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Winterim students investigate "death scene" at UW-Parkside

SOMERS — A groundbreaking, week-long criminal justice course wrapped up with one of the most dramatical scenes ever created at the Black Box Theatre on Saturday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

For the first time, Parkside offered “Critical Thinking in Death Scene Investigation.” The Winterim course was taught by Kenosha’s Dr. Jana-Marie Truesdell, who has a PhD in cultural and social anthropology with an emphasis in forensic anthropology.

As a final exam, a dozen students investigated an interactive death-scene recreation and filed a detailed report of their findings. The course featured a number of guest speakers, including local medical examiners, investigators, law enforcement officers and medical professionals.

“I felt it was a perfect blend between the medical field and criminal justice field,” Parkside freshman Gabrielle Richardson said. “A term we often talk about is medical-legal and how the medical side of the decedent affects the legal side and vice versa. I thought it was very interesting and educational. I loved it.”

Built by Parkside Theater Arts

The set was designed and built by the Parkside Theater Arts Department. It featured an eerie, 19th century bathroom belonging to the decedent, whose “body” was discovered when another tenant alerted the landlord to continuous, running water coming from the apartment.

As they walked onto the set, students were met by UW-Parkside Police officers Kurt Bergendahl and Kelly Andrichik.

Officers gave students a narrative of the incident and described the scene when they arrived. From there, students were allotted 20 minutes to investigate the scene, determine one of five manners of death (natural, accidental, homicide, suicide, undetermined) and assign a specific course of action.

Richardson concluded her investigation with orders for an autopsy. She believed the man was murdered and the death was potentially staged as an overdose or suicide.

“There were clues around the crime scene,” Richardson said. “His back was red from the blood sitting in there. My feeling was the body in the tub was laid flat and possibly planted in there. Another thing I noticed were fingerprints on the body’s back. It couldn’t have been accidental, like tripping or falling. I thought this investigation was a homicide.”

Observed from overhead

Truesdell observed the students during their investigation from the stage’s upper-grid system. She has over eight years of experience in the field, working in conjunction with numerous area medical examiner’s offices.

“Investigation and critical thinking are important aspects of life and the more you can hone in on these skills the better,” Truesdell said. “There has been a huge boom of interest in this field. Television series and movies have sensationalized this field of work and people don’t always have the practical understanding of these investigative practices.

“This course will allow for students to better understand what’s factual and possible beyond the realm of fictional television series.”

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