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April 14th, 2010 KELLY CLARKE | Q & A
 

Rod Englert

Oregon’s world-renowned crime-scene expert and cold-case sleuth reads the spatter on the walls.

     
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BLOODMASTER: Rod Englert examines crime scene evidence and testifies at trials around the world.
IMAGE: Michael Gaffney

“The patterns are the same anywhere in the world,” Rod Englert calmly explains. “Murder is murder.” He should know. The Oregon-based crime scene reconstructionist has spent more than four decades turning smears and splotches of red stuff into evidence that convicts murderers or proves innocence. Basically he’s Dexter—without the whole serial killer thing. “Because of my own mistakes not understanding blood at crime scenes I started educating myself,” the former California beat cop and undercover narcotics officer says. That simple goal led to spatter experiments conducted in the barn of his own cattle ranch when he took a job with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in the 1970s, and connections with like-minded cops convinced that science could help them solve crimes. The Texas farmer’s son now logs more than 100,000 miles a year flying to crime scenes, teaching workshops and testifying at trials across the globe (including celebrity cases like those of Robert Blake and O.J.) as one of the most respected blood-spatter analysis experts in the world.

Reading his new memoir and crime detection manual, Blood Secrets, co-written with reporter Kathy Passero, is a lot like listening to your grandpa tell you old work stories—if grandpa’s work included simulating spray patterns from a butcher knife stabbing with cow’s blood. When he’s home, he spends his days analyzing evidence in his West Linn lab or hanging out with other retired cops examining cold cases as part of a volunteer team for Multnomah County. “I’m talking to some of the same people I talked to 25 years ago and now they want to talk,” he says excitedly. “We’re getting hot on things.”

WW: What is the most completely off-base assumption made about your job by people who watch CSI all the time?

Rod Englert: Well, there’s a lot of assumptions that [we] have all these tools and different kinds of scientific equipment, but the biggest misperception—which causes these kids to constantly call and want to be a part of [the job]—is that you’ll be one of [the] TV people that go out to the scene, run back to the office, do some analysis, go back out and interview people, and then make an arrest. They love that—it’s romantic, and it’s challenging. And it is absolutely not that way. You don’t get to do any of that. You either gotta work in the lab or you gotta work out in the field.

So that lab job would be an analyst kind of like you?

My lab is specific for the purpose of looking at clothing for blood patterns, for gunshot residue, for trajectories. It’s clean and it’s sterile. I don’t have a lot of expensive stereomicroscopes and stuff like that…just magnification [equipment] like a ProScope [a handheld microscope that can email photos] and trajectory rods.

How much does being a crime scene reconstructionist pay?

It can be very lucrative, and I’m sort of the middle of the road. But when I work a case it can climb up to many, many thousands of dollars, because of how much time I put into it. The fee ranges go all the way from $150 to $600 an hour in this field.

What’s a pattern you were really shocked by the first time you saw it?

Probably one of the more unusual patterns was [a case when] it looked like there was a beating and something horrible had happened, but there was no body. What’s going on? An elderly lady had varicose veins that were breaking through the skin. She was obese, and when she was walking, the pressure caused the blood to squirt out and hit the walls.

And flies are interesting.

Uh… um…

Flies do three things: They regurgitate, defecate and walk around in the blood. It [looks like] the pattern of high-velocity mist…from a gunshot…it looks like there’s a shooting. But nobody can spray that blood up on the ceiling where [flies] like to roost; they like to sit around lights and heat, if that makes sense.

I gotta tell ya. You say stuff like this, but you seem like a pretty well-adjusted guy, at least from your book.

Well, I feel well adjusted. I have surrounded myself with good friends and I try to keep a healthy attitude. I think, though, this book was cathartic for me. I think some [job experiences] came back that I had long forgot about. I mean, I shouldn’t even be here ’cause of some things that happened. And I’m here, and I’m feeling this wood on my desk, and I’m reading, and I’m looking at a computer, a thing of the ages, a thing that didn’t exist back then. And I’m happy to be here.

In Blood Secrets you explain how you re-create crime scenes and use movie examples in order to illuminate things for a jury. You even say, talking about high-velocity blood spatter, “Think of the wood-chipper scene in Fargo.

After I give the jury the basics of blood patterns—it’s all about patterns—then I try to reproduce those patterns by hand or transfers with my hand or hitting [something] with a baton.

What do you use for blood?

Stage blood—colored corn syrup. You can use ink or water, the same geometric pattern happens when you hit it, when you drop it… When I do demonstrations in my own lab I sometimes use animal blood…. Just recently [for a case in New Mexico] we did some experiments here with real blood, and it was drawn from a dog.

What makes you and your colleagues specifically suited to this kind of job?

I guess we like to see deviance. We like to solve people’s problems and the cruelty in the world that happens—and there’s a lot of deviant behavior out there; when someone kills another, especially when they set it up and scheme—but we’re able to do it, and we do it. And that’s the attraction. There’s really an adrenaline high when you’re able to put all these puzzles together. When you’ve got all the facts to back you up and you get the confession…that’s extremely rewarding.


MORE: Blood Secrets: Chronicles of a Crime Scene Reconstructionist (St. Martin’s Press, 304 pages, $25.99)is now available at local bookstores. Watch Rod Englert explain more blood pattern basics on Outlook Portland at 6:30 am Sunday, April 18 on the CW.
 
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