CSI: fact and fiction

12 September 2016

By Pan Macmillan

We all like to play the armchair detective sometimes, imagining that we've guessed the culprit of more than enough fictional crimes to do the job of a real-life crime scene investigator. In reality, however, crime scenes can be a lot more complicated, busy and much less glamorous than those in fiction.
We spoke to the real-life crime scene investigators from Think Forensic about the myths and reality of a career solving crimes. 

Many crime fiction novels depict murder scenes as exciting, emotive and easy to solve (though it’s always the last person you can think of ‘whodunit’). In fiction, process tends to be sketchy, in favour of drama and tension...


The scene is set…

Family members report Penny Farlow missing. Immaculate, in his Armani sunglasses and Savile Row suit, Steve Latchem started his investigation at Penny's home.

From photographs and documents he established that Penny was a wealthy, successful businesswoman. 'Which provides at least one motive', he muttered.

With a UV torch he searched the walls, revealing spatters of blood. Steve deduced that a crime had been committed three days prior. He searched further, and found what he suspected to be the murder weapon: a large mahogany ornament that he dusted for fingerprints. 'Damn.' The ornament had been wiped.

The back door slammed, more to do with the wind whipping up outside than anything else. In walked Penny's live-in lover, Jason Wild.

Steve introduced himself, then sent a barrage of questions Jason’s way. 'Where’s Penny?', 'Where were you three nights ago?', 'What was the state of your relationship?'.

As Jason’s answers came quickly and confidently, Steve thought only one thing: his alibi doesn’t fit.

Steve snapped handcuffs on Jason’s wrists and threw him into the police car. Downtown, the detective extracted a full confession. 'Not bad, Steve', he congratulated himself. 'And it only took an hour'.


In real life, had Penny been reported missing, family members and friends would be interviewed by a team of specially-trained officers. Though Wild’s alibi may have been iffy, that’s not what UK courts convict people on: evidence is vital.

Early in the investigation, the police would contact Penny's bank manager, to confirm activity on her account after she was reported missing. Even Penny’s hairdresser can add to the enquiry: she confirmed that Penny missed her appointment, which was completely out of character.

Penny's cleaner is traced; she states that on her last visit, Penny wasn’t there, and Wild sacked her. She also noticed a new hall carpet had been fitted.

As for Steve Latchem being the only detective on the job, officers deployed would amount to the following:

     A CSI team: two officers, one crime scene manager, one detective
     An underwater search team: eight officers and a sergeant
     A task force: ten officers, one sergeant, one detective
     A team for door-to-door enquiries: ten officers, one sergeant, one detective
     A ‘suspect’ team: one detective sergeant, four detective constables
     A ‘victim’ team: one detective sergeant, four detective constables
     A ‘scene’ team: one detective sergeant, four detective constables
     An intelligence team: two detective constables
     An exhibits team: two detective constables
     A disclosure officer
     A suspect interview team: one detective sergeant, one detective constable
     A file prep team: one detective sergeant, one detective constable
     A logistics officer
     A press officer
     Incident room staff: eight officers
     A senior investigating officer and deputy

Experts would also be called in for their specialist knowledge, such as those that analyse blood spatter. They confirmed that a serious crime had taken place in the dining room; and also, that beneath the hall carpet there was staining on the floorboards. The pooling blood pattern there indicated that a wound had been in contact with the surface.

Despite this evidence, with the absence of Penny’s body, a forensic archaeologist checked the garden. He confirmed there had been recent activity. Was Penny buried there?

This is just the beginning of a real crime investigation, one where numerous experts, individuals and departments work together to gather evidence.

It’s not just Steve Latchem’s Armani suits that would be out of place in the real world of crime.

Think Forensic run interactive forensic workshops for teachers, students and would be crime scene investigators of all ages and abilities. To find out more visit www.thinkforensic.co.uk.

Find out more about real-life crime with our top ten true crime books

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