A Bloody Good Time

Adjunct professor uses Media Production Center to enhance Criminal Justice forensics class 

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
October 11, 2014
Sheets of visqueen spattered with blood hung ceiling to floor around a man with a decidedly sinister look, hunched over and ready to swing his bloody mallet.

“It looks like a Dexter kill room,” says Jamie Peterson, manager of the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons Media Production Center where this debacle took place. (Dexter was a popular and notably gory Showtime TV series featuring a blood spatter pattern analyst for the Miami Police Department with a secret life as a serial killer.)

The feverish guy holding the hefty blunt instrument appears to have equally sinister inclinations, yet there was no victim in sight unless you count Alex Ellis, ’14, who filmed this horror show.

The villainous star is Al O’Brien, ’74, ’76 MPA, adjunct professor in criminal justice, one of the faculty members each quarter who take the plunge to discover how video might enhance their courses.  

In winter quarter, O’Brien, a 29-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, will teach a 10-week online course in forensics.

“I remember the days when police departments didn’t have computerized fingerprints or crime scene investigative teams and officers had to do the work themselves,” he says.  

That’s his warm-up to some of the real-life cop stories he’ll share in class. He examines shoe prints and tire tracks in one short video episode. For another, he and sidekick Ellis visit the police department’s shooting range near Boeing Field, hoping to detect gunshot residue on a pair of white gloves.

Then there are those gruesome blood spatters.

“Low velocity blood spatter is caused strictly by gravity—when you cut your hand while fixing dinner—and will be in circles on your kitchen floor. Medium velocity blood spatter—when someone is beaten with a baseball bat or hammer—tends to be round with a pointed end in the direction it’s traveling. High velocity blood spatters are in a fine spray normally caused by a gunshot,” he says, adding that a good blood spatter analyst can determine the height from which the gun was fired and where the perpetrator stood.

A Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran, O’Brien turned to politics after he left the police force. He became a city council member in Mountlake Terrace, then First District state representative for 14 years. He chaired the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee for a decade and teaches a graduate-level course in criminal justice legislation and policy. Among his other courses are a freshman Core course and one he hopes to offer in the spring on restorative justice, which draws together all parties in a crime and focuses on repairing the harm.

“I’m having a ball,” says O’Brien, who in his spare time volunteers at Harborview Medical Center where he brings communion to patients.   

About That Blood
Do-it-yourselfers might be familiar with the 14 or more recipes for fake blood out there on the Web. There’s maple syrup blood, congealed BBQ sauce blood, peanut butter blood, soy sauce blood, chocolate syrup and coffee blood and of course, the classic tomato blood.
Al O’Brien prefers this recipe (below) from Elizabeth Murray, a forensic anthropologist and professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.  

Seeing Red
How to make life-like “fake” blood  
1 – 1/3 cups water
2 cups powdered milk
1.5 ounces red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
5 drops blue food coloring

Slowly add water to the powdered milk while stirring constantly until you get the right consistency. Adjust the water to powdered milk ratio as necessary. Add food colorings. Mixture will keep about a week, but consistency may change over time. Makes about 3 cups.
Criminal Justice Adjunct Professor Al O'Brien, '74, '76 MPA, recreates blood spatter scenarios and patterns as part of a video-in-the-making for one of his forensics courses.