Blood Tells Stories

Written by Paul Fairchild in the June 2009 Issue
Motion and direction. Acceleration and velocity. These are the governing principles of Tom Bevel’s work. And he’s not a calculus professor or an engineer. He’s a forensic investigation expert that specializes in blood spatters.

Bevel’s a patient man. His discipline demands it. At a violent crime scene, bloodstains abound. And each stain – each blood drop – tells a story. Bevel’s the man to sort through hundreds of them and turn their stories into an epic tale.
“The crime scene speaks. But it’s not the language that you and I speak. It’s a language disguised in physical evidence,” says Bevel. “Interpreting the relationships of all the physical evidence in a holistic view, you’ll never be able to know everything that’s taken place. Anybody that says they know everything about a crime scene isn’t being honest. You can’t. But with the puzzle pieces that are there, we should be able to identify specific events, occurrences and sequences. That’s the part that gives me satisfaction.”

For Bevel, a typical day might be an onsite investigation of a murder or suicide, or it might be rigorous scrutiny of a set of 6 year old polaroids and an ancient case file. Whatever it takes.

And Bevel has solved cases based on little more than a stack of old polaroids. A murder case in Springfield, Illinois, was closed for six years before Bevel was called in to give his opinion after the case was reopened based on new evidence. Working with nothing but the polaroids and a case file, Bevel engaged the evidence – and the direction of the case changed. Based largely on his analysis, a previously “innocent” husband was sent to prison for murdering his wife long after the crime was blamed on a stranger.

After years of working with the Oklahoma City Police Department, Bevel now works for himself. Along with his partners at Bevel Gardner, he operates a top-flight, nationally recognized consulting firm. There Bevel splits his time between teaching and consulting. He’s carried his craft to law enforcement agencies in 48 states and 11 foreign countries. Top law enforcement agencies, insurance companies and even families engage his services to find chapters in the stories behind violent crimes.

A 27-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Police Department, Bevel served as Commander of the Homicide, Robbery, Missing Persons and Unsolved Homicide units. In addition to running his company, Bevel’s also an associate professor in the Masters of Forensics Science program at Edmond’s UCO.

His unusual skills take Bevel to foreign locales such as Israel and Iraq – and local areas such as Norman and Edmond. Initially, as he learned his discipline, he found himself at Scotland Yard taking comprehensive courses in bloodstain analysis and crime scene reconstruction. What he learned there he brought back and taught to others.
“The majority of forensic disciplines shed light on the ‘who’ of a crime,” says Bevel. “Bloodstain pattern analysis is one of the most important disciplines to address ‘what’ happened. Understanding the discipline, its underlying scientific basis, and how best to apply this knowledge is crucial in the investigator’s quest for the truth.”

Bevel’s reputation derives in part from his willingness to pass his skills on to other investigators. Paying it forward means, among other things, starting the Association of Crime Scene Reconstruction, an organization dedicated to advancing Bevel’s discipline. Launching the organization fits the character of a man that’s nationally recognized for his
work in that arena.

Bevel’s expertise in his field can’t be overexaggerated. His colleagues recognize him as the best of the best and he literally wrote the book on blood spatter analysis: “Bloodstain Pattern Analysis.”

“It was my pleasure to work with Tom Bevel for several years at the Oklahoma City Police Department, first in the CSI and for 12 years as the Forensic Firearms Examiner,” says Gordon Robertson of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. “While he was commander of the Homicide Unit, Tom and I were involved in the investigation and reconstruction of many crime scenes. His experience as a practitioner and educator in crime scene reconstruction and blood spatter interpretation is nationally appreciated.”

Bevel didn’t just fall into this line of work. It’s not a discipline one just slips into. The Oklahoma City Police Department, Bevel’s employer for several years, saw an opportunity to enhance its skills during a particularly difficult investigation. Needing an expert, they sent Tom to school at Scotland Yard to learn the strange and arcane science of bloodstain analysis.

“I found a discipline that told stories about what had taken place to produce the bloodstains at a violent crime scene,” says Bevel. “Basically, I started from there. It’s something I trained for for years. It started with the Oklahoma City Police Department. Then the Oklahoma County D.A.’s office started using me in other cases in Edmond and Norman and it just grew from that.”

In many ways, Bevel isn’t so much an investigator as a window maker. “We often refer to what the analyst evaluates as the ‘static aftermath’ of an event. Dispersion, shape characteristics, volume, pattern, the number of bloodstains, and their relationship to the surrounding scene are part of this aftermath,” says Bevel. “This information provides the investigator with a window to the past.” 
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