The kinds of puzzles Carol Cox solves are not the ones she
used to put together with her grandfather during childhood.
As a forensic chemist for the Tulsa Police Department's
crime lab, Cox attempts to solve puzzles of a more serious nature.
Take for instance the gruesome photographs which show a
fragment of the skull of a woman killed last year. On the
skull fragment are small, round indentations and a hole
where the skull was punctured.
The weapon, an unusual one, has never been found and so
far Cox has not been able to match the damage it caused
with any familiar object. Still, she is not giving up.
`Someday, I'm going to match it up,` she said.
Piecing together puzzles like this are what keeps Cox and
her colleagues in the lab going.
`I like putting puzzles together,` Cox said."I tell my
grandchildren that my job is a combination scavenger hunt,
Easter egg hunt and going antiquing in a garbage bin.`
Cox has been working in the lab for five years analyzing
trace evidence such as fibers, hairs, clothing, debris from
suspected arson fires and other fragments of evidence collected
`Trace evidence is anything commonplace or minute that could
be easily overlooked,` she said.
Cox said it takes a careful eye and love of details to perform the job.
`You have to be very picky. You have to observe exactly
and report exactly what you see.`
Analyzing the trail of evidence to see where it leads is
what excites Ann Reed most about her job as a chemist in serology.
`I see what kind of body fluid we have and what we try to
do is find a connection between a person and place or person
and an object or disprove a connection,` she said.
Reed has spent her entire career working in forensics including
20 years with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
She came to the Tulsa crime lab a year ago.
Much of her work involves analyzing body fluids such as
blood and semen taken as evidence in homicides, assaults
and sexual assaults.
`It's like solving a puzzle. You try to see if the pieces
fit or don't, and it's interesting because you never know
what you're going to find.
`You feel like you're doing good by keeping somebody from
being accused who otherwise might be or by helping solving
crimes,` she said.
Ron Pogue, director of the lab, said forensics is a vitally
important factor in the justice equation.
`I would say, without the lab we would probably get less
than 10 percent of cases through the system,` he said. `The
role is a lot more critical than it used to be partly because
attorneys are better educated on what labs can do and what's available.`
The lab performs several functions designed to provide detectives
and district attorneys with information. Defense attorneys
also can obtain the information through the district attorneys, Pogue said.
The lab can perform examinations for trace evidence, arson,
body fluids, firearms, controlled substances and, of course, fingerprints.
`Contrary to what people think of the lab, we are not prosecution
oriented,` he said. `I think people who think we're prosecution
oriented don't realize how many people we eliminate.`
While many types of evidence analysis can be performed in
the lab, it is not yet capable of performing DNA (deoxyribonucleic
acid) tests which provide a more accurate analysis of evidence
such as body fluids, skin and hairs.
Pogue hopes the day is coming when the crime lab will be
able to perform its own DNA testing.
`I think we'll have to go to it in the next 18 months to
two years,` he said.
If the lab performs its own DNA tests, results will be available
more quickly. In addition, more evidence can be tested and
at a lower cost than the current practice of sending evidence
to labs in other states for testing; that process can take months.
`Right now, we probably send out around 15-20 cases a year,"
Pogue said. `If we had a DNA lab, we'd probably be doing
150-225 cases a year.`
Although DNA testing will improve accuracy, it does not
eliminate the need for other forms of evidence analysis.
`DNA's not a cure-all. It will greatly enhance our ability
in the serology area, but not in the other areas,` Pogue said.
Besides analyzing evidence in the lab, forensics workers
often are called upon to testify in court as expert witnesses.
`I like testifying in court,` Reed said. `It's nerve wracking
but I like it.`
Cox has testified more than 30 times.
`Sometimes you're on the stand for hours and hours and hours,`
she said. `A lot of times what I am doing is informing the
jury and judge about what I've done and what it means.`
Because the lab is under jurisdiction of the police department,
Cox said many people have the impression the lab is biased
in favor of the police and district attorneys. That is not so, she said.
Sometimes, their examinations lead to the exoneration of
suspects, she said.
`My very first hair case was a murder with two suspects
and the only thing tying them to the actual crime was a
cap with hairs in it. I analyzed that and the hairs didn't
match those of the suspects,` she said. `I felt it was a
good way of starting my job here.`