How To Catch A Vampire - September 2017
By Nigel Cooper
Before I could start writing my debut novel Email From A Vampire, I had to do quite a lot of research. There was a good amount of historical research to do including 11th century wagons drawn by horses as a form of transport, a 15th century Scottish Claymore broadsword, a 17th century Baroque ballroom and much more.
But the most challenging research was based around the work of a CSI (Crime Scene Investigator). Or more to the point, how a CSI team could trace and track down a human-killing vampire.
Here in the UK the police generally don't use the term CSI (Crime Scene Investigator), instead we use the term SOCO (Scene Of Crime Officer).
I had the bulk of the plot and story worked out, and I knew that about two thirds of the way through one of the key characters, Detective Inspector Marion Maldini, would have to get quite close to catching the main baddy character, Tristan Syhier Burnel, as part of the storys twist. But the question was how would a modern day Detective Inspector, an entire back up team, and a whole bunch of SOCOs catch a 1000-year old vampire who has had a lot of practice at dodging the police throughout the centuries; and he’s prevailed. And what’s more, this vampire has super-human strength, can move at an incredible speeds, jump very high, can see in the dark, read people’s thoughts, hypnotise people and much more. Oh, and he can’t be killed by police issue bullets either.
So, after getting permission from Deputy Chief Constable John Feavyour and his PA Barbara Warsap of Hinchingbrooke Force HQ, I went up to Peterborough Police Headquarters and spent the afternoon speaking to their CSI manager, Mark Kelly. Armed with my MacBook I put many questions to Mark and I learned an incredible amount. By the time the afternoon was over, I felt like I'd completed a mini diploma course in CSI techniques. It really is quite incredible what these guys know and the various techniques they use. And let’s not forget, the police are not in the business of giving away their trade secrets, so what I have explained below is simply the tip of the iceberg. The rest are strictly kept CSI secrets.
Here are just a few of the things that I learned regarding a SOCOs tracing techniques.
Forensic science pioneer Edmund Locard (1877–1966) is famous for saying 'Every Contact Leaves A Trace', which essentially means that the longer and stronger the contact, the greater the transfer i.e. when you sit in a chair some of your clothings fibres will attach themselves to said chair, and possibly part of your DNA, and your DNA can be extracted from microscopic flakes of dead skin, hair, moister from a sneeze and so on an do forth. Also, fibres from the chair can also transfer in the other direction onto your clothes. People often forget that the transfer process goes both ways, from person to chair and from chair to person. A SOCO can use trace evidence such as this to prove contact, to prove that a person was at a specific place. However, this does not prove that the said person committed the actual offence; it simply proves that they were there, in that room, or sitting on that chair. The offence still has to be proven - there could be a legitimate reason for the person being there.
Then I learned about the 'Electronic Footprint' that everybody leaves in everyday life. The police can track and trace a person via their electronic footprint. In today’s modern technological world, you leave an electronic footprint everywhere you go. For example, you might get in your car in Cambridge, drive to a petrol station, drive to the shops, drive to see a friend, then drive home. Now, if you were a suspect of a crime, the chances are that the police could track and trace every move you made on any particular day via your electronic footprint. So, you got in your car in Cambridge and drove down a street that had ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition - which records the date and time your car passed along that street, and there are thousands of ANPR cameras on UK streets, A-roads, B-roads and motorways), so the police now have a record or your cars registration number and the exact time you drove down the street. Then you drive into the petrol station for fuel, again, being picked up by CCTV, and when you go inside to pay, your face gets recorded onto yet another CCTV camera and then your bankcard details are registered when you pay, if you pay by card of course. So the police also know exactly what time you were at the petrol station and they now have a nice photograph of you from the CCTV inside the petrol station shop. Then you drive to the shops. The chances are you would have driven through more ANPR cameras, giving the police even more evidence. Then when you get to the shops you will probably pay by credit/debit card again and there is a good chance that there will be a CCTV camera in the shop - yet more evidence with your image on camera and the date and time you were there.
So more electronic information is collected for the police to use in ascertaining your whereabouts that day. Then you might go to visit a friend, possibly driving through a street with CCTV or more ANPR cameras, and the same goes for when you finally drive home. So all in all, the police can add up all their electronic information (your electronic footprint for the day) that you left behind and they can quite easily work out exactly what time you left your house, got to the petrol station, got to the shops, got to your friends and then got back home - to the nearest few seconds. And they would probably know the exact route you took too.
Then there's your mobile phone. As long as your phone is switched on, it is acting as a GPS for the police, telling them exactly where you are using the phones built in GPS coordinates. This is done via the phone’s unique IMEI identification number; all phones have one. It is scary how the police can narrow your location down to a single street via your mobile phone. Also, I suspect that (these days0 your mobile phone doesn't even have to be switched on for the IMEI and built in GPS to transmit data giving your whereabouts.
DNA is an interesting one. Every one of us has a unique DNA, short for Deoxyribonucleic acid. The British DNA database has about 10% of our population on it; most of whom are criminals or who have at least had a run-in with the police for some reason or another, enough for the police to arrest them and take a DNA swab from inside their mouth. When somebody is arrested, it is standard practice for the police take a buccal swab from inside the mouth of the arrested criminal, along with fingerprints and a photograph (mug shot). All this information is then sent off to the lab and after processing, a resulting unique number (about three telephone numbers long) is added to the database, along with the person’s details such as name, date of birth, town of birth, address etc. Often at crime scenes, DNA is collected. Remember, DNA is found in saliva so they can get this off a cigarette butt or a soft drink can that was left at the scene of the crime. It is also found in your hair, blood, sweat, tears, flakes of dead skin, urine, semen (rapists have been known to rummage through the bins outside the back of known brothels for used condoms, condoms that they use at the scene of their own crime. They deposit somebody else's semen at the scene of crime to try and throw the police off their trail).
If you drank from a can of drink for example, your DNA would be around the mouthpiece. If you have been arrested before, the police would be able to prove you were at the scene via your DNA on the database when they match it up to the DNA found at the scene of the crime.
If you are in a violent fight and blood is drawn, DNA will be all over the place. If you bite your victim, your DNA will be around the victims wound. There have been a few instances of violent homophobes contracting the HIV (or AIDS) virus after beating up a gay person who had the disease. In one instance, the attacker grazed and cut his knuckles on his victim’s teeth. Blood from the victim bloody gums and teeth got into the cuts on the attacker’s knuckles and he contracted the virus.
But perhaps the funniest technique that the police have for catching criminals is the willingness (or plain stupidity) of some criminals to simply turn themselves in; unknowingly. How does this happen? By using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The police are on Facebook, Twitter (and other similar sites) all day, every day. It is the single most effective way of catching small time crooks. You’d be amazed at how often criminals incriminate themselves simply by posting facts on Facebook (often bragging) for the world to see. In the same ballpark of stupidity are the small-time thieves who steal things, often from house burglaries, then list their swag on eBay. Again, eBay is generally the first place the police will look these days to find stolen goods that were burglarised from somebody's house the night before. The police simply do a search on eBay for the stolen item (putting in the make/model of said stolen item), and then the nice people at eBay give the police the name and address of the account holder (in this case, the thief selling the stolen item). Then the police turn up and seize the goods and arrest the suspect.
Email is another method the police will use. They will call in a forensics IT specialist to do this job. If you send an email, the police can find out exactly where the computer was located when the email was sent. And, if you are a suspect, the police can monitor your computer from their own HQ forensics IT department, and the second you log in to send an email, the forensics IT specialist will know about it before you even send an email - scary stuff.
These are just a few of the things I learned while spending time with a CSI manager. And as I have already mentioned, the police don’t give away their secrets, so lord knows what other incredible techniques they have and use that they didn't tell me about. The main protagonist in my novel Email From A Vampire is pretty smart and not so easily caught, not to mention all his unique powers that comes with being a vampire. I had to learn about various police and CSI techniques to be able to figure out how my Detective in the novel was going to get hot on the heels and catch up with the evil murdering vampire. It’s an interesting game of cat and mouse. If you want to know how DI Maldini tracks the vampire down, you’ll simply have to read the novel.