Detectives share sleuthing techniques in CSI-style case at UMPI

Posted March 16, 2011, at 8:36 p.m.
Last modified March 16, 2011, at 10:13 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Investigators walked into the sparse bedroom, furnished with only a bed and a night stand. A pair of sandals and sneakers sat neatly beside the bed, and a window just above it was slightly open.

A man was on top of the covers, clearly dead, his hand wrapped around a knife protruding from his stomach. Blood covered his naked chest and a portion of the bedspread. Three days’ worth of delivered food was stockpiled nearby.

A closer look at the scene yielded few answers. The investigators were confused. What had happened to this man? Why had it taken three days to discover the body?

While the investigators never solved the mystery, it didn’t matter this time, as the people looking into the case were participants in the inaugural exercise at the University of Maine at Presque Isle called UMPI: CSI. The event re-created an actual crime scene to give participants a chance to solve the case. It was hosted by the UMPI Student Activities Office and a handful of criminal justice majors.

The Presque Isle Police Department and Maine State Police helped coordinate the event. State Police Detective Darrin Crane and Detective Bill Scull of the town police department were on hand to give those taking part in the exercise tips on what to look for at a crime scene, how to collect evidence, secure fingerprints and preserve footprints and tire tracks.

The State Police Criminal Investigation Division Mobile Crime Scene Unit also was at the college, and participants got to tour the vehicle, which is full of materials and equipment police need at crime scenes.

April Sue Platt, UMPI’s area coordinator of student activities, said that she brought the event to the college because she had seen it done at other schools.

“Especially with the popularity of crime scene investigation type TV shows, this just really seems to be an event that piques people’s interest,” she said.

Organizers said Tuesday evening that they were happy with the crowds that attended both the morning and afternoon sessions. Not all of the UMPI students who attended were criminal justice majors.

Lynn Martin of Presque Isle attended the afternoon event with a friend. She said she loves shows like “CSI” and the “Law and Order” spinoffs, but she doesn’t want to be a police officer.

“I can’t stand the sight of blood,” she said. “Even the fake blood at the UMPI event got to me a bit.”

The mock crime scene was based on an actual case that Scull investigated a number of years ago. Police determined that it was not a murder, but a suicide.

Scull said Tuesday that the victim had few friends and family. Police were contacted after three days of dinners that were delivered by Meals on Wheels had gone uncollected. Police determined that the victim, who had mental illness and refused to take his medication, lay down on the bed one night and stabbed himself to death.

A number of criminal justice majors coordinated the event, which Platt said helped give them a chance to share with others some of the work that happens in their field.

Organizers are considering hosting the event again with a different case.