For Laura Merz, CC ’01, police work is nothing like it is on television.
Merz, who works as a crime scene investigator for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, returned to campus on Monday to share her experiences with NCIS in Japan and Italy. She also discussed her newly published first book, “Bunny Suits of Death: Tales of a CSI”—the title refers to the white HAZMAT suit she wears while examining a decomposing body—a memoir of her first job in Wichita, Kansas.
“What we see on TV is manufactured,” she said.
This might seem obvious, but the image of the CSI has penetrated so deeply into the American subconscious that now every prosecutor must dispel for the jury the “CSI Effect.” There is never any one critical and completely damning piece of evidence that pulls an entirely complex case together.
“To me, that’s tragic, because to me it’s more funny and tragic and soul wrenching in a way that no television show can ever be,” she said.
Merz said she always tries to find humor in her job, which is reflected in her memoir. Separating humor from the morbid is a skill she’s honed over the years, she said.
“You can really get bogged down in [some parts of] this job if you don’t balance it out.”
The ability to find humor in the gruesome has allowed Merz to share some of the more disturbing stories from her job: including one about a dachshund eating the face off its deceased owner—“The larger the dog you have, the less likely they are to eat you when you die,” she said—and a Japanese chaplain requesting that she investigate a ghost he suspected of haunting a girl in his congregation.
After leaving Wichita, Merz pursued new challenges with NCIS. Since then she has worked in California, Japan, and most recently Italy, but said, “It’s not really a matter of the place you work. It’s more the people you work with and the things you get to do.”
For all of the challenge and excitement that comes with being a CSI, Merz said that her work is first and foremost about helping people. At the end of the day she maintains reverence and compassion for the dead that amount to “a burning desire to speak for those who can longer speak for themselves.”