Special Segment: Crime Scene 101

May 11, 2010 (CHICAGO)

In the middle of the woods, hidden deep in Kendall County, a crime is in progress. Men are digging shallow graves. But it's not real. Instructors are preparing for a death investigation class.

Retired FBI forensics expert John Louis Larsen is leading the training. Instructors bury four baby pigs that all died naturally at a local pig farm in different sites through the woods to create a crime scene classroom.

"A lot of times there's no witnesses. All there is is physical evidence," said Bob Gaensslen, professor of forensics, UIC.

From the Burr Oak Cemetery investigation to the Riley Fox case to missing women like Stacy Peterson and Lisa Stebic, Professor Gaensslen says investigators need advanced training to accurately process high-profile complicated cases.

"This is like an archeologist would do. It's very careful, closely monitored documentation. You don't want to destroy any potential evidence," said Prof. Gaensslen.

A month after the burials in the woods, class begins at the College of DuPage's suburban Law Enforcement Academy. But the most important training is outside.

Careful measurements turn a campus field into a clearly marked scene to be processed for evidence. The next day it's back to the woods to follow up on a tip.

After measuring and scanning for clues, they find four sunken-in sites where the plant-life looks different and mark them for processing in the morning.

"Real world training in the dirt. You can't beat that," said Tom Hoskinson, Mt. Prospect police.

Instructors hope that by practicing these techniques investigators learn that a higher standard for processing crime scenes carefully can help evidence hold up in court.

"This is real critical training…and a lot of times the officers working these sites have never had the opportunity to work in a controlled setting," said Larsen.

Investigators sift through the dirt for clues, recover bugs from the graves and after a couple of hours of careful digging they find what they're looking for. They declare the missing dead and excavate the sites.

Lake County deputy coroner investigator Tammy Williams says even though it is a simulation it feels very real.

"It can take a toll on you," said Williams. "It's very tough. We all have to stick together."

Larsen hopes the training prepares these members of local law enforcement for what they face on a daily basis.

"It is closure to family. It is closure to community. And hopefully in the end, the community feels safer because these men and women know what they're doing," said Larsen.

The class uses bodies of pigs because they decompose at the same rate as human bodies.

The only two other sites where this kind of training takes place are at FBI Quantico and a research site in Tennessee.

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