In the wee hours of August 27, the campus police received a call from a member of the University’s janitorial staff, reporting a break-in on the 3rd floor of Weaver Hall. They arrived to a scene of utter disarray – the normally orderly Organic Lab was a mess, with broken glass, bloody footprints, bullets and bullet casings, tools with possible bloodstains and a tool box labeled “Drug Evidence Locker” that had been broken open, the lock lying next to it on the floor. A white powder was spilled out of a plastic evidence bag and a “bloody” trail led from the box to the rear door of the lab. A crumpled note left on the floor, and the lack of damage to the lab doors, led investigators to believe it had been an “inside” job.
The goal of the Forensic lab team was to collect, process and test the evidence at the crime scene and determine who committed this crime. The police arrested four suspects in the next few days, and evidence was collected from each of the suspects. During the next 14 weeks, the student criminalists processed the evidence. They learned about the properties of soil and glass and tried to characterize the ink present in the crumpled note by Thin Layer Chromatography. There was a shoeprint on the ground outside of Weaver Hall that was found near a discarded 22-caliber weapon, so they learned how to make plaster-of-paris casts of shoeprints. Handwriting analysis, fingerprint analysis, firearms identification and tool-mark casts with “Mikrosil” were done in ensuing weeks. Presumptive blood testing was used to determine if the material strewn throughout the lab was indeed blood, as well as to determine if the stains on the clothing, towels, pants and car were blood. If the stain was blood, ABO blood typing was done. The blood at the crime scene was B-, and so was the blood of two of the suspects. Presumptive drug and alcohol testing was also done, and all four suspects tested “positive” for one drug or another. The student criminalists even used Infrared spectroscopy to identify the drugs. All four suspects also had “adulterated” their urine samples so they clearly were bad apples!
It was an extremely busy semester, and each student criminalist has submitted a final lab report that included descriptions of the evidence, the tests run on the evidence, an analysis of each of the suspects, and a conclusion. For those students who have followed the blog – drum roll please - Stephen Marino is the guy. He was aided and abetted by Julie Alexander, who procured a key and drove him from the scene, bleeding from a wound in his leg caused by a ricochet fragment. Stephen thought he could “choot” the lock off of the drug locker, but was unsuccessful and wounded in the process! He resorted to using wrench and hammer to pry the lock off of the plastic box.
From an instructor perspective (at least this instructor – I will leave Dr. Walker to make her own comments) this course was a very challenging, exciting and incredibly fun experience. We had to stay one step ahead of our student-criminalists and it wasn’t easy! Lab supplies were back-ordered, some tests didn’t work, and we found out that plaster-of-paris makes quite a mess! We were blessed to have attended the Forensic Science Workshop, which gave us the idea to process a crime scene in the first lab, then work on the evidence all semester. It was also very interesting to “create” the crime, and enlist the help of our family members and fellow instructors, who donated articles of clothing that we “bloodied” up. I personally owe a big “thank you” to my nephew and husband, who were more than happy to shoot holes in the “Drug Evidence Locker”, and captured the bullets by shooting through several phone books. Dr. Walker and I had great fun creating the crime scene, although I must say that she went a little crazy squirting the fake blood around the lab. Students – we owe you a big “thank you” for taking this class seriously and working so hard all semester.