On February 10, MWA-Northwest had the honor of hosting Mary Kellar of the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab Division for a terrific 90-minute webinar.

Due to rules to protect the integrity of evidence and investigations, we couldn’t visit the crime lab in person, but we got the next best thing. Mary walked us through crime lab operations, sharing photos from the lab and crime scenes. We saw some grisly images and heard appalling stories of inept criminals.

There is not in fact a single crime lab in Washington. The people of Washington are served by six labs across the state. The labs analyze a wide range of evidence—fingerprints, suspicious documents, fabrics, powdery substances, bullet fragments, and so on—for law enforcement agencies across the state. If you murder someone in Washington, one or more of the labs will be on the case.

We dove into the details of specific types of tests—great information for building your crime and mystery stories. DNA is very stable—but some people shed DNA more easily than others. Did you know that ferret blood can be mistaken for human blood using a HemaCard test? Maybe you should work a ferret into your story in progress.

We also learned what it takes to work in the crime lab. Lab employees have B.S. degrees in chemistry, biology, physics, or another relevant scientific field. They also have to pass a background check and a polygraph. In addition to undergoing rigorous testing, lab employee candidates must participate in a mock trial—since lab employees often testify in court.

Mary was a great presenter—serious about her work, but with a touch of humor. She was also willing to make herself available for follow-up email questions from all webinar participants—another reason to join MWA-Northwest and attend our events.

A hat tip goes to MWA-NW Board Member Larry Keeton for organizing the webinar. You can listen to Larry’s latest work, “Who Killed the Faro Cheat?” on the Mysteries to Die For podcast.