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Dead Pigs Society

Anthropological Forensics class uses CSI techniques on a pair of porkers to learn about forensic entomology

By Russell Guerrero ’83

Keaton Davis
William Miller ’87, (left) a research scientist at Texas A&M University, discusses the finer points of forensic entomology with students from an anthropological forensics class.
November 2009 – The crime scene was a field in the back of a research facility on San Antonio’s south side.  The bodies had been there for several days, maybe even weeks. Fortunately the remains were in wire pens which kept scavengers away.

On a cool and sunny fall afternoon, seven Trinity students visited the site and used crime scene investigation methods to determine the time of death of the victims – a pair of wild pigs.

The students were members of an anthropological forensics course taught by Jennifer Mathews, associate professor of sociology and anthropology.  They came to the field to learn how forensic entomology – the study of bugs ­– plays a big part in a crime scene investigation. 

The field research lab was made possible by William Miller ’87, a research scientist and forensic entomologist for Texas A&M University, who established a body farm using pig remains to study how nature affects decomposition.  Dr. Miller learned that the University had a forensics program and contacted faculty members to offer his support

Working with Professor Mathews, Dr. Miller set up a simulated crime scene at the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, the site of the body farm.  This was the first time Dr. Miller worked with a college forensics class to conduct field research.

At the beginning of the lab, Dr. Miller gave the students an introduction into forensic entomology, going over the history of the science and outlining how arthropods are used to determine a time of death.           

Then the students went into the field to begin their research. 

“I’m looking forward to this, but I’m not looking forward to the smell,” said Sarah Warren, a senior from Houston, as she walked to the “crime scene”. “I’m actually really interested because we have been learning a lot of things in the classroom and now we get to go out and get some hands-on experience.”

The students formed two groups and each began the research. As part of the investigation, they used GPS technology to record the coordinates of the area and sketched out a map of the site. The groups noted the position of the bodies and documented signs of trauma and decomposition. The students also measured the ambient temperature around the site and recorded the internal temperature of the bodies.

And students collected an assortment of bugs on and near the bodies. The bugs were put in jars and labeled so students could take them back to the classroom for further research.

“It was really cool,” exclaimed Tiffany Henderson, a senior from Midland, at the end of the lab.  “I honestly liked collecting the bugs, maggots, and stuff.  That was my favorite part.”

“It was a lot of fun and a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” said Heather Holzman, a senior from Fair Oaks Ranch and Professor Mathew’s teaching assistant. “I thought it would be too disgusting, but everyone did a really good job.”

The class liked the lab so much they nicknamed themselves the “Dead Pigs Society” and even printed T-shirts to remember their time as crime scene investigators.  

© 2009 Trinity University

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