A pair of size 7 high-heeled shoes, a shell casing and a rock were among clues Davis & Elkins College students used to help solve a simulated "double murder" case. The students in Dana Baxter's Law Enforcement 203 class played the roles of law enforcement officers piecing together evidence and filing reports for 100 points of their course grade.
Baxter presented students with an outline of a crime scenario, photos of the crime scene and character/witness sheets. From there, the students conducted interviews to gather evidence and form a case against the person they believed to be the guilty party.
"I think the best way you can learn is to apply your knowledge to a situation," Baxter, an instructor of criminology and criminal justice at D&E, said. "A lot of times I don't think students get a chance to do that. So, I wanted to give them something tangible."
Students in Dana Baxter’s Law Enforcement 203 class complete the final step of a crime scenario project. Presenting evidence that led to their conclusion are members of the “Baxterland” Police Department, standing from left, Christian Scott, a sophomore from Valley Bend; Jessica Masters, a junior from Elkins and Ronceverte; Tiffany Kerns, a junior from Elkins and Beverly; Lakota Jonese, a sophomore from Green Bank; Abdullah Alharbi, a junior from Saudi Arabia; Brittany Anderson, a senior from Frankfort, IL.; George “Christian” Wright, a junior from Monrovia, Md., and Bryant Hines, a junior from Midland, Va.
Baxter formulated the plot during the power outage that resulted from Superstorm Sandy in October. Her uncle, who is a state trooper in Pennsylvania, "helped fill in the details, shape it, and make it better."
To set the scenario, Baxter says she started with the end result and worked backward to build the characters. Six faculty members and three students filled the roles of the "cast" of the crime scene "people of interest" and others who had relationships with the "victims."
An avid James Bond fan, Baxter chose character names from the 007 films. She added local flavor by setting the scene in Elkins. The twisted tale of a lover's jealousy and a shallow friendship takes characters from their work at the college to apartments on Easy Street and an encounter at Beander's.
The scenario focused on the deaths of "Heidi Lovelace" and "Papa Jack." Several of their colleagues are suspects, and students had to determine which one committed the crime and why.
To begin uncovering the facts, the class was divided into two "police departments." Students selected the names Baxterland Police Department and Baxter Minion. While each agency gathered its own evidence, they also shared information.
"This is where I was looking to see that they thought critically and worked well with each other," Baxter says. "I heard them having a lot of good conservations. They talked about it with a passion, as if it were real."
Their collaborative efforts paid off when both departments determined the same suspect committed both murders.
Commenting on the class, Josh Robinette, a senior criminology major from Pittsburgh, Pa., said, "It was pretty intense. Out in the real world we will have to work with people in this way. I think we all learned the importance of cooperation."
Milagro Silva, a senior criminology major from Dumfries, Va., who served as captain of the Baxter Minion, agreed, saying, "I enjoyed it. It gave us an insight of what we will be doing if we go into law enforcement."
Baxter hopes to add the crime-solving session to her next law enforcement class, and is considering adding a similar exercise to White Collar Crime 355.
Baxter earned her master's and bachelor's degrees in criminology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently a doctoral candidate. Among her teaching and research interests are employee fraud, retail crimes, women and crime, and juvenile offenders.
D&E's criminology program is built on a strong social science foundation within a framework of the liberal arts. It prepares students in the applied aspects of criminal justice and the broader theoretical aspects of criminology. Students completing the program are prepared to continue in graduate schools or law school or pursue careers in the justice system.
For more information, visit the college website at www.dewv.edu or call 304-637-1243.