Spotlight: Forensic Science and Ontario Tech University’s Crime Scene House


Dimitri Tsalavoutas

 

The story starts on January 13, where a suspected homicide occurred at Ontario Tech University’s Crime Scene House. For over a month, the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) had been looking into the matter.

But that’s not all that happened.

At 1900 hours on March 2, the DRPS discovered the lifeless body of their bloodstain pattern expert, Dr. D. Morgan, who was investigating the January 13 homicide. She was lying flat on the bed in the master bedroom. The initial examination of the scene concluded no signs of struggle, forced entry or foul play. 

What happened here? It’s up to the forensic science students at Ontario Tech University to figure it out!

Mock crime scene

First, let’s jump back for a second to what the Forensic Science program is about, and what the laboratory has to offer students. The Forensic Science program is a field of study within Ontario Tech University’s Faculty of Science

The forensic lab is found in the Business and IT building (UB). It is a 100-square-metre space with state-of-the-art instrumentation. There are 24 individual working spaces where students study microscopy techniques, forensic biology and forensic chemistry instrumentation, and miscellaneous forensic equipment.

Ontario Tech University’s Crime Scene House is on Windfields Farm lands, just up the road from Ontario Tech University’s north campus location. This is where mock crime scenes are staged.

The major crime scenes for the students are:

  • Bloodstain patterns simulating attacks.
  • Impression evidence indicating forced entries.
  • Bullet damage revealing trajectory patterns and number of shooters.
  • Shattered windshields demonstrating hit-and-run accidents.

More information can be found at Ontario Tech University's Crime Scene House page.  

An outside shot of the Crime Scene House

Kimberly Nugent, a Associate Teaching Professor in the Faculty of Science, invited me to this crime scene investigation at the Crime Scene House.

In a Ontario Tech University news article, she explained the cutting-edge technology with which students can learn: “Students using the Crime Scene House are exposed to a full spectrum of scenarios and the latest available technological tools used in the industry. These opportunities are complemented with the integration of tablet computers, specialized software, learning objects and digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras.”

So now you know the background info, let’s go back to the crime scene! Detective

When I first arrived, Kimberly Nugent, Laboratory Technician Stacey Sainte-Marie, Retired Detective Constable and Adjunct Professor David Robertson, and internship student Kaitlyn Boudreau were all staging the scene with evidence for the students. 

Kimberly Nugent putting a hand print on a piece of glass

Above, Stacey is placing her hand print on pieces of glass. This is so the entire table upstairs in the crime scene does not have to be fully dusted in that room, as it can be messy!

The small pieces of glass will later be taken to the basement where they are analyzed using the fingerprint workstations. 

four fingerprint stations in the crime scene house

Pills were also put into bottles, cups were given lip prints, and dirt samples were placed in the rooms with footprints on them. 

A variety of evidence being staged in the crime scene house

When the students arrived, they made their way downstairs where they started putting on their fancy Crime Science Investigator (CSI) clothing and obtained a kit with all of the equipment they needed. I was creeping on them from the office!

A shot of the crime scene house on a computer monitor.Next, they headed to the kitchen on the main floor for their briefing with Mr. Robertson. 

Students getting a briefing from Mr. Roberston

The nine students in the morning session were put into teams of three. Each team was given a room to start at, and after approximately two hours of investigating they rotated rooms.

If you think that’s a long time, real investigations take days, sometimes weeks! Time goes by fast, and there's a lot to do in each room.

Prior to the teams entering their assigned rooms, they observed the scene, making notes and taking pictures from the hallway upstairs. 

Students taking photos in the crime scene houseIn the first room I checked out, it appeared that someone had written a letter with a pen on the top page of a notepad, then ripped if off.

To find out what the person had written, students would later take the rest of the notepad and process the indented writing using an Electrostatic Dusting Apparatus (ESDA).

For the purpose of identifying different types of soil samples, there was a footprint on some soil near the chair. 

A note left on a desk and a shoe print in dirt beside it.

Below, the students successfully identify the three pieces of evidence.

Student identifying evidence

The next room was pretty bare. At a first glance, there was another footprint in some dirt on the floor… and not much else.

But after a bit of searching, students noticed a dirty hand print on the door, and a noose inside the closet!

A room with a desk in front of a window

The students in this room acknowledged the footprint and took photos in a way that the flash from the camera enhances the depth in the footprint. Later they carefully removed the noose for further inspection. 

Students taking an image of a foot print

Here, a student documents the information about the different camera options set for each of the photos taken. 

Student taking notes on a tablet

Next was the master bedroom was where Dr. D. Morgan’s body lay on the bed. The washroom within that room was where the lip-printed cup and bottle with pills were placed.  

close up of sink in a washroom

Below, Mr. Robertson checks on the team as they examine the master bedroom and washroom.

Students working in the master bedroom

In the photo below, a student shows me her sketch of the area on her tablet, using OneNote.

A sketch of the master bedroom on a tablet

Following the crime scene investigation, the students take their photos and evidence back to the laboratory for analysis, after which they will be subpoenaed to testify in a mock court scenario.

They are in teams now but in court, they must know everything that the group did as a whole during the investigation. This is because in the courthouse, students must each be able to defend what they claim about the suspicious death of Dr. D. Morgan individually.

Photo Credits: The outside of the Crime Scene House is a screenshot from a Ontario Tech University Forensic Science video, and the detective silhouette can be found at ClipArts.

Want to learn more about the forensic science program at Ontario Tech? Download our viewbook!

Download our Viewbook

 

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