RIO RANCHO – There’s no telling how many Cleveland High School students realized the guest speaker in their forensics class, taught by Kristen Sidor, had interviewed Charles Manson.

Nor telling how many of today’s high school students at CHS or elsewhere even know the name.

Not many of the students will get any closer to a crime scene than something they’ll see on TV or at the movies.

Guest speaker Ron Franscell has been at crime scenes, interviewed killers, like Manson, and victims, as well as law enforcement, FBI agents and more. He’s been at the crime scenes, too, often a long time after the crime was committed.

“It’s very important you go to the places where things happened,” he said, taking in the sights, sounds and even smells. “You’ve got to turn over the rocks.”

Franscell, of Placitas, had the unique opportunity to sit down with Manson for an hour about 30 or so years ago when the serial killer had just arrived at San Quentin. Franscell said it was basically him asking a question of the “Helter Skelter” killer and having Manson ramble on for the following 59 minutes, which made for a bad interview.

Franscell also told students throughout the day about the process of writing his books, which include 18 true crime books: a year to 18 months of research, 9-12 months of writing. Of course, once a book is completed doesn’t mean it’ll be published: Franscell told about his book “Shadow Man” — rejected 36 times before it saw the light of day — and then to rave reviews.

Asked how he got his start, Franscell said it was when he helped start a junior high newspaper, coupled with the fact that he was — and still is — a voracious reader. Referring to print on pages as “squiggles,” Franscell said, “If I do it right, I can make you laugh; I can make you cry; I can make you mad.

“There’s something magical about squiggles on a piece of paper.”

It was an excellent use of a knowledgeable guest speaker, Sidor said.

“Ron told us about his experiences, from writing novels to researching cases,” she said. “He also talked about Interviewing serial killers and other criminals.”

Unlike most authors, the “who” and “why” of a serial killer aren’t important to Franscell.

“I don’t focus on the monster,” he told an afternoon class, “but the people who have to deal with the problem.

“How would I react in similar circumstances? If you ask a lot of questions, it’ll be more interesting,” he said. “I don’t care about Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson; they don’t interest me.”

“The students interacted well,” Sidor said. “My fifth-period class had a lot of questions asking about the cases he has worked on, and what is his take on how he is able to compartmentalize. He discussed the post on his blog about ‘Cry Later,’ which is how he handles the hard aspects of the cases.

Cleveland High School teacher Kristen Sidor outside her classroom. (Gary Herron/Observer)

“He spent time explaining the CSI effect. Then he discussed the aspects of criminal profiling,” she said. “The information he has supplied is going to help add to the Criminal Profiling Unit and my serial killer project — how to break it down and how to look at it as a job, honor the victims, but acknowledge the information you are learning.”

The lesson didn’t end after each bell, she said.

“(Tuesday) I will begin class with what is the observation of Mr. Franscell. Would they be able to create a B-O-L (Be on the Lookout) of Mr. Franscell? Then we will discuss and unpack what they learned from the previous day.”