From bizarre to mundane: crime scene evidence yields important clues

PORTLAND, Ore. - A dog dress. A beer bottle in a bathtub. A mud-caked shovel.

These bizarre items were all gathered and processed from crime scenes. As KATU learned from attending an evidence study course by the Oregon State Police in Salem, even these smallest clues help catch killers, rapists and thieves.

Bullets and blood stains are hardly the only items that can crack a case. For instance, just check out an evidence locker in North Portland, which houses endless bags of bizarre pieces of evidence.

"We get five thousand items a month and our inventory is over 300,000 items," said Ty Routley, evidence control supervisor for the Portland Police's property evidence division.

Routley has the job of tagging and tracking more than 300,000 of these pieces of evidence. He's seen it all -- from the mundane to the macabre, such as crowbars, brooms, golf clubs, baseball bats and sticks.

"People like to ask that question: What's the most unusual thing that you have or that you've seen? And when I first started working here that probably would've been a really easy answer to give. But now, there is no 'unusual' anymore," Routley said.

The more traditional pieces of evidence like money, guns and narcotics are housed in separate storage areas and have their own security measures in place.

Evidence to help crack the worst cases is stored in what investigators call the "homicide mezzanine." It's also were evidence from cold murder cases still lives. Retired detectives like George Young come back to pour over the items in hopes of finding a new clue.

"From time to time, you do find a treasure trove, which you didn't expect," Young said. "We can trace evidence for instance that we couldn't do anything with 10 years ago and get a DNA profile now."

And investigators now have the luxury, thanks to technological advances, of gleaning prosecutable evidence from seemingly mundane items. For instance, cigarette butts a rapist left in the toilet while waiting for his victim and the duct tape he used to bind her all can be used to solve a case.

Investigators have the added pressure of trying to stay positive amid grisly cases or those that aren't quickly solved.

Portland police Detective Bridget Sickon, who works in the sex offender registration unit, has a huge sword mounted on her wall that reminds her of one of her cases: A man claiming to be a Hollywood movie director who lured girls to a hotel by promising he could help them crack into the film industry.

He told them he needed to get some shots of them, but later molest or harm the girls, Sickon said.

"Ultimately, he was convicted, so he's in prison and that sword was turned over to us," she said. "It keeps you sane. There are so many cases that you want good outcomes and you can't."

"So these are sort of like our success stories," she added.