Season 1, Ep 3, Hannibal, Abigail returns home after waking up from her coma and sees the word "cannibals" painted on their garage door.

Then Abigail asks Will if a place is where her mom dies and hence expects to see a body outline in chalk; Will replies police only do a body outline if a person is injured and taken to hospital.

ABIGAIL: I was sort of expecting a body outline in chalk or tape.

WILL GRAHAM: They only do that if you’re still alive and taken to the hospital before they finish the crime scene.

I think it is logical for police to do this as they need to re-construct the crime scene but an injured person needs to be taken away soon thus they will draw a chalk outline.

But I think it is also possible to police to do a chalk outline for a deceased person as well; say they cannot finish re-constructing the crime scene before this dead body is taken away, they can do a chalk outline. Therefore, Will says is not entirely accurate.

  • 3
    I seriously doubt if chalk outlines are still a thing except on TV. Cameras exist now,
    – Paulie_D
    Oct 29 '20 at 10:01
  • 2
    As Paulie says - these days a couple of CSI techs could take a thousand photos of the scene in half an hour. In the very very near future, they'll be able to completely 3D map it in minutes using Lidar - which is now available on phones!
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 29 '20 at 10:03
  • cool, I thought it would be a standard police procedure to this day.
    – Yu Zhang
    Oct 29 '20 at 10:04
  • I've always considered the chalk outline to be a 'movie shorthand' so the audience knows "there was a murder here". I think it's also only a US thing. I've never seen it in the UK, not even on TV cop shows. The internal logic of Will's statement works, but you'll need someone competent in US police procedure to give a definitive answer.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 29 '20 at 10:06
  • @Tetsujin: A chalk outline would still be a useful reference for detectives visiting the scene after the body has been removed. It's much easier to imagine and compare angles, trajectories, points of view, etc. when you're standing at the scene rather than examining a bunch of 2D photos.
    – Psychonaut
    Oct 29 '20 at 10:22

This matches up with the experience of some investigators, according to the 2001 article Do crime scene investigators really draw a chalk line around the body?:

We also heard from cops and other crime-scene investigators in Los Angeles, New York city, New York state, Washington state, the District of Columbia, Ohio, North Carolina, New Mexico, and a few other places. A couple said outlining the body was done once in a while, but generally only in exceptional circumstances — for example, if the victim was still alive and had to be taken to the hospital before examination of the crime scene could be completed.

Most of the people they contacted for that article said that they didn’t use chalk (anymore?), however, because it contaminates the scene. It’s possible then that Will was referring to the policies of whoever handled the crime scene and not some universal rule.

  • Ah… I like the 'contamination' part. That's probably paramount in this day & age of highly-detailed forensics & outweighs the convenience of being able to see where the poor guy fell.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 29 '20 at 16:21

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