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Plotting the 'perfect murder'

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By ASHLEY JOST
Columbia Daily Tribune

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Shelly Romero is plotting the best way to kill her boyfriend. Right now, she's leaning toward using air to cause an embolism. Maybe she will poison his food.

Romero isn't evil. Plotting her boyfriend's murder is actually her homework.

Like her peers, Romero is searching for five ways to kill an acquaintance for her "Perfect Murder" class at Stephens College. The elective course, taught by former Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Tackett, brings crime scene analysis to life in a unique way.

"The traditional way of teaching has had to change from lecturing at students," Tackett said. "You can't and shouldn't do that anymore with the onset of technology."

Instead of teaching crime scene analysis from a textbook, Tackett wanted to incorporate lessons from his 17 years of prosecuting experience with a challenge that would keep students engaged: try to come up with the perfect murder.

The perfect murder, of course, means committing the act without getting caught. And murder, versus a serial killing, often indicates that the person being killed is an acquaintance. Many of Tackett's students choose their ex-boyfriends. Some choose professors.

"It is literally impossible to pull off the perfect murder in the days of crime scene analysis," he said. "If it happens, it's dumb luck."

Tackett started teaching this class at Lincoln University in Jefferson City for a year, then through the University of Missouri Extension office in Jefferson City, which drew more than 100 interested participants.

"It's treated as an academic exercise," Tackett said, laughing about how frequently he is asked about any concerns he has about his class being a liability. "Thus far it hasn't produced any ill results. It's more fun than it is about an evil motive. There seems to be a dark side to human nature where someone has drifted into thinking at some point or another, 'What would happen if I murdered someone?'"

Tackett has brought in several guest speakers to discuss their areas of expertise, including Tony Coleman, director of campus security at Stephens, and Lois Bichler, a Stephens associate professor of biology. Coleman has years of experience investigating murder and rape cases, and Bichler has background knowledge on the human body's reactions to poisons or injections.

So far, Tackett has yet to have a student come up with the perfect murder.

"If you're tied to somebody, there are just too many ways to find out," he said. "Not to say students won't come up with it."

Romero, one of Tackett's students and an English major, was motivated to take the class to better understand how she could realistically kill off characters.

"What's most interesting about the class is also the hardest, which is how to not get caught," Romero said. "We've learned about so many ways you can get caught, like DNA, fluids and skin cells. It's interesting, yet slightly disappointing, to see all of the ways you can get caught."

The "murder" itself is a semester-long project that students develop. They have to provide five versions of their perfect murder and explain how they would go about it considering the observed living patterns of their chosen victim. Students have to take into account how they would cover up their tracks, dispose of the body and how they would interact with police afterward.

Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

AP MISSOURI PANORAMA

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