Sunday, October 23, 2016

I Haven't Got a Clue: Clue Awareness for Crime Writers

English: Pensacola, FL, September 19, 2004 -- ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Do you have a character looking for clues?

It is important for your investigators to be calm and in the right frame of mind to be effective. So by adding distractions - personal or professional -- your investigator can make mistakes.

This article can pertain to a search because of a crime (for clues or perpetrator), a severe weather event, or a missing person. 

Your investigator is a human being. And humans, even the best of the best, can and do miss clues along the way.

Negatives to successfully finding clues might include:
  • fear
  • stress
  • grouping (when searchers cluster together)
  • some medications
  • noise
  • chatting
  • speed
  • ego***
  • preconceived ideas - for example, you're looking for a missing toddler who wandered off; you discount the beer can and cigarette. The baby didn't use those, but maybe this is a crime scene not a missing person.
  • alcohol
  • nicotine
  • caffeine
The larger the search area, the harder it is to contain, protect, and find pertinent data. GO HERE for a blog article to understand more about this and to understand means such as vacuuming that can be employed to find every possible piece of evidence.

  • Knowing about the subject helps
  • The investigator needs to open all of their senses, including their intuition.

But let's say you're in a larger area - a state park for example. Weather, bugs, animals can all work to degrade evidence. AND it is extremely hard to find.

I recently was on a training weekend where I followed a clue trail. This trail was bound by markers and we walked at normal pace, using searching techniques to try to find the hidden clues. I found the two bottles, the stuffed dog, the golf balls, and wrapping papers. I missed the brown glove laying in the brown soil under the brown log. I missed the pile of bullets at the end of the log in the leaves. I missed the weathered map caught in the tree branches. 

I hit 65% of the possible clues from the beginning of the trail to the end. And that's when we knew exactly where the person of interest had travelled.  That meant 35% of the clues I passed over. As a matter of fact, everyone missed the bullets and casings. 15 trained searchers following the same trail, looking for clues, and not one of us found the bullets (Or the rubber ducky who was sitting in the yellow leaves). 

Clues are going to go unfound. Every time someone goes into that area, details change. Bring a trailing or tracking dog in and that's going to have it's own set of changes. 

Another task we were sent on was to clear large areas for clues when we didn't know if someone had gone in that direction or not. We bagged, tagged, and GPS identified locations on a whole lot of trash. Some of the garbage in our sweep we could identify as weathered to a time period prior to the timeframe we were working with. But still, if you're sweeping large areas, it's a mixture of luck and experience that's going to find something of importance. I found two golf balls and a pair of glasses. Turns out the glasses weren't part of the clues that were laid -- sorry to the guy who lost his glasses, I hope he got home okay.

How you go about a sweep:
You have a search team of say 4 people. You place a paper on the ground and person A goes as far right as they can until they are just catching that paper in their left peripheral vision.  Then the middle person B puts the paper in their right peripheral vision and a second paper in their left peripheral then person C  puts that paper in their peripheral. So hopefully as the eyes are sweeping, the whole area is seen. (x = paper). 

Person D is the Field Team Leader and is watching navigation and communications.

A        x          B         x        C


Person C is tying a piece of marking tape every few feet on the right. At the end of the tsked search area, they reconfigure so that they return to base searching the next space over. 
^ and v = direction of travel.

^                        ^                   ^
^                        ^                   ^

A        x            B         x        C           x

      D                                                                                                    D
                                                           x               C        x          B         x        A

                                                                             V                   V                   V                                                                                                                                                      V                   V                   V

Teams of 6-9 are the norm. The team can be bigger and work this way. However, more than nine, and it's a problem.

What are your investigators looking for?
  • signs - indications that someone has passed that way.
  • tracks (a track is a sign that is identifiable to a specific person/animal)
  • clue - is an indication of a subjects passage through an area. These might include:
    • physical items - personal items, campfire, foot prints
    • occurrence - like noticing that the animals are spooked. Birds suddenly taking flight.
    • information - such as interviewing. "Sure, I saw Billy-John on the trail today. He were about say two miles east as the crow flies. You ain't gonna find him round here no more. He was hot footin' it up the mountain."

What happens if a clue is found?
The person who finds something calls a halt to the search team. The team leader examens the item, and will call it in to command and command will inform the team what to do. 
  • Bag it, flag it (put marking ribbons in the area. 3 ribbons is the signal), and get GPS coordinates.
  • Leave it in place. If it is to be left in place then the searcher must do their best to protect the clue from further degradation. For example if it's a footprint, a cage of sticks might be set in the ground to stop others from walking over it. A plastic bag might be placed over the top of the cage to preserve against wind, rain, dew. . .
Speaking of tracks - they are often the most numerous clues. The average human leaves more than two thousand steps in a mile. That's a lot of clues (direction of travel etc.) to be found. The best place to look for tracks are in track traps. A track trap is any area that can hold an obvious track if someone steps in it. (So those on the search for clues need to NOT step in these areas.)
  • ant hills
  • mud 
  • stream bank
  • snow
  • crop fields

I hope this was helpful. As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.