FORENSIC TRIVIA: CAN YOU SOLVE THIS ONE?
Apparent Dangers of Drinking and Driving At 3:00 AM on Nov. 10, Marguerite Lange, her silver 2010Mercedes Sports Coupe, a half-filled bottle of vodka and a plastic bag of white powder landed in a ditch located at the bottom of a steep hill bordering Rte. 17 in upstate New York. The car had apparently gone out of control and went off the highway, rolling several times before landing upside down in the ditch. The police were able to recreate the accident from skid marks on the road and various impressions and disturbances observed in the area. DUI 3 Marguerite forgot her seat belt. She was quite dead. The bottle of vodka was spilled on the front seat. The bag of white powder was in the glove compartment. The first person on the scene was P.O. Nelson who had received a call to check out the wreckage sighted by a passing motorist at 7AM. Nelson noted that Ms. Lange’s head was tilted at an odd angle, and surmised she had died of a broken neck. He also noticed a nasty bruise on the side of her head (left temple). The windshield and other windows of the car were intact. One of Marguerite’s wrists was exposed and curious red marks appeared there. She was wearing a very expensive black silk jumpsuit, a fox coat and no jewelry, not even a wristwatch. Because of the presence of the suspicious white powder, the alcohol and the circumstances of the body, the crime scene unit was called in. The scene was isolated from unauthorized persons, and evidence was collected.
Marguerite Lange’s body was taken to the morgue and the M.E. did an autopsy. The crime scene unit screened the car for evidence; the deceased’s purse, other objects, trace evidence and fingerprints. This evidence as well as the bag of white powder and the bottle of vodka were sent to the forensics lab for investigation. The following items of information were obtained by the crime scene unit either directly or deduced from analysis of the evidence.
The deceased’s purse revealed that she was employed by John DiCristiani, who imports rare hardwood lumber from South America for the manufacture of very expensive custom-made furniture . She was his office manager. The Mercedes is registered in her name but the insurance card shows that the car is insured under DiCristiani’s policy. A check on DiC shows that he had been under scrutiny by the Treasury Department because of some illegal substances of the white powdery variety showing up in his wood shipments. No indictments or convictions showed up.
The fingerprints found in the car belonged to Lange, her sister, DiC and an unknown set.
The fiber evidence included fox hair, gray cat hair, Lange’s hair, her sister’s hair, and short gray human hairs which turned out to belong to DiC. Several coarse navy blue wool fibers are found adhering to the back of the driver’s seat and the rug near the driver’s door sill.
The bottle of vodka is vodka, pure and simple. No fingerprints on the bottle, not even Lange’s.
The white powder is cocaine, uncut.
The bruise on Lange’s temple was inflicted by a punch. The M.E. was able to show the impressions consistent with three knuckles and a thrusting thumb. The red marks on her wrist also consistent with human intervention, a strong grasp.
Examination of the car showed that besides the damage done by the tumble down the hill, there were marks in the front bumper as if the car had been towed with a grappling hook.
The M.E. found that the time of death was between 6 and 10PM of Nov. 9. The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. Her BAC (blood alcohol) was.03. No drugs were found in her system.
Were the police suspicious? You bet they were! Let’s talk about some of the evidence. The time of death is determined by algor mortis which is based on the temperature of the body which loses heat to the environment in conjunction with the temperature of the environment. Rigor mortis is also used which is the stiffening of muscles after death, and the eventual relaxation of those muscles, all happening at a predictable rate. It was Nov. so Lange was temperature was not conclusive, but rigor mortis told the tale, along with other chemical changes obvious to the M.E. The real telling evidence was her toxicology profile. She was not driving drunk or impaired. That is if she was driving at all. Blood alcohol level is determined by sampling a body fluid of the deceased, like the fluid in the eyeball, if blood is too congealed. Alcohol is detected in the blood stream by use of gas chromatography which separates the components of the blood at specific rates. The rate of ethyl alcohol is known and the apparatus records it. The presence of drugs is detected by taking tissue samples from the liver, stomach contents, and body fluids. The tests used involve the spectrometer and gas-chromatography/mass spectrometer. The spectrometer identifies the molecular make-up of drugs by observing the interaction of various frequencies of light with the molecules. Molecules are as individual as a person’s DNA, so the pattern of light interference will be specific for each drug. The gas chromatograph separates the drug sample which is usually a mixture of materials into its component parts. This allows the samples molecules to be analyzed in their pure form which is the only way they can be identified. Every molecule has its own fingerprint. The mass spectrometer identifies the drug from a fingerprint it produces when the molecules are shattered by a stream of ions. These instruments produce results equal in veracity to a fingerprint. The tool marks on the car are determined by an expert who compares the marks to a data base of imprints made by various tools. The blue wool fibers will only be helpful if the source of them can be associated with a person who is also incriminated by other evidence, such as the possession of the grappling hooks. If so, the metal on the grappling hooks would have left trace evidence on the cars bumper, which the forensic scientist can identify. The fact that there are no fingerprints on the vodka bottle and the bruising on Lange’s corpse, coupled with the time of death indicate that she was dead at the time of the “accident” which the police believe was staged. Who did it? An investigation of her private life, and her relationship with her boss may afford valuable leads.