Forensic Ballistics – Case Study

Case 1 (Russ Columbo Killed)

The case related to Fatal injuries & Ricocheting:

A notable example of the power of a ricochet was given by the fatal accident which occurred in the fall of 1933 when an actor Russ Columbo was accidentally killed by the explosion of the charge in an old muzzle-loading pistol which was being kept as a curio. According to newspaper accounts, a friend of the actor snapped the head of a match on the nipple of the gun, which was thought to be unloaded, and it went off and the bullet struck a piece of furniture and then bounced and struck the actor causing so serious injuries that it resulted to his death.

Case 2

In another famous Police encounter case in India, it was alleged by the appellant that the deceased was shot intentionally in the crucial neck portion. However, forensic analysis revealed that even though the police officer fired the shot but not at the deceased. The trajectory was around 1.5 ft. far-off from the deceased but the 9mm jacketed bullet ricocheted from the laminated wall and hit the deceased at the neck region. The critical measurement and crime scene reconstruction made it possible to find the factual condition.

Case 3

Soft body armor is not infallible as the following two cases illustrate. The first involved a police officer wearing a very substantial bullet-resistant vest capable of defeating 0.357″ Magnum and 9 mm PB bullets. He was shot at closed range with a 0.45-70 rifle which has a large soft bullet weighing 400 grains at a velocity of 1500 fps. though the jacket was successful at deflecting the bullet, it was driven into the officer’s chest, killing him.

Case 4

This case involved a live demonstration of a ballistic insert plate made of metal. The plate was designed to defeat an armor-piercing round, but the demonstration was mere to show how effective it was against a full, magazine from a sub-machine gun. The soldier wearing the jacket was not killed, but the fragments generated by the bullet breaking up on the plate nearly severed the lower part of his jaw.

Read Also: Wound Ballistics

Case 5

A police officer noted that a car is as dragging one of his colleagues. He fired at the relevant car through the rear windscreen of the said car dragging his colleague. Though the shot was aimed at the driver, it got split into pieces after passing through the tempered glass. The large piece passed through the headrest and into the head of the driver. The other clipped the top of the passenger’s seat lodging in the passenger’s soldier. Since, there had been no intervening object which could have caused the break, only the glass.

Case 6

Bank cabins got fitted with “bandit proof glass” which was of laminated type. After being given the money, the robber, armed with a sawn-off shotgun, walked up to one of the tellers and shot her through the security glass, the spalling from the rear face of the glass (i.e. side of the teller) was severe enough to kill her.

It is worth mentioning that the glass involved in this case was laminated one with three sheets of glass and two sheets of plastics. To reduce scratching the outside layers were both made up of glass. In modern bullet resistance glass, the non-impact side always consists of a sheet of clear acrylic plastic which is heavily bonded to the last layer of glass. This will limit the degree of spalling vary considerably making the person sitting behind it much safer.

Case 7

In a case involving more modern types of bullet-resistant glass which did have a sheet of clear acrylic plastic bonded to the non-strike face. The teller, in this case, was an avid shooter and he just happened to have a 0.22″ caliber pistol loaded and kept under the counter. A 0.38″ special caliber revolver was used by the shooter. When the teller pulled out his revolver, the robber and the teller both fire the gun. When the smoke cleared, there were eight 0.22″ bullets buried in the anti-spalling sheet from the teller’s weapon, as well as six entirely broken 0.38″ special rounds near the robber’s feet on the floor. His hands and face had been cut to shreds by the shards of glass thrown back from the glass pane and he was taken to a hospital with one eye missing. The teller remounted safe because of the anti-spalling measures introduced in the laminated glass.

Case 8

The case reveals false self-defense in a murder case. In a trial case involving the murder of a person X, another person Y claimed that he killed him in self-defense. Several injuries were found on the thigh of Y who has allegedly killed X in self-defense. The injuries were circular in nature and 1- 2 cm deep. The medico-legal expert could not find any spherical projectiles inside wounds and ruled out the possibility of bouncing out of the pellets and the possibility of these injuries caused by an ice pick. The theory of self-defense could not be believed by the court and Y got convicted for murder. Scientific facts do reveal the truth and contribute to the administration of justice.

Case 9

The medical doctor could recover two pellets from the forearm of a victim in a criminal case involving murder. The recovered pellets had six flat surfaces in three pairs on each bullet. In each pair two surfaces were parallel. It could not happen in a case of firing but it could certainly happen if pellets had been hammered. The injuries were proved to be non-genuine.

Case 10

A person could make two holes on the opposite sides of his same leg who informed the police regarding an attempt by someone to murder him. He named one of his enemies for this attempt. The medical doctor could neither find any projectiles in the body of the complainant nor any tunnel or connection between the two holes. The nature of injuries was declared as self-created and not firearm injuries, to say the least. Thus, it is quite clear that injuries need to be identified as firearm injuries to assist investigating officers in carrying out their works.

Case 11

An appeal was made by a person who had been convicted in a murder case. The conviction was based on the evidence of an eyewitness who claimed to have been seen at the time of the murder. To persuade the court, he stated that he had also been injured by a firearm. The doctor had taken some material from the so-called eyewitness’s reported injuries. Only after examination did the doctor’s extracted material turn out to be sand and grit. The injury was most likely fake and self-made. The appeal was accepted by the court, and the guilty person was acquitted.

Case 12

A group of four people, including a VIP and three others, were murdered. The culprits could not be traced for some time. They were hiding in different places. The foreign material recovered from the deceased involved projectiles and their fragments. The foreign materials present in the bodies of victims were recovered which made it possible to determine the nature of firearms used in killing them. The killers use a .32″ revolver, a .30 rifle, and a 12 bore shotgun. Thus, the foreign materials serve both, as a strong indication for identifying firearm injuries and an indicator towards the use of firearms for creating such injuries.

Case 13

In this case of the alleged murder of a Security Guard, it was contended that he was killed in point-blank range at the face by his own 12- Bore shotgun. The absence of GSR in the deceased’s hands supported the prosecution version. However, the range and other calculations like- Bare right foot of the deceased, blast injury, presence of GSR on the legs, and weapon entangling the body, revealed that the security guard killed himself by placing the muzzle under his chin and pulling the trigger by the toe of his right feet as he was depressed because of his family problems.

Case 14

A seventeen years old boy, during the practice session of International Games, died on being hit by the discharge of a blank cartridge fired during the inaugurations. The cap used instead of the real bullet pierced through the soft abdominal cavity rupturing the vital parts of the body. The gun was fired at a very close vicinity resulting in the unbelievable fatality.

Case 15

In London (UK) during a stage performance, the hero fired a blank cartridge through a 12 bore shotgun. The villain died on the spot due to penetration of wads. The wads have pierced his heart causing rupturing and the gaseous materials burned the internal parts causing a tragic end of the show.

Case 16

In an alleged suicide case of a teenage girl, a complaint was filed contending that the death is homicidal and not suicidal. The weapon was suspected to be a 12 bore Shotgun. Subsequently, the body of the deceased, which was buried, was ordered to be exhumed for a second autopsy. During the autopsy, the assorted lead pellets were recovered which were further compared with the pellets recovered from the possession of the alleged accused. The microscopic, as well as the spectrographic analysis, revealed that both the sets, i.e., one recovered from the body and the other found from the accused, were similar. Furthermore, the gun in the possession of the accused had residues of the fired ammunition on the barrel of the gun. Comparison of pellets concerning mass and diameter coupled with spectrographic analysis and presence of gunshot residues in the barrel of the accused’s gun ruled out the suicidal version completely and pointed to the use of the accused’s gun in the alleged homicide.

Case 17

Brian J. Heard has mentioned an interesting case in his book “Firearms and Ballistics” where a police officer had claimed that a suspected drug peddler came running towards him with a knife and that he had no option but to open fire. On the contrary, a witness said that the police officer grabbed hold of the deceased’s vest pulled his gun towards the victim, and then shot him. On examination of the vest worn by the deceased, it was found that the blood staining around the bullet entry site was too heavy for the visual range of the estimations to be carried out. By using IR photography, it was possible, however, to eliminate the interfering blood staining allowing the sooty discharge residues to be seen. The reconstruction showed that at the time of firing, the range from muzzle to vest was not more than 5 cms and one side of the vest was closer to the gun than the other. Thus fire-arm evidence based on powder pattern clarified the position that the witness was speaking the truth.

Case 18

There was a firing between police and dacoits. The dacoits were able to carry the body of an injured fellow with them after the firing was over. After a couple of days or so, a person got admitted to a nursing home for treatment of a fractured arm. His body was subjected to X-Ray examination which showed a presence of a bullet in the body of the injured person. Police were informed and the bullet was subsequently removed from the body and was found to be of 0.38 caliber which is a prohibited bore and mainly used by Police. It was thus clear that this bullet could have been fired by police. All the weapons (specifically Revolvers) used by police, when examined in a forensic lab revealed that the recovered bullet had been fired from one of the revolvers used by police thereby confirming that the person undergoing the treatment was none else but a dacoit.

Case 19

A person having a 0.32 revolver with him stood near a pond, fired a contact shot on his right temple but did not die immediately, and threw the revolver into the pond before returning to his house where he succumbed to the injury. The absence of a firearm made the investigator conclude it to be a case of homicide and thus he felt no necessity of collection of gunshot residues on the hands of the victim. This would not be correct.

In this case, there was a heavy deposit of the gunshot residues on the web portion of the right hand of the victim indicating a self-fired firearm. The bullet recovered from the head of the victim was found to be fired from a 0.32 revolver. Later, some village boys discovered a revolver in the pond while swimming and handed the same to the police. The investigation revealed the revolver belonged to the deceased only and the other evidence confirmed that the bullet recovered from the head of the victim was fired from his revolver recovered from the pond.

Case 20

A man returned to his house with bleeding injuries. He fell unconscious and was taken to a hospital where he died after three hours. He had gunshots with wounds of the entrance below the chin and a wound of exit on the left side of the frontal bone. No blackening and tattooing around the wound of the entrance. However, some particles of propellant were found along the bullet track indicating a contact shot. Since it was a common site for committing suicide, GSR was present on the web portion of the right hand. It could be concluded that it was a case of suicide. During further investigation, the revolver was recovered from a nearby park. Recovery of the revolver and its examination added further strength to the conclusion of suicide.