Case Study 19: Amityville Handgun

With the recent release of the latest reboot of the Amityville Horror franchise, we thought it’d be interesting to revisit this case study from a few years back.

Client Need: A documentary filmmaker was producing a three part series exploring the real-life case history of the 1974 homicide case which inspired the Amityville Horror franchise. Entitled Shattered Hopes, the series examined some never fully answered questions in the murder investigation.

After extensive research of police files, the filmmaker suspected a second firearm was never recovered from the crime scene. It was his belief that the gun, a snub-nose .38, was discarded in a nearby canal.

Solution: Aqua Survey performed a survey of the section of canal in question. Towing an EM (electromagnetic) array behind one of our vessels, 317 metal objects were located and mapped to within inches of accuracy.

Using advanced computer analytics, Aqua Survey’s geophysicists generated a small list of high-priority targets.
Using DGPS, an Aqua Survey vessel placed the recovery team over each target location. An EM-tipped probe was then hand-pushed into the sediment to further pinpoint each object. Once the probe was in close proximity to the target, a diver was splashed to investigate it.

Result: Upon diving on the third target, the remains of the trigger/receiver section of a top-break revolver, seemingly of .38 caliber, was discovered. The gun was promptly bagged and tagged by the Suffolk County Police, who supervised the recovery.

What If:
What if Aqua Survey was brought in to survey a crime scene that was only hours or days old? How would the retrieval team handle the recovery differently and why?

What If Solution: Great care would be taken by the diver to place the item and surrounding material into the evidence bag with minimum disruption. Not only could the item have trace amounts of DNA or partial fingerprints from its owner, but, in the case of a gun barrel, could actually have the victim’s DNA, due to a phenomenon known as blowback. When a bullet is fired, it creates a vacuum, pulling air into the gun. When used at close range, the barrel may contain blood and tissue from the victim. Additionally, sometimes even a single strand of fiber found on an item can be enough to trace back to a piece of clothing owned by a particular individual or even to his or her car’s interior carpeting.