Crime-busting enthusiasts get their fix with CSI Alaska series

There are three versions of “CSI” and more similar crime dramas on TV than can be counted on two hands. High-profile crime stories dominate the cable news and popular appetite for stories about grisly and macabre stories seems to be insatiable. Now the crime fanatics of Anchorage have their chance to get up close and personal with some of Alaska’s most notorious crimes and learn about how they were solved from the people directly involved in the cases.

The Crime Scene Investigation Alaska lecture series was born as a response to the enormous popularity of true-crime stories in today’s media.

“There’s the craze on TV, and we’re sitting on an organization with 800 people who can give a presentation like that,” said Tom Anderson, the retired director of the Alaska State Troopers who conceived and organized the lecture series as a fundraiser for the Alaska State Troopers Museum.

Last year’s lecture series was met with an unexpected popularity.

“We were overwhelmed,” Anderson said.

The response prompted a move for the event out of the modest confines of the Trooper Museum and into the Egen Center. This year, the event has moved back to its original location.

Fans of the series include the Sisters in Crime group, a club of local mystery writers who count noted local author Dana Stabenow among its members.

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“The CSI Alaska lecture series is police detecting without the soundtrack,” Stabenow said. “Thoughtful, experienced officers taking the audience step-by-deliberate-step through some of the bloodiest, most violent crime scenes in Alaska history. This how you get a conviction in the real world.”

Attendees will learn about legal and investigative processes from experts giving the lectures.

“It’s something of a public service. It exposes people to experts in various fields, they get a chance to learn something,” Anderson said. “Anybody interested in the real nitty-gritty of law enforcement, this is one way to get next to it because you’re listening to people who are right in the field. It’s not very often that an average person can have direct contact with professionals in the field.”

Jeanne Blair, director of the Trooper Museum, said audiences can expect to learn how crimes are actually processed.

“It’s not technical,” Blair said. “It’s a general presentation for people who like to watch crime shows and things like that. How things are really done, not like they are on the TV show.”

Lecturers scheduled for the series include a graphologist (or handwriting analysis expert), some forensic scientists and a senior detective from the Anchorage Police Department.

The series opened Feb. 14 with Assistant Attorney General James Fayette of the Special Prosecutions Unit discussing several murder cases and the evidence that was used to get convictions.

“Point for point, these people saw exactly what I said in my opening statement, and not a syllable more,” Fayette said of his presentation.

Fayette entertained a room full of varied crime enthusiasts, both young and old, at the State Trooper Museum. Attendees got firsthand look into some actual Alaska crime investigations, everything from detailed retellings of the crimes to the evidence left behind. Despite wallowing in crime scenes and human tragedy, Fayette kept an upbeat and energetic tone throughout the presentation.

“I’ve got a job that I love doing. It’s a job being a storyteller. I’m given great stories, tragic stories, by the troopers, and I enjoy telling them,” Fayette said. “I enjoy showing people the work police do.”

As Fayette presented his story of crime investigation, it came off almost like a conventional narrative structure, with the crime, evidence and investigation all neatly tying into each other. Like a TV show, all the evidence is cleanly presented, and everything mentioned proves relevant to something else that crops up later. Real crimes are very rarely like that, though.

“These cases are very unusual, the cases I presented here tonight,” Fayette said, referring to the “slam-dunk” cases his presentation was about. “Far more cases get settled somehow. Sometimes you have to offer something to get a plea out of them.”

The cases the series cover are chosen by the speakers themselves, and all the cases detailed in the lecture series are presented by the people who actually worked on them. The knowledge they relate comes from firsthand experience with the case. All the cases showcased in the series have been solved and settled.

Attendees should be warned that the series isn’t for the faint of heart. Everything the audience sees is comparable to sitting in on an abbreviated murder trial, and those are rarely pretty pictures.

“This is the real McCoy. We do advise that there’s some gory things,” Anderson said.

The Alaska CSI lecture series continues every Tuesday night until March 6 at the Alaska State Troopers Museum, at 245 West Fifth Avenue between B and C streets, underneath the Fifth Avenue Mall parking garage. For more information, contact 279-5050. All the proceeds go the Alaska State Troopers Museum.