In Her Blood
By Will Levith
Like CSI? Meet Elizabeth Devine, a criminalist who went from solving real-life murder mysteries to writing about them for the world’s most popular TV show
Co-executive Producer and Writer, CSI: Miami
UCLA ’83 (B.S. in Biology); California State University, Los Angeles ‘85 (M.S. in Criminalistics)
On her education
I graduated from UCLA and was really looking for options for a biology major. I found out about the master’s program at Cal State, L.A. in criminalistics. I signed right up.
You have to take a certain amount [of courses] to get into the master’s program—chemistry, quantitative analysis, biological sciences, math, physics—basically, a science degree. Then I had to take some police science courses, ‘cause I hadn’t had any exposure to that—so law courses, a fingerprinting courseand a bunch of prerequisites.
On her 15 years as a criminalist
Initially, it was mostly men. I wasn’t what they expected—I looked different, and in court, they were used to old men in tweed and leather on their pockets, and I was blonde and young and attractive. You basically have to show that you know what you’re doing. I put on a jumpsuit and jumped in a dumpster and put my fingers through a blood pool--you gotta just do the job, and if you don’t, then you [won’t get any] respect.
You actually need to train on the job—you learn techniques and then they take you out there, ‘cause a mock crime scene is never as good as a real one. Half of the job is just getting acclimated to what has to be done and what to do first.
In my department, after I went to a few cases that weren’t secured—cops would be eating food in the kitchen and the murder’s in the bedroom—I just started training the guys in the academy and in patrol school right before they went out in the field. It was a marked success. Our deputies really knew what to do when they got to a murder scene.
On her new career as a TV writer
I had done some technical advising for some feature films and a movie of the week—Ricochet, Jennifer EightInnocent Victims [respectively]. It was fun. And then when CSI came along, the word was out that they were looking for criminalists. So I got a call [and] started working on Friday, which was my day off.
I’m [currently] at CSI: Miami. It’s the number one show in the world. I’m a Co-executive Producer, so I write and look through every script for technical notes.
The show [CSI] is based on the type of department that I had, where you actually do go out on the scene, collect evidence, bring it back and analyze whatever your expertise is—my expertise was blood work and reconstruction. Once they hired me, Catherine Willows’ [Marg Helgenberger’s character] experiences on the show and the things she said [were] all pretty much from my life.
My first episode [based on a true event from Liz’s past] was about a woman who was killed in a mall in broad daylight. The episode was about Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) getting a little too close to the victim, because they’re about the same age and they shop at the same place. It can be tough if you don’t make yourself break away. [That episode] helped me deal with it.
Name: Elizabeth Devine
Degrees: UCLA ’83 (B.S. in Biology); California State University, Los Angeles ‘85 (M.S. in Criminalistics)
Positions held or holding: Mother of three; criminalist and supervising criminalist for narcotics and crime scene sections of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (15 years); worked on Menedez brothers’ murder investigation; technical consultant for several feature films, including Ricochet and Jennifer Eight; story editor (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation); producer (CSI and CSI: Miami); currently co-executive producer and writer (CSI: Miami)
Writing credits: In all, she’s written or co-written 10 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episodes, 15 CSI: Miami episodes and one CSI: NY episode. She’s also made a few on-screen cameos.
Fun Facts: Devine keeps “bugle swabs” (a swab of skin cells from the inside of the cheek) of her children in the freezer, so if they were ever murdered, she would be able to readily identify their bodies (she used to keep their blood in there). Liz groaned when I asked her this question; supposedly all journalists ask her this one. Neither she nor I have any idea why this is the case.