Hello, RPD Series readers! This is the fourth installment in a series of questionnaires o rinterviews – character profiles, if you will – answered by the men and women of the Riverdale PD and Calera County Crime Lab themselves.
This time, we are joined by everyone’s favorite Californian, criminalist Conrad Ward:
Name: Conrad David Ward
Age: I turned 33 on August 15 , 2013
Occupation: Criminalist at the Calera County Crime Lab; specialty: imprints and tool marks.
About: I guess I should start with the obvious, huh? As it says already, I work for the Crime Lab, specializing in imprints and tool marks. All that really means is that if something leaves a mark on something else, it’s my job to figure out what that first something is. I recently completed advanced specialization in fingerprinting, as well.
I was born in San Diego, California, and moved here to Riverdale about eight years ago. I was laid off from the crime lab I used to work for in California when budget cuts forced the lab to downsize. It was lucky, really, that I knew a guy who knew a guy and was able to find a position here when I did, or I would probably still be unemployed [Laughs]. I don’t know, maybe I would have become a cliche and started giving surfing lessons or something.
Let’s see… My parents, David and Cassandra, and my sister, Candace, still live in California. Mom and Dad are both retired, still in San Diego, and Candace is an ER doctor in Santa Barbara.
Uhh…my best friend is Neil Coates, and, by extension, Shots – I mean, Robin Dorian – has become a dear friend, as well. Neil’s cousin, Noah Harkham, is someone I consider a friend, too – and Frankie. We’re all a pretty close-knit group.
What else would you like to know?
[JIO: How do you feel about Cal Parker leaving the lab?]
Oh, wow, starting out with the gloves off, huh? Okay, I’ll roll. It sucks, to be honest. I mean, I understand – now – what he must be going through, how he must have been feeling. But what I still don’t understand is why he didn’t talk to us, you know? At least give us some warning. I could have helped or done something – [sighs] The short answer is: I’m still upset by it. Obviously.
[JIO: Have you heard from him since?]
[JIO: Okay. Sorry, let’s move on to something more pleasant. Frankie said that you like to swim with sharks?]
[Laughs] Did he? Well, as much as I would love to have that be my reputation, the truth is that I only went once, with a group of friends back in California. We all got into these huge metal cages. We stayed in there for about half an hour and saw four or five little guys – blue sharks, I think – come through, but none really stayed around. [Laughs] Not quite the harrowing adventure you expected, huh? [Shrugs] Sorry to disappoint.
[JIO: But you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie, right?]
Oh, sure! Surfing, snowboarding, racing… if it’s fast, I’m up for it.
[JIO: But you don’t do well with heights, I understand.]
Ah, not so much. I get vertigo sometimes. Neil’s got me rock climbing a bit now, but I think it’s gonna be a long time before anyone convinces me to, like, jump out of a plane or something. I’m not completely insane.
[JIO: That might be debatable…Okay, now the standard questions: favorite music, films, books, etc?]
People hear that I’m from California, and they automatically assume a few things. One of these is that I either must love the Beach Boys or SoCal punk. Wrong! I hate both of those types of music. Like, really hate them.
Actually, I don’t really have a favorite type of music. I like it okay, but I’m just not all that focused on it. It’s nice to have a soundtrack, though, when I’m working out or doing stuff outside. And so then I usually tend toward the slightly faster, harder stuff. But I do like some pretty mellow stuff, too. It all depends on my mood or what I’m doing.
It’s also a great ice breaker when you see a good-looking girl listening to her iPod or whatever. [Laughs] I remember this one time, this was back in San Diego, there was a girl rollerblading – you remember roller blades, right? – along the pier. She was really cute and I wanted to talk to her, you know, and I saw that she had headphones on. And I mean headphone headphones, not earbuds. So I’m thinking, this girl must be pretty old school, you know? Which is cool, in my book. So I casually sidle up near where she was taking a break, and I’m like, “Nice headphones. Whatcha listening to?” And I’m expecting her to say something like Tears for Fears or maybe even, I don’t know, Beastie Boys or old school Dr. Dre or something.
But no, she gives me this evil eye, like I had insulted her and her entire family, and says, “Cannibal Corpse. And, no, not interested.” Then she took off! Totally shut me down in six words.
[JIO: Ahh, the one that got away…]
Oh, believe me, I am perfectly fine with letting that one get away. I have a feeling she would have eaten me alive, maybe literally, if I’d been fool enough to get involved.
[JIO: So, is there anyone special in your life right now? Preferably who doesn’t like music about eating people.]
Actually, no. It’s been awhile, I’ll admit. But I don’t really mind so much. I love my job, I love my friends…it’s enough. Not that I would be opposed. [Cups hand around side of mouth] Very subtle hint dropped there.
You asked about movies and books, too. I don’t read all that often for fun, since I usually am up to my ears in articles and papers about new developments in tool mark and imprint identification technology. That’s where my hidden nerd loves to come out and play. I subscribe to about a dozen forensics journals and newsletters.
I do love movies, though. And predictably, I know, I prefer movies with a lot of action and explosions and stuff. I do like the comic book movies that have been made in the last few years, too. Neil kinda got me hooked on ’em. It’s weird that he likes those, isn’t it? I always thought so, anyway.
[JIO: He’s a complicated man…]
Sure, sure. [Grins]
[JIO: You two have been best friends for a number of years. Yet you seem so different. How did that, pardon the trendy term, ‘bromance’ get started?]
[Groans] I’ll let that word slide this time. But only for you. But, yeah, I don’t really know how it happened, us becoming friends. I mean, you work with someone day in and day out, so you try to get along and respect each other, and all that junk. And that’s how we were, at first. I mean, like you said, the dude’s a bit complicated. I know we were just joking with that a minute ago, but it really is true. I didn’t know how to take him. But then I started noticing the wry little comments and dry quips, and realized, he’s actually really funny. And once I worked out his humor, everything else fell into place and I felt like we really got each other. Our styles of approaching the job are pretty similar, and so we’ve gotten to the point where we can anticipate what the other is going to say, or do, and so we have it all down to a sort of shorthand. It’s kinda cool. I mean, he’s like the brother I always wished I had.
[JIO: Speaking of siblings: are you and your sister very close?]
Yeah. Yeah, we are. There’s only a couple years between us, and there weren’t that many other kids in the neighborhood our ages, so we tended to stick together. We look out for each other. She calls me if she needs someone to make her laugh and relax. And I know I can always call if I need a medical perspective on a case.
[JIO: So Candace is a doctor and you’re a criminalist. What drew you to the sciences?]
It’s kinda a cliche answer, but I like figuring out how things got the way they were just by studying how they are. Like, if I see a broken bottle on the sidewalk, I immediately start analyzing how high the bottle must have been when it was dropped, whether it looks like it was thrown, or if I can tell if anyone was hurt by it, all that sort of stuff just kicks into gear without me even really consciously doing it. And it’s always been that way, for me and my sister, though she tended toward the ‘how it’s made’ end of the spectrum. She always had leaf collections and bugs and stuff and was always the best in her classes when they did dissections. [Shakes head] Me? I usually turned about as green as the frog I was cutting up. [Laughs] I mean, of course, I see dead bodies and gore on the job, but that’s nothing like cutting up a body just to poke around at the muscles and blood vessels and junk. Huh-uh, she can have that. But I can tell you from a shoeprint roughly how tall and how heavy a suspect is. And I think that is pretty dang cool.
[JIO: That is very cool. And, maybe not so surprisingly, your answer was very similar to Neil’s answer to the same question. He said: “…the science and puzzle solving aspects of forensics helps me take a horrendous act – say a murder or a rape – and break it down into little bits of information that inform the whole.” He said that being able to understand the how of something senseless and horrible makes it easier to deal with it.]
Yes. Yes, it does. He’s nailed it there. I mean, obviously, there’s evil in this world. People do horrible, horrible things to each other every day. And Neil would say this is because of the sin nature we all have, and maybe he’s right. But that kind of evil, the base, stupid, primal sort of destruction, is so hard to wrap your mind around unless you really give yourself over to that darkness – which is way too dangerous. So anything we can do to compartmentalize and analyze and hold up and say, “Ah, this is why this is like this” goes a long way to helping us deal with and process the carnage we see.
Otherwise we wouldn’t sleep at night.
[JIO: Do you have any favorite cases?]
Several, actually. And for very different reasons. But the one I’ll mention now is one of my first cases. It was a robbery, so nothing too glamorous. But not just a common smash and grab, either. A piece was stolen from a museum. It wasn’t priceless or all that historically important, more like a curiosity. It was a little figurine – I can’t remember what it looked like, exactly, anymore – from the Edwardian era. But, apparently, someone wanted it badly enough to pull off the theft – against really bad odds, as far as how sophisticated the security system was. It all felt so, I don’t know, The Thomas Crown Affair or Entrapment. It was just so cool.
But what really made it my favorite was how we found the thief. He had gone through so much effort to learn how to get around the security system, he remembered to wear a mask and gloves, but he forgot about something so simple, it was really astounding. He forgot that there is DNA in sweat. And he must have been really nervous, cuz he was sweating like a pig all over that museum.
But, this was a public place and there were DNA samples all over everything. His was just in a few places that were a little more suspicious. So that brought us to his doorstep. What put him behind bars was this little tiny thread we found caught on a screw on the figurine’s display case and a partial shoe print in front of it. The thread was a very particular shade of deep burgundy that Neil was able to match to a shirt in the suspect’s closet. I was able to match the distinctive tread wear pattern from the toe of a shoe in the guy’s closet, too. So it was really a great collaborative effort.
[JIO: And all from a few puddles of sweat.]
Exactly! And when Noah asked him why he wanted that figurine so badly, the guy just said, “It was pretty, and I wanted it.” Simple as that. That’s what I love about this job.
[JIO: Wow. Thank you, Conrad, for giving us a peek inside your head today.]
[JIO: And speaking of your head – last question: how is your head? You got a pretty nasty skull fracture in the Turner Heights explosion. Any lingering effects?]
I’m sorry, who are you? [Chuckles] No, no, it’s all good up here now. I mean, I get headaches a little more frequently now than I used to, but that could just be stress from the changes they’re making to the lab personnel now that Cal is gone.
[JIO: I guess I should let you get some rest now, then. Or get back to work.]
S’pose so. This was fun, though, we should do it again sometime. Maybe while jet skiing or something.
[JIO: Ah, that’s a generous offer, but we wouldn’t want to make the others jealous, now, would we?]
[Laughs] Certainly not.
Thanks again to Conrad for stopping by, the cheeky monkey. Next time, we’ll sit down with Robin “Shots” Dorian, the mistress of ballistics. See you then!