- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Sitting in a shallow grave and using a tongue depressor to scrape congealed fat off a foul-smelling pig carcass, University of Akron student Paige Dobbins is in hog heaven.

She, along with other UA and Kent State University students, are under blue tarps deep in the woods, trying to figure out how a couple of unlucky pigs met their demise - one body missing its head and feet.

They know it was a homicide. Dead pigs just don’t bury themselves, you know. They’re just not sure how the crime was committed.

The mystery is part of the Forensic Archaeology Field School, a joint UA-Kent State course that mixes archaeology and forensic anthropology.

For Dobbins, 20, a Canton resident who’s studying anthropology, it’s a thrill to take everything she has learned in the classroom out to the field.

“I learned the names of the bones and where to find them and what they look like,” she said. “Then you get to come out to the field and see them and touch them. You get a well-rounded education doing it.”

Two Lindas are behind the innovative class- Linda Whitman, UA instructor and community archaeologist, and Linda Spurlock, Kent State assistant professor of anthropology.

“It helps our students figure out if they like archaeology,” Spurlock said. “Do they like bones? Can they stand being outdoors being bit by bugs?”

This is the third time they’ve put together a pig murder mystery.

The first one was held in 2005, and they repeated it in 2011. They don’t do it every year because it takes so much preparation.

Not only do Whitman and Spurlock have to devise a detailed backstory about how the pigs were killed, they have to create a crime scene and make sure there are enough clues left behind.

“This is just the way that the police would find a burial,” Spurlock said.

They also have to purchase whole pigs from a butcher- no, they don’t actually kill them -and bury them a year in advance, allowing plenty of time for the bodies to decompose.

In the past, the pigs have been shot, stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned to death.

The goal for the students: determine the cause of death.

Class starts with the students surveying the crime scene and finding clues. They spend awhile in the field carefully unearthing the bodies, scraping away 5 to 10 centimeters of dirt at a time.

The students spent last week and this week in the woods.

After all the clues and bones are gathered, identified and placed in bags, the mystery will shift to the classroom, where the students will wash the bones and start to piece together all the clues.

One year, those clues included an Akron Aeros baseball hat, money from the Dominican Republic, chewing tobacco and a gift card from the restaurant Bricco.

“They totally get into it,” Whitman said about students’ interest.

The students wear gloves while working with the carcasses.

Jordan Mastrocola, 24, a Kent State student from Canton studying anthropology, wore a mask because of the odor.

“It’s amazing, and you don’t know what you’re going to find,” she said about the hands-on experience.

The smell didn’t bother fellow KSU anthropology student Madison Tsalonis, 24, of Cortland.

“I have two kids. They smell worse than that,” she said, pointing to the gray carcass. “I would rather do this than get vomited on.”

As far as how the pigs were offed, the students were still working on their theories this week.

Dobbins and another student surmised that their pig’s head and feet were missing because the killer didn’t want the victim identified.

The other pig was buried with a leash. Perhaps one pig was being murdered while another just happened to walk by with a dog so the killer took out that one, too?

They’ll find out soon.


Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, https://www.ohio.com

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