Using the Murder Mystery genre in a fun-filled way to look at the serious issue of how a national DNA database can help fight crime in South Africa
The venue was Scifest Africa 2011 in Grahamstown, the plot….murder. This was the murder mystery evening played out Scifest this year.
Members of the audience question Mr Rival's heavily pregnant girlfriend Ms Wanda Urjob
Imagine this- it was the end of a long day at the Science-4-All Mega-Xploratorium (S4-AMX), Mr Knowledge O.F. Csi, the conscientious security officer, was doing his rounds after the last visitors had left. He paused outside Dr Noall X. Plor’s office – his finely tuned instinct told him something was wrong. He knocked, no answer, yet he knew that Dr Plor had not left the building; cautiously he opened the door. The scene that greeted him confirmed his foreboding, Dr Plor lay spread-eagled across his desk, a broken, blood-smeared wine glass lay in front of his outstretched lifeless hand, a strange smell of burning wafted towards Mr Csi.
Switch to the auditorium at Scifest Africa 2011 in Grahamstown, where an expectant real-live audience of school learners, teachers and other members of the public had come to take part in a Murder Mystery evening. Also there was an excited cast of scientists and science centre friends from around South Africa, all would be-actors and extroverts who would act out the strange and twisted goings on of the S4-AMX on the murderous night in May.
Mr Cantseeit and Dr Fori Ensik each had their own suspicions
Professor Valerie Corfield, who created this novel way to look at crime and the use of DNA profiling to solve it, explained to the audience the science behind popular series like “CSI” and “Solving it”. She talked about the power of a national DNA database in linking suspects with their crimes and securing convictions. She also asked the audience to think about some of the societal, legal and ethical issues this technology may raise. Suddenly, a cell phone rang urgently, a message was relayed to a visibly shaken Prof Corfield – she paused, and then announced the shocking news, Dr Plor was dead. A sob from one of the audience – it was Dr Plor’s wife Mrs Angela St Clare Plor – known by many as Angst – and played by Irene of Pretoria University’s Science Centre.
The audience relaxed as they realised that this was all part of the evening’s entertainment and they strained forward, it was time to start solving the crime. The players were introduced, everyone was delighted to hear that Mama Precious Ramotswe, of the Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, was visiting from Botswana and would be happy to give advice. Curious, everyone went to the scene of the crime –which had been taped off by the well-informed and efficient Mr Csi. They surveyed the evidence and, armed with some background information about the characters in the Xploratorium that evening, they began to question the suspects.
It seemed that just about everyone had a motive to want to see the last of the hard drinking, womanising, financially insecure and increasingly inefficient Dr Plor. Had Mrs Plor had enough of his behavior? Why was she so friendly with Mr Ivor Grudge who was wrongfully dismissed from the Xploratorium? Was this Mrs Arch Rival’s chance to take over the struggling S4-AMX? Who was Mr Q. Rios Rival’s biological father and what was his pregnant and ambitious girlfriend (Ms Wanda Urjob)’s role in the events of the tragic evening? What financial shenanigans had the forensic accountant Ms Penny Fiscus uncovered and why was her partner the forensic scientist Dr Fori Ensik so jealous to finding her talking to Dr Plor earlier in the evening? Could Ms Twitter N. Bisted throw some light onto the jealousies simmering beneath the surface? Did socialite Mrs Phyll-Anne Thropicopolos and her security advisor Mr Hev E. Hitman know more than they were saying and did her friend the politician Mr Grey V. Trane have something to hide? Did the bitter and angry Mr I Les Cantseeit, who lost an eye at S4-AMX, get a chance to speak to Dr Plor? Why was the cleaning lady Mrs Busi Makleena so visibly shaken that evening?
Mr Hev E. Hitman shrugged a lot - he knew nothing
The Murder Mystery was edu-tainment like you don’t get taught at school or in the science pages of the newspaper; Dr Fori Ensik could explain more about DNA forensics, Ms Fiscus could talk about forensic accounting and Mama Precious was there to share wisdom and common sense. Mr Grudge had an identical twin, he wanted to know how DNA profiling dealt with that and Mr Hev E. Hitman was not happy that his DNA was on a database already because of his previous “misdemeanors”. Mr Rival explained paternity testing and how he went about getting the samples (rightly or wrongly?) Mr Trane gave the politician’s answers to where South Africa’s national DNA database stands.
The audience questioned, probed, sought answers; small groups discussed their suspicions and went back to ask more – now and again pausing to sample some of the tasty snacks on offer! The suspects blustered, prevaricated, lied and pointed fingers at each other.
Finally everyone reassembled and wrote down who they thought did it, did they act alone, why did they do it and how did they do it? The would-be Horatio Cane’s ideas were checked, did anyone have it right? Yes, a few detectives had “sussed” it out correctly and justice would be served.
And you the reader will want to know those answers too – but you will have to come to the next Murder Mystery evening to find out who-dun-it…….
Professor Valerie Corfield