Some people remember others by their name. I remember people by the way they died. To me each case is a story about that person. Once I have investigated their death, I have an intimate relationship with them. I remember past cases by the images of the scene, not by their names or where they lived, or the date they died. When I think of those cases everything comes back to me: the smell, the colors, and rooms—heavy with the energy and emotion of a life.
In this case, Iris communicated with me—not in words or movement—but in patterns at the scene, in her bedroom and on her body. An arm with the hand sticking up in the air told me the body had been repositioned. The sooting and stippling on the two gunshot wounds to the face told me this was a crime of passion, and not a random act.
The marks on the skin made at close range are telling. The sooting is the dirt from the burnt gunpowder coming out of the barrel of the weapon. Stippling is the collection of little red dots that encircle the gunshot wound. The red dots are the result of partially spent grains of gunpowder burning the skin of the victim. The sooting and small dots on the skin told me the most about her story.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “they were getting close”? This death was about a relationship. She was shot twice in the face and at close range —that’s getting close. One doesn’t inflict pain and then dispatch someone in such an intimate way if they are simply entering a random house for burglary. This death cried out intimacy and passion. It was the snapping of the cord of two people who knew each other on very personal terms.
To learn more about the terms and practices of a medical legal investigator, watch “The Coroner: I Speak for the Dead” Mondays at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery. Go to Graham Hetrick’s official website to learn other forensic terms.