Kids solve crime at murder mystery camp

MORRIS – The body of a woman was found Wednesday behind the Grundy County Farm Bureau building north of Morris by a group of children playing the part of crime scene investigators.

The victim, a mannequin, appeared to have been shot and the body hidden in the plants behind the building.

That was the scene for this year’s Murder Mystery Camp, an annual event held by the University of Illinois Extension Youth Development Educator John Davis and Grundy County Coroner John Callahan, which teaches kids the process of crime investigations.

“TV has a lot of hype,” Callahan said. “Today you need to pay attention because you might be quizzed later on things you’ve seen.”

Seeing things was the theme this year as Callahan and chief deputy coroner Christina Hintze-Symoniak showed the 42 children items to pay attention to at a crime scene, including location of the body, what a person is wearing, and whether there is blood or other clues on the body or near it.

They showed the children how to cast a boot print and what they would take pictures of at the scene prior to moving the person.

“I like mysteries, and I’m in 4-H so I heard about the camp,” 9-year-old Sy Salinas of Mazon said. “Just looking at the evidence, it could have been a car accident, and they tried to help themselves by wrapping up their own foot before dying.”

Salinas may have been just throwing out false leads though, especially when he told Callahan that if someone was the murderer they would know a lot of details about the body.

None of the participants caught on, including Salinas, who turned out to be one of the murderers of the victim. The victim is a mannequin that has been used for the past several summers, always suffering a different death.

Fourteen-year-old Naya Green of Diamond said she likes the science behind the investigations.

“I watch TV shows and think it’s kinda cool,” she said. “But I’ve learned they don’t do things as quickly as it shows on TV.”

Callahan told the kids how samples are obtained and sent out to other labs for testing that his office doesn’t have the capability of doing, and how it often takes weeks to get results back.

He said a lot of time they rely on talking to witnesses, but the problem with witnesses is no two witnesses perceive things the same.

Hintze-Symoniak said the kids learn the job is more about what you see, and that you should pay attention to everything.

“It’s fun to teach the kids,” Callahan said. “It gets us away from the seriousness of what we do and allows us to share our thoughts and expertise with the younger generation. I always wonder what the conversations are like at the dinner table after this camp.”