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Clara Buchner gets an eagle-eye view of her testing sample. She and her fellow junior detectives offered smart, incisive theories at Crime Lab class. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Young super sleuths learn basics of solving crimes

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By Sarah Smith / Enterprise

Four grade school gumshoes set off in earnest Monday to solve a heinous imaginary crime – theft of a valuable cold cure from the Menahga School.

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In a Community Education class that could have been called CSI: Park Rapids, the intrepid grade-schoolers engaged in crime scene analysis and learned weighty topics such as evidence contamination, chromatography and, for starters, what a crime was.

A non-violent crime.

The kids were equally adept at placing slides under the microscope and seeing what various substances looked at close-up.

The sleuths, either through television or worldly knowledge, asked sophisticated questions such as how to conceal fingerprints, what pigments were dominant in an ink sample and which of six suspects was more likely to have perpetrated the crime.

But instead of eliminating suspects, the group argued persuasively why a softball coach, a winning cake baker and assorted others might have a motive that would include them as suspects.

The perp left behind a ransom note written in permanent markers after purloining the invaluable Solution X, a cure for the common cold, a winning science fair entry left in a safe that was mysteriously cracked open.

“Sometimes they wear gloves so you don’t have fingerprints,” offered super sleuth Hank Spangler.

“Do you think the ransom note has invisible ink?” suggested Parker Harmon.

After outlining the crime scenario, head detective Gina Porozinski, who teaches Title I at Century School, patiently kept the four detectives on track for an assignment that called for a lot of attention to details.

She wore a Sherlock Holmes hat. Porozinski teaches science-related topics, and knew her student detectives.

“He loves science!” she said of student Stetson Becker, who, with Parker, took previous classes on chemical reactions and electrical circuits. Both want a secondary course in dry ice.

The sleuths started with a porous paper, analyzing the ransom note ink. It’s an experiment they can repeat at home, using a coffee filter.

Clara Buchner, the Nancy Drew of the class, offered her own theory.

“Most of the time people don’t suspect kids of stealing,” she said of one of the suspects who had a student in the school. The parent was a logical suspect, Clara, suggested.

“A cute little innocent kid” could throw detectives off the trail, she said.

They discussed possible motives for the crime, maybe financial, and possible evidence. Black permanent markers were found in a search of each suspects’ home.

But as some students started immediately narrowing the list of suspects, based on the width of the markers, whether fine point or wide point, others cautioned against a hasty conclusion.

“They could spread (bleed) on the paper,” Clara offered. Therefore all the evidence should be tested.

They made a master test of the ransom note and learned that the black pigment in the ink separated into various other colors upon soaking in water. Orange and bluish pigments became visible. Aha.

Each ink was assigned numerically to a suspect.

“Number 5 isn’t spreading,” Parker observed immediately.

The lesson entailed reading, math, organizing, and above all, patience and diligence in the task of analyzing evidence.

The methodical procedure tested some of the sleuths’ patience but the head detective did a masterful job of keeping the junior detectives from running amok with wild hypotheses.

And as the day’s testing concluded, Sherlock Porozinski cautioned against a rush to judgment.

After the samples dry, there could be more clues in the pigment!

The detectives report back for a final day of testing today. No spoiler alert. Although Suspect #6 is the most obvious culprit at this point, more analysis could be offered in today’s class that could finger any of the six.

As with any good mystery book, you can’t just dip into the end for the solution.

Crime Lab 101 could have a sequel.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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