Murder under the microscope at McMaster


The infamous unsolved cases of Jack the Ripper, the Green River Killer and the Black Dahlia might be cracked today by the crime-stopping capabilities of forensic science.

“From Crime Scene to Courtroom,” a compelling seminar examining the context, methodology and the validity of forensic science in criminal investigations takes place on campus June 26-28 and features a unit of top forensic science and legal professionals – all equipped to share the techniques and technologies used to solve some of the world's worst crimes.

“This course emphasizes and illustrates the importance of teamwork between the medical and legal professions,” says anthropology professor Shelley Saunders, who together with her colleagues Peter Ramsden, associate professor of anthropology, and John Waye, associate professor, Department of Pathology & Molecular Medicine, and the Centre for Continuing Education, was instrumental in co-ordinating and facilitating this year's event.

The three-day educational seminar will give participants an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in archeological techniques of crime-scene recovery, analysis of skeletal remains for forensic anthropology, odontology, basic forensic pathology and interpretation of DNA evidence – all of which contribute to the building of an infallible legal case.

“Response has been overwhelming – the course was full even before we had a chance to promote it. We continue to receive daily calls from across Canada and the U.S.,” says Ruth Nicholson, program co-ordinator with the Centre for Continuing Education.

She adds, “Most of the interest has been from law enforcement professionals, but we also have mystery sleuths, writing and anthropology students registered.”

Students will excavate a simulated crime scene using archaeological techniques and learn how forensic DNA evidence is analyzed and interpreted. DNA's value not only as a tool for convicting the guilty but also as a means of exonerating the innocent will also be examined, as well as issues around the chain of evidence, contamination, misinterpretation of evidence and the presentation of biological evidence in court.

Although the seminar is full, the three evening lectures, “Blood, Bones and Bodies: How They Stack Up in Court” (June 26, 7 p.m., KTH-B135), “The Red Baron's Last Flight: The Contribution of Forensic Pathology to the Solution of a World War I Controversy” June 27, 7 p.m., KTH-B135), and “A Decade of DNA Profiling” (June 28, 7 p.m., CNH-104), are open to the public.

Admission to the evening lectures is $50 for the series of three or $20 per lecture. For more information, contact the Centre for Continuing Education at ext. 24321.