At Michigan State most professors assign homework, give extra credit, show videos and lecture on anything from organic chemistry to macroeconomics. There’s one professor, however, that’s called in by lawyers and police to help crack criminal cases.
[adams] Thomas Adams is a professor and associate chairperson for undergraduate education in physiology. He has been teaching for 38 years and started solving crimes fifteen years ago.
“I have always had an interest in science and how it applies to real life,” Adams said. “For the very first case I was involved in, I was contacted by a detective in the police department of a city in Michigan. I don’t know how he got my name.”
Since the first case, Adams has been involved in a number of others. “I have been involved in other cases since then in about the same way. I am either contacted by a police officer, a medical examiner, a physician, a lawyer or by someone else involved in the forensic investigation,” said Adams.
One case in particular received national attention from a television show on A&E called “Cold Case Files”. “Cold Case Files” focuses on murders that are left unsolved for a period of time until detectives, called cold case detectives, reopen them. A case goes cold when there is a lack of evidence or witnesses. New detectives, or sometimes even the same ones, reopen the case to take another crack at it. These detectives are experts in the science of crime detection.
The series takes viewers step-by-step through methods detectives use to catch the killer. The case Adams was called on by A&E involved the murder and of a six-year-old girl in Battle Creek in 1978. The girl’s mother, Bonnie Van Dam, and stepfather, David Walton, held the six-year-old under cold water which led to her death. However, over the years, several doctors disagreed on what was actually the cause of her death and in the end it was ruled inconclusive.
In 1993, the young girl’s death was ruled as hypothermia after a retired Battle Creek detective presented evidence to a former county medical examiner. The case was reopened by the Calhoun County Cold Case Homicide Team. Finally, in 2002, almost 25 years after the child’s death, Van Dam and Walton were arrested for second-degree murder.
Adams was first called in by one of the cold case detectives working the case. When the crime was solved with the help of Adams, he was called in as an expert witness for the prosecution. “Cold Case Files” initially approached Adams two years ago and asked him for an interview four months ago.“
“I had to read pages of testimony and developed a concept of how the child died,” Adams said. “Preparing for these cases is not as easy as they look on television. It’s hard not to get emotionally attached; can you imagine someone murdering a child? I have to read testimony, do math equations and make a new analysis from how she was in good health until the time she died,” he said. Adams knew his repsonsibilty was great and his task was not a simple one. “Sometimes there isn’t enough evidence that’s reliable. None of us wants to be accused of a crime. I have to do the best job I can do,” Adams concludes.
Adams works hard on each case he looks into and carefully weighs all the clues. To see him in action, check out “Cold Case Files” Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. on A&E.

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