Some years ago, when my wife Carolyn and I lived in the woods in Virginia, we came home one day to find an adult male deer with full antler rack lying dead on the side of our driveway. I called every state and local authority I could think of, but the answer was always the same: If the carcass wasn’t on state or county land, it was my responsibility to dispose of it.
So I called my friend Hank who, in addition to being a physics teacher and musician, happens to be handy at all sorts of things, and together we attached a metal chain around the buck’s neck and dragged it off into the deep woods, where nature could take its course.
Why am I relating this?
Because as Carolyn, who is an attorney, observed this extended process, she declared, “If you guys were trying to dispose of a human body, you are leaving so much evidence the police would solve this case in about ten minutes.”
And she was right. This buck weighed just about what an adult male human would weigh. In addition to a blood trail, and whichever neighbors might have spotted us, we left a path of trampled grass, broken twigs and disturbed leaves all the way to the chosen natural burial site.
This memory came back to me as I was reading about the murder of semipro football player Odin Lloyd, allegedly by his erstwhile friend Aaron Hernandez, lately tight end for the New England Patriots. If the charge is valid, Hernandez didn’t do a very good job of hiding the body, nor of getting rid of security surveillance recordings around his house, a cell phone and other potentially incriminating evidence.
Which in turn brings to mind the murders of JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado, in 1996 and Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, in 2007. JonBenet’s parents, John and Patricia, were widely believed to have committed the murder and just barely escaped a grand jury indictment. American college student Amanda Knox and her new Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were charged, convicted and imprisoned for Kercher’s murder. Four years later, the conviction was overturned on appeal, but now the Italian supreme court has ordered a new trial. In both cases, John Douglas and I declared with certainty that those individuals had nothing to do with the crimes.
Both my deer story and the Hernandez investigation reveal a basic truth about evidence and criminal behavior: If you’re not experienced and criminally sophisticated, it is well nigh impossible to pull off an untraceable murder unless you happen to have an overwhelming volume of luck.
Amanda and Raffaele could no more erase their DNA evidence at the blood-soaked Kercher crime scene than Hank and I could erase our trail through the woods. John and Patsy Ramsey could no more have staged their daughter’s crime scene to look like a break-in than Hernandez allegedly could have erased Lloyd’s image from surveillance recordings. And there are numerous other examples, some of them enumerated in our recent book Law & Disorder and previous works.
So the lesson is: If you think you can commit the “perfect crime” without any prior experience, you almost assuredly cannot. And if you think someone else has committed what he or she thought would be the perfect crime without any prior experience, they almost assuredly have not.