The death of Jane Doe: A mock murder investigation

GRTW1Dr. Gordon Wright, a Teaching Fellow, and member of the Forensic Psychology Unit in the Department, studies the personality and behaviour of liars, manipulators, cheats, scammers and fraudsters. Among his research and analytic methods lie mock-crimes and investigative interview scenarios, linguistic & sentiment analysis, alongside physiological and brain stimulation.  Here he blogs about a mock murder investigation –  an immersive theatre event run by the Forensic Psychology Unit. 

Previously, at Goldsmiths…

Earlier this year, Jane Doe was found dead in Deptford Town Hall, right on the doorstep of Goldsmiths. She had her whole life ahead of her. Fortunately, a team of trainee investigators were on hand for an evening of sleuthing and crime-fighting. The eager recruits received briefings by former police detectives, viewed CCTV footage, examined the crime scene, and had the chance to grill members of the Forensic Psychology Unit and other suspect individuals in their search for clues. Thankfully justice was done, the guilty party apprehended, and the citizens of New Cross could again rest easy in their beds. Case closed.

Tickets sold out in 48 hours, so if you weren’t able to join us, we are sorry, but we’ve put together a short video to give you a taste of the evening. Make sure to join us next-time…

[vimeo 162837638 w=640 h=360]


I hope you agree that the event looked fun. We had a great time! The ‘trainees’ certainly enjoyed the night as well. We received some wonderful feedback on the crime scene, the cast of characters presented, and the insights we were able to share as researchers in the field.

Why did we do it?

This little adventure started with a public engagement grant from the Goldsmiths Outreach Team. The event was designed to raise awareness of the research we do in the Forensic Psychology Unit and how it informs police policy and practice. We chose to do this in the context of a ‘live’ murder investigation. We even took the opportunity to test some hypotheses and run mini-experiments, rapidly crunching the numbers, and giving feedback to the attendees on their predictions of ‘WhoDunnit’ – All during the course of the evening. Pretty lofty goals for our first foray over the Arts-Science divide, I think you’ll agree.

A stated aim of the event, and something we are very proud of in retrospect, was to base as much of the event as possible in fact. From small things, like using police issue evidence bags for collecting trace evidence, through to selecting the details of the crime from the archives of the Innocence Project. Now, I’ll admit that the fake blood tasted of raspberry and the corpse wasn’t entirely dead, but here’s the reality… the success of the night and the extent to which the audience ‘bought into’ the production relied on the relationships we built with talented, enthusiastic and creative people from within Goldsmiths. And we were helped by many.

The Communications team filmed and edited the footage you watched earlier, they even helped us film the CCTV of the murder itself in the wee small hours. Students from the Goldsmiths Acting and Filmmaking Society were our suspects, relatives for the witness appeal, security guards, journalists, camera crew, CSI techs… And they gave their expertise and experience freely, and largely saved us from our dramatically inexperienced selves. The Estates & Facilities team mostly kept a straight face while we asked about the risk of blood stains on marble.

And if you ever need a body-bag, there’s a cupboard full in the Theatre & Performance Department prop store… Who’d have guessed?

Plans for our next event are well in hand and we’ve learned some lessons along the way – by far the most important being that such projects are great fun to dream up, plan and execute. We are proud to be part of a very dynamic department, with regular media coverage and with a few jokers in our ranks (make sure to catch the next Science Showoff!)

We encourage you all to embrace the slightly frightening prospect of creative Arts-Science collaborations or immersive theatre-based experimentation. It’s great fun and so very Goldsmiths! To be honest, if your next to-do list doesn’t include ‘borrow body bag – preferably empty’ or ‘google recipes for fake blood’ you’re missing out!

Dr. Wright practices lies and deception on Twitter as @DrDeception. The Forensic Psychology Unit are  @ForensicGold

The next event will be advertised via #FPUevents Early booking is advised!