ALPINE — For the forensic scientists, the crime scene presented a classic whodunit, with blood, footprints and a possibly poisonous drink left next to the body of millionaire Felix Navidad, who was found dead in his beach house earlier this month.
Investigators traced his body with chalk. They photographed the crime scene and preserved all evidence, which included a forged love letter, strands of Navidad's hair in a comb and a guitar pick. They identified four suspects.
On Friday, the forensic scientists squeezed droplets of iodine on samples of the victim's blood as well as samples of suspicious powders found on shoes of two suspects. They wondered if there were any connections between substances in the blood and suspicious powers.
Their instincts proved correct: The red blood and each white power sample turned black after contact with the iodine.
"Well, I think it's Vera," forensic scientist Jantzen Allphin said. "It could be Kendra or Vera. But I'm leaning toward Vera."
Allphin is actually a sixth-grader in Karre Nevarez's class at Westfield Elementary, and the crime scene is fictitious. But the scientific experiments the students are engaging in require materials similar to those used by professional forensic scientists, such as iodine, Silly Putty, Super Glue and pH testing kits.
This year is the first Nevarez has used a crime scene to spark students' interest in science and teach about scientific methods of analyzing, comparing and interpreting evidence.
"Last week, we discussed the fashion statement with science," Nevarez jokes with her students as she puts on a pair of goggles. "We're going to have a fashion statement again."
Nevarez spent hours reading and researching how to execute the project.
"This has been a learning experience for me, too," she said.
The students' crime scene investigation parallels their study of "The Westing Game," the 1978 Newbery Medal book about the mysterious death of a millionaire and the heirs' challenge to discover who killed him.
On Thursday, Nevarez's class finished the book, which exposed them to the process of solving a crime.
The book has also sharpened students' brains. One student skeptically announced, after the iodine tests, she doesn't think Felix Navidad was murdered at all, based on conclusions in "The Westing Game."
Next week, Nevarez's students must decide which suspect to try.
They will be divided into judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and a jury.