Homicidal Drowning Investigations

Class History… Reason for the Course… Research

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, Walt Hendrick worked on several drownings with Dutchess and Ulster County Sheriff’s Departments that he did not believe were accidental. Further investigation led Deputy Hendrick to present enough evidence to warrant investigations.  For over 30 years, he has worked on drowning sites and observed that responding law enforcement typically assumed the drowning was an accident. For example, an officer on the way to the scene of a child who drowned in a pool is probably thinking about the grieving parents, and is possibly thinking about his own children.  On the other hand, an officer arriving on the scene where a child is found dead in a house would probably already be looking for signs of possible foul play.

The Susan Smith case is not a single event.  Our research over the past ten years of newspaper article searches, interviews of law enforcement personnel, working on actual incidents, and researching published studies has shown that drowning is reported to be the eighth most common method of homicide.  If more drownings were investigated as possible foul play, we believe that that number would be even lower.

So, the course was first designed to teach the officers and investigating detectives special tactics to take for drowning incidents.  Then, as the evidence of child abuse by parents grew, the possibilities of child drownings and near drownings became more apparent, which then became an important focus of the course.

The next part of the course involves homicide victim bodies being dumped in the water postmortem. We researched postmortem physiology forensics and learned of several ways officers on the scene might be cued to the possibility that the victim did not die in the water, and that this was not an accidental drowning fatality. In addition, we wrote up procedures for what divers should do when they find a body: check and record positioning, bring up the necessary evidence for the forensics pathologist, and manage the scene to disturb as little evidence as possible. Since most of our waters are black, photographic recordings are not usually possible.

Lastly, we wanted to do something to help law enforcement personnel who are subjected to the risk of physical and liability attack as a result of a perpetrator attempting to escape by way of water. We wrote up procedures officers can take during such an incident to keep themselves a safe as possible, and do whatever they can to ensure the recovery of the perpetrators whether they are alive or drowned. We also wrote up suggestions for guidelines in standard operating procedures to protect the department’s liability.

Drowning Homicide Investigator II

A Two Day classroom-based Program

Course Outline

* Approach drowning fatalities and child near drownings with the same degree of suspicion as any other homicide or possible child abuse incident.
* Case history debriefings
* Witness Interviewing Procedures
* Investigation procedures on the scene.
* Profiling an openwater investigation
* Post mortem physiology forensics- what to look for on a body recovered from the water.
* Three types of incidents: homicide by drowning, victim’s body dumped in water after homicide on land, and near-drowning as a result of child abuse or other foul play.
* How to retrieve and handle evidence thrown in the water – how can a detective know if a dive team conducted a thorough search, or if the team just missed the item?
* Investigation of vehicular water suicides, and how to determine the difference between a vehicular suicide and attempted cover-up.
* Where to look for a body in open water – what procedures to follow
* How to know if a dive team is doing an effective search or not.
* How to protect individual and department liability when perpetrators attempt to escape police by way of water, and the perpetrator drowns. What procedures can be followed during such an incident to keep the officers safe physically and liability-wise

Class Materials

Each student receives:

* Homicide by Drowning Manual (282 pages)
* A Homicide by Drowning Investigator Workbook
* Handouts
* Wall Certificate of Completion

An optional ACUC Drowning Homicide Investigator ID certification card is available for an additional $25 per student.

The course fee per student is $195. Discounts are available for departments sending 5 or more.

The Program Host

The program host supplies the classroom, chairs and tables, and A/V equipment. The program host helps recruit students by sending out information over the teletype and by other means. In exchange, the course host receives 20% of the total tuition. This can be taken in free spots in the course, dive team equipment, payment, or a combination of any of those three.

Other arrangements can also be made, based on a flat fee for up to 50 students.

Facility: classroom with white board or flip chart, projector for PowerPoint presentation, and video capability. We can supply these AV requirements if necessary.

Who Can Attend

* any law enforcement personnel including prosecutors and other such personnel
* medical examiners and coroners
* fire or dive team members with permission of host or Lifeguard Systems