Interview

The Forensic Teacher Magazine: I understand that you are THE bug guy. You wrote the book on forensic entomology.


Dr. Neal Haskell: I had help, but yes.


FT: And you were the first person with a master’s in forensic entomology, and then a doctorate in forensic entomology.


NH: That is true.


FT: Okay, let’s go back to the master’s. What was it that made you say, “Okay, I like bugs but let’s apply them to crimes and the law?”


NH: Well, I was a non-traditional graduate student to begin with, being 36. I had farmed for about 18 years, and then Jimmy Carter made sure that he took out a whole generation of farmers. I had a bachelor’s degree in entomology from Purdue back in the ‘60s.


FT: Okay.


NH: And then, immediately upon graduating from college and returning to the family farm, I became a special deputy with our county sheriff’s department, and I still am.


FT: Good.


NH: I don’t chase after bad guys and beat the crap out of them anymore (laughs), but I still am obviously involved with the forensic side. I’ve been doing law enforcement all the time I was farming, and then I’m not farming any more. I needed to have a job, I needed to do something and, of course, I was looking at entomology due to my academic training. I mean I got my start in entomology when I was 12 in 4H.


FT: Wow.


NH: I’ve been studying entomology for over 55 years.


FT: Wow, okay.


NH: It was just so fascinating. When I was in high school I said, “Mom and dad I’ve got to go to Florida because there aren’t any bugs out here in the winter time so, we’ve got to go where the bugs are,” so I would have to go to Florida, Texas, or wherever the hell we were going.


FT: Yeah.


NH: And I went back to Purdue and was talking to a couple of the old professors that I had in the ‘60s and we were just having lunch. I was thinking about maybe going into livestock entomology because we did have a cattle herd.


FT: Uh huh.


NH: I had about two hundred head of cattle. And so I could do, you know, I had done a lot of livestock entomology, and we had corn and soybeans on the farm so we could do some research on those crops. This one professor, Dave Matthews, was actually responsible for getting me into entomology twice. Once at the age of 12, when he came and presented at a special conservation camp. We were at this camp because we had won championships on different projects so they gave us a trip to this conservation camp.


FT: Okay.


NH: There was a soil guy, a wood guy, a plant guy, and the bug guy. The bug guy was one of the nicest men I had ever known, and I thought, ‘you know, I want to be just like that guy.’ I mean he was just so kind and so helpful. I started biology at Purdue and that totally sucked because it was all molecular based, so I went over the to entomology side and found my niche and went on with that. But my dad died while I was in college so I had the family farm to go back to. One of my professors who had also talked me into entomology, and kind of took over my dad’s slot. He said, “You will never be able to work for anybody, go back to the farm, and raise cattle and do that.”


FT: Why did he say that?


NH: Because he knew my personality (laughs).


FT: Okay.


NH: I am pretty headstrong, opinionated, and I didn’t take orders well if I didn’t agree.


FT: Oh.


NH: So, I did go back to the farm and it was a wonderful way of life, and the cattle were just great, but that life is for young men. If it hadn’t been for Jimmy Carter I wouldn’t be doing today what I am doing today. So I had to be looking for something else and the same Dave Matthews that got me into entomology when I was 12 and then when I was or 36. I was talking to him at the luncheon about doing some type of entomology. He says, “Well, aren’t you in law enforcement up in Rensselaer?” and I said, “Yeah. I am a county deputy and on the SWAT team and all that.” I am a shooter, entry team and sniper depending on what is needed.


FT: Wow.


NH: And he said, “Well why don’t you do forensic entomology?” Now, I had actually done my first forensic entomology case in 1981 and this was November 1984. I thought that was pretty cool, you know to be able to take your academic training, and convert it into catching bad guys— that just had to be the ultimate.


FT: Ahh.


NH: And so I said, “Who is studying forensic entomology here?” and this was at Purdue. He drops a name, Ralph Williams, and it’s one of my old classmates that had stayed in entomology the whole time; he was a professor and he was looking for a new forensic entomology graduate student. I mean, we’ve never done this before anywhere.


FT: No kidding.


NH: So I went over and talked with Ralph. Within three weeks the ESA (Entomological Society of America) was having the first forensic entomology symposium ever in the world, it was the San Antonio meeting of the ESA in 1984. This is November ‘84. I thought, ‘well Ralph was going to the meeting, and I said I want to go, too.’ I had the farm to fall back on for monetary support .

It wasn’t that I was totally destitute. I did have the farm to fall back on, and I have fallen back on it several times. I said, “I’ll get a ticket,”and then we were on our way to San Antonio. There is a book out called Corpse by Jessica Sachs. She tells about the first meeting in that book, and it is kind of funny.

Anyway, we go down there and I am thinking, ‘God, I’ll never learn any of these latin names of the insect species, this is just way beyond me’ because Paul Catts was at the lectern. He was from Washington State University. He was the entomology chair there.


FT: What happened?


NH: Paul was speaking and I think Greenberg was a speaker also. Lemar Meek from LSU was giving a talk and then I showed up. Paul was one of the first guys I met, Paul Catts, and we hit it off right off the bat. And I had Ralph supporting me here at Purdue for the masters program.


FT: How was that?


NH: I was really shocked by my last two years of farming, the first two years of my master’s degree and that was tough—because I was farming 800 acres and trying to go to graduate school fulltime.


FT: Wow.


NH: But anyway, we got it done and I got the master’s. Of course, at that time we didn’t even have any survey of the blow flies. We had one study out of the southern end of Lake Michigan, a guy by the name of Don Baumgartener who had done that. We had the bible of blow flies, D.G. Hall’s, 1948, Blow flies Of North America, but we had no specific data right here in the Midwest. I was reading all these papers and this species is supposed to be such and such, and those species were supposed to be such and such, but most of this work was done as a result of the primary screw worm down in Texas and the south.


FT: Oh.


NH: So, across the southern latitudes they are saying if the species is Phormia regina it’s a winter species, and on and on, while in Texas it is a winter species, but I didn’t know what the species were in Indiana. And as it turned out, this was the first study where we realized that we have different time frames for these species to appear at different geographic locations across the country.


FT: Really.


NH: Phormia regina, as it turns out, is the most common summer species in the middle latitudes and the northern latitudes in North America. My first study was just doing a summary to see what is here and we did a two year study. We found out seasonally that we had about 15 different species throughout the year, but we had some in the spring, early spring. As soon as it got to 70 degrees for two days we had some cool weather blue bottle flies.


FT: Oh.


NH: And then, Phormia regina would kind of work in, in late April early May, and then we would have the blues dropping out and then the greens would take over. Then late in the season, in the summer season we would have the tropical species, the species that was reported as a summer species in Texas, well, it was late summer up here when that species would arrive. Then as we progressed through the season, these summer species, the greens and so forth would drop out and then the blues would kick back in again, but it was a different combination of the blues than in the springtime, it was really neat to work that sequence out. We were just getting our feet wet in this at the end of that seasonal distribution study.


FT: Cool.


NH: Finding out that a lot of stuff in the literature might have been correct for the location they were doing it in was enlightening. But it wasn’t correct for everywhere else. And of course the literature was saying that the species the green bottle fly, Lucillia sericata, was the most prominent of all the greens, and that we’d find it with any of the research trials and case studies and all that. So what was found in Indiana also applied to most of the Midwest.


FT: Interesting.


NH: We found that there was one species, if we are in an urban setting, but if we are in rural setting we had a couple of other species that would be predominant. So, talk about a major learning curve. It was unbelievable.


FT: Let me ask you a question. Do entomologists have to get a profile of the local bug scene depending on where the body is found? I mean if it is found in Alaska, if it is found in Texas, if it is found in Hawaii or Mexico or Maine, you are going to have different bugs, different cycles, right?


NH: At different times of the year.


FT: So you’ve got to go in and get a baseline?


NH: Pretty much.


FT: Or have they already been established?


NH: Now, you know I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, well actually I have been doing it for more than 30 years if you take my first case in 1981. I knew absolutely nothing about the bugs on that case, but now I’ve done cases from 34 or 35 states. I have actually testified in 29 different states plus federal courts and Canada. And I have testified in more cases than anybody else anywhere.


FT: Wow.


NH: But I don’t know everything there is to know, and I wanted to let you know that that is one of the major things that keeps me going at this. There is so much to know and we know so little about it. So, that just drives me because I want to know, before I die, I want to know this and before I die I want to know that, and we are learning with every case and every bit of research every time, and of course the species are expanding their ranges and/or reducing their ranges so that keeps things changing.


FT: Yeah.


NH: I’ve got a couple of papers I need to write, about a species we found in a case that should not be there. I guess the flies haven’t read the book.


FT: No.


NH: There is this one fly that is normally a parasite on frogs and toads, it is in their eyes, and we found it on pigs on a number of summer studies. I do research every year here at the farm. Every summer and in spring and fall. But, I found this frog parasite on my dead pigs at different times over the years. It seems like during drought years that would make sense that they were having trouble finding frogs given that the wetlands are drying up.


FT: Makes sense.


NH: And so then when it rains and then guess what? I had a case from this fall that had this Lucilia silverum, this toad and frog parasite on a human body up in the northern part of the state.


FT: Really?


NH: Oh, yeah. Like I said the bugs haven’t read the books. And they found there is one other recording from I think Colorado, and in Europe has about half a dozen of those, but you know, it makes a nice little note about ‘guess what we found?’


FT: So, when you find a body in a location where they have a need for forensic entomology, do you have to take a pig up and let it go for a while and then watch that?


NH: We can do that. Normally, the flies that we’re getting on the cases, they are most often not unique. I’ve studied most every one of the flies common to the mid-west. Now we have a series of blue bottle flies that are in the higher elevations in the Rockies. We know the species, but they are difficult to differentiate as larvae, but that is one of the reasons why in our procedures we really need to take some live and grow them to adults, so that we can make the positive identification as an adult. Because if the larvae aren’t that, they are somewhat understood if they are a common species but if you have an oddball it is just going to show up and if you look at the amount of maggots and/or flies you can tell immediately, hey this guy looks different, something is wrong with this one. Particularly in the larvae, usually, it is because it is a different species that you probably haven’t seen before in the larval stage.


FT: Okay, how many of those are popping up, new species I mean? How often do you come across new species?


NH: Generally, they are in the record most of the time, but they are extremely rare. Two or three times a year I suppose, in my case work. And I’ll do somewhere, in good years, maybe fifty cases, with three to six trials in down years, and we have been having a couple of down years because the jurisdictions do not have the money for training, nor do they have the money for casework. This year, I think I am at only about 28-30 cases and I haven’t really been on the stand very much this year or last year. Some years I have had 10-15 trials a year.


FT: Wow. I guess there is a pretty good demand for forensic entomologist right now?


NH: I don’t know. They’re not working the cases that they should be working. I mean lots and lots of cases have entomological evidence. But what’s happening now is we are getting a new group of CSIs and they don’t even know that entomology is important. You know, you’d think 13 years in the CSI Vegas everybody would know about this stuff. I was talking to a Pennsylvania state police officer last week and he goes, “You mean you can tell that stuff with the bugs?”


FT: Oh, no.


NH: I said yeah. Back in the ‘90s I trained every crime tech in Pennsylvania. I got Pennsylvania to put on a workshop in Hershey at the academy. And I trained every Pennsylvania State tech and yet they got the change over, and of course that was 20 years ago. And so now the new guys, maybe have heard of it, but they haven’t or just don’t know how to do it, and so it is better not to do it, than to do it and screw it up, that’s their philosophy.


FT: Oh my.


NH: Yeah, now my cutting edge police departments will be on it, and they’ll be calling me and a lot of the older guys that have been trained by me or my colleagues, and they are on it, but it is just amazing what is being left out.


FT: That’s a shame.


NH: Yeah, This is one of the reasons why we have to get the teachers directly involved in this and knowledgeable in entomology and other forensic sciences. So, what we’ve done at this point is initiated a master’s program in forensic science and a master’s program in forensic entomology, and a professional development of a series of hands-on classes and workshops during the summers for school teachers.


FT: Excellent.


NH: I’ve done a number of school teacher workshops across the country, and a teacher called me, “Dr. Haskell can you come in and teach maggots?” and so forth. What we tried to put together here in St. Joe’s is the piece de resistance for the instructors, since, you know, I’ve been around a long time.


FT: Yeah.


NH: Well, I have been able to enlist adjuncts. I’ve got a ton of faculty and these are all old guys that are near retirement or retired and they have been doing this for 30 to 35 years and these are the real guys that have been in court, been in trials, been collecting at thousands of crime scenes. For instance, one of my adjunct faculty is the former supervisor for the CSI in Vegas.


FT: Really.


NH: Oh yeah, and then I got the crime lab director from the Indiana state police over at Fort Wayne. I’ve got one of the forensic science center Ontario quality control guys, and he is just awesome in his instruction. I just enlisted several firearms guys now. We had several students that were interested in becoming firearms examiners. And so we have drafted a whole series of courses now. The teachers could take some of the beginning courses. I am offering these not as a semester long course. It is a series of workshops in the summer time starting in mid-May through early August. We have firearms classes like range determination and serial number restoration, blood spatter analysis, latent finger print recovery, surface and buried remains recovery, forensic entomology and others offered as summer workshops for the junior high and high school teachers.


FT: Ooh.


NH: And going through all the last week of July and into August before the teachers have to get back to school. I am offering it in segments of two day workshops or week long workshops depending on the subject matter. They get about 15 contact hours which is equivalent to one credit hour for a two day workshop and up to three hours of credit for a week long workshop. If you don’t need credit, then we have a lesser fee for attending the workshop and we are working on continuing ed for law enforcement also.


FT: Nice.


NH: The teachers can take the workshop just for the workshop, and that is just for fun and you can learn how to do blood spatter, and all of these are the comparative sciences. I do have a component for DNA, and the gal that teaches that is just superb. She has been in a lot of high profile cases. She shows how to handle attorneys and she has had a lot of fun about that. Most of my stuff is comparative sciences. It is fingerprints, its tool marks, and firearms, its forensic entomology. We’ve got a forensic anthropology component where you go out and it is all hands-on, search recovery, and/or dig up the dead pigs.


FT: I would love to get information on this. This is exactly the sort of thing we want to get out to our readership. Now let me ask you this, for people who maybe are feeling the recession a little more, you know travel might be an issue. Is there anything or any plans to offer anything online?


NH: Not really because this is really hands on. For the graduate program itself we do have some online components to it. And that would be insect ecology; experimental design would be another course that will have a component online, but I want these people to be able to have the hands-on and experience a maggot mass and maggot mass heat and recovering the bones from the field. It is going to be held on our the 800 acre farm where we do all the research stuff.


FT: Oh, you’ve got the place.


NH: And the training.


FT: Yes. Speaking of which, let me shift topics just a little bit. We were talking about different bugs. They are on the timetable and it is like clockwork and that is the beauty of the discipline. What kind of cases have you come across where the killer has been aware of entomological forensics and tried to foil you by maybe freezing the body or moving it or something like that?


NH: Well obviously, you stick a body in the freezer first, it takes months, and then drag it out to—how do you account for that? Now there might be some ways because the body will go through sublimation. In other words, the solid portion goes directly to gas so that sublimates and then we would expect in an extended period like that, we would expect to see different species coming in that are not the normal sequence.


FT: Interesting.


NH: They can’t fool us either because we will pick up on these differences. We haven’t had very many folks that have really studied forensic entomology and they think, ‘okay well, we’ll fool you. We’re cool, they think, we’ll set the air conditioner on fifty five’.


FT: Yeah.


NH: Well, the stuff is different and it slows down the growth and they set it the wrong way. But if you really want to mess this up, crank the heat up real high compared to what the ambient temperatures are, then that causes some changes, but you think, ‘Is the bad guy going to stay there the whole time while the heat is cranked all the way up?’


FT: No way.


NH: I don’t think so. They’re not going to, so we should, in most cases, be able to recover that temperature data which is critical for the analysis.


FT: Now, when you say the body sublimates in the freezer, is that freezer burn?


NH: Yes, freezer burn.


FT: Gotcha.


NH: NH: And that changes the initial colonization of some of the very first blow flies to come in within seconds after death that should be present, but are not to be found. 


FT: Ah.


NH: So, some of the other blow flies will come later.They might be able to fool us but they’re going to have to be thinking about it.


FT: Yeah, I guess they have other things going through their heads.


NH: Yes, you know when you are killing people you have other things on your mind.


FT: Yeah, so let me guess, you enjoy puzzles?


NH: I enjoy chess and those kinds of things.


FT: Now, when you were a kid, how did you like to learn the best? Did you like hands-on? Did you like to listen to things, see things, talk to people?


NH: Do things, absolutely doing things. Hands-on. That is my philosophy in teaching.


FT: Oh, yes absolutely. You mentioned that in academia you have a bunch of guys that have been there 30-35 years and that kind of stuff and—


NH: These are the folks that are going to be helping us in the master’s program.


FT: Right but my question is—how does the graduate level entomology or especially the forensic entomology future look? I mean are people going into forensic entomology graduate studies? Are they tapering off, is it building? What is going on?


NH: I think it is a cyclical thing. There are some folks coming out with supposedly knowledgeable training in forensic entomology at this point, and in several of our esteemed colleagues’ opinions they are not being taught right, necessarily, and there is—you have to approach this from a totally scientific standpoint, and yet there is a art to this, too.


FT: Oh, yeah.


NH: And so I think it is experience. I’ve had some youngsters that say, “Dr. Haskell doesn’t know what he is talking about and he is doing this and that all wrong.” Okay, well I’ll see you in court and discuss it there.


FT: (Laughter).


NH: I would say just bring it on, but I certainly admit that I don’t know everything.


FT: One of my questions I usually ask the folks I talk to is do you have any plans to retire, but it is pretty obvious you don’t.


NH: Are you kidding? I’m having way too much fun for a guy my age and the only way I’m going to go out is when I die.


FT: I understand. That’s wonderful because if you find a job you love, you never worked a day in your life.


NH: That’s exactly right but I do want --you’d asked about mentors?


FT: Yes.


NH: And I have had some wonderful mentors, starting back with biology when I was 12 years of age and in my freshman class in biology, we had a wonderful biology teacher. I don’t know, none of the other kids liked him too well, but I really admired him. He got me so fired up about biology that I didn’t know what to do. Then I’ve had this Dave Matthews, this extension entomologist that got me into this field two different times.


FT: Okay, let me stop you for just a second. The first guy, what did he do that really lit a fire under you? And then Dave Matthews, what did he do? I mean what was it?


NH: Art Middleton was my freshman biology teacher and he just—I don’t know. Something. I was a farm kid. You know, I’ve been seeing bugs. I remember my first experience with seeing a huge maggot mass. My dad had left a—my dad wasn’t real good at getting dead calves and stuff cleaned up and I remember walking into the barn and I was about 7 to 8 years old and there was this 400 pound calf that had died a week and a half before or a week before whatever.


FT: Oh my.


NH: And it was totally, totally covered with maggots.


FT: Wow.


NH: And I of course, I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ Never dreaming that someday I would be studying these guys intensely. But that was my first experience with maggots and it didn’t destroy my will to learn. I guess eventually it stimulated it.


FT: Yeah.


NH: But anyway, Middleton, he was able to take this interest of mine and then manifest it since I was a farm kid, as I was out in the woods and all that. Driving tractors and seeing plants grow and marveling in all of that, how you can have the optimism to take the seed, stick it in the ground and know that three and a half to four months from now, you are going to have a crop and then your livelihood is going to depend on that crop, that’s amazing.


FT: Absolutely.


NH: So, Middleton was able to take that general outdoor science interest and bring it to the entomology part, and then I had a professor after my dad died, he kind of took over and he is the one that really encouraged me and got me going and you know I was about ready to flunk out and go to Vietnam, and I really wanted to go to Vietnam as a marine officer. But I didn’t get to do that and so Dobson, that’s when Dobson suggested that we finish up the degree in entomology in ’69. I love the fact that some graduate schools and also some jobs I could have taken,  was with the Department of the Navy as a bug inspector for worms and stuff on wharves on the Saigon River in Vietnam.


FT: Okay.


NH: Which would have been all right with me but Dobson said you get back to that farm and you farm and have a good life.


FT: Gotcha.


NH: He wasn’t all wrong on that one. I think I have been very fortunate to have these folks that have been major mentors in my life, along with my mom and dad, and they’re the ones that encouraged me, they believed in me, and we’ve done some amazing things since those early days in junior high and high school. This is why the science teachers are vitally important in this whole process of learning.


FT: What advice would you have for our readers about how to reach the kids, it would be pretty much what you just said?


NH: You’ve got to be enthusiastic with the kids. You’ve got to have good stories; you’ve got to let them learn hands on; you’ve got to encourage them, and the younger the better.


FT: Good.


NH: You’ve got to—I mean just lecturing to a bunch of kids or adults or whatever, I’ve done groups from ages six to 90 and everything in between. What is really neat is the older folks, the senior citizen crowd. I remember I was going to do a little talk for senior citizens down at the next town south and my mom always liked to go with me if she thought I was going to have a hard time. I’m going, I don’t think this is going to be a very, very good audience and she said, “Yeah, I was afraid of that, do you want me to go with you?” I said sure, we’ll just go down there. I got down there and these seniors, they had a worldly view. They knew what the world was all about. So, they kept asking questions for an hour and 45 minutes past my end time.


FT: Wow.


NH: And finally, I am looking at the ladies in the back, they have cookies and coffee as refreshments and they want to get it over. I had figured there would be about 10 people in attendance but there were over 50 folks that attended. They were all senior citizens, and they asked some of the best questions I’ve ever had and that includes the parties.


FT: Wow, that’s totally unexpected and terrific.


NH: Oh yeah, and Mom was just shaking her head. These folks, like I said, they had an appreciation for the way the world works. And they really asked some good questions and it was amazing. When I testify I have to talk in terms—not entomological terms, but in terms that the general lay audience will understand.


FT: Right and the jury.


NH: Yes. I’ve seen experts get on, and they like to just impress the crap out of everybody and use all the big words and you know the jurors, they take about five minutes of that and then its, click, next witness.


FT: Oh, I imagine.


NH: I try to relate to common things that my jury would have seen and would understand and of course, most everybody, most of my jurors would understand -- well you go out to the garbage can and it’s hot in the middle of the summer; it is hotter than hot and you open it up and there is a bunch of maggots in there, well those are the kind of guys I work with. And they connect.


FT: Let me ask you, what was the hardest case you have ever had? One that you didn’t think that you were going to be able to put together, but finally you did?


NH: I would have to think about that one. I’m working on one right now that we have trouble with it, obviously we need to know the temperatures to assess the growth and development. Right?


FT: Yup.


NH: So, if you don’t know the temperatures and you have to guess what the temperatures are, then obviously I make a reasonable guess and I may use high temperatures that we know it can’t be any higher than. And then I might throw in low temperatures where we know it can’t be lower than, so, it has to be somewhere in between. Now, obviously that opens up your window of opportunity, your range, but still that’s the way I approach it with that. But sometimes we have to actually do the experiments to see what is going on.


FT: Sure.


NH: And that does bring to mind a case from Florida. It was a high profile, a very high profile case, it was called the Yahweh, Ben Yahweh case. There were 56 defendants in the federal court room. There was a whole cult called Yahweh cult in Miami that they were just running rampant and they made the Black Panthers look like choirboys, you know.


FT: Wow.


NH: So, they move into a neighborhood and go in a dwelling or house or apartment and say “I’m taking over your family. You can either be shot right now or you can leave”. So the guy took over the wife and the kids. Some snitches came forward. This is one of the Yahweh defendants.


FT: Okay.


NH: And he said, ‘Well, we saw the person killed but we didn’t kill anyone, but we were there when he was killed and he was killed like four o’clock in the afternoon or five in the afternoon and so this is what happened and it is this guy and they thought this guy was dead. He wasn’t dead. He had just disappeared so he shows up later’ and so I got a call. I was on the defense side for that one. I had just hung up from the defense attorney, and the FBI called me from the Washington, D.C. office and said, “hey we have a case for you, Miami, that’s the Yahweh case.” I said, “ I’m working that one, already”.


FT: (Laughs).


NH: That was one we actually had to put pigs out at the exact spot where the body was found, and the point was that when they actually found the body, there was still blood dripping from the trees. The guy that actually first saw it testified that there was blood dripping from the trees and the guy had his detached head.


FT: Whoa.


NH: There was still blood purging from the end of his neck.


FT: No.


NH: See, to me, that isn’t a 24-hour case, that’s like right now. So, we did the experiment. We killed some pigs and put them out according to what the snitches were saying. And, of course, when they found the body there were no bugs or nothing on the neck, and there should have been tons of bugs on the neck. We did it at the same time of year, and as it turned out, the day that we did the experiment was almost identical with temperature and sun identical to the day that this guy was killed. Before noon, we had eggs and by late afternoon we had maggots on the body.


FT: Wow.


NH: That totally disproved the snitches story.


FT: Okay, well let me ask, just maybe you could refresh me. How long does it take an egg to hatch?


NH: It depends on the temperature, I bet you thought I’d say that, right? (Laughs)


FT: Yeah.


NH: Generally, the black blow fly which is the most common in here in Indiana, during the summer, it will take about 14 hours to 15 hours to hatch, and, of course, there is variability in that. And that is at a temperature of 80 degrees plus. Now, if you drop that constant temperature down to 60 degrees, it may take 24 to 40 hours. And also it is dependent on species. We have some tropical species can finish up the whole life cycle in about 12 days. Some of the bluebottle flies, cold weather species, at the same temperature will take somewhere around 30 days.


FT: Wow.


NH: Total life cycle so this is why it is so important to get good specimens and be able to assess what species we are working with. Critical.


FT: Yeah.


NH: Now, if I can’t determine the species, what I do is, I can at least calculate whether they’re blue bottle fly which are pretty big or they are green bottle and/or tropical so I know the ranges on those different groups. What I do is just take the shortest developer and the longest developer and then use that whole range. It extends the range of death, widens the range, but we are staying within the confidence limits and so we are fine on that.


FT: Okay. That’s good, I was just a little confused. I thought you said I had eggs that morning and larva by the afternoon.


NH: Because it was 80 degrees and they had -- these were one of the tropical species and they had gotten fat on it, and they had been laid early in the morning.


FT: Oh, okay.


NH: And then they were maggots by late afternoon.


FT: Wow, let me ask you this. Someone is killed, it is 80 degrees, it is humid, someone dies outdoors, for whatever reason, how fast do the first bugs show up?


NH: The first blow flies, these are the species that I’ve talked about, the green bottle flies. I’ve seen them on my dead pigs at 80 degrees on a nice sunny day, in the woods, I’ve seen the flies there within 20 seconds.


FT: Wow.


NH: They are laying eggs within the first hour.


FT: Man.


NH: Well, of course a lot of things can change that. Obviously, if it is freezing, they won’t be there the first 20 seconds.


FT: That’s true.


NH: And of course, I mean temperature is, in my opinion, the biggest single factor, but there are other

things too, like coverings. I actually did an experiment out in Hawaii one time where we needed to see if there was a major delay. I mean, you wouldn’t think there would be a delay at 85 degrees. But there was an inherent delay of 18-20 hours in the flies laying eggs so there is a lot of variability.


FT: Okay. Now I thought I heard once that flies will not lay their eggs below 50 degrees at night?


NH: About 50 degrees, but you know there are exceptions to everything. It could be 47 degrees, full sun, and the solar radiation is heating that specific area to 70 degrees. Can eggs be laid there? Of course they can.


FT: Okay, at night?


NH: No. A couple of people suggest that they can be laid at night, but I disagree with that.


FT: Okay, and in the rain?


NH: Not unless it is a light rain, and not heavy rain for sure. They don’t want to get wet any more than you and I do. I sure wouldn’t want to get hit by a big raindrop if I am the fly.


FT: Really. Now, when people hear the words blow fly and bottle fly and that kind of thing, what species is the common housefly that we can all relate to? Is that a blowfly?


NH: The common housefly, Musca domestica, has nothing to do with our guys.


FT: Oh, okay.


NH: Nothing whatsoever. The housefly and its relatives are filth flies. They come to urine and feces.


FT: Oh.


NH: A couple of the houseflies relatives will come in such as the dump fly, Ophyra. There are two species of that one that comes in, but they are found later in the decomposition process, and so as we watch this progression of decomposition, that is how I can tell that something is out of whack. Look up a case from Vegas, it is called the Brookey West case.

She had her mom in a U-store-It unit for two and a half years. It was a storage unit

where she stored a garbage can and the garbage can started to leak. They smelled her and it’s a great case. She was saying, “Oh, I let mom sit around dead for a few days and I just didn’t know what to do her so the only thing that you can charge me with is improper burial.”

Well, we think mom was murdered and we were able to prove that she couldn’t have left mom sit around in the normal surroundings for a few days. Of course, mom would stiffen up if that were the case.


FT: Yes.


NH: And mom was in a garbage can. The only way the daughter can get her in the garbage can and then exclude the normal sequence of flies, blow flies, and others that would have come in normally, would have been to put  her in right away. This was because of rigor mortis. Mom had to have been place in the garbage can before she rigored. That was the key because the only flies we had were coffin flies in that the can. The same ones with—the same species I had with the Casey Anthony case in the trunk of the car.


FT: All right.


NH: I testified for the prosecution in that one, and I had her in the trunk of the car on June 16th to about June 18th.


FT: Nice. I want to share something with you. I think you might enjoy it.


NH: What’s that?


FT: I was teaching my forensic entomology unit to a bunch of high school kids many years ago and I decided just for the heck of it I would mess with their minds. My wife and I had shrimp the night before and I saved the tails and I put them in a Tupper and left it out in the patio and sure enough by the next day or two days later, I had a nice maggot mass and its thriving and it sounds like Rice Crispies cause they’re crunchy.


NH: Oh yes, exactly.


FT: Right, and so I am introducing this to my class and I purposely everywhere where I could have used the “maggot” I used the word “magnet” and the kids caught it, and they would say, “Wait you mean maggot” and I said, “Yeah ,maggot. I’m sorry I was teaching physics last period, and we were doing magnets.”


NH: Okay.


FT: I probably said the word magnet 25 or 30 times before I introduced what we were going to do that day, and I did just to see what would happen. To my shameful delight the kids were unable to say the word “maggot” for the rest of the period. They all said “magnet.”


NH: “Magnet.”


FT: Yup.


NH: Holy smokes. You are much too devious for my kids. It is hard enough to teach them straight out.


FT: So listen, this has been a real pleasure. You mentioned earlier that you know the CSI supervisor in Las Vegas?


NH: Yes, I am the real Gil Grissom, and the reason I say that is because in the collection protocol and procedures, I consult with the CSIs in Vegas. I am the one that is written up in their regulations. I am the forensic entomology consultant for Vegas metro crime lab. Of course I will tell you that it doesn’t really work that way in real life and the techs, the CSI girl techs, aren’t wearing short skirts and high heels (laughs). But actually, one of my students from here at St. Joe’s has been—she is an advanced crime scene technician now. She is a CSI in Vegas. She worked out there for five and a half years and she just loves it to death. Olivia Klosterman is her name.


FT: Neat.


NH: But really, she would be a great one to talk to as far as actually doing the work-- because I had saved the prosecutor’s case on this one, the lady in the garbage can case. They were in jury selection and they didn’t even have—they didn’t even have a case of premeditation.


FT: Whoa.


NH: So, I helped them and because I was interacting with them, Oliva got to know a couple of the techs. They said well you know we’re going to be hiring like seven or eight next year or in the next three weeks or months or whatever. And so Olivia put her application in. Of 800 applicants she was number one.


FT: Wow, awesome.


NH: And she got her B.S. right here at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana


FT: That is so cool.


NH: That is really cool.


FT: Thank you again.


NH: Okay. Now, we could help you out. I’ve been doing workshops for a number of years and I know what the teacher needs. I train a lot of the cops and teachers. For this I just want the teachers; they’re just like sponges and they get so close to the action. It’s that way with the CSI or the crime techs, but the teachers are over the top on wanting to know and learn.

We have several really exciting workshops planned for the summer as I stated before, and that’s really—I mean these are all wonderful hands-on for the teachers. And the teachers won’t get any training anywhere else like this. Basically, there’s going to be another week-long school that going to be all hands-on with digging and surface recovery, and clandestine graves recovery.


FT: They’re using donations or animal carcasses?


NH: Oh, we’re using pigs. That’s why I have several. I’ve buried them all over, and on the surface. The surface recovery, I think, is a way that we usually recover the most, but then the digging—I mean to dig is just—it consumes the graves. It’s just really relaxing because you can’t go fast.


FT: I can see that.


NH: But then, our fourth one is a short two-day workshop and it’s gonna be maggot school.


FT: Maggot school, that’s cool.


NH: Yeah, it’s for teachers. I’m teaching it from a teacher’s aspect, but this is what I teach the police: recovery and processing and shipping the specimens. For the teachers, I include some analyses, which I don’t do for cops.


FT: You’ve done a wonderful service by providing all this information, and I am grateful. I hope you feel that.


NH: Well, the teachers really don’t know where all their resources lie. I mean they’re like sponges; I just love teaching teachers. Because they want to know, and they are so eager, and yet, I can’t—I haven’t been really successful at making contacts, necessarily. So, maybe this would be a wonderful, wonderful interchange between us, the educators, the forensic guys, and the teachers and teaching them how to get there, have their resources, and how to do all these things that they will learn how to do.


FT: You’re right, and that’s exactly the reason we started this magazine.


NH: Right, okay. So, that looks like we’re all on board there.


Dr. Neal Haskell is the man to see if you have maggots. And we’re not talking about a personal hygiene thing, we’re talking about real, live, honest-to-goodness, squirming, white, disgusting larvae that feast on dead things, usually with thousands of their closest friends. Those maggots. He’s made a career of becoming the go-to guy when you have a question about how long a body has been outside. If the circle of life rolled over a corpse, it left a living trace, and Haskell specializes in pinning down when the body became dinner for those premature insects we love to hate.

     Haskell was the first to get graduate degrees in forensic entomology. He was the first to set aside land, a lot of it, for the explicit purpose of studying insect life cycles, and he was involved with establishing the American Board of Forensic Entomology. In short, he is to maggots what Chuck Norris is to, well, everything else.


By Mark Feil, Ed.D.