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Arson Fire - Leaving No Evidence...?

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#1 Aightball

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 09:47 PM

I'll put my question here so everyone can see =).

 

In my book, the MC and his family lose their home to a fire. The cause is determined to be arson but no evidence was left behind (no finger prints, nada). First off, is it possible not to leave evidence behind in an arson fire? And in the story it's been 8 months and the three suspects they had weren't the arsonist(s)...I know who did it =), but is it normal to go 8 months with no arrests? And once they do catch the person, what's the usual procedure to get them in jail and how long would they be in jail for. The folks who did it are 18 and 19 years old.


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#2 Andrew Nelson

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 08:47 AM

Thanks for the welcome everyone. Just a followup to the post. A thread supporting the idea was also started in the site navigation forum: http://agentquerycon...on/#entry189888

 

Update - Admin like the idea, they are going to work on it.

 

Aightball - OK, to your questions, yes it is certainly possible to leave a crime scene with out leaving physical evidence of the perps. The fire itself the arson investigators will get a ton of information from, but that deals with how it was started, how it burned, what it was composed of. 

 

Generally speaking the best chance of cracking a case is in the initial days after the crime, the longer it goes without being solved the easier it is to grow cold and get put on the back burner. 

 

Your perps being 18 and 19 are adults, so they go into the system. Basically after the arrest they will get booked and housed in jail. A criminal complaint will be written up and then they will be arraigned before a judge who will hear the reading of the formal charges and then hear the plea. Most often they plead not guilty and then new hearing date is set.  Bail and appointment of counsel if necessary (i.e. Public Defender) is usually done at that point. The person would then be removed to jail and given a chance to make a bail call or wait until their next court date.

 

Hope that helps.

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#3 Aightball

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 12:34 PM

Thanks for the welcome everyone. Just a followup to the post. A thread supporting the idea was also started in the site navigation forum: http://agentquerycon...on/#entry189888

 

Update - Admin like the idea, they are going to work on it.

 

Aightball - OK, to your questions, yes it is certainly possible to leave a crime scene with out leaving physical evidence of the perps. The fire itself the arson investigators will get a ton of information from, but that deals with how it was started, how it burned, what it was composed of. 

 

Generally speaking the best chance of cracking a case is in the initial days after the crime, the longer it goes without being solved the easier it is to grow cold and get put on the back burner. 

 

Your perps being 18 and 19 are adults, so they go into the system. Basically after the arrest they will get booked and housed in jail. A criminal complaint will be written up and then they will be arraigned before a judge who will hear the reading of the formal charges and then hear the plea. Most often they plead not guilty and then new hearing date is set.  Bail and appointment of counsel if necessary (i.e. Public Defender) is usually done at that point. The person would then be removed to jail and given a chance to make a bail call or wait until their next court date.

 

Hope that helps.

Andrew

 

That helpls  LOT! So far, as I've written it, they had 3 people they pulled in but none were it. The one was too obvious from a writer's stand-point, so I was glad I ruled him out =). I still havn't decided how they'll catch the ones who did it...is it possible to find something long after the house is removed and a new one is being built? Or to go over the investigation again and go "oops...we missed something!". I'm trying to make sure this is realistic as possible =). I appreicate your wilingness to answer questions!


Most girls are made of
sugar and spice and everything nice; they
screwed up the recipe for me: I'm made of
bat wings and broken things.

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Short Story "Anguish", in Winter's Regret: http://www.amazon.co...winter's regret

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#4 Tom Preece

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 11:22 AM

Aightball I know this isn't Andrew's answer, but I think your last question isn't about the police, but about plotting.  Of course it's possible to solve the story long afterwards with a literary mechanism.  So very many of Robert B. Parker's plots are resolved because the protagonist looking for answers invokes a reaction from the guilty party.  That can happen at any time.

 

Maybe you're asking Andrew for some specific forensic technique?



#5 Aightball

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 10:33 AM

Started answering this yesterday and got sidetracked by storms, lol!

 

It doesn't have to be very technical...I try to keep it all in simple layman's terms for the characters (and thus the readers). But if there's a way that, this many months down the road, something could still happen, I'd love to know it. I was brainstorming last night and thought, since the kids are teens, they might slip up on Facebook and brag...how often do police monitor social media for this kind of stuff? Or, have another house burn down in that neighborhood, etc. I don't want to get cliche, but I want to keep true to life, too. Any ideas, anyone?


Most girls are made of
sugar and spice and everything nice; they
screwed up the recipe for me: I'm made of
bat wings and broken things.

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Short Story "Anguish", in Winter's Regret: http://www.amazon.co...winter's regret

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#6 Andrew Nelson

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 11:30 AM

Sorry for the delay, was in Cleveland for the Police Memorial and well when you get cops together the last thing anyone thinks about is the computer  :blink:

 

Aightball, Tom's correct, anything is possible from a literary standpoint. Now to your question from the procedural. After the house is gone, and a new one is built your ability to obtain new evidence is pretty much over. But what you have already recovered from the scene can always be compared to new evidence, i.e. from a different crime, to tie them in together.

 

That being said, I know of at least one homicide case that was solved when the investigators went back years later to the same house, that had since been sold, and recovered DNA from under a rug. That won't help you in an arson, but you get the point that evidence can be found in very unusual ways.

 

As far as social media goes, yes the police do frequent it because the social media age LOVES to post incriminating stuff.......... I mean seriously, you would be shocked to what people actually confess to on social media because they have no clue. So no, it would not be a stretch to have them bragging or hell, even have a photo showing them at the crime scene.... tech advances have highlighted the idiocy of many a young man and woman !!


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#7 E.B. Black

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 01:16 PM

I'll put my question here so everyone can see =).

 

In my book, the MC and his family lose their home to a fire. The cause is determined to be arson but no evidence was left behind (no finger prints, nada). First off, is it possible not to leave evidence behind in an arson fire? And in the story it's been 8 months and the three suspects they had weren't the arsonist(s)...I know who did it =), but is it normal to go 8 months with no arrests? And once they do catch the person, what's the usual procedure to get them in jail and how long would they be in jail for. The folks who did it are 18 and 19 years old.

 

I'm not an expert, but since I did lose my house in a fire two years ago, I can tell you a couple of things about it.

 

First of all, the way they determined that my house wasn't burned down purposefully by someone is using dogs to sniff the area. They have dogs that can sniff for gasoline and other things that can start a fire and since they found none of that, they knew that the fire was probably not started by someone.

 

The more a house burns down, too, the harder it is to piece together what happened. All the rooms in my house were on fire in some way, so they can't say definitively, for sure, what happened. So I'd say it's definitely possible for a house to burn enough that it's difficult to say what happened.

 

But I know point of origin is important, too. The point of origin in my house was the middle of the living room. They usually try to figure out what things were in that area to guess what could have caused the fire.

 

And also what's important to them is how fast the flames went up. My house went up in flames extremely quickly, so they think it was electrical wiring because that can go up fast. But so can arson if someone put gasoline all over the house or something. While something else, like a fire that started on the stovetop wouldn't necessarily spread as fast.

 

I don't know a whole lot because they kept us shielded from a lot of it, but that's what I know based on them talking to me.

 

EDIT: Oh and I don't know how it is for everyone, but they waited six months before they would officially speak to us about what happened. These investigations can definitely go a long time.


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#8 Aightball

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 01:47 PM

I'm not an expert, but since I did lose my house in a fire two years ago, I can tell you a couple of things about it.

 

First of all, the way they determined that my house wasn't burned down purposefully by someone is using dogs to sniff the area. They have dogs that can sniff for gasoline and other things that can start a fire and since they found none of that, they knew that the fire was probably not started by someone.

 

The more a house burns down, too, the harder it is to piece together what happened. All the rooms in my house were on fire in some way, so they can't say definitively, for sure, what happened. So I'd say it's definitely possible for a house to burn enough that it's difficult to say what happened.

 

But I know point of origin is important, too. The point of origin in my house was the middle of the living room. They usually try to figure out what things were in that area to guess what could have caused the fire.

 

And also what's important to them is how fast the flames went up. My house went up in flames extremely quickly, so they think it was electrical wiring because that can go up fast. But so can arson if someone put gasoline all over the house or something. While something else, like a fire that started on the stovetop wouldn't necessarily spread as fast.

 

I don't know a whole lot because they kept us shielded from a lot of it, but that's what I know based on them talking to me.

 

EDIT: Oh and I don't know how it is for everyone, but they waited six months before they would officially speak to us about what happened. These investigations can definitely go a long time.

 

That's very helpful! I thought these things could take a while but glad to know my timeline isn't out of line. I will definitely use this as the story progresses. It's a WIP, so I've got plenty of time to research, ask questions, etc.  =) Thank you!


Most girls are made of
sugar and spice and everything nice; they
screwed up the recipe for me: I'm made of
bat wings and broken things.

Query: http://agentquerycon...-urban-fantasy/

Blog: http://aightball.wordpress.com

Synopsis:

Twitter Hook(s):

Short Story "Anguish", in Winter's Regret: http://www.amazon.co...winter's regret

aertja.jpg


#9 Selene Bell

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 07:33 PM

We had an arson fire in town that killed four college students 10 years ago after a big party, and the investigators still go back and talk to witnesses and other people who might have information. But that house has been repaired, and they're not looking for physical evidence there anymore -- of course it has been a decade. They're hoping someone will eventually talk. That fire was set with an accelerant on a couch on the front porch. I don't know though if they have officers regularly monitoring social media. Maybe the investigators would stop by there from time to time, but so much time has passed and new cases have come up, and so many sites require you to be friends with the posters. I'd suspect that after a certain amount of time (and I'm sure the real police people could better address this) something on social media would have to be brought to their attention, at least in smaller-city forces.


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#10 KSBelle

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 01:51 AM

I don't know if this is still true with all the technology that is out there. When I did my First Responder 160 we covered arson. One thing that was brought up at that time (1998) that was untraceable was dryer sheets. Might also want to call your local Fire Marshall and tell him what you are working on. They may be more than glad to help with tech stuff on the fire side.

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#11 Lanette Kauten

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 08:01 AM

I don't have any expertise on the subject, but I have learned that fire investigators can be incompetent. A few years ago, a house I was selling with my ex burned down in the middle of the night. It started in the garage next to the hot water heater (it was empty or near empty). That area also had a lot of old clothes and chemicals, not gasoline, but there was acetone, which has a very high flash point and accidental ignition is extremely rare. I saw the site two days after the fire, and the lids to the acetone cans were off. Yet, the report came back from the investigators that there was no evidence of accelerants, so arson was ruled out.



#12 Aightball

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Posted 11 June 2013 - 10:19 AM

I don't have any expertise on the subject, but I have learned that fire investigators can be incompetent. A few years ago, a house I was selling with my ex burned down in the middle of the night. It started in the garage next to the hot water heater (it was empty or near empty). That area also had a lot of old clothes and chemicals, not gasoline, but there was acetone, which has a very high flash point and accidental ignition is extremely rare. I saw the site two days after the fire, and the lids to the acetone cans were off. Yet, the report came back from the investigators that there was no evidence of accelerants, so arson was ruled out.

 

Hrm...that's something to consider.

 

KSbelle

I don't know if this is still true with all the technology that is out there. When I did my First Responder 160 we covered arson. One thing that was brought up at that time (1998) that was untraceable was dryer sheets. Might also want to call your local Fire Marshall and tell him what you are working on. They may be more than glad to help with tech stuff on the fire side.

 

I didn't think about trying to contact someone locally...guess I've been turned down in the past, but it might be worth a try now =). I will put that on my research to-do list! Thank you!


Most girls are made of
sugar and spice and everything nice; they
screwed up the recipe for me: I'm made of
bat wings and broken things.

Query: http://agentquerycon...-urban-fantasy/

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Synopsis:

Twitter Hook(s):

Short Story "Anguish", in Winter's Regret: http://www.amazon.co...winter's regret

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