They met to talk about murder, but nobody called the police. The police already were there.
The Pennsylvania Homicide Investigators Association has been gathering in State College for 10 years to share information and learn best ideas that will help them solve the worst crimes.
This week, police officers, district attorneys, medical investigators and others from all over Pennsylvania, other states and Canada met at the Ramada Inn for a weeklong seminar in advanced practical homicide investigation.
“You’re looking for ideas, tricks, things that can help you,” said Cpl. Thomas McAndrew, of state police at Hazleton and PHIA president.
If anyone can help, it is probably Vernon Geberth. He literally wrote the book on homicide investigation, condensing more than 40 years of experience and 8,000 investigations into “ Practical Homicide Investigation,” the law enforcement field guide to solving murders.
He brought in a variety of experts to help spotlight different areas of investigation. A forensic pathologist from Florida talked about the newest science, not quite the same things people see on “CSI” or “Bones.” Andrea Saferes, an aquatic death investigator, came to teach how to handle homicidal drownings.
“There are a lot of bodies of water in Pennsylvania,” said Geberth. “A lot of attendees are going back to revisit old cases after that one.”
They learned about staged crime scenes, how to tell if someone is trying to make a death look like a suicide or an accident, or like a murder committed by a total stranger. And they learned how to talk to people.
Richard Ovens, a retired captain from the New York State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and a clinical psychologist, came to teach interview and interrogation techniques.
“The whole essence of interrogation is about being able to listen,” he said. “If you can do that, it makes it easier to get to the truth.”
For McAndrew, that plays to one of the hardest parts of his job.
“Dealing with the families,” he said. “That’s the hardest. They want justice. There is some pressure that comes with that.”
But it is balanced by the fact that people close to a victim are also often suspects or witnesses, or people still trying to protect their loved one, making it hard to balance the conversation. McAndrew said investigators try to keep one thought in mind, the responsibility to the person who died.
“The victims can’t fight for themselves,” he said. “That’s our job.”