I’m a CSI, a crime-scene investigator, for Los Angeles County and it’s a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year job. Even on Christmas Eve. I went to bed that night hoping to sleep until morning, when my three daughters would rush in, giddy and impatient to open their gifts. But at midnight the phone rang. “We need you at a crime scene,” the dispatcher said.
There had been a home burglary in a poor area of the city. “It can’t wait until the morning,” the deputy at the scene told me when I called for details. “You’ll understand when you get here.”
I drove to the location. The deputy met me at the door. “Try and be quiet; their kids are sleeping,” he said, leading me inside.
A man and woman were holding each other in the dimly lit hallway, their eyes red from crying. I walked into the living room. Now I understood. Lying on its side was a skinny Christmas tree, nothing but carpet where Christmas presents should have been. “We saved all year for those gifts,” the man said to me. “If there’s anything you can do…”
Determined, I dusted everything in the house for fingerprints. There was no chance of solving the case without them. By tomorrow the stolen goods would be history. But the thief had been thorough; everything had been wiped. “I’m sorry,” I said to the couple, dismayed. But what could I do? I headed for the door.
Suddenly, a golden glint shined right into my eyes, too bright to ignore. What’s that? I wondered.
I swung the front door out of the way and looked behind it. On the floor was a gold star tree topper. But it wouldn’t have rolled out of sight. Maybe the burglar had touched it.
I dusted it and developed the most complete, full fingerprint I’d ever seen. At the station, I ran it against our records. The identified suspect lived around the corner from the victims. I called the deputy with the information, then drove back over to the family’s home.
I pulled up at the same time the deputy did. The suspect was cuffed in the back of the police car. The deputy grinned and popped the trunk, full of the stolen gifts. “We got our man,” he said.
Yes, we did. But not without a little help from a star—behind a door, in dim light—that shone just for me.