Forensic Scientist

Forensic Scientist

LIsa Black

Cape Coral, FL

Female, 49

I spent the five happiest years of my life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office I analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now I'm a certified latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida. I also write a series of forensic suspense novels, turning the day job into fiction. My books have been translated into six languages.

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Last Answer on June 22, 2017

Best Rated

I was wondering if I sent you a picture of a bone can tell me if its human or animal?

Asked by dee almost 4 years ago

I can try. I'm not an anthropologist, but we do have a field guide here showing the skeletons of many mammals and birds. We used to have a lot of 'found bones' calls at my agency--the area had a great deal of construction going on in the area and the digging would often turn up bones.

And something else I always wondered. Just HOW MUCH of a fingerprint is unique to every human? If someone leaves only a partial print, e.g. a 1/4 of a thumbprint, is THAT unique to him and only him?

Asked by Sascha about 4 years ago

Every part of a fingerprint is unique to the person. Whether the latent print has sufficient information to identify it to a person depends on its clarity and volume and the experience of the examiner. There's usually more activity around the center of the finger pad than at the edges or the tip, for example. But exactly how much of what type of information an examiner needs to make an identification--unfortunately there's no simple answer for that. Fingerprints aren't like DNA, there's no handy table of X allele plus Y allele times population data, so there's no neat way to quantify it. On this topic, my pet peeve: When characters on TV say "It's just a partial." Unless your perpetrator stood at the crime scene and rolled his fingertip over something, from one edge of the nail to the other, then EVERY latent print is a partial!

What's the worst mistake you've ever heard of a forensic scientist making at a crime scene?

Asked by JoyLuck about 4 years ago

That's a tough one. I've had cops put tools back into pry marks to show that they fit and unload weapons to make them 'safe' (which is an okay idea under certain circumstances, but usually not). I did something really stupid just a few days ago--after we had painstakingly located some spent casings in thick grass, I put a marker down, took a picture, then took the marker and went back to my car to get an envelope  for the casings. Doh! Luckily another CSI standing there hadn't taken her eyes off them. A good 15 years ago at my lab an old-school trace evidence person took the shorts from a decomposed body and washed them in order to read the tag info...I remember the look of horror on the cops' faces when I had to tell them that all the hair and fiber and other trace evidence had been washed down the drain. Happily it didn't matter, the victim's boyfriend was convicted anyway.

I'm working on a thriller novel. Can a person frame someone else by setting up their own suicide to look like murder by using the other person's gun in the other person's house?

Asked by goodcraic2i6n almost 4 years ago

Let me get this straight--so Alex frames Bert by shooting himself (Alex) in Bert's house with Bert's gun? Kind of a drastic way to get back at someone, but certainly possible. Yes, initially it would not look good for Bert at all. However--and this is always the problem with trying to frame someone--what is Bert doing while this is happening? Alex can't be sure that Bert won't be getting a traffic ticket or stuck in an all-day meeting and therefore have an unbreakable alibi? The gun and the condition of the wound would have to be consistent with suicide (unless you do some Agatha Christie rubber-band type of arrangement) but that would not make it impossible for it to be homicide. Alex's fingerprints might be on the gun but that wouldn't rule out a murder (and it's so rare to get a fingerprint off a gun that he might decide not to worry about it). Please don't have Bert, upon discovery of the body, engage in the time honored but still silly tradition of picking up the murder weapon and then saying "I have no idea why I did that..." Human beings have an instinctive revulsion against touching anything associated with a dead body.

Does a neighbor see Alex enter Bert's house when Bert's not home? Is there any sign of forced entry? In other words, forensically there may not be much to say one way or the other--and that's very often true. Forensics will establish facts, but those facts might not be helpful. Forensically we can say Alex died of a gunshot wound from this gun, has gunshot residue on his hands (not suprising since he was in close proximity to a gunshot) and has no other wounds to indicate a struggle. That's about it. Deciding whether it's suicide or murder would likely spring from more traditional investigations--what was Alex doing there, did he know where the gun is, where was Bert, did Bert have a history of violence, did Alex have a history of mental instability, etc. etc.

I hope that helps!

What made you want to become a Forensic scientist?

Asked by Nikkie almost 4 years ago

I loved mysteries but didn't want to be a cop. I don't really want to deal with people under stress on a daily basis. This job has enough variety to be interesting but enough routine to keep the homebody in me comfortable.

what college did you go to?

Asked by Nikkie almost 4 years ago

I have a bachelor's in biology from Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio.

What do you think forensic and biology study will lead us in the next ten years

Asked by bob over 3 years ago

To ever-more sensitive DNA collection and analysis, I believe. The other growing fields will probably be the analysis and utilization of computers, cell phones and video surveillance.