Crime Doesn’t Pay

Last week I, along with several other writers, took a tour of the Idaho State Police Crime Lab. Our tour guide, Rylene Nowlin, is a DNA specialist. 

During the tour, I saw and learned so many interesting things. From the processing of rape kits to cyanoacrylate (super glue) fuming to develop latent fingerprints, and everything in-between. 

For obvious reasons, we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the crime lab. Here’s a shot of the outside of the building.


Rylene shared stories that made us laugh (some people are clearly out to eliminate themselves from the gene pool), and stories that curled our hair (how can people be so cruel?).  

Did you know that a coroner is an elected official who doesn’t have to have a medical degree? In fact, they don’t have to have any type of degree. None whatsoever. They just have to be able to get elected. There are places where the local feed store operator is a coroner.

On the other hand, a medical examiner by definition is a licensed physician, and in most cases, they’re trained to be forensic pathologists. They’re appointed to the position. 

Some states have both coroners (usually in the rural areas) and medical examiners (usually in the non-rural areas). 

Did you know that forensics is a female-dominated field? That is so up my alley (when I was growing up I wanted to be a mad scientist). In another lifetime I’m going into forensics! 

In another lifetime, what field of study would you go into?


87 thoughts on “Crime Doesn’t Pay

  1. Yes, indeed, Laurie, I have wondered about Dottie Owen’s need to be elected as a Coroner! And I believe that there was some controversary about her in year’s past that threatened her re-election. What was that all about? Did she steal a Rolex off of a body? I doubt that because a body isn’t going to get to her role level with any valuables in tact, except for gold fillings! The good news that I have learned from you now is that I can run against Dottie to replace her as Coroner when her “term (time) is up”! But just what should my campaign theme be here? In answer to your initial question, I would be an accounting forensic specialist, an investigative detective or reporter (think 48 hours!), or a Prosecutor with a 2nd try at OJ Simpson! Another lifetime is nice to consider, especially because in this lifetime I have only learned what I should “have been” instead!

    • Jan — I like your thought process. And while math isn’t my strong suit, I think being an accounting forensic specialist would be extreeeeeeemly interesting. Just imagine what you could uncover! 🕵️‍♀️🔍

  2. Laurie, a brilliant tour and I’m impressed they take groups around – Many thanks for sharing! As young I dreamt of being an astronaut since I was fascinated by everything to do with space and was in awe of the first space shuttle launches! Fear of flying, heights and average maths ensured this dream remained just that!

  3. Possibly a neonatal care nurse. When my fourth grandson had to be admitted to such a unit at a teaching hospital, I was very moved and empathized with other grandparents and parents going through that trauma. He spent about 10 days there with dysphagia (swallowing difficulties). I don’t know if I could have actually stood it to be involved in drawing blood, inserting tubes, administering shots–but maybe to rock and comfort such little ones if possible.

    I’m fascinated too that such a tour was available to you–organized by the writers group I presume? Did not realize coroners are elected. Interesting!

    • Melodie — Yes, the Idaho Writers Guild is the one who organized the tour as part of their “Mystery Writers Academy” program.

      I’m with you in holding, rocking, and comforting babies in the neonatal unit. 👶

  4. Thanks for the insights, Laurie. Yes, I also wondered about doing something like forensics in a future life. Although I’ve already tried quite a few things in this life, but I think I’ve left it a bit late… I’ve worked in forensic psychiatry and that’s quite interesting, but I’ve always loved puzzles and that seems perfect. 😉

  5. In another life, I would be an archeologist. It´s a field that has always fascinated me. I´m sure it was a great tour but one I couldn´t do as I am very squeamish.

  6. Just when I was expecting a peek into your kitchen cabinet, you give us a crime lab tour. Very educational, but not on my bucket list, I’m afraid.

    In another life, I’d be an arborist or landscape/garden designer. I could be both artsy and in touch in nature! Great question, Laurie.

  7. This sounds like a really interesting tour Laurie. In my youth I wanted to be a doctor, but it was not my destiny. I remember a forensics scientist coming to speak to us at school. It was fascinating. I love reading forensic thrillers to this day.

  8. I’ve always said that I should have been an optometrist. They’re doctors, but they don’t have to anything really disgusting. They can schedule office hours to suit their personal life. They can pursue creative hobbies in their off times (which are quite regular and predictable), and they make a lot more money than I do now. A missed boat.

  9. I wonder how many state police agencies offer similar tours? How fantastic to get the inside perspective. I can imagine you delighting in every moment.

    I have read most of Kathy Reich’s Bones crime thriller series featuring Temperance Brennan which was also a long running TV series. She is an American crime writer and forensic anthropologist as well as an academic. She writes engaging, suspenseful, and technically accurate stories. She also has another series directed to the young adult reader. Apparently, she is now on leave (well deserved). I appreciate the technical dimension of her work. Interesting factoid, Kathy Reich’s is a Chicago native.

    I am a natural researcher. In a future life I would enjoy taking my curiosity and love of learning into some research field. I would also need to be born with more of a capacity for research statistics which, in college, was not my strong suit.

    • Audrey — I’ve never seen the “Bones” television series, but I have the books on my to-read list. (If we don’t die until we finish all of the books on our to-read list, I’m here for eternity).

      Reseaarch statistics? Yikes! That’s definitely not my strong suit.

  10. Wonderful question, Laurie! I thought about this for a long time and realized there is nothing I’d rather do in this life than what I’m doing now (which I didn’t get serious about until retirement). So…I would start writing at a younger age and stick to it, even while working at real-world jobs.

  11. I didn’t know about the election of coroners: how interesting!

    I think if I could live my life all over again, I would like to be a Marine Biologist and help protect the sea from pollution and save sea life.

  12. In British Columbia Canada I believe you do not have to be a made a medical doctor to be a coroner but in Ontario you do. They are not elected positions though but rather a hiring process for appointment and in small and rural communities are on call and paid as need. So if you criminal crosses a State or Provincial border and a murder happens Laurie you will need to know who will investigate. Who knew crime writing would be so complicated? I can imagine the glee on your face as you rub your hands together! 🙂

    • Terrill — I learned something new from you. In the current mystery/thriller/suspense series I’m writing that takes place in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll have to remember that for future books if/when I have characters cross the border into Canada. You’ve set the wheels in my mind to spinning ⚙️

  13. How wonderful Laurie and who knew Coroners were elected…not me…Forensics would suit me as I love investigating or maybe Prime Minister…I would weed out the dead wood and then turn my attention to the environment and sneaky manufacturers…If only wishes came true …haha…

  14. Maybe you’ll be a mystery writer? Given the opportunity, I love architecture – planning spaces. Just what I’d have done I don’t know. I did get to design a cabin for my husband and me back in the mid 1980s.

  15. What would I do? Very good question that I cannot answer. I have thought at times of various options, none of which really appeal to me today. I do love to research things I’m curious about – just not sure I’d be willing to dig as deeply as that really requires as a profession. Perhaps. As for forensics – nope, could not would not want to do. At least not the medical kind.

  16. That Forensic tour sounds incredible and right up my alley as a mystery writer. My Toronto police consultant is a forensic expert (blood spatters and footprints) so I guess I should see if I can get a tour of the Forensic Lab here.

    In another life I would be a writer and gardener. Which is what I am now. Maybe start a little earlier to write mystery books and get them published. Guess woven in with those two would be – bestselling author and have more money so I don’t have to scrimp, make do and do without some things. However, I do have my share of books and plants.

  17. CSI was one of my favorites, I loved the way they pieced together clues through science and deduction to reach the conclusion of who done it. I always wanted to be a writer.

  18. I would love to be an archaeologist. I’ve always been fascinated with finding history through artifacts. I’ve participated in a couple digs, and think that, if I had time for another career, it would be and exciting way to live.

  19. Without a shadow of a doubt psychology . It’s a must for practically any job you are in even my chosen profession Hairdressing, as daft as it sounds . To understand the mind is a beautiful thing .
    That blooming tickled me …a mad scientist 😂

  20. Laurie, I know you have had a fascination with forensics for some years now. You also have a much stronger constitution than I have, I would be more liable to be retching in the corner. Had I chosen another career it would have still been in the horti-agricultural field. Yet it still involves forensics of a sort, I would love to go into Pasture Management. Living in a state that relies on Agriculture, modern day pasture management is worlds away from my grandfather’s pasturage, yet relies on lessons learned from the past. Herbicides like glyphosate are destroying the natural balance, diversity is a much better option for healthier feed and animals. Start with clean soil and work up.

  21. I always wanted to be a College Professor – I had several years of teaching at the community college 1 or 2 classes a semester, but then my classes got too full and there was a wait list and then tenured faculty got me booted. I did work 5 years developing a Campus Ministry Program for The Evergreen State College which was a glorious experience, I taught with a number of faculty over the years It only paid $500 a month with no benefits and I was working about 70 hours a week and could not afford daycare – then a special needs child came into our lives. My Dyscalcula and $ made finishing a doctorate impossible I would want to have lots of money so I could volunteer my services for many, many endeavors…mostly surrounding lifting people to their highest good.

    • Susanne — Someone else does it for them. Here’s what I found: “A coroner is an independent judicial official who investigates human deaths. Most coroners are elected officials who lack the specialized medical training that would allow them to conduct autopsies. That job falls to the medical examiner, who is a physician, and typically serves by appointment. The coroner’s role at a crime scene depends on the jurisdiction. Some coroners serve as administrators, while others oversee the handling of the body, and call legal inquiries in suspicious death cases.”

  22. I wanted to be a jet pilot but I’d also like to be a musician. I have no talent at music, and now it’s late to start a flying career (and also expensive). So I think I’m who I’m meant to be.

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