KBI Crime Scene Investigators Practice Unearthing Graves

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RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Crime scene investigators uncovered three graves in Riley County Tuesday.

It appeared as though they stumbled across a massive crime scene near Tuttle Creek Boulevard and Highway 13 but it was all part of a highly coordinated exercise, designed to give the KBI’s Crime Scene Response Team practice excavating a body.

The agents and forensic scientists are called on constantly to respond to major crimes like homicides throughout the state, helping find details that are vital to the investigation and prosecution of those crimes.
For their training this week, three euthanized pigs from K-State's swine facility were buried weeks ago to make things as realistic as possible.

"The idea was to come out and see what they look like after a little bit of time has passed, she what the bodies in the grave will look like, see if we can document and collect all of the evidence that’s there and just basically from start to finish, figure out how to properly work these things," said Senior Special Agent Cory Latham, team leader of the Crime Scene Response Team.

For training purposes, different pieces of evidence were planted in each of the graves- things like shell casings, rope, gloves and keys.

Also on hand for the training was Dr Mike Finnegan, a retired K-State professor and one of the nation’s leading forensic anthropologists who even helped with the exhumation of Jesse James.

"The object of this particular excavation is getting used to finding a grave site, a clandestine grave, setting it up to excavate it and actually doing the excavation. Then later on when it needs to be done in a real case, they’ve all done it… This is excellent training for crime scene investigators," Finnegan said.

"The ultimate goal is to get every piece of information out of the grave and to be able to reconstruct that later on so that if the case goes to court, and they say ‘Well, you found a bullet down in there. Where was that bullet found?’ We can pinpoint that within a fraction of an inch," he added.

Dr. Spencer Tomb helped provide his expertise as well. Tomb, a longtime K-State professor and plant expert, was the key witness for the prosecution in a recent double murder trial in Riley County. His testimony about the age of the shallow grave that the victims were buried in helped show that the crude hole their bodies were placed in was created ahead of time, leading the jury to convict the suspect of capital murder.

Throughout the day, the crime scene team and experts went through the graves piece by piece, even sifting through the dirt to search for clues.

"The training here that we’re doing is really paramount to prepare us for a real-life situation, the documentation part of it ... If it was a person in the grave, we would actually take measurements to each joint of the individual so that we can later go back and reconstruct how they were placed in, whether they were flat on their back or whether they were just rolled into the grave," Latham told WIBW of the meticulous process.

"We go very carefully, very meticulously with tools that will just go an inch at a time or less, really you’re just uncovering that story as you go down and constantly documenting with photography and measurements all of the things that are in the grave so it’s a process that will take hours to uncover somebody properly," he added.