Teacher learns: 'Crime' doesn't pay

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— He did it for the money.
Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Bruce Wenzlau is retiring in two years and cooked up a crazy get-rich plan, but it went sour on him.

Wenzlau was fingered as the culprit in a fictitious murder mystery unit, for both the theft of the "Crawford gem" and the staged murder of school mascot Salty the Sailor.

"The gem is a hoax," teacher Brad Kindred said.

Apparently, Salty and Wenzlau made up the story of the gem and were going to try to cash in on the insurance money, Kindred said. He apparently needed the money to send his son to college.

In an assembly Thursday, Steamboat Springs police officer Jerry Stabile narrowed down the 12 suspects for the seventh-graders involved in the unit.

"We're going to find the assailant that offed Salty," Stabile told the restless crowd of detectives.

He went through the suspects -- nine teachers and three students -- dismissing them off the stage when the evidence just didn't add up. Some were clearly on the hot seat, however.

"Mr. Ford, are you a little nervous up there?" he asked teacher Kevin Ford, who topped the list of suspects.

The students were trying to solve the theft of the "Crawford gem" from a gym storage unit and the subsequent "murder" of school mascot Salty the Sailor. Salty wasn't an innocent victim, however, as evidenced by the contents of his backpack that linked him to the theft.

The students collected evidence and conducted hair, fingerprint, fabric and powder analyses in science class. They also got a lesson in interrogation from Stabile. The final act was to draw up a list of suspects and make a suspect-evidence flow chart. Each student then issued an arrest warrant for his or her choice for the culprit.

Last year, the students only had to solve a murder, but his year they had to make the connection between the two crimes and the evidence.

"This one was more complicated and more detailed," Kindred said.

Kindred said the mystery unit keeps the students' attention, getting them involved and excited. That's especially important in light of state content standards the school has to meet, he said.

"My job is to find interesting and creative ways to fill those standards and keep it alive and interesting," he said.

It's always a happy ending in the murder mystery unit, however. Although Wenzlau was being held on $1 million bond, he will be in school Friday and Salty will be cheering at all games.


-- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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