Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works

Course No. 1190
Professor Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D.
Mount St. Joseph University
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Course No. 1190
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Course Overview

Crime is as old as human society. So is the use of evidence, witnesses, and reason to solve crimes. The desire to identify lawbreakers and bring them to justice is so great that it has inspired countless stories, novels, plays, movies, and television series. But how accurate are the fictional portrayals of crime investigations? What happens behind the scenes when forensic scientists crack a case? The actual details are far more than a lesson in how detective dramas often get it wrong. Knowing how real forensic investigators approach real cases will help you

  • serve as a better juror in a criminal trial or civil lawsuit;
  • be a more effective witness if you ever see a crime take place or are a victim of one;
  • sharpen your analysis of the endless array of crime reports that fill the news;
  • think more critically in assessing the value of different types of evidence;
  • learn about a wide range of technical fields that all come to bear in the investigation of crime.

What's more, an introduction to the principles of forensic science and a look at some case studies will give you a new appreciation for law enforcement, which in recent decades has seen a revolution in its ability to determine who committed a crime, how it was done, and often, why.

Taught by veteran forensic scientist and Professor Elizabeth A. Murray of the College of Mount St. Joseph, Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works takes you from the crime scene to the lab to the courtroom in 36 riveting half-hour lectures that reveal the personality and passions of an investigative mind.

Forensic Science from the Inside

One of the nation's foremost experts in forensic anthropology, Professor Murray has participated in hundreds of investigations, involving homicides, missing persons, and mass disasters. In Trails of Evidence, she draws on this extensive experience to show how forensic science works from the inside with discussions of cases such as these:

  • American Eagle Flight 4184: After a commuter plane went down in rural Indiana in 1994, Professor Murray was called to assist with identification of the victims, a daunting task that sheds light on how authorities mobilize to deal with the catastrophic loss of life.
  • The cold case of a missing teen: Four decades after police gave up trying to identify a young woman found dead in a cornfield, Professor Murray examined the evidence and reached new conclusions that helped give a name to a teenager who met a tragic fate.
  • The forgetful killer: A murder suspect agreed to take police to the spot where he buried one of his victims nearly two years earlier—except he couldn't find it. Given only a rough idea of where to search, Professor Murray used a few simple principles to locate the grave.

You also learn about landmark forensic cases that are classics in the history of crime solving, including these:

  • Lindbergh kidnapping: The abduction and killing of Charles Lindbergh's infant son left a host of puzzling clues, including a homemade ladder. When a suspect was arrested, tool marks and other distinguishing features on the ladder were crucial in establishing his guilt.
  • First use of DNA fingerprinting:The death of two teenage girls in central England in the 1980s led investigators to a strong suspect. However, a newly developed DNA technology developed at a local university exonerated an innocent man and led to the real killer.
  • Ted Bundy: This notorious serial killer perfected a modus operandi that allowed him to escape police for years. A master at hiding his tracks, he was finally convicted based largely on testimony by a forensic odontologist, who matched bite marks on a victim to Bundy's teeth.

Learn to Read the Evidence

Unlike what's shown on TV, forensic scientists do not chase down leads and question suspects. Instead, they leave the legwork to the police and use the tools of science—chemistry, biology, physics, and psychology—to uncover the story that carefully collected and analyzed evidence has to tell.

But first they have to know what to look for at a crime scene. Professor Murray begins the course by introducing Locard's exchange principle. Proposed a century ago by the French forensic scientist Edmond Locard, this important idea holds that no one can commit a crime without leaving something behind or altering the surroundings, however imperceptibly.

Armed with the assumption that clues are scattered everywhere, forensic investigators learn how to approach and evaluate an unfamiliar setting. For example, Professor Murray recounts how a police officer told her how to tell the difference between a ransacked house and a messy housekeeper just by looking in the kitchen sink.

In the first section of the course, you explore protocols for investigating a scene, and you probe some classic types of evidence:

  • Fingerprints: Learn the finer points of this venerable tool of identification, including how a common household product, Super Glue, is used to uncover latent prints.
  • Shoeprints:Footprints are more commonly left behind at crime scenes than fingerprints. Criminals can't avoid walking on a surface, even when they're careful not to touch anything with their hands.
  • Fibers:Microscopic fibers transferred to or from a crime scene have incriminated many criminals, including Wayne Williams, convicted of the Atlanta child murders in 1982.
  • Blood: TV dramas get it wrong when they show dramatic blood spatters revealed by high-tech chemistry or lighting. What real forensic scientists see is a smear, made by a perpetrator's attempt to clean up evidence.
  • Handwriting:Signs of hesitation, such as jerky starts and stops, can indicate that someone was trying to duplicate another person's handwriting by looking at a copy of it.

You also hear what goes into investigating a scene that has been nearly obliterated, whether by arson, bombing, or structural collapse. And you learn how the aftermath of an auto accident may hold all the clues needed to determine the sequence of events and who was probably at fault.

In the second part of Trails of Evidence, you focus on Professor Murray's specialty—analysis of human remains—discovering how the time of death is estimated, whether the body is discovered hours or years after the fatal event. She explains the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner. And using some powerful case histories, she describes the roles of various forensic scientists in establishing the cause and manner of death and how unknown persons are identified.

Professor Murray also delves into the psychology behind law enforcement, explaining that effective interrogation strategies are seldom as confrontational as depicted on TV. You will also hear about forensic profiling, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and the criminal mind. Then she takes you into the courtroom to see how evidence is presented to the final arbiters of its value: the judge and jury.

Science in Pursuit of Justice

Winner of the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award, among other distinguished honors, Professor Murray brings to teaching the same gifts for clear, incisive, and creative thought that have made her so effective in the investigation of questionable deaths and unidentified persons.

In Trails of Evidence, she examines her subject from all angles, covering the principles and real-life practices of the diverse professions that come together in forensic science. And she offers several do-it-yourself projects that she uses with her students—from a simple exercise to test your observational skills to an experiment with blood spatter patterns that employs real-looking fake blood that you can make in the kitchen.

Not surprisingly, Professor Murray shares some of the classic qualities of her fictionalized counterparts. She is frank, meticulous, unflappable, and adept at diffusing the more shocking aspects of her work with humor. But she is also the real thing. She has witnessed firsthand the tragedy of innumerable crimes. What keeps her going is the quest to use the tools of forensic science to see that justice is done.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Using Science—Crime Scene to Courtroom
    Professor Murray opens the course by discussing her participation in a multifaceted homicide case that illustrates the many factors that go into a forensic investigation. Learn how the scientific method is rigorously applied in the field, and survey the topics you will cover in the course. x
  • 2
    Crime Scenes and Forensic Evidence
    Locard’s exchange principle holds that every contact leaves a trace. Starting with this rule, discover how a forensic scientist approaches a crime scene. Professor Murray suggests an experiment you can perform to understand the difficulty of finding evidence in an unfamiliar setting. x
  • 3
    Fingerprint Science—Hands-Down ID
    Explore the science of fingerprint analysis, which has been a tool of forensic investigators since the late 1800s. Learn the different coding systems for classifying fingerprints, the techniques for recovering prints where they appear absent, and the innovation of computerized matching. x
  • 4
    Telltale Marks—Tools, Guns, and Ammunition
    Many people know that a gun leaves telltale marks on the bullets it fires. But firearms evidence is only part of a much broader field called toolmark analysis. Examine the ways forensic scientists match a tool to the impressions it leaves on a surface it contacts. x
  • 5
    Good Impressions—Shoes, Tires, and Skin
    Continue your study of the crime scene by looking at the importance of forensic photography and the marks made by shoes, tires, and textiles. Professor Murray describes a case in which crucial clothing impressions on a body showed a death was accidental. x
  • 6
    Forensics of Fibers, Paint, and Glass
    Turn to examples of trace evidence that can clinch a case in court—as long as samples are properly handled and analyzed. Fibers, paint, and glass fragments sometimes have a vivid story to tell about their origin and the events that left them on a victim or at a crime scene. x
  • 7
    Traces of Hair and Fur
    Hair is one of the most commonly analyzed forms of trace evidence and may contain DNA that can pin down its source. Discover that the difficulty of DNA testing makes hair more often used to rule out suspects, since hair has distinctive characteristics that are easily observable. x
  • 8
    Soil, Protist, Plant, and Animal Traces
    Enter the field of wildlife forensics, which involves not just attacks by animals on people but the many ways that evidence from nature is used to solve crimes. Soils, wood, pollen, and animal traces can all connect a person or object to a crime scene. x
  • 9
    Serology—Blood and Other Body Fluids
    What does an investigator do when a murder scene has been scrubbed spotlessly clean by the perpetrator? TV dramas often get the facts wrong. Survey the arsenal of tests for body fluids that can uncover a hidden crime. x
  • 10
    The Forensic Analysis of DNA
    Learn how DNA profiling became the gold standard in both victim and perpetrator identification, even though humans have more than 99% of their DNA in common. Professor Murray discusses the landmark case in the United Kingdom that was the first to use DNA to convict a killer. x
  • 11
    Forensic Toxicology of Drugs and Poisons
    Enter the toxicology lab to learn how drugs and poisonous substances are detected, even in minute quantities. Trace the path of drugs through the bloodstream and understand their effects. Then see how forensic scientists use sophisticated tests to identify chemicals in a victim’s body. x
  • 12
    The Forensics of Substance Abuse
    In one recent year, drug overdoses accounted for 26,000 deaths in the United States. Focus on the forensics of this serious social problem. How are drugs of abuse classified? How do they affect the body? And which regulated substances are more commonly analyzed in the forensic chemistry lab, since they’re the most frequently encountered on the street? x
  • 13
    Handwriting and Forgery Analysis
    Examine the field of questioned documents, which involves both handwriting analysis and the more scientifically conclusive procedures of materials examination. Learn the tip-offs that someone is trying to duplicate the handwriting of another, and explore the ways that some famous fakes were unmasked. x
  • 14
    Computer Forensics and Digital Evidence
    Learn how forensic investigators extract evidence from computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Discover the importance of slack space on a hard drive, and review how GPS tracking solved one murder that ultimately led officials to link that killer to another murder over a decade earlier. x
  • 15
    Structure Failure—Forensic Engineering
    Whenever a bridge, building, or other structure fails, forensic engineers are called in to determine what went wrong, which may show whether a crime was committed. Focus on cases such as Boston’s deadly Great Molasses Flood in 1919 and the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers in 2001. x
  • 16
    Forensic Analysis of Vehicle Accidents
    Apply Newton’s laws of motion to automobile accidents, discovering what skid marks, front-end damage, and other clues reveal about the cause of a collision. Close by considering two other types of vehicle accidents: an airline crash in 1994 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. x
  • 17
    Fire Science and Explosion Forensics
    Probe the ashes of a smoldering building to find the telltale traces that can point to arson. Even the aftermath of a violent explosion leaves clues about what caused it. But first, it’s important to understand the physics of fire and explosives—and the motives of those who light the fuse. x
  • 18
    Blood Evidence—Stains and Spatters
    Even when a body is absent, blood leaves distinctive patterns that can tell investigators the nature of an injury, the type of weapon that made it, and sometimes the degree of culpability of the person who caused it. Review the role of blood evidence in the infamous Sam Sheppard murder trial. x
  • 19
    The Science of Death
    Begin a series of lectures on death and its aftermath by studying the end stages of life. Seldom as simple as portrayed on TV, death is a cascade of failures rather than a single event. Explore some of the many routes to this inevitable end. x
  • 20
    Death Investigation—Algor, Livor, and Rigor
    How can an investigator inspect a body and estimate the time of death? Follow the steps that the body’s systems take after life ends, including algor mortis, livor mortis, and rigor mortis. Each of these processes can help signal when death occurred and also the likely circumstances. x
  • 21
    Autopsy—Cause and Manner of Death
    Step into the morgue to understand why and how a forensic autopsy is performed. The purpose is to determine the cause and manner of death, and often to identify the victim. Much like exploratory surgery, no two autopsies are the same. x
  • 22
    Decomposition—From Bugs to Bones
    When bodies are in a state of advanced decomposition, forensic entomologists use knowledge of insect life cycles to estimate the time since death. Discover that a research center known informally as the Body Farm has turned this gruesome subject into a science. x
  • 23
    Forensic Anthropology—Skeleton Stories
    Study the science behind skeletons, learning how investigators read the clues in bones for signs of age, sex, ancestry, and trauma. Human skeletons vary widely, even in the number of bones in an individual. The standard textbook figure—206—is only an average. x
  • 24
    Forensics of Teeth and Bite Marks
    Forensic odontologists are dentists trained to use their knowledge of teeth in two ways: to identify unknown persons and to interpret bite mark evidence on victims. Learn how dental patterns can be compelling evidence and led to the murder conviction of serial killer Ted Bundy in 1979. x
  • 25
    Police Sketches and Facial Reproductions
    From wanted posters in the Old West to today’s digital face reconstructions, forensic art is an enduring tool of law enforcement. Explore the techniques artists use to create a recognizable human likeness based on limited information, and learn about the careful approaches these artists must take when interviewing witnesses. x
  • 26
    Interview, Interrogation, Intelligence
    Turn to a key component of police work that underlies all forensic investigations: evidence provided by people. Learn the differences between interviewing, interrogating, and gathering intelligence. Effective interrogation is a far less adversarial process than is portrayed on TV. x
  • 27
    Forensic Profiling—Who, How, and Why?
    Explore one of the most controversial aspects of forensics: personality profiling. Profiling can greatly narrow the field of potential suspects and aid in capturing criminals. Review cases in which this technique proved spectacularly successful and also tragically misguided. x
  • 28
    Human Memory and Eyewitness Accounts
    Eyewitness testimony carries enormous weight in court. But how reliable is it? Professor Murray describes a “crime” that she stages in front of her students to test their reliability as witnesses. Her experiences in the classroom match the unsettling findings of studies. x
  • 29
    Criminal Minds—Psychology and Psychiatry
    Dealing with human behavior is at the root of the legal system. Delve into forensic psychology and forensic psychiatry by studying the disturbing case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Then look at how the criminal justice system evaluates insanity pleas, separating frauds from the genuinely mentally ill. x
  • 30
    When Forensic Evidence Is on Trial
    Forensic evidence must be collected, prepared, and analyzed with care, since it may wind up in court. What happens when it does? Review the history of scientific evidence, its changing acceptance by the courts, and efforts today to develop uniform standards in forensics that apply throughout the country. x
  • 31
    Forensic Scientists and Expert Testimony
    Both sides in a legal dispute have the right to good science, and Professor Murray has testified for both the prosecution and defense in different trials. Hear some of her experiences, and examine the many career pathways to becoming a forensic expert. x
  • 32
    Comparing Crimes and Crime Labs
    Turn to the subject of crime itself, exploring the different categories of homicide, assault, and property offenses. The disparity in technology around the world means that forensic science practices vary. Close by looking at a typical high-tech crime lab and the types of evidence that move through it. x
  • 33
    Crimes—Nobody’s Supposed to Get Hurt
    Get practical forensic experience by learning how to calculate when an individual is over the alcohol limit for drunk driving. Then explore the role of forensics in cases of identity theft, arson, and a famous kidnapping in which an astute victim laid the foundation for snaring his captors. x
  • 34
    Crimes—Killers of One, Killers of Many
    Analyze four tragic cases that were solved with the help of forensic evidence: the killing of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in England, the Jeffrey MacDonald triple-murder case, a 17-year string of hospital killings that appeared to be natural deaths, and the BTK (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) murder spree in Wichita, Kansas. x
  • 35
    Applications—Mass-Disaster Forensics
    What is the experience of a forensic investigator in the aftermath of a mass disaster? Professor Murray recounts her role in the analysis of the 1994 crash of American Eagle Flight 4184. Learn how mass disasters are like monumental crime scenes, in which many forensic techniques come into play. x
  • 36
    Applications—Identification Matters
    One of the most emotionally satisfying aspects of Professor Murray’s work is identifying deceased unknown persons, helping to bring answers to a victim’s family. Finish your study of forensic science with examples of her work in this area, including a nearly 40-year-old cold case that she helped solve. x

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Your professor

Elizabeth A. Murray

About Your Professor

Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D.
Mount St. Joseph University
Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University, where she teaches doctoral-level human gross anatomy and undergraduate-level anatomy and physiology, as well as forensic science. She earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Mount St. Joseph University and her master's degree in anthropology and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Biology from the...
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Reviews

Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 74.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Course Explaining Forensic Science I just finished watching this course. I found it very interesting, and Professor Murray was an excellent instructor. I found it very strange that Dr. Murray did not discuss the 2004 Madrid train station bombing during the lecture on fingerprints. The FBI arrested an Oregon citizen because they identified his fingerprint on part of the bomb. Later, Spanish police arrested someone else. Because of the extreme similarities between the 2 fingerprints the FBI revised their criteria for using fingerprints as proof of guilt. I wish Dr. Murray had discussed this and its affect on the reliability of fingerprint evidence in criminal trials.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learning about the real science I bought this product because I had previous experience with another of Professor Murray's great courses offerings. I have learned a lot about what forensic science is and what it is not. The only problem that I have had is that the DVD's have made a rattling noise when played, intermittently through the entire course.
Date published: 2018-02-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good when used with a DVD player; but.... I haven't watched the entire set, but experienced immediate disappointment "out of the box" when trying to view the first lesson on my computer. The presenter's voice is barely audible on the computer; but seems fine on a DVD player. I experienced the same results under both Windows 7 Pro and Ubuntu. Except for this shortcoming, I would recommend the product.
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative I just received it, only saw 1 disk, but what I saw so far was great. Well taught and very interesting.
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from intriguing We had watched other lecture series by Elizabeth Murry and found them an excellent source of knowledge which prompted us to purchase Trails of Evidence. All her lectures contain a wealth of information, yet very entertaining and at times have you sitting on the edge of your seat. We are using this lecture series as a portion of our High School Forensic Science curriculum. She has worked in the field and is extremely knowledgeable on the topic. With her sense of humor, yet still serious, this is an outstanding lecture series.
Date published: 2017-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting I am enjoying this, my first Great Courses, lecture series very much !
Date published: 2017-07-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Superficial treatment I was hoping for more depth in each subject touched. A lot of time is spent on the more trivial aspects of the topic.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Very informative course, tells you a lot about the atrocities of our society. Made me want to join forces to help reveal the truth! Will watch it again.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Totally fascinating! I bought this course as research for a novel I'm writing. Plus, I love to watch mysteries and this makes then even more fascinating. My only issue with the streaming video I am watching is that it skips! Yep, just like a record or tape or something. If I back it up and redo it, it still does it in the same places. Other than that, I'm totally satisfied with this class!
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information! This course will 'fill in the blanks' for all forensic enthusiasts! It will help you dig deep to uncover the truth about crime scene investigations and dispel the myths!
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too elementary, my dear Watson I found this course extremely disappointing. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but it was so basic as to be not worth my time. I should start by admitting that I am a pathologist, although not a forensic pathologist. With that background I brought a little bit more knowledge to the course than most viewers, but I have no background in trace evidence analysis, blood spatter evaluation, tool mark investigation, and many other areas of forensic investigation. I was hoping to see detailed discussions of cases to illustrate the powers and problems of various forensic methods. Sadly, there was almost none of that. The information presented was so fundamental as to be little more than common sense. The cases presented were done so superficially that almost nothing was learned from them. Each lecture begins with a loud, throbbing beat of music superimposed on unintelligible chatter meant to simulate police or EMS radio communication. Presumably that is to get us in the mood for a stimulating adventure in crime solving. The camera pans over a couple of tables containing various props such as a skull, a model of the body’s musculature, a microscope, crime scene tape, a magnifying lens, etc. Unfortunately, the professor never touches any of those throughout 18 hours of lecture. We simply watch her walk back and forth talking to us. On a positive note, Professor Murray is clearly enthusiastic about her work, and she has a sense of humor. But the information is so elementary that even Dr. Watson would be bored. To give one example of my frustration, in Lecture 35 on mass disasters she spends the first 15 minutes, half the lecture, listing various mass disasters of the last 150 years, from a steamboat explosion in 1865 to the trenches of World War I and the Spanish flu to 9/11. When she finally gets into the investigation of a mass disaster, a commercial plane crash she helped investigate, much of the information presented is very basic, such as the fact that investigators who spend ten hours a day cataloguing body parts need to unwind at the end of the day. The one part I did find interesting was her discussion of how the body parts were processed through the makeshift command center, but this was a very small part of the lecture. The rest was mind-numbingly bureaucratic. Part of the problem may be a question of goals and perceived audience. She spends quite a bit of time discussing bureaucratic issues such as how many government agencies are involved, the need for secure communications, the need for clerks to record data, and so on. While these are no doubt necessary, I doubt they are of any interest to the average layman viewing this course. These are issues that might be addressed at conventions of government officials doing disaster planning, but they are of little interest to me. To take another example, in her lecture on blood spatter, she described the various classifications: passive, spatter and altered; or low velocity, medium velocity, and high velocity. But beyond defining them, almost nothing else was said. I was hoping for several examples of each type with case studies in which they are sorted out and used to understand particular cases. I watched the entire 36 lectures, hoping I would learn something before it was over. Unfortunately I found very little that was new to me or that wasn’t intuitively obvious. I cannot recommend this course. I think a viewer would learn a lot more by watching 36 episodes of “Forensic Files,” and it would be a lot more entertaining.
Date published: 2016-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Purchase As a writer, I feel that Dr. Murray does an excellent job of covering all areas of Forensics and Crime Investigation. The topics covered, and the way they are excellently presented will be of great value to me in my writing career.
Date published: 2016-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth the money The courses are interesting and easy to follow, she gives a lot of information but makes it easy to understand. She has great presentation!!
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Interesting Forensics Course My husband and I are first time customers of "The Great Courses", and "Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works" just happens to be one of four courses in total which we purchased in our first order. We were so pleased that the site gave such good descriptions of each course, made ordering so simple, and to top it off, our order was delivered within a couple days. This particular forensic course is so informative and covers a wide variety of topics within the forensic discipline. We purchased the DVD format, and Dr. Murray appears to be the professor everyone wishes they had, as her passion for the subject is plain to see in her presentation. She provides examples and talks about cases she's worked on personally. We've learned a lot about the science of forensics from this course, and now we look forward to watching "Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds and Scandals". I'm certain it will be just as good as this one. The other two courses we purchased are "The Black Death" and "Pompeii", and I'm sure we'll be ordering more courses once we've watched all the ones we already purchased. So glad I discovered "The Great Courses"!
Date published: 2016-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A 360 degree perspective of Forensic Science Professor Murray is an excellent presenter with confirmed depth of experience and knowledge. I think it is remarkable that The Great Courses leadership discovered her talents. It must be very rare to have an expert Forensic Anthropologist with both the historical / detailed scientific background that can present this subject in a structured, clear, and concise manner....including reference to her personal work experience in the field. My favorite sections included Forensic Engineering, DNA Analysis, and Motor Vehicle Accidents. I would recommend others complete this course first before venturing into the History of Forensics also taught by this instructor. If you have a perspective on the practical applications of Forensics, it makes it much easier to understand / appreciate the instructors perspective on which stories are used to highlight / build or observational skills. This class will give you the concepts / basic scientific insights to align your observation skills with each unfolding story.
Date published: 2016-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fine survey of forensic science I bought this course specifically because I had no previous knowledge of the subject matter, and what little exposure to the subject that I previously did have I found quite interesting. This course does not disappoint - it presents a wide variety of topics related to forensic science in a way that is fairly easy to understand. I did find myself looking at the course guide and researching some topics and terms on the internet. Dr. Murray has a great presentation style and great experience in the field. I found it easy to follow her lectures and explanations. I will view certain lectures from this course over and over again, and I unconditionally recommend this course to other people who are interested in learning about forensic science.
Date published: 2016-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A nice overview of the subject I was inspired to take this course after finishing her shorter course on well-known crimes. Where the latter focused more on stories, this course focuses on different areas of the science of forensics. Professor Murray is quite comfortable in front of the camera, and is a skilled and confident educator. She explained all the technical terms and acronyms she used during the course, and made the information understandable without dumbing it down or oversimplifying it. Of course some of the subjects were unpleasant, but she handled them in a way was not gory or uncomfortable to watch. I watch a lot of crime procedural TV shows, so it was nice to learn where TV gets it right or gets it wrong.
Date published: 2016-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sometimes Gross But Always Enlightening I very much appreciated this course, which I borrowed from a friend, though I can’t say I always enjoyed it. Who can truly enjoy blood-spatter patterns and autopsies? Professor Murray does her best to lighten the tone of an often grim subject as well as instruct through examples. Sometimes she refers to well-known celebrity figures like O.J. Simpson and his murder trial (Lecture 1) or Mel Gibson and his DUI stop with gratuitous tirade against “the” Jews (Lecture 33), and famous cases like serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer or the fake Hitler diaries (Lecture 13). She also has plenty of war stories from her own career as forensic anthropologist, like having to find a headless body because the killer didn’t remember exactly where he buried it (Lecture 1), the disgraced cop found dead in his bed as an apparent suicide, but actually murdered by his pregnant wife (Lecture 9), finding a body before the cadaver dog did (Lecture 22), and the sad case of an eleven-year old girl who saved two siblings and the family dog from a fire and then died in it; she was the best friend of Murray’s own niece (Lecture 17). The course has a lot of great images, such as fingerprints, tools, weapons, chemicals, footprints and other impressions, and videos of volunteers taking fingerprints or performing other lab procedures. Other videos show simple experiments that viewers like us can do at home. In Lecture 13, for example, she shows how to do a chromatography test with isopropyl alcohol, water, three different pens, and strips of coffee filter paper. The item I found funniest was in Lecture 22 while Professor Murray discussed a “body farm” at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville dedicated to studying the decomposition of human bodies in the open. The institution is the Anthropological Research Foundation. If you put the last name of founder William M. Bass, in front of that, you get a highly appropriate acronym of…BARF. I have only a few small complaints. Murray often has false starts in speaking. Lecture 35 disappointed me by merely listing many mass disasters rather than focusing on perhaps one or two for in-depth explanation. Finally, I eventually grew tired of her humorous quip that “there I go, making smarter criminals again.” But she’s right; spreading the knowledge of how forensic experts and police look for and find evidence makes it easier for criminals to avoid leaving evidence. So if you’re a criminal lawyer or someone who’s thinking about going into law enforcement or forensics or a crime show fan, this course will be a big help, but if you’re planning a long-term career in crime, this course is essential. See also Professor Murray’s other forensics course on famous cases.
Date published: 2015-10-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Just too simple There are things to be learned from this course, and the subject matter and chapter titles are both excellent. I thought I would like it and I did, but not much. The professor seems to be aiming at a very young crowd, maybe high school or freshmen college -- well under half my age. A lot of time is spent methodically explaining things that are just common sense or obvious. When she started with "When you think about it ..." for the 30th time it began to seem painfully ironic. It's true, if I had just thought about it I would have come up with the same sort of sort of content. Granted, she has some experience and expertise, and shares some details of her cases and others, but for me it was a exercise in patience waiting for the "I didn't already know that" moments. Her style is kind of gritty and peppered with self-referencing asides and cute jokes that some might find endearing. It's like my 12th course and 3rd disappointment; I just can't bring myself to finish it. But if you're 20 or younger, it might be perfect.
Date published: 2015-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Very Unusual Course You will find this course to be one of the most unusual ones offered by The Great Courses. The lectures are well written and well organized. Professor Murray's experience as a teacher really shows. If she mentions a phrase or term that would not be known by many people, she immediately explains the term so that there is no confusion going forward. It's impossible to come away from the course without understanding it all. (Really.) After watching a lecture, you will realize the incredible amount of information that was conveyed without causing fatigue. I would highly recommend this course especially to those young people considering a career in forensic science, as well as to those interested in writing mysteries and crime novels. If you like watching TV detective and crime programs, this course will let you in on how things are really done. You will really enjoy this one!
Date published: 2015-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course Let's be realistic, the plethora of crime shows on television is a clear motivating factor for having a course like this available. The reality is that unlike what's on television, forensics is painstaking and often dry work. Professor Murray strikes a balance between the science, and making the topics engaging and interesting. She provides a good level of detail and presents a realistic insight into the world of a forensic scientist. Her background teaching forensic science in university is clearly evident, but I don't see that as a negative. She has a relaxed style that is very accessible. She clearly enjoys her subject material and gets pleasure out of sharing it.
Date published: 2015-02-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not a course I could recommend I had the strong impression throughout the course that the instructor believed that she was addressing a roomful of teenagers rather than adults who were taking the course in order to learn more about something they already knew tangentially from life experience. I did not relish the "talking down" experience. By frequent reference, she clearly believed that most of her audience has spent many hours watching crime shows such as "CSI", and she tries to engage her listeners by talking more in the vernacular - "the perp", "the bad guy" - I was waiting for her to start dropping her terminal "G"s. Others have referred to her constant exclamation: "There I go again, making smart criminals" and the annoying sound effects - something like a cheep or beep or computer tone every time a graphic was posted on the screen, which had me looking around for a beeping smoke detector or something of that kind until I realized in each lecture that it was coming from the DVD. I waded through the entire course, because despite her "dumbing down" and general overly casual style, she did cover a variety of modern trends relating to evidence. When I finished it, I even gave it to my son (a litigating attorney) and his wife (a criminal justice major, then parole officer) because I thought they might be interested in a broad survey of the current state of knowledge. So it definitely has interesting information and redeeming value, but I couldn't get past the instructor's delivery.
Date published: 2015-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great presentation, distracting sound effects This course is fascinating, and Prof. Murray enriches it with case stories, personal stories, and personal nuances. I have no interest in crime as a topic or as a source of dramatic entertainment, but I am greatly interested in all facets of science and technology, and Prof. Murray satisfied my expectations with an excellent introductory survey of forensic science. I also think that she establishes outstanding rapport with the audience through the personable way in which she communicates. I wish to comment in detail on the visual effects and the sound effects added by the video editor, as have other reviewers. There should be a rating option for this feature, and if there were, my rating would be one star because of the distracting nature of these effects. This is the reason that my overall rating for the course is four instead of five. I've been viewing Teaching Company courses since 2003, when they first came out on DVD, and I own more than 150 courses. At that time, Tom Rollins, who founded the company, ran it. But about five years ago, Tom turned the management of the company over to business people, and I infer that they hired a hotshot video editor to add razzle-dazzle to the content. As of then, the editor has been adding visual effects and sound effects that are distracting. The audience for scholarly material spends good money to obtain clearly presented, fascinating ideas, and for this kind of content, razzle-dazzle is annoying. Adding razzle-dazzle is like a huckster trying to impress an intellectual audience with glitz and hype. In this forensics course, the following is a partial list of sound effects, and these are associated with text or images being presented or removed: jingling, clicking, thumping, and a variety of air movement sounds, some of which are like a whistle blowing, some of which are like a cymbal ringing, and some of which are like wind whooshing. The air movement sounds are the least distracting, while the others are quite annoying. It is even worse in Craig Heller's course on sleep because some of his lectures have dense intellectual material about neural biology that requires intense concentration. Imagine concentrating as hard as you can to understand what Heller's saying and then you hear phone-ringing in the background! Yes, phone-ringing! That's one of the sound effects that the video editor added to Heller's course. In one particular instance, Heller’s content required so much concentration that I had to replay the part multiple times until my cognitive system numbed to the phone-ringing, allowing me to ignore it so that I could think about what Heller was saying. The choice of phone-ringing shows that the video editor is toying with the audience by choosing sound effects that happen to catch his fancy. The video editor also added extraneous visual effects, including high-tech fairy dust blasting out of an unseen jet engine, complete with whooshing sounds. Not just that, but the jet-blast of fairy dust whooshes across the screen IN FRONT OF the professor, no less! To use an analogy, we’ve paid good money to see a famous singer perform on stage. However, a hotshot guitarist in the band decides that the singer’s performance is so dull that the guitarist needs to go onstage to dazzle the audience with his skill, while dancing around the singer. In fact, if the visual effects and the sound effects were actually helpful for understanding the course content, they should be the same for every course so that the cognitive system of a viewer would be able to get their roles automated and would then be able to rapidly, automatically process the effects according to their cognitive role. But we can infer that this video editor would be bored if he had to follow a strategy that makes cognitive sense. The variety of effects are, no doubt, interesting for him to insert, thereby reducing his boredom. And inserting the effects allows him to pretend that he’s adding value to the courses. But the effects do not add value; they are not for the cognitive benefit of the audience; they are for the emotive benefit of the video editor; and they detract from the course because they are distracting. As if all of the foregoing weren’t bad enough, the video editor added insult to injury. Tom Rollins had chosen the music intro for each lecture to be the end of movement 1 of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2. This constitutes a few closing measures of a delightful, uplifting masterwork that became a feature of the Teaching Company brand, putting the viewer or listener into a pleasant disposition to experience yet another informative lecture. Well, the hotshot video editor threw Bach in the trash in order to substitute uninteresting, uninspiring, forgettable sound effects. The video editor is clearly clueless when it comes to understanding how best to convey scholarly content to an audience and how to enhance the Teaching Company brand. In conclusion, a video editor for scholarly courses should not be chosen for skill in adding razzle-dazzle. Rather, they should be chosen for skill in enhancing a viewer’s ability to understand and remember intellectual content, some of which may require intense concentration. In particular, the editor should take great care never to grab the attention of the viewer’s perceptual system with extraneous visual effects or extraneous sound effects because such effects will distract the viewer, making it harder for them to focus on the intellectual content, understand it, and enter it into their memory system. This problem will be even worse in older people because their perceptual systems process information more slowly, and a good portion of the Teaching Company audience consists of retirees. If the Teaching Company managers have any doubts about these conclusions, they should consult Peter Vishton, a perceptual expert with an outstanding course on perception. Speaking personally, the sound effects do not assist me in any way as I concentrate on what the professor is saying. As I concentrate, I seek to understand the content as deeply and as thoroughly as possible in order to minimize the number of times that I need backtrack and replay a portion of the lecture. I pay good money to learn from professors who are chosen for their superb communication ability. These professors don’t need jingles, clicks, thumps, phone-ringing, and wind noises in order to make their lectures interesting. These noises are nothing more than perceptual distractions that my cognitive system must try to ignore so that I can focus on what the professor is saying.
Date published: 2015-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview of Process Whatever your reasons, whether a novelist or just a curious mind, this course provides a detailed view of the forensic process with plenty of examples and case studies; nothing graphic. Dr. Murray knows her topic and presents it with enthusiasm. I recommend this to all interested students.
Date published: 2014-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Colorful overview of forensic sciences DVD review. ©2012. Guidebook 286 pages. This course was even better than I expected. It was easy to sit through and watch lecture after lecture every day. They’re just fascinating and absorbing. Most likely you’ve seen an endless lineup of various CSI and other detective shows, so you’re probably already a bit informed, but likely misinformed to a certain degree. I think this course has wide appeal, especially to those who might be interested in this kind of career. But it’s also for people like me who just want to know about something that’s become hidden from everyday view. I think modern life has sanitized the life cycle, leaving many of us to live through these kinds of life experiences vicariously. Although a lot if this is just not dinner table fare, these tales and techniques certainly make for gripping stuff. But if the darker side of life doesn't appeal to you, perhaps you should steer clear. That's perfectly understandable. The forensics field is much larger than I had thought and serves as a very thorough introduction to the field. Professor Murray often cites from cases within her personal work history and family life, so it was also very personal and moving. She does a very good job of illustrating the daily work of forensic scientists, and you really get more than a glimpse of what the job entails, both the coll and the macrabe. It also makes you wonder how they go home at night, as it seems impossible not to take your work home with you. She uses quite a few dry jokes and puns throughout, and that makes an otherwise morbid and heavy topic more bearable. No doubt, she’d be a colorful neighbor or dinner party guest. A few lectures were more intriguing than others, but overall, I was satisfied. For most lectures, you get about 20-25 minutes of background science and 5-10 minutes of a infamous crime to illustrate the topic. Near the end of the course you get a number of longer case studies that often draw on several previous lectures. A few, like the Charles Urschel kidnapping, were really interesting. I’d say that there are about 25 or so lectures devoted to hard science that come to mind when we think of forensics, and there are 3-4 that cover soft sciences that seem to fall into the discipline of criminology, like courtroom formalities and interviewing/interrogating, etc. These were less interesting, but they do add to the knowledge base of forensics. The DVDs were enjoyable. There were a fairly large number of pictures and generic graphics that made the course much more memorable for me. However, I suspect audio listeners wouldn’t feel like they’re missing that much. Either would do, but I’m glad to have gotten the DVDs. The Guidebook is thick and comprehensive. The bibliography is extensive, but I won’t be following up on any of them. They mostly seem like classroom textbooks. In closing, it was fun and informative.
Date published: 2014-10-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Expounds on newer information Unbeknownst to me I had seen a disc about Murray's previous work, that of finding the graves of the Granitos, Guatemalan murder victims from the Iran-Contra, etc. era. Being a woman who couldn't get into the field when I graduated in 1989 in Penna. I really enjoyed the update on what is taught to students now. It is not scary or full of dead bodies. This goes far beyond the Body Farm because now we require even cops to know chemistry. Enjoyable because it mentions where forensics has failed and why. Good for lawyers, also!!
Date published: 2014-10-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Strongly recommended, with some concerns... Entertaining, lively, extremely educational series of lectures, as Dr Elizabeth Murray explains exactly what is real in crime scene analysis and related investigations... and what is "Hollywood/TV". This includes everything from fingerprints and blood, trace materials, computer evidence, ballistics, to corpses and body parts. You'll learn how investigators record, analyse and interpret crime scenes, how they conduct interrogations and prepare evidence for presentation in court. Dr Murray gives interesting and informative historic sidebars of various extensively-used procedures in forensic evidence, e.g. fingerprints, hairs and fibres, incorporating sharp, colourful graphics and clips which are immensely useful. This is a truly compelling, fascinating course, ably presented by a recognised expert in her field. Perhaps not advised for anyone particularly squeamish, however... otherwise: STRONGLY RECOMMENDED! And now a few criticisms: The intrusive music & sound-effects (dings, whooshes, loud crashes, riffs) are awfully irritating and distracting. I hope this is not a trend with Great Courses; I'm heading quickly towards my 200th course and I've noted this "noise" factor a few times in recent recordings. Improved production quality and greater use of graphics & videos are deeply appreciated, but please don't introduce factors that may annoy or alienate the buyer. Dr Murray used the term "more unique" in talking of fingerprints and later about paint layering. She also used the term "most unique" in referring to the medulla of non-human hair. These egregrious misuses of "unique" are not merely pedantic grammatical points, but serious factual inaccuracies. The adjective "unique" is an absolute: one thing cannot be "more unique" than another, just as one person cannot be more dead than another! And there's no need to say "There I go again, making criminals smarter" time after time after time after time after time after time!! The course seems to have been padded out to fill 36 lectures; I felt it could easily have moved at a much brisker pace, with less editorial from the professor and more actual case material.
Date published: 2014-10-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What I ordered is a holiday present for a family member, so its value remains to be seen. I would like to comment that, while I've long been interested in trying out your huge array of offerings, I am dismayed at the glut of advertising I am now receiving following my single order. Every day it seems there is some special dropping into my email... not to mention the snail mail. I have asked three times for a halt to the e-mail and yet it still comes. I've unsubscribed repeatedly, no go. Please!
Date published: 2014-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Impressed I was impressed with this course, and it is a topic that appeals to many people, especially in my experience, to young people. I listened to this course in particular to the lectures on human behavior and crime, since I teach a graduate course in forensic psychology. Although the professor is a forensic anthropologist, she did an excellent job on these topics, such as behavioral profiling, mental illness and crime, social psychology/jury behavior, etc. In addition the more physical science part of the course was presented in a straightforward, easy to understand manner. I would recommend this course to all listeners.
Date published: 2014-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The motivated will love it. Otherwise bone dry. DVD review. Establishing "means, motive and opportunity" along with confrontational interrogation techniques play a huge role in popular crime fiction. In real life, none of this holds in court without compelling physical evidence. Dr. Murray's TRAIL OF EVIDENCE is an overview of "forensics 101" — a course on the archaeology of recent events divided by topic and technique. Being an efficient and thorough lecturer, she adopts a top-down approach where techniques and material factors are crammed into each half-hour. Forensics is all about precision, clarity and detail. The pedagogical result, unless forensics fascinates you, is VERY DRY. A truckload of information is dumped with very few stories to connect everything in a memorable narrative arc. Lessons 33 and 34 bring up a few good cases. They felt like an oasis after a long desert trek. With 36 lessons in all, I would have added many more. _________________ All in all, a good course if you are highly motivated or if you have teens interested in blending science with street-level realities, crime, crime fiction writing, journalism, the law or practical inductive reasoning. Even in such cases, you may prefer to approach this course in small doses. I'm not complaining. She is a good lecturer. It's just the nature of the material, once you decide to be thorough. Audio versions are sufficient, if used along with her very comprehensive course guidebook.
Date published: 2014-07-20
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