Museum visitors take turns as crime scene sleuths
05/05/05 12:00AM By Betty Smith-Mastaler
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(Host) These days, television characters seem to be solving more crime mysteries than ever. So the Montshire Museum in Norwich saw an opportunity to explore the world of forensic science. Enter the exhibit "Crime Lab Detectives," where there's a mystery for everyone who walks through the door to solve.
VPR's Betty Smith joined the amateur sleuths.
(Smith) It's like a big, three-dimensional game of "Clue" where visitors try to identify a burglar - one of six characters - based on the "crime scene" and the clues they've left behind.
Peter Bensen and Connor Gordon, fourth and fifth graders from the Marion Cross School in Norwich, are here with their moms. They pick up a clipboard to record the results of their investigation and watch a news report on video about the crime. Peter explains what happened.
(Peter) "When this family, the Johnsons, got back from Hawaii, their house had been broken into and a painting, a music box, a vase and a bicycle had been taken. And now the investigators are looking in it to see, and trying to find out who did it."
(Smith) Just beyond the video display is what looks like a small stage set. There's a wall with a broken window. On one side of the wall is a room; on the other - a small garden with footprints in it. Around the perimeter is yellow crime scene tape. First Peter, then Connor look for clues.
(Peter) "Well, right now we're looking at the crime scene and we're looking at the inside of the house, which is where they broke into the house. And we're seeing different, like glass broken, and a fish on the floor that looks like it came from a fish tank, that looks like it crashed on the floor, because of all the glass. And there's a box and there's a package that has some fingerprints on it."
(Connor) "And there's an empty mark on the wall where a picture was supposed to be."
(Smith) Next, the boys and their moms visit the crime labs to check out DNA samples, listen to interviews of each suspect, analyze fabric samples, footprints, and other evidence. A certain phone bill seems to be important.
(Both boys) "Customer, Ivy Lee Drummond. Ooooh."
(Mom) "It's all coming together."
(Connor) "So Ivy Lee Drummond is for the phone."
(Mom) "So what does that mean? Why do you think she called the ."
(Peter) "Oh I know, because she wanted to make sure they weren't home yet so they could go and break in!"
(Smith) In another crime lab, they compare marks on the window sill with tools taken from the various suspects.
(Peter) "I think it's the multi-tool."
(Connor) "It's the multi-tool because it's the only one that makes two marks at a time. Yes."
(Mom) "I've forgotten who that is."
(Connor) "Eileen Wright."
(Mom) "Oh, it's Eileen."
(Smith) By now, the boys are beginning to make some deductions.
(Peter) "I think it's actually the neighbor. I think it's Eileen Wright. I think it's the lab partner actually."
(Connor) "I think it's both."
(Smith) So the boys have made another discovery. It's fun to sort through the evidence but solving the mystery is still a challenge.
(Peter) "I liked looking at the crime scene, then going around and looking especially at the writing, trying to figure out things that I was really stumped on.
(Connor) "I liked going around and figuring out who did what with the evidence and then the suspects."
(Peter) "I learned, like, how hard it actually is for investigators to figure out. You have to use your brain, definitely."
(Smith) The last stop in the exhibit is a video that features a jailhouse confession.
(Confessor) "Okay. I did it! But I had help. I couldn't have pulled something off like this by myself. Who had a key to the house?"
(Smith) Who did have the key to that house? You'll have to do a little detective work yourself to find out.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Betty Smith.
Jailhouse confession: Ivy Lee Drummond
"Yes I did it. But I had help! I couldn't have pulled this off by myself. Who had a key to the house? Eileen. I'd heard Jonathan talking to a lab in Connecticut. We were working with New Mexico. That's what first tipped me off that he was working on something by himself. He thought he could design shirts that could deliver drugs or vitamins to the wearer. But he is so slow and methodical. I knew I could do it better and faster. And the person who first broke ground on this would be a billionaire. So I did some snooping and discovered he had the plans hidden somewhere in the house. I contacted Eileen and offered her a cut if she would let me in the house and make it look like a burglary. I never did find the plans. Who knew they'd be "in" the painting, not behind it?"