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Student log: Jennifer Gosdin

  • Story Highlights
  • Gosdin was in her element during a recent field trip to Brunswick, Georgia
  • She wants to work as an underwater forensics expert
  • Gosdin has a full-time job and spends all her free time looking at these cases
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By Jennifer Gosdin
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: CNN is following four Bauder College students as they build their case files in the Chandra Levy and Natalee Holloway investigations. The following is one of the logs each is keeping to document their cases. Jennifer Gosdin is a member of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based. Got a tip? E-mail the class at ColdCaseTips@USACops.com

Student log: Jennifer Gosdin

Log 6: Roger, chief
August 2008

We met with Retired DeKalb County Police Chief Eddie Moody to discuss the complexities of working high profile cases.

Moody was very sweet and personable. He spent lots of time with us and was willing to share stories, give advice and answer any questions, even if he had to research the answer and come back at another date.

Moody told us about a high profile case he worked on. During this case, he chose the right person for each job; not a high school friend or a buddy. He explained that police pressure plays a role in high profile cases. It takes a strong chief to control the outside pressures while working on a high profile case.

He also talked about looking at every piece of evidence and all tips to decide whether or not it is relevant to your case. I like the idea of having more than one officer looking at each tip or lead to determine its significance.

He went on to talk about understanding the habits of the family of the suspect as a way of understanding the habits of the suspect. For example, he said if a suspect hides his money, chances are he learned that from his family.

He also said the mother of the suspect may know things about a suspect that a spouse does not know. This is why talking to everyone is so important.

One of the statements Moody made that really affected me was when he said, "If you tell a victim's family that you are going to do something, you better do it!" I never thought about the damage that could be felt by the family if they see the police as adversaries and not as the ones who are trying to help them.

Log 5: Diving in
July-August 2008

I had anticipated this trip for six months. I was so excited to meet someone who would provide me with so much information on diving and underwater crime scenes.

We met our teacher, Sheryl McCollum, and headed to Rusty Whiting's house on Jekyll Island near Brunswick, Georgia. It was a long drive so I had plenty of time to think of all the questions that I wanted to ask.

We walked in and met Rusty and two of his buddies -- Hugh, who drives the boats, and George, who is a retired chief of the Glynn County sheriff's department. Rusty made a low country boil for us.

As a criminal justice student at Atlanta's Bauder College, I'm looking into the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba. She disappeared during a school graduation trip, and the publicized case included searches of the ocean floor. Her body hasn't been found.

My investigative logs, and those of some of my fellow students, have been featured on CNN.com. They call us the Campus Crime Club.

The field trip focusing on underwater investigative techniques was an important part of our class work and of particular interest to me. I thought I might want to pursue this field as my career. Now I know I do. Find out more about Jennifer and the others

Rusty is where most can only dream about being in life: He loves to dive and gets to do it all the time. He has turned his avocation into his vocation and gives back to the community and law enforcement by training others to be professional divers.

We all sat around the table and started to talk. I am quiet when I get nervous. So I just sat and listened and took it all in. We talked about many different aspects of diving. He looked over at me every so often and asked me, "Are you sure you really want to do this?"

All I could say is, "Yeah," but inside I was saying, "Hell yeah!" I am such a dork. He explained to us how he teaches students to dive as deep as 180 feet. Next we discussed Natalee Holloway. If she is underwater, could evidence be located and retrieved?

Rusty told us that we must have a command of physics. This is my worst subject. I struggled during this class. (I still have nightmares about the professor.) I didn't actually get to go in the water this time, because I'm not certified yet. But I will be.

George told us about some of the dangers of diving, such as gator holes and black water. George said most gators won't come after you if you're in the water, but they will on land. I would have thought the opposite was true.

All three men talked about the equipment, training and personal dedication involved in this profession. They told stories about searches and how they should be done. George talked about searches in water so dark that he could not see his hands in front of him.

Not all the stories were funny. There are many hard lessons to learn. Rusty said he never meets the family. He says it becomes "too personal." I know firsthand that this is true.

The Holloway case was just a project until I met Natalee's mom, but now it is personal. Meeting Beth Holloway made me want to work so much harder than I would have without connecting with her. Our teacher, Sheryl McCollum, says the most important aspect of the project is to "know who you are working for."

I also did not realize before this training the amount of equipment needed just for individual divers. They have masks, fins, weights, hoods, gloves, snorkels, tanks, wet suits, boots and vests, and that's just the standard gear.

The crime scene equipment, like the side scanner and sonar, was fascinating. The side scanner can produce an image of an object lying on the floor of the ocean. This scanner is connected to a computer and a printer can print out an image of the object below.

"The water determines how we work," Rusty instructs. Dangers come with this job. One example was the underwater processing and recovery of a methamphetamine lab.

Rusty wanted to be clear about one thing: The team's mission does not include rescue. By the time they call the divers, it is "over, said and done."

No one could miss the bond between these men. Rusty and his friends share a bond with each other that can only come from risking their lives together. They finish each other's stories, laugh at each others antics and praise each other as though they were eulogizing.

Rusty, as he insisted we call him, asked me one final question: "Are you crazy enough for this work?" I sure hope so.

Log 4: Where is Chandra's jewelry?
June-July 2008

We had a couple of guest speakers come and provide excellent training and insight to both cases.

These were people that I know I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Dr. Andrew Hodges spoke on Natalee Holloway and Ralph Daugherty on Chandra Levy. Both have written books about and have a vast knowledge on each case. They explained how they gathered their information and how they got started on the books and why.

Dr. Hodges described how he came to discover what he now calls "thought prints." Since he is a psychiatrist, he understands the brain and how we use it and how we don't.

He explained all about the unconscious mind and how we really use a lot of it and don't realize it. When people try to explain something but are not being truthful, our unconscious mind actually tells the truth -- just not in a direct way.

When people lie, the truth may be found in the written parts of their statement. Dr. Hodges can "decode" the hidden message. He takes statements line by line and reads them very carefully to find the true meaning.

We all had copies of some e-mails from a suspect in the Natalee Holloway case and we went through the e-mails to see if we could understand what was being said, word by word.

It is an interesting concept on how the mind works, how we process stories along and how we can tell the truth and not even know that we are doing it. He said that not everyone can pick it up and understand it, but women tend to pick it up faster.

I think everyone who is interested in the Holloway case and enjoys learning something new should read his book "Into the Deep." Listening to him, reading his book and learning about his process made me want to learn more about "decoding" who the finger is pointing at and how to prove it.

It's just amazing all the opportunities that have been given to us and just how hard we all work to make sure we don't waste them. We know we are getting closer to finding the one key to unlocking this whole case. I see it sometimes as a big game of Clue -- the only difference is we could help an entire family and community by solving a case.

Author Ralph Daugherty stopped by our monthly meeting on his way up north. He wrote the book "Murder on a Horse Trail" about the disappearance and slaying of Chandra Levy. We can read it online. Daugherty has made it available free to download.

He described the park where Chandra Levy was found. The area just sounds so hard to get to; the hills are so steep and hard to get up. He said that the hills were at such an incline that you can't even sit on the sides without sliding down. He also discussed many different suspects that we asked him about and he briefly went into how maybe they could (or could not) pull it off.

I guess my biggest question still is, where is her jewelry, who has it and is someone else wearing it? I think finding out who has the jewelry may answer some very important questions.

I have a trip scheduled where I have the opportunity to meet a nationally recognized police diver who will assist the CCIRI with information about underwater crime scene processing. I have so many questions about crime scenes in water, especially about the differences in saltwater and freshwater scenes. This is the area that I want to work in, so this trip is more than a field trip. It is the start of my professional training.

Log 3: Graduation
June 2008

Time is moving so fast. After one objective is accomplished, another is there for us to work on.

That is what keeps this investigation so interesting -- there is always something that can be done and something new to learn.

At our last meeting, we had lots of experts there to start pointing us in a more specific direction. I want to focus on the underwater aspect of the Natalee Holloway case. What can we do and how are things handled? We are hoping that experts at Florida State University can help us with these questions and provide answers.

What will happen to human remains after being in the ocean for so long? How do you adjust for the different currents? How do you figure out where to start diving? What will happen to the bones? How long, if they were on the bottom of the ocean floor, before they are covered in sand? What equipment can be used to recover an underwater crime scene from the ocean? I am very interested in the equipment and how it operates.

Also, if we were to be looking for human remains in the ocean right now then we would have to look at this scene from more of an archeologist point of view. I want to be a police diver. This is my career path as well as an opportunity to bring light to an unsolved crime.

There are so many experts out there for us to come in contact with and bounce some of the questions off of. Gregg Stanton, who is knowledgeable in underwater crime scene investigation (UCSI), would also have so much input on how to run the crime scene. He is a biologist with underwater archaeology experience. It would be great to experience UCSI on a first-hand basis.

That would be so amazing to see how someone can be underwater and still do some of the same things that are done on land to work that crime scene. As great of an experience as it would be, if we can't get down to Florida to speak with these experts, we still have local dive team and the K-9 unit experts and are asking them to come to our meetings and share their knowledge.

We have access to some local experts that dive with police departments here in Georgia who have agreed to assist us in our research.

For example, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office has said they would give us the run down on how to work a large-scale crime scene and how items could be missed.

I think by getting them here they can explain where to start, what to look for, how to look for evidence in and out of the water, and the methods of processing the evidence so that it can be used in court if needed.

It has been a good learning experience to locate, contact and hear from numerous experts in different fields. This month we will have a special opportunity to meet with Dr. Andrew Hodges. Hodges was in Aruba and on board a ship looking for evidence in the Holloway case. He will be able to speak with us firsthand about the island, water issues -- such as storms -- and what are the odds of locating evidence after so many years.

We are definitely learning time management since we all are still so focused on the cases while we still have classes and jobs outside of school. I guess you can say "welcome to the real world" where you are always wishing you had those extra couple hours in the day to get everything done. It is hard sometimes to get back into going to class because we all get caught up in the cases and want to accomplish so much.

Log 2: So many questions
May 2008

Now that I have finished Holloway's book about her journey trying to find her daughter, I want to work on finding the answers to some questions I still have. The questions can be answered by just sticking to the methodology and research and digging into all the facts until you find what you want. I look forward to asking the experts some of the questions, which may lead me in the right direction or help me see something that I didn't before.

I know I want to find out more about why there were ripped-up police reports on the desk when Holloway went to give her first statement. Also, if the Allegro hotel was thoroughly searched, then why was the FBI not allowed to help in these searches?

And since Natalee didn't have international calling on her cell phone, I am curious about a photo I found in my research. Was that Natalee standing at the poker table making a call? If so, whose phone was it and who would she call if all her friends were with her? There are just so many different aspects to look into with both cases.

In the Levy case I would really like to know what happened to the ring she always wore. It was not found with her remains. Someone has to have it -- someone knows where it is or who has it. We have also talked in our cold case meetings about why the soil was not tested where the body was found to see if that was where the body decomposed.

We have been intrigued by the excavating at the Manson family ranch and want to know if the same type of testing could be done in Rock Creek Park. We will speak with a local expert in June about this possibility.

We also wonder if the park itself is the crime scene or was Chandra murdered somewhere else? There are so many loose ends that need to be tied up, and I am sure we will probably discover new information along the way.

We do our research and analysis of these cases on a day-to-day basis at home or at school whenever we can find the time. Then we come together to share all of our theories and pool our information. We continue talking to the experts in the field, making phone calls and looking at the reports and the geographical profiles to see where this will take us and in what direction.

Aside from working on the cases, I also plan to start taking scuba diving lessons so that I will be certified if I ever get to do research underwater. Some have asked me why I want to pay and take lessons now instead of letting someone pay for them when I get hired on somewhere. My answer is why not go ahead and learn now, and this way I can save time to learn something else later? Why not build my skills now?

It has taken me a while to figure out exactly what I want to do in life and how to get there. Now that I know I want to do underwater forensic research, there is nothing or anyone to slow me down. I try to only surround myself with positive people who want to help and can see the best in me and I think I found that at Bauder College with all my instructors.

They all offer something different, just like the experts, and they all present their knowledge and experience in their own way. They have put in front of us an opportunity that we will gain and learn from every day for the rest of our lives.

I was very impressed with prosecutor Shawn LaGrua. She came in as a volunteer expert to see where we were as far as the suspectology. We laid out our methodology, findings and conclusions and she "grounded" us real quick.

She taught us we had "nothing for her" to use in a court of law -- yet! She made sure we understood "yet." She gave us great advice on how to get where she needed us to be in order to see this case through to a jury. We have work to do.

I also have a full-time job, but all my spare time is spent looking at these cases. It may not sound like much and it may not sound like fun to some people, but when it is something you enjoy it is hard to push it aside.

We all have other hobbies and all do things we enjoy -- this is just what I like to do the best. Real cases, real research and real criminal justice professionals to assist and guide us through this process is an opportunity that can't be beat. For us it really does not get any better.

Log 1: Meeting the mothers
January-April 2008

At Bauder's opening event for the Chandra Levy and Natalee Holloway cases in January, I had the opportunity to hear a woman speak from her heart about her daughter and who has had no closure for so many years. I knew then that I wanted to help her and try to understand just a little of the hurt and unanswered questions that she wants closed.

Meeting Susan Levy made everyone know that this is real and that Chandra was someone's daughter. Nothing was said, but everyone was looking around and you could see that silent bond grow between students, and between students and teachers.

Everyone wants to do his or her best for this remarkable mother. After I left the event, I started thinking, "Why is it that we wait until something happens for everyone to come together?"

I also had another experience that has forever changed me. I met Beth Holloway at Auburn University-Montgomery in Alabama. When I arrived, she was sitting in the back discussing her situation with the experts. I wanted to say so much but completely choked when she approached. Learn more about Jennifer Gosdin »

I wasn't sure what to say. I wanted her to know how sorry I was and that I wish her comfort at night when she lies down to sleep. I wanted to know so many details about the case, and yet I was too scared to ask.

Holloway spoke in a soft voice. I could tell she was a very strong woman inside and out from the way she talked to us. All I could do is watch in amazement and wonder if the other women in the room could do something like this -- speak about a missing daughter and even visit high schools to educate others.

Holloway, I may not be able to answer every question that you want answered but I can at least answer one and that is yes, I want to do all that I can to help you and your family.

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After meeting Holloway at AUM, I read her book, "Loving Natalee," that she wrote with Sunny Tillman. The book left me with more questions as to what happened to Natalee. Why were suspects not interviewed in more depth? Why was the boat not searched by forensic experts? Why was the mother of the victim treated so shabbily?

I can't help but to think of these two mothers and what they have been through. They have experienced so much. I also think about my mother and wonder how this would affect her and my family and how they would live their lives not knowing what happened. Would they be able to be this strong? This whole idea of a cold case has become very real and has made me learn to appreciate my family because we never know what tomorrow has in store for us.

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