“It’s kind of like eating an elephant,” started Karen Smith, Forensic Scientist and Founder of Bare Bones Consulting, who specializes in crime scene reconstruction. She continued, “In order to tackle these feats, you have to take it one bite at a time.”
There was no glitz, no glam, and no bullshit. In her dark suit with her long blonde hair pulled back into a sophisticated french braid, Smith explained during her CrimeCon: On The Run lesson how she’s conducted 500 death investigations and worked 20,000 other cases - she knows crime scene reconstruction like the back of her hand.
Smith captivated the room as she began to share the heartbreaking story of murder victim, Kim Dorsey. Smith was using the Florida homicide case she worked on to educate the audience about what it’s like to go back to the scene of a brutal murder, and work painstakingly for days to recreate the story.
Kim Dorsey was bludgeoned, zip tied to a nightstand, sexually assaulted, and stabbed in her own bedroom.
If anyone on the forensic team missed even a speck of blood, it could throw off the narrative of the whole crime, telling the story incorrectly, and resulting in the killer walking free. Smith added to the tension by saying,
“There’s a lot of pressure. If you’re not terrified, you’re not doing it right.”
With fierce eye contact, Smith told us that she was about to display graphic crime scene photos. If we couldn’t handle it, we should probably leave, but no one left. Everyone wanted to hear what happened to Kim Dorsey.
“This case was messed up from the beginning,” says Smith.
Two first-timer Crime Scene Investigators arrived at the Jacksonville home and knew the scene was way out of their league in terms of complexity. One of their superiors told them to ‘just handle it’ as he went out for dinner, so the rookies took as many photos as they could using their limited knowledge. As time went on, it was reinforced to them that Kim’s murder scene was too complicated to untangle.
The pair called for more senior reinforcements, and Karen Smith came to the rescue.
By the time she arrived, all the evidence was cleared away, Kim Dorsey’s body was with the medical examiner, and the murder weapon was packaged out. She was working with nothing but amateur crime scene photos, and tiny red dots.
“I ended up working for three or four days to recreate the crime scene... on top of drinking almost a dozen cups of coffee."
When you look at the photos of the bedroom, besides a few blood-soaked spots in the carpet, it seems like a straightforward murder. But, Karen Smith knew better.
With her trusted magnifying glass, Smith crouched down to look at all the elements of the carpet, the bedspread, and the walls. To everyone’s surprise, Kim Dorsey’s blood was on every square inch of the master bedroom.
Smith was able to use her expertise in Blood Spatter Analysis to calculate the trajectory, or direction, of the patterns left around the room. She used string for 3D diagrams to show movement. A clearer picture of the murder began to take shape.
“The first thing I noticed when I came into the room were impact patterns,” Smith said. Her PowerPoint slide showed an image of little blood droplets sprayed up on a wall that began at around the height of Kim Dorsey’s head.
“She was sucker-punched in the face. You typically bleed a lot from that area, and you become incredibly disoriented.”
Smith hypothesized that after Kim Dorsey was initially struck in the face, she must’ve been in incredible pain, and wouldn’t be able to see. It was then that her attacker took control, and zip tied her to one of the nightstands. But, Kim’s body was found on the other side of the room.
How did she get over there?
Smith found a revolver thrown under the bed with all five shots fired, and it’s box in the upper drawer of the nightstand. But, Kim didn’t suffer from any gunshot wounds.
After looking around the area, Smith found the bullets lodged in the wall across the hall toward the kitchen. She used fluorescent wire (and a lot of math) to backtrack the path of the bullets and found that they were fired from the spot in front of the nightstand.
This tells Smith that somehow, after Kim was zip tied, she was able to manuever out of the restraints, get the gun out of the drawer, and fire all five shots through the door toward the attacker who had stepped out into the kitchen.
Unfortunately, Kim missed all of her shots - likely because she was still disoriented.
With the help of Luminal - a chemical spray that makes blood glow with a bluish hue - Smith mapped out the rest of the story.
After firing all five shots, Kim got up and ran across the room toward the window. There were blood transfer stains on the curtains, the sting for the blinds, and even the glass itself.
Her attacker wasn’t far behind because soon after, based on the rest of Smith’s blood spatter analysis, it was concluded that he pulled her backwards. She hit her head on the bottom of the bed frame, and she was stabbed to death.
Smith collected DNA evidence of blood that she deemed to be from Kim’s killer, and sent it out for analysis.
Within a few days, a match came back, and they had their guy: Lance Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick lived with Kim and her husband for sometime so he could save up some money and get back on his feet. Kim hated him, and thought he was creepy. She wanted him out, so a few weeks before the murder, Kim’s husband asked him to leave.
Kirkpatrick came back to the house seeking revenge on Kim. It was a brutal murder saturated with anger that you could see in every drop of blood.
Because of Smith’s thorough analysis, the police department was able to create a narrative of Kirkpatrick’s sadism, which helped land him in prison. Without a story, there would’ve never been a clear motive.
What struck me the most about Karen Smith’s presentation was how she never strayed away from keeping Kim at the center of the conversation. Smith began her talk by saying,
“I use this content for educational purposes only, this is not to be sensationalized.”
At the end of her presentation, she concluded with a moment to remember, and dedicate the opportunity, to Kim Dorsey.
This is a condensed version of what I learned and took away from the hour-long event mentioned above which I attended during CrimeCon, presented by Oxygen.
Karen Smith's full interview with NBC's Dateline can be found here.
Her website for Bare Bones Consulting can be found here.