Get Your CSI at URI

The university's Forensic Science Seminar Series, which kicked off last week, has some passionate fans.

The last person you might expect to meet over morning coffee at a bed and breakfast is an expert on how to poison people. But now’s the season when murder sometimes comes up over breakfast at The 1900 House.

For more than a decade, Bill and Sandy Panzeri have hosted some of the leading minds in crime analysis at their Narragansett bed and breakfast. The experts — some from out of town — come each fall to speak in the University of Rhode Island’s Forensic Science Seminar Series, which began last week.

“The intelligence that these people have is beyond belief,” Sandy Panzeri says. “We have wonderful conversations.”

You’d never suspect what these people do for a living when they walk through the door, Sandy Panzeri says. She’s careful not to press, but sometimes their work comes up. One matronly looking guest could trace a shred of fiber to the trunk of a Ford and find a killer. The poison expert was a pharmacist. Another’s specialty was garbage bags.

“There is so much information on your Hefty trash bags,” Sandy Panzeri says. “They can track down a murderer using a trash bag.”

But the person who has impressed Sandy Panzeri the most is Jimmie C. Oxley. The URI chemistry professor and internationally-known expert on explosives organizes the series and often joins the conversation at the breakfast table. It counts as a one-credit course for students, but it’s also open to the public. Since its inception in 1999, the series has developed a loyal following of about a dozen retired or semi-retired fans.

Ed and Ann Grossman began attending the seminars in 2001 and they get upset if they have to miss a good one. “We’ve learned a lot about blood and guts,” Ed Grossman says. “But we’ve also learned about light bulbs, surprisingly enough,” which can be used to tell who is at fault in a car crash.

His wife is a self-professed true-crime junkie who wanted to go to medical school nearly fifty years ago to study forensic pathology, which was then a new field. But women in medical school were an anomaly then, and she didn’t have the money.

She and her husband look forward to the Friday afternoon seminars each week because they feel like it helps them keep on top of things. “It’s interesting because the quote adults in the class have more questions than the students,” Ann Grossman says. They’ve learned how people can pick locks and about scams they never knew existed, such as counterfeit stamps.

They also ask questions. After a postal inspector advised people to help prevent identity theft by not carrying their Social Security cards on them, they pointed out that seniors’ Medicare cards, which they have to carry with them, also contain those numbers.

But they’re excited about this year’s lineup, which includes Bob Fitzpatrick, a retired FBI agent who worked the James “Whitey” Bulger case and other experts from the Rhode Island Medical Examiner’s office and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research.

“Too bad I can’t get a diploma from it,” Ed Grossman says with a laugh.

The seminars are held Fridays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Room 124 of Pastore Hall on URI’s Kingston campus. The next speaker will be Rhode Island Assistant Medical Examiner Priya Banerjee on Sept. 16