Friday, March 8, 2013

Hillary Moses, Guest Speaker for February

Hillary Moses, Lecturer on Forensics at Chaminade University and Crime Scene Investigator, was our special guest speaker for February 20, 2013. She received a hardy Aloha welcome from the members of The Sisters in Crime/Hawaii members!

Rosemary & Hillary

Sandy, Ray, Julia

Members in attendance: Sandy, Ray, Julia, Gene, Doris, Dennis, Rosemary, Dawn, Leslie (and Gail behind the camera!)

Doris, Dennis, Rosemary
far left: Dawn

far right: Leslie

From the meeting minutes taken by SinC/Hawaii Secretary Rosemary Mild:

Our Speaker

Hillary Moses, Lecturer on Forensics at Chaminade University and Crime Scene Investigator, gave a riveting presentation and demonstration on Fingerprinting. Her specialty is fingerprint analysis; she’s writing a textbook on the subject (with a lab workbook), for Taylor & Francis, an international academic publisher. It will be the first student-friendly textbook on the subject.  

Hillary also works with the Medical Examiner’s office in Honolulu. Gunshot victims are the majority of her cases. She has also started a YA novel in the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys genre. She got into Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) at an early age. Her father headed the crime lab of the San Francisco Police Department. She helped process her first crime scene at age five. “I have no problem with dead bodies. I can’t deal with the medical stuff of live bodies,” she said. She was a police identification (ID) specialist in California and a geneticist for ten years in forensic science. She spent 14 months in Iraq processing crime scenes: suicide bombings, sniper attacks, etc.
Highlights on Forensic Science

There’s the Investigative Side, then the Forensics Side. Hillary starts with a crime-scene walk-through to get her bearings and assess the scene. Ninety percent of Forensic Science is documentation, including; a briefing from the detectives; an artist’s sketch; notes; photos. Immediate photos of hair, tire tracks, shoe prints, etc. are necessary because they can change (or disappear) during the investigation.

Types of evidence (she brought us examples):

1. Tire tracks, shoe prints. After photographing them, cast them using a liquid casting material.   
Material for casting footprints
2. Firearms. Bullets that had been fired and also cartridge casings.

3. A “presumptive test,” such as casting tire tracks or testing for blood, should be done first; blood and tracks can break down quickly or be washed away in weather; hair or fibers can be lost. She discussed synthetic blood, engineered to react like real blood.

Dusting the plate for prints
4. Touch DNA. Swabbing isn’t always necessary. If someone touches something, DNA is found on the object (unless it’s been bleached).

Hillary taking fingerprints of
Rachel Funk-Heller
5. Fingerprints. They’re delicate, especially on a nonporous object like a shiny knife. They’re difficult-to-impossible to obtain on porous or rough material. Paper absorbs fingerprints well. The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is a database of prints of convicted criminals. In Iraq and Afghanistan, after suicide bombings, our soldiers use AFIS scans on everyone they can who might be connected to the bomber. Also iris scans, a quite new technique.


Hillary did a fingerprint demonstration, using black fingerprint powder (ground carbon) and a fiberglass brush (in Britain they use camel hair). An unknown (latent) print is kept in the computer permanently.                 


Biometrics = the future (unique physical or behavioral characteristics). The FBI is using iris scans in the Customs areas of some airports. The goal is to put them in every major airport. 

Blackberry Fingerprint Scanner: an advancement coming for police work. 

Small police departments outsource DNA. It can take as long as six months to process, especially in rape cases. The fastest technique takes twelve hours to extract it. “We have all the techniques,” Hillary says, “but only the Federal Government—the military, the FBI, etc.—has the equipment.”  

The first Forensics techniques were developed in China in 300 AD.

Q & A:

Q. On suicides.

A. In Hawaii, hanging (if that is the choice) is overwhelmingly preferred by men. Women prefer prescription pills because pills can be accumulated. Some women are now choosing a gun. A 22-caliber bullet kills faster and more efficiently than a bigger bullet because it’s less likely to exit.

Q. How do you beat a murder rap?

A. Hillary gave us a sharp tongue-in-cheek answer:

            “Kill someone you have no connection to.

            Use gloves.

            Don’t sneeze on anything.

            Take your weapon with you.

            And don’t tell anyone about it.”

She left us with a final encouraging thought. “As a tree-hugging liberal from San Francisco, I always look at the Defense side and always give individuals the benefit of the doubt.”

Suggested References

The Journal of Forensic Sciences, very technical, for those who go to the scene of the crime. 

The Journal of Forensic Identification. (the American Academy of Forensic Science). (the biggest, the International Association of Identification).

 Where to buy forensics tools: