Crash and Spatter

To purchase a ticket for this special event, click here. If you'd like to be contacted when another crime lab tour and lecture are scheduled, subscribe to LAVA's occasional Crime Lab Newsletter.

Join us in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the development of new breakthroughs in forensic science coming out of the Criminalistics Department.

We are delighted to announce the debut crime lab appearance of Prof. David Raymond, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CSULA. Prof. Raymond will provide an overview of Forensic Engineering with a focus on his specialty, Forensic Injury Biomechanics. The presentation will introduce attendees to the field of forensic engineering and subspecialties; including injury biomechanics. Dr. Raymond will provide some historical background on the genesis of this field along with modern applications of injury biomechanics in engineering design and in forensic applications. Finally Dr. Raymond will demonstrate the utility of biomechanics in forensic science through the presentation of real-world cases.

For the second presentation, LAVA crime lab host Prof. Donald Johnson will provide an overview of Blood Stain Patterning through his long working relationship with Dr. Raymond.

The first topic covered will be the development of an Automated Imaging System for Blood Stain Patterning, demonstrating their work in producing more sophisticated mathematical models—recognizing that trajectories are arcs, not straight lines, for example — leading up to a means by which wound origin and trajectories can be quickly processed by forensic investigators at crime scenes. Numerous real-life case examples will be used to illustrate this discussion.

Next Prof. Johnson will discuss their work on micro RNA, which is leading to determination of wound of origin for blood stains. Using the 1990s-era British murder case against Sion Jenkins as a jumping off point, Prof. Johnson will explain the methodology and instruments by which his graduate students are learning how to pinpoint proteins in RNA specific to respective organs and account for them in blood stain patterns.

By proving the wound of origin for blood evidence, forensic scientists can discount the claims of suspects who insist a victim’s blood at a crime scene got there by innocent means (nose bleed, minor accidental injury, etc.). Using the new analytical methods developed in Prof. Johnson’s lab, a scientist can prove that the blood stain in question originated with bleeding from the lungs, and not from the mucus membrane in the victim’s nasal passage.

Name Dropper: Investigating the Clark Rockefeller Mystery

To purchase a ticket for this special event, click here. If you'd like to be contacted when another crime lab tour and lecture are scheduled, subscribe to LAVA's occasional Crime Lab Newsletter.

Join us in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon's inquiry into the development of the science of forensic investigation in the L.A. area.

We are delighted to announce the debut crime lab appearance of crime reporter Frank Girardot, author of Name Dropper: Investigating the Clark Rockefeller Mystery.

Join Frank in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab, as he presents in depth on the fascinating Clark Rockefeller mystery, and offers a selection of memorable incidents from his crime reporter’s notebook.

Presentation One:

Frank’s first presentation will be on Clark Rockefeller, which is the tale of a teenaged German immigrant who remade himself into a welcome and respected member of Boston’s wealthiest neighborhood. The story might have followed that oft-told American tale of opportunity for all, but like all good Hollywood scripts, the tale of Clark Rockefeller had a dark twist. Namely murder.

In April 2013, Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, was convicted in the 1985 slaying of John Sohus. Gerhartsreiter didn’t only kill Sohus, he buried the trisected body in the backyard of a home in San Marino — one of L.A. wealthiest neighborhoods. And then he vanished along with Sohus’ new wife Linda, a 6-foot, 200-pound, red-headed Amazon with a flair for dark science fiction and strange fantasy.

He may have left San Marino, but Gerhartsreiter’s quest to become a member of wealthy and privileged American society continued. During the height of the Reagan Administration he worked under the assumed name of Christopher Crowe as a broker for some of Wall Street’s toniest firms. When the cops came looking for him, Crowe became Rockefeller and embarked upon one of the greatest cons ever pulled on high society. As Rockefeller, the onetime immigrant had a pad down the street from the United Nations. He hobnobbed with celebrities, collected art and bragged about his dogs.

Rockefeller eventually married Sandy Boss, a respected financial analyst with a seven-figure annual income. But when the couple got divorced and Clark kidnapped their daughter, the past came knocking.

The murder case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence that singularly might not have amounted to a conviction. Taken together the evidence, which included blood, fingerprints, old ID cards and a stolen car, was solid. What resulted in the conviction? Probably a simple light shone on a plastic bag sold in a university bookstore for a very limited period of time. The man once known as Rockefeller is now simply Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 52, a resident of a medium security prison in the San Joaquin Valley serving out a 25-to-life sentence for killing John Sohus.

As for Linda? She has never resurfaced.

For Frank’s second lecture, he will lower his guard, roll up his sleeves, and look back on three decades in the newspaper business reporting on criminal investigations and the law enforcement agencies which conduct them, distilling for us the best and the worst, like how a murderous tagger might as well have signed his name at the crime scene, or the paramedics who left brain matter on a dead man’s driveway for his family to clean up, or a con-man who used Craigslist to bilk dozens of needy would-be renters, and what still keeps him up at night: an unsolved double murder in Monrovia that occurred during a ride-along in the 1990s.

ABOUT FRANK GIRARDOT: Frank Girardot is the editor of the Pasadena Star-News. Born in Detroit, Michigan, raised in the Silicon Valley, he got start as a copy boy in the late 1980s. Working as a newspaper reporter and editor in Los Angeles since 1989, he has covered floods, fires, explosions, strikes, plane crashes, rapes, suicides, amnesia victims, political conventions, and the murder trial of OJ Simpson. Favorite pastime is following a good murder, as is evidenced in his new book, Name Dropper: Investigating the Clark Rockefeller Mystery.

Richard's 45th Birthday Bus Tour

You are cordially invited to join us on a once-in-a-lifetime Esotouric bus adventure: Richard’s 45th birthday road trip. As with past birthday bus excursions, this will be an extended and extraordinary day of Southern California historic exploration and celebration, interspersed with running commentary from Richard’s mother, home movies and cake.

This year our compass points to the Antelope Valley, where we’ll be visiting two very different State Parks for guided tours from expert native guides, and a unique museum run by the City of Lancaster.

First stop on the tour is the Western Hotel Museum, in the city of Lancaster. The Western Hotel Museum is one of the most visible links Lancaster has to its heritage. At the turn of the century, the two-story hotel was a vital part of local culture, accommodating everyone from muleskinners to British lords. After years of different owners and purposes, the hotel fell into a state of disrepair during the 1970s and was condemned. Lancaster residents, rallied to save the once-grand hotel. This resulted in the formation of the Western Hotel Historical Society. Restoration was completed in 1988, and the hotel/museum now houses photographs and artifacts that depict the history of the people who built, worked and lived in the Western Hotel.

Next, we’ll visit the Antelope Valley Indian Museum for a tour of the collection and historic buildings by Peggy Ronning, the Museum’s current curator and Edra Moore, the founding curator.

The Antelope Valley Indian Museum is rich in history and character. Los Angeles cinema scenic artist Howard Arden Edwards and his family homesteaded the land in the 1920s and constructed the fanciful, Germanic buildings as a repository for his amateur collection of American Indian artifacts. While Edwards’ collecting methods and interpretive choices are today controversial, he amassed a remarkable collection, which attracted the site’s next caretaker, Grace Wilcox Oliver. In the 1950s the property briefly was a dude ranch. In the 1960s, Oliver reclaimed the museum and sought a longterm steward for the collection and buildings. In 1979, it became part of the State Park system, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) brought major funding and a renewed focus on stabilizing and cataloging the collection under the supervision of founding curator, Edra Moore. In the early 2000s, curator Peggy Ronning took over management, and began a nearly ten year campaign to restore and stabilize the structure, including creating a geothermal temperature control system.

The museum is 80 years old this year and has never looked better. Join us for an in depth look at how a 1920s roadside attraction and curio stand has been transformed into a viable scholarly resource and cultural attraction.

The last stop on the tour will be The Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, where Ranger Jean Rhyne will lead us on a guided walk of this preserve, thick with mature stands of Joshua trees and California juniper trees in their native western Mojave Desert habitat. Join us for a glimpse into the Antelope Valley as it was in centuries past.

Instructions for guests: Bring a picnic lunch. We’ll have lunch at the Antelope Valley Indian Museum’s extensive vintage picnic facilities upon our arrival. After the museum tour, we’ll have birthday cake and coffee, then depart on the bus for the Woodland walk. The entire trip from Los Angeles and back will take about 8 hours. We recommend bringing good walking shoes, a camera, a warm coat, plenty of water, your lunch and anything you’d like to snack on during the day.

The tour leaves from the Daily Dose in the Arts District, where there is ample free parking in the neighborhood. Please pay attention to posted street signs. The Daily Dose is a great place for breakfast, but we recommend that you arrive about a half an hour before check in, so that neither you nor the cafe is rushed.

This is a special event. No passes or special discounts apply. Tickets are $47.

Boom! American Bombings, 1876-1990

To purchase a ticket for this special event, click here. If you'd like to be contacted when another crime lab tour and lecture are scheduled, subscribe to LAVA's occasional Crime Lab Newsletter.

We are delighted to announce a return engagement by LAVA favorite Ed Nordskog, Senior Arson Investigator for the LASD and author of "Torchered" Minds: Case Histories of Notorious Serial Arsonists and the newly-released Fire Raisers, Freaks and Fiends: Obsessive Arsonists in the California Foothills.

Join Ed in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab, as he presents an expansive and illuminating overview of a poorly understood aspect of American true crime lore: the history of political and organized crime bombings.

Ed's presentation will cover six distinct periods and themes:

  • 1876-1906 - Labor Movement bombings, such as the Haymarket Affair of 1886, the inspiration for May Day demonstrations.
  • 1920-41 - Communist or Anarchist bombings, perpetrated by recent US immigrants who had been involved with these political movements in Europe.
  • 1950s - Civil RIghts-era bombings, dynamite and fire bombings of blacks churches and Jewish temples which supported the Civil Rights movement. Targets also included homes of individuals. A vast majority of these bombings remain unsolved.
  • 1970s - Left Wing radical bombings; thousands of incidents perpetrated by dozens of individual groups, including small splinter organizations.
  • 1980s - Right Wing radical bombings, reflecting the opposite end of the political spectrum from the bombings of the 1970s, but exhibiting similar modes of attack.
  • 20th Century - Organized Crime bombings, which are unique and bear no relation to the other types of incident.

By the end of Ed's presentation, attendees will have gained familiarity with the different eras and motivations of American bombers, the tactics and types of explosive devices used, and the individuals and institutions targeted by the various groups.

Copies of Ed Nordskog's books will be available for purchase during the program. 

Serial Time for Tiny Humans!

The Ukulady and her imaginary friend, Astrid Strudelman, the Unicorn Whisperer, host the kids show of the LA Storytelling Festival!  6 Amazing storytellers weave magical adventures and meep for tiny humans and handlers!  Featuring Astrid Strudelman, the Unicorn Whisperer, Heidi Swedberg, Don Black, Jackie Jones, Jayne Entwistle and Mista Cookie Jar!  At Santa Monica's only bookstore geared for kids and their handlers!  Cookies, Snacks, Friends, Music, Stories!   Meep with us and bring the tiny humans in your life!

Los Angeles 1920-1947: The Birth of Forensic Science

To purchase a ticket for this special event, click here. If you'd like to be contacted when another crime lab tour and lecture are scheduled, subscribe to LAVA's occasional Crime Lab Newsletter.

Join us in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the development of the science of forensic investigation in the L.A. area.

Presentation One:

Mike Fratantoni, an LASD Deputy who sits on the board of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Museum, makes a return engagement to the crime lab to present the fascinating and complex 1920 James “Bluebeard” Watson serial murder case, which had a profound impact on the development of the LASD’s homicide department. This new department allowed future investigators to maximize efficiency by pooling resources for evidence gathering and analysis, often using the forensic skills of contract chemist Arthur Mass.

James Watson married at least 18 women throughout the United States, several simultaneously. He placed “lonely hearts” personal ads in newspapers which read:

“A gentleman, neat appearing, of courteous disposition, well connected in a business way; has quite a little property, and is connected with several corporations. Has a nice bank account as well as a considerable roll of government bonds. Would be pleased to correspond with refined young lady or widow. Object, matrimony. This advertisement is in good faith. All answers will be treated with respect.”

There was no shortage of lonely women who took the bait and accepted the lie that he had to travel frequently for his work in the U.S. Secret Service. He targeted wealthy women, took control of their finances, and killed at least seven—perhaps as many as fifteen.

If it were not for the suspicions of his final wife, Kathryn, and the insight and tenacity of the LASD investigators Bell and Couts, District Attorney Thomas L. Woolwine simply would have had nothing more on James Watson than a case of polygamy to take to a judge. Instead, Watson made a deal on the multiple murders, led investigators to a shallow grave, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Presentation Two:

Meiling Cabral, Chair of the California Association of Criminalists’ Historical Committee, and a forensic investigator for the LAPD, will present on three defining LAPD and LASD cases that influenced the development of modern forensic investigation. Meiling combines a practicing forensic scientist’s experience and an historian’s passion for reconstructing the past, to bring to life the legendary Los Angeles investigators who invented the field. Looming above them all is the LAPD’s Ray Pinker, who would go on to found the CSULA Criminalistics Department, the site of today’s seminar. Vintage forensic collection kits will be available for viewing between presentations.

Featured cases are the Marion Parker kidnap slaying (1927), the Wineville chicken coop murders (1928) and the Black Dahlia murder (1947). Fingerprints played an important role in both the Marion Parker and Black Dahlia cases. LAPD Captain H.L. Barlow, the forensic investigator on the Parker case, was so famous that he later sold his namesake fingerprint kit through ads in the back of detective magazines. The story of how LAPD homicide detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown accessed cutting edge telephony to rush the fingerprints of the unidentified Black Dahlia victim to the FBI for identification is as riveting today as it was when it made headlines. The death penalty case against Gordon Stewart Northcott, the Wineville boy killer, was based entirely on trace evidence: hair and fiber gathered at his murder ranch.

Stealing Time to Write: A Retreat for Women

 LAVA Visionaries April Dammann and Adrienne Crew are alumnae of Hedgebrook, a writers retreat for women located on an island in the Puget Sound of Washington State. They are both involved with Hedgbrook's Southern California Alumnae Council, which will be hosting a one-day retreat designed to give writers the space and time to just write in an unstructured, quiet environment on Sunday, August 4, 2013 at the old Doheny mansion near USC in Los Angeles.

See details below or review the brochure here:

One-Day Writers’ Retreat at  Downtown LA campus of Mount Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles

9AM – 5:30PM

Turn off your clocks, schedules, and expectations. This is a day to nurture body and soul, commune with your muse, and above all write. Women writers of all experience levels and interests are warmly welcomed.

Participants may join writing circles to inspire imagination and hone craft, write quietly in community with others, wander to the “farmhouse table” for talk about writing and group feedback, or simply sit under a tree and dream. In the afternoon, industry professionals and Hedgebrook alumnae will be available for one-on-one mentoring. Feedback on work will always be given with the utmost respect for the writer’s vision. Participants should note, however, that the Retreat is a day for rejuvenation, not for detailed manuscript review.

Enjoy a day inspired by Hedgebrook!

Click here for details or registration info.

Staple Draping Once More with Fashion on the Fly

It's time once more to learn staple draping with Fashion on the Fly!

Staple draping is a fun, fast and effective technique for creating anything made of material. And I mean anything, from upholstery to car covers to clothes.  (No, we will not bring your car into the classroom. Yes, we can drape it in the parking lot.) You'll learn to make your own shapes and patterns, and even learn how to alter your clothes to make them fit and look better. If enough folks are interested, we'll do a duct-tape mannequin session. This way you can staple drape yourself at home without straining to reach your own back.

Saturdays, June 29, July 13 and July 20 (no class July 6th)
TIME: 12 PM- 3 PM
COST: $45 (due at registration) plus $20 materials fee for scissors, fabrics, staples and a stapler.
AGES: 16 years and older

REGISTER ONLINE/by PHONE/ in PERSON at or (626) 744-7500

Instructor: costume creatrix, LAVA Visionary and professional goofball A. Laura Brody, currently working with Nickelodeon and Disney XDTV.

Ask me about class details at or at


L.A. Premiere of INTO THE ZONE - The Story of the Cacophony Society

INTO THE ZONE (ITZ) follows the evolution of Cacophonists from the San Francisco Suicide Club in 1977, the exploits of the SF Cacophony (1986), their nexus creating the Burning Man Festival to Los Angeles Cacophony (1990-2005) and beyond. Featuring Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame, who expresses the essence of what drove the Cacophony Society's exploits. ITZ leads the viewer through the madness and mayhem of a cast of miscreants who expose and exploit the norms of society to shape and enliven Amerikan culture. The Cacophony Society is a randomly gathered network of free spirits engaged in the pursuit of 'experiences beyond the mainstream.' YOU MAY ALREADY BE A MEMBER

Ticket information will be up soon on or the more frequently updated Facebook page

Nick Gabaldon Day 2013 - Celebrate Surf History in Santa Monica

The Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Santa Monica Conservancy  and other groups will offer a day of surf lessons and activities for young and old to commemorate the life of Nick Gabaldon (1927–1951), the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican descent, and the heritage of the historical African American beach site, sometimes formerly called the “Inkwell.”  The day is a celebration of our California seaside, cultural and historical heritage, and outreach to promote historical studies, surfing and ocean stewardship.