July 20 2024

CSI Files

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Zuiker: It Seems Fake

5 min read

Anthony Zuiker visited real life crime scenes as research before creating CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spinoff, CSI: Miami.

Zuiker saw his first dead body in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1999 when he was in the process of creating the original CSI series. “Now, when a civilian wants to do research with the real CSIs, you have to make submissions to the Public Affairs Office,” Zuiker explained in a blog post on Level26.com. “I did and they granted me ‘eight hours only’ for the year of 1999.” Zuiker knew eight hours was not going to be enough time. “By the grace of God, I went to high school with Monte Spoor who’s a real-life CSI,” he added. “He took me under his wing and we rode along together the entire week, ten hours a day, including midnight lunches at Caesar’s Palace.”

One of the crime scenes Zuiker visited was the home of a man who was mad at the police and tried to burn his house down while he was still inside. The body had been removed before he arrived, but Zuiker described his impression of the scene itself. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside of a burnt-down house, but it’s very creepy,” he said. “The smell of burned life is a smell you can never forget in a million years. The way fire enjoys ripping lives apart, turning pictures into ashes, melting children’s toys without a care — it’s so tragic. The one piece of evidence the CSI pointed out was an air conditioning unit that fell from the roof to the bottom floor and hit the victim on top of the head. Ouch!”

Afterward, Zuiker was invited to see the victim’s body. “When I went to the coroner’s office, I met Dr T,” he said, referring to Clark County medical examiner Dr Gary Telgenhoff. “He’s a really cool guy who drives a love wagon (don’t ask) and has a great sense of humor. He also is a musician and we’ve used a song of his on CSI. The song was called ‘I’ll Speak for You.’ It’s a song about a coroner being the voice for the dead after they’ve been killed. You gotta love it.”

“So, when I arrive for the autopsy, I get dressed in a lab coat, face mask, and booties,” Zuiker continued. “Through the window, I can see the burned body curled up on the slab. Nasty. Dr. T said, ‘Wait…’ When you see your first dead body, it’s not that bad. It seems fake really. The skin was black crusted with pink flesh. The hair was burned off. And the hands were clenched in fear. Weird.”

Zuiker described another memorable experience he shared with CSI: Miami showrunner Ann Donahue when they flew to Florida to research the first CSI spinoff. “We had a blast writing the crossover, but the time had come for the pilot episode,” Zuiker explained. “So, like any Executive Producers worth their salt, we did our research with the Miami Police Department. And let me tell you, those guys couldn’t wait to show us a dead body.”

“That night, we went on a ride along with several detectives,” he continued. “These guys were all Latino studs who prided themselves on Cuban food and real talk. They were cool as hell. Anyway, we got a call mid-lunch about a dead body in a residential neighborhood. Apparently, he’d been dead for a week based on the neighbor’s complaint about the smell. We call that a ‘decomp’ (decomposition) in our world. Ann turned extra white. I started getting nervous. Not because of the sight of a dead man, but the detectives were insistent that we ‘meet him.'”

This crime scene was very different than the one Zuiker saw in Las Vegas. “When we turned the corner into the neighborhood, we could already smell the odor,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. Rotting flesh has a way of getting into your clothes and your nasal hairs. There is no way to escape it.” The man was dead in his bedroom. “Ann and I hid behind each other while the captain lit a cigar from outside the house,” Zuiker continued. “He used the smell of the cigar to mask the powerful stench of the body.”

“When we first saw him, he was bloated to the size of a 500-pound man,” Zuiker said. “I asked, ‘Was he a fat man?’ The detective laughed and said he was probably about 180 pounds. Huh? He’s huge. He explained that the bloating was from the gasses stored up inside of his body. Oh, my God. Really?”

“That’s when the Hazmat unit came in,” he continued. “The Hazmat unit (or Crime Scene Clean Up) was made up of three crazy men armed with metal spikes. They sawed open the bedroom window and climbed through. Then, out of nowhere, they started stabbing the man to let out the gasses. I literally saw him go from 500 pounds to 180 within seconds. It looked like a human balloon with a small leak. It was so nasty. Ann and I thought for sure we would be diseased by some airborne virus. We got the hell of out there. Next, a tow truck with a lift arrived and they hoisted him out of there and zipped him up. On the way out, they were talking about showering up and getting a burger. I’m like, ‘Burger??? I don’t think I’m ever going to eat again.'”

“Ann and I went back to the Delano and ordered some water and dinner rolls,” Zuiker shared. “We literally ate in silence and tried not to laugh. She said to me, ‘How did we get here?’ I said, ‘I have no idea. All I know is we’re doing another CSI.’ Ann nodded. I nodded.”

The original blog posts can be found at Level26.com here and here.

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