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What is Involved in Criminal Murder Investigations?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Murder is a great tragedy for the survivors of the victim and society in general, and it is taken very seriously by law enforcement. Murder investigations are launched in any suspicious death, and a series of precise steps are followed during murder investigations while evidence is collected and suspects are interviewed so that the case can successfully be brought to court and prosecuted. Law enforcement officials who participate in murder investigations are specially trained so that they know how to handle and process evidence, protect a crime scene, and ultimately testify in court, if necessary.

All murder investigations start with the murder itself, which is usually reported by someone who comes across the victim. The person who finds the victim is asked to remain on site, and a law enforcement team arrives at the scene, along with a medical team. The first thing that occurs on any murder site is verification that the victim is actually dead. Usually paramedics arrive first, followed by the coroner, who pronounces death and turns the scene over to law enforcement. Next, an officer is put in charge of the murder investigation, and he or she sets about securing the scene to minimize contamination of evidence. An officer in charge has usually had prior experience with murder investigations.

A log of all individuals on or around the site is immediately established. Usually the medical response team will be finger and foot printed, along with any bystanders, so that markings found on the scene can be readily identified. The next step for murder investigations is to observe and photograph the scene. Nothing is moved, including the body, until the scene has been fully written up and photographed, to ensure that nothing is missed. As crews photograph the scene, they put tags on items that should be collected for evidence, such as bloodstained clothing, weapons, and other objects of interest on the site.

During all murder investigations, the people on site are very careful to avoid contaminating evidence by accident. Gloves and protective booties for shoes are worn, and suits are used to cover clothing so that fibers, hair, and other detritus from the investigators do not contaminate the scene. The scene is tightly controlled by the officers in charge, and once everything has been documented, the process of removing evidence is begun. The body is usually the first thing to be removed; the coroner's office takes it away for an autopsy. Next, evidence is collected, bagged, and sent to the crime lab for analysis.

An important part of criminal murder investigations is human interactions. After evidence is collected and reviewed, law enforcement officials interview people involved in the murder. Sometimes, a case is very clear cut: a man was witnessed shooting his wife, for example. In this instance, the husband would be interviewed, along with witnesses, so that law enforcement could be assured that no details were missed. In other cases, the identity of the culprit may not be as clear, and an investigation may drag on for a long time before more information is uncovered or the case is officially given up. During this period, law enforcement will follow up on tips made by citizens, and individuals who know anything about a murder are encouraged to contact law enforcement in an effort to bring the criminal to justice.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon342757 — On Jul 23, 2013

Can you tell me if shell casings can be tested for fingerprints?

By anon329478 — On Apr 10, 2013

How do detectives determine a scene has been staged?

By anon316073 — On Jan 26, 2013

Most of the homicide cops in the US are so poorly trained that murderers walk or are never caught every day in America. Look at the OJ Simpson fiasco. In 2009, a gorgeous young woman was murdered in broad daylight in her apartment in west Los Angeles. To this day, her murderer runs free. Why?

I'm a writer and offered my help in the case because I thought it was such a tragedy that a young woman just starting her life. She was 19, and was beaten to death. Whoever murdered her beat her head in and she bled to death on her living room floor. I had some ideas about who the murderer might be, but the cops just shoved me off. That's the problem with these cops. They are so stupid, they couldn't solve a brown bag.

In the US, over two thirds of the murder cases go unsolved. In the UK, and Europe, the numbers are reversed. About 91 percent of their murder cases are solved, and as you might imagine, there are fewer murders in those countries, but this is America, the murder capital of the planet and with the cops we have, mostly anybody can get away with murder and they do.

By anon311256 — On Dec 31, 2012

I have a little question. Suppose it's a murder that appears to be an accident. What is the procedure for investigation? Suppose it's a kind of suspicious fire accident?

By anon146675 — On Jan 26, 2011

thank you, it helped me a lot in my research. i am really interested in this field. i hope i would be given a chance to have an experience with the law enforcers in doing this job.

By anon86465 — On May 25, 2010

this is very informative and gives people a good idea of just what goes into a murder investigation.

By anon9181 — On Mar 01, 2008

What would be the significance, if there is any, when you suspect that a crime scene has been staged to frame someone, of dragging the husband's body over 12' to be placed next to his wife?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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