Blood speaks to Laura Pettler.
As a forensic criminologist, Pettler examines things such as bloodstain patterns and bullet trajectories to help determine how someone died. Her work has been especially helpful in solving cold cases.
Cold cases were the topic of Tuesday’s workshop in Lancaster, which was conducted by Pettler and attended by three-dozen law enforcement officers and coroners from the Carolinas.
“Lancaster is pretty much home to me because I live right across the line in Monroe, N.C.,” Pettler said to the room of 30 or so people.
She explained there have been more than 185,000 cold cases in the United States dating back to 1990, and gave attendees an overview of some of the options they have in cracking a cold case.
“A lot of times with cold cases, it takes just a fresh set of eyes or another person who hasn’t read the case file report to read the case file and have a new perspective on it,” she said.
Pettler spoke in detail about crime scene “staging,” which she described as offenders trying to “trick” investigators by setting up a scene to make a murder appear as a legitimate death. She has written a book on the topic titled “Crime Scene Staging Dynamics in Homicide Cases,” which was released in August.
She explained to reporters during a break that the case that had the biggest impact on her was that of Betty Neumar, an elderly woman who was suspected in the deaths of her five husbands and her son. She was charged in 2008 with solicitation to commit murder in the death of her fourth husband but died before she could stand trial.
Pettler’s forensic work on the death of Neumar’s fourth husband led to her arrest.
She said two of the biggest challenges to cracking cold cases are manpower and allocation of resources.
“When you have a small agency, you don’t have the money to dedicate resources that go to the hot cases you have and keep up,” she said, “let alone dedicating resources to the cold cases you have mounting.”
Lancaster County Coroner Mike Morris, whose office hosted Pettler on Tuesday, said she has assisted his staff as a consultant for about two years. He met Pettler previously at a conference and asked if she would be able to hold a workshop in Lancaster.
“Come to find out she only lived about 25 minutes from us,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Morris said coroner investigations and findings play a big role in criminal investigations and cold cases, and that Pettler has shared some of her knowledge with them during her time as a consultant.
“We’re painting a picture for the pathologist,” he said. “That’s what you have to go on. You want to make it uniform and make it flow.”
Morris said Pettler plans to make a return trip to the Lancaster area to demonstrate her Kaleidoscope system, which uses different colored lasers, rods and tripods to reconstruct crime scenes, bullet trajectory and bloodstain impact.