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Murder at the Museum - or Who killed Agatha Marple?
Some days its best to take a break from the perplexity of the unsolved tales of murdered or missing wives and girlfriends in our metro area and go try to solve a pretend one instead. So I invited my younger daughter for an evening out to crack a murder mystery at the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul.
Annie is a 24-year-old student at Century College in White Bear Lake with an undeclared major. And like a lot of 20-somethings, she doesn’t know what opportunities lie ahead, so, I thought that exposing her to the well-paying world of forensic entomology, anthropology and toxicology might tickle her interest. I certainly hoped it would before I might hear the seven dreaded words a tuition-paying father hates to hear - “Dad, guess what! I’m a dance major!”
The early October event at the Science Museum in downtown St. Paul kicked off the second in a series called “Social Science,” a giant party for adults. Visitors were told a body had been discovered late at night and all signs point to foul play.
It was up to the attendees - and there were more than 1,300 of them, according to Julie Halpern, producer of the event - to gather the forensic evidence to solve the crime.
Real-life experts manning activity stations helped the visitors learn about the evidence to solve crimes.
And Annie and I learned that things, on television for example, are not always as simple as they might appear.
At these activity stations the amateur investigators would examine clues to help determine who the killer is. For example, Val Cervenka, a forensic entomologist for the Minnesota DNR, stood over a series of large photographs showing what maggots will do to a dead pig (it’s best to not even think about it!), but her point was to explain the role eggs, larvae and adult maggots can play in solving crimes involving decomposing bodies. When asked about CSI, the TV crime drama for example, Cervenka said the show sensationalized every aspect of solving a crime, due to the time compression. “It’s unreal,” she says.
Other experts on hand were Dr. Susan Myster, a forensic anthropologist, Dr. Michael Madsen, a forensic pathologist, and Glenn Hardin, a forensic toxicologist.
Visitors were taught ...
•How to “dust for prints” at the crime scene which involved clouds of dark gray powder in inexperienced hands. (Unfortunately, my daughter wore a white sweatshirt.)
•Determining a suspect’s height from a footprint (You actually can do this!)
And other techniques including blood spatter analysis, trichology (hair and scalp analysis), and a presumptive blood test, meaning is it blood or not - reminiscent of the questions raised in the recent Jeffery Trevino murder trial.
Adding to the flavor of the evening on the top floor of the museum were music, food and wine. Local mystery writers sponsored by the Once Upon a Crime bookstore read from their latest works.
When asked if the writers would be in costume, the panel moderator, Carl Brookins of Roseville replied, “No, not tonight, although some of us have done it in the past.” He may have been selling himself short, as he was wearing a suit and tie, not the usual garb you would imagine a writer wearing.
The high point of the event for Annie and me, as well as plenty of others judging by the questions they asked and the numbers of them gathered around the suspects, had to be the “suspect” interviews. (See the sidebar for more information.) It was difficult to trip them up - they had an answer for everything, as actors are wont to do.
Producer Julie Halpern, manager of programs, special events and community engagement for the museum, said the suspects were given just a “bare outline” of a script, and they took it from there.
The staff that worked on the production said they were “overjoyed” at the way it came together. “It had a real feel to it, Halpern said, combining art, fun and science.”
At the end of the evening, one suspect, Dr. Artie Doyle, “confessed” to those who had not figured him out. Turns out Annie had already fingered him as the murderer, I had not, but plenty of people had, as Artie had guilt written all over him.
It was a fun night for sure at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Denny Lynard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-748-7823.
Upcoming events ...
Social Science events are scheduled at the Minnesota Science Museum on the first Thursday evening of every other month.
The next event, Tinkerer’s Ball on Dec. 5, will invite “inventors, artists and geeks, to mix old and new technology to create newfangled marvels.” The first three dates for 2014 are Feb. 6, April 3 and June 5.
The museum has been in business since 1907. The building on the Mississippi riverfront in downtown St. Paul opened in 1999 and offers a multitude of activities and experiences for families - such as the Omnitheater, galleries and a variety of exhibits. Check the website smm.org for more information.
•• The prime suspects • •
Dr. Artie Doyle, Director of Anthropology, was portrayed by Michael Ritchie, a Minneapolis actor and improviser. His credits include work at the Jungle and Old Log Theaters. He is one of the founding members of Splendid Things, an improv theater company.
Eddie Poe, Curatorial Assistant, was portrayed by Andy Kraft who has previously worked with Actors Theater of Minnesota in such shows as Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding and We Gotta Bingo.
Ray Chandler, Security Guard, was portrayed by Dan Hopman whose credits include Park Square Theatre, Pillsbury House Theatre, Theatre Latte Da, and Mixed Blood Theater.