By MARY HURSH
Ten Lakeland Youth Center students entered Ruddell Pavilion on the grounds of the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation recently to spend a morning learning about forensic investigation. Their tools were pipe cleaners, scotch tape, tweezers and maggots.
This investigation was the first offered at the conservancy by education director Pam Schumm. The goal was to learn and to have fun.
The scenario for the first forensic study was as follows: The body of a partially decomposed animal was found on the WACF property by two walkers. Heather Harwood, executive director of the WACF, called the police. They took tissue and bone fragment samples and determined the samples were from a bald eagle. The bird had been defeathered and its head and feet removed. The students had to determine who dumped the eagle on the property and when. “Forensic entomology determines an approximate timeline for a crime. Fingerprints will identify the perpetrator,” said Schumm.
Forensic entomology looks at insect development to determine the time a body decomposes. For this study, Schumm explained the stages in the lifecycle of the blowfly. Each stage lasts a certain amount of days depending on the temperature. The higher the temperature, the more accelerated the cycle will be. Students learned they could determine how long the bald eagle in their study had been on the ground at the WACF by the size of the maggots found on its body.
Before actually collecting maggots on site, Schumm posed a second scenario for the students as practice. She told them that the body of a dead horse had been found near Milford. They used a chart to determine how long the animal had been dead based on the length of the maggots found on its body. The maggots were actually pipe cleaner pieces of different sizes.
Since reading fingerprints is a big part of forensics, the students took their own fingerprints using graphite and studied them carefully. They used magnifying glasses to look for the distinctive traits or markings in their own fingerprints.
To solve the mystery of the bald eagle, the students followed Schumm into the woods to find the remains of the eagle, which was really a chicken. Schumm asked each student to take several maggots of different sizes which were on the leg of the eagle and put them in a killing jar with acetone. After the maggots died, the students measured the longest one. Based on the length of the maggot and the temperature, the students determined the bald eagle had been dumped at WACF four or five days ago. The students then looked at the fingerprints taken from a plastic bag near the eagle to determine which of three perpetrators actually dumped the eagle. The suspect named was John Wolfe!
More forensics studies are planned for next summer.