Monday, October 05, 2009

Playing Detective

Last week, I went to the Novelists, Inc. conference in St. Louis. Day one was a "Ninc Does Forensics" all-day series of workshops on crime, which was unbelievably cool. A whole host of experts came to the event, including the Sheriff's officer and FBI agent who broke the Shawn Hornbeck case (fascinating stuff!). And then there was the crime scene investigation, which was a neat test of our observation skills.

Skills I apparently don't have in abundance, which is why I'm not a cop. ;-) During lunch, we were allowed to investigate a staged crime scene that an officer from the Sheriff's office set up. It looked pretty simple--a dead body (a dummy) on the floor, with a knife in her chest. A couple of empty beer bottles on the table, along with some drug paraphanelia. And an incriminating note in the victim's hand.
That was what I saw, at least at first. But as I went around the crime scene with the other authors in the room, I saw more--mostly because other people were saying, "hey, did you see this?"
Three bullet casings on the floor. A bloody handprint on the wall by the door. Two bullet holes in the wall. There was an overturned trash can by the body, and the more observant authors were shining lights in there, trying to determine what evidence might be in the trash can. I hadn't thought to do that, but then again, I'm as far from a cop as one can get, LOL.
But what I learned was the difference in observatory skills among us. Some people merely walked in the room, saw the "body," then they were done. Others went over the entire crime scene with the fervor of a member of CSI. And some were like me--in the middle of those two extremes--basically there to learn what we could.
One thing I can say for sure is how much this small, and simple crime scene made me appreciate the work of real-world Crime Scene Investigators. Just the half hour or so I spent there made me see how much detail work is involved in that job. How critical it is that they see everything while they are there. Because once the CSI people leave, the crime scene is cleaned up (as the hotel room was where our mock scene was staged), and the evidence is gone forever.
Their job is complex and difficult, to be sure. And so much more is riding on them than there was on a bunch of authors standing over a dummy. After that day, I knew I could never be a real-life CSI, but just the taste I had of playing one made me want to learn more.
What about you? Could you do that job? Are you meticulous enough to be an effective CSI?

1 comment:

  1. Shirley,

    Thanks for sharing some of your experiences with us.

    I know have horrible observation skills!

    Once my cousin came to a family gathering mourning the loss of "grandpa's old barn." Apparently, the current owners had torn this barn down on a main road where our grandpa had lived and we visited frequently as kids. For the life of me, I couldn't remember what building he was talking about and I drive by there every day, sometimes several times a day. (No, I did not confess I had no clue. Just kept my mouth shut while everybody talked about this).

    On the other hand, I remember conversations from many years ago. So I guess if someone said something on their death bed, there's a chance I would remember it. (Does that count as forensic research? :)



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