The real CSI at work in Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 5, 2003

Joan Jones and her team of evidence technicians could rival the &uot;CSI&uot; program on any given day when it comes to the reality of investigations. Take the case of the body found in the Buckhorn area of Holland several months ago. With that case, a great deal of skills came into play in identifying the corpse that had been in the woods for some time.

Jones said that in some instances, when a body is badly decomposed several methods of identification can be used by forensics technicians.

&uot;If there is skin left there, they may have tattoos or markings of some type on the flesh,&uot; she said. &uot;Maybe even, if they’ve been in some type of accident they may have one of those steel plates or metal pins in place. Each of those types of items is surgically implanted and they all bear identifying numbers. The medical examiners can then find out who the victim was through tracing those numbers. Also, we can use dental work to identify some victims.&uot;

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It was dental work that helped identify Edward Duncan Campbell, the 20-year old murder victim found last Jan. 6 in a barrow pit filled with water alongside Nansemond Parkway, just behind the Wilroy Industrial Park. Campbell had been left face down in the water after being strangled to death, another fact determined by forensics investigators.

Jones has worked many crime scenes since she came to Suffolk’s Criminal Investigations Section of the Police Department, however, one case still stands out glaringly in her mind. That of the 1996 murder of a store clerk in old Suffolk Plaza at &uot;Book Haven.&uot; The woman had her throat savagely cut by a teen who had been attempting to steal a magazine from the store. He killed her after realizing that she’d seen him take the magazine. Jones said she will never forget the gory crime scene.

She also remembers a case in which a man had been killed and dumped in a ditch along Skeet Road in the northern end of Suffolk. Two jurisdictions were involved in this case that was eventually solved because of evidence collection by Portsmouth and Suffolk.

&uot;Portsmouth collected duct tape from a trash can in the house where he was abducted, and I had the tape that was placed over the victim’s mouth,&uot; said Jones. &uot;We were able to match the right and left side of the torn tape and that led Suffolk Police Lieutenant Debbie George to helping solve that murder.&uot;

CSI Suffolk, she prefers &uot;Criminal Investigations,&uot; has a great deal of high tech equipment that helps solve the mysteries behind crime scenes. Nothing is hidden from the &uot;print tubes&uot; that can bring out latent (unknown) fingerprints that are invisible to the naked eye.

In the television program, CSI, investigators poured casting material into a deep wound on a victim’s torso to determine the type of instrument used to kill the victim. Jones angrily noted that would never happen in real criminal investigations.

&uot;For us, that body is considered the property of the medical examiner and you do not do anything further to it,&uot; she said, her eyes betraying her anger at such a blatant act of disrespect. &uot;Never, never! That would never happen.&uot;

Jones did say that CSI on television does get it right sometimes. &uot;For instance, they do place plastic bags over the victim’s hands to preserve evidence that may be under the fingernails.&uot;

But, no matter what the television program shows each week, no case is worse than &uot;Autumn’s,&uot; according to Jones, a 1984 graduate of John F. Kennedy High School. Jones was trained, in part, by Dr. Herbert McDonnell, one of the forensics scientists who testified in the O.J. Simpson trial.

Bert Nurney, who attended the Virginia Forensics Science Academy with Jones, began working for the division Aug. 1, 2002. He is a native of old Nansemond County and has served with the Isle of Wight County forensics unit, graduating from Crater Police Academy in 1976. He said he came to the Suffolk Police Department specially to work with Jones, who is considered an expert in forensics. He also worked with Portsmouth’s forensics unit for two years.

&uot;Photography is my hobby and I do it just for fun, photographing my family and my grandchildren,&uot; said Nurney. &uot;I’ve mainly served as an investigator and my favorite cases are death scenes because all the evidence you need is right there. A homicide is relatively in a confined area and it’s simple to process.&uot;

Evidence Technician Amanda Harrison, a North Carolina native is married to Suffolk Police Officer Kevin Harrison, and she is new to the scene but learning quickly about man’s inhumanity to man.

&uot;This work is extremely engaging in that you’re solving a puzzle to help people,&uot; said Harrison. &uot;It’s very interesting work and always a great challenge. I was also processed minor crime scenes in Newport News prior to coming to Suffolk. I’ve taken classes and I’m on a waiting list to go to the forensics academy.&uot;

Suffolk Police Officer Mike Simpkins, public information officer, has served in the detective’s bureau and he truly understands the value of Jones and her team.

&uot;You can figure on most crime scenes up to 12-hours to process and before Jones came, it took an investigator’s time to process the scene,&uot; said Simpkins. &uot;Now, with the criminal investigations section doing the work of processing the scene, the detectives are freed up to immediately begin pursuing suspects. That is crucial because it allows them those first few valuable hours to begin the investigation. If someone dies, they have a family. We owe it to the family… We have an obligation to them to find out who took their loved one.&uot;