October 31st is Halloween and this year it coincided with half term school holidays in Hampshire. The Portsmouth City Museum always put on a series of events for families during the holidays and this holiday I was asked to organise one of these events. What is a gal to do with twenty adults and children for two hours? Answer: turn them into detectives and crime scene investigators.
The event began with a short introduction to the kinds of crime scene analysis Sherlock Holmes carries out in the stories, such as fingerprint analysis, ash identification (the adults seemed more impressed than the kids that Holmes can identify 140 types of ash), ballistics, and ciphers. This was not an exhaustive list, but was most relevant to the tasks that followed. Tasks included such fun things as attempting their own fingerprinting techniques using baby powder, make up brushes and tape; deciphering messages; calculating height from foot size; and, thanks to the Institute for Criminal Justice Studies at University of Portsmouth, they also got to examine flies under a microscope. It soon became clear that the flies were a firm favourite task with the kids, and that the fingerprint task was a lot harder than the YouTube video made it look when I was preparing.
The next section was my favourite: the staff from ICJS at the university set up a FAKE CRIME SCENE and it was set up in a separate room so it was a complete surprise. The set up was that poor Fred the mannequin was dead, with blood coming from his head and a crowbar next to him; blood spatters and bloody footprints could be seen, as well as beer bottles, and the fact that Fred only had on one shoe. In addition to the crime scene, the CSIs had set up their equipment, such as stepping plates, a camera, police tape, and they had their full suits and booties on to stop them from contaminating the scene. We got participants to draw the crime scene and hypothesise what had happened using their Sherlock Holmes detective skills and by asking questions to the CSIs about the modern types of evidence available.
The stories that came about were fantastic! Everyone took the task very seriously, trying to accommodate all of the evidence. Some of the stories were:
- Fred had had an argument with his girlfriend (there were women’s magazines next to the body) because she was angry he wasn’t like the men from his magazines (the men’s magazine had a picture of a muscle man on the front cover). She hit him over the head with a crowbar and stole his shoe on the way out.
- Fred was killed outside and the body was dragged inside (this explains why there was no second shoe, why there was a leaf on the floor, and why there was not a lot of blood)
- Fred was part of a criminal gang and was hosting a party, but he’d done something the gang didn’t like and was killed in revenge.
- Fred had interrupted a burglary and was killed for it
- Fred had gotten very drunk and fallen over, hitting his head, and killing himself
Everyone had their own theory and their imaginations were sparked, which was the perfect time to get them to write it all down in a Sherlock Holmes-style story. It was a wonderful event, which we ran twice in one day. The responses from the participants were really positive and I was really grateful for all the wonderful helpers from ICJS and the museum who helped make it an enjoyable event.