View Full Version : Crime Scene Question

01-14-2016, 11:41 PM
My dead body is found by a garbage truck driver in a dumpster after the truck arrives but before the bin is unloaded. The bin is outside a church building, where the homeless are fed and sheltered, and the dead man was homeless. Would the truck be considered part of the primary crime scene? I'm assuming that everything in the bin would have to be studied by the police for clues. How large an area would be considered part of the crime scene? How soon would the driver be sent on his way? Again, I assume he'd be taken to police headquarters for questioning. As long as he has an alibi, how long would he be held?


Drachen Jager
01-15-2016, 12:25 AM
I can't answer most of the questions, but I do know the truck driver wouldn't be "held". The police would certainly question him, but assuming there was not evidence pointing toward him, they wouldn't arrest him at all, he wouldn't really need an alibi either.

For the rest of it, you'll have to wait for an expert, but I suspect the answer will be "it depends". What jurisdiction, what are the surrounding circumstances (ie. is this a suspected serial killing?) cause of death, whether the man was killed in/beside the dumpster or elsewhere and moved etc. etc.

01-15-2016, 12:40 AM
Thanks, Drachen. I asked the same question of my resident expert who said the driver would be interviewed, possibly at the scene in a corner or a room in the shelter or might be taken to the station. He said the police would not only go through all the debris in the bin but also that in the truck. Yech! And the truck could be held as evidence for a period of time, bad for my MC's business. I still would like to hear info from others. As you said, practices seem to change from location to location.

T Robinson
01-15-2016, 02:11 AM
#1: Any unattended death as you describe is treated as a crime scene, whether it is or not. You only get one shot to look for evidence. Any "evidence" found later would have a hard time getting past any halfway competent defense attorney. Look up "chain of evidence."
#2: They would take a statement from the driver. I am assuming he is the one who discovered the body and called the police. There is no reason to take him anywhere. Exception: They would probably run a quick background check on any witnesses. If there was an outstanding warrant on NCIC, they would take him into custody.
#3: They would take photographs, after it is determined he is dead by a competent medical doctor.
#4: They would do a search of the surrounding area, including the church, based on what you have said. They might move the dumpster to a secure, covered location to search it.
#5: Considering what you have said, and if it is murder, it is probably the dump point and there is another crime scene somewhere. That is why the church and surrounding area would be checked.
#6: As Jeff and others would say, what do you need to happen? There are too many open ended things for us to give you advice.
#7: They would probably not take the driver anywhere, unless there is something we do not know or an outstanding warrant.
#8: No one will be able to describe the area of the search based on what you have given. The obvious limiter of the search, would be their attempt to find out where he slept the night before and exactly where he was killed, (if he was).
#9: Until the autopsy gives more information, all you can do is evidence collection and interviews.


King Neptune
01-15-2016, 04:24 AM
It might be irrelevant, but the trash truck drivers seldom see what's in a container. The front loaders just drive up and dump the container into the truck, and the rear loaders have been phased out in most areas; although there are some still in operation.

BTW, I met a guy who was sleeping in a container when the truck came up and latched onto the container. He woke up and made his presense know to the driver, but he was very close to being dumped and compacted.

01-15-2016, 10:07 AM
I'm thinking similar thoughts to King Neptune: where I live the dumpsters are pulled away from the trash guys just grab-and-dump. (Usually the noise of 'grabbing' is enough to get any stray squirrels or raccoons to flee.) Nobody looks in the bins, that I've ever noticed. I've read similar stories in the newspaper about guys falling asleep in dumpsters, though. I imagine if you added a line about the company having a policy of checking the dumpsters in areas where the homeless congregate, just because of that kind of incident, most readers would find it plausible.

01-15-2016, 03:58 PM
It might be irrelevant, but the trash truck drivers seldom see what's in a container. The front loaders just drive up and dump the container into the truck, and the rear loaders have been phased out in most areas; although there are some still in operation.

You're right, almost. My story's set in '85, the company's bare-bones, and the trucks are 9 year-old rear loaders. In those, both the driver and the swamper work to empty dumpsters, by first throwing open the lid, then attaching a cable and operating a mechanism outside the truck.

To answer TRobinson's question, the driver, my MC, is already linked to 3 murderers, not as a suspect, but as a person of interest, in the sense that the killings are somehow connected to her. What do I want to have happen? I'm pantsing it here. Originally I had the discovery of the body off-page and she found out later, but decided I needed to get her more grittily involved so am rewriting this portion. It's gonna kick out a huge portion of the next chapter so I want to extend this as much as reasonably possible.

BTW the immediate assumption is that the guy's been murdered as his head's bashed in. I know it's not official until the autopsy but his death meets all the characteristics of the earlier killings.

Thanks so much, guys. Appreciate the help.

01-15-2016, 11:38 PM
You want to do the body in the garbage truck. Again. You want the police to hold onto the truck. That's fairly easy.

Starting point is you have to deal with the fact that this has been done before. A lot. That means you need a good set up for the reader. With a rear hook, you do check the surface of the dumpster as you hook up, so you do see things on the surface. Other than that, bodies tend to be discovered when the truck is emptied.

Driver backs up to dumpster, gets out, and on opening the cover, sees a mannequin on the top of the trash, and she freaks, thinking it's a body. But she checks and realizes it's a mannequin, and she hooks up the cable. Standing by the side of the truck, she starts dumping the container. Fully dumped, she puts the container back down and goes to clear the dump area. In the process of doing this, the scraper jams from something stuck between the scraper and the side of the truck. Item that causes jam has to be very solid and angled so it really wedges in place. Some scrap steel parts dumped into the dumpster could do this.

This means she has to climb in the back and un-jam the scraper. This will involve a wrecking bar of some sort and a sledge type hammer and lots of whacking and swearing. When the scraper pops loose, it will swing back letting the compressed trash fall back into the dump area. That's when she finds the body.

The police are going to be unsure what the truck did versus what the murderer did. They'll want the truck, will empty it, then run a bunch of tests on whether it's working correctly. They'll keep the truck for at least a week and probably longer.

The owner of the operation, assuming it's more than probably three trucks, has an extra that's in semi-storage. It runs, but it's a dog. You always keep your oldest truck just in case you need it.

I'm not sure why the driver is an object of interest in three other murders, so I don't know whether there's enough here to want more than her on-scene statement. She really doesn't know anything. But if you want a sure-fire way to get her to the police station, here's a way. Next to the shelter is a liquor store. She's in shock, goes to the liquor store to get some courage (bourbon is a good choice), buys a bottle, takes a good dose of the liquor of her choice, has liquor store owner call cops, and wanders back to the truck, making sure to adequately dose herself. (MADD was started in 1980. In 1985, this after the accident treatment wasn't unknown. Now everybody knows enough to stay away from alcohol until after the police are done with you.)

Use or lose, it's up to you.

Jim Clark-Dawe

01-16-2016, 01:07 AM
Wow! Love the input. Actually driver is owner. She's linked to previous murders because a) they're her former classmates and b) someone's sending her newspaper clippings, anonymously, of the murders, which until this one have taken place across the country. I like your set-up of the scene. I definitely can use a lot of it, and it will make it much more interesting than it is now. Thanks.

01-16-2016, 04:22 AM
I'd put the other bodies being found in dumpsters, as well as this one. Connects her more thoroughly, because what you've got isn't much.

Used garbage trucks can be bought very cheaply. They tend to be dogs, but better than nothing. Garbage trucks new are used in the big cities, and gradually move down the food chain. She's going to need to be some level of a diesel mechanic, also good at welding and hydraulics.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

01-16-2016, 04:53 PM
Thanks, Jim, but I don't want her to be a suspect. Also don't want the FBI involved, which they would be if there was more similarity in the murders. Good to know though about the trucks and the expertise she'll need. Do you have a background in waste management? I'd sure like to know someone who does. I chose this business for my MC partially because in the time period and location of my setting there was a single woman who owned a trash-hauling company. Have gotten some information from her and some from the company we use and some from the internet, but I'd love to have someone who understands both writing and the business to make sure I've got my facts right.

01-16-2016, 06:32 PM
I've been in trucking off and on my entire life. Never worked a garbage truck but do know how to operate one. (There's a lot that's the same on different type trucks. Understanding PTOs and hydraulics is transferable to different types of trucks.) The used truck market is the same over a variety of truck types. A new garbage truck is about $150 - 250 K. Small operations can't afford that.

A truck's use is measured by both miles and hours. In the case of a garbage truck, you're looking at hours. Good solid use of a truck is around 2,000 hours a year. So most companies dealing with new equipment take a look at the five year mark (10,000 hours). Next good mark is ten years or 20,000 hours. Different equipment has different hardiness and different consequences if it breaks. A garbage truck doesn't have much room for breakdowns. (People complain quickly about their trash not being picked up.)

The big companies know this life span of equipment, and usually trade on a long term plan. For instance, when a truck hits 20,000 hours, it goes. It might have run great, it might be a dog. But the companies know that statisically that's a good place to call it quits. At that point, the engine is facing some major maintenance items, the hydraulic pump is going to be going, leaks are adding up in the hydraulic system, and the PTO can be fussy about engaging.

Your books are carrying the truck at zero value. And you're not in the business of selling used trucks. You just want the truck gone. The guys picking up the used trucks know about all these problems, but they're used to keeping things running. But because it is their time, they can spend it on the truck at a much lower cost.

Figure out what you want me to look at and how much it is. Then send me a PM and I'll let you know about looking at it.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

01-16-2016, 07:34 PM
Thanks so much, Jim. Some of what you say I already knew, some I assumed. I'm nowhere near the point I'd like anyone beyond my beta reader to look at it; I'm currently rearranging scenes to fit the time schedule the plot dictates, but will keep you in mind as I go, especially if I have more truck-related questions. Again, thanks.