Tennessee Academy Becomes “Harvard” Of Forensics


“I got to blow this guy up,” Wendy Ann Martyak said cheerfully, showing off pictures of her time at a small, extremely competitive school, the Washington Post reports. The guy was a mannequin outfitted with a belt of explosives to simulate a suicide bomber. He was blown up by Martyak, supervisor of the Frederick, Md., Police Department’s crime scene unit, during her tour as Maryland’s first graduate of the two-year-old National Forensic Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. She spent 10 weeks at the academy on a Patricia Cornwell Scholarship, honing skills in evidence collection, blood-spatter analysis, fingerprinting and other techniques.

Students spread streaks of blood on a chart at set intervals to see how drying affects blood’s ability to smear. They shot up a liver and a pumpkin to study blood spatter. They learned how to lift fingerprints from a dead body. They toured rooms that had been splashed with blood or burned. They examined a car that was deliberately blown up. They dug up bodies at the only facility known to use the real thing. The “Body Farm” avails itself of donated bodies.

Frederick was the smallest department represented in the 15-member class of crime scene specialists, who came from places including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York’s Nassau County. The National Forensic Academy has become the Harvard of violence: Instructors demonstrate the ABCs of arson, autopsies, bombs, booby traps, DNA, and weapons of mass destruction. Students are encouraged to experiment, to find out what happens when a footprint is left on a ceiling tile or a body is buried under cement. Tuition is $6,500 a session, and competition for the 16 slots in each class comes from law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Martyak’s class was the school’s seventh. A British film crew followed Martyak’s class for a documentary expected to air on the BBC, and possibly on Court TV in the United States. Work done at the center has caught on with Hollywood, even if the real thing is less glamorous than “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35228-2003Dec27.html

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