Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Forensic Q/A with Steve Bradshaw, Contest Results + Death by Chocolate!

Wow, there were some amazing questions posed to my friend, Steve Bradshaw, former forensics investigator with over 3,000 cases under his belt and author of THE BLUFF CITY BUTCHER, and I'm so stoked to reveal his incredible responses. And let me tell you, Steve's insight blew me away!

Like I said in the previous post, it is vitally important to learn about forensic science if you're a thriller or suspense writer, but it's also good to have a general working knowledge of the science no matter what genre you write in.  There will always be action, accidents, and nefarious plots, and every genre (except for possibly memoir,  humor or a children's book) can benefit from a writer knowing how to accurately incorporate an accident or homicide into the manuscript.

Many thanks to my friend Steve Bradshaw (  for taking the time from his busy schedule (writing and on the road actively promoting his latest release) to answer some lively questions and help out fellow writers.

At the end of the post we'll unveil our winner of the signed first edition of  THE BLUFF CITY BUTCHER! Thanks to all who entered and of course to all who come regularly to Soul & Sweet Tea to hang out with me on my virtual front porch.

So without further adieu, here we go! I think you're going to be both amazed and intrigued with his insight, and hope this experience will make you want to reach further as a writer to bring a heightened level of accuracy and creativity to your work.  I hope from time to time we can get Steve back on my blog to do this again.  Who knows?  Maybe in the future there will be a new action and adventure group blog that may pop into existence (wink).

After we announce the winner, I'll share with you a fun experience that happened yesterday that I'm calling "Death by Chocolate" because while Publix Diet Sweet Tea keeps me writing away, sometimes a morsel of chocolate decadence can send my creativity into overdrive & helps me crank out amazing plots twists.

Q and A with Steve Bradshaw:

T.J. said...
Now that I've managed to learn to speak around the bone melting awe, I have a question :)
What was the weirdest discovery you made as a forensic investigator?
SB:  Hi T.J. I must soften my comments because I saw many weird, bizarre, horrific, crazy, dastardly things that are so repulsive they would never be shown on a CSI TV show or movie. I know that’s hard for you to imagine—like what—but I would not want to leave certain images on this very nice blog. If we were by a campfire, and there were a few hardy types, I would tell about the one that made me re-evaluate my career. No campfire here—so—let me tell you about an “unexpected” discovery that moved an obvious “suicide” to “homicide” and caught the “bad guy.”
Body found in a lower level apartment, single gunshot wound to the head (right temple). Gun is in the victim’s right hand. Diary is open on bed to a sad memory, a breakup with a boyfriend. The apartment has one entry—front door—and it is locked, bolted and chained. Body is discovered a week after death because of pungent smell. We break into front door and began to work a “straight-and-forward” suicide. I ask everyone to step outside so I can think...something’s not right, but what? I photograph bedroom where she was found and then sit and look at everything and try to feel something about the moment she pulled the trigger. I get nothing. The way she is laying on the bed is not right to me. I go into the living room and sit and know something is out of place, but what? Then I see an impression in the carpet next to edge of a large console TV. The TV had been moved...maybe a half inch...but why? Behind it were thick curtains and a window. I moved the TV and saw the window was closed but unlocked on inside and the outside screen was hanging but not latched at bottom on the inside. GOT YOU! Sure enough, the killer left out the window and moved everything so no one could tell...except that half inch impression in the carpet he could not see. He wanted it to look like a suicide. Well, he should have worn gloves. His palm print cooked his goose. Nice Try.

77yankees said...
Wow! An interesting interview, Joey, and quite a remarkable individual @ Steve Bradshaw, too.
My question: Given your expertise, how do forensic investigators determine factors like the sex, race, age and potential timeline of death? This is a timely post by Joey, and your response is appreciated because I just happen to have a scene in my work-in-progress where the MC's Lab unearths skeletal remains in the backyard. Thanks in advance and best wishes.
SB: Hi 77yankees. Depending on the condition of the body and the distance between death and discovery, the forensic pathologist has many ways to discern age, race and sex from an assessment of soft tissue and skeletal structure. They also use dental records and DNA to zero in on identity. Depending on the conditions surrounding the location of the body, there can be numerous opportunities for clues that add to the identity. Regarding time of death, I will comment on a few...there are many tools. Rigor mortis, the freezing of muscles, happens in smaller muscles first then larger progressively and then is gone in 36 hours. RM helps in the first 36 along with changes in body temperature that moves from 98.6 F to the ambient temperatures at a predictable rate (although things can alter that rate). Livor mortis (blood settling) is another observation. As an investigator I would look for this (first 30 minutes to 2 hours) because I could often tell if the body was moved and return it to the position at time of death, although LM is not a real predictable marker. Putrefaction and insect activity deal with other stages of death. The forensic anthropologist is one brought in to help with identification and assessments of remains that are decomposed, mutilated, burned, pieces, and when you only have skeletal remains. 77Yankee, you need to get a forensic anthropologist to your death scene before someone disturbs the remains.

Some really great advice for writers, Steve...Thanks. I'm not sure if this graphic question applies to your expertise, but here goes. If someone is severing a foot at the ankle from behind (the back of the leg), would it sever tendons and the hamstring? Assuming the person hit bone and the knife stuck there, would this result in the foot dangling somewhat? Just trying to get the correct image...Thanks...
SB: Hi Michelle...Depending on the knife, path and power of thrust, there could be any end result you are looking for. If the knife was large and sharp and the thrust powerful and point of contact inferior fibula region posterior entry, the knife could easily sever the Achilles tendon and the Peroneus longus/brevis tendons, and all the ligaments connecting the tibia to the Talus and Calcaneus (heel) bone. The end result can be complete and total dismemberment or partial, where soft tissue (skin, tendon or ligament) are not completely severed...the foot would dangle from the leg. In BLUFF CITY BUTCHER, one of the characteristics of this serial killer is his unique skill sets. His use of a knife is phenomenal and unique. That is how Elliott Sumner (forensic sleuth) tracks him through his kills. If you read the early chapters when Elliott is at an autopsy examining the BUTCHER’S handy work, you will see the image you seek.

Thanks in advance! Scenario - victim of ocean drowning, how many hours until skin begins to slough and would it be likely/unlikely that her eyes would be intact after being in the water several hours (as opposed to being eaten by sea life). Yeah, gross, I know... Also, I'm assuming she'd be bloated to some degree?
SB: The forensics of victims found in water is quite complex and in many cases there is still a lot of learning going on. My sleuthing was inland and my encounters of “floaters” were limited. I cannot speak in specifics, but can share the broader picture and suggest you Google “Forensics/Water” for more drill down. The temperature of the body found always plays the greatest role in zeroing in on time of death from my perspective. The body loses about 1.5°C per hours (rule of thumb for investigators). And there are more variables when dealing with very cold or very warm water and stagnant or flowing water and different salinities. As you can imagine, the science is very complex and why some forensic experts specialize in these areas. I would look at the skin. If it was rough and pimply, I knew the body was probably not in the water long. If it was already selling and grossly wrinkled it had been there overnight as a general rule (again forensic investigators are not forensic pathologists). The last stage before sloughing off skin is called adipocere. The skin soap-like meaning the body has been in the water many weeks. All during that process there are animal and insect activity. In BLUFF CITY BUTCHER, they find a victim tied under his boat in a lake. The untrained coroner thinks turtles ate his eyes and fingers and toes. Actually the BUTCHER removed the eyes, which Elliott Sumner discovers and links the victim to the string of kills. There is a lot written about “floaters” that you can read.

S Jenan said...
AHHH! I'm doomed by Eastern Time. I'll throw my question in the hat anyway:
Body left under heating blanket to disguise time of death. Discovery is approx. 2 days later. How close can the coroner pinpoint TOD using other indicators?
SB: Actually it is easier than you think. Body temperature is not the only tool in the medical examiner’s tool box to determine time of death. Assuming our victim’s watch had not stopped (kidding), we would assess Rigor and Livor Mortis relative to temperature produced by the blanket. The head and feet, unless under the blanket, would have different characteristics. The M.E. would assess organ and tissue degradation, body fluids, stomach contents (degree of digestion) and other factors relative to the environment where the body was found. Also, exact time of death may not be as important as we are led to believe. If we have the “bad guy” and we are in the ball park that may be all that is necessary to rule on cause and manner of death. I have seen many death certificates go out with TIME OF DEATH undetermined.

And now here's Steve's thoughts on who should win the signed first edition of BLUFF CITY BUTCHER~
SB: "I think TJ had the best question. I think my answer gives people a better feel of what forensic investigation is truly all about...justice."

Congratulations to T.J. Loveless!  You win! But honestly, all these questions were truly amazing and winners in my book, because of the amazing knowledge gleaned during the process. 

Death by Chocolate!!! Yummy Grand Marnier truffles &
Now let me quickly share with you my adventure yesterday with two of my girlfriends at an amazing store filled with the most decadent and gorgeous chocolate goodies you've ever seen! It was like Willy Wonka's magic factory for grownups, and I fell in love (or was it lust?) with The Chocolaterie at the Avenue Forsyth. Click on the link and salivate!

 We oooh'd and ahhh'd at the handmade artisan chocolates; each a work of art with flecks of color and gorgeous swirls.  But what truly caught my eye were the dozens of gorgeous truffles behind the glass counters looking like like giant candy-colored gemstones and the innovative flavor varieties!

Now many of you know the Evil Little Manuscript (also known as THE DEATH BROKERS) and I are beginning our journey towards (*fingers crossed) publication, so I couldn't possibly resist two truffles I discovered.  They called to me from behind the glass, reminding me of great scenes and details from THE DEATH BROKERS.  

One truffle was named "Miami Spice" and I had to try it, because in the manuscript so much excitement and  mischief happens in both Miami and the Florida Keys. Like the Evil Little Manuscript, the "Miami Spice" truffle had the right combination of sweet and heat, and featured the flavors of Key Lime and Arbol chili pepper folded into their rich, artisan chocolate. It was decadent, dangerous, and perfect! 

Another truffle, the "Grand Marnier",  was another I had to taste, for it captured the intensity of the scene in the Evil Little Manuscript (E.L.M.) where the protagonist's (then) husband signs a contract after eating a delectable Grand Mariner souffle at the Hotel Peabody in Memphis.  He doesn't know it, but when he signs on the dotted line, he becomes one of the death brokers.  Had to buy that one too and it didn't disappoint! Orange-y chocolate heaven. Mmmmm. 

MORE death by chocolate! Aren't these truffles almost too gorgeous to eat?
Here's the "Miami Spice" and the "Grand Marnier" truffles I bought.  Delectable art!

Wish you could have been with us! It was so much fun. 


Michelle 4 Laughs said...

Thank you for the answer to my question, Steve.

You are making me jealous with your shopping trip, Joey. Chocolate! Chocolate!

Congrats, TJ.

Joey Francisco said...

Glad Steve's answer helped Michelle! His work in forensics just amazes me. If you ever come to ATL, we'll have to go to The Chocolaterie.
Heaven must be like that candy emporium!


77yankees said...

Am echoing Michelle's Thank You, Steve, really appreciate your timely and detailed response to my question, and all the rest as well.

Congrats, T.J!

Suddenly, I'm craving a Hershey bar--thanks, a lot, Joey! Just had to mention all those tasty treats didn't you?!

T.J. said...

(Seagull from Nemo) Mine! Mine! Mine! YAY!!

I read the answers and did a sigh of happiness. Terrible, huh? But oh..the science of it...*starry eyed*

Told Hubby we are going to Atlanta. He gave me the evil eye. I showed him the Chocolaterie. He's trying to figure out the best dates...gotta love a man who is as addicted to chocolate as you are *G*