The work of crime scene investigators (CSIs) has gripped millions of people across the world since the first of four long running American drama series landed on our screens 20 years ago.
The show’s first spin-off series, CSI: Miami – featuring the iconic character Horatio Caine, was so captivating it was named the world’s most popular TV show of 2005.
But while these shows portray some true-to-life crime scene analysis, like most dramatised programmes there is often more fiction than fact.
To give an insight into what it’s really like to spend your day (and night) examining scenes where horrific crimes have sometimes taken place – one of Leicestershire’s most experienced CSIs talks about what the job really involves.
Chris Georg has worked in forensic investigation for nearly 15 years. Now working as a Crime Scene Manager, he started his career as a CSI (or scenes of crime officer as it was known then) after serving in the army and then working as a photographer.
Chris and the rest of the Leicestershire Police forensic team work around the clock to help solve crime in the force area. The work they do forms part of a regional forensic service under the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU).
This service manages every stage of forensic evidence. From the CSIs who are on hand to gather up and preserve vital clues at a scene – through to the testing and analysing of what is collected. Every fingerprint, footprint or speck of blood, as well as digital evidence stored on phones and other devices could hold the key to cracking a case.
“When first entering a crime scene our job essentially is to carry out an assessment by looking at the evidence presented before us and then making an informed decision, alongside the detectives, about what is likely to have happened,” said Chris.
“All of the clues that point to what has taken place need to be preserved to ensure there is no cross contamination and then safely removed for testing. Any of it could be a vital piece of evidence in an investigation.
“After years of doing the job and examining thousands of different scenes, experience helps you to know what to look for and what that could indicate.”
For CSIs just starting their career, usually after completing a forensic science or other scientific degree, they cut their teeth investigating burglaries and vehicle crime.
As they progress they’ll then take on other forms of crime such as assaults before investigating the most serious of crimes, including sexual offences and murders.
Chris said: “When you are called out to a scene where a body has been found you want to work to identify as quickly as possible if a crime has taken place or if someone has died as a result of a medical episode or taking their own life.
“In these circumstances, alongside a scene assessment, the work of a CSI is to also carry out an assessment of the body. This involves looking and photographing every inch of skin to identify if there are any obvious signs as to how the person has died.
“If a person have been murdered there are usually some very obvious signs both on the body and at the location. Signs of a disturbance, patterns of bruising, wounds or defensive markings, the positon of the body and the blood distribution at the scene could all be indicators that a crime has taken place.”
The work of CSIs in most cases is important to an investigation but when their work can hold the clue to identifying a killer or providing substantial proof of a person’s involvement, the work is even more vital.
In 2018 Craig Keogh was sentenced to a minimum of 32 years for the murder of 72-year-old Jane Hings. Keogh was linked to murder after a hat, a tongue bar and a pillowcase discovered and preserved by CSIs were found at the scene to contain his DNA.
In 2012 Mark Postles and Margaret Heeley were jailed for 22 years for murdering John Cogan.
The evidence was already overwhelming after the victim’s body was found in the garden of Postles’ address but CSIs still combed through the entire scene and the role of forensics was pivotal in determining how and when the victim was died, as well as the steps the killers had taken in a bid to try and dispose of the body.
Despite on first appearances the scene appearing exceptionally clean, CSIs were able to locate a small amount of blood on the living room wall and ceiling.
When a thorough search of the house was carried out they also found empty bottles of bleach, a knife and a saw. The victim’s blood and bleach were also found on a pair of jeans at the house.
A receipt detailing all of the items that had be purchased to try conceal the murder was also discovered in the bin, along with a bus ticket that showed the movements of the killers on the day Cogan was killed. Pieced together with CCTV footage a picture began to emerge of the events that had taken place.
Further evidence and forensic testing carried out in the garden was also able to disprove Healey’s version of events as to how the victim had died.
As a Crime Scene Manager for the last five years, Chris has also been part of huge policing operations for incidents such as the Hinckley Road explosion – helping to search for forensics in and among the rubble and debris, as well as helping to coordinate the CSIs on the ground.
“Dealing with harrowing jobs can be tough but unfortunately it is part of policing. As with every officer and staff involved in an investigation of this nature you focus on the job you have to do. If a crime has been committed you want to ensure every possible piece of evidence is identified and collected to help strengthen the case against the person responsible. You also strive to ensure justice is served for both the victim and their family,” added Chris.