HILLSDALE — Wearing latex gloves to protect the evidence, young investigators Evan Badgett and Nick Beets carefully processed the gruesome crime scene in front of them.
Although the facts of the case were still a mystery, the inside of the beat-up Saturn four-door vehicle was littered with clues. Skeleton behind the wheel. Bullet casings on the floor. Splattered blood stains on the window and seat.
Badgett and Beets worked together to label and catalog the pieces of evidence, while also taking measurements of the crime scene. Although the young investigators were instructed to envision that the vehicle was found in a field at the end of a dirt road in Miami County, it was actually sitting in the parking lot of the Hillsdale Learning Center.
Badgett and Beets are two of the students in Suzie Tousey’s criminal justice class. The Hillsdale Learning Center, which used to be Hillsdale Elementary School, offers criminal justice and manicuring classes for students looking to gain college credit through Fort Scott Community College.
Tousey, who also is a part-time member of the Osawatomie Police Department, teaches six courses each year — three in the first semester and three in the spring semester. The criminal justice classes cover interview and report writing, law enforcement operations and procedure, and crime scene investigation.
The vehicle crime scene served as the final for the students, who were split into five groups of two detectives. Tousey said Tommy Brewer donated the vehicle, and she even got real maggots from Bass Pro Shops that she placed on the skeleton while she prepared the crime scene for each set of student detectives.
The crime scene was a little too real for a few Hillsdale residents who called the sheriff’s office to report a vehicle with a skeleton inside parked in the lot. Tousey said she gave her fellow law enforcement officials a heads up about her class so they would be prepared for such calls.
The mystery was not an easy one for the students to solve. Many got on the right track by running the license plate of the vehicle, but several missed a hidden bloody fingerprint on the rear view mirror that would have more quickly pointed them toward an existing related case that Tousey created.
The students took advantage of several technological tools during their investigation, including creating a virtual crime scene by submitting the evidence and measurements they gathered into a SmartDraw program.
Many of the students enjoyed experimenting with the tools and techniques firsthand after learning about them during an earlier field trip to the Johnson County Crime Lab, where they get to see forensic tools and ballistic testing equipment, among other things.
Teaching DARE and serving as a school resource officer in Osawatomie, Tousey said she has developed a good working relationship with youths. She also works as a campus police officer in Blue Valley.
Badgett, who is a senior at Spring Hill High School, said he has learned a lot in the class, and it has helped solidify his decision to pursue a career in law enforcement by attending the police academy.
Beets, who is a senior at Paola High School, said he also has enjoyed the class, but he plans to pursue a career in the military.