Like a band of hungry scavengers, the team knelt down to scrutinize every blade of grass, every pile of leaves or mound of dirt. But this time it was skin, hair, blood or bones they were looking for.
It was a very chilly day Jan. 23 when members of the Baltimore Metro Volunteer Crime Scene Search Team gathered at the edge of a wooded area in Harford County, seeking the remains of a 17-year-old girl who had been missing since 1983.
"We never know precisely what we are looking for," said team member Ed Wilson, a Glen Burnie resident. "We have to stop for most every thing we see."
Wilson is one of about 50 volunteers based at the Ferndale Fire Department. The team operates under the supervision of the Maryland State Police crime lab, which trains them in crime scene search techniques.
Searchers combed the woods off Trappe Church Road that day, looking for the missing pieces of Kennett M. Gehman's body. Gehman was last seen leaving her Havre de Grace home on her bicycle Sept. 2, 1983.
"We found mostly bones, hand bones and back bones," said Trooper Robert White who trains the team.
"The medical examiner used dental records to identify her," he said.
"But they could not tell the exact cause of death."
The team prepares for real-life incidents like this during mock searches in parks or the woods behind the state police barracks in Glen Burnie.
During a mock search last summer at Sawmill Creek Park, White presented team members with the case of a young woman who was assaulted while jogging through the area. She told investigators that she thought more than one person was involved and that one had a knife. She also was shot during the attack.
Searchers formed a line, got on their hands and knees and began looking for the knife through the "hot area," or the immediate area where the crime took place.
Each search is conducted by 10 team members organized in lines with one member serving as supervisor, one operating a metal detector behind the line and two members recording every item found.
"When they see something," White explained, they place a small flag in the ground next to it and mark it on their chart. I am responsible for picking it up and packaging it."
Before the mock search last summer, White had planted a match book, knife, bullet shells and torn pieces of clothing. By the time the inch-by-inch, two-hour search ended, team members found all the items White had planted.
"When they are finished with an area, it looks like a small lawn mower has come through," White said.
After items are packaged, they are labeled and taken to the crime lab for analysis and the results are turned over to the state's attorney for prosecution purposes.
Team members come from all walks of life and say they enjoy working on the team and helping their community.
"What makes it the most interesting is that you don't know what you will come up with," said Louis Smith, a 61-year-old retired government employee from Gambrills.
Smith handles the metal detector behind the team. She said working with the team is an interesting hobby.
"When you get out there with a detector," Smith said, "you find all sorts of goodies. During a couple of the practices, I found some of the shell cases that the team had missed."
Barbara Wilson, 42, a government secretary from Glen Burnie, said she enjoys the excitement of the searches.
"And there is the self-satisfaction of knowing you are doing something to help solve the crime," she said.
To be a member of the team, you must be 18, willing to undergo a background check. Monthly meetings are conducted at the Ferndale Fire Department.
Anyone who wants to join the team should call Ed Wilson at 766-3662 or 766-2131.