Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fingerprints and Talking Bones

by Andrea Campbell

I got interested in forensic science in the late ‘80s, before there were crime dramas on television that emphasized science. I came into this field through the back door, that is to say, in an unlikely way. I started by studying graphology with a Catholic priest. Father Tony had a degree in psychology and used handwriting analysis in his work with prison inmates, at a private girl’s school, and for marriage counseling.

Now to tell you the truth, many questioned document examiners (QDE) consider graphology to be like reading a horoscope, despite the fact that numerous ideas in the discipline overlap with what they do. No matter, for my studies introduced me to the American College of Forensic Examiners where I took another course. I soon joined—my member number is 471 and today I think they have over 16,000 members.

The best part about joining a professional organization is access. At one of their conferences—Coronado Island in San Diego, I signed up for a workshop with John Douglas, FBI Special Agent (ret.), and one of the authors of the behavioral science manual (and a pioneer in the Behavioral Science Unit as it was first called: BSU, ha!). I had thought it would be very cool to find perpetrators of heinous crimes by becoming a behavioral profiler. For his presentation John brought in photographs of crime scenes he had worked and there were graphics of eviscerations, impaling, and the mutilation of breasts and other organs. Wake-up call! I thought: Why would I want to have to walk through that? And to get into the perpetrator’s head besides—crazy work? So I brainstormed about a study that would enable me to remain “in the loop,” along with something that I could actually stomach.

While I was thinking, I got a degree in criminal justice and, after a short while decided that forensic art would be my bailiwick. Since I have a tendency to make the effort, I found the best forensic sculptor in the world and the pioneer of the technique of three-dimensional facial reconstruction, Betty Pat. Gatliff. Ms. Gatliff completed her first reconstruction in 1967. I took classes with Betty Pat. at the Cleveland Institute of Art because those are my old stomping grounds.

Soon after, I studied comprehensive composite art with Karen T. Taylor. Karen had been with the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin for many years, and has been featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” She also taught at the FBI Academy and has successfully been involved in—and resolved—many cases. Karen is also the author of the definitive book about these disciplines, Forensic Art and Illustration.

I, too, have written many books about forensic science and criminal law but here, in this blog, we’re going to talk about my current obsession: the difference between TV crime drama and reality.

Many people feel they have become educated by watching the CSI-type procedural television shows and are proud to be Armchair Detectives. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about being interested in this area, but it’s effects are filtering down to the criminal justice system by way of the jury pool. As a consequence of this interest, many jurors today are expecting more science, more definitive results, and want techniques that they’ve seen on TV demonstrated in court. Trouble is, much of what is shown on TV is what I lovingly call: “crapology” or “infotainment.”

Over the years I have continued to attend many forensic science training conferences and have knowledge of, or experience with, a lot of really cool things from ammunition testing and wound ballistics to major case prints and more. I’m hoping my knowledge and background may benefit your interests—providing you like all things regarding forensic science and criminal law.