Students Explore Cold Cases at Recent D3

By Stanley Wright
Photos by Imani Nia Rutledge

November 23, 2010 — The College of Arts and Sciences hosted its most recent D3 event on Wednesday, November 3, 2010, welcoming a panel of illustrious crime experts as well as the author of The Murder Room, Michael Capuzzo.

Enthusiasts of the book and students interested in forensic science and investigative police work, had the unique opportunity to engage with experts in the field. Nate Gordon and Richard Walter were also on the panel, representing the Vidocq society, an organization centered on investigating and solving cold cases.

Students Explore Cold Cases

Gordon, who serves on the board of directors of the Vidocq society, was recently elected president of the American Polygraph Association, and is an expert in interrogation.

Walter is a renowned forensic psychologist, known to many as “America’s Sherlock Holmes.”

Capuzzo began the evening by discussing his search for a new book topic, and the path that led him to the Vidocq society.

“I was looking on the Internet and came across this incredible website…Here was this group of the worlds greatest detectives, forensic scientists, pathologists, blood splatter experts who came from 11 foreign countries and 19 states to Philadelphia, to an old Victorian dining room to solve, or begin to examine, these cold cases over a hot lunch,” said Capuzzo.

Intrigued but skeptical, he thought, “This can’t be true…this sounds like James Bond or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or something.”

But it was true. And for the past 20 years, these dedicated members of the Society have analyzed the mystery behind the unsolved deaths and disappearances that others have been unable to decipher.

The Murder Room is essentially Capuzzo’s compilation of the accounts, testimonies, and cases of these Vidocq Society members. It focuses on specific cold cases, in the Philadelphia area and around the world, that these connoisseurs of the crime world have solved over the years.

While researching the book, Capuzzo spent seven years collaborating with the members of the Society, and some of the most notable investigations of his fellow panelists are actually highlighted in the book.

One such investigation is a 1984 case involving a young Drexel student named Deborah Wilson. Wilson, a computer science major, was killed on campus.

“The Philadelphia police couldn’t solve [the case] for eight years and these men figured it out over lunch,” explained Capuzzo (though he wouldn’t give away the ending).

Students Explore Cold Cases

Gordon and Walter went on to discuss their involvement in similar cases, and the intricacies of working with extremely little evidence.

Students were then given the opportunity to ask questions. Walter entertained hypothetical murder conditions, and explained the validity or misdirection of students’ logic as they attempted to find solutions.

A panel of criminal justice students sat adjacent to the experts. Many were members of the Forensic Science Club or had some familiarity with crime scene protocol and investigative logic. The group addressed some of the cold cases that the Vidocq society has yet to solve.

The discussion continued into dinner, and all attendees had the opportunity to talk with the experts who each sat at a table of students. The topics of conversation ranged from Capuzzo’s book to the unsolved mysteries the Vidocq society seeks to answer.

Students Explore Cold Cases

Capuzzo spoke about his experience as a journalist entering the uncharted waters of the crime world. A major part of the journalistic process is immersing oneself into the circumstances surrounding a story; and Capuzzo did this boldly.

“It was not easy to get to know these guys and I’m not really sure if I am accepted; the division between cops and journalists has a long history,” said Capuzzo.

But regardless of whether or not he is officially part of the group, his expertise in journalism and his research into the crime world, have proven his dedication. The students reaped the benefits of this knowledge, as well as that of the rest of the panel.

Open to undergraduates across the University, D3 events foster an engaging, interdisciplinary experience. This month’s event was no exception; the dynamic group of panelists offered an intriguing look into the power of journalism and the mysterious world of criminal investigation.

Interested in learning more about D3 events? Visit

Stan Wright is a communications major with a concentration in global journalism, and is also planning to minor in Spanish. He is currently a staff writer for The Triangle, Drexel's independent student newspaper.

Imani Nia Rutledge graduated in June of 2011 with her M.P.H. in Public Health, concentrating on Community Health and Prevention.