The truth cannot hide...

Chief Medical Examiner, and a 30 year-old Cold Case


Day 14, US research trip (final day), Believe No One

Believe No One takes Fennimore & Simms to the United States Mid West.
These blogs document the places we visited and people we met during the research trip.

Monday,14th May 2012

The Arch, St Louis - Gateway to the West

The Arch, St Louis – Gateway to the West

Chief Medical Examiner Dr Mary Case demolishes our fictional killer’s MO somewhere between the introductions and the handshakes. Our proposed method just won’t fly – there’s too much inorganic matter that would stay around, even if the bodies were dumped in water, she explains. We need to rethink. I’m not discouraged – this sort of correction is really helpful – and much better done at the outlining stage than half way through writing the novel…

Dr Case mentions that the ME’s office is currently trying to identify the gum found on a body. The gum residue is all that’s left of tape wrappings on the victim. She says that even after 6 months you wouldn’t get total skeletonization (apparently adhesion points at the jaw, and joint ligaments can persist for a considerable time), and if you have duct tape used as a gag or bindings, there’s a fair chance that some will remain attached to the body – to skin, or even the hair, if there’s any left on the head. All of this goes into my notes, too.

The grim reality is that Oklahoma has its I-40 killer, and Missouri has the I-70 murders. On 2nd May, In real life, the grim reality is that Oklahoma has its I-40 killer, and Missouri has the I-70 murders. On 2nd May, 2012, St Charles County PD released new information on the killer. 



In the novel, we plan to have two parallel investigations in adjacent states, which begin to converge. How might the murders be linked? To call it a series, they would have to link 3, Bill ~Baker says – but nobody will make the link unless it is entered into NamUS, or NCIC database. From what we heard, in both Tulsa and St Louis, the problem is that the system depends on the conscientiousness of individual officers entering crime data, and/or details of missing persons when they are overstretched and have a constant stream of serious and violent crimes coming in (see my earlier blog on Tulsa PD Homicide). If they think it is a series, nationwide teletypes would be sent out listing similarities between victims, in disposal of the bodies, and the way in which they died (if this is known). Hopefully, local sheriffs would read the teletype and say, ‘This looks like ours.’ Once probable links are established, police and/or sheriffs’ departments would arrange a meeting (in our scenario it would probably be funded by NCMEC  since children are involved), when they will be able to compare notes, and investigate forensics.

St Louis Major Case Squad send information about their possibly linked cases to the sheriff concerned, and would send teams out to Oklahoma. (In this case, a ‘team’ is a pairing of two detectives.) Bill Baker gives some good advice about co-operating on interstate investigations: ‘Leave your ego at the door.’ The teams might stay a week – or more, if invited to do so. MCS is funded entirely by donation – this is dealt with in a previous blog. It’s a ‘non-profit’ organisation. Food, transport, and accommodation provided by the host county. All of this works well from the point of view of our narrative: a small and relatively poor county would struggle to find funding for an interstate investigation, so resistance from the local sheriff is almost a given. Add in an upcoming re-election, and our county sheriff certainly will not relish the notion that a serial killer is on the loose in his county.

Missouri, it seems, doesn’t have large numbers of unidentified people – the population is stable, rather than transient, though they do have Mexicans coming through, heading east, and an unidentified case is possible. But across the United States, there are 40 000 unidentified bodies or remains in coroners’ offices. Unidentified bodies get a county burial, and such burials sites aren’t always properly marked, nor even logged accurately. This can make things very difficult if you need to trace a body which is later identified. In Oklahoma, Forensic Medical Examiner Dr Berg had one case where the sexton of the cemetery told her, ‘We don’t know where we buried her, and we buried her in a cardboard box.’ They will have to resort Ground Penetrating Radar in an attempt to locate it.


A little girl's body is disinterred in the hope of finding justice (full story in St Louis Today)

A little girl’s body is disinterred in the hope of finding justice (full story in St Louis Today)

A similar case is outlined by St Louis Today. This is a 30 year-old Cold Case – a young girl found murdered and mutilated in an abandoned house. Watch a video of Joe Burgoon, as investigators try to locate the body in the cemetery where it was buried in 1983. Now a Cold Case investigator, Joe, and homicide Detective Dan Fox, hope that new techniques will help them to identify the girl and bring her killer to justice.

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