All Aboard For A Geo-Mystery

It’s Not About The Numbers keeps track of the temporary Detective Jim Stringer geocache promotion in Britain’s York.

There’s a killer on the loose in York … Residents of the British city are worried and even the area’s lauded fictional hero, Detective Jim Stringer, cannot deduce the likely murderer.

So the city’s leaders have turned to local geocachers to play super-sleuth.

For its Big City Read 2011 programme, Explore York Library Learning Centre has created a new geocaching trail based on the Edwardian steam-era detective from Andrew Martin’s novels.

The Detective Jim Stringer Self-Guided Geocache Investigation is an independent [read non-Groundspeak affiliated] series which is only available from September 3rd till 17th. According to the library’s promotional information: “Stringer has discovered a body inside a trunk left at York train station. He needs to discover where the victim was killed, the identity of the murderer and the weapon used.”

To solve the “new, railway police mystery”, participants had to locate four nanos hidden around the north Yorkshire city, starting from N 53 57 42.5 W 1 05 00.3. Each “black, round container”  was attached to a lamp-post at a location from Marton’s novel The Lost Luggage Porter, as denoted by the clue “they will shed light on the mystery”.

Inside the caches were photos of four possible crime scenes – the Station Hotel, St Olave’s Church in Marygate, Queen Street, and the War Memorial in Duncombe Place – as well as the name of a likely suspect – Sneaky Steven, Defiant Dave, Charmer Charles or Anxious Al.

When you find a cache, you can tick the location off the list. The murder took place at the location for which you can find no picture,” the library instructed. Likewise, the suspect “you cannot find is the murderer!”

Once amateur PIs had rejected three landmarks and possible culprits, they were instructed to return to the venue’s learning centre in Museum St to report the killer and their modus operandi.

It’s Not About The Numbers was unable to whip out its  magnifying glass in person but deputised two sets of local geocachers to investigate on our behalf. Unfortunately for Micky n Dave, their enquiries did not go well.

“When we arrived at the first stated co-ordinates, GZ was in the middle of the river and the closest you could ever get was 30 feet away. However, we still tried looking but could not find it anywhere.

“The next co-ordinates given were at the entrance of a children’s playground. Again we tried looking in suitable places but no luck. By now, we had spent nearly an hour in these two places to come up with nothing. We are not sure if the co-ordinates were out or if they were a challenge to find.”

Despite their double DNF, the Thirsk couple like the idea of “setting up a theme series as it makes it more fun and will encourage families to join this hobby”.

According to event spokeswoman Allison Freeman, though, this was the first and only complaint organisers received during the two-week promotion. Freeman, a local and family history advisor with York Archives, suspects the problem may have been as simple as use of the wrong mapping system – in this case, degrees and minutes instead of the British National Grid co-ordinates.

“The co-ordinates on our sheet should not bring you to a general area, they bring you close to the lamp-posts on which the magnetic nanos have been placed – obviously as with all geocaching, your GPS unit will bring you to within a few metres of the cache depending on how accurate it is and then you search nearby.”

Staff launched the trail during the library’s Edwardian Day earlier this month, with the offer of geocaching tips for newcomers. Would-be sleuths could also collect “a sealed envelope containing hints which they could open in case of difficulty”.

“These hints were pictures of the four lamp-posts in their surrounding area so people could quickly see if they were in the correct area,” Freeman says. “We realised that for many people this would be a new activity and we did not want people to be unable to complete the course.

“Once the trail was set, two independent and experienced geocachers checked the course and encountered no problems. We have had several people complete the geocache trail to date and they have found the caches and solved the mystery before contacting us with positive responses.”

Concerned about erroneous co-ordinates, Freeman even completed the trail herself after being contacted by It’s Not About The Numbers, saying:  “Using the BNG co-ordinates and degrees, minutes and seconds I was able to navigate to within a few metres of the caches. My GPS unit’s accuracy was 5m.

“It seems to me that the co-ordinates on the leaflet are quite accurate, however, I am concerned that there has obviously been a problem with our trail. If your two volunteers had problems, then so might others and we need to look at our series leaflet again to see where the issue might lie.”

But first there’s the matter of removing the four temporary caches on Saturday, September 17th, Freeman says. “It has very much been a trial project aimed at introducing families to geocaching and up until today all feedback had been very encouraging.”

*Thankfully for the city – and our story – fellow York geocachers St.Nicholas did manage to track down the mystery murderer. Check back soon for their views on the series.
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