The meat and bones and blood of CSI at a real crime scene looks a lot different than it does on a hyped-up television show—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. A good investigator does not allow what appears mundane on the surface to lessen their attention to detail, nor does he/she allow a particularly bloody scene cause adrenalin to make them rush. Solid forensic training blends the dramatic for emphasis and the realistic for credibility, equipping the investigator to remain balanced and effective on the job.
Blood pattern expert, Todd A. Thorne, and forensic scientist, Stuart H. James, understand this well. Thorne and James commonly use pig’s blood, (most similar to human in texture and viscosity) for classroom illustrations. James has been known to walk into a holding cell where a blood-spatter test is being done, while announcing in his best Vincent Price voice, “I’ve brought more blood.”
His flair for the macabre gets a student’s attention, increasing both the fun and effectiveness of what they learn. To further demonstrate how a dying person would expel their blood, James has also drawn his own, put it in his mouth, and discharged it onto a prepared surface, to show attendees how various spatters may appear on death scenes.
Thorne and James travel extensively, both educating and testifying on blood spatter. We are honored to share insights from experts of their renown.
According to an article co-authored by Thorne and James, the simulation and study of impact spatter resulting from blunt force trauma has now been used for many years. Going back to 1971, H.L. MacDonell utilized blood-soaked sponges that were struck with various objects, as well as modified rat traps that impacted a blood source placed on the trap, to demonstrate how factual evidence could be gleaned from spatter. His book, Bloodstain Patterns, is considered a classic on the subject of impact evidence.
Acclaimed Canadian forensic crime scene specialist, P.L. Laturnus, used a hockey puck with blood placed in its concave surface, then struck it with a blunt object. Many such demonstration methods are widely accepted and currently utilized by instructors in bloodstain pattern training courses throughout the world. These methods have also been utilized to reproduce impact spatter production when scrutinizing case work.
The Spatter Head Technique
According to Thorne and James, crime scene reenactments using innovative forensic models have become especially popular in bloodstain pattern analysis for both training and real-life probes. Bludgeon Head a/k/a Spatter Head, is manufactured by Andre Anyon at www.forensicbody.com The head is constructed of a proprietary formula of high strength casting plaster and a custom blend wax formula utilized to create a hollow hard wax shell which is pre-filled with pig’s blood. The shells are constructed with pegs that fit into holes in the head completing a fully formed anatomical head. Spatter Head models are available in both an upright and side orientation. Multiple shells can be used without destruction of the plaster base head (Figures 1 and 2).
The illustration shown by Todd A. Thorne and Stuart H. James in this article, concentrated on striking a side-oriented model with a blunt object to determine whether impact spatter could be produced in a realistic setting. This examination is suitable for demonstration and teaching purposes in bloodstain pattern analysis classes, with an eye for its use in case-specific issues.
An outdoor location was utilized with 36” x 30” white foam boards set up in a corner with a blue surgical drape covering the remaining walls and brick floor surface. “Spatter Head” was set up on a pedestal with the top of the head 17.5” above the surface. The head was positioned 23” from the south wall and 23” from the west wall. A fish bat 16.5” in length was used as the blunt weapon to strike the head (Figure 3).
Two experiments were performed. The head was struck a total of six times in each experiment with the sequential blows videotaped and photographed. For the second experiment with a second shell Spatter Head was set up on a pedestal with the top of the head 18.5” above the surface. The head was positioned 50” from the south wall and 50” from the west wall. For the second experiment, a T-shirt moist with perspiration and a plastic water bottle were positioned as additional targets for the spatter.
Results and Discussion
No impact spatter was produced with the first blow in experiments 1 and 2 but subsequent blows produced increasing amounts of spatter onto the white foam boards and adjacent areas. An abundance of typical impact spatter stains were produced in addition to many larger stains that exhibited downward flow patterns due to the volume of blood that was available for impact when the shell containing blood was ruptured. This was more evident in experiment 2 when the shell eventually was displaced from the head after several impacts. The target consisting of the perspiration dampened T-shirt demonstrated a good example of the diffusion of the spatter impacting a moist surface.
Bludgeon Head a/k/a Spatter Head, provides a realistic target for the production of impact spatter and is in the opinion of the authors an excellent tool for demonstration and teaching purposes. The head is easy to set up and only requires a quick rinsing and replacement of the blood containing shell for repetitive use. The shells should be refrigerated when storing and have an indefinite shelf life. It is recommended that prior to use that they be allowed to achieve ambient temperature.
Modification of the volume of blood contained within the shell responsible for many of the larger stains when exposed should be explored either by reducing the volume or adding a matrix within the shell that would reduce large volume expulsion of blood. It was noted that some of the stains contained air bubbles which is likely a function of the shell and agitation of the blood volume.
The bloodstains on the Spatter Head were difficult to remove completely. Soaking in a chlorinated solution proved to be satisfactory. It is recommended that the head be coated with a material that would facilitate easier removal of residual bloodstains.
Striking Spatter Head easily distributes impact spatter over a wide area and thus numerous surface textures can be spattered for comparative surface texture studies. The use of Spatter Head for the replication of case specific issues has good potential and will be the subject of future experimentation.
Solid forensic training prepares the investigator for the field, leaving the drama for the classroom (and TV), while using accepted evidence to make their cases. Experts like Thorne and James not only bring skills, experience, proven methods, and creativity when they train, but they also bring open minds. As they tell their students and peers, ideas and suggestions are welcome.
There are always new frontiers in the investigative world, helping disseminate fact from fiction when it comes to blunt force trauma, blood spatter, and more. Who needs hype? When you simply widen the scope of knowledge, you solve more cases—and there’s no better adrenalin rush than that.