By Frank Green
There was a crime scene at the Jefferson’s house. There was blood on the floor, fingerprints on a cup, a bitemark on a piece of cheese, and a ransom note: “If you ever want to see magic again … it will cost you $10,000.” Their beloved show dog, Magic, was gone.
With nearly a dozen prepubescent investigators on the case, they soon solved the crime. Forensics camp was a success, so much so that one of the kids waylaid teacher Jill Howard afterwards to make sure everything was okay.
“‘So tell me really what happened,’” the boy asked Howard, she said. “‘Where’s Magic?’”
The kids did their best to find out, learning everything from how to take fingerprints to analyzing blood types. And the pupils were ready to put it to use.
“I came here to see if I could bust my brother for touching my stuff, my XBox,” said Gillian Hooker, 10. And now she knows how. “I still need to get my scotch tape and masking tape.”
Jill Howard was a longtime science teacher at McBride Secondary, and she’s taught forensics going back to the early ‘90s, when she got the idea because students kept asking her about the OJ Simpson case.
“They were just mesmerized by it, so I worked up a couple labs,” she said.
There’s a lot of math in analyzing blood spatters, for instance. And the investigations taught kids critical thinking skills. She’d queue up shows like CSI and Law and Order for students to critique their often laughable depictions of forensic science.
But then Howard’s young pupils came under the tough scrutiny of the RCMP. They presented their findings—a neighbor did it because Magic killed her cat—to Corporal Jay Grierson and Constable Todd Learning. And they didn’t go easy.
“Most of this evidence is very circumstantial,” said Grierson. “And blood typing is great. But what I want is DNA.” (The blood was fake.)
“You can go into a scene that has a mountain of forensic evidence that you believe will tell the story very plainly. And when developed, that story is not clear,” Grierson said in a separate interview. “Because the fingerprints may be smudged. Substances that you think might be blood or urine or semen can’t be identified. It’s never as plain as it appears.”
For example, bitemark analysis, like what the kids did with that piece of cheese, may just be the unscientific opinions of so-called experts, according to a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences.
But Grierson praised the problem-solving in the kids’ work.
“When I talk to lawyers they talk about cases as puzzles. And that’s what you’re doing here,” he said.
The free camp was funded by the McBride and District Public Library and a grant from the McBride Community Forest Corporation. It took place at 521 Main Street—its owner, Tom Ryan, donated the space.