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Not always what it seems

Murder Mystery campers use science, intuition to discover crime-scene evidence can be deceiving

Tyler Greve, 12, of Morris and Colin Sink, 11, of Verona, inspect evidence found in a tent at a mock crime scene as part of the Murder Mystery Camp held Monday by the University of Illinois Extension office.
Tyler Greve, 12, of Morris and Colin Sink, 11, of Verona, inspect evidence found in a tent at a mock crime scene as part of the Murder Mystery Camp held Monday by the University of Illinois Extension office.

Murder Mystery campers got a realistic insight to the life of crime scene investigators when they looked for evidence in the rain Monday afternoon.

“Coroners work in all kinds of weather, right John?” said John Davis, youth development coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension in Grundy, Will and Kankakee Counties to Grundy County Coroner John Callahan.

“We can’t wait for the weather to clear up,” said Callahan. “When we are called out to a scene, we don’t know what we are walking into.”

About 22 campers participated in this year’s Murder Mystery Camp hosted by the Extension office. The camp is a mini one-day camp held at the U of I Extension office at the Grundy County Farm Bureau building. Davis asks Callahan to participate every year so the kids can learn about the job from a real person in the field.

This camp is one of the most called about, said Davis. In his 10 years with Extension, he believed this was the eighth time for the camp.

“It is science-based, so they get the chance to do hands-on things,” he said.

The campers helped to solve a case where a woman was found dead at her campsite in her camping chair. She was surrounded by beer bottles, a fish, a knife, a gun and, in her tent, was prescription medicine belonging to two men, clearly not hers.

Coroner Callahan asked the kids to point out what evidence they saw on the scene and then asked what could be used to help determine time of death. The kids pointed out they could check if any blood on the scene was dried and the temperature of the body.

Callahan told the kids not to forget about the fish the victim caught. If the fish was decomposing already it could give them a time frame.

“How about the last time they had contact with a family member? Was she just fishing this morning or had she been fishing for a week?” asked Christina Hintze, chief deputy coroner.

The kids took part in the investigation by collecting evidence in the victim’s tent, which included two pill bottles with two different names on the labels.

The group moved indoors to discuss the evidence further due to the rain.

“It’s not like T.V., where in 60 minutes the mystery is put together, solved and they even get the bad guy,” explained Callahan.

They discussed the importance of documenting the evidence by taking photos and the importance of getting fingerprints off of evidence, especially the weapons on scene. In addition, investigators have to determine what of the evidence collected is relevent and what are unimportant items.

“Investigating a death or any type of crime is like putting together a puzzle,” said Callahan. “Some pieces we may never find and some pieces we have to hunt for. A lot of pieces out there don’t even belong in the scene and have nothing to do with the death.”

Camper Tyler Greve, 10, of Morris, pointed out that although a gun and knife were found on scene, the victim did not have any stabbing or bullet wounds.

This turned out to be an important observation. Hintze then told the children the victim died of a heart attack.

“The knife was probably to clean the big fish she caught. The alcohol could have been there for three or four days and there might not be that much in his system,” said Callahan. “And the medications in his tent, she could have had people with her before and they left them behind.”

“All types of things present themselves, but that is where you have to clear your mind and keep an open mind,” he said.

After Callahan’s presentation, the campers did fingerprinting and DNA exercises. The kids took their own fingerprints to see if they had whirl, arch or loop patterns.

Rebekah Baxa, 10, of Morris, said nine of the 10 prints she took of her fingers were a whirl pattern. This was her first time at the Murder Mystery Camp and her favorite part was the fingerprinting, she said.

Matt Grant, 11, of Morris, liked looking for evidence in the rain best. A fan of television crime shows, Grant was able to answer a lot of the questions Davis presented during the exercises.

“It’s a lot harder (than on T.V.),” he said.

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