thousand people perished in France alone. Many Philadelphians were inclined to blame the Irish immigrants and it is possible that the disease came aboard ships as it was the result of the water supply being infected with fecal matter. Medics of the day knew it in unsanitary living environments but did not fully understand how germs spread although they did warn against fresh fruit and cold water.  Symptoms included severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.  At it’s most severe, an outbreak of cholera claimed the lives of sixty-percent of those infected, a higher mortality than the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Combined with the fear of disease, were the tensions between the Protestant “Nativists” and the non-English speaking, Irish Catholics who came to work in the region. As more immigrants arrived, the discord grew. By 1841 there were riots in the streets over which version of the Bible to use in schools that resulted in multiple deaths.


In the summer of 1832 cholera stuck western Philadelphia and railroad workers died.  Beyond that, details are sketchy.

In 2002, inspired by papers left from their grandfather, Bill Watson of Immaculata and his brother, Frank Watson, a reverend and archivist – along with local historian, Earl Schandelmeier – researched whatever could be found that touched on the deaths at Duffy’s Cut and the rumors of a mass grave. They uncovered mention of a blacksmith from town who cared for the sick along the railroad. That man is presumed to have been Malachi Harris. It was also reported that four nuns from the Sisters of Charity in Harrisburg were sent out to Malvern to nurse the sick.

Official accounts didn’t seem to exist. (Curiously, the state papers referring to Duffy’s Cut were classified and not released until the 1950s.) The only extent newspaper account was a retraction to an earlier article that disappeared from both the Chester County and state archives. It mentioned that only eight people died of a short-lived cholera outbreak, which was then over. That was contradicted by William Mitchell, superintendent of the P & C Railroad, quoted as saying that half of the men at Duffy’s Cut had died from cholera. The official railroad records, as well, claimed that all fifty-seven men from the “John Stamp” had died. Why the discrepancy?

Fifty years later, in 1889, newspaper reporter Julian Sachse went to the Duffy’s Cut to  interview older citizens about the event. He heard ghost stories as well as a tale of the workmen trying to flee the area being turned away because the residents feared contagion. Rumor was that when the first of the laborer died, a grave was dug for him on the opposite side of the ravine. More ominous, another story circulated that Superintendent Mitchell had ordered the blacksmith – since all men were supposedly dead – to burn the shanty town at the bottom of the ravine. Still another account reported that “the common grave was rounded up and a rough slam placed over the bodies of the unknown dead.” Such a grave must have existed because in 1870 Patrick Doyle, a railroad employee who was tasked with straightening out the curve, erected a wooden fence to mark a grave site. In 1909 Martin Clement replaced the rotting fence with a stone wall. 

All dead? And yet, one hundred percent mortality from cholera is unheard of. 


The site of Duffy’s Cut is an enormously steep, man-made hill, best climbed on hands and knees. It is riddled with hundred year old trees and their corresponding roots. The land also belongs to a neighboring housing development. Machinery could not be brought. Geophysicist, Tim Bechtel, through thermal imaging, was able to locate hot spots at the bottom of the slope, which proved to be coffins riddled with nails. It was not what they expected. Nails were expensive in 1830s and coffins not used in mass graves. In 2009 one skeleton was uncovered, buried three feet down in the front, eleven feet at the back. More graves were located by the “stain” around them created when earth had been disturbed then replaced. A plan for excavating them was devised. 

In 2011 six more coffins were raised. They had survived because the soil in Pennsylvania is acidic, which is good for wood and growing blueberries, but deleterious to bone since it eats calcium. Each coffin had been custom-built to the body inside and buried shallowly, in an orderly fashion, along a west-east axis as was customary in Catholic burials. There were no clothes or burial goods with them although artifacts such as combs, pottery pipes and whiskey bottles were unearthed in the area.

The first concern was to confirm that the remains belonged to the men who had worked on the railroad. Six of the skeletons were between five and six feet tall. All were male, of northern European descent and the in correct age range. There were indicators of poor nutrition, iron deficiency and bone reformation caused by repeated manual labor and the resulting enlarged muscles stressing the bones. The seventh skeleton could possibly have been female, as it was smaller and less dense, although the bones were too degraded be tell definitively. So the bodies confirmed that these were most likely the remains of the railroad workers who supposedly died of cholera. 

The skulls told another tale. Each showed blunt force trauma. Skull #2 had a large depression at the back of the head with radiating cracks. This had occurred peri-mortem, for there was no sign of healing. Skull #6 had a sharp-edged cut, as if from an axe, along the side of the head and a bullet hole nearer the front. X-rays of that skull picked up two “swipes,” slivers of lead left behind by the bullet’s passage. A third skull showed a puncture that might have been caused by the back end of a hatchet. 


From the evidence, cholera did sweep through Duffy’s Cut, however the fifty-seven people reputed to have perished there did not all die from natural causes. It’s very possible that once the epidemic broke out the locals were afraid to the point of panic. The workers may have tried to climb out of the ravine and were killed as they were forced back into it. When the cholera did not go away, the remaining workers died or were killed and buried in a mass grave. That common grave has not been located, although most likely it is under the stone wall erected in 1909. There is indication of earth disturbance thirty feet down but little evidence of bones. Buried that deep, after all these years, they may have deteriorated too far to be detected. And researchers suspect this is a secondary burial site. 

Sad to say we may never know what happened to all the workers who perished at Duffy’s Cut in 1832. The remains of one were linked to a family in Ireland and have been returned. The remaining skeletons have been re-interred in Laurel Hill Cemetery under a fitting monument, where for the present, they remain a mystery.


January 2019 DVSinC Meeting


January 19, 2019: T. Michael Beaty, Superintendent of Police, Tredyffrin Township Police Department 

by Jane Kelly

T. Michael Beaty, Superintendent of Police at the Tredyffrin Township Police Department, spoke at our first meeting of 2019 not only about the Tredyffrin Township police but about the way local jurisdictions are structured across the state of Pennsylvania and how those entities function together as well as with county, state and federal authorities. He kept in mind that type of things that writers might need to know to guarantee authenticity in their stories.

Two main points emerged about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

1)     If you are going to write about a real Pennsylvania jurisdiction, you need to check for that particular location.  There is no standard structure for the entire state.

2)     If you are going to write about a fictional Pennsylvania jurisdiction, you do not have to research state customs.  There is no standard structure for the entire state.

Superintendent Beaty provided some basic information about police forces across the state. First of all, they vary greatly in size. A few locales do not have their own police forces and rely on the state police. Just as the size of the force can vary, the structure will be different from local police force to local police force. The example he provided was structure with one Superintendent and one Captain supported by eight sergeants, seven corporals, four detectives, twenty-one officers and three administrative personnel.

The Superintendent also explained the human resources aspects of managing a police force. Tredyffrin has three shift changes per day and scheduling to allow personnel to keep in shape and to refresh with free time. The force understands how important family time is.

Explaining that crime is transient, he gave many examples of cooperation between local jurisdictions with stories of criminals moving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and being passed from police department to police department. He noted that local jurisdictions may or may not have their own SWAT teams. There will soon be a combined, all-county SWAT Team for Chester County.

He used Tredyffrin Township as an example, but all local jurisdictions will work with the county authorities e.g. the District Attorney’s office. On the state level, they not only work with the State Police but with the Attorney General’s office as well. They also coordinate with Federal Law Enforcement Agencies such as the FBI (including but not restricted to their forensics areas), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Homeland Security, and even the Secret Service on bank robberies. On occasion, they might even find themselves coordinating with international criminal authorities.

One key to improved law enforcement in 2019 is cooperation through online networking. All of the organizations listed about coordinate their efforts through shared meetings, conferences and training in addition to real-time assistance that the online resources can provide. An overriding theme of Superintendent Beaty’s presentation was teamwork.

One example of the stories he told concerned the transient nature of crime. We all see videos on the news asking for help in identifying criminals caught on closed-circuit cameras. He explained that often no one recognizes these perpetrators because they travel to commit their crimes to a jurisdiction where no one will recognize them. For example, someone from New York will drive to Pennsylvania for a crime spree. They act quickly and don’t care that they leave their images on local cameras. They drive back to New York where the footage will never be seen.

His talk was full of similar examples that provided an insight into the role of local police protecting and serving their own populations while both asking for and offering cooperation with a wide web of law enforcement entities.

March 2018 DVSinC Meeting

March 17, 2018: Dr. Samantha Cox, Anthropologist, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Museum

The guest speaker at our March meeting was Dr. Samantha Cox. Ms. Cox received her PhD in Archaeology from Cambridge and is currently an anthropologist with the University of Pennsylvania. She spoke to us about H.H. Holmes, who is the subject of Erik Larsen’s book, Devil in the White City, and has been described as America’s first serial killer and “The American Ripper.” Dr. Cox supervised the exhumation of remains in an unmarked grave in Delaware County and was able to confirm that the remains were those of H.H. Holmes.

Background on H.H. Holmes aka Herman Webster (H.W.) Mudgett

While H.H. Holmes is presumed to have murdered more than 200 people in the late 19th Century—many during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair—evidence of all but four of those murders is entirely circumstantial. With the exception of Benjamin Pietzel and three of Pietzel’s five children, Holmes’ suspected murder victims were strangers to Holmes. Because none of the bodies of the other supposed victims were found and no other definitive evidence was obtained, Holmes was only convicted of the four Pietzel murders. He was caught and sentenced for those murders—and for insurance fraud—in Philadelphia, PA. He was hung on May 7, 1896, and buried in an unmarked but known grave, though multiple conspiracy theorists suspected that someone else died in his place. Some also theorized that Holmes was actually Jack the Ripper, whose serial killings occurred during the same general period.

Were it not for Holmes’ primary occupation of insurance fraud, he might never have been caught for the Pietzel murders or identified as the likely perpetrator of the other 200 or so deaths. A Philadelphia detective named Frank P. Geyer was able to connect Holmes to Pietzel, whose murder was initially being investigated separately from Holmes’ insurance fraud. From there, Geyer was able to circumstantially tie Holmes to the earlier suspected killings.

The Exhumation

Holmes’ real name was Herman Webster (H.W.) Mudgett. A descendent of Mudgett / Holmes had written a book about him and requested the exhumation of his remains. The State of Pennsylvania granted permission for the exhumation, which was carried out by an extensive team supervised by Dr. Cox. The History Channel also became interested in the widely publicized exhumation and largely financed the approximately $700,000 project. The Channel filmed the excavation and created an eight-episode series titled “The American Ripper,” which aired in 2017.

The exhumation itself took all of the ten days allotted to the team. One of the major difficulties was that Holmes had arranged to be buried in concrete to supposedly prevent the theft of his remains. He purchased two adjacent cemetery plots with part of the fortune he earned with his insurance scams and sale of his mostly fictitious memoirs. Cemetery records and maps showed the location of the plots, so the first step involved a scientific confirmation of the coffin’s precise location. The coffin was eight feet long, five feet wide, and ten feet deep, the apparent reason for Holmes’ need of a double plot. They used a backhoe to dig within a safe distance of the coffin and then switched to hand tools to complete the digging. They discovered changes in the color and texture of some of the soil (it was dark gray rather than the reddish color of the surrounding Pennsylvania soil) and identified it as being composed partially of cement. The soil was soft, however, because it had not been allowed to set after being poured. The gravediggers must have covered it with dirt right after pouring it, which prevented it from hardening. This made this part of the job far easier than it might have been.

When the fifth day of the initially allotted five days was almost over, the team reached the coffin and discovered that it was empty. Ms. Cox and colleagues were confident that Holmes was still somewhere to be found in the not entirely excavated grave. They relayed their suppositions to the History Channel producers, who financed an additional five days. And, so, the work continued.

They soon discovered a second coffin beneath the empty one. This one, however, was covered in hardened concrete. The concrete was slowly and carefully chiseled away over a twelve-hour period. Their work and confidence paid off.

Holmes’ Remains

The lid of the second coffin was composed of pine in remarkably good condition. Written on one end of the lid in what is presumed to have been a grease pen or something resembling a crayon were the names H.H. Holmes and H.W. Mudgett. Inside the coffin were human remains clothed in a hat, boots, waistcoat, and shirt, but no pants of any kind. The clothing—and his moustache—had also been well preserved.

The team removed and cleaned the bones and left the clothing behind. They transported the bones to the Penn Museum and dried them gradually, over a twelve-week period, to prevent them from cracking. Then they identified basic demographics to be sure they corresponded to what they knew of Holmes. The skull and pelvis were able to tell them that these were indeed the remains of a white male of approximately 30 to 40 years of age, which corresponded to Holmes at the time of his death. They also looked at his teeth, one of which contained a gold filling that was expertly created. This indicated that the deceased had been wealthy enough to pay for a gold filling and the services of a skilled dentist. This was also consistent with what they knew of Holmes.

At that point, they arranged for one of the few labs in the world that conduct forensic tests on ancient DNA to compare DNA from the skeleton’s petrous bone (which houses the inner ear) to DNA from two men from the Mudgett family.

While DNA can never identify someone with 100% certainty, the markers tested from each of the three samples showed identical results, indicating that the remains found were “consistent with” identification of the remains as those of H.H. Holmes—in other words, as close to certainty as DNA can get.  

Samantha Cox was an engaging, poised, and highly knowledgeable speaker. She has agreed to come back another time to talk about another high-profile exhumation she supervised, that of a mass grave of Irish railroad workers at Duffy’s Cut.

February 2018 DVSinC Meeting

February 17, 2018: Former Montgomery County Criminal Investigator Oscar Vance

The guest speaker at our February meeting was former Montgomery County criminal investigator, Oscar Vance. Mr. Vance spoke to us about his upcoming appearances on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel in relation to two murder investigations he conducted during his career in law enforcement. The first of the two episodes will air on February 10, 2018, at 10 P.M. EST.

Mr. Vance has decades of experience gleaning clues from murder scenes.  After forty-eight years in law enforcement, Vance founded a private investigative agency that offers services in all phases of information gathering, observation, and evidentiary reporting. He earned a BA in Criminal Justice / Law Enforcement Administration from LaSalle College and an MS in Criminal Justice from West Chester University. He attended the FBI Academy and remains a member of the FBI National Academy. He also attended the Law Enforcement Forensic Hypnosis Institute and is a certified Hypnosis Investigator and Instructor.

Mr. Vance’s ability to walk into a crime scene and get a sense of what happened was one of the reasons the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel recruited him to analyze two murder cases for their true crime documentaries.

Oscar Vance and the ID Channel’s “Homicide City”

The ID Channel contacted Mr. Vance after reading about his extensive homicide-solving record. They asked him to provide a list of investigations that might interest viewers. Mr. Vance culled his more than 800 cases and presented the producers with a list of ten, from which they chose two that fit their criteria.

The channel is only interested in investigations that led detectives down the wrong path and that contained intriguing red herrings. These types of cases allow them to present the facts of the investigation in a way that entices viewers’ interest and maintains it throughout the episode. Their approach is quite similar to that of a mystery novelist: introduce several suspects and throw off the sleuths and readers with dead-end leads and other red herrings.

One of the chosen cases involved the 1996 murder of a Houlihan’s Restaurant manager in Abington, PA. The manager was shot and killed during an unsuccessful robbery attempt by an employee and two accomplices. The “mastermind” of the robbery-murder stole a restaurant key while working as a dishwasher and outlined what he imagined was a clever robbery with two non-employee friends. The dishwasher (John Blalock) let the other two in the restaurant in the early morning and waited for the manager to arrive. When the manager arrived, the two accomplices revealed themselves from hiding places and ordered the manager to open the safe and hand over all of the cash, while Blalock pretended to be nothing more than an innocent bystander. It all went wrong when the manager was unable to open the compartment of the safe containing what the robbers believed to be the bulk of the cash. Convinced he was lying, they shot him in the head and ran off with the $2.00 the manager had in his wallet.

November 2017 DVSinC Meeting

November 18, 2017: Ms. Janis Wilson, Ripperologist: Could Sherlock Holmes Have Caught Jack the Ripper?

The guest speaker at our November meeting was Janis Wilson, a retired lawyer and Jack the Ripper scholar. Janis was a delegate to the 2013 Jack the Ripper conference in Whitechapel, London. She also co-organized the 2016 American Ripper and true crime conference, RipperCon, and will be a featured speaker at the 2018 conference. Janis has taught a Ripper course at Temple University and has written a novel, Goulston Street, about the 130-year-old case. She often appears as a narrator on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel.

Janis posed the question: Could—and would—Sherlock Holmes have investigated the Ripper killings and caught Jack the Ripper? Janis believes Holmes would have jumped at the chance.

Would Holmes have found the case challenging enough to tackle?

Holmes was never one to turn down a challenge, and JTR was far more challenging than Holmes’ arch enemy, Moriarty, Janis told us. Moriarty was a cunning mathematician, but he and his criminal organization were apparently known to Holmes, while the Ripper was able to keep his identity hidden. JTR committed multiple murders without ever being caught.

Would Holmes have taken an interest in the case to begin with?

Janis believes he would have, since his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, showed a keen interest in the killings. Conan Doyle toured nine of the murder sites and came to the conclusion that “Jack” might have disguised himself as a “Jill.” He speculated that the Ripper dressed himself as a midwife so that blood on the apron he wore would go unnoticed. (Janis believes Conan Doyle was wrong. Not a single female “lust killer” has been known to exist in the 130 years since the Ripper murders occurred.) Holmes also lived less than 5 miles from the murder sites, which would have made it easy for him to survey the scenes.

After the 5th victim was found, Queen Victoria chastised the Prime Minister for failing to solve the crimes. If Holmes hadn’t already become interested, he almost surely would have at this point, Janis believes.

Did Holmes have a financial incentive to take on the case?

We know Holmes was paid 300 pounds in gold and 700 in notes for “A Scandal in Bohemia.” He also stated, in “The Final Problem,” that his services to France and Scandinavia left him with enough money to retire. But, after receiving 6,000 pounds from the Duke of Holdernesse, he claimed he was a poor man, so he may very well have been persuaded to take the case for financial reasons.

Did he have enough experience at the time to handle the case?

Holmes first appeared in Conan Doyle’s stories in 1887. By 1891, he’d investigated over 1,000 cases, though only a few were reported by Dr. Watson. Since the Ripper murders occurred in 1888, he undoubtedly had had enough experience by then to tackle a case as challenging as the Ripper’s.

What would Holmes have discovered?

Holmes’ investigation would have led to the following discoveries:

– no evidence of sexual assault.

– no evidence of physical torture prior to death

– possible manual strangulation

– blood from victims at scenes was concentrated in small areas

– victims didn’t struggle

– attacks occurred during early morning hours

– canonical killings occurred on Saturday or Sunday

– no killings in October

– handwriting on Ripper letters differed, so written by different people

What would Holmes have concluded?

Janis believes Holmes would have made the following conclusions about the Ripper:

– He was a white male with a full-time job (because all the killings occurred on weekends).

– He lived and probably worked in Whitechapel.

– Prostitutes led him into dark corners, where he killed them.

– He attacked his victims from behind (no blood on bodies, no evidence of struggle indicates attacks from behind by right-handed person rather than from front by left-handed person).

– He was poor and Jewish.

– He worked as a butcher, shoemaker, or bootmaker, because those professions would have allowed him to carry a knife with him. He could easily explain it if questioned by police.

– He may have been impotent, because he didn’t rape any of his victims.

– If he were not impotent, he may have contracted syphilis from a prostitute and been driven mad.

– He did not murder Elizabeth Stride (nothing about the crime matched the Ripper’s MO and a different type of knife was used).

– The letter to Jack Lust was the only letter actually sent by Jack the Ripper (know because he had the promised kidney).

Ripper Trivia

People offered various theories about the Ripper’s identity. Many reasoned that Conan Doyle might be the Ripper, because it would take someone with Conan Doyle’s intelligence and imagination to devise escapes from the murder scenes and avoid detection. (Janis believes he could not have been the Ripper—too tall, and didn’t live or work in Whitechapel.)

Ripperologists disagree on when the killings began and ended. They also cannot agree on a complete list of his victims.

All of his known victims were prostitutes and lived in Whitechapel.

All of the killings occurred within a radius of 843.5 yards.

His victims were plain looking (with one exception) and in their 30s to 50s. None wore alluring clothing. The 5 so-called canonical victims were, in order of attack: Mary Ann (“Polly”) Nichols (8/31/1888); Annie Chapman (9/8/1888); Elizabeth Stride (9/30/1888); Catherine Eddowes (9/30/1888); Mary Jane Kelly (the youngest and most attractive of the 5).

A great deal of police incompetence occurred during the Ripper investigation. This included the Police Commissioner’s order that certain evidence be destroyed; failure to secure crime scenes; failure to use bloodhounds early in the investigation; only conducted searches for single men; inexcusable delays.

October 2017 DVSinC Meeting 

October 21, 2017: Mr. Anthony Murphy, Executive Director, Town Watch Integrated Services for the City of Philadelphia

by Kathleen A. Barrett

The guest speaker at our October meeting was Anthony Murphy, Executive Director, Town Watch Integrated Services for the City of Philadelphia. Mr. Murphy has led the Philadelphia Town Watch effort since the program was instituted in 1996. In furtherance of Mr. Murphy’s aim to establish a town watch group on every block in Philadelphia, he and two staff members created a curriculum for training more than 300 groups and for forming new ones. Today, more than 750 certified Town Watch groups serve over 23,000 trained members.

Observational Skills

Mr. Murphy provided us with an overview of the Town Watch effort and some valuable training in observational skills. According to Mr. Murphy, our lack of observation skills can significantly lessen our security and safety.

Most people fail to notice their surroundings, including people, buildings, traffic, and just about anything beyond the pavement beneath their feet or the screens of their cellphones. This leaves us vulnerable to attack and hinders our ability to describe and identify an attacker. It also provides criminals with opportunities for crime they might not otherwise have. Mr. Murphy described a “triangle of crime,” which included a target, an opportunity, and desire. You can’t eliminate a criminal’s desire, he said, but you can deny him or her a target and opportunity by being more aware of your surroundings.

How to Observe People

Most people are reluctant to make eye contact with strangers, Mr. Murphy said. But, looking someone in the eye reduces that person’s likelihood of committing a crime against you, because the person knows you may be able to identify him or her.

Mr. Murphy described the most effective way to observe, and be able to later describe, another person: turn off your filters, begin with basics, move to specifics, and then add the details.


We all observe people and events through the filters of our experiences, prejudices, and expectations. To see people more realistically, we need to try to turn off these filters, to the extent that is possible. This will enable us to see things more as they are than as we believe they are.


Try to notice a person’s most visible traits, first. These include gender, race, and age, though we necessarily need to guess on some or all of those, depending on the circumstances. Basics may also include the number of people (or estimate thereof) present.


Take note of the specifics, next. These include height, weight, clothing, color of hair and eyes, facial hair, and distinguishing marks, such as tattoos. Mr. Murphy also demonstrated the disadvantage of focusing too much on one specific to the detriment of others. Don’t stare at a tattoo, for instance, and fail to notice the person’s height or hair color.


An even more detailed description, which can only be given with superior observation, can go a long way toward enabling law enforcement to identify a criminal. Try to notice the shape of the person’s face. Anyone can remove a fake tattoo, change their hair color, remove facial hair, and switch clothing, but the person’s head shape will remain the same (e.g., oval, square, round).

Ears are another distinguishing feature. If the person’s ears are visible and are distinctive in any way (all ear shapes are unique), they can help authorities with an identification.

How to Observe Surroundings

Mr. Murphy also emphasized the importance of observing our surroundings. Do you notice any unusual activities? Does anything you see or hear make you feel suspicious or uncomfortable? Has someone other than a known neighbor been coming and going, hanging around without any obvious purpose, or lurking through yards or near buildings? Because the police can’t be everywhere, citizens need to observe and report suspicious activity themselves, to help prevent crime in their neighborhoods.

The “triangle of crime” is important here, as well. If you leave a window unlocked, you provide an opportunity and a target for a desired crime. Failing to look around you when exiting a vehicle, walking through an unlighted area, or unlocking your door can provide similar opportunities that make you a target for attack.

How to Observe Vehicles

Mr. Murphy also suggested beginning with basics and moving to specifics and then details in your observation of a vehicle.


First take note of the make and model, if possible.


Next, try to identify the body style (e.g., two-door or four-door, SUV or truck, sedan or coupe). Add color, if it can be seen, and the overall appearance (clean, dirty, dented, pristine). Next, focus on bumper stickers, logos, and other unusual features. While license plates can be switched, and Mr. Murphy didn’t mention them, getting a plate number can often lead to apprehension of a criminal in a vehicle.

Do We Have Time to Make These Observations?

We often have very little time to notice details of an attacker, a vehicle, or other particulars that may be important in identifying and apprehending a criminal. But, practicing our observational skills in the ways Mr. Murphy described can help us hone our observation skills so that we can improve our chances of survival and the identification of a criminal should the need arise. His insights may also be quite useful for mystery / crime writers whose characters are asked to describe something to the authorities.

P.S. Another detail Mr. Murphy mentioned. If you (or a character) are accosted with a firearm, pay attention to it (if you can) so that you can tell the police if it was a revolver or an automatic. Revolvers have revolving chambers in which bullets are placed that are visible to the person at whom the gun is pointed.

April 2017 DVSinC Meeting 

April 15, 2017: Joe Slobodzian, Reporter, Philadelphia Inquirer

by Jane Kelly

The speaker at our April, 2017 meeting was Joe Slobodzian, a reporter since 1982 at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has covered a variety of beats (New Jersey Statehouse and state government, federal courts and agencies) but now covers the Philadelphia’s criminal justice system.

Joe communicates about major crime stories through a variety of channels:

     –reporter for the Inquirer
     –blogger for www.philly.com
     –tweeter at twitter.com @JoeSlobo
     –professor at Temple University
     –commentator on local and national news broadcasts
     –participant in the documentary 3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy.

Using examples from his own writing, Mr. Slobodzian talked about finding a hook to build a story around. As a journalist, he confronts the challenge from a different angle than fiction writers.  Whereas fiction writers aim to add facts to make their writing believable, he aims to use an imaginative approach to draw people to the facts.

In covering the court system, Mr. Slobodzian aims to communicate how the system works and how it doesn’t work. His goal is to create a document that elucidates those successes or failures. Finding an angle requires sifting through thousands of pages of court documents. His approach is to take many notes. However, few make it into his report. He combs through a vast volume of information to find the angle that not only illustrates his point but makes people want to read about a case.

In the end, the system and the cases tried within it are about people. Slobodzian sees the system through the eyes of the individuals who are affected by it. Victims. Witnesses. The accused. He allows his readers to do the same.

When Officer Stephen Liczbinski, a Philadelphia policeman, was murdered while responding to a bank robbery in a grocery store branch, the facts were widely reported. To differentiate his reporting, Slobodzian focused on specific aspects to bring the story to his readers and to bring his readers to the story.

Witnesses at the scene

The role of the neighbors who were nearby and even witnessed the shooting provoked a powerful hook. He reported how the police talked about the support they—and the victim–received from neighborhood residents in the wake of the shooting. Witnesses had rushed to the policeman’s side to try to save his life.

Witnesses in court

When he writes about a court session, Mr. Slobodzian wants to put the reader in the courtroom. One way he accomplishes that is through the eyes of the witnesses. In the case of the Liczbinski murder, he reports on a cabbie who encountered two of the three killers the night before the murder when the men carjacked his cab while holding him at gunpoint. The next night they used his car as a getaway vehicle. Slobodzian writes about the emotional effect on the cab driver when realizing he could have been the victim. Readers can relate to a civilian caught up in the drama.


There are family members on both sides of the aisle in any courtroom. Slobodzian writes about family members of both the victims and the perpetrators. Sometimes he does so through their testimony e.g. the victim impact statement from Liczbinski ‘s widow or the testimony of defendant Floyd’s mother, used as part of an effort to portray “Floyd as the victim of his own family.”


Slobodzian viewed the penalty phase negotiations from the jurors’ point of view. What was required of them? He relates what the jurors, people like the readers, have to take into consideration while they decided if the two surviving participants in the robbery should be executed by lethal injection or spend life in prison without parole.


Slobodzian uses details to put the reader at the scene. The gun that was used in the Liczbinski murder was a Chinese knock-off of a Russian Kalashnikov. Describing the damage that the weapon can do—drive bullets through car doors—brings home the brutality of the killing more than any technical explanation.

One of the most powerful hooks he described formed the basis for an article looking at the penalty phase where the fate of one of the convicted killers, Eric Floyd, hangs in the balance. He opens by noting a caption handwritten on the back of a photo:  “Eric Floyd. Only 7 or 8 and he’s a drunk.” That caption provides a keyhole offering a look inside the life of the convicted killer in a completely dysfunctional family with values totally out of synch with traditional values. It was the hook that gave Slobodzian insight into the subject and an approach to share that insight. It also provided the hook to draw the reader in.

Read Joe Slobodzian’s stories at www.phillynews.com

March 2017 DVSinC Meeting

March 18, 2017: Ms. Dian Williams, Professional Arson Profiler, Center for Arson Research

by Kathleen A. Barrett

The guest speaker at our March meeting was Ms. Dian Williams, a professional arson profiler and the owner and operator of The Center for Arson Research. Ms. Williams serves as a consultant on arson, fire bombing, and domestic terrorism to a great variety of organizations, including

– federal and state criminal justice agencies and courts
– U.S. police and fire departments
– drug and alcohol treatment programs and mental health organizations
– Scotland Yard, the Royal Canadian Mounties, and other police agencies outside the U.S.

Ms. Williams also frequently advises mystery writers on the arson-related details in their writing, which she says they almost always get completely wrong. (Many of these writers have made her a character in their novels or stories.)

How She Became an Arson Profiler

Ms. Williams began as a criminal profiler with a focus on arson, and became widely known as an expert in the motivations of fire setters and fire-setting behavior. She became interested in this narrow aspect of criminal profiling through her early work on cold cases involving homicide secondary to violent sexual assault. Her study of these cases revealed that many people who become violent sexual offenders had an early history of fire setting.

Different Treatment of Female Arsonists

Approximately 94% of arsonists are male. When a woman commits arson, the courts are likely to attribute her behavior to an emotional problem. According to Ms. Williams, the courts often make this assumption regarding any crime committed by a woman. For this reason, women convicted of crimes are more often sent to a mental health institution than a penitentiary. Contrary to what most people believe, being sent to a mental health forensics unit may be less desirable than being sent to a penitentiary, Ms. Williams told us. In order to be released from the mental health unit, the convict must show that he / she is no longer mentally ill and will not suffer from mental illness in the future (something that is exceptionally difficult to establish). As a result, convicts sent to the pen may get out after 8 years of a 12-year sentence while those sent to the forensics unit can be in for 25 to 30 years. Ms. Williams’ message: Pleading insanity is NOT always a good defense. Another interesting point regarding punishment for certain types of arson (by males or females): You will be sentenced to federal rather than state prison if you set fire to a church, government building, or mailbox (among other things).

Characteristics of Arsonists

In addition to generally being male, arsonists often share other characteristics.

Disturbing Drawings

In her research of people accused or convicted of arson, Ms. Williams (along with other engaged in similar work) ask them to draw something as mundane as a house, a person, and a tree, without giving any additional directions (including any mention of fire). They leave the person alone with a ruler, pencil, and eraser and return when the drawing is finished. The researcher then puts the drawing away without asking the artist to comment on or explain it. A large number of these drawings are disturbing (e.g., pictured of flames coming out of a person’s head).

Early Fire-Setting Behavior and Misconceptions re Sexual Arousal

Ms. William’s work with violent, deviant sex offenders revealed that many of these people began setting fires as children. While it is generally true that the earlier the point of intervention, the better the prognosis, fire setters’ chances of outgrowing fire-setting depends upon which arsonist sub-type they fall into. Some sub-types can learn coping skills while others cannot. Contrary to what many believe and have written, these arsonists are not sexually aroused by fire setting are not motivated by sexual excitement to engage in arson. This is a common misconception, even among many arson investigators. Ms. Williams never encountered a single sex offender / arsonist who set fires for sexual reasons. A common triad of childhood behavior in people who grow up to be criminals is:

– bed wetting
– cruelty to animals, and
– fire setting

While fire setting and bed wetting don’t necessarily foreshadow a criminal future, cruelty to animals is indicative of violent tendencies. Violent criminals often practiced for later abuse of humans by experimenting on animals.

Arsonist Sub-Types

Ms. Williams described 5 primary arsonist sub-types (there are many others): Accidental or Curiosity; Psychotic; Thrill Seeker; Revenge; and Disordered Coping.

1) Accidental / Curiosity

This category usually involves young children with two variables: opportunity and readily available means. A five-year-old, for example, may be left alone in a room that contains matches that are easily accessible to the child. Without any intention of harming anyone or anything, the child may set a fire. These children generally feel guilt and remorse after they see what they have done. They also usually hide rather than telling someone about the fire. They are often found to have died from smoke inhalation in a bathtub, because they associate it with water.

2) Psychotic

Some people who suffer from schizophrenia hear voices that tell them to set fires. When they are treated with medications to control the illness, the voices remain, but they are quieter. The medication allows the person to think over the voices. In many cases, this enables the person to interrupt the delusional system by telling themselves that the voices are not real.

3) Thrill Seeker

Thrill-seeking arsonists often begin their fire-setting behavior at about 14 years of age. Earlier in life, these people often reveal a risk-taking tendency through other types of thrill-seeking behavior. This is the only sub-type where the size of the fire matters to the arsonist. They keep setting fires and set bigger and bigger ones as their age and experience increases. They are proud of their “accomplishments” and often make video diaries, scrapbooks, and photo albums of their work. They are also the only sub-type to return to the scene of the crime, because they enjoy seeing the damage they have caused. They may pretend to have discovered the fires they set, call them in, and attempt rescues of people inside a burning structure. They particularly enjoy fooling other men (first responders and investigators) who believe they are innocent and helpful.

4) Revenge

Revenge arsonists are the only sub-type likely to be fire bombers (Timothy McVeigh is an example). They are similar to work-place shooters who seek revenge for a real or imagined slight or abuse. They are extremely dangerous. All of their fires are planned, and they often tell their victims what they intend to do. These people usually grow up in families that value and teach getting even and never admitting you’re wrong. They usually begin their revenge activities at about 15 years of age, compiling a list of people they feel have wronged them and against whom they intend to seek revenge. The slights that can merit their revenge may be things most people would not even notice. To them, they loom so large that they will never forget, no matter how much time has gone by. Approximately 25% of the people revenge arsonists / killers have encountered are on their list of revenge victims. For a revenge arsonist (or shooter), the time it takes to complete their revenge is not important. They will wait, follow a victim, and plan until the time is right—which can be years or even decades after the perceived slight occurred. In this way, they resemble people with PTSD. Someone with PTSD continues to relive a traumatic experience as if it were occurring presently rather than in the past. The revenge arsonist / killer does the same thing. In their subconscious, the slight for which they seek revenge is occurring right now (and has been doing so since it actually occurred).

5) Disordered Coping

Disordered coping arsonists begin early, between age 3 and 5. They learn fire-setting as a coping mechanism, because the fires soothe and calm them when they are upset. As they get older, while they are watching a fire, they imagine someone who has hurt them being burned by the fire. When they are older still, they add sexual elements to these fantasies. The harm and pain they imagine, combined with the fires, bring them more and more comfort. If they feel guilt for fantasizing or actually engaging in abusive and violent behavior, the fire soothes them and erases the guilt. Unlike the fires of accidental / curiosity arsonists, all of the fires of disordered coping arsonists are deliberately set. If their behavior is not interrupted by the time they hit puberty, and if they are male, they are likely to move beyond their fantasies into actual sexually abusive behavior at that time. They start “small” and gradually escalate to violent sexual offenses. Most U.S. serial killers were disordered coping arsonists as children. You can learn more about arsonists in Ms. Williams’ textbook, Understanding the Arsonist: From Assessment to Confession.

February 2017 DVSinC Meeting

February 18, 2017: Oscar P. Vance, Jr., President Vance Investigations

by Kathleen A. Barrett

The guest speaker at our February meeting was Mr. Oscar P. Vance, Jr., President of Vance Investigations and Corporate Solutions, Inc. (VICS). After serving as a Montgomery County criminal investigator for close to 50 years, Chief Detective Vance founded his own private investigative agency, VICS.

His Background

Mr. Vance began his law enforcement career in 1964 and went on to work as an investigator in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. The position provided him with on-the-job training as a detective. In those days, schools to train people as detectives did not exist, so he and other detectives learned from each other. Today, the Municipal Police Officer Training program provides mandatory instruction to budding detectives. In his position at Montgomery County, Mr. Vance learned a great deal about criminals, people in general, and the criminal justice system.

He eventually became Chief of Detectives in one of the most successful crime-solving counties in Pennsylvania (MontCo). As a leader in organizational structure, policies, and crime-solving techniques, the county achieved a 95% solve rate for murders between 1964 and 2012. When Mr. Vance began his work as a detective, DNA technology was not yet available. They had the capability to test blood splatters, hair follicles, saliva, and semen, but the results revealed far less than what can now be revealed by DNA.

How Detectives Operate

DNA samples can be obtained in ways some of us would not expect. If a suspect merely touches a glass (or his eyeglasses), he will leave his DNA behind in his sweat. To get a suspect’s DNA without his consent, a detective can watch and wait until the suspect drinks from a soda can or cup or touches an object made of material that can retain sweat (such as a glass surface).

The chain of custody of any evidence is crucial to getting it admitted at trial. The detective must carefully preserve the evidence, place it in an appropriate container (a paper bag rather than plastic for any blood sample), clearly mark it, and make sure it is not left unattended at any time before it is presented at trial.

Mr. Vance told us that most murderers get caught because they think they’re so much smarter than they are. Their cockiness causes them to make mistakes and give themselves away. People also give themselves away when they lie, because they can rarely manage to tell a lie the same way more than once.

Today’s social media is a valuable tool for detectives. If a detective suspects someone of a crime, he can often learn a lot about the suspect in a short period of time through social media. People also give themselves away on Facebook and Twitter without even realizing they are doing it.

Surveillance, according to Mr. Vance, is one of the most boring aspects of a detective’s job. When vehicles are used in a surveillance, the detectives will rotate vehicles so the same one doesn’t stay in the same place for too long a time. They may also watch people on foot, by disguising themselves and engaging in a mundane activity, such as walking a dog.

Search warrants require probable cause to search a particular area, such as a house. The detective must have a strong belief that a crime was or is about to be committed in the house or that it contains evidence of a crime. The warrant needs to be acquired from a district judge before the search can begin. The detective obtains the warrant by going to a district judge and providing sufficient explanation for his belief that he has probable cause for the search. The belief might come, for instance, from a witness’s statement that the witness saw what he believes to be the murder weapon in the house.

Once the detective obtains the warrant, he can search the entire house to find what he is looking for. If a detective discovers something unrelated to the crime in the course of the search (such as a kilo of heroin), he can seize it.

People ordered to appear before a grand jury cannot bring their lawyers into the courtroom. If your suspect-character finds himself in that predicament and needs to consult with his lawyer, he will have to go into the hallway. If the suspect lies while testifying before the grand jury, the court can immediately and automatically sentence him to 90 days in jail.

Mr. Vance graciously offered to answer any additional questions writers may have about their stories or characters. His email address at Vance Investigations is safe@vance.us.com.

January 2017 DVSinC Meeting

January 21, 2017: Mr. Howard Silverstone, Director of Forensic Resolutions, Inc.

by Kathleen Barrett

Our guest speaker at the January meeting was forensic accountant Howard Silverstone. Mr. Silverstone has concentrated his practice in the field of forensic accounting since 1985.

If you are considering making one of your characters a forensic accountant (FA), you’ll need to remember that this is a very specialized and technical profession. According to Mr. Silverstone, a FA also needs to have certain personality traits and abilities in order to do the job effectively.

Forensics, generally, is “the use of science and technology to investigate and establish facts in criminal or civil courts of law.” Forensic accountants gather evidence of and form conclusions about the financial aspects of matters in dispute. The FA may have to provide evidence that someone stole from his employer, for example, or demonstrate the value of a business over which two people are fighting.

The work requires financial knowledge and accounting skills with an investigative mentality. The investigative aspect of the job is what most attracted Mr. Silverstone. He loved the old Hawaii Five-O TV show, because the characters employed the actual forensic techniques they relied upon before we had the benefit of our current technology. The characters’ investigative “smarts” were one of the things that made him want to do investigative work.

Important Character Traits of Forensic Accountants

Most people in the forensic accounting business start out in public accounting. Mr. Silverstone described important distinctions between public accountants (auditors) and forensic accountants.

An auditor looks at what happened in a business’s most recent year and makes sure the financial statements are error-free.  The auditor is a watchdog who prevents problems, while the forensic accountant is a blood hound who investigates problems that have already occurred. Unlike auditors, who generally have a checklist of questions they need to answer, FAs approach each case in an individual manner. They search out and question the authenticity and accuracy of documentation, while assuming nothing about the parties involved. Forensic accountants need to:

– identify issues and gather information

– understand and investigate financial matters

– analyze people and documentation

– act as reporters and expert witnesses in court

– have strong verbal and written communication skills

– be able to establish rapport with strangers and deal effectively with people

Mr. Silverstone stressed the need for an investigative mentality, which is demonstrated by skepticism, original thought, and the ability to seek out alternative explanations. Original thought requires thinking on your feet and not relying on checklists.

Mr. Silverstone also emphasized the importance of being able to effectively testify in court. A forensic accountant will need to be authenticated as an expert and provide objective expert testimony about what he / she discovered through investigation. In order to do this, the FA must be familiar with the relevant case law and evidence rules, which may vary from one jurisdiction to another.

A forensic accountant needs to understand how the applicable state or federal law affects an estimate of loss or other financial quantification. The presentation of findings is different for federal and state cases. The FA may be involved in depositions, document requests, analysis of documents, preparation of economic models, and reports of findings. An important part of courtroom and deposition technique is to follow the 3-second rule: when a lawyer or judge asks any question, always wait three seconds before giving an answer. This reduces the likelihood that a hesitation will alert the questioner or the jury to something the witness (FA) is unsure of.

Personal qualities that will aid a forensic accountant in every aspect of his job include prudence, secrecy, inventiveness, persistence, personal courage, and honesty. FAs have to stay calm and remain objective. They can have no conflicts of interest. While they are paid by the people who hire them, they are not advocates for their clients. Lawyers often ask a FA how much he was paid and by whom in an attempt to make the FA appear biased.

Jobs Performed by Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants work on many different types of cases. They often investigate fraud or cheating that is going on within a company. In the past, FAs might have worked on cases for the FBI or DEA, but now these departments generally use their own in-house investigators. FAs frequently work on financial values relevant to personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. They may also determine the losses a company sustained from a flood or fire (business interruption case); a construction company’s loss from construction delays; patent infringement damages; and bankruptcies.

The FA brings a second person along when he interviews someone in the course of an investigation. The person asking the questions concentrates on the questions and the interviewee’s responses, while the second person takes notes and watches the interviewee’s reactions / body language. FAs look for red flags of fraud: people living beyond their means, finding people on a payroll who are no longer employed with the company, inventory records that don’t add up, more than one set of books. A FA may check out the books of a company a client is thinking of buying, to make sure the company is presenting a fair financial picture to the prospective buyer. A red flag of fraud in this type of case might be the company’s resistance to providing financial statements and tax returns.

Case Examples

Mr. Silverstone gave us a few examples of cases he worked on and what evidence helped identify the culprits. In one case, employees had to sign in whenever they entered the building. A particular employee was the only one who was always present on the days and times that money disappeared. People often don’t realize the evidence they are leaving of their guilt. In another case, an employee was keeping people on the company’s payroll after they were no longer employed. She wrote payrolls checks to the former employees and had a kick-back arrangement with a bank teller that enabled her to get the money.

A couple tips for your characters:

– People can get violent when you accuse them of having two sets of books or of doing something else that is illegal.

– A character can take a USB disguised as a pen into her workplace and take information off the computers.

If you’re interested in learning more about forensic accounting, you may want to consult Mr. Silverstone’s books: Fraud 101: Techniques and Strategies for Detection and Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation for Non-Experts.

November 2016 DVSinC Meeting

November 19, 2016: Mr. Terry Ruggles, retired TV news journalist

by Kathleen A. Barrett

Our guest speaker at the November meeting was Mr. Terry Ruggles, a retired TV news journalist of 38 years who covered major news stories at home and around the world for WCAU. His career began as a copy boy for an Ohio radio station, when he was 17 years old. He later worked as anchor and producer at WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and moved to WCAU in Philadelphia (the fourth largest TV market in the nation), in 1974. Four years later, Mr. Ruggles was awarded the Pennsylvania State Police Meritorious Citizen Award for helping negotiate a hostage situation on Christmas Eve at Delaware County Prison.

Mr. Ruggles gave us some insight into some of the problems news-reporter characters might encounter. One of the main obstacles TV reporters face is the extraordinarily small amount of time they are allotted to report an event. Broadcast journalism deals in sound bites of only a few minutes or seconds. Within this short time, they need to communicate the How, Who, What, Where, and Why of a story, and do so objectively. While opinions are allowed on cable news networks that are privately owned and not public trusts (such as FOX, MSNBC, and CNN), the public-trust networks of NBC, ABC, and CBS must deal only in “facts.”

At the start of a news reporter’s day, the news director and reporters bat around ideas for stories to cover. The reporters are then split up and assigned to specific stories. Mr. Ruggles said that reporters sometimes share information with each other, but not usually. Because news directors are only interested in getting stories and ratings, many reporters will ask family members of missing or injured people questions that they are clearly not interested in answering. Mr. Ruggles and some of his colleagues had more respect for people’s privacy and asked if they wished to be interviewed before accosting them. If they said no, they backed off.

Cold Cases

When reporters cover a story, they investigate by interviewing people who may know something about what happened or be able to direct them to someone who does. In addition to current stories, reporters also cover cold cases and may revisit stories on anniversaries of events (such as disappearances). Mr. Ruggles talked about some of the cold case stories that are often revived in our area, including:

– Rabbi Neulander of Cherry Hill, NJ, who was convicted of killing his wife in 1994

– Mark Heimbaugh, the 11-year-old redheaded boy who disappeared in 1991 from his home near the Jersey shore and has never been found

– Susan Reinert, the Philadelphia teacher who had an affair with fellow teacher William Bradfield in the 1970s and was allegedly murdered by the school’s principal, Jay Smith, after Bradfield planned the murder. Reinert’s two children disappeared at the same time and have never been found.

– Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone, Jr., who were last seen in a South Street Philadelphia bar in 2005

Contrary to what we might see in movies or TV shows, police generally do not offer to share what they know with reporters, even on cold cases. This is especially true of facts only the perpetrator would know. The police and reporters sometimes fashion fake news stories, however, to draw perpetrators out.

Large police departments may have one person whose only job is to cover cold cases. In smaller departments, the officer of record on the case may work on a cold case, but will not be able to do so, full-time. Mr. Ruggles also told us that reporters assigned to cover mobsters often run into resistance from people who live in mobsters’ neighborhoods. Many people hold these people in high esteem, seeing them as some sort of Robin Hood.

October 2016 DVSinC Meeting

October 15, 2016: Ms. Kimberlee Sue Moran

by Kathleen Barrett

Our guest speaker at the October meeting was Kimberlee Sue Moran, the Assistant Director of Arcadia University’s Masters of Forensic Science Program. Ms. Moran has been a forensic consultant and educator since 2002, in both the UK and the US. She has an undergraduate degree in archaeology from Bryn Mawr College and a Masters of Science in forensic archaeological science from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. She conducted research in the field of ancient fingerprints for her graduate work and provided us with a fascinating and in-depth description of fingerprints and their significance.

According to Ms. Moran, fingerprints were the first type of physical evidence. So far, each of the hundreds of millions of fingerprints processed has been unique. (While identical twins have identical DNA, they nevertheless have different fingerprints.)

Fingerprint Characteristics

Approximately 99% of fingerprints found at a crime scene are latent prints. Latent prints are invisible and are left in sweat from natural bodily secretions. Because they are not visible to the naked eye, the prints are developed (enhanced) with powder or chemicals.

Patent prints are visible without enhancement. Patent prints are left in a substance (called a matrix) other than sweat, such as blood, grease, dirt, or paint.

The manner in which fingerprints are processed depends upon whether they are latent or patent as well as the surface on which they are found. A fingerprint on a glass bottle, for instance, must be processed differently than a fingerprint on cloth. Ms. Moran personally developed the flow chart for processing bloody fingerprints left on fabric.

Fingerprints start to develop about 6 weeks after conception. The volar pads (similar to pads on a cat’s paw) develop first. We have prints (ridges) on our hands and feet for friction. (The friction ridges are fully formed after 12 weeks.) This allows us to pick up objects and to walk.

These body parts also have many nerve endings. The ridges form ridge units, or lines, and go through every layer of skin, including the epidermis (dead skin) and the dermis (live skin below the epidermis). Because they go so deep, there is no way to completely obliterate a person’s prints. Even without the skin, prints can still be found in the papillae.

Fingerprint Patterns

The pads determine the pattern, size, shape, and location of prints. Fingerprints have 3 “core patterns,” arches, loops, and whorls, which are determined by the ridges’ path of least resistance. If the path is up and over a volar pad in the middle of a finger, it forms an arch. If the volar pad is on the side, the print will form a loop or a whorl.


Arches are the rarest of these patterns, appearing in only 5% of prints. There are 3 types of arches: 1) regular / plain, 2) teated (with an up-thrust in the middle), and 3) approximating (arches that are almost loops). Arches do not have a delta (see below).


Loops are distinguished by a core center that is slightly off to one side. Loops have three distinct sides and one change in direction (delta, or triangle—a 3-sided figure that means “change” in math).  Loops are found in 60 to 70% of fingerprints and are the most common type of pattern. Some people’s prints are formed with nothing but loops.


Whorls are found in 25 to 35% of prints. The core of a whorl can be anywhere on the finger pad. Whorls have 2 deltas, which usually flank the core. They are most commonly found on thumbs, 1st fingers, and ring fingers. Whorl types include: 1) twinned, 2) central pocket, 3) lateral pocket, and 4) accidental. (Accidental whorls are found only on thumbs and are very rare.) To obtain a complete print of a whorl, the print must extend from one side of the fingernail to the other and down to the first joint.

How Law Enforcement Officials Distinguish Fingerprints

When law enforcement officials study fingerprints for identification, they look at the minutiae, the details of the ridges and how they travel across the finger pad. In other words, they follow the ridges to see what happens. The variations in detail among prints can be classified into 2 general categories, 1) ridge ending, and 2) bifurcation. Variations on these general categories include 1) lake, 2) spur, 3) short independent, and 4) cross-over.

Scientists do not really know how these variations (and, therefore, unique prints) form. They only know that they form in utero. One theory is that the patterns in a baby’s prints are caused by the mother’s response to stress, which would be unique in every case. (If this is true, however, why would identical twins have different fingerprints?)

Limitations and Treatment of Fingerprints

Fingerprints are used for identification, because they are quick, easy, and effective, and require no fancy equipment to lift. But, the advent of DNA has reduced reliance on fingerprints. Because errors can be made when analyzing prints for identification, they are no longer considered the “gold standard” in court. Different states use different standards for the admission of fingerprints into evidence. (According to Ms. Moran, DNA has as many interpretation problems as fingerprints.)

Fingerprint analysts use a guidance system (ACE-V) to analyze, compare, evaluate, and verify prints. They consider both the matrix (what the print has been left in, such as blood or sweat) and the substrate (what it has been left on, such as a bottle or cloth). Whether the substrate is porous or non-porous will determine how the print is treated and developed.

Fingerprints (latent) are treated with chemicals, including powders, to make them visible. JLAR, a type of adhesive tape, can be used to place the print on a backing card. Once the print is on the backing card (these include hinge lifter cards and others), forensics experts can study the

1) ridge flow (this can eliminate suspects but not identify them)

2) ridge path (this can identify a subject), and

3) ridge dimensional attributes (these show the pattern of pores, which are uniquely identifying, but bordering on junk science, according to Ms. Moran)

Writing Tip

How can your fictional amateur sleuth lift fingerprints from a crime scene? She can sprinkle powder on the surface containing the print, lift it with clear packing tape, and then seal it with a hinge lifter or other backing card (easily purchased online at minimal cost). But, keep in mind, different types of powders are required for different surfaces.

September 2016 DVSinC Meeting

September 17, 2016: Mr. Richard Johnson

by Kathleen Barrett

Our September 2016 guest speaker was Mr. Richard Johnson, who gave us an inside view of our federal justice and penal systems. Mr. Johnson has a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab during his Aerospace and Electronics career. After being represented on appeal by Attorney Alan Dershowitz (who described Mr. Johnson as a “political prisoner”), Mr. Johnson served a 10-year sentence in federal custody.

Mr. Johnson shared many experiences and quite a bit of inside information, prison jargon, and other related terminology, all of which may be useful to mystery writers who want to incorporate prison scenes or dialog into their stories. Mr. Johnson’s 10-year sentence was a “departure” from the 6-year sentence suggested in the guidelines. When a judge deviates from these sentencing guidelines, the judge is said to “depart up” or “depart down” from the guidelines. This departure is allowed, because the guidelines are not mandatory. General terms for the prison include the joint, pen, cell, and cell block.

The prison system in which Mr. Johnson served his sentence is part of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which contains 197,000 prisoners in any one of 4 main levels—low, medium, penitentiary, and super max—of 122 prisons. The lowest level, where Mr. Johnson spent most of his time, is a low-level “camp” without gates or walls to separate the prisoners—the place they usually send Congressmen, he said with a wink. Prisoners refer to the low-level camp in Allenwood, PA, as “Club Fed.” As relatively pleasant as this sounds, he told us, you lack the privacy you have in other levels. He preferred the medium level, in which he also spent some time, because he had his own room with a door, sink, and toilet.

“Penitentiary” is the next level above medium. This is known as the U.S. Penitentiary, the U.S. Pen, or the Pen. Above the Pen is a level known as “Super Max” (for super maximum security). The prisoners housed at this level live underground and have no human contact. Their food is transported to them on a “train” and the only faces they see are those on TV. Many people have criticized this form of imprisonment as “cruel and unusual punishment.” Mr. J acknowledged this but pointed out that he met people in the prison system who were so evil that they needed to be kept separate from others. A man he befriended told him early in his incarceration that he would meet “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Mr. J says this statement very accurately described the people to whom he was exposed. Additional forms of incarceration include “diesel therapy” and “the hole.”

Mr. J told us the federal prison system is all about control and that the guards and administrators are “control freaks.” When they sense that a gang may be forming (they usually sense this when they see more than 2 of the same prisoners engaging in frequent conversation) they use diesel therapy to break up the incipient gang. This involves transferring one of the prisoners to another prison in a highly unusual way. The prisoner is put on a bus and transported to a county jail for a few days. Then he is put back on the bus and transported to another jail. This can go on for a year or more, hence the name diesel therapy. The county jails welcome these prisoners, because they receive payment every time they have a prisoner as a guest. (While gangs are prevented from forming in the federal system, they very often form at the state level. In state prisons, gangs can “run” prisons with a structure based on racism.) 

The “Hole” is another name for temporary solitary confinement. Prisoners are sent here for a time when they have violated a rule. The hole is also known as “the shoe,” “special housing units,” and “special accommodations.”   Prison guards may be called “guard,” “correctional officer,” or “CO.” They are also called “watchers.”

Prison doors no longer have bars. Modern doors are solid steel. Prisons have law libraries that are run by the prisoners. Some of the inmates “go into the law business.” Many of these pseudo lawyers are con men who prey most often on illegal immigrants. They claim to be able to help these men and convince them to have their family members send money to the “lawyer.”

Prisoners may be chained or cuffed when outside the prison. If you are moved with another prisoner, the shackles on one of your legs will be attached to shackles on the other prisoner’s leg. Your hands will be secured by bracelets that are hooked to your waist. If you are a particularly dangerous prisoner, they may place a “black box” around the cuffs to bold your hands in place. U.S. Marshalls do all the prison transfers in the federal system.

Informants are people who inform on other prisoners. They are also called “rats,” “snitches,” “touts,” “stool pigeons,” “stoolies,” “cheese eaters,” and “canaries.” If the other prisoners learn that you are a snitch, it will generally result in your untimely demise. (You are also likely to be killed if you are in for rape or molesting a child.)

When a prison riot occurs, prisoners are “locked down” and not allowed to leave their cells. This can be a pleasant experience, Mr. J told us, because things quiet down, and they deliver all your meals and pick up your laundry.

Any kind of drug you can imagine is available in prison. Prisoners use a lot of drugs and often share needles, which leads to a good deal of HIV and Hepatitis C. Many of the guards go into the drug-selling business and tend to favor drug use, because drugs keep the prisoners quiet. (In addition to being drug dealers, the guards can also be dangerous.)

Weapons are also pretty easy to come by, and most are homemade. A “shank” is a knife or anything else that is pointed. Prisoners make shanks out of whatever is available, including toothbrushes, pencils, and wooden dowels. These are often used in murders committed by people who have nothing to lose, because they are already in for life. Prisoners can also make guns.

“You are not showing me enough respect,” is a common refrain. Prisoners are known to kill others who didn’t show them the proper respect. The weight room is a “hot spot” for murders.

Some of the men in the system are military prisoners, because there is only one military prison left (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas), and it is used only for officers. The federal prisons may also receive what are known as “sensitive” state prisoners.

All federal prisoners who are not disabled must have jobs. For this reason, a large percentage of federal prisoners “become disabled” shortly after they arrive.

Mr. Johnson’s jobs included teaching math, science, social studies, English, essay writing, electricity, and astronomy. He also helped about 1000 prisoners obtain a GED. Because he was “the professor,” he received some respect from the other prisoners.

Additional interesting details shared by Mr. J:

Armor All is a car-care product that can get rid of any trace of fingerprints by eliminating the oil left on a surface by someone’s fingers. The federal system is doing away with privatization.

When someone visits a prisoner, the visitor has to fill out a form and be vetted. There are no conjugal visits. They do allow “trailer visits,” which enable a prisoner and visitor to sit side-by-side. Drugs are frequently brought into prison during these visits.

A visitor may have a balloon filled with drugs in her mouth. She and the prisoner will kiss, and the balloon will be transferred to the prisoner’s mouth. The prisoner swallows the balloon and expels it later.

Mr. Johnson was a thoroughly delightful guest and will answer any additional questions we have for him through KB Inglee.

April 2016 DVSinC Meeting

April 16, 2016: Paul J. Burgoyne, PA Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel

by Kathleen Barrett

The guest speaker at our April 2016 meeting was Attorney Paul J. Burgoyne, the Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board, and the current president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel. The main function of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel is to investigate complaints about lawyers who practice in Pennsylvania. These complaints may come from judges, other lawyers, or clients. In addition, nearly every person who has been convicted of a crime will file a complaint against his or her lawyer, claiming that the lawyer was ineffective and that the conviction should be overturned. These complaints, alone, keep Mr. Burgoyne’s office very busy.

One of Mr. Burgoyne’s concerns about the process of disciplining lawyers is that the discipline naturally comes after the lawyer has already committed an infraction or has been negligent in the handling of a client’s case. Mr. Burgoyne would like to improve his office’s role by allowing some sort of intervention into lawyers’ cases at the first signs of neglect rather than waiting until serious damage has been done to a case and/or client.

Another problem that concerns Mr. Burgoyne is that a great many lawyers are literally unable to provide effective assistance to their clients because they have far too many clients and far too little time and resources to devote to each. This is especially true of Public Defenders, who are often assigned criminal cases just minutes before their first court appearances.

Lawyers in small firms, who practice alone or with one or two partners, also accept too many cases in an attempt to bring in enough money to stay in business. The current process, he says, does not adequately address or provide solutions for these issues. Small firm lawyers face the additional hurdle of having to not only represent their clients but to also run their law firm businesses at the same time. Lawyers are given little to no instruction in law school regarding the running of a business, which exacerbates the problem.

Mr. Burgoyne also discussed some of the difficult issues that criminal lawyers face when deciding how to best represent their clients. If a criminal client tells his lawyer he is guilty of the crime charged but insists on taking the stand, for example, the lawyer can find herself in the position of knowing her client has lied under oath but having to keep quiet about it in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege and effectively represent her client. Criminal lawyers generally try to avoid this, he says, by not asking the client if he or she is guilty.

March 2016 DVSinC Meeting

March 19, 2016: Molly Gleeson, Penn Museum Schwartz Project Conservator

by Kathleen Barrett

We were treated to a fascinating lecture on mummies, today, by Molly Gleeson, the Schwartz Project conservator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum. Ms. Gleeson, who has a BA in Art Conservation and an MA in the Conservation of Archeological and Ethnographic Materials (both of which are offered at only a handful of universities across the country), works in the museum’s artifact lab, which is dedicated to the conservation of Egyptian mummies and is fully accessible to the public.

Ms. Gleeson’s first experience working with human remains occurred at a Chilean excavation that was undertaken after an earthquake disturbed a pre-Columbian cemetery. The remains that were unearthed included mummy bundles (preserved human body parts wrapped in linen) as well as exposed (i.e., unwrapped) remains from the Late Intermediate Period (500-1450 CE) that had become mummified (preserved) through natural processes caused by the severe dryness of the particular desert, the salt content in that desert’s sand, and other organic materials present in the environment.

After encountering the naturally mummified remains discovered in Chile, Ms. Gleeson had an opportunity to study the intentionally mummified remains of a previously unknown pharaoh (Pharaoh Senebkay) excavated from a tomb in South Abydos, Egypt. Despite the age of the remains, forensic scientists were able to show that the pharaoh had died a violent death and that his death most likely occurred while he was in battle and on horseback.

Remains such as these, as well as others discovered throughout the world, are generally not brought back to the Penn Museum, but are left in their original sites after examination and study. The museum houses a great many mummies, however, many of which are donated from Egypt. (One was donated by John Wanamaker! Another includes a mummified puppy.) Much knowledge can be gleaned from these remains, including that related to diet and nutrition, mummification practices, and preservation methods used in the past.

The study of mummies has evolved over time, and advances in technology allow for less invasive studies than those done in earlier years. Beginning in the 1970s, for instance, autopsies might be performed on mummies, while today, endoscopic biopsies and CT scanning may be used. Physical anthropologists may be able to determine things that occurred to a mummified person during his life, his manner of death, and what has been done to his remains after he died. The conclusions reached are usually less than certain, Ms. Gleeson told us. In most cases, scientists can only develop educated theories of a mummy’s history. Ms. Gleeson refers to mummies as persons rather than artifacts or objects and tries to call them by name, if their names are known, or to give them names when their identities are unclear.

The museum conservators do their utmost to avoid contamination, focus on non-invasive imaging and analysis whenever possible, use minimally invasive techniques in conservation treatments, and consult with outside experts. Though mummification processes vary widely, they often occur as follows:

1) The brain, liver, stomach, and lungs are removed

2) The body is washed, and packed with aromatic substances to keep the cavities from collapsing

3) The body is packed in natron, after being sufficiently dried

4) The body is coated with oils, and

5) The body is wrapped in linen secured with plant gum

The Penn Museum provides the public with a wonderful opportunity to learn about mummies, what they can teach us, and how they are preserved. You can also obtain additional information from Ms. Gleeson’s blog at penn.museum/artifactlab. Check it out!

November 2015 DVSinC Meeting

November 21, 2015: Oscar Vance, Forensic Hypnotist, Vance Investigations

by Judith Skillings


Witnesses to crimes often see more than they can remember — without a little help. Whether due to the trauma of the event or imperfect recall, victims often fall short of providing the kind of information police need for conviction. Stymied, desperate for a break or a lead, police can turn to a forensic hypnotist such as Oscar Vance.

A former Montgomery County police detective with an impressive solve rate in murder cases, Vance became a believer in using hypnotism as a police tool in 1979. That year a pregnant school teacher in Upper Gwynedd was attacked, her throat slit to her vocal cords and left for dead. When her husband arrived home minutes after the event, she was still alive, having fallen in such a way that the blood flow had been stanched. Suffering from post traumatic stress the woman could recall nothing of her attack or the person who did it.

Police had forensic clues such as fingerprints and hair samples. They had even recovered the knife discarded nearby. Witnesses recalled a pick-up truck pulling a boat but couldn’t describe the driver. Using hypnosis techniques, it took three hours for the woman to bring back clear memories. It turned out she was familiar with her assailant since he was a fellow teacher at her school. She was unaware that he was in love with her and insanely jealous that she was pregnant by another man. On the day of the attack he made advances, they struggled and he lashed out with the knife. Faced with her testimony the man confessed to the crime.

This success encouraged the Montgomery County DA to send officers to the Law Enforcement Hypnosis Institute in California run by Dr. Martin Reiser. Oscar Vance was one of five hundred police personnel who were trained to use the technique. Its popularity had soared after its success in the Chowchilla, California kidnapping. That case involved twenty-six children and driver buried alive underground in their school bus, while the perpetrator negotiated for ransom. The driver and students managed to escape through an air vent. Traumatized, they could recall few concrete facts about the episode. Through hypnosis the driver was able to come up with all but one number of the license plate of the car driven by the kidnapper. That led to his arrest and conviction.

One of Vance’s favorite local cases happened in Lehigh County in 1996. Vance was brought in when a fourteen-year old girl was found raped and murdered and discarded in the public works area. She was not the first such victim so the police feared they had a serial rapist at work. A county employee had been having coffee at the yard when he heard a car drive in and then away. He’d caught a glimpse of the side of the driver’s head and the back of the car. With the aide of hypnosis he was able to describe the man as in his late teens with olive complexion. He recalled the color and make of the car and that it had a dent in the right rear panel.

This evidence came into play when the would-be rapist broke into the house of a forty-year old woman who did not submit quietly. Although disturbed from sleep and naked, she fought her assailant to get hold of the knife and fled from the house. He caught her on the lawn, knocked her down and choked her until unconscious. He then raped her and, for some unknown reason, returned to the house and went out the back door.

Vance was brought in to help the victim recall her assailant. He coached her to look at the face of the man, look into his eyes. He asked how tall the man was, how big, how did he smell. He asked what he said to her. Eventually, despite being unconscious, the woman was able to bring back details of the rape and describe the man.

Still they had no lead on the perp. Aware that rapists often get fixated on a particular person, the police staked out the victim’s house. Three weeks later the same assailant returned only to the find the husband at home, which caused him to flee. Another three weeks went by before the rapist tried his luck again. A cop posted in the kitchen heard him enter the house. When he called out, “Police,” the rapist fired. The police returned fire, but as he stopped to reload the perp escaped by diving through a plate glass window.

The police canvassed local hospitals with the drawing of the suspect and identified a man who had come in to be stitched up. They were able to match his DNA to the results of the rape kit performed on his victim. Cornered, the perp pleaded guilty to some of the rapes in the area however his lawyer tried to have the use of hypnosis discounted in the pivotal case. The PA Supreme Court ruled that it was a legitimate tool and that all the evidence obtained by hypnosis was admissible.

As much art as science, Vance described his type of hypnosis as a “high state of concentration and consciousness” that leads to recall through relaxation. He believes that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis with the hypnotist acting as a guide. It begins with the induction: a state of progressive relaxation which may take only a few minutes or more, depending upon the subject. The person does not need to be in somnambulist state to elicit the wanted information. Nor does the event have to be fresh.

Recall is possible even decades later. Vance admitted that forensic hypnosis is usually called on in dead-end cases and that it is not always perfect. There can be discrepancies between what witnesses say initially and what they recall under hypnosis. Still it remains high on its ability to help point police in the right direction and to give solace to witnesses tormented by elusive evidence they cannot recall.

April 2015 DVSinC Meeting

April 18, 2015: Dr. Richard Perry and Dr. Danai Chasaki, Professors of Engineering at Villanova University

by Jane Shaw

Our guest speakers at our April meeting were Dr. Richard Perry and Dr. Danai Chasaki, Villanova University professors who teach a freshman engineering course on cyber crime-scene investigation and digital forensics. They explained how the students learn to work in teams and role play (either hacker or defensive). They learn how to crack passwords, unlock pin-based locks, crack login-ins, even how to identify fingerprints left on keyboards, and fingerprint analysis in general for eliminating suspects.

We were allowed to take our own fingerprints. It wasn’t even messy. They warned us of the many threats coming from other countries, especially China, where it is government sponsored. But also they told us where to go to for alerts and tips. The frightening part was that we were told that we could never protect our computer information completely. But the job market for cyber crime scene investigation specialists is very good. There are thousands of job openings and not enough people to fill them. It certainly sounds like an interesting and necessary field of study.

February 2015 DVSinC Meeting

February 21, 2015: Ramona DeFelice Long, Independent Editor

by KB Inglee

Today’s speaker was Ramona DeFelice Long, an independent editor who talked to us about what to expect and look for when hiring an independent editor. Check out her web site at: https://ramonadef.wordpress.com/ The following is a summary of her comments.

The rise of the independent editor began in the 1980s as the publishing industry began to change. Publishing houses were laying off editors, so the remaining editors had to do the work of both book and acquisition editors. Publishing houses were beginning to accept manuscripts in near perfect condition that needed little editing. At the same time self-publishing was exploding. Many experienced editors began to work for authors to perfect manuscripts to get them into shape for submission. Some authors managed to bridge the gap between traditional publication and self-publishing, becoming Hybrid authors. With the rise in e-books, the novella (under 50,000 words) is making a comeback.

If you are looking for an independent editor, you need to know what you need. There are several kinds of editors:

1)      Content editors look at the manuscript and note the things that work and the things that don’t. Does the plot hold together? Are the characters what the writer intended? Is there too much back story?

2)      Copy or line editors correct grammar and spelling, and make sure you are using the correct word.

3)      Proof readers look for errors in the finished manuscript.

4)      Coaches encourage the writer to keep going. “You can do it!”

5)      Book doctors turn your idea outline or manuscript into a book or fix what is wrong with it.

6)      Ghost writers will write the whole thing for you.

All for a fee, of course. How do you find these people? Any of the writing magazines have ads in them. Ask writers in your genre which editors they have worked with and if they were helpful. Read the acknowledgements section of books of the type you write. Check on E-lance, an on line market place for editors and people looking for them.

Once you have chosen one or two, check them out. Read their web sites, ask friends. Look them up on Amazon (if you search on their name it will tell you the books in which they have been acknowledged). After you have chosen someone, contact them. Tell them your genre, and give them an idea of what you have to show them.

You should take into account that it takes time to complete this process. The more you sound like you know what you are doing, and the more you respect their time and talent, the more likely you are to make a good match. As you work through the introduction you need to take into account:

1)      Is this the right person to work with your manuscript? Are they knowledgeable about your genre?

2)      How long will the process take? Are there deadlines involved?

3)      How is the contract done; written out or more informal?

4)      How much will it cost and what will you get for your money?

5)      What do you expect from this process? Does it match what the editor actually does?

6)      What do you need? Is the manuscript too short, too long?

Editors are working people. They live on the money you pay them, so don’t expect freebees. Ramona charges by the page or the word, not by the time she spends on the manuscript. She requires 1/3 of the payment before she starts and the rest when she finishes.

It takes her 2-3 weeks to do most mysteries, and she usually has a couple of comments per page. Once she sends back the manuscript with comments and an explanatory email, there is a period of clarifying and brainstorming, but after a week or so the contract is complete. If you want more, you need to re-contract. Not all editors work the way she does so make sure you check.

Some problems she finds often:

1)      Slow Start

2)      Forcing the mystery (He: “Joe died last night.” She: “OMG, was he murdered?”)

3)      Forgetting the victim

4)      Story in a vacuum, as though no real life were going on around the mystery

5)      Errors in police procedure (avoid the dumb cop as a way of forcing the protagonist to solve the mystery)

6)      Why now? Why do the events happen when they do?

7)      Over explanation (trust your reader to figure it out)

8)      Too Stupid To Live (don’t go into the dark cellar unless you have a really good reason)

9)      Understand the difference between a “situation” and “true conflict.” Conflict happens when a plan goes wrong.


January 2015 DVSinC Meeting

January 17, 2015: Mr. David Reis, President of Cloud, Feehery & Richter

by Sandra Carey Cody

The speaker for our January 17 meeting was David Reis, President of Cloud, Feehery & Richter, LLC (CFR). Mr. Reis formerly served as Deputy of Operations for Sterling International, an international security company responsible for more than $250 million in worldwide contracts. Before entering the private sector, Mr. Reis served as a federal agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, an intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and an Army Airborne Ranger in both Afghanistanand Iraq.

He talked about areas for which Postal Inspectors are responsible: inspecting items that go through the mail, cyber security, making sure the mail is not stolen, prevention of mail fraud, investigation of suspected mail fraud, and detection of anything that might pose a threat to the American people, such as anthrax or mail bombs. The Postal Inspection Service is divided into teams to deal with different types of crime, i.e., External Crime, such as mail fraud, and Prohibited Mailings. An example of this would be drugs sent through the mail or child porn.

He said that dealing with child porn is one of the most, if not the most, disturbing jobs, so disturbing that there is a two-year limit on the amount of time an inspector is assigned to this duty. Mr. Reis provided us with studies of some of the cases he found interesting and talked about his background in the intelligence and military communities. He pointed out how the different experiences compliment each other and help develop the tools necessary to investigate and prevent crime. His presentation included slides, was friendly and informal, and included time for questions. I think everyone left enlightened and a little surprised at the scope of responsibility of the Postal Service.

November 2014 DVSinC Meeting

November 15, 2014: Retired State Police Trooper, Thomas Cloud

by Judith Skillings

NOVEMBER 15, 1972

Presented by Retired State Police Trooper, Thomas Cloud

At 2:15 AM on Wednesday, November 15, 1972, an “all hands on call” alarm was sounded at the State Police Barracks in Avondale, Pennsylvania. Two police officers from Kennett Square had not reported in as scheduled. They earlier had responded to the scene of a hit-and-run case but had not been heard from since. When the State troopers arrived at the police station, they found both officers — Dick Posey, 38, married with five children and considered too nice a guy to be a cop; Bill Davis, 27, was single, from a cop family — lying dead next to their patrol car.

The Evidence. The police car had stopped near the rear door of the station. Both the driver’s and passenger’s doors were open. On the ground near the passenger’s door were bits of car trim from the hit-and-run accident scene. Davis, who had been driving, had been shot by a bullet that went through him and took out the window. His gun was holstered. Posey was found lying partially on top of his partner with his gun part way out of his holster. He had been shot in the back. The bullet had traveled from low on his back to exit higher on his chest.

The Scenario. It appeared that the officers had returned to the station to log in the evidence from the traffic accident. The first shot caught Davis unaware. Posey dropped what he was carrying. Assuming incorrectly that the shot had come from the front of the car, he circled around the rear to help his partner and to get protection from the car door. Unfortunately the shooter was across the street, behind a car in the alley next to the insurance company. His second shot struck Posey in the back.

The Killer. The killings did not occur during the commission of a crime; the men were clearly targeted and taken out in an ambush. Because Davis was killed first, investigators started with the supposition that he had been the target and began combing his cases for a likely suspect. The most promising was a man named Ansel Hamm. Bill Davis had stopped Hammon several occasions for driving without a license. During the most recent instance, his girlfriend had been in the car. When questioned about it she claimed Hamm was furious at having been embarrassed by a cop in front of his girl.

The Proof. They needed to connect Hamm to the killings. On Sunday, November 19th, one hundred volunteer firemen joined the police to march from the Kennett   Square police station in the direction of Ansel Hamm’s house on Mill Road. Off the side of Route 1, just west of route 82, a fireman found a Belgium 308 sporting rifle with a scope that had been discarded recently. The stock was cracked. Someone had bent the barrel in an attempt to prevent it being matched to a bullet.

A partial projectile, a hollow nose bullet, had been recovered during the autopsy. It fell to State Police officer Cloud to see if the gun could be repaired so that ballistics match would be possible. He located Mr. Jaeger, a gun expert, and took him the rifle. He asked if the man could straighten the barrel. His thoughtful response was, “I think I can, but why do you want me to do that?” “So we can run a match.” “Yes, but the ballistics come from just the last two inches of the barrel. I can fire the gun as it is. If you are concerned about the power, I can lessen the amount of powder.” Once in the hands of the FBI, the gun was successfully matched to the bullet from the fallen officer.

The Good Fortune. Ansel Hamm had been known to the local police for some time since he ran with the Johnson Brothers, a band of thieves. He had been arrested for theft a couple of years earlier. While he was serving time in a prison near Bedford, PA, an informant had turned against Hamm and testified to his involvement in other thefts. Armed with a search warrant the police recovered a cache of firearms from Hamm’s house on Mill Road. Several of the guns were tied to reports of stolen guns and confiscated.

Two of the firearms had not been reported stolen or linked to any crime so they were returned to the Hamm family. However, the police had recorded the serial numbers. One of them was a Belgium 308 Sporting rifle. The same one now in evidence in the murder of the police officers.

In two respects the police were lucky with the rifle. Apparently no one in Hamm’s family had told him it had been taken by police then returned, otherwise he might have used a different firearm. And secondly, he was so arrogant that he discarded the gun by the side of the road. Thomas Cloud feels it was left as a taunt, to tell the police that he was the one who had killed the men and there was nothing they could do about it. Like all criminals, he felt he was brighter than the cops who were after him. He was wrong. His attempt to destroy the ballistics had failed.

The Verdict. On November 20, 1972 an arrest warrant was issued for Ansel Eugene Hamm. His trial was held in Dauphin County on a change of venue. He was convicted on two counts of first degree murder. When the news was relayed to Chester County, every siren in the county sounded in celebration.

The above story was recounted for us by Thomas Cloud, a Pennsylvania State Trooper for twenty-five years who was actively involved in the Hamm arrest and the case of the Johnson Brothers, which was fictionalized in the movie, “At Close Range.” Forty-two years later, the deaths of the two Kennett Square officers still resonate with Mr. Cloud.

In those days, the trooper patrolled a huge area from the Delaware border to Atglen and north nearly as far as Horsham. Most nights there was only one 2-man car to cover the entire sector. They were dependent upon the cooperation of the local police and regarded them as partners. The senseless loss of two fellow officers caused “reality set in” for Thomas Cloud. He is now a founding partner in the security firm, CFR, located in West Chester, PA.

October 2014 DVSinC Meeting

October 18, 2014: Liz Redmond, Esq., Probation and Parole Supervisor, Chester County Adult Probation and Parole Department

by Matty Dalrymple

Probation, Parole, and Bail Services Liz Redmond, Esq., Probation and Parole Supervisor, Chester County Adult Probation and Parole Department, provided an overview of probation, parole, and bail services. Ms. Redmond discussed the changes that have happened in the criminals she worked with as a lawyer and a Probation and Parole supervisor–the current generation doesn’t have any connection to society or can even remember a time when they were happy. Criminals currently don’t have a sense of future consequences.

We discussed the difference between probation and parole. Probation is a sentencing alternative that allows the offender to remain in the community under supervision under defined conditions. Parole is a conditional release of someone who has served part of their sentence in prison and is now serving the balance of the sentence under supervision. Both probation and parole can include a pre-sentence investigation. This is a report provided to the court that can inform next steps in the process (e.g., what the offender’s sentence will be). In some cases, the probation and parole process can actually be counterproductive for offenders whose crime was an anomaly in an otherwise low risk scenario.

Criminals can be likable because they are exciting, funny, and creative; the cases where an offender turns around and uses these traits for productive purposes is the payback for the people who work in the parole and probation area. DUIs are a large part of the work that Ms. Redmond’s area gets. Studies say 1 in 33 people in the US have spent time in prison. Message to offenders is “if you comply with the guidelines, I’m your best friend … if you don’t, I’m your worst enemy.”

A key role of P&P is to help offenders deal with conflict. If an offender lives in another county than the one where the offense took place, responsibility for their P&P passes to their county of residence. A P&P specialist has 75-80 offenders assigned to him/her. When subject to P&P, offenders lose some of their due process rights (their house or car could be searched, their cell phone taken, etc.).

P&P specialists roles are: Drug testing – Specialist must want urine to leave the body (males with males, females with females) … testing for cocaine is instantaneous (similar to a pregnancy test) … most drugs stay in the system for 3 days, marijuana for up to 30 days … P&P specialists follow up with offender’s doctor if the doctor wants to prescribe mood-altering drugs. Ciboxin is a drug that helps with the side effects of withdrawal from heroin–if someone uses heroin while using Ciboxin they don’t get the effect of the heroin high and take more and more heroin until they overdose.

Some drug testing containers include tests for temperature to check to make sure the sample is body temperature. Oral swaps are an alternative if unable to get a urine sample from an offender; downside is that the window of detection is small (hours rather than days). The goal of drug testing is to get them the help they need. “A drug is a drug” so P&P tests for alcohol as well. The only drugs that a person can die from from withdrawal are benzodiazepine and alcohol because these affect the central nervous system.

SCRAM (Secure Continuous Random Alcohol Monitoring) bracelet is used to monitor alcohol usage; this is monitored by someone in Colorado and an alert is sent to P&P if a violation is detected; data is saved for seven days. Monitor must be in contact with skin (no bathing, swimming, etc. while wearing it). At first, violators would put bologna between skin and monitor to avoid detection; monitor analyzes wearer’s sweat. Bracelet is fitted tight to avoid tampering. The only way a wearer could get it off themselves would be to cut the band and that would trigger an alert.

Battery is also protected; it requires a special tool to access. Microwaves might interfere with transmission. Some work in conjunction with cell phone and bracelet and cell phone must be near base unit during check-in time.

Conduct violation proceedings Pre-sentence investigations Administrative duties – Administrative work related to taking away someone’s liberty is extensive–it’s boring but necessary. Training and meetings – P&P Specialists require 40 hours of training a year. Current PO interview process is extremely stringent (polygraph, essay, etc.)–this helps ensure that the people who apply for the job have a passion for helping people. Maintain communications – P&P Specialists have a script for their voicemail messages (to avoid things like “don’t leave more than one message” or “I’ll get back to you in 48 hours”). Ms. Redmond will check her Specialists’ messages periodically to make sure they are appropriate.

Interactions with offenders should never turn into a heated argument. Offenders should never leave the office feeling shamed. P&P officers are mentors. It takes a system of agencies to rehabilitate returning citizens. POs are also responsible for collecting fines and fees. POs must always wear a bullet proof vest when they go out on business; some officers wear it under their clothing, some wear a vest with “Parole” on the back.

Facebook has been a boon for P&P–offenders will often post photos of themselves with guns, etc. P&P also creates fake FB identities to use to interact with offenders. ChesterCountyPOs don’t allow the offenders they are responsible for to participate in undercover drug work because they want to keep them out of that world.

September 2014 DVSinC Meeting

September 20, 2014: Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf

by Kathleen Heady

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf spoke at our meeting on September 20, 2014. A dynamic, entertaining, and informative speaker, Ms. Wolf emphasized that the job of the prosecutor is to represent the United States and see justice done. This might mean not accepting a case for prosecution if the office does not see merit in it. They must use sound discretion in deciding whether or not to take a case and are equally proud of cases they decline.

There are ninety-four U.S. Attorney offices around the country. Ms. Wolf works in the eastern district of Pennsylvania. Examples of the kinds of cases seen in this area include many economic based crimes such as embezzlement, tax fraud, corruption, and civil rights cases. In addition there are often violent crimes such as bank robberies, and cases dealing with the Russian mafia, terrorism, and asset forfeiture.

She mentioned that asset forfeiture cases may not seem interesting but it can be a most satisfying type of case. She told of a bank employee who embezzled millions of dollars, and the attorneys were able to recover many of the items she purchased with the funds and sell them at auction, therefore recovering a large portion of the money for the bank.

What makes a crime a Federal case? The U.S. attorneys work with local police, and a crime is defined as a Federal case because Congress says so with the laws they have passed. A robbery of a bank with FDIC insurance is a Federal matter, as is insider trading. Ms. Wolf pointed out that the key is the nexus between the Federal government and an interstate connection. Interstate commerce, mail fraud, crimes committed on Federal property such as National Park sites are all Federal crimes.

She described an assault that took place in Philadelphia where the victim’s blood was found on a curb at Independence Hall. This made the assault a Federal crime.  Valley Forge is a national park site, and during the government shut-down in October, 2013, a runner was ticketed for parking his car — a Porsche — in a closed area at the park. The man’s ticket was upheld in Federal Court. The interstate nexus also involves products used or involved in a crime which are manufactured outside of the state where the crime is committed. Since no firearms, components and bullets are manufactured in Pennsylvania, any crime involving firearms would be Federal.

The Federal government has many more resources than local and state jurisdictions. They are able to carry out investigations in several states. Penalties are harsher. There are no paroles in the Federal system and there is a 95% conviction rate. Cases can involve the FBI, DEA, ATF, and Secret Service who deal with counterfeiters as well as protecting the President.

The public is increasingly aware of the use of DNA to solve crimes, but Ms. Wolf pointed out that a search warrant is needed to obtain DNA. Other methods that can be used to obtain information include wire taps, pictures of the outside of envelopes in the mail, trash, pole cameras, mobile tracking devices, electronic bugs, undercover agents, and credit card hot watches.

The sequence of events once the Federal prosecutor’s office agrees to take a case moves from investigation, grand jury indictment, arrest, discovery, trial or guilty plea, sentence, and then possibly to an appeal. When prosecutors prepare witnesses to take the stand they are told that they must tell the truth. She used the example of a case where a prosecution witness might lie on the stand. The prosecuting attorney would then be compelled to ask for a mistrial. Ms. Wolf provided an entertaining and informative look at the work of the Federal Prosecutor’s office.

April 2014 DVSinC Meeting

April 19, 2014: Dr. William Watson, Professor of History at Immaculata University, and Duffy’s Cut

by KB Inglee

Dr. William Watson, Professor of History at Immaculata University, was our April guest speaker. Mile 59 of the Philadelphia and Colombia Railroad, known as Duffy’s Cut and Duffy’s Fill, is the site of one of the few mass graves in the United States that is not the result of war.

Valley Creek, which ran through the cut, brought cholera to the workers. One victim was found with the bullet that killed him still in his skull, and another was bludgeoned with an ax. Seven were found in coffins that were nailed shut with as many as 200 nails. They were buried alive. There were no signs of defensive wounds on any of the victims.

In the summer of 1832, the ship John Stamp sailed from Ireland, carrying 160 men and women from Donegal, Derry, and Tyrone. Seventy-eight of them were listed as laborers. In Philadelphia, 47 of them were optioned for work on the Philadelphia and Colombia Railroad, to work alongside of 10 others who lived in Duffy’s house. Their average age was 22. Six to eight weeks later they were all dead. Their names, place of origin, age, and the possessions they carried with them are listed in the records of the shipping line.

Phillip Duffy was awarded the contract to work Mile 59, the most difficult along the line. Total cost for the mile was $32,000. The workers were paid 25 cents a day. Since they were Irish, they were considered expendable. Duffy himself died in Philadelphiain 1872, a rich man.

The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad and eventually the grandfather of the speaker, who served as railroad historian, was allowed to take the records home. In 1870, Duffy built a picket fence around the common grave. The fence was replaced by a stone wall in 1909. The deaths of the workers at Duffy’s Cut and Duffy’s Fill was written off as an urban legend. Clement, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, started an inquiry into the incident but kept the results inside the company. That inquiry was among the papers in the speaker’s grandfather’s attic.

In 2004, a memorial sign was put up at the corner of King’s Road and Sugartown Road. Further investigation of the site was hampered by lack of funds and political entanglements. The residents of the area were welcoming to the teams that came to dig at the cut. Each gave permission and one family offered their driveway for the teams to park. Each resident reported having seen ghosts.

In 2009, the dig turned up the body of John Ruddy, an 18-year-old. His body has been returned to Donegal. The oldest Irish artifact to be found on American soil turned up. It is the bowl of a clay pipe decorated with the flag of Wolfe Tone. SK007 is a woman. SK005 was found under a tree that had to be cut down to allow the diggers full access. He was found with a Barlow knife and two pewter buttons, showing that he was better off than the others who had few or no possessions.

All the artifacts found are in the Duffy’s Cut museum at Immaculata University. Most of the physical work of the dig was done by Immaculata students. The remains are buried in the cemetery on the college grounds and a large cross was erected at the site. None of the others have been identified, because there are no distinguishing characteristics that can be verified.

Among the victims is a seventy-year-old man. His body has not been found, but it will be identified when it is. Duffy’s Cut is no longer an urban legend, but has passed into popular culture with a novel and an opera written about it. The Dropkick Murphys and other groups have written songs about it. There are movies and documentaries, and more to come. I can proudly wear my Duffy’s Cut tee-shirt, available from duffyscut.immaculata.edu.

November 2013 DVSinC Meeting

November 16, 2013: Officers of the Chester County Sheriff’s Department K-9 Squad and Their Deputized Dogs

by KB Inglee

This month’s meeting was a most remarkable event. We arrived at the library to find the power out and the library closed. We held the business meeting and the educational “Writing Tips Session” outside the front door. The library people invited us to hold the rest of the meeting on the back terrace because it receives bits of sunshine. We were all dressed to meet inside, and since the day had started warm, many of us had only sweaters, not coats. But, watching the police dogs work outside felt more natural than if we had all been inside and toasty warm.

Officers Harry McKinney and Mark Smith of the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Squad brought two dogs, one for narcotics and one for explosives. Each dog is trained to detect odors of substances that can be used to make bombs, are found in narcotics, or are related to arson. An explosives dog recognizes 33 base odors, a drug dog, 8, and an arson dog, 35. They will find anything containing these substances. Dogs can’t tell legal from illegal, so they will find prescription codeine tables in your purse or hydrogen peroxide, which is used in bomb-making.

There are two ways to train dogs, a passive search, where they sit down when they catch an odor they are trained to detect, and an aggressive search, where they will tear things apart to get to the substance they are looking for.  Explosive dogs are trained to do passive searches so they don’t dig into anything that might explode. These dogs are cross-trained to do more than one kind of search.

All the dogs are trained and available for search and rescue. Jessie, the better trained of the two dogs, made her way around the group, sniffing our toes and legs and finally found the marijuana where his handler had planted it. Vic, the second dog, younger and not as well trained as Jessie, was after black powder. He, too, sniffed everyone’s toes and legs, but when he got to me, he took a really good long sniff before going on. Must have been the sheep that I fed before coming to the meeting. You could almost see him thinking, “Ah, something I don’t recognize. I have to remember this one.”

Most dogs who do police work are imported from Europe, where they are bred for the job. Each takes commands in the language of its country. A dog can work for about 20 minutes and these dogs are trained to a toy. When they complete their search they are rewarded by being given their toy and playing tug-of-war with their handler. The dogs live with the handlers and are part of the family.

A few odd facts: The dogs are sworn police officers and carry badges. Assaulting a canine officer (i.e., one of the dogs) is a Felony III. Assaulting the handler is a misdemeanor. The dog handler’s full attention is on the dog, leaving him more vulnerable to assault unless he has another officer watching his back. Dogs have a calming effect in many volatile situations. They run 35 miles an hour and bite, so most people who would take on a policeman won’t tangle with a dog. Police dogs do not bite; they apprehend. Police dogs love their work. We could tell how happy they were as they worked. The officers who came with them looked pretty happy, too.

October 2013 DVSinC Meeting

October 19, 2013: Patrick Carmody, Chief Deputy District Attorney and Chief of Trials for Chester County, PA

by KB Inglee

Patrick Carmody, Chester County DA, was our October speaker. As Chief of Trials, he oversees every murder trial in the county and serves as prosecuting attorney for at least one murder trial a year. He sees his position as advocate for the families of the victims. He attends the funerals of the victims in order to support the families and has become close with several of them. He followed the lives of the children of both the victim and the perpetrator.  He refers to the safety and well-being of the kids, now in safe circumstances, as the Silver Linings.

He described three cases for us. The first was Morgan Mengle, who was found guilty of killing her husband Kevin. Morgan and Kevin owned a landscaping business together. She enlisted the help of her lover, an employee. They poisoned a bottle of Snapple with nicotine. When Kevin didn’t die as quickly as they thought he should, Morgan, who was not at the scene, telephoned her lover and instructed him to kill her husband with a shovel. She made several text messages to her own phone from Kevin’s phone. When the police came, she blamed her accomplice, who believed she loved him as much as he loved her. He believed they would spend their lives together. Using phone records, the DA’s office was able to prove that Morgan was the prime mover.

The second was the murder of Leah Caramonic by her husband. After he had killed her, he moved her body into a chair. The lividity showed that she had not been killed in the chair. He was tried and found guilty of her murder. Five years later, the verdict was overturned. In the end, he was tried three times. The second was declared a mistrial. The third time, he was tried for 3rddegree murder and the verdict held. Part of the sentence was that he sign over custody of their kids.

The third case, which he only touched upon, was drug related. The murderer lured a 16 year old into his home and made him take off his clothes because he wanted to dismember the body with a chain saw. In an attempt to confuse the police, he also killed and dismembered a dog in order to comingle the DNA.

Some things to think about: Every murder has two witnesses and one is dead. This sets the crime of murder apart from most crimes, where the victim can give evidence. Murder is a crime of weakness. Murder is a crime of selfishness. You can’t have a love triangle if one party loves only himself.

Mr. Carmody is running for Judge in Chester County. In a phone call to his wife at the end of the session he said, “Not many voters, but it was fun.”

September 2013 DVSinC Meeting

September 21, 2013: Professor of Forensic Psychology, Katherine Ramsland

by KB Inglee

Want to know what makes those villains in your work or the stories you read seem so real? Our speaker this morning, Katherine Ramsland, knows the answer to that. She is a prolific writer, of both fiction and non-fiction. She teaches at DeSales University. She blogs for Psychology Today. She appears on the ID channel. Much of her work delves into the mind of the criminal. Her degree in the philosophy of psychology and her experience as a consulting forensic scientist give her insight into what makes perpetrators, victims and witnesses tick. Among her many works is The Criminal Mind, a Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology, Writers Digest Books, 2002.

‘Forensics’ describes an activity that is court related. A forensic psychologist may serve a number of functions, all involved with law enforcement. They may be a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or hold some other degree. It is not the education or the degree that allows them to appear in court, but their expertise in a certain area.

There is a great deal more to the field than court appearances. They may work directly with the accused, doing evaluations for a number of reasons including competency. Is the accused competent to stand trial, competent to testify in their own defense or to represent themselves. They may do research into crime related pathology. They may consult with lawyers, police, and court personnel, but not testify in court.

MSO, the mental state at the time of the offence can have a tremendous bearing on the charge, the way a trial is conducted, and the sentencing. It is the job of the forensic psychologist to perform a psychological autopsy, which determines, as close as possible, the mental state of the victim at the time of the crime. Two kinds of crime, mass murderers and health care killers have been well researched and their mental state is well documented. Other types of crime are less well documented.

She detailed the way eye witness accounts are corrupt. Up to 75% of eye witness accounts can be false. She suggested reading Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino as a study of eye witness corruption.

April 2013 DVSinC Meeting

April 20, 2013: Detective Eileen Law

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

Detective Eileen Law, the founder and president of CIA, Inc. (the oldest established detective agency in the tri-state area) joined us at our April meeting and shared some fascinating insights into the world of private detecting. Ms. Law’s interest in becoming a private detective was sparked during childhood, when a 15-year-old girl named Connie Evans disappeared, and was later found murdered, in the neighborhood where then-11-year-old Eileen Auch (Law) lived. She has spent a good deal of her life trying to solve the murder of that same young girl.

As you might expect, her agency specializes in finding missing persons, kidnapped children, biological parents, and children who were given up for adoption. The agency’s success rate is 98% overall and a full 100% in the location of kidnapped children.

Ms. Law has investigated cases from the most mundane to the most sensational (such as Mafia-involved murder), and she gives each and every case her all. Her tenacity can be seen in her dogged search for Toni Sharpless (a 29-year-oldChesterCountywoman who disappeared in 2009) and her relentless determination to solve Connie Evans’ murder. Surely, one of the secrets to her success (in addition to her readily apparent intellect) is that she cares deeply about every case she undertakes. These are not just clients to Ms. Law; they are people who need her help, and she gives them everything she has.

One of our favorite parts of the day was her “show and tell.” Ms. Law’s disguises are diverse, imaginative, and highly effective. (You’d never know it was her!) And every mystery writer in the room coveted her special gadgets: cameras and weapons masquerading as buttons and belt buckles, night lenses and listening devices, to name just a few.

After her thoroughly entertaining and educational talk, we all agreed: There is no one we’d trust more if we were ever in need of a private detective.

February 2013 DVSinC Meeting

February 16, 2013: Attorney Samuel C. Stretton

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

Attorney Samuel C. Stretton, who for the past 40 years has handled both civil and criminal cases throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, gave us an inside look at criminal trials from the defense point of view at our February meeting. Since the start of his practice in the 1970s, Attorney Stretton has tried over 900 jury cases, at least 80 of which involved a capital offense.

He has seen some remarkable changes over the years, he told us, and a good number of them relate to juries. The so-called CSI effect is well-known, of course. The quick and easy solutions played out in television dramas have influenced jurors’ expectations, which cannot be ignored as an attorney prepares for and conducts a client’s defense.

Jurors are also more cynical than they used to be, because so many have been victims themselves or have family members who have been victims. Just recently, during a jury voir dire in which Mr. Stretton engaged, more than a dozen out of a total of 60 potential jurors admitted having a family member who had been murdered. Not surprisingly, jurors also have stronger feelings about guns than they had in the past. A decade or so ago, a juror might have been struck (excused) for expressing a bias either for or against the ownership of guns; now, nearly everyone expresses such a bias.

Jury selection is challenging for other reasons, as well. Juries are composed of individuals who bring with them a lifetime of background and experience, yet knowing a prospective juror’s background or even his prejudices does not necessarily provide an accurate picture of how that juror might behave. Mr. Stretton has learned that a lawyer cannot anticipate with any degree of certainty what a jury member will do or think. Understanding this, he tries not to over-think his jury selection.

Changes have also occurred in the amount of outside information available to jury members. Nearly universal access to the internet, coupled with the expense involved in conducting a lengthy jury trial, has had an important effect on the modern jury’s consideration of a case. In earlier times, juries were often sequestered during a long criminal trial and protected from outside influences such as newspaper reports of a trial’s progress. Today, the costs of sequestering a jury are considered prohibitive; the jurors are sent home to their families–and their computers. In a matter of moments, a juror can access any number of opinions and remarks about the guilt or innocence of the defendant whose future lies in his hands. The juror’s assessment of the defendant’s guilt or innocence is tainted by this information, and there is little or nothing the court system can do about it.

Mr. Stretton’s job has become more challenging for other reasons, as well. Defense attorneys have always had a difficult time winning their cases for the simple reason that most of their clients are guilty. But current forensic technology makes a prosecutor’s job even easier and a defense attorney’s job that much harder. The art of being a trial lawyer is dying, he told us. Most of the guesswork is gone now. Once, a defense attorney relied on psychology, reasoning, and logic. Now, so much more of the evidence is physical and nearly impossible to refute.

There is one difficulty Mr. Stretton has always had to face, however, and that is the prevailing attitude toward criminal defense attorneys. Most people have a cynical view of lawyers who represent criminal defendants–especially when those defendants are guilty of the crimes with which they’ve been charged.

But even an individual guilty of a crime is entitled to full and competent representation before he can be fairly convicted of a crime, Mr. Stretton reminded us. This right protects not only the guilty but the innocent, for it aims to prevent the punishment of an individual accused of a crime without sufficient proof that he has actually committed that crime. When a criminal lawyer defends accused criminals–guilty or innocent–he defends their and our constitutional rights.

January 2013 DVSinC Meeting

January 19, 2013: Captain Joseph A. Carbo, Jr., of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

Captain Joseph Carbo of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office — who came to us direct from none other than Sheriff Bunny — joined us at our January meeting and gave us an insider’s view of the design and purpose of the Chester County Justice Center, which was completed in 2008. The new design, he told us, has improved security in a number of important ways.

The building has nine stories, and nine elevators, five of which are private, and four of which are public. Three of the private elevators are restricted to deputy sheriffs and their prisoners. The basement is a large “sally port,” which is an area with a secured and controlled entryway that provides a holding function for prisoners brought to the building for hearings or trials. Each prisoner is brought to the sally port in one of many types of transportation vehicles.

The vehicles contain separate cages for female and male prisoners, and another cage to protect the officers. The vehicle, which contains prisoners as well as two deputies for each prisoner, is driven into the basement, where the armed deputies secure their weapons in a lock-box — because no firearms are allowed in the holding areas. This revelation astonished a few of our members, but Captain Carbo assured us the situation is secure. Each prisoner wears heavy shackles on both ankles, which are connected by eighteen-inch chains, and handcuffs attached to a belt that is fastened at the prisoner’s back. (Captain Carbo’s display props were wonderful!)

The officers’ protocol provides additional security. Any officer who receives a prisoner will frisk that prisoner for weapons, despite having received the prisoner from an officer who has already frisked him. A smart cop, Captain Carbo advised us, always assumes the worst-case scenario, and “de-escalates from there.”

The sally port, itself, is quite large. It provides a secure area between two entrances and two exits. None of these doors can be opened until the other is locked. The prisoners are moved from the vehicle and through a turn-key, which is manned by armed deputies. The turn-key deputies take the prisoners only as far as the sally-port entrance, so that the deputies can remain armed. Once inside the sally-port proper, the prisoner is placed in a holding cell. The sally port has separate holding cells for female and male adult prisoners and for female and male juvenile prisoners — and any prisoner who is there to testify against another is put in a cell other than the one holding the prisoner against whom he will testify.

There are seventy cameras and approximately fifty-five deputies in the Justice Center at one time. Every courtroom has a chief courtroom deputy as well as the deputies assigned to any prisoner making an appearance. At least three deputies are assigned to the lobby of the main building at all times.

Anyone entering the building is checked for weapons, which are confiscated until the visitor leaves. Some of Captain Carbo’s most fascinating show-and-tell items were examples of the things people attempt to get in the building: spring-operated knives; flexible, harmless-looking billy clubs that pack a hefty punch; knives disguised as cigarette lighters; rather unremarkable-looking jewelry with removable blades or tiny guns; key-chain fobs doubling as self-defense weapons; and more. Most of these items look relatively innocuous to the untrained eye, but the Chester County Sheriff’s Deputies are experienced at spotting them before their owners have a chance to sneak them through.

Captain Carbo told us that if the mystery writers among us could promise not to bring along any of their personal weapons or poisons — and if he can get Sheriff Bunny’s okay — he just might agree to give us a tour of this amazing building.

November 2012 DVSinC Meeting

November 17, 2012: Dr. Sandra Moss, M.D., M.A. History; Please — Don’t Eat the Daisies: Poisons in the Garden

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

If you’ve been itching to poison someone, but haven’t been able to decide just which poison to use, you will surely regret having missed Dr. Sandra Moss’s presentation at our November meeting. Dr. Moss, a retired New Jersey internist, and an expert on nineteenth-century American medicine and botanical poisons, shared myriad handy methods for dispatching unwanted characters.

You may be surprised to learn that many of the poisons Dr. Moss discussed have been used in the manufacture of medicines. This was particularly so in the nineteenth century. But the dose makes the poison, Dr. Moss explained, and large amounts of a substance that may be therapeutic in smaller doses can do someone a great deal of harm. Salix, a derivative of which is used to make aspirin, comes from the bark and leaves of the weeping willow tree and will kill if ingested in sufficient quantities. Ricin, which comes from the castor bean (used to make the dreaded, yet healthful, castor-oil supplement of years past), can cause a death so horrible that it should be reserved for only the most despicable of characters.

But your stories are of the cozy variety, you say? Never fear; Dr. Moss has a poison for you, too. Have your protagonist invite her nemesis in for a nice cup of comfrey tea, or perhaps an omelet bursting with mushrooms. All mushrooms are edible, of course, but some are edible only once, and those are the ones you want. Death Caps, Dr. Moss advised with a smile, work especially well.

Dr. Moss imparted the effects of her long list of lethal substances with glee and wit, and we thoroughly enjoyed her talk.

September 2012 DVSinC Meeting

September 15, 2012: Stephen R. Phillips, PhD; CSI: Ancient Egypt, Forensic Anthropology 101

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

Our September 2012 speaker was Stephen R. Phillips, PhD, research assistant to the curator-in-charge of the Egyptian section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology in Philadelphia. The museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the country, and the largest free-standing sphinx in the world.

Skeletons can provide a wealth of information, according to Dr. Phillips, who described in detail how a forensic anthropologist can aid a police department in the identification of remains. We learned quite a lot from this fascinating lecture. Just bring us a skull; we’ll tell you if it belonged to a male or female, young or old. We can also give you a bit of insight into the cause of King Tut’s death — but only a little. Dr. Phillips says we have to have him back to get the rest of the story!

April 2012 DVSinC Meeting

April 21, 2012: George Anastasia; Writing for the Mob

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

Our April 2012 speaker was George Anastasia, author of The Summer Wind, and the “mob writer” for the Philadelphia Inquirer. It all began in 1976, when the paper sent him to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to cover a casino gambling referendum and the residents’ fear that legalized gambling would bring the mob to AC. But they were already there, Anastasia says, and he wrote the story.

Even more fascinating than the story itself (to a roomful of writers and aspiring writers, that is) was his description of the style in which he told the tale. One of Anastasia’s favorite writers, a metro-columnist named Jimmy Breslin, had risen to prominence after writing the story of JFK’s funeral from the perspective of the man who dug the slain president’s grave. Breslin zigged when everybody else zagged, Anastasia said, and told the story in an entirely different way. Anastasia followed Breslin’s lead, and wrote his casino story from the point of view of a boardwalk umbrella salesman whose business had been taken over by casino gambling entrepreneurs. From that day on, Anastasia was able to choose his own topics.

Anastasia offered several more tips to our writers: Focus on what newspapers term the “nut graph,” the reason why someone should want to read the rest of a story. Remember the back-stories are often the “why” of the bigger story — the subplots, the down and dirty personal stuff that can cause the big things to happen in the first place. Finally, when you’re working on a manuscript, stop before you’re done with a scene, so you’ll have somewhere to pick up from the next day.

Anastasia had a lot of good anecdotes to share.  Best of all, he looked and sounded just like a mob reporter as he related them.

March 2012 DVSinC Meeting

March 17, 2012: Dr. Robert Moss; Sherlock Holmes and Holmes on Stamps

by Kathleen Anne Barrett

At our March 2012 meeting, Dr. Robert Moss, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University, spoke about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and the issuance of stamps featuring the well-known detective. Sporting the iconic deer-stalker hat that most of us associate with Holmes, Dr. Moss admitted to a life-long love of both the fictional detective and philately, or the collection of stamps.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Moss reminded us, lived from 1859 to 1930, but his most famous character lives on in reprints, dramatizations, translations into dozens of languages, pastiches, poetry, and yes, even stamps. Countries the world over have issued stamps commemorating anniversaries of the birth of Doyle, the death of Doyle, the publication of a particular Holmes story, and just about anything Sherlock Holmes-related.

For the most part, however, the stamps ignore the author and focus only on his character. Doyle reportedly had tired of having his name continually coupled with that of his fictional sleuth, and went so far as to finish him off in “The Final Problem.” But, alas, his readers refused to accept Holmes’ demise, and Doyle was forced to bring him back eight years later.

Dr. Moss was thoroughly entertaining and very informative. Just one case in point — that hat? It was never mentioned in any of the literature. Sidney Paget, who illustrated the stories, gave Holmes the chapeau.