Why Inspectors Reconstruct Crime Scenes

By Douglas P. Lyle

After doing an initial walk-through of the crime scene, the investigator begins mentally formulating a hypothesis of the crime, focusing on the likely sequence of events and the locations and positions of everyone present during the crime. Information like the following may be critical in determining the truthfulness of a suspect or the reliability of a witness:

  • Shoeprints may reveal a perpetrator’s every step.

  • Fingerprints may indicate the things the perpetrator touched.

  • Tool marks may signify points of entry or where safes or locked cabinets were pried open.

  • Blood spatters, bullet trajectories, the angle and severity of blows and stabs, and the nature of the victim’s injuries can reveal the actual and relative positions of the assailant, victim, and anyone else who was present during a crime.

  • The physical changes that take place in a corpse may indicate whether the body was moved several hours after death.

The investigator looks at each piece of physical evidence to assess whether it supports this theory, considering information obtained not only at the scene but also from the crime lab, medical reports of anyone who was injured, and the medical examiner’s autopsy examination. Anything that doesn’t fit in with or justify the investigator’s theory of the crime must be reconciled; otherwise, the theory must change. As a result, the reconstruction of a crime scene is constantly evolving as more evidence is uncovered.

The investigator continually tests the developing crime theory against the evidence and avoids making any assumptions, no matter how logical they may seem. An investigator may logically believe that a piece of evidence ended up where it did because of a suspect’s actions, but if the hard evidence doesn’t support this belief, the theory must be held suspect.

If a gun is found just outside the rear door of a house where a homicide took place, logic suggests that the assailant dropped the gun while escaping. Although that’s certainly a possibility, without solid evidence, ruling out other possibilities may be difficult. For all investigators know, the gun had been tossed there in an attempt to make a domestic homicide look like a murder committed by a burglar whom the victim supposedly caught in the act.

Evidence like the spouse’s fingerprints on the gun or the victim’s blood on the spouse’s shoes may, of course, change the theory, but until all evidence in a reconstruction is considered and explained, investigators can’t reach any absolute conclusions.