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Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works

Uncover the secrets of forensic science in this absolutely fascinating program that teaches you how science is used to solve criminal mysteries.
Real Crime Scenes: The Evidence Speaks is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 98.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from An upmarket "True Crime" magazine Did you know that every person's fingerprints are unique? That there are four blood types? That DNA can identify family members? If you do, you will not learn much about forensic science from this course. The lectures consist of a series of true crime stories, with occasional mention of forensic science. The lectures are not "about" forensic science; they occasionally drop in references to it (about as often as the lecturer says "not far from my home town of Cincinnati"). The stories are well told, but not educational.
Date published: 2024-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lecture! This is an excellent opening lecture. I hope Wondrium will release the rest of the course soon to enjoy!
Date published: 2024-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intriguing and educational, but where are the rest There’s 36 lectures, but only one is here. will the others be released?
Date published: 2023-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not much use The Presenter talks a lot with little visual support. She wanders in her presentation and does not seem to have a prepared points. If I taught my class this way my students wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing. Very disappointed with this purchase.
Date published: 2022-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fascinating glimpse into forensic science I am a bit of a true crime junkie and prefer actual cases rather than fictional versions. This series really added to my understanding of the many elements which can contribute to solving cases. The coverage of areas of study was comprehensive and focused on multiple aspects. Yes, on fingerprints. Yes, on blood spatter. All the "basics" but also many other topics that I found intriguing. For instance, the sections on artistic renderings caught my attention. I really liked the sections on engineering which included footage of the September 11th take downs of the World Trade Center. Another elements which I thought was outstanding was how the interdisciplinary aspects worked together. Regarding production values, the series was well designed. I liked how case studies were interspersed throughout and more strongly concentrated near the end when we actually knew something about the various techniques. The text which appeared in the video throughout were good concise ways to view the content and were helpful for us visual learners. There were hundreds of photographs, illustrations and video clips to illustrate the concepts. The only small criticism I have has to do with editing. In nearly every segment, she corrected herself at least once and sometimes several times. While this was not terribly distracting, the slips could easily have been edited out. She was an excellent presenter and was able to share a large amount of content easily with the audience. She was poised, professional and engaging.
Date published: 2022-04-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Why is there only one lecture? I watched lecture 1 in Wondrium. Dr. Murray mentions future lectures - Where are they?
Date published: 2022-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Basic course in forensic science Easy to listen to and interesting. Seemed to cover all the basics (but I am no expert.) Particularly interesting when instructor gave examples from her personal experience. Experienced some problems with the down-loaded course. There was freezing at different points in the lecture and when resumed, mouth and audio were out of synch. I had purchased the actual CD's but also down-loaded course so I could listen right away. I have taken at least 50 Great Courses courses.
Date published: 2022-03-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Real Crime Too Little I am used to watching 24 to 36 half-hour lectures on a given topic, turning it over and around. This was disappointing. When Dr. Murray referred to her forensic science lectures in her Gross Anatomy course, I expected a full 24-36 lectures digging into the various aspects of the total. I studied forensic composition (drawing) in the educational sight that law enforcement personnel study crime scene analysis, reenactments, kinesiology techniques to determine truth/lie expressions, etc. Dr. Murray is a good presenter. I would have liked to hear her talk about the different parts of the whole.
Date published: 2022-03-12
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The desire to identify lawbreakers and bring them to justice is so great that it has inspired countless stories, novels, plays, movies, and television series. But how accurate are the fictional portrayals of crime investigations? What happens behind the scenes when forensic scientists crack a case? Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works takes you from the crime scene to the lab to the courtroom in 36 riveting half-hour lectures by forensic anthropologist and Professor Elizabeth A. Murray that reveal how forensic science really works.


Elizabeth A. Murray

With nearly 30 years in the field, I guess I was 'forensic' before it was cool! I find forensic science to be a fascinating subject that incorporates law, ethics, psychology, history, and technology, as it aids our global community.


Mount St. Joseph University

Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University, where she teaches doctoral-level human gross anatomy and undergraduate-level anatomy and physiology, as well as forensic science. She earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Mount St. Joseph University and her master's degree in anthropology and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Biology from the University of Cincinnati.

Most of Professor Murray's forensic casework has been in Ohio and Kentucky, where she has participated in hundreds of investigations. She is one of fewer than 100 anthropologists certified as a Diplomate by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Professor Murray has been honored with the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award, and she twice earned the Clifford Excellence in Teaching Award. She has served as an instructor for numerous organizations, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and the International Association of Coroners & Medical Examiners. Her television appearances include National Geographic's Buried Secrets, Discovery Health's Skeleton Stories, The New Detectives, and Forensic Files. Her book Death: Corpses, Cadavers, and Other Grave Matters was named one of the top ten summer titles for students by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her 2012 book, Forensic Identification: Putting a Name and Face on Death, was selected as one of the outstanding books of 2012 by the prestigious National Science Teacher's Association.

By This Professor

True Crime: Decoding the Evidence
How We Move: The Gross Anatomy of Motion
Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals
Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works
Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works


Using Science—Crime Scene to Courtroom

01: Using Science—Crime Scene to Courtroom

Professor Murray opens the course by discussing her participation in a multifaceted homicide case that illustrates the many factors that go into a forensic investigation. Learn how the scientific method is rigorously applied in the field, and survey the topics you will cover in the course.

32 min
Crime Scenes and Forensic Evidence

02: Crime Scenes and Forensic Evidence

Locard’s exchange principle holds that every contact leaves a trace. Starting with this rule, discover how a forensic scientist approaches a crime scene. Professor Murray suggests an experiment you can perform to understand the difficulty of finding evidence in an unfamiliar setting.

29 min
Fingerprint Science—Hands-Down ID

03: Fingerprint Science—Hands-Down ID

Explore the science of fingerprint analysis, which has been a tool of forensic investigators since the late 1800s. Learn the different coding systems for classifying fingerprints, the techniques for recovering prints where they appear absent, and the innovation of computerized matching.

31 min
Telltale Marks—Tools, Guns, and Ammunition

04: Telltale Marks—Tools, Guns, and Ammunition

Many people know that a gun leaves telltale marks on the bullets it fires. But firearms evidence is only part of a much broader field called toolmark analysis. Examine the ways forensic scientists match a tool to the impressions it leaves on a surface it contacts.

31 min
Good Impressions—Shoes, Tires, and Skin

05: Good Impressions—Shoes, Tires, and Skin

Continue your study of the crime scene by looking at the importance of forensic photography and the marks made by shoes, tires, and textiles. Professor Murray describes a case in which crucial clothing impressions on a body showed a death was accidental.

29 min
Forensics of Fibers, Paint, and Glass

06: Forensics of Fibers, Paint, and Glass

Turn to examples of trace evidence that can clinch a case in court—as long as samples are properly handled and analyzed. Fibers, paint, and glass fragments sometimes have a vivid story to tell about their origin and the events that left them on a victim or at a crime scene.

31 min
Traces of Hair and Fur

07: Traces of Hair and Fur

Hair is one of the most commonly analyzed forms of trace evidence and may contain DNA that can pin down its source. Discover that the difficulty of DNA testing makes hair more often used to rule out suspects, since hair has distinctive characteristics that are easily observable.

31 min
Soil, Protist, Plant, and Animal Traces

08: Soil, Protist, Plant, and Animal Traces

Enter the field of wildlife forensics, which involves not just attacks by animals on people but the many ways that evidence from nature is used to solve crimes. Soils, wood, pollen, and animal traces can all connect a person or object to a crime scene.

31 min
Serology—Blood and Other Body Fluids

09: Serology—Blood and Other Body Fluids

What does an investigator do when a murder scene has been scrubbed spotlessly clean by the perpetrator? TV dramas often get the facts wrong. Survey the arsenal of tests for body fluids that can uncover a hidden crime.

30 min
The Forensic Analysis of DNA

10: The Forensic Analysis of DNA

Learn how DNA profiling became the gold standard in both victim and perpetrator identification, even though humans have more than 99% of their DNA in common. Professor Murray discusses the landmark case in the United Kingdom that was the first to use DNA to convict a killer.

31 min
Forensic Toxicology of Drugs and Poisons

11: Forensic Toxicology of Drugs and Poisons

Enter the toxicology lab to learn how drugs and poisonous substances are detected, even in minute quantities. Trace the path of drugs through the bloodstream and understand their effects. Then see how forensic scientists use sophisticated tests to identify chemicals in a victim’s body.

31 min
The Forensics of Substance Abuse

12: The Forensics of Substance Abuse

In one recent year, drug overdoses accounted for 26,000 deaths in the United States. Focus on the forensics of this serious social problem. How are drugs of abuse classified? How do they affect the body? And which regulated substances are more commonly analyzed in the forensic chemistry lab, since they’re the most frequently encountered on the street?

32 min
Handwriting and Forgery Analysis

13: Handwriting and Forgery Analysis

Examine the field of questioned documents, which involves both handwriting analysis and the more scientifically conclusive procedures of materials examination. Learn the tip-offs that someone is trying to duplicate the handwriting of another, and explore the ways that some famous fakes were unmasked.

30 min
Computer Forensics and Digital Evidence

14: Computer Forensics and Digital Evidence

Learn how forensic investigators extract evidence from computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Discover the importance of slack space on a hard drive, and review how GPS tracking solved one murder that ultimately led officials to link that killer to another murder over a decade earlier.

31 min
Structure Failure—Forensic Engineering

15: Structure Failure—Forensic Engineering

Whenever a bridge, building, or other structure fails, forensic engineers are called in to determine what went wrong, which may show whether a crime was committed. Focus on cases such as Boston’s deadly Great Molasses Flood in 1919 and the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers in 2001.

32 min
Forensic Analysis of Vehicle Accidents

16: Forensic Analysis of Vehicle Accidents

Apply Newton’s laws of motion to automobile accidents, discovering what skid marks, front-end damage, and other clues reveal about the cause of a collision. Close by considering two other types of vehicle accidents: an airline crash in 1994 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

31 min
Fire Science and Explosion Forensics

17: Fire Science and Explosion Forensics

Probe the ashes of a smoldering building to find the telltale traces that can point to arson. Even the aftermath of a violent explosion leaves clues about what caused it. But first, it’s important to understand the physics of fire and explosives—and the motives of those who light the fuse.

30 min
Blood Evidence—Stains and Spatters

18: Blood Evidence—Stains and Spatters

Even when a body is absent, blood leaves distinctive patterns that can tell investigators the nature of an injury, the type of weapon that made it, and sometimes the degree of culpability of the person who caused it. Review the role of blood evidence in the infamous Sam Sheppard murder trial.

29 min
The Science of Death

19: The Science of Death

Begin a series of lectures on death and its aftermath by studying the end stages of life. Seldom as simple as portrayed on TV, death is a cascade of failures rather than a single event. Explore some of the many routes to this inevitable end.

31 min
Death Investigation—Algor, Livor, and Rigor

20: Death Investigation—Algor, Livor, and Rigor

How can an investigator inspect a body and estimate the time of death? Follow the steps that the body’s systems take after life ends, including algor mortis, livor mortis, and rigor mortis. Each of these processes can help signal when death occurred and also the likely circumstances.

30 min
Autopsy—Cause and Manner of Death

21: Autopsy—Cause and Manner of Death

Step into the morgue to understand why and how a forensic autopsy is performed. The purpose is to determine the cause and manner of death, and often to identify the victim. Much like exploratory surgery, no two autopsies are the same.

30 min
Decomposition—From Bugs to Bones

22: Decomposition—From Bugs to Bones

When bodies are in a state of advanced decomposition, forensic entomologists use knowledge of insect life cycles to estimate the time since death. Discover that a research center known informally as the Body Farm has turned this gruesome subject into a science.

31 min
Forensic Anthropology—Skeleton Stories

23: Forensic Anthropology—Skeleton Stories

Study the science behind skeletons, learning how investigators read the clues in bones for signs of age, sex, ancestry, and trauma. Human skeletons vary widely, even in the number of bones in an individual. The standard textbook figure—206—is only an average.

30 min
Forensics of Teeth and Bite Marks

24: Forensics of Teeth and Bite Marks

Forensic odontologists are dentists trained to use their knowledge of teeth in two ways: to identify unknown persons and to interpret bite mark evidence on victims. Learn how dental patterns can be compelling evidence and led to the murder conviction of serial killer Ted Bundy in 1979.

31 min
Police Sketches and Facial Reproductions

25: Police Sketches and Facial Reproductions

From wanted posters in the Old West to today’s digital face reconstructions, forensic art is an enduring tool of law enforcement. Explore the techniques artists use to create a recognizable human likeness based on limited information, and learn about the careful approaches these artists must take when interviewing witnesses.

32 min
Interview, Interrogation, Intelligence

26: Interview, Interrogation, Intelligence

Turn to a key component of police work that underlies all forensic investigations: evidence provided by people. Learn the differences between interviewing, interrogating, and gathering intelligence. Effective interrogation is a far less adversarial process than is portrayed on TV.

31 min
Forensic Profiling—Who, How, and Why?

27: Forensic Profiling—Who, How, and Why?

Explore one of the most controversial aspects of forensics: personality profiling. Profiling can greatly narrow the field of potential suspects and aid in capturing criminals. Review cases in which this technique proved spectacularly successful and also tragically misguided.

31 min
Human Memory and Eyewitness Accounts

28: Human Memory and Eyewitness Accounts

Eyewitness testimony carries enormous weight in court. But how reliable is it? Professor Murray describes a “crime” that she stages in front of her students to test their reliability as witnesses. Her experiences in the classroom match the unsettling findings of studies.

31 min
Criminal Minds—Psychology and Psychiatry

29: Criminal Minds—Psychology and Psychiatry

Dealing with human behavior is at the root of the legal system. Delve into forensic psychology and forensic psychiatry by studying the disturbing case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Then look at how the criminal justice system evaluates insanity pleas, separating frauds from the genuinely mentally ill.

31 min
When Forensic Evidence Is on Trial

30: When Forensic Evidence Is on Trial

Forensic evidence must be collected, prepared, and analyzed with care, since it may wind up in court. What happens when it does? Review the history of scientific evidence, its changing acceptance by the courts, and efforts today to develop uniform standards in forensics that apply throughout the country.

31 min
Forensic Scientists and Expert Testimony

31: Forensic Scientists and Expert Testimony

Both sides in a legal dispute have the right to good science, and Professor Murray has testified for both the prosecution and defense in different trials. Hear some of her experiences, and examine the many career pathways to becoming a forensic expert.

33 min
Comparing Crimes and Crime Labs

32: Comparing Crimes and Crime Labs

Turn to the subject of crime itself, exploring the different categories of homicide, assault, and property offenses. The disparity in technology around the world means that forensic science practices vary. Close by looking at a typical high-tech crime lab and the types of evidence that move through it.

31 min
Crimes—Nobody’s Supposed to Get Hurt

33: Crimes—Nobody’s Supposed to Get Hurt

Get practical forensic experience by learning how to calculate when an individual is over the alcohol limit for drunk driving. Then explore the role of forensics in cases of identity theft, arson, and a famous kidnapping in which an astute victim laid the foundation for snaring his captors.

30 min
Crimes—Killers of One, Killers of Many

34: Crimes—Killers of One, Killers of Many

Analyze four tragic cases that were solved with the help of forensic evidence: the killing of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in England, the Jeffrey MacDonald triple-murder case, a 17-year string of hospital killings that appeared to be natural deaths, and the BTK (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) murder spree in Wichita, Kansas.

31 min
Applications—Mass-Disaster Forensics

35: Applications—Mass-Disaster Forensics

What is the experience of a forensic investigator in the aftermath of a mass disaster? Professor Murray recounts her role in the analysis of the 1994 crash of American Eagle Flight 4184. Learn how mass disasters are like monumental crime scenes, in which many forensic techniques come into play.

32 min
Applications—Identification Matters

36: Applications—Identification Matters

One of the most emotionally satisfying aspects of Professor Murray’s work is identifying deceased unknown persons, helping to bring answers to a victim’s family. Finish your study of forensic science with examples of her work in this area, including a nearly 40-year-old cold case that she helped solve.

34 min