It’s the Little Things

 

Has anyone ever told you that it’s the little things that get you? Maybe you didn’t get in as much trouble as I did growing up but I have been told (usually by Mom) and have told (bad guys during my Cop life) that it is the little details, those fine points that even the most careful of us overlook that end up bringing all our nefarious plans crashing down on our heads. When I think of this I think of wearing gloves to hide your fingerprints. Or if you are a teenager in upstate New York in January, maybe watching out where you leave footprints in the snow when sneaking out at night. Oh I also got caught once when my folks asked me if I was power sliding my little VW down the street during an ice storm. When I denied that I would ever do something like that they gently showed me to the tire tracks that lead directly from the sideways prints on the street to my rear tires parked in the driveway: the little things.

I saw this little gem of an article and had to share. The next time you step onto a subway train, board an airplane, or take someone else’s phone to watch the newest annoyingly cute animal video think about this. “How your micro-biome can put you at the scene of the crime,” by Kai Kupferschmidt from Science Magazine.

Turns out that by the time we are 3 or 4 years we have gathered a unique set of bacteria from the environment we grow up in, and that mix remains fairly stable throughout our lives.

In 2010 a paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed that bacterial DNA recovered from computer keyboards matched the micro-biomes found on their owners’ fingertips. The authors also sampled bacteria from nine computer mice and used the results to pick the owners out of a database of 270 micro-biomes.

Did anyone else just squirm a little when they read that?

A paper from 2015 identified that individuals have a theoretically unique microbial cloud that we carry with us, and deposit wherever we happen to go. We shed bacteria constantly spitting it from our mouths, breathing them out. Bacteria are so small that our clothes have no effect at containing them. Whenever we sit down or pick something up bacteria is deposited on that surface and it persists until the next person comes along. In the paper, researchers measured the bacterial cloud surrounding volunteers by placing them in a sanitized chamber and sampling the area around them. What they found was that they were able to identify individuals by this micro-biome we carry with us.

To apply this to the criminal world researchers swabbed places suspects are believed to have touched at crime scenes then sequence captured DNA in the laboratory. Once sequenced the profiles can be compared to a database and individual strains of bacteria can be identified. The mix, or unique ecosystem of different species of bacteria that are identified in the sample from the crime scene can then be compared to a known suspect sample to see if the two micro-biomes match.

In a practical evaluation, researchers in Illinois staged a fake break in then took samples from where the “burglars” handled things in the house. When the signatures from the suspects were reviewed the scientists not only could identify individual micro-biomes, but from residues in the samples determine the amount of alcohol one of the ‘suspects’ consumed each week and that one of them was on migraine medication. Even if the bacterial cloud could not be determined to be individual enough to identify a suspect to the exclusion of all others, (to date a sample size and technique has not been complete enough to try and take an identification based on bacteria to court), how great would it be if traits such as drug use, medication, or drinking habits could be used as leads in narrowing down the suspect pool?

Recently the J. Craig Venter Institute received a $900,000 grand from the National Institute of Justice to build a micro-biome database. That is a first step in evaluating whether or not bacteria can be used to identify someone. Practical application is a long way off.

Regardless I thought it interesting that when we now warn someone that it’s the little things that get you. We really mean it is the little things that get you, like your own bacteria, little.

Reference:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/how-your-microbiome-can-put-you-scene-crime

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The Window (Short)

Hey, I really liked the female protagonist in this story so I figured I would share. It’s another one of the shorts I found in my files. Here you go, let me know what you think.

The Window

 

Behaviorally speaking, there is no difference between a five-year-old boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and a thirty-five-year-old accountant accused of raping and murdering a twenty-one year old bartender. The two mirror each other in movement, posture, responses. Tapping feet, shifting eyes, slumped shoulders. These movements betray their secrets. They try to put up a strong front; to deny their truth, both know what the outcome will be. Each can feel the ‘other shoe’ poised over their heads waiting to drop. The only difference between the two is a matter of time. Where the five year old will fold under the withering gaze of grandma in moments, the thirty-five year old thinks he’s crafty, ahead of the game. He requires a little more convincing.

    The way he slumps in the cold hard metal chair; one leg outstretched, his left arm crooked over the seat back. He looks calm. The expensive black suit says he is important, and the smug grin shows he believes it. His eyes angle toward the dull gray metal table, feigning indifference. He’s checked his watch three times in the fifteen minutes he’s been in there. All of that is betrayed, however, by the subtle movement of his lower lip. Beneath that smug, half grin, he gnaws on it like a wolf chewing though his leg to get out of a trap. This is where time comes in.

    He gnaws on his lip. After a few minutes his left knee starts to bounce ever so slightly. His eyes fix across the table. He just noticed the file, a simple manila folder. The word Subject precedes his name, and a thick stack of various forms hide beneath its cover. One form peeks out from under the off-white cover. The title reads, Search Warrant. His name is at the top of that too.

    His eyes dart to the window and he catches his own reflection. There’s a lack of confidence he can’t bear to see so he turns back to the warrant. Yearning to see without overtly straining, he reads as much as he can. Only three lines of text are available to him. When he scans the text his eyes flash wide, though only for a micro second. Instinctively, his right hand snaps to his left collar bone. He doesn’t consciously realize he is trying to hide the deep gashes that stretch from the base of his neck to his chest. He looks back to the window. His eyes are wider now, like the eyes of a person who realized they just stepped out in front of a bus. He is searching for help, searching for hope. It only takes a moment for him to recover.

    On the other side of the one way glass she looks once more at the photo in her hand. Swollen, closed eyes, black, blue, purple, the bloody pulp was once the beautiful face of Shannon Wells, twenty-one, bartender. She could quote the Medical Examiner’s report by letter and verse. Shannon Wells was a fighter, and that made Detective Kate Mills smile. Shannon died as a result of manual strangulation coupled with an intracranial hematoma. The medical examiner found mounds of ripped skin, not Shannon’s, buried under her fingernails. Shannon also had a chunk of areola lodged in her trachea. The girl fought for her life, no one could ask for anymore. And she had had a lot to live for.

    Shannon was a scholar in the truest sense of the word. Daughter of a single father; her Mother, Maya, died while delivering her. Shannon was valedictorian of a class of less than a hundred students in a speck of an upstate New York High School. She led her high school soccer team to a state title her senior year then shot out of town like a rocket. Despite being wooed by every major team in the NCAA, Shannon hung up her cleats in favor of Physics. She was a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a full academic scholarship. Shannon studied Physics by day and slung drinks at night to make ends meet. Then she met Anthony ‘Tony’ Chapman. The crime scene examination showed forced entry through a shattered door frame. Holes in the sheetrock, a broken coffee table, and shattered television showed Tony liked it rough. Alex Newton, Manager of the Thirsty Owl where Shannon worked picked Tony out of a line up and remembered Tony hovering around Shannon until closing time the night before she went missing.

    Tony is a proud product of South Boston, and he has a record. He married once however that marriage ended with facial reconstruction for his wife, a restraining order, and ninety days in county jail. It seemed Tony liked to hit his girls, and the wife wasn’t the only domestic trouble he’s been a part of. Interviews of former girlfriends yielded adjectives such as scumbag, Napoleon, sadist. Mills also found a south side hooker named Tina who pressed charges on him for assault a few years back. The assault failed to stick since Tina was a hooker. Tony liked to make himself feel strong at the expense of his girls.

Kate watched her quarry for another moment then knocked on the window three times. Slow and deliberate, the rumble of the heavy plate glass was like the sullen drone of a death toll. It’s an utterly unproductive gesture, lends nothing to the coming interrogation. The initial volley in an unmitigated psychological war Detective Kate Mills was about to unleash on this trapped predator.

Tony shot out of his chair at the rumbling staccato, eyes like saucers, he looked at the window, toward her. She smiled. Tony likes it rough. Tony ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    Detective Mills secured Shannon Wells’ photo to the file that will bear her legacy and turned from the window. Thirty-five or five, little boys do not change. Tony Chapman is about to realize he has been caught with his hand in a very dangerous cookie jar.

END

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