Homicide exercise | CJE 4610 Criminal Investigation | University of Central Florida

 Your First Call

             At 1:30 am Saturday June 23, you arrive home from a party given in your honor by some of the officers in your department.  Earlier in the evening you received a promotion to Detective in the homicide division.  You get undressed and finally climb into bed after a long day.  Fortunately, you were drinking only club soda and cranberry juice while at the bar because at 1:50 am the telephone rings.  It is the dispatcher.  She tells you that there has been a house fire at 2476 Appalachian Avenue, the Ebersole residence.  You know this residence to be in one of the upscale neighborhoods in your jurisdiction.  You are wondering why she is calling you about a house fire. You are tired and all you can think about is getting some rest.  You ask why you are needed at a fire scene.

        The dispatcher replies, “the firefighters discovered a body in the living room of the residence.  They think that there may have been a robbery or something. They said that it doesn’t quite look right.”

 “Did anyone contact the coroner and the crime scene techs?”

 “No. Do you want me to call them?”

 “Yes, but tell them not to disturb anything at the scene until I get there. Also, call my partner if she has not already been contacted. I’m on my way.”

             You hang up the phone, get dressed and drive to the scene.  You arrive at 2:32 am.  Your partner arrives at the same time.  Both of you approach the scene which is already roped off with yellow police tape.  The fire is extinguished, and you see that a news van is pulling up to the scene. You grab an officer and tell him to make sure that the media stays away from the scene.

             Another uniformed officer immediately approaches you.  He advises that he was the first officer on the scene.  You ask him what he saw when he arrived and what information he has collected. He tells you that he was dispatched to the call at approximately 1:04 am.  Upon arrival, the fire company was already on the scene.  A young man named Tommy Graystone was walking his dog when he smelled smoke and saw flames inside the windows of 2476 Appalachian Avenue.  He ran three blocks to his house and called 911 to report the fire. Tommy is now waiting in the back of the patrol car. 

The officer also advises that several neighbors were standing in the street when he and other officers arrived.  He points out the neighbors to you.  Some of the witnesses said that they heard tires screeching a little while before the fire engines arrived.  One witness, Mr. Frank, heard a loud bang at approximately 12:45 am. He said that it sounded like a car backfiring. Also, Mrs. Butterworth saw a dark colored sport utility vehicle driving down the street at a high rate of speed around 1:00 am.

              After the fire was extinguished a cursory search of the area surrounding the house was conducted.  The officer tells you that there are several foot impressions in the mud behind the house. There is also a cigarette butt in the grass near the back patio, a broken lock on the rear patio door, and a broken front window.

            While you are talking with the officer, the coroner and the crime scene technicians arrive. They begin to videotape and photograph the scene. You ask the coroner to enter the crime scene with you. He indicates that he is waiting until the fire chief tells him that the scene is safe to enter.

  1. What do you think are the responsibilities of the first officer arriving on the scene?

2.  What should be done when additional officers arrive on the scene?  

3. How did you respond to the scene (lights and sirens)? What things were you looking for as you approached the scene? 

4. Why did you ask the coroner to wait to enter the crime scene with you? 

5. What action should you as the investigator take next? Why? 

            You decide to walk toward the witnesses to conduct preliminary interviews.  You notice that they are all standing in a group across the street from the burned residence.  Some of them are talking and pointing at the smoldering house. 

6. Should the witnesses be permitted to stand together in a group and talk about the fire? Why? 

As you walk across the street, a reporter approaches you and requests an interview.  With the camera rolling she asks you what happened and specifically if you have identified the body in the house.

7. How do you respond to the reporter’s questions?

            As you talk to the reporter, you see a car drive rapidly to the scene and screech to a halt.  A male and a female jump out of the car and begin to run toward the house.  They are screaming frantically.  Three uniformed officers intercept them and hold them outside the crime scene tape.  You overhear the female scream, “I knew that they would do this!”

            You and your partner rush to the people and try to calm them down.  You ask who they are.  The female says that her brother lives in that house and that she heard the fire call on her police scanner.  She and her husband rushed to the house and became hysterical when they saw all of the fire engines and police cars.  She asks if her brother is hurt. 

8. What should you tell her? Why? 

            You ask what she meant by her statement that she knew they would do this.  She states that her brother is a corporate executive who was threatening to blow the whistle on other executives who have been embezzling money from shareholders and clients.  She has been worried for his safety for weeks. You ask what company her brother works for. She states that he is with Entex Corporation.  You are familiar with the company because it has frequently been in the news concerning development of a promising new cancer treatment drug.  There has also been news that due to some internal strife within the company the stock has recently taken a tumble. 

            You ask the woman for her identification.  The name on her driver’s license is Linda Heckman.  Linda continues talking and tells you that her brother Dean suspected that a couple of company executives were embezzling funds from the company and that he was having a private investigator follow two of them.  She does not know if her brother confronted these men yet, but she gives you two names, John Burkhart and Earl Rutherford, as the men he was having followed. You thank Linda for her help and let her know that you will keep her updated as soon as you know anything.

9. How will you follow up with this new information? 

10. Should you ask Linda and her husband to remain at the scene at this point? Why? 

            You decide to interview Tommy Graystone next.  He is still waiting inside the police cruiser.  Upon seeing his face, you realize that you have met Tommy before and you remember where.  Tommy used to cut grass and do garden work for the Ebersole’s last summer.  Dean’s wife Melinda caught him smoking marijuana in the garden shed.  Melinda is a no-nonsense kind of woman who immediately called the police upon discovering Tommy smoking marijuana.  You were the one that interviewed and arrested Tommy.  You remember that Tommy initially lied to you, but after confronting him with the evidence he confessed.  You also remember that the Ebersole’s had a young daughter.  It is now worrying you that neither the wife nor daughter have been seen or heard from. 

            Before talking with Tommy, you decide to go back and ask Linda if she knows anything about the whereabouts of Melinda and the young girl.  She tells you that Melinda and three-year-old Tabitha have been staying with Melinda’s parents because she and Dean have been having marital problems for the past month.  You are relieved that Melinda and Tabitha are most likely not in the house.  You again thank Linda for the information.

11. Do you try to locate Melinda and Tabitha at this point? Why? 

            You decide to return to Tommy.  Tommy looks very nervous as you approach the police cruiser.  He obviously remembers you as one the officers that questioned him last summer. If you remember correctly Tommy was released to his parents and required to complete a drug rehabilitation program. 

12. Do you mention your previous meeting with Tommy? Explain? 

13. How does your prior knowledge of Tommy affect your interview strategy?

            You ask Tommy what he saw tonight.  He tells you that he was walking his Labrador Retriever, Holly, at around 1:00AM past Dean Ebersole’s house.  He tells you that he walks his dog this route every night when he gets home from stocking shelves at the local Giant grocery store.  He states that he smelled a lot of smoke.  He looked around and saw flames coming from Mr. Ebersole’s house.  He immediately ran back to his parent’s house about three blocks away and called 911.

14. What seems strange about Tommy’s story? 

            Tommy tells you that when he returned to the scene of the fire there was already a single firefighter there and he was getting some equipment out of a pick-up truck.  He tells you that the firefighter broke a front window trying to get inside the house just as the rest of the fire department arrived.  You ask Tommy to point out the first firefighter on the scene.  He points out a young man with dark blonde hair.

15. Should you make a point of interviewing this firefighter?  Why? 

16. Based on the information you have so far, what do you think happened? 

17. What do you think would be different about investigating arson than most other crimes? 

            As you decide what to do next, the coroner calls you over and tells you that he is ready to enter the residence.  You tell him that you will be right there.

18. What things do you need to remember to do during your examination of the crime scene? 

19. List and describe at least three methods of recording a crime scene?

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