I Was A Crime Scene Investigator For A Day By Amy Seidman @amy_seidman If you were anything like me growing up, your free time was spent bonding with friends, reading Scary Stories, looking at rotten.com, and watching the tidal wave of crime dramas that dominated prime time network television. Fast forward to the present, and the format is still kicking ass just as hard, maybe even harder. A particularly relevant example is CSI, now in its 15th season (not counting the endless spinoffs like CSI: New York, CSI: Miami, and the latest addition CSI: Cyber). CSI is the gift that keeps on giving. So you can image my elation when the University of Toronto said I could tag along for a day at their Forensic Science Program. By Amy Seidman @amy_seidman
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I Was A Crime Scene Investigator For A Day If you were anything like me growing up, your free time was spent bonding with friends, reading Scary Stories, looking at rotten.com, and watching the tidal wave of crime dramas that dominated prime time network television. Fast forward to the present, and the format is still kicking ass just as hard, maybe even harder. A particularly relevant example is CSI, now in its 15th season (not counting the endless spinoffs like CSI: New York, CSI: Miami, and the latest addition CSI: Cyber). CSI is the gift that keeps on giving. So you can image my elation when the University of Toronto said I could tag along for a day at their Forensic Science Program. More Stuff You Will Like
09:00:00 am - University of Toronto, Mississauga Campus, Instructional Centre (also known as IB)
After a lengthy commute we arrived at the meeting spot. We were instructed to be there 9:15am by Daniella Stoewner, a third-year student and the Forensic Science Outreach Administrator. She has been kind enough to let us tag along today, on what is actually a tour for grade 10 students from a High School in Mississauga. I assume these kids think I am a narc of some sort. I explain our purpose in being here and they look right through me, laughing and casting sideways glances. It’s like high school all over again.
10:30:00 am - Forensic Crime Scene House
The very first thing I learned is that a murder house is hotter than hell. I tried to look the part of Gil Grissom’s female counterpart, but didn’t last long in big girl clothes, and ended up settling on hillbilly chic.
We are joined by a woman named Vanessa, who teaches us about ALS. No, it’s the reason you dumped cold water on your head—it's an Alternate Light Source. The ALS functions as an enhancement tool, to help you see things you wouldn’t be able to see with your naked eye. It can be used for drugs, fingerprints and bodily fluids—with the exception of blood.
Yeah, that's right. TV crime shows have lied to us, my friends. Blood does not fluoresce under ALS. I’m not sure what to believe or who to trust anymore.
I put on what I assume to be snowboarding goggles (they weren’t), and Vanessa, using ALS, shows us a board with samples of common things you would see in a crime scene. Much to my surprise/dismay, the samples of urine and semen did not light up like a glow stick, as I pictured or hoped.
Last stop on the murder house express is the blood spatter room. All aboard! The first crime I notice is the '90s mall kiosk-bought poster of the Eiffel Tower and a tulip. Dismal.
The walls are covered in paper, and it looks like someone had a Taco Bell experience gone horribly wrong. Who knew sheep’s blood was so brown in color when it dries? Or that only 10 mL of blood could paint such a grim scene?
11:15:00 am - Anthro Lab, Health Science Center
We arrive at the Bone Lab, where Dr. Tracy Rogers briefs us. She was the primary forensic anthropologist during the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton, a case that stands as one of Canada’s most disturbing and shocking.
According to an article from The Spec, many of the bones in this lab came from the case of Shirley Treadwell, believed to have gone missing in 2009, and allegedly buried by her niece, who continued to collect her benefit checks.
Patrick Bozek—a grad student—has an impressive spread of bones, and teaches us about how to identify the sex of the remains using a visual method of sex estimation: the posterior distal humerus. This method was created by Dr. Rogers, and is named after her.
The 3D laser scanning station looks like an art installation that would leave me befuddled, and others in seizures. Full disclosure, this is where I got a little lost on the science of it all, but was happy to enjoy the flashing lights and cool 3D model it created on the screen. I was also mesmerized by the beautiful ocean landscape they were projecting the image in front of, which turns out was just the background photo from our instructor’s computer. Stunning nonetheless.
12:30:00 pm Fingerprinting Lesson and Analysis (IB200), Final Tour Component
Much like the CSI television show, years can pass but some things will always remain the same. Classrooms still make me nauseous, and kids are still assholes.
While I have never lacked in enthusiasm, I am inherently a poor student and an even worse cheat. So of course I choose the wrong tenth grader to sneak a peek from for the fingerprinting analysis exercise. She was probably trying to mess with me, but she got her deltas, lakes and ridge dots all messed up. When I was called up to explain my answers to the class I had that “They're all gonna laugh at you” Carrie moment. And laugh they did.
Doing the actual fingerprinting was really fun, and JUST like in school I made a complete mess of it. There was magnetic powder all over the desk, my hands, and my shirt. I also realize that I do not have the natural inclination for Forensic Science, because I completely contaminated the print when I used my teeth to cut the tape I was using to lift the print. In real life I probably would have set a total psychopath free.
So what did I learn from my CSI training? Well, I learned that the televised version is highly inaccurate, and frankly, misleading and deceptive. This little glimpse has shown me that while the incredible advancements in forensic science have changed the way crimes are solved, the job itself is one that can still be heavily compromised by human error or negligence.
In spite of it all, the science behind it is super impressive. These advancements would never have been possible if it wasn’t for the mega geniuses who decide to look at blood all day. I am not one of those chosen few. Therefore I will stick to being a disparaging armchair critic during each crime drama I watch.
I also learned that it doesn’t matter if you are a peer—or a journalist—twice their age, high school kids will always give me complexes that'll assuredly last a lifetime.
Amy Seidman is a contributor to FANGORIA and Supercompressor. She has died on film numerous times and waitressed once. She was never asked to waitress again.