The Memory Diner has just been robbed, and a body lies face down in a back alley. A visitor on vacation captures a suspect on video, and a local television station breaks into a Dick Tracy movie with the gruesome details.
Another day on the streets of Baltimore? No. It's another day at the Maryland Science Center, where an exhibit opened yesterday to teach people how to solve a crime by creating a lifelike murder scene.
Called "Whodunit? The Science of Solving Crime," the interactive showcase takes visitors on a journey through a detective's eyes -- from a '50s-era diner with worn linoleum floors and a shaken short-order cook to a sparkling lab where white-coated scientists crack cases on computers.
Along the way, people can compare bullets, analyze blood, examine fingerprints and watch a real autopsy on a screen superimposed over the chest of a mannequin -- complete with sound effects.
"I honestly believe that when people leave, they'll have a good working know-ledge of how to solve a case," said Jerry Dziecizhowicz, chief administrator of the Maryland medical examiner's office.
"The whole intent is for people to get a better understanding of what forensic medicine is all about," said Dziecizhowicz, who toured the exhibit Thursday.
Put together by law enforcement officials in Fort Worth, Texas, "Whodunit?" has toured several states and was in Atlanta before coming to Baltimore, where it can be seen for three months.
As people walk through the exhibit, they can read stories about how real crimes were solved using science -- from the first time fingerprints were used to differentiate twins in 1903 to how the remains of Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi "Angel of Death," were identified using DNA genetic testing.
The idea is for people to get involved and actually search for evidence. At each segment of the exhibit, they must find and sort through a variety of contradictory clues before charging one of three suspects.
"The first time I walked through, I thought I saw everything," said Gregory P. Andorfer, executive director of the science center. "Then I saw that there were 18 clues. I said, 'I missed most of them.' I went back and changed the way I was looking, and I saw a lot more."
The museum has planned several events in the next few weeks && to coincide with the exhibit, including lectures by a forensic detective, readings of mystery novels and a workshop teaching children how to write horror stories.
Next weekend, crime-lab technicians from the Baltimore Police Department will demonstrate how they process a murder scene and how they can help solve cases by comparing tiny shards of glass or fibers.
"It's an excellent chance for citizens to see and understand the many facets of law enforcement and investigations which they never would normally be exposed to," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman who helped with the exhibit.
People entering the exhibit begin by walking into the diner on Summer Street, complete with booths, stools and a Wurlitzer jukebox.
The short-order cook is behind the counter, trying to answer questions from "Det. Ruiz" about the stickup, and their banter is broadcast for visitors to hear and take notes.
"I ain't no hero, so I gave him cash," the cook says, struggling to give a complete description. "I was staring down the barrel of a gun, not gazing in his eyes."
In the back of the diner, a grainy black-and-white Dick Tracy movie is playing on a television set. Just as Tracy and the cops burst into a room to arrest some mobsters, WBAL-TV news anchor Rod Daniels appears to tell Baltimore about the "breaking news" in a "special report."
Daniels describes the sketchy details of the robbery and the body found in the alley behind the diner and describes a family turned "from tourists to witnesses" in their short stay in Charm City.
From there, visitors go to the alley, a long, dingy, dark hallway lined with real brick walls and metal garage doors covered with graffiti. Half-eaten apples, knocked-over trash cans and broken windows add to the ambience.
Crime-lab technicians already are photographing a torn screen door and picking up a knife lying next to the head of the young murder victim, found face down next to a wall. A small bag of white powder -- perhaps cocaine -- is at his feet.
Eighteen clues are hidden in the alley, including an orange knit cap, tire tracks, white paint scratches on a wall, animal fur in a trash can and a shard of fabric stuck between a window's metal security bars.
By this time, visitors have plenty of evidence and three suspects, who have been gleaned from interviews with the family, the videotape and the cook. Adam Aldrich admits to being near the diner when the slaying occurred; Bruce Benson claims he was at a movie across town; and Cary Cannon said he injured himself at a wood shop with a chisel.
From there, visitors go to the autopsy, where they watch a graphic, six-minute video superimposed on the chest of the mannequin.