Jason E. Foley enjoys a good crime story and usually figures out who-done-it and how before the final chapter.
The Western Maryland College senior recently used his science studies to test his intuitive ability on the real thing during a midyear internship at the Baltimore City Police Crime Lab.
The 22-year-old Sykesville resident analyzed evidence gathered from crime scenes, looking for the minute details that often point a finger at a suspect.
Mr. Foley is no stranger to test tubes and microscopes.
He majors in biology and minors in chemistry at the Westminster college and has spent many hours in labs.
"I wanted to be where I could use my degree," said the Sykesville resident. "In the lab, I had a real hand in looking for evidence and crime solving."
The three, 40-hour weeks with experienced investigators gave him practical lessons in forensic science, which he plans to make his career.
"You can read your texts and get a pretty good idea of what evidence is, but until you see what the work involves first hand, you don't really understand," said Robert Hurley, supervisor of trace analysis at the Baltimore lab.
The lab accepts few interns and only those seriously interested in forensic science, said Thomas Mueller, lab director.
The students are immersed in casework, with a staff member as their teacher.
The city lab investigates about 450 cases a year.
Some involve analysis of a single sample from a crime scene. Others require time-consuming tests on more than 100 items, said Mr. Hurley.
Mr. Foley examined hundreds of hair, fiber and blood samples. He studied gunshot particles and glass residues.
The painstaking work included examination of clothing to identify all blood samples and tests for lead traces and bullet entry. Laser techniques also help investigators locate evidence.
"I got a real feel for how to preserve evidence and avoid contamination," he said. "I did tests, took notes and learned all the techniques."
Liability and safety requirements prevent interns from working on mobile units and at crime scenes.
"I saw the evidence and lots of pictures," he said. "I could piece the crime together from all that.
He found no shortages of cases, which included 14 murders.
"We never worked with bodies, but the stuff that came in was bad enough," he said. "When evidence gets backed up, clothes get moldy and blood putrefies. We wore gas masks and sometimes even that didn't help."
Mr. Foley is back in the classroom for a few more months.
After graduation in May and enlistment in the military service, he will be working in a crime lab for the U.S. Army. His six-year enlistment will give him the experience and further his education in forensic science.
Eventually, he hopes to work for the FBI.
"I have always wanted to be a police officer without endangering my life," he said. "In forensics, you can work on a different crime every day. The science can tell you all about where and what happened."