PULLMAN, Wash.Washington State University biology professor Beth Marshall specializes in forensic entomology and will guide her class through an actual exhumation of the shallow grave of a crime victim on Saturday (Sept. 18).

Specifically, Marshall and her WSU Forensic Biology 493 students will be unearthing a black bear carcass from an undisclosed location on the WSU campus. The animal was poached at an unknown location and dumped on the WSU campus in August.  Subsequent investigations by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife determined the bear was well along in decomposition when discovered by WSU veterinary college workers. When the carcass was released by game agents, WSU veterinary employees buried the remains in a shallow grave.

“Actually, this represents an extraordinary training case for my students,” said Marshall, who has become known in Washington for training forensic technicians and detectives who handle human homicide cases. “Essentially, we have a near human-sized mammal killed as the result of a crime, dumped in one place and later buried in a shallow grave in another location.  The similarity to human crimes is remarkable and it will be invaluable for my students.”

Marshall and her students have already “processed” the dump site for evidence.  Insect and soil sampling, photos and a number of other activities were conducted and placed into custody exactly like a real homicide investigation.

“Our hope is to determine a cause of death and perhaps find a bullet or fragments.  We’d like to determine whether or not the gall bladder was removed and examine stomach and intestinal contents for unique plant material that may lead us to a location where the crime occurred,” Marshall said.  “We will also gather any other evidence that may lead to the apprehension and conviction of a suspect. At the very least, my students will have participated in an academic forensic exercise unlike all but a few opportunities in the world.”

After exhumation, the remains will eventually come to WSU’s veterinary college for X-ray examination and processing into a full skeleton at a later date.

Media advisory: Members of the media are welcome to view the exhumation and interview Marshall and her students.  The public is not invited, in order to protect the site and provide an optimal learning environment for students.  Directions for media will be provided Saturday morning at 8:45 a.m. when the class gathers to go to the grave site.  Interested members of the media should plan to meet Marshall and her students in the parking lot of the WSU grizzly bear facility on the corner of Grimes Way and Airport Way in Pullman.  The exercise will take place as planned, regardless of weather.