Tales from the Field, June 2015


Site Studies Gone Weird

This is a new monthly segment that appears in Donan’s eNews. This feature will put some fun and entertainment into forensics. We hope you enjoy! If you do not currently receive our monthly eNews, sign up here!


By Charles White, Forensic Technician, Tampa, Florida

My day started off pretty weird when the homeowner approached me outside and said “You aren’t scared of gators are you?” I thought to myself, that’s a strange question. He then proceeded to explain that there was a 6 foot gator that “hangs out” and doesn’t seem to be frightened by humans. “I hope no one is feeding him,” he expressed. I assured him that if in fact this gator is not scared of people, he is being fed.

The homeowner told me the system that I was there to inspect was around back. He said he would leave the back door unlocked in case I needed to run from the gator. A little while later he came back out and asked if I had seen the gator yet. I said no; I had looked out in the lake and didn’t see him. “Well, that’s because he is right there behind you,” the homeowner informed me.

I turned around and sure enough 10-12 feet behind me sat the gator just looking at me as if I was a big piece of steak.

Lucky for me, or him, he decided to go swimming and left me alone, even though he never swam too far from me.

I had another weird experience at a place called Caliente Resort. I showed up to the home and began my site study when three individuals in their seventies or eighties came by riding bicycles. They said hello and waved. There was nothing strange about the encounter except they were completely naked, no shirt, no shoes…well, you get the point. I was quite surprised. Needless to say I finished my site study in record time, wondering all the while why I had not been informed that the homeowners lived in a nudist colony.


By Russell Zeckner, Forensic Engineer – Principal Consultant, Louisville, Kentucky

During my long career with Donan I have seen and experienced many things during site visits that have resulted in my telling and retelling of endless, and generally truthful, stories.  My experiences have ranged from amazing to disgusting and have occurred in areas as pristine as a hospital’s operating room to sewage filled pits.  I have climbed ladders over 200 feet to inspect water tower mounted antennae, and descended on my belly into more wet and spider infested crawlspaces than I can count.  Throughout it all 99% of the insureds, adjusters, competitors and others I have encountered have always remained friendly and helpful; including those others had warned me to be wary of.  A few however standout.

I was requested to investigate a mold problem that reportedly was occurring in a small house in central Kentucky.  During my initial interview of the young lady who was the insured, she indicated that she had first noticed the problem after returning home from a stint on the local hospital’s fifth floor.  My inspection discovered little mold and instead the problem seem to be related to soot produced by an abundance of candles.  As I went about my inspection, the young lady, intent on helping me, stated, “You know how when you keep your toenail clippings in the freezer they eventually evaporate?”  Although I assumed I had misheard her, I could only utter, “Huh?”  She repeated herself and elaborated somewhat on the topic as if it was as universal an act as placing frozen food in the freezer.  She eventually retrieved and showed me a frost-covered medicine bottle from her freezer that contained what appeared to be toenail clippings.  Nothing of note occurred further, but after returning to my office I did a little research and found out that her hospital’s “fifth” floor was the psychiatric ward.

I traveled to northern Kentucky once to investigate a claim related to allegedly stolen auto parts.  The insured lived in an old apartment building that provided its tenants with covered parking for their vehicles in a long shed-like structure at, but separate from, the apartment house’s rear.  Each spot had its own overhead door with partition walls dividing the rather narrow parking spaces that obviously were designed for 1930s-era-size vehicles.  The attic space above the spots was not divided and thus with some effort and ladders one could clamber over the partitions and move from area to area.  The insured used two of these spaces to park a 1970 vintage European sports car and a later model diesel powered sedan.

The insured contended that thieves had entered one of his neighbor’s unlocked parking space and then had travelled though the rafters to reach his garage.  Once there they removed various parts from his vehicle and, incredibly, replaced them with almost identical but nevertheless inferior parts.  This action reoccurred undetected over the course of several evenings spanning weeks.  His list of parts stolen and substituted included, amongst others, the sport car’s removable hardtop roof, the hood, all wheels’ disc brake calipers, major engine components, the steering wheel and even the gas cap’s remote opening system.

As he sipped his beer and related this information, the insured remained as straight-faced and self-assured as if he had been telling me about a trip to the grocery.

My examination found no evidence of theft or replacement.  Further, the garage was unlighted and simply had insufficient working space to accomplish the alleged deeds.  Additionally, large items like the hood or hardtop, could not have been successful transported through the attic due to the structure’s constraints.  Finally, the likelihood that a thief would be able to find vintage parts of the exact same color of these rather rare vehicles is almost nil and even has less a potential to provide him a profit.

I gently explained to the insured that I could not substantiate his claims and needed more “hard” evidence.  After a moment of thought he told me that he indeed had the hard evidence I desired.  He left and then brought me an invoice and packing materials for disc brake calipers the he had recently purchased and installed, but now had been replaced by the thieves with inferior models.  He showed me that calipers on the sports car were stamped with a Mercedes Benz logo, but contended that since the replacement parts were purchased from West Coast Imports[1], their logo should be on them instead.  I shook my head to indicate I understood the point he was trying to make, but as I read the invoice I discovered that he had purchased “rebuilt” calipers from West Coast Imports and thus they would have the Mercedes Benz logo stamped into them.  I left on friendly terms, but when I called the adjuster I explained to her that perhaps she had hired the wrong type of professional and a psychiatrist would have been a better choice.


[1] I don’t recall the real name, but it was a firm located somewhere in California.

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