Crime Scene Searches

Tualatin PD

Val showing detectives a death alert on suspects vehicle

Evidence found at murder crime scene in Minnesota by SAR Dog

Old human bones e

Human remains St Croix e

Crime scene photos e 6 Harry and Janna

Ranger searching for bodies after Northridge Earthquake

Location where the bomb detonated Oklahoma City Bombing.

Ranger in Polk Co.

Location of death alert.

Detectives watch as Valorie locates dead remains under a house.

SAR Dog Valorie giving positive scent alert on suspects vehicle.



Normal Scent

Fear Scent

Live Scent

SAR Dog's Ranger and other search dogs locating victim
 alive in avalanche". Note dog's tails up, happy, ears up.

Note tail 1/2 down indicating live alert but stress. We recovered a little girl still alive 30 feet down in the rubble pile. She had been trapped with no food or water for 10 days. SAR Dog Valorie located her alive.

Death Alert Scent

SAR Dog Valorie locating drowning victim in water. Note ears down, tail down

Search SARM SAR Dog Valorie barking whining biting at the water.


SAR Dog Valorie giving positive scent alert on suspects vehicle


Whether our search dogs are looking for Dwight Clark missing in Bellingham, Wa. Or Kyron Horman missing in Portland, Oregon, many law enforcement and the victim's friends and families don't understand how a search dog is supposed to be used to help bring resolve to their cases.

With over 12,860 documented case requests on record, I’ve written numerous articles for the District Attorney’s office, Judges, Police Departments, other search dog teams, and the general public to help them understand scent, scent evidence and how search dogs work. Also how they can be used properly to understand the missing person(s) case.

In 2014, I helped a law firm representing the victim's family in VA win an $8,000.000.00 judgement for wrongful death by explaining how search dogs and scent evidence work.

Let’s start at the basics. 
Scent. Understanding scent. 
When a person walks along they drop 10,000 pieces of scent per minute. These are dead skin cells, hair follicles, etc. and that drop daily on a normal basis.

A trained search dog with a trained search dog handler can track this scent up to a year later. (We’ve done it twice on cases over a year. All documented). So have many other dog teams through out the USA.

Rain actually helps scent. It livens it up, keeps it close to the surface and keeps the dogs nasal passages moist so they can smell it.

Heat dries out scent but a trained search dog can still detect it and track it.

There are three types of human scent a search dog will detect. Inexperienced dog handlers and police officers often miss this.

Live, stress, and death.

Live alert. Dogs ears are up, tails up, dog smiling, happy, barking,

Stress alert. Dog’s ears up, tail half way down, dog barking.

Death alert. Dog’s ears down, very sad, emotionally upset, tail down, dog 
Whining. Eating grass to settle their upset stomachs.

Detectives have asked me on numerous cases throughout the WORLD to bring in our specialized search dogs to detect scent and identify what really happened at a suspected crime scene. To date, I’ve been 100% accurate and our credibility has held up in every courtroom.

When a person is walking along, they drop 10,000 pieces of scent. The search dog can detect this and indicate that the person is walking, un-injured, not fearful, and the direction of travel the person is taking. Even in a vehicle. It’s a lot harder to track a person in a vehicle but it’s been done many times by many dog teams throughout the USA.

If a person is attacked, they give off adrenaline. (“Fear or Stress scent)”. As the search dog teams works the track, if the search dogs demeanor changes and body language change, the search dog handler should be alert to clues to support this change. Altered foot prints, signs of a struggle, blood, fecal matter, vomit, urine, scuff marks, etc.

This area should be handled as a CRIME SCENE as it is. Most officers fail miserably at this, as do the dog handlers. Not intentionally, by just not understanding what the search dog is showing them.

Remember a search dog doesn’t know how to lie. 

If the search is being video taped this can help show jurors, detectives and others what the search dog is detecting and where.

The area should be roped off and forensic teams should process the scene. 

Many times I’ve been called in after the officers and other teams have gone in and said the 
scene is clean. And I’ve showed the lead detectives not only where the victim died, but helped identified the suspect and their route after the crime was committed. Also identified key evidence to prove who, what, when, where, why, and how. (Ward Weaver case 2002 Oregon City murders of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis). One of many examples where we located the bodies after the police and FBI Failed to. 

This is called scent transfer. When another person touches another person they not only transfer their scent on to the victim but the victim”s scent onto the suspect(s). 

This also transfers on the suspect(s) shoes / boots, clothes, weapons, vehicles. All which can be identified through a properly trained search dog at a later date.

Now let’s say the tracking team’s dog stops and indicates a “Death alert”. This should show the officers and handlers to stop, freeze the scene and process the area as a “DEATH SITE”. The victim will STAIN THE GROUND with their death scent. This can be identified up to a year later out in the weathered elements. You often can’t see it with the naked eye. But again the search dog can smell death and where it happened.

Too many times this is over looked.

Read my blog on 
Forensic Scent Evidence.

The police department owes it to the victim and his / her family to do the best job they can. If they have used a search dog team and that team finds nothing, then someone is missing something and the police dept should call in a second dog team to get a second opinion. If the second dog team says exactly the same thing at the same location, then the police dept has done its job.

What is a crime is when the police dept ignores an expert witness regarding scent and scent evidence and his/her search dogs findings on a specific case.

If he / she comes forward and submits a detailed report that their search dog has detected “Death scent” in a specific area and then the police ignore it, then they aren’t doing their job correctly. They are doing an injustice to the victim of the crime.

In the following cases: 
These are just some of our success cases where law enforcement used my teams to bring closure in their cases. 

I was brought in and showed the police where each victim had died. NOTE: Each person holds their own scent even after death. That's why we use scent articles when we can to locate victims remains. 

In some of these cases where the victim was murdered, and we identified the suspect through scent. 

2002 Ward Weaver Case (Clackamas Co. Ore.) We identified Weaver as the main suspect and his son who assisted him. We also showed in our report dated March 30, 2002 to the FBI and OCPD where Ashley was buried under cement. Where Miranda Gaddis’ remains were. And we found a third body nearby. This after the Fed. and State Cert. sar teams failed to find anything. (Public record). See news statement from FBI 03-29-2002. 

JD in (Polk Co, Ore.) Fall City, Oregon. 

Tomy Gibson (Douglas Co. Ore.) We proved his father (A deputy sheriff) murdered little Tommy and removed his body from the house in the back of his patrol car. Again this after State SAR Teams failed to find anything Oregon State Police called us in privately.

94-359-09 Carlson Case (Clark Co. Wa.) We proved their own son murdered both the mother and father, removed their bodies in the back of a pick up truck, covered the bodies with split wood from the house. We were called in by Det. R. Bukner. CCSO.

96-730-086 David Wahl (Clatsop Co. Ore.) We showed where David died, we located his remains and helped OSP get a conviction of the suspect. This after State SAR Cert. teams failed to find anything. I made two phone calls. One to NOAA and One to Grays Harbor Med. Examiners' office and that's how we found David who had already been buried as a "JOHN DOE". We had his body exhumed, autopsy showed it was in fact David's remains. OSP arrested his girlfriend for murder.

96-805-161 Diane Nix Clarksville Tennessee We showed where she died. 

97-1108-185(B). Linn Co. Missing Child. Elijah Kelt, We showed where he died and recovered his remains. This after State SAR Cert. K9 and ground teams failed to find anything in their search efforts. It took us 20 minutes to find him.

08-10-97 97-1056-133(A). Mult. Co. Lost Child. Jessica Nicole Clark, age 4. Portland, Oregon. We showed where she died and her remains were recovered right where we told Portland Police and the victims mother where she was. This after STATE SAR Cert. teams K-9 teams and divers failed to find anything. It took us 2 minutes to find her in front of the victim's mother.

97-1127-204(C). Wash. Co. Missing Person. Tigard, Oregon. Saffa M. Nasir.
We identified that Saffa was murdered, where, and who did it. Tigard PD Followed up the investigation and arrested the suspect.

98-1150-015 (C). Darke Co. Ohio, Lynn Topp We identified where she died, who was the suspect, and where she was buried on a pig farm 5 feet deep. Sheriff validated our findings by recovering the victim where we said her remains were.

08-14-2000 Claudia Kirshoch Sandals resort, Negrel, Jamaica. We identified where she died, who the suspect was, and vital evidence for the FBI out of Miami to follow up on. They confirmed they found evidence where my search dog Valorie had alerted at. 
Sandal's resorts who employed the suspect that murdered Claudia, later settled with the victim's family out of court after I gave a two day depositition.

These are just some of the cases we’ve documented over the last 28 years. The list goes on and on. All have be validated. 

So when a person is missing, then it’s up to the police dept. to bring in qualified teams and determine what really happened to the victim. 

If the law enforcement refuses, then it’s up to the family and friends of the victim to bring us in privately to show what really happened.

If we find evidence and then law enforcement refuses to act on this evidence, then shame on them. 

Mr. Oakes
SAR Coordinator
International K9 Search and Rescue Services

Scene Search with SAR Dog Team. 
A SAR Dog Team that is searching for a missing person can follow these steps.
Preparing for the Search 
1. Leave your dog with a support person. 
2. Get reports, information regarding the case that has been collected to date. 
3. Get your own scent article. Do not allow anyone else to collect it. 
Searching for a Missing Person with No Known Suspect 
Get the victim's scent article and attempt a track or trail of victim. 
If or when the track or trail stops, look for clues of a burial, struggle, or tire tracks to indicate what happened to the victim at this location.
Searching for a Missing Person When There Is a Suspect 
1. Get a consent-to-search or a search warrant for the suspect's vehicle. 
2. Give your search dog the victim's scent article only. 
3. If the dog alerts in the front seat, back seat, or trunk of the vehicle, observe the kind of alerts the dog has: stress alerts, normal alerts or death alerts. 
If the suspect killed the victim on a hard surface such as the floor or ground death scent will often be transferred from the victim's body fluids to the suspect's footgear. When the suspect drives the vehicle, they transfer the death scent to the gas pedal, clutch area, and carpet or mat area on the driver's side floor. 
4. Study your dog's alerts closely here. VIDEOTAPE THE SEARCH WHENEVER POSSIBLE. 
If you still can't find any track, get the suspect's scent article and try to get a track from the PLS of the victim. 
We did this in a search in Tennessee. A young girl had been kidnapped and the suspect admitted to throwing her in the river. The local Law Enforcement and SAR were able to prove that the suspect's claims were not probable based on where and how the suspect got rid of the victim.
After we tracked the victim we wanted to confirm the route.We got the suspect's scent article and tracked the suspect along the same route the victim's track led us. This confirmed what the victim's earlier track showed us. We were able to testify that both the victim and the suspect traveled the same route and that the victim was picked up in the suspect's vehicle and placed in the right front passenger seat. We knew this because there were stress alerts from the front seat right passenger side and death alerts from the driver's side floor area of the gas pedal and carpet on the floor. 
If there is a good suspect in the case and you're given either a consent to search or have served the search warrant on the suspect's residence, business or vehicle, document the following: time, date, location, air temperature, wind direction, findings. Photographs also help. 
If you are searching an enclosed area (Barn, Home, Vehicle), the scent can persist for approximately a year or longer depending on how much the search area is contaminated.
When searching a vehicle for scent evidence, start with the driver's door and concentrate in the floor board area. If the suspect walked on the death scent site, then the death scent will have transferred from the victim to the gas and clutch areas and the floor mats. This is very common in scent searches involving homicide cases. 
Harry Oakes
K9 Search and Rescue SAR Coordinator.

Animal Waste

Buried Scent


Scent Under Rubble

Scent Objects


  Links to other stories about Harry and his search dogs.

Claudia Kirchoch search in Jamaica.



Dog Obedience

Oregon City 2002 Ward Weaver Murder cases of Ashley Pond/ Miranda Gaddis

Dog Rescue efforts

Cat searches

Other info re: Dogs

Copyright © 2005 International K-9 Search and Rescue Services. All rights reserved.