On an ice rink in Valencia, Calif., the cast and crew of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation are contemplating a corpse—a hockey player with a slashed throat. William Petersen, who plays intense lead investigator Gil Grissom on TV’s top-rated dramatic series, thinks things look too neat, while the special effects guys are reluctant, for aesthetic reasons, to pour more gore. So Elizabeth Devine is called over to settle the bloody mess—with more blood. “The whole front of his shirt would be covered,” says Devine, CSI‘s technical consultant and story editor. “When an artery gets cut like that, the blood just gushes out.”
Devine, 41, should know a thing or two about working stiffs. For 15 years she was a top criminologist for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department—poring over more than 800 crime scenes, including the grisly 1995 parking-garage stabbings of two women and the murder of model Linda Sobek that same year.
Then, in July 2000, the fledgling CSI showed up at the sheriff’s department seeking expert advice. Devine, a divorced mother of three, began moonlighting as a one-day-a-week technical adviser. Quizzing her over lunch one afternoon, executive producer Ann Donahue mentioned a CSI script about teens who murder their parents.
“That’s a coincidence,” said Devine, who then related how she had been “up for five days” dealing with the case of a 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old boyfriend suspected of stabbing four members of the girl’s family. “Liz gave us so many intangibles, she got a story credit for the script,” says executive producer Carol Mendelsohn.
Soon Devine was assigned to write her own. The real-life case she drew upon involved a teen’s abduction from a mall. Hired full-time in January 2001, she became known as a stickler for detail. “One time somebody let Billy [Petersen] wear a barbecue apron in the coroner’s lab,” she recalls, rather than the standard-issue smock. “That just doesn’t happen.” Testing firearms in the lab? Another no-no. “Not with all those expensive microscopes around.”
Devine also oversees the show’s signature “ewwww, gross”—yet clinically correct—autopsies. Earlier this season CSI sleuths found a canvas bag full of three-month-old body parts that had decomposed into a dark liquid. “I had done a similar case,” says Devine, who instructed the actors on how to properly gag at the sight. “You don’t throw up.”
Live bodies were her original interest. The second oldest of four children of Sheila, 66, a probate attorney, and Alan Kornblum, 71, a mechanical engineer, she was a premed student at UCLA. “I wanted to be a heart surgeon,” Devine says, but she knew her grades weren’t good enough for med school. Her uncle Ronald Kornblum, a former chief coroner of L.A. County, suggested she look into forensics. “I liked it,” she says. “It was applied science that involved putting puzzles together.”
In 1985, after earning a master’s degree, she went to work—eagerly—in the narcotics crime lab of the sheriff’s department. To prove herself to her mostly male colleagues, she says, “I was always willing to hop into a Dumpster and pick maggots off a body.” On a 1990 murder case she met Michael Devine, 41, a Defense Department investigator. They wed in 1992 and began to raise a family: Austin, 8, Katherine, 7, and Rachel, 5. The strains of the Devines’ dual careers led to their divorce in 2000. Now, with a live-in nanny at her Glendora, Calif., home, Devine can oversee her kids’ homework and CSI‘s homicides.
TV, however, is not real life—no matter how hard Devine pushes. She originally objected to one script that had Petersen munching doughnuts on the job. “No one eats in an autopsy room,” she says indignantly. “The smell won’t allow you to.” But dramatic license prevailed. As Devine explains, “It made the characters appear kind of cool.”
Michael A. Lipton
Lorenzo Benet in Los Angeles