So, how did you spend your evening on the last Friday in June 2011? Down the pub? At an indoor BBQ when the rain came? Some of us were at a crime scene. Some of us inadvertently trampled all over a crime scene compromising forensic evidence and thus could have hindered the estimation of time of death of a victim. (Yes, that one was me only. I was trying to stay out of the rain.)
You may have noticed I posted about the National History Museum’s Crime Scene event just over a week ago. Well, I just happened to be in London that day and decided to go. This event offered not only an introduction to forensic sciences but also some hands on experience. And how did all pan out?
For a Friday evening I was surprised at how well attended this event was, but justifiably so: it was both superbly organised and executed by all involved. We were split into three groups to follow proceedings and I was in the Prints group and it was here we started our investigations. We knew that a body had been found in the museum’s garden and that its identity was unknown and that the killer remained at large. Under the expert guidance of Martin Goodwin, in Prints we learnt the difference between finger prints and finger marks. Then Richard took us through the lab techniques used, explaining the chemicals involved, before the gloves and masks were put on and it was all hands on decks for some practical experience.
Next we were off to the Attenborough Studio where forensic anthropologist Heather Bonney was talking bones. We may be very aware of forensic pathologists, but when skeletal remains are found it’s the forensic anthropologists we call on for assistance in identification. They are the experts we need to determine sex, age and height, and they can come up with a lot more too, such as various diseases (with syphilis a bit of a screamer for anthropologists). The divine Ms Bonney guided us through the markers that differentiate men from women where the head and the pelvic provide the biggest clues; told us it was ‘all downhill after 30’ when it comes to teeth for determining age range; and showed us the formula applied to the femur (thigh bone) to estimate height. When we left the Attenborough Studio we knew the sex of our victim.
After the boning operations we donned our full SOCO suits and headed out into the garden to the crime scene (for a second and more recent victim). It was cold and raining, thus adding more than a touch of reality claimed scientist Martin Hall who noted that call-outs to crime scenes often involved conditions where you’d rather be elsewhere. Here, the importance of maggots was explained, their role in determination of time of death and how they are processed for evidence. Petri dishes and large plastic tweezers (for which there must be a technical name?) were available for all to collect maggots from the body parts. Those who listened would have scoured the sites for maggots further away from the body parts as these greedy beggars would have been first on the scene for a feeding frenzy and closer to the time of death. Cameron Richards was on hand with a kettle to assist all in processing their maggots to help with time of death.
A break was arranged post-practical sessions, giving the chance for each team to come together again before the mock court case in the Museum's Flett theatre where real barristers, police officers and a judge were to demonstrate just how important forensic evidence is to a verdict. This was performed extremely well, delivered with true reality and peppered with humour and a delightful twist towards the end.
Staff at the NHM tell me this was the first time they had delivered this event and they intend to put it on again, so do keep your eyes peeled on their site as it’s educational and fun. You may even spot a crime fiction author in the crowds. Can you name this one from Friday?