I had the good fortune to attend the first day of the International Assn. for Identification convention in San Diego yesterday and although most of the sessions are focused on new technologies, I was there to talk about the past, the 1947 Black Dahlia case.
One of the conference's features is a crime scene contest set up in a room at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center. (The contests always have a local theme. The convention in Dallas, for example, featured a "Who Shot J.R.?" crime scene).
About half a dozen four-member teams are competing against one another to see what they can learn during their allotted 45 minutes at the crime scene. The contestants, a combination of investigators and students from across the country, take the competition quite seriously. To win the contest, a team must collect nine pieces of a Black Dahlia jigsaw puzzle over the course of the convention and score points for noticing bits of evidence in the room. They must also present a report and diagram of the scene.
Since the contest doesn't end until later this week, I won't say anything more about it except that the crime scene is wickedly devious and the teams are extremely competitive.
I attended two sessions that would have fascinated the men who investigated the Black Dahlia crime scene: Ray Pinker, head of the LAPD crime lab; Leland "Lee" Jones, the other half of the crime lab; and Gilbert Laursen, an LAPD photographer.
The first session was on using gun bluing to reveal fingerprints on bullet casings and other metallic objects. It's a simple, low-tech process that can develop a print. Gun bluing is old technology. The new part is being able to make a digital photograph of the print and run it through AFIS. (The Automated Fingerprint Identification System, for those of you who've never heard of it). Jack Webb would have loved it.
The other session involved using lasers and plastic rods to trace bullet trajectories. The session presenters, King C. Brown, M. Dawn Watkins and Rus Ruslander, put on a great light show with relatively inexpensive lasers sold as torpedo levels in stores like Home Depot, Lowe's and Harbor Freight. It is impressive to see lasers or plastic rods retracing the bullet paths in a car that's been shot up with an AK-47.
One other thing that struck me was the wide range of people attending the conference. I met a high school teacher who gives CSI classes and there was half a dozen investigators from Colombia who brought a translator and participated in a session by using wireless headphones. Federal, state and local agencies were heavily represented.
The convention is going on all week in San Diego. Here's the information.
Back to 1957….
Photographs courtesy King C. Brown.