Introduction

2023 National Forensic Science Week Murder Mystery Event

2023 National Forensic Science Week Murder Mystery Event

Overview

As part of National Forensic Science Week 2023 (September 18-22, 2023), the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) is offering a murder mystery event! For this year’s murder mystery, we will be reopening a cold case with information from the original case file and new evidence-based clues from the follow-up investigation released daily. Follow along and test your sleuthing skills!     

On Friday, September 22, we will release the final clues and a murder mystery questionnaire for participants to submit their guesses and other feedback on the activity. On Monday, September 25, check back for a case resolution and a summary of the murder mystery questionnaire results to see how you did! This activity is geared towards forensic science students at the undergraduate- or graduate-level and forensic professionals, but all are encouraged to participate.

Disclaimers

  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.

Background

On Wednesday, May 4, 2022, at approximately 1005 hours, Investigator Carrie Fitz responded to a call from homeowners Jeff and Julie Hodges at 620 Mason Street, in the Shady Brush neighborhood. The Hodges moved into their home on Mason Street in August 2021 from out of state, and that morning, they were clearing the heavy vegetation around their property line to plant new bushes. While Mrs. Hodges was digging a hole for the hedge, her shovel hit something hard. Taking a closer look in the hole, she saw a partially uncovered plastic bag. Jeff and Julie started clearing the loose soil around the object and uncovered a box encased in a plastic bag. The Hodges opened the box and found a firearm and several other miscellaneous items inside. The Hodges then called the Bramblewood County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) to report the finding.  

The responding officer packaged the found property, took statements from the Hodges, and departed from the scene with the evidence. Upon return to the BCSO on May 4, 2022, the collected items were documented, and inventoried. The responding officer observed a tattered black plastic bag surrounding a black metal box with a latch. Upon opening the latch, within the metal box was a black firearm wrapped in a small white towel presenting reddish-brown stains. A black magazine was found inside the firearm which was observed to have no cartridges loaded. Loose inside the box, the responding officer observed seven stray unfired cartridges and two face masks. The interior of the metal box consisted of insulated material and cardboard. Given the nature of the collective items, Sheriff Leon Crowley advised that the collected items should be prepared for submission to the ABC Forensic Services Laboratory for forensic testing. 

Clues

Clue 2 - Firearms Lab Report

Clue 3 - Cold Case Documents

View a PDF of Clue 3 - Cold Case Documents

Documents include: Crime Scene Supplemental Report, Crime Scene Sketch, Witness Statements, Evidence List, Autopsy Report, Incident Report, and Laboratory Results

Clue 4 - Investigative Report

Clue 5 - Firearms Comparison

Clue 6 - Firearms Serial Number Restoration

Clue 7 - Latent Prints Lab Report

Clue 8 - DNA Report

View a PDF of Clue 8 - DNA Report
See Full Report Above for Details

 

Clue 9 - CODIS Lab Report

Case Review

Investigators contacted Ryan Gillespie and Trevor Toler for questioning and to obtain buccal swabs. Further DNA analysis indicated that Ryan Gillespie’s DNA profile was included as a possible contributor of the DNA profile obtained from BCSO-7.1 (swabs of mouth region of mask with purple eye rings) and Trevor Toler’s DNA profile was included as a possible contributor of the DNA profile obtained from BCSO-3.1 (swabs of grip and trigger of Glock 9mm firearm) and BCSO-6.1 (swabs of mouth region of mask with white eye rings). After being presented with the evidence, Ryan Gillespie and Trevor Toler eventually admitted to their involvement in the 2002 Armed Robbery/Homicide of Kathy Poindexter at Green Pearl Vintage Gifts. This is Ryan’s version of events. 

Ryan explained that he had been staying with his older brother, Gerald, while he got back on his feet. At the time, he had been evicted from his apartment for not paying rent and Gerald took him in with the understanding that he would assist around the house and help with yardwork. During that time, he had become friends with Trevor Toler. They had gotten into drugs and were looking for quick ways to make cash. One day, while Gerald was away, Ryan and Trevor rummaged through Gerald’s things in the house and found a gold pocket watch that appeared to be antique and possibly worth some money. Trevor suggested they pawn it at a store that his girlfriend liked, Green Pearl Vintage Gifts, and convinced Ryan that Gerald would never know it was missing. Trevor’s girlfriend sold the pocket watch to Green Pearl Vintage Gifts and received $300 for it, which she gave to Trevor and Ryan. A few weeks later, Ryan and Gerald were discussing family matters and Gerald mentioned a pocket watch that he had inherited from their grandfather, and that he’d like to get it restored and displayed like he had seen on a TV show about antiques. Ryan informed Trevor of this and panicked because he knew his brother would be very upset if he learned that the heirloom was missing. As Ryan and Trevor had already spent the $300, Trevor suggested that they use a gun to threaten the store clerk and steal it back one night at closing and, as a bonus, they could retrieve additional items to sell. Trevor knew his father, Mark Toler, had a large gun collection, so he took one of his pistols while there on a visit. Ryan and Trevor also purchased Halloween masks to wear on the night of their scheme. 

On October 25, 2002, Trevor sent his girlfriend to Green Pearl Vintage Gifts earlier in the day to ensure the pocket watch was still there. She reported that a woman was working and that the business closed at 9:00pm. Shortly before 9:00pm, Ryan and Trevor parked in a nearby parking lot and walked the short distance to the back of the business. As Kathy Poindexter opened the back door to take out the trash, they approached her wearing the masks, and Trevor flashed the gun at her and insisted that she let them in. Trevor asked where the cameras were and threatened Kathy to turn them off, which she did with the press of buttons on the control panel. In the back office, Trevor held Kathy at gunpoint while Ryan located the pocket watch in one of the case compartments. He smashed the case with brass knuckles and scooped all the contents into a grocery store bag. Just as he was returning to the back office, the phone rang, and Kathy lurched to its place on the desk to answer it. Panicked, Trevor fired the gun twice at Kathy, and Ryan and Trevor fled the scene. Ryan and Trevor made their way back to the parking lot and drove back to Gerald’s house. Gerald was out for the evening. In haste, they decided to put the pocket watch back in a drawer in Gerald’s room and bury the incriminating items in the backyard while it was dark, and Gerald was none the wiser. Ryan gathered an old military box from his room and a garbage bag while Trevor took the kitchen towel hanging from the oven rack in the kitchen and wrapped it around the gun. They put the wrapped gun and their masks inside the box, covered the box in a garbage bag, and buried it in the back yard at the far end of the property under a bush. Trevor kept the rest of the stolen items from Green Pearl Vintage Gifts until he could safely pawn them off in a neighboring city. 

Summary

FSW MM Results

Thank you for playing along! We appreciate your participation and hope you had fun along the way!

Out of the feedback responses we received, 68% of those who participated correctly identified Trevor Toler as the shooter in the homicide at Green Pearl Vintage Gifts. 75% and 79% of respondents correctly identified Ryan Gillespie and Trevor Toler, respectively, as being involved in the armed robbery/homicide.

We look forward to hosting this event again next year!

If you would like to provide feedback on this 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 author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Contact us at ForensicCOE@rti.org with any questions and subscribe to our newsletter for notifications.


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