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The Sirens of Suspense


This post was culled from notes taken during a presentation on police procedure for crime writers by Laura Manuel, a 21 year veteran of the VA & CO police forces. She gave us so much information, several more posts to come!

On Guns and Blood: Some item1

• SEMI-AUTOMATIC: Squarish looking and has a magazine release. These are typically used by police. Very concealable, but easier to shoot yourself with. They hold 15 rounds generally, with one in the chamber. It can be reloaded while still shooting (unlike a revolver). Semi-automatics have lot of springs and can get spring fatigue and fail to load. This gun throws the casings out. A silencer does not work on this for more than one shot.

• REVOLVER: Traditional looking gun with a cylinder which contains 6 bullets. This gun has no safety. It’s bulkier than a semi-automatic. This gun was in widespread use pre 1985. This gun is better for home defense because it’s easy to see if the gun is loaded.

• CORDITE: Used starting in 1889. Designed to prevent weapons used in tropics to keep from jamming. Used in cannons, British weapons 1891-1915. By 1945 use was rare. Unavailable worldwide since 2000, as the last remaining cordite factory closed. Therefore, if your book is set post 2000, it is impossible for your character to smell cordite after a weapon is fired.

• FIREARMS IDENTIFICATION: A bullet travels through the gun’s barrel, which has grooves to keep it moving. These grooves mark the bullet making each individual.

There are a couple of guns from which no evidence can be collected. A gun manufactured by Taurus called the Judge, and shoots shotgun rounds (which has no grooves). This gun can only be used at close range. These guns appeal to women and (they make them in pink). The other is the Governor by Smith & Wesson.

• SUPPRESSORS/SILENCERS: Cost about $600. Homemade silencers work as well as bought ones. Silencers are usually about 12 inches long, and are illegal to own. Not easy to conceal.


Test may not come back positive even if someone has fired the gun.

More likely to get residue from a revolver because it is open.

Test: Swab back of hand with 2 Q-tips dipped in solution on 3 sides and one control.

More likely to get residue on the clothing of the victim.

Wounds can also be swabbed for GSR (usually means person killed self).

After 4-6 hours test will not work, even if the person has not washed their hands.

Bag hands of the victim with brown paper bags (plastic has moisture) immediately to keep residue.

A corpse can shoot a semi-automatic if it is in their hands at time of death. It happens enough that the police department warns officers of this danger. How it happens: The next round goes in the chamber automatically after firing, a corpse with rigor tightens grip, and when the body is rolled over, it is possible for the pressure to trigger a shot.

A week is turnaround for super urgent GSR test.

Shooting through glass works if it is at close range. Windshields are more difficult due to the oblique angle. Generally only a .45 or shotgun or rifle can penetrate.

A car is better protection than you think. A car door can stop high powered things like tommy gun, handguns, (sometimes) armor-piercing can go through. Getting behind the engine block is also safe. Firing at a gas tank will NOT make the car explode.


Suicide: Victim holds gun very close and grabs it tightly, so it pushes into flesh and leaves bruises. Skin and tissue will be found on the gun. Powder burns etc. Suicide can be confused with an execution style shooting, so this is one plausible way to make a murder look like suicide. Shooting distance is the best clue as to whether it is a suicide.

• The further away the shot, the wider and lighter GSR pattern. At intermediate range the bullet hole is smaller, stippling is wider. At greater distance, large central hole, unlikely to have stippling (+2 feet)


Takes a lot of math, and requires years of training to analyze. Tells you direction the victim was going and if they were moving. Low, medium or high velocity.

Blood spatter (droplets) are shaped like a bowling pin, with the tip pointing in the direction the person was moving.

Luminol: Can tell where blood has been even after you mop it up, or use ammonia. Consists mostly distilled water, and you can make it at home in your sink. Lights up and dissipates quickly, so it’s necessary to take pictures immediately. Positives are found in bathrooms all the time for no reason (not related to a crime), false positives can also come from from oranges, grapefruit, lemons, horseradish.



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