TV shows pale in comparison with reality of forensic work
Former investigator describes CSI work as grueling
NORTHWEST VALLEY NEWSPAPERS
(Daily News-Sun, June 16, 2006) — When Jim Hauncher watches the CSI television shows, he relives a part of his past. The Sun City Grand resident, who turned 60 yeserday, spent 27 years working for the Michigan State Police department as a forensic serologist, studying biological fluid. “Every homicide has some,” Hauncher said. “(We) go to a crime scene, gather evidence, analyze it.” The CSI shows, he said, are well-researched and true-to-life in many ways. “But they have one hour to solve crimes,” Hauncher said, instead of spending days, weeks or years trying to solve cases.
‘I have become more sensitive to life in general. It made me a better father and grandfather.’
Retired forensic scientist
Being exposed to gruesome scenes is not a job for everyone, he said. “It’s not a teachable skill,” Hauncher said. “Either you can deal with it, or you can’t.” Instead of becoming hardened and detached when confronted with graphic crime scenes, Hauncher said he found himself reacting completely different. “I have become more sensitive to life in general,” Hauncher said. “It made me a better father and grandfather.”
“I would look at (crime scenes) and think, ‘There, but for the grace of God, it hasn’t touched me’,” he said. Hauncher, who has a degree in forensic science from Michigan State University, said that working in forensics could be grueling. Forensic scientists were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “You would get home at 3 a.m., haven’t slept after working for 36 hours, take a hot bath, and still couldn’t sleep,” Hauncher said. “There was too much work to do.”
But the rewards made it all worthwhile.
“You could bring closure for the (victim’s families),” he said. “You would see the pain and anguish in the families, horrific crimes.” “And when you could help solve the case, it was so rewarding,” he said. One case that stands out in his mind is the case of the Oakland County Child Killer, who abducted and killed four children in 1976 and 1977. The case baffled investigators, Hauncher said.
“We received a bazillion tips,” he said. “It haunted me for years.”
Hauncher said investigators received a tip that pointed them to two individuals, one of whom lived around the corner from his home.
Both of the suspects are dead now, but one of them was identified through a single hair from a victim that was matched through DNA research to the suspect.
The other suspect had taken a child from Michigan to Arizona, was observed acting inappropriately in a motel swimming pool, and was investigated and linked to the crimes. Solving those crimes were the result of a combination of factors. “Good police work, tenacity and knowing what to do with the luck given to you,” Hauncher said. In addition to working for the police department, Hauncher also taught criminal justice at a community college for 29 years.
That love of teaching led him to the work he loves now, as a substitute teacher who works with challenged children in the life skills area of an alternative school in the Litchfield school district. He works with kids with behavioral issues, and those that he says are from the ‘edge of society.’
“I fell in love (with the work) over there,” Hauncher said. “I feel I made a difference.” Hauncher hopes to return to the school in the fall, and also return to playing in the Sun City Grand senior softball league. He took last year off from playing to concentrate on teaching.
Meanwhile, he will begin a 6-day, 400-mile bike ride through Michigan tomorrow called the Rails to Trails ride. He sky dived with his daughter four years ago. “If you aren’t living, you are dying,” Hauncher said.
Looking back on his career, both as a forensic scientist and teacher, Hauncher said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“If I had the opportunity to be anything, I would do the exact same thing that I did for the same people I worked for,” Hauncher said.
Joy Slagowski may be reached at 876-2334 or [email protected]