Illinois' first female CSI pens book about her career

PAXTON — When Jodi Barth drives down Interstate 57 south of Paxton these days, she can’t help but remember April 7, 1979.

It was on that day that two police officers and one civilian were killed in a bloody gunfight at the 259 mile marker, with one other officer injured.

Early in her career as a state police crime-scene technician, Barth processed that crime scene.

Since then, she has driven by that area only once.

“The feeling that came over me is, No. 1, how small the scene looked to me while driving by it, because that night it looked enormous,” Barth said. “It was enormous, and then to just drive by it and have it look so small, I was shocked.

“And then the other part, of course, is I could still see the scene and I thought about all the people who were driving by on the highway with me who had absolutely no idea what had happened there.”

Barth was expecting to pass by the crime scene again this week, on her way to Paxton for a book-signing event on Tuesday for “CSI Old School,” a book she wrote about her experiences as the Illinois State Police’s first female crime-scene technician.

In advance of her Tuesday afternoon appearance at Market Street Tap, the 68-year-old Barth was excited. She especially was looking forward to seeing retired Paxton patrolman Larry Hale, who survived the 1979 shootout.

“I hope that I see some old friends. I hope to see some new friends,” Barth said. “I’m really thrilled to be seeing Larry again and meeting Diana, his wife.”

Barth, who now lives in Pinehurst, N.C., with her husband of 20 years, Doug, began writing her book in January 2015, about a year after she retired, and it was published in August 2017. It marked her first attempt at writing and publishing a book.

“I actually started writing out of frustration,” Barth said.

Barth said she began getting frustrated with the representation of police officers on television, which she said was a “total false narrative” that she wanted to correct. She was also frustrated with the MeToo# movement, as she herself showed long ago that women can indeed make it in “a man’s world.”

A native of Ottawa, Ill., Barth was the first female hired as a crime-scene technician for what was then known as the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement. After graduating from Illinois State University in Normal with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in criminal justice, Barth initially did administrative work for a doctor in Pontiac before landing a job as a secretary and deputy coroner for the McLean County Coroner’s Office in Bloomington.

Barth worked as a deputy coroner for almost three years. It was during that time, while at the scene of her first homicide, that she noticed the job of a crime-scene technician.

“I saw for the first time in my life a crime-scene tech working the scene, and I was just fascinated by it,” Barth said. “So I just started finding out about them and the state crime lab and all of that.”

Two years later, a 28-year-old Barth noticed an advertisement for a crime-scene technician for state police, and she applied.

Barth was one of 13 state police crime-scene technicians in Illinois at the time. Each handled their own district — with Barth covering District 8. Every other weekend, the crime-scene techs would be on-call covering a second district, as well, with Barth covering the nearly 5,000-square-mile District 6.

“So I covered pretty much the center part of the state every other weekend,” Barth said.

Barth worked as a crime-scene technician for state police until 1981, when she became a sworn officer for the Illinois State University Police. Barth, however, “never left my CSI roots,” she said, as she continued to do crime-scene technician work for other agencies in the area under a “major case” agreement.

Barth left the university police after about 10 years and then went to work as an internal fraud investigator for a global insurance company based in Schaumburg called Zurich American Insurance Co.

“I finished up my career the last 17 years doing that,” Barth said. “My unit did all the internal fraud investigations, so we investigated employees, agents, brokers, and we did that for the U.S. and Canada.”

During her CSI career, Barth not only worked the scene of the infamous shootout on I-57 near Paxton, she also worked the scene of the Pontiac prison riot of the late 1970s. Three prison guards were killed in the riot, with three more “viciously attacked and critically injured,” she said. There were 12 separate arson scenes she processed, as well.

“The inmates burned down several of the buildings in the prison,” Barth said. “It was brutal. It was a crazy scene.”

The prison riot is not featured in her new book, but the I-57 shootout is. The book’s 13th and final chapter — its longest — is devoted to her experiences processing the shootout scene.

The first third of the book is Barth’s back story, about how she  became a crime-scene technician. The later chapters are about specific cases she investigated.

“It’s broken down into six cases, Paxton being the last one,” Barth said. “It talks about cases and how we solved cases, complicated cases, before the days of DNA and automated fingerprinting.”

Another major homicide case featured in the book is the Jimmy Childers case. Childers murdered his mother, step-father and brother in Pekin in 1978, Barth said.

Another featured case was the Judith Munter case. Barth said Munter killed her two sons in Livingston County and buried them outside of Pontiac in 1979 after losing custody of them to her ex-husband.

The other two cases in the book are not as high-profile. Barth said the two cases are “just personal kind of self-awareness type of cases that kind of taught me things about myself.”

Barth said the book, published by Mill City Press in Jacksonville, Fla., is available for purchase for $16.95 via her website, www.jodibarthcsi.com.

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