As a part of National Forensic Science Week 2022 (September 18-24, 2022), the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) is offering a murder mystery event! Each day of the week, a new evidence-based clue will be revealed on the website. Follow along and test your sleuthing skills!
On Friday, September 23rd, you will be able fill out a mystery-related questionnaire with your thoughts on what occurred! Then, check the FTCOE website next Monday, September 26th, for the case review and read how the detectives closed the case!
1.) The story, names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this activity are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products are intended or should be inferred.
2.) Additionally, some parts of this activity represent laboratory reports. These reports should not be used as standards or templates for actual standard operating procedures. These reports are only meant to inform the reader of elements associated with this activity.
3.) The goal of any forensic practitioner is to be an objective, fact-finding party to the criminal justice system. This activity is purely meant to be a game that utilizes forensic science as a conduit of information to assist in solving this fictitious case.
Late one evening, Jack Sumpter was driving along a dark wooded road with his girlfriend, Jill Smart. They were headed home after having dinner in the city. “Oh honey, the food was delicious! I’m so glad we were able to finally have our date night!” Jill exclaimed. Jack looked over at Jill and said, “I had a really great time. I’m so thankful my boss let me leave work on time.” Just as Jack looked back at the road, Jill pointed to the roadway and screamed, “There’s a deer in the road!” Jack slammed on his brakes and tried to swerve around it but ended up driving off the road, down an embankment, and hit a tree. Through the haze of the airbag dust, Jack looked over at Jill and asked if she was okay. Jill replied, “I think I’m fine, but I hit my head against the window. Are you okay?” “Yes, I’m okay.” Jack replied. “I can’t believe I didn’t see that thing sooner! I’m really glad you’re okay.”
Jack got out of the car to assess the damage, while Jill called emergency services. Jack didn’t think the damage was too bad, but with the steep grade of the embankment and the shrubbery all around, he knew he would need a tow truck to get out. While trying to get his bearings, he could see a shallow river up ahead running underneath the road they were traveling on. Jack walked a little closer to the river to see if he could see any other landmarks. The only thing that caught his eye was a large drum shaped container in the river, near the bridge portion of the road. He then climbed up to the roadway to see if he could see any mile markers but did not have any luck. Jill stepped out of the vehicle and asked Jack if he knew what address they were closest to. Jack responded that they were driving on Rose Water Lane and had passed the intersection with Fern Gully Quarters a few miles back. He also said their location was near a river and mentioned that emergency services may be able to find it on a map.
About 20 minutes later, an ambulance and police vehicle arrived. Emergency Medical Services assessed Jill and decided to take her to the hospital to evaluate her for any head trauma. Jack received a clean bill of health other than he might be sore in the coming days from the whiplash. While telling the police officer what occurred, Jack walked the police officer to his car to see the damage. When the officer looked out towards the river, he observed the container in the water. The officer was intrigued because two days ago he responded to the same location for a possible shots fired call. The water level was much higher that day and he didn’t see the container in the water. The officer walked closer to the container and realized it was a blue 55-gallon drum with a lid. He shined his flashlight on the barrel and saw two holes in the container that looked like bullet holes. He tried to get a closer look and realized he could see something white in the barrel. The officer put on gloves and tried to upright the drum. The drum was fairly heavy, and he could hear something shift as he righted the drum. The officer then unlatched the lid to get a better idea of what was inside. When he opened it, he saw the top of a head and realized a human body was in the container. The officer looked at Jack and said, “Sorry son, this just became a crime scene. It’s going to take a bit longer to get your car back.”
Preliminary Death Report
CODIS Hit Letter
Supplemental Law Enforcement Report
On April 25th, Detective Bates went to the known address of Patrick McHenry, also known as “Mac”, to see if he knew James Beck. The residence was approximately 10 miles away from the dump site. When Detective Bates arrived, Patrick answered the door and told Detective Bates that James had stayed with him for a couple of weeks, but he hadn’t heard from him in a while. Patrick figured James was off living with another friend, since he tended to bounce around. When Detective Bates inquired specifically about the last time Patrick heard from James, Patrick said maybe last month sometime. Detective Bates asked if he could see the room James was staying in, but Patrick said no because he had to leave for work. Patrick did add that he had already cleaned James’ room and got rid of most of his stuff, since he didn’t think he was coming back. Detective Bates asked if he could see what stuff was left over, but again, Patrick said he didn’t have the time. Detective Bates gave Patrick his card and asked him to call if he heard from James. On his way out, Detective Bates saw two blue 55-gallon drums along the side of the residence.
The crime laboratory ran the familial reference sample from Virginia Beck, James Beck’s mother, and confirmed that the decedent was an offspring from Virginia Beck. Additionally, Detective Bates spoke with one of Patrick neighbor’s and she said that one night a few weeks back, there was big party at Patrick’s house and that was the last time she saw James. Detective Bates was also able to get phone records from the cell phone company for James’ phone. He was able to see that the last phone call made occurred on March 31st and pinged to a cell phone tower near Patrick’s house.
Detective Bates asked Patrick to come down to the Sheriff’s Office to discuss more in-depth about what he knew of James and to discuss the couple of weeks he was living with James. Detective Bates asked Patrick specifically about what occurred on March 31st. Patrick was hesitant to talk at first, but when Detective Bates discussed the evidence, Patrick finally told him what happened. Patrick stated that he, James, and a couple of friends were having a party at his house where drugs and alcohol were present. His recollection of the night’s events were fuzzy, but when they awoke the next morning, they found James unresponsive. They tried to revive him but were scared to call the cops because of the drugs at the house. Mike Bowers, one of the friends at the party, said that they needed to get rid of the body or he could be charged since he brought the drugs and was on probation. Mike and Patrick put James in the barrel, loaded the barrel into his truck, and then took it to the river off Rose Water Lane. Mike used Patrick’s handgun he kept in his truck to shoot the barrel, hoping it would sink.
Thank you for playing along! We appreciate your participation in this event and hope you had fun along the way.
Out of the feedback responses we received, 32% of those who participated correctly identified the manner of death as an accident, with many correctly guessing the cause of death as an overdose! Sometimes things are not what they seem, which is why a holistic approach to case review is important!
We look forward to hosting this event again next year and will incorporate your feedback.
If you would like to give feedback on the event, please email the FTCOE team at ForensicCOE@rti.org.
Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence event has been provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this event are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.