Don't ask Bill Powers to watch TV shows like "CSI." "I'm good for five minutes and then I can't," said Powers, retired after 33 years with the state police, with whom he investigated more than 100 murders. "I start throwing pillows."
Don't ask Bill Powers to watch TV shows like "CSI."
"I'm good for five minutes and then I can't," said Powers, retired after 33 years with the state police, with whom he investigated more than 100 murders. "I start throwing pillows."
Crime scene investigation and forensic science have little to do with fictionalized accounts of both fields on television.
But professionals like Powers are teaching the real thing in Holliston, on about 32 acres tucked off Woodland Street behind a local oil company.
Boston University owns the land, with a modest three-bedroom home and miles of forest and former cranberry bogs. Two graduate programs in forensic science and anthropology and a continuing education program for law enforcement use the site for field training, about 22 miles from the university's campus.
This year, the Applied Forensic Sciences and Criminal Investigations program will step up use of the property. On Monday, organizers kick off a 12-week Citizens CSI Academy for 25 lucky Holliston residents, the first in what program directors say they hope is a long relationship with the town and schools.
"We're here, we're in Holliston, and we really want to provide any resources we can to the community," said Tara Moore, forensic anthropology director for Boston University's School of Medicine.
Moore hopes the academy will help introduce Holliston residents to the program and answer questions about growing activity on the site.
"We realized people in town were going to be saying...why is the FBI walking around town?" said Powers, director of the professional studies program for law enforcement.
Moore and Powers also want the academy to give residents who may one day serve on juries a more realistic view of crime scene investigation.
"We'd much rather see them sitting on juries educated to the real forensics, rather than what they've seen on TV," Powers said.
Boston University has owned the site for more than 20 years, Moore said, and once raised animals there for research on antibodies. A caretaker lived in the home with his family, she said.
That program ended about a dozen years ago, said Moore. The forensics programs have used the site recently only a couple times a year.
The site seems innocuous enough, like any small home tucked off the main road. But for the program directors, it offers chances to teach things that can't be done in any classroom, and they want to expand.
"The idea really is for this to be an education and research facility," Moore said.
Inside the tan home with green shutters, red paint is spattered on the wall in a bedroom with dinosaurs stenciled above the windows. Investigators had set up a mock crime scene and studied blood spatter there.
In what was a living room, folding metal chairs with desks are lined up in rows in front of a dry-erase board.
Outside, instructors have buried plastic skeletons and had students learn how to spot and exhume them, Moore said.
Mock crime scenes also are set up in the woods, where students learn how to gather and handle evidence in real life, by both night and day, Powers said.
"A lot of investigation and that kind of thing is done outside," Moore said.
"We like that," Powers said of the site. "We don't have pristine crime scenes."
The site brings together people from different disciplines, such as investigators and forensic scientists, who have to understand each other's jobs to do their own well, Powers said. The program also works with the law program at Boston University, Moore said.
Despite the grim crimes forensics is sometimes used to probe, the academy will not focus on gore or real-life crime scenes, Powers said.
"It's about the application and the science," he said.
David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.