Forensic students tackle mock murder exercise

July 14, 2016

Students were given a murder scenario before arriving at the scene

Students were given a murder scenario before arriving at the scene

Murdoch University forensic science students have gained valuable crime scene experience with the help of dead pigs.

The Masters students were tasked with investigating mock murder scenes on a remote part of the Murdoch campus where already dead pigs had been left by their lecturers in various states of long, medium and short term burial or exposure.

The students had to apply their crime scene training to recover the bodies while maximising forensic evidence.

“The students were given a murder scenario before arriving at the scene and formed small groups to establish their crime scene strategies,” said course leader Associate Professor James Speers from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences.

“They then entered the crime scene looking for evidence, following the strict procedures and finding the body of their allocated pig.

“They had to observe and note down everything they saw on or around the body, including the flies and insects, before collecting evidence and looking for injuries like stab wounds or bruising.

“This experience gives them the opportunity to apply the skills they have learnt in theory to a practical setting.”

Professor Speers and his team prepared 12 different pigs for 12 different scenarios in the exercise. Some had been placed in the environment a month before resulting in significant decomposition, while others had only been there for a few days before the 37 masters students arrived.

Each pig was prepared to reflect different methods of murder. Some were bound, some of the pigs were clothed, some were buried in clandestine graves and some were on the surface to simulate different scenarios that are commonly encountered by crime scene investigators.

“The use of pigs in this exercise is very important because they decay in a similar way to the human body. We are trying to replicate the scenes the students may experience as forensic officers,” explained Professor Speers, who came to Murdoch after working as a senior forensic scientist for 26 years.

“It is important for the students to understand just how quickly their bodies break down in this environment also. Many of them will work in WA where decomposition rates are significantly faster than in other parts of Australia and in the world.”

Professor Speers said the Masters course was split equally between academic and practical learning and had been developed to meet international standards in the profession.

“WA Police are very supportive of this course and we are working closely with them to arrange further training opportunities for our students,” he added.

Student Sarah Evans said she enjoyed the problem solving element of forensic science.

“The course is fantastic. There are no other courses in WA with this practical element. You can read books, watch documentaries and dramas, but nothing beats the opportunity to gain this experience ourselves,” she said.

“This sort of experience makes us ready for the role.”

Fellow student Kristie Caren added: “You do have to be quite mentally tough but you have to remember, this is not about you but about finding answers.”

If your goal is to work in forensic science, Meet Murdoch at Open Day on Sunday 24 July to learn how a Master of Forensic Science course can help you.

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