Criminal Intent

The book was gray and dingy, and on its cover a leering miscreant glared at us from behind prison bars. The simple title, Crime, was depicted in red in that ever-recognizable typewriter-style font. The contents of the book--subtitled "A Pictorial History of Crime 1840 to the Present" and peeked at only when our mom wasn't looking--introduced us to a world of killers and cons and other ne'er-do-wells. It also fostered our fascination with crime--how it is committed, how it is punished, how so many get away with it and how so many get caught. With scintillating stories about such subjects as the elusive Jack the Ripper and the tried-but-not-convicted Lizzie Borden, the deliciousness of the forbidden was just too good to pass up. That's why the book now sits on our own shelf, among the Ann Rules and the Truman Capotes and the other chroniclers of crime-based tales. It's also why our ears pricked up when we heard about the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History's exhibit Whodunit? The Science of Solving Crime.

Beginning January 24, visitors to the interactive exhibit will be able to use their powers of deduction plus scientific methods such as DNA profiling, fingerprinting and forensic anthropology to solve a crime at the Memory Diner. There's been a robbery, a body is in the alley and the only witness is a short-order cook. No offense to short-order cooks, but eyewitnesses can be pretty unreliable. Tall becomes short, fat becomes thin and brown becomes blond. So with little to go on, the amateur detectives must pay close attention, visiting crime-lab stations to analyze evidence and identify or clear various suspects. It's a big job, but if, like us, you're intrigued by the depravity of human nature and have been on a steady TV diet of Cold Case Files and The New Detectives, you should be up for the task. (Favorite gruesome detail: Hard-core crime buffs can watch an actual autopsy as it is projected onto the cast of a body. The weak-kneed can feel free to duck out of this demonstration.)

Along with the crime-scene investigation and lessons in crime-solving technology, the exhibit also will include activities for kids, case studies of historic crimes and profiles of real-life forensic professionals. This exhibit marks Whodunit?'s final appearance at the Fort Worth museum. It premiered in 1993 and was developed with help from a panel of scientists, educators and law enforcement officers. But museum spokeswoman Carol Murray says a sequel is in the works, and she promises that Whodunit? 2 will offer the same kind of fun as the original but with updated technology and a whole new scenario. So while this may be your last chance to play armchair detective for a while, the murder at the Memory Diner isn't gonna solve itself--there's a body to bag and a suspicious short-order cook who needs to be grilled.