The CSI’s Utility Belt Part 4 – A Sticky Situation


What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?  1 Corinthians 4:21  (NASB)

In business a better product brings greater profit. Adhesive companies such as 3M know this. Producing stronger adhesives than competing companies brings superior profit. A 3M employee, Spencer Silver, worked to make the next big thing in adhesives. However, his attempts to make a super strong adhesive instead produced quite the opposite. It was so weak his management considered it a failure. The new product was effectively shelved until one of his co-workers, a chemical engineer named Art Fry, went to church.

As the video above relates: Fry sang in his church choir and had a continuing problem of page markers falling out of the hymnal he used. Luckily he remembered Silver’s “failed” low-tack adhesive and applied it to the slips of paper he used as markers. The markers stuck to the page but did not damage them. Luck? I don’t believe so after all Proverbs 16:33 says,”The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” A need for a weak adhesive and an inspired moment in church gave birth of the world-changing office product, the Post-It Note. This super weak adhesive, first thought a failure, continues to be one of 3M company’s best selling products. Strength sometimes comes through gentleness.

Two sought-after types of evidence are hairs and fibers. In the late 80’s while searching a vehicle for evidence I noted a single hair waving very proudly at me from the driver’s seat head rest. Its appearance was consistent with that of the suspect description so I determined it valuable evidence. Traditionally when searching a vehicle for evidence, sections of seats and floorboards are “taped.” A small section of the surface is covered with a paper tape. The tape is then pulled away lifting surface hairs and fibers. An analyst then examines the trace lift for evidence and comparison. It is important that the tape is low-tack. If it is not evidence can be damaged when the analyst retrieves it from the lift.

My choices of retrieval were either using tape or a pair of tweezers. Since I specifically wanted the analyst to look at this hair I did not want to mix it with other surface material. I needed a specific collection method. Tweezers were my next option. However, as my wife will verify to this day, when trying to be delicate, I am often quite clumsy. Remembering this I decided tweezers were out. I thought of cutting a small piece of tape and then inspiration struck me…Post-It Note!

Taking a note from a new package I easily retrieved the hair, and secured it by folding the note over on itself. The analyst had little trouble retrieving the hair due to the extreme low-tack of the adhesive. It turned out the technique and medium worked well. I cannot say that I am the first to use Post-It Notes for this. I can say that I am the first person I know who did. For the last 20+ years I have used it for collecting specific hairs, fibers, paint chips, and many other small items of delicate evidence. I have also taught the technique many times as well to law enforcement personnel.

Hair caught in point of entry

To this day I use them for collection of strong evidence that requires a gentle touch. The photo above is from a more recent crime scene in which the point of entry was a boarded up window. The scene yielded very little in the way of fingerprint or shoe impressions. The hair caught in wood at the point of entry though provided a color and hair type of the suspect. If you will notice the end of the hair on the right side bears a root, which is a DNA source prized by analysts.

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church (verse 4:21) he wrote regarding conduct of members. Very plainly he asked them if they wanted him to come to them with strong disciplinary measures or with a gentle touch. He gave them the choice to straighten up or face harsh penalties. Throughout history God Almighty gave mankind the choice between strict laws and harsh rule, or gentleness and a loving relationship. Mankind continually chose the path leading to harsh. In the fullness of time God gave them the gentlest of alternate options in His Son. It was Jesus Christ Himself who said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” His gentleness provided a strength that changed everything.

Eventually we will all have to choose gentleness in a loving relationship with God or harsh punishment outside of it. Take note (pun intended)!

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The CSI’s Utility Belt Part 3 – The DNA Swab


 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight. – Proverbs 31:10-13

The Grim Sleeper, a 1980s serial killer resurfaced in Los Angeles and killed again in 2007. In 2015 a home invasion in the neighborhood of the Vice President of the United States ended in a quadruple homicide. The killers in both of these crimes were caught thanks to suspects generated from DNA evidence left on partially eaten pizzas. The 1950s advertisement below states “everything under the sun gets done with Q-tips® .” This includes solving murders.

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This post is not about pizza. Nor is it particularly about DNA. It is however about one of the most commonly used tools in a CSI’s Utility Belt – the DNA swab.

Who do CSI’s all over the world owe a thank you to? It seems they owe thanks to the creative wife of a Polish-American immigrant, Leo Gerstenzang. It is believed in 1923 Leo saw his wife Ziuta wrap some cotton around the tip of a toothpick to use as a cleaning tool. Inspired by this prototype Leo marketed cotton tipped applicators named “Baby Gays” which later evolved into Q-Tips.  Sterile cotton swabs  became the perfect tool for collecting DNA samples from floors, walls, ceilings, clothing, weapons, and the mouths of suspects.

DNA swabs come in many varieties but from the same concept, absorbent clean fibers wrapped around the tip of a stick. The DNA swab (Puritan Cap-Shure) in the photograph below comes with its own protective case. Just swab, pull, close the cap, and you have a sealed DNA swab ready for drying and analysis.

That bit of cotton on the end of a toothpick has affected millions of lives and criminal investigations. Because of her Leo built an empire and “had no lack of gain.” Also because of her a very valuable tool in the CSI’s Utility Belt was created. Thank you Ziuta for your invention!

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Evil takes two little girls outside of Mosul.


“But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” – Luke 10:29

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This post is a little longer than my usual – BUT PLEASE READ IT – I HAVE NEVER SEEN THE SIGNS OF EVIL LIKE THIS BEFORE. 

I recently (March 2015) had the honor of representing my church doing missions work with Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan. Our group worked in two teams providing humanitarian relief and an amazing eyeglass ministry working under the guidance of Pastor Hanna Massad and Global Hope. Pastor Hanna is a Palestinian by birth and a devout follower of Christ by choice and grace. I cannot say enough good things about Pastor Hanna (in button up shirt in photo). He is beyond any doubt a godly man who cares about people. He walks in the Word of God and it is evident in his person and his ministry.

For whatever it is worth, I must also give my personal thank you to the Jordanian government. The massive influx of refugees fleeing death and persecution had no where to go. Their presence puts a massive strain on Jordan’s infrastructure. Jordan did not have to let them in, they could have turned them away, but they did not. They gave them sanctuary. May God bless them!

Our second day of mission work  started with meeting an inspiring young Iraqi believer, Napoleon. Napoleon is the positive young man at the far right of the photo. He was a great help as a translator and guide to some of the areas we went into. Team One (of which I was a member) continued the encouragement and food ministry to Iraqi refugees. Team two went to the Global Hope Clinic to get the eyeglass ministry rolling with the Syrian Refugees.

Once again we saw many families with horror stories most Americans could not fathom. Personally it took a lot to take these tales in and process. I know from my work there is evil among men but the huge numbers of people affected by it here was almost overwhelming. Death threats, executions, and bombings from ISIS against Christians or their families drove them from their home and country. Widows and widowers raising their own children (and those of others), and brothers and sisters raising siblings, all  with little to no means of support. The obvious pain and loss we saw in these people was gut wrenching.

The people of Jordan, Iraq, and Syria definitely live in a different culture. In some ways it drastically differs from what I am used to in the United States. But after traveling around the U.S. and elsewhere (Europe, Israel, West Bank, and Jordan) I have come to a conclusion. Governments and religions vary drastically but the closer you look at the people you see we are all very much the same. There may be different ethnicities but we are all one human race and we all seek and require the same things to survive. Some of these are: love and compassion from others, safety, food, shelter, and family. In the media we hear a great deal about what governments and world religions are doing. We don’t hear very much about what the people (the little guy) are doing or going through. I promised the families I met that I would not shy away from telling what I saw and felt among them. I believe they genuinely appreciated my promise. When the world is knocking you down it is very easy to feel isolated from compassion. My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ wants me to give that whenever I can.

One family (photo above) of four we met (Father, mother, and two sons) came from northern Iraqi village near Mosul. They told us about two little girls (their cousins), ages nine and five who while playing on the street came upon a package left on the sidewalk. Being children they looked inside. The package was a bomb. It detonated. Killing both. Completely obliterating one – the five year old. The family said at that time the Kurds were in a serious confrontation with ISIS. It was unknown who had left the bomb but they felt most likely was ISIS.

The family had photos of the scene and they showed them to us with tears and halting voices. They took the photos in outrage to show the authorities. It did not help. I do not know how, or if the authorities could help, or even if they were willing too. All I know is what I saw as I looked at the photos of the blast scene and of one child. There was not enough of the second child left to examine. After a quarter century the Crime Scene Investigator in me is always present. It is an automatic process, when I see photos of a crime scene, I analyze it.  Also after a quarter century as a CSI there are few scenes that were harder to look at.

I do not want to get too graphic because most of you, hopefully, would be greatly upset by it. Suffice it to say, the blast marks, blood and flesh at the scene, and wounds to the body of one child indicated exactly what they described. A centralized explosion going outward and upward from the ground in immediate proximity to a little human being did happen.

Through encouragement, compassion, and prayer we attempted to help this kind and unassuming family. Pastor Hanna had an extended discussion with them in Arabic emphasizing again, and again that their faith in Jesus Christ would and could strengthen them. I think the death of the children particularly gripped his heart. Pastor Hanna is a quiet and good man. He prayed hard and uncharacteristically loud for this family.

The mission trip was not all grim though. We were able to assist more than 200 families with food, encouragement, fellowship, and eyeglasses while we were there. We even attended an Evangelical Iraqi church one night. It was extremely inspiring and felt like a church I would love to go to (if I spoke Arabic). If you have never heard a Christian praise song sung in Arabic with women accentuating in ululation you haven’t lived.  Awesome!

My heart goes out to these people. There is evil in the world and it takes many forms. The bully army of ISIS is definitely one of it’s homes. These persecuted christians displayed to me a patient faith that I try to live myself. These people walk the walk. I hope that if a similar situation ever happened in the United States of America I would see similar faith.  Please pray for these people if you can do nothing else. If you can do more as well – please do it. They are not so very different from us. They are our neighbors. If you are a Christian they are family.

The CSI’s Utility Belt Part 2 – The Anti-Invisibility Wand


Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.   – 2 Kings 6:17 (NASB)

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In the horror movie classic The Invisible Man the super-villain was only dangerous because he was invisible. He committed fiendish criminal acts but because the police could never see him, the crime spree continued. He was stopped only when his foot tracks in the snow gave away his location.

Unfortunately some evidence is overlooked because bad search practices are used. But some of the most valuable evidence is easily overlooked by even the most astute Crime Scene Investigator because it is invisible to the naked eye. This evidence, referred to as latent (hidden) must be made visible to be of value. In the movie the crime spree was only stopped when the invisibility was eliminated. Similarly, some crimes can only be stopped when the invisibility of the evidence is eliminated revealing the identity of the criminal.

Journalist Charles van Heck interviewed a renowned Criminalist and blood stain analyst, Dr. Herbert MacDonell. In the article MacDonell explains how he created a wand to reveal latent fingerprints. The wand countered the invisibility of the latent prints with an invisible force of it’s own – magnetism. MacDonell recounts that he “felt there should be a better, more gentle, way to process latent fingerprints with powder.”

He assembled a wand using glass tubing, a coat hanger, a bar magnet, and some rubber tubing. The MAGNA Brush™ was born and soon became a very popular tool for Crime Scene Investigators (including myself) across the world. The June 8, 1961, broadcast of THE TODAY SHOW featured an interview of MacDonell by Jane Pauley. The tool was used on live TV to enhance Jane’s latent fingerprints on a 3×5 index card.

not Jane Paully

I am definitely a magnetic brush fan. On many surfaces it provides a cleaner high detail print than traditional brushes do. It allows me to see the invisible and identify the criminal. In the video below you can see the magnetic (iron based) powder take on the shape of the magnetic field around the wand tip. When a traditional fingerprint brush is used the bristles make contact with the latent and can sometimes damage it. The magnetic wand is valuable because the fingerprint powder becomes the brush. The only thing making contact with the latent is the powder, so little to no damage to the latent is likely. In his later years Dr. Herbert MacDonell has come upon some troubling times. However if he never made another contribution to crime scene investigation the MAGNA Brush makes his work worthy of respect. He invented the Anti-Invisibility Wand.

In the second book of Kings the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by a hostile army. The servant was terrified. Despite Elisha’s words the servant needed to see the hidden. Elisha prayed that the latent world would be made visible to the servant and it was. The servant saw an angelic army surrounding and protecting them. What an awe inspiring relief that must have been.

In each of our lives we face dangers seen and unseen. We need to know that as an army of unseen protection surrounded Elisha and his servant they surround us as well. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the One invisible force of God who lives in you is greater than the one invisible force of evil who is in the world.

The Oldest Known Murder?


If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.  Numbers 35:30
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The recent popular news story (linked above) makes a bold statement. The pictured skull is a 500,000-year-old clue revealing the world’s oldest known murder. My brother in crime solving, J. Warner Wallace, could not solve this cold case) which as they go has to be around absolute zero). Or maybe he could…he’s pretty good…I’ll have to ask him.

According to the story this skull (reconstructed in the photo) was found in a pit with many other bits of human skeleton. The article does state that it is impossible to say that the deceased was murdered but it is probably what happened.

Sorry folks, “probably” does not cut it in a murder investigation. While the referenced report does a good job of showing the injury was made before death; it does not prove murder. It proves simply the person had two similar sized holes in his head before death. That’s it!  Bold statements require proof beyond one piece of evidence. As prescribed in the laws of the ancient Hebrews, one witness does not provide sufficient proof.

Hasty decisions repeatedly equate poor determinations. With this skull as that of a murder victim; and another as a killer.

The witness/evidence,  two holes in the skull, no more prove the victim was murdered than it proves he (like this young warrior) overestimated his combat skills. Note the points of impact are very similar. The possibilities are endless but the truth is always singular. There is only one reason the fellow died and due to the lack of witnesses we will never really know.

The best pieces of evidence will cascade,  lead to each other, and to a single truth.

As Christians we are expected to witness whenever possible in order to lead people toward salvation in Christ. How many witnesses, pieces of evidence, do we need to make our case stick? I can think of nine that have an extremely high rate of effectiveness. They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  When these evidences are presented in one cohesive case I have never seen them fail to convict (a person’s heart that is).

F.Y.I. I think the oldest known murder is when Cain killed Able.

Come back next time for Part 2 of The CSI’s Utility Belt!

The CSI’s Utility Belt Part 1


toy_utility_beltAll Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

A certain black-caped superhero is famous for pulling just what he needs, just when he needs it, from his utility belt. No matter how dire the situation super villains put Batman in, he is able to pull a Bat-something from his handy Bat Utility Belt and save the day.

Crime Scene Investigators don’t battle super villains but we do use an interesting array of equipment to fight crime. Over the next few weeks some of my posts will explore some of the tools we CSI’s have hidden away in our handy “Utility Belts.” Some might be what you’d expect, some maybe not, some will surprise you.

Today’s CSI is equipped to do good works in solving crimes and bring justice. The manner in which some of our tools came to be used have been explained as coincidence and circumstance. However, I cannot think that God’s inspiration is not responsible for most of that equipment.

My next CSI Utility Belt post will spotlight the CSI’s very own Anti-Invisibility Wand. Don’t miss it!

The Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly


Saretta 2007

time travel by nocturnal fate Saretta 2007

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,  so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.   – Galatians 4:4-5

Explainer: how to solve a jewel heist (and why it takes so long).

The Hatton Garden Heist, a brazen burglary that netted about $300 million in loot was carried out on April 21, 2015.  After sound police work the news story from May 21 (linked above) reports that suspects have been taken into custody. A heist such as this would be solved in 45 minutes (with commercials) on any of the popular crime shows. Why was Scotland Yard so slow?

Truth-be-told,  the wheels of justice most often turn slowly. A month or so isn’t bad at all. Meticulous crime scene search, evidence collection, and analysis take time, sometimes even years.In the fullness of the necessary time discoveries are made which lead to generation of suspects, to arrests, to trial, to justice served.  There are certain standards that must be met in a criminal investigation to ensure a case will stand up in court. So kudos to Scotland Yard and all those involved in solving this case.

The ancient nation of Israel wanted justice. Jehovah promised justice would be served and a heavenly kingdom would reign on earth. They waited, and waited for their promised Messiah to come and set things right. I am sure they would have preferred the case to be resolved in 45 minutes but it did not. Like a good criminal case certain standards and situations had to be in place to implement that kingdom’s come.

In Galatians, the Apostle Paul explained that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth in just the right manner under the  law so he would be accepted by God’s chosen people. He came at the precise right time when his teachings could be communicated to the farthest reaches of the world. A common language (Greek) was the language spoken across the world (primarily the Roman Empire). This standard did not previously exist. He also came at the precise time when physical travel was possible for those who carried the Gospel to the world.  A network of roads, primarily constructed and policed by the Roman Empire, gave travel options unknown before.  When those certain standards were met and with due diligence (fullness) justice was served. Christ came to the earth and the kingdom of heaven on earth was born. The sentencing and punishment phase of justice for all guilty parties involved will come at a later date (also in the fullness of time). Praise be to God, His Son Jesus, and to the Apostles and disciples who spread his gospel across the world at just the right time.