Thursday, January 22, 2015

Forensic Question: Solving Cold Cases

My question is about cold cases. Are you able to test for DNA from blood on a knife or clothes from 30-40 years old? Also, if the remains of a body were found in a mine shaft, could you tell the manner of death from that same time or even older, say, 150 years old? How would you do this and how long would it take? Thanks so much for your help!

Amryn Says:

Cold case investigations have come a long way with the use of DNA technology. Answers that would have been impossible 20 years ago are now commonplace. The problem with cold cases is often in the handling of the evidence. On the knife or clothes that you mentioned, when they were first collected from a crime scene 30-40 years ago, the investigator may not have worn gloves. That seems shocking given what we know now, but it wasn’t all that routine a few decades ago.

What that might mean for your DNA results is that you get a mixture—say, the victim’s blood and another unknown profile. Now, does that profile belong to the killer or just the detective or crime scene tech that handled the evidence without gloves? Without something to compare back to, you won’t be able to say.

Let’s assume best case scenario, though. If the bloody evidence was stored and handled properly, it is definitely possible to get a DNA profile from the blood present on a knife or on clothes. This can usually be done with routine DNA testing, which generally takes 2-3 weeks. Of course, for the purposes of fiction, the DNA could be “rushed” and then results would possibly be available as soon as 48 hours. This testing will probably be done at the police department’s or state’s crime lab.

As far as a body in a mine shaft, unless the body is frozen, it’s likely to be not much more than a skeleton by the time it’s found 30-40 years later, and certainly 150 years. However, if the manner of death was some sort of trauma (i.e. broken neck from a fall or stab wound where the knife grazes the bone), a lot can still be determined from bones.

In most cases, a forensic anthropologist would be the person to make that determination. Some states have one on staff while others call in an expert like Dr. Bass (founder of the Body Farm) when they are needed.  I would say the time frame for that sort of determination is at least a couple weeks, though I’m sure there are cases where it could be done faster. And I should also mention, many forensic anthropologists like to be present when the team is recovering the bones to make sure none are missed and to make observations based on the position of the bones.


Amryn Cross is a full-time forensic scientist and author of romantic suspense and mystery novels. Her first novel, Learning to Die, is available on Amazon. The first book in her latest series, loosely based on an updated Sherlock Holmes, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Look for Warzone in January 2015. You can connect with Amryn via her websiteTwitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: In The Name of God

In The Name of God delves into the ramifications of religious shield laws which (thank heavens this is changing) grant protection under the law if a child dies of a treatable medical illness and due to the parent's religious beliefs-- they refused medical care.

This touches close to me as a pediatric ER nurse seeing parents refuse some aspects of medical care-- immunizations would be the largest. As a parent, I believe in my right to make decisions for my children, but as a pediatric nurse, I also believe that children deserve a certain level of medical care to grow up strong and healthy. The line between these two are not always clear.

Refusing immunizations pales in comparison to what these religious groups do-- who believe that God is the ultimate healer and that if God decides-- their child will be healed from illness. Sadly, these kids die from highly treatable conditions like pneumonia, cysts, prematurity, diabetes, and urinary obstructions. The strange thing is, The Followers don't seem to have trouble going to the dentist or eye doctor.

The book alternates perspective between the legal side (those trying to change these laws) and inside views of The Followers as a religious group.

The book is interesting but really needed to be pared down. I don't need to read a play by play of a child's vomiting and throwing up each meal over two days to get the point that they couldn't hold anything down. Also, I don't think it's necessary to give gory details about a pediatric autopsy-- using words like, "This doctor was going to eviscerate . . . " I think it's disrespectful of a pediatric victim to do that. The intimate look into The Followers, in my opinion, became overindulgent and tedious to read.

That being said, I do think this is an important, challenging book and in this era of religious extremes, I think those of us that have faith need to speak out against the extremes of our faith and I applaud this book for doing so in a balanced way.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Up and Coming!

Hello Redwood's Fans!

How is all with your world? I am now fully recovered from the holiday frenzy and it's time to get back to the real world of saving children's lives, blogging about all things medical mayhem and writing suspense novels.

The Christmas tree is down and all the ornaments are put away. I've got a writing plan in place that I simply need to execute which is always the difficult part. I feel like this time of year I enjoy the remaining days of snowy weather and begin the countdown to fall-- my favorite season. Why does it have to be the shortest?

Overall, I had a good Christmas. A lot of joyful time spent with family. I didn't have to work in the ER which is always good for increasing my holiday spirit. This weekend I'm celebrating my 17th wedding anniversary! It's hard to believe how fast the years go by.

How were your holidays? Any special celebrations?

For you this week:

Tuesday: Book review of In The Name of God. Just what are religious shield laws and why should we care about them?

Thursday: Author question surrounding nursing care of the patient after a cardiac cath procedure.

Hope you have a GREAT week.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: Lip Reading

When I first started thinking about writing for the inspirational market, I read every one of Harry's books to see what a medical person would write. 

In Lip Reading, I feel like Kraus got back to what I love about his writing. An intriguing medical concept (developing artificial blood) and the ethical ramifications around it. For instance, should two pharmaceutical companies share research in order to get a life-saving compound to market faster? 

What creates the suspense in this novel is one of the lead researchers, and brilliant mind behind the concept, has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. 

If you love medical suspense with an inspirational thread then pick up Lip Reading STAT. 

AND-- imagine my surprise when I didn't a little research into artificial blood and discovered we could be closer than ever to an actual product. You can read about that here.

I love it when medical thriller authors are writing cutting edge books. Great job, Harry!