The wife did it.

That's what Linda Phothong and the other investigators are beginning to suspect as they process the bloody crime scene in Arlington. Kenny "Duke" Boudreaux was murdered, despite what his wife is telling them. This was no suicide.

They base their opinion on the blood spatter patterns on the wall near Boudreaux's body, which is lying face down on the floor next to a baseball bat and empty cans of Milwaukee's Best. Not only that, how did the bloody kitchen knife get on the table? Perhaps the most compelling evidence comes from the wife , who is carrying on and on about her worthless husband and asking when she can collect the insurance money.

Then again, her husband was distraught about losing his job at the ironworks and the death of race-car driver Dale Earnhardt. He could have been the one who made that gaping stab wound in his stomach.

"He's an idiot, and he's finally dead," Candy Boudreaux says in a thick southern twang, as she tries to blow past the yellow crime scene tape with her bottle of Clorox and wipes. "I like a clean house, which is why this is irritating me highly," she says, adding quickly, "He's been all depressed about losing his job."

Keeping an open mind, Phothong and the other investigators methodically process the crime scene, dusting for fingerprints with latent magnetic powder and preserving potential evidence in plastic baggies. They make detailed drawings of the crime scene on grid sheets and photograph it from different angles. When they finish, they will sort through it and try to solve this puzzling case, relying heavily on their knowledge of forensic science.

They don't have much time to crack the case, though.

Their teacher, Mrs. Cupero, says they need to solve the whodunit by tomorrow.

Identifying the wrong suspect is not a crime in Anne Cupero's class.

The Arlington high school teacher is more interested in whether her students are grasping "The Fundamentals of Forensic Technologies," the name of the new class she teaches at Arlington Career Center. Since her class debuted this academic year, students from the county's four high schools have snapped up seats in the elective course, eager to learn about voice stress analysis, DNA fingerprinting and blood-spatter patterns.

Cupero, who has a master's degree in biology, was trying to find a way to make science more relevant to students. She thought it might be interesting to tap into the burgeoning career field of forensic science and the wildly popular crime shows it has spawned. Why not "CSI: Arlington"?

"You can show kids how a rainbow is formed, but the science is kind of heavy," said Cupero, who also teaches chemistry, physics and math. "How about crime solving?'' she wondered. "The kids loved it."

Criminal science classes are showing up on high school course lists across Northern Virginia. During the 1997-98 school year, Ron Giovannucci, a retired Alexandria police sergeant, started teaching a criminal justice course at West Potomac Academy, part of Fairfax County Public Schools. This year, Lenny George, a retired Alexandria deputy police chief, began teaching a criminal justice class at T.C. Williams High School.

George teaches his juniors and seniors all about the criminal justice system he came to know so well during 24 years on the force. He invites real prosecutors and hostage negotiators into his classroom and encourages his students to ride along with police officers.

"It's just been a wonderful experience," said George, who is studying for his master's so he can teach full time. "They get everything that a recruit officer would. Many did have an unrealistic perception of police officers and what they do. I would love for this to become a full-time course. I think it's only going to grow."

Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel, one of George's guest speakers, said forensic science has become increasingly important in solving crimes. The popularity of television shows such as CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," NBC's "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" and Court TV's "Forensic Files" has exposed a new generation of television viewers to the increasingly technological world of crime solving.

But television and movies have also created higher, and sometimes unreal, expectations of what scientific evidence can do, a phenomenon Sengel has seen playing out in the courtroom. Because juries have almost come to expect forensic evidence in a case, Sengel said he sometimes must call an expert just to explain why, for example, there might not be fingerprints, "so it doesn't look like somebody wasn't doing their job."

For that reason alone, Sengel believes that early exposure to the complex world of forensic science will lead to a better trained public and professionals in the field. "I would love to see stuff like this take off and generate interest in these careers in the high school level," he said.

It already has.

In Fairfax, several of Giovannucci's students, who get lots of hands-on experience -- even a shot at firing a weapon -- are pursuing criminal justice careers. Gary Latta, 20, a Fairfax police cadet, became even more certain that he wanted a career in law enforcement after taking Giovannucci's class.

"We'd practice making traffic stops," said Latta, who is now fingerprinting people for background checks. "He's a person you can relate to. You learn from his experience. I was pretty much already convinced, but it sealed the deal."

Katie Milbow, 18, a senior at Arlington's Yorktown High School who is taking Cupero's one-credit course, wants to be a forensic pathologist or a homicide detective. Her classmate, Nancy Barron, 17, from Wakefield High, is thinking about becoming a forensic physician. Wakefield student Jasmin Zamorano, 16, is leaning toward being a biochemist.

Cleveland C. James Jr., assistant director of Arlington's Career Center, said the Washington area is a gold mine for criminal justice jobs because the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies have headquarters here.

James said that interest in Cupero's class has been phenomenal and that slots fill quickly. "I had students at my door begging me" to let them into her class, he said.

Victim Duke Boudreaux was just a dummy covered with fake blood, of course. The part of his wife was played by Eleanor Reed, student activities coordinator at the career center. But the case itself was real -- ripped from the headlines and taken from Fairfax County police files.

After consulting with law enforcement officials, Cupero simulates real-life crime scenes and challenges her students to use logic and deductive reasoning to crack the cases. Her classroom instruction is hands-on, whether it's examining weave patterns of fiber evidence, lifting latent fingerprints or testing actual DNA.

As she analyzes the death of Boudreaux, carefully placing blood spatter evidence in a bag, Phothong says she gets to do some of the same things she sees on her favorite show, "Forensic Files." The 15-year-old Wakefield student took Cupero's class to explore the range of job opportunities in the field.

She believes that Boudreaux could have killed himself, but the bloody knife on the table and the odd behavior of his non-grieving widow have clinched her conclusion: He was murdered.

"The victim's wife was in a hurry to clean up, and what's more strange was that she went to the grocery store to buy cleaning supplies right before she came home and found the dead body," Phothong wrote in her crime scene analysis. "All the clues add up to the conclusion that Kenny's wife murdered her own husband for another man and for money."

The verdict from her classmates was unanimous.

"The evidence present at the crime scene indicates that there was a homicide," Hysen Lowry concluded in his analysis. The evidence of two knives rules out a suicide because usually people who commit suicide don't use multiple weapons. Likewise, the blood spatter patterns show repeated stabbing, also uncommon in suicides."

Case closed? Not yet.

In fact, Cupero tells her class, gathered in a cluttered classroom with an ageless Periodic Table of the Elements on the wall , the wife didn't do it. When the victim didn't die after stabbing himself in the stomach, he started drinking Jack Daniel's to get the nerve to finish the job (okay, she didn't have a bottle of whiskey for a prop and had to substitute beer cans).

But in many respects, her students were correct. The wife did want him gone, Cupero said. And she was trying to clean up. But there was no physical evidence against her, she says, adding, "You did a nice job."

Now for the next lesson: DNA Fingerprinting.

In a crime scene investigation class at Arlington Career Center, students Marisela Mijango, with camera, and Jasmine Zamorano, right, inspect a simulated homicide. Fake blood and a "slain" mannequin add a certain realism to the sight. Nancy Barron, above, dusts the handle of a stained knife for fingerprints during a crime scene investigation class at Arlington Career Center. Students learn that fingerprints are not always found after a crime. A student, at right, sketches a simulated crime scene in an attempt to find a clue that might solve the "crime."