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Bloodhounds and Scent Evidence
Bloodhounds and Scent Evidence
by Kathy "Kat" Albrecht
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Because of their ability to scent discriminate and to work “cold” tracks, the
Bloodhound is a tool that can be utilized by investigators to develop leads in
criminal cases.  Bloodhounds are most often used to search for missing
persons, criminals who have fled the police, and prison escapees.  Yet many
police agencies, especially on the east coast, routinely utilize Bloodhounds at
“cold” crime scenes to retrace a criminal’s path and to develop leads.  Scent is
known as “the forgotten evidence” because it is invisible, it is deposited at most
crime scenes, it is not collected and it is underutilized.  By collecting scent from
the crime scene and utilizing a trained Bloodhound, an investigator can retrace
the path a suspect or victim walked.  This type of Bloodhound utilization has
resulted in locating witnesses, evidence, and suspects.

Bloodhounds are known as “man hunters” or “man trailers” and are
descendants of the seventh century French St. Hubert Hounds.  They were
imported into America sometime before the Revolutionary War.  In the sixteenth
century, Bloodhounds were used extensively to hunt men, especially poachers
and thieves.  Game Wardens using Bloodhounds often caught poachers with
fresh blood on their hands from skinning the game, giving rise to the popular
saying, “being caught red handed.”  So highly was their testimony regarded that
they were given the legal right to follow a trail anywhere, including into homes.  A
man refusing to allow a trailing Bloodhound into his house was assumed guilty.

Bloodhounds are no longer strictly used to work in rural and wilderness
environments.  Now they are routinely used by metropolitan police agencies to
track suspects in urban environments.  One of the most successful Bloodhound
programs currently in place is with the New York Police Department.  In their first
year, the N.Y.P.D. Bloodhounds ran 120 successful tracks.  According to K-9
handler Bruce Marsanico, Bloodhounds were added to the N.Y.P.D. K-9 Unit
because with patrol dogs “there was a definite deterioration in the ability to
follow someone as time passed.”  While the traditional patrol dogs did well
tracking suspects on a “hot” track, they became less effective as time passed
and as more people crossed over the track.

Bloodhounds should not be used to replace the traditional patrol dog as
Bloodhounds serve a separate function.  If a hot track is laid and a patrol dog is
available, the patrol dog should be called in first since they are trained to
apprehend a suspect.  Patrol dogs are versatile at tracking hot scent, searching
buildings and rural areas for a suspect, protecting officers and apprehending
suspects.  If a patrol dog is not successful or is unavailable and a Bloodhound is
to be used for a fresh felony track, a minimum of two additional officers should
be provided as backup.  When working a Bloodhound, the handler is focused on
watching their dog.  The backup officer’s job is to protect the team, to remain
oriented to their location, and to apprehend the suspect if located.  

While the patrol dog is considered a “general practitioner” with much training
emphasis on bite work, the Bloodhound is considered a “specialist” trained
strictly to do one thing, hunt down people.  A Bloodhound handler devotes 100%
of their training time on search work where they learn to interpret their hound’s
body language to determine if the hound is on or off the scent.  A Bloodhound is
trained to take the scent from a “scent article,” an object which contains the
suspect’s scent.  If a physical object is not left behind by the suspect, scent can
be collected by swabbing an area that the suspect touched.  The handler would
use a sterile gauze pad to collect scent from areas such as steering wheels, car
seats, a window sill, or even a body.   

Bloodhounds range in price from $300 to $1,000 depending on the quality.  A
good source of information and potential way to find a Bloodhound pup is by
using the Internet to view the websites of the “Bloodhound Bunch” and the
“Bloodhound Network.”  On average, it takes at least one year to train a
Bloodhound and handler to be ready for search work.  The routine training of a
Bloodhound includes working tracks in heavily populated areas, shopping malls,
and residential areas to expose the hound to distractions.  These training tracks
are aged anywhere from one hour to seven days.  Scent can remain in cool,
damp areas for several weeks, perhaps months.  Bloodhounds have been used
successfully on tracks that were over a week old.  In 1995, a Santa Clara County
Bloodhound tracked down a man who had been missing for eight days.  While it
is preferred that the Bloodhound be utilized as soon as possible, it remains a
viable tool to be called in hours, even days after a crime has taken place.

The following are examples of cases where Bloodhounds were used to provide
valuable, critical information to criminal investigations.  They demonstrate
situations where a case with few leads led to an apprehension based upon the
work of a Bloodhound.  The N.Y.P.D. case listed is an excerpt from an article
published in New York’s Finest magazine titled, “N.Y.P.D. Bloodhounds Lead
The Way.”  The cases handled by the Michigan and the Maryland handlers
occurred in 1996 and were related to me by the handlers themselves.

N.Y.P.D. 67th Precinct.  The mutilated body of a female was found on the
roof of a Manhattan apartment house.  There was no blood at the crime scene,
leaving investigators to believe the crime had been committed elsewhere.  But
where?  The Bloodhounds were called and led the officers to an apartment
building, to the bathtub in one of the apartments.  Lab analysis proved that the
body had been in the tub, and that the drain was still holding the victim’s blood.

Hagerstown, Maryland.  Maryland State Trooper Doug Lowry and his
Bloodhound Jimmy were called in to assist with a homicide investigation.  The
body of a woman was found in her apartment.  The woman’s wrists were bound,
her throat was slashed, and a rag was stuffed down her mouth.  Lowry used the
rag as scent material because it had been touched by the suspect.  Jimmy
scented off the rag, tracked from the apartment to the parking lot and sniffed at
some cigarette butts located in a vacant parking stall.  Jimmy continued to show
interest in this area of the parking lot and eventually indicated that there was no
foot trail leading away from the parking lot.  Lowry told investigators that Jimmy
had indicated that the suspect probably left in a vehicle parked in the parking
lot.  Investigators interviewed neighbors.  One neighbor reported that at 2:00 a.
m. they saw an unfamiliar sedan parked in the vacant parking stall with a subject
smoking a cigarette by the car.  Investigators obtained a surveillance video of
the parking lot from security and obtained a license tag from a sedan parked in
the stall with the cigarette butts.  Investigators contacted the registered owner
who came to the police station for questioning.  The subject confessed to the

Dearborn, Michigan.  Dearborn Police Department Corporal John Salem
and his Bloodhound Chester were instrumental in solving a murder/robbery of
an armored guard.  Through electronic mail, Corporal Salem described the
search as follows:

“We had an interesting armed robbery case in which two armored car guards
made a stop to stock an ATM.  The passenger guard was shot in the head and
dead on the scene.  The driver guard ran to call for help.  I ran Chester off the
empty cargo area of the armored car.  The strange thing is, he took a trail
consistent with where the driver guard said he ran to call for help.  The driver
guard had said he never went anywhere near the cargo area of the armored
car.  I then began thinking the driver guard was not telling the truth about
something.  Why would Chester take the suspect scent from the cargo area and
run the trail of the driver guard?  Unless the driver guard was in on the crime.

As a result, our detectives began focusing on the driver guard as a suspect.  
The driver guard became very nervous and refused to answer any more of our
questions without an attorney.  The next afternoon, our detectives reviewed the
ATM surveillance camera tape and Chester’s work was confirmed.  Apparently,
the camera captured the driver guard shooting his partner and helping to
unload the $1.2 million dollars from the cargo area.  He was then officially
charged with the murder/robbery.  The loot was unloaded into a pickup truck
driven away by the driver guard’s cousin.  Seven days later, the FBI located the
cousin in a local Red Roof Inn.  A shootout ensued and the cousin took his own
life.  They recovered about $1 million in the cousin’s hotel room.”

Dearborn, Michigan.  Corporal Salem and Chester were also used to help
solve a burglary.  Officers responded to an alarm at a Clark Gas Station.  Upon
arrival, they discovered a “smash and grab.”  The thief had taken cigarettes and
lighters, dropping several on the ground during his escape.  Corporal Salem
scented Chester off the dropped cigarettes and he began trailing, working into
the city of Detroit.  Chester worked the curbside of a roadway in a manner that
indicated he was following the residual scent of the suspect who was traveling in
a vehicle.  Chester worked in this manner until he approached a pickup truck at
Whitlock and Asbury Park.  Detroit P.D. had the pickup stopped for a traffic
violation when Chester jumped up on the pickup truck showing interest in the
driver.  Several packs of cigarettes and new lighters with the Clark Gas Station
logo were discovered when they looked inside the pickup.  The driver was
arrested for the burglary.

Currently there are only approximately fifteen Bloodhounds being used for
search work in the state of California.  The majority of these Bloodhounds are
handled by civilians or Reserve Officers with only three  being handled by police
officers (Irvine P.D., Alameda P.D., and U.C. Santa Cruz P.D.).  The counties
which currently have Bloodhounds available for search work are: Humboldt
County, Sonoma County, Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Santa Clara
County, Santa Cruz County, Yolo County, Tulare County, Orange County, and
Riverside County.  If your agency operates within one of these counties, you can
access the Bloodhound as an “in county resource.”  If your agency operates in a
county that does not have a Bloodhound, you can call the Office of Emergency
Services (OES) and request a “Police Bloodhound for a criminal search.”

Because Bloodhounds can work older tracks in an urban environment, they are
an ideal tool for criminal investigations.  In addition to being a resource for
search and rescue cases and criminal apprehensions, Bloodhounds make
excellent investigative tools.  Sexual assaults, homicides, and burglaries are just
a few examples of cases where Bloodhounds have proven useful.  As long as
scent evidence is available at a crime scene, Bloodhounds can be utilized.  By
retracing the route that a suspect or victim walked, Bloodhounds can help to
recover evidence, locate witnesses, and perhaps even catch a crook “red
Copyright 2008 © Barry M. Baker,
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