Takes Students to Crime Scene
SYLMAR The students approach the bodies deliberately.
Every few steps, they scan the crime scene visually for clues, careful
not to trample any evidence. After all, theyve been told that what
their cameras record could lead detectives to the murderer.
The students treat this "investigation" with all the seriousness
of the real thing
even though its actually a lab assignment
in Mission Colleges Forensic Photography 250 class.
Harlan Goldberg and
adjunct instructor Lloyd Mahanay, senior criminalist with the Los Angeles
County Coroners Office, teach the course jointly. Goldberg teaches
elements of photography to the students, while Mahanay focuses on the
specifics of crime scene photography. After eight weeks of classroom techniques,
the students are ready to venture out to Veterans Park, where a double
homicide scene awaits them.
Kelly Moes photographs victim at mock crime scene
as instructor Lloyd Mahanay looks on.
we have here is a boyfriend and girlfriend who came out to the park to
be alone," explained Mahanay as he prepared the scene. "They
were assaulted by a stranger or strangers, and both were killed. A man
walking his dog this morning saw the bodies and called police."
As he talks, Mahanay
twists and contorts the limbs of the two flexible dummies (specially made
for crime scene training) that represent the "victims" in this
scenario. The figures are placed about 15 feet apart under a tree: the
"man," his arms and legs tied behind his back, dumped in a ditch;
the "woman," showing signs of sexual assault, left "dead"
under some bushes.
The mock set-up mirrors actual crime scenes that Mahanay said he has seen
"three or four times" during his 25 years with the Coroners
While the victims are easily spotted, Mahanay also places evidence, including
a water bottle and cigarette butt, at the scene for students to discover
and photograph. In groups of four, the students approach the scene, take
several photos of the bodies from different angles, and soon discover
the water bottle and cigarette butt.
"Okay, guys, I think we need to mark these," said student Kelly
Moes, pulling out a 6-inch ruler that is placed alongside evidence to
provide perspective in the photos.
Moes said she is a chemistry major but wants to apply knowledge in that
field to a career in forensic science. Another student, Bruno Dueker,
is undecided about a major but took the class because forensic science
interests him. Yet another student, Adolfo Muller, is more typical of
the class enrollment, which consists mostly of Administration of Justice
majors. He hopes to become a forensic pathologist.
Mahanay believes the class is a good starting point for students interested
in all aspects of forensic science.
"A forensic photographer is one of the most important investigators
at a crime scene," he said. "Theyre the photographer,
but also a detective and a criminalist. Their job is to look at everything."
Looking at the students photos will help Mahanay determine if theyve
really understood the methods stressed in the classroom, he said. And
even though the victims in this case are just plastic dummies in a simulated
killing field, the experience challenges the students to ask themselves
if murder scenes are where they want to spend a career.