Posts Tagged cold case review

55 year old murder — solved Anna Sandiford Jan 04

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Much is made of the traditional techniques used in forensic science, and rightfully so.  However, sometimes the power of the internet and what the general public is doing with it cannot be underestimated in solving crime.

A 55-year-old murder case from Boulder, Colorado, has finally been solved using a combination of media (TV’s “America’s Most Wanted”), exhumation, DNA extraction, forensic anthropology, forensic artistry and someone watching case progress over the internet (Victim of 1954 Homicide Case, ’Boulder Jane Doe,’ Identified).

The battered body of a young woman was found on a river bank near Boulder on 8 April 1954 but she was never identified and she was later buried in a simple grave.  Eventually, after prompting by a local historian, Silvia Pettem, the case was re-investigated, funds were raised, the body was exhumed in 2004 and a DNA profile was obtained.  An artist’s impression was created and shown in the media, including on “America’s Most Wanted”.  Silvia Pettem kept the case alive with a website (

After a long time, a woman came forward to suggest that the deceased could be her long-disappeared aunt.  The woman who came forward had been following the case on the internet and eventually decided it was worth a punt to suggest her aunt’s name.  A DNA profile was obtained from another aunt and it came up with a match for the deceased.

Everyone thinks “it couldn’t happen to me and mine”.  In this case, a woman who was watching the case over the internet thought “maybe it could be me and mine”.

DNA — conviction and freedom Anna Sandiford Dec 12

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The debate about DNA rages on with Victoria, Australia, temporarily halting the use of DNA in criminal cases because of a problem with interpretation of results after new technology was brought online in September. As a result of the new technology more detailed information was obtained from DNA samples but the statistical models used to interpret the data are now inadequate (Police put ban on DNA evidence). Victoria’s Police Forensics Lab is having a rough time of it lately, with staff refusing to attend court and then being threatened with legal action, a rape case falling over because DNA evidence was contaminated and other issues having a deleterious effect on how the laboratory is running.

Happily, DNA evidence in England now seems to be fairing much better after the suspension of Low Copy Number DNA evidence in 2008 following the spectacular collapse of a major trial against a man charged with one of Northern Ireland’s worse bombings – the Omagh bomb in 1998 (DNA test halted after Omagh case). A man was recently cleared of rape (after he’d been sentenced in 2002 to six years’ imprisonment) as the result of DNA evidence that showed he had not penetrated the victim but that there was evidence of the DNA of three other males on the swabs from the Complainant (Man given six years for rape cleared by new DNA evidence) and another man was convicted after a random “hit” on the DNA database. To me it shows that DNA is one of those areas of forensic science where you can never take your eye off the ball.

DNA database — how long to keep samples from innocent people? Anna Sandiford Dec 07

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Just to throw some petrol on the fire of debate about how long to keep DNA samples on the DNA database if someone hasn’t been charged with a crime, here is an article from the BBC that shows cold case reviews and random hits on the DNA database do occur: Rape conviction ‘backs DNA case’. The Defendant, and now convicted rapist, was arrested in 2001 following an assault for which he was never charged. His DNA profile was uploaded to the UK National DNA Database in 2007 (because of advances in technology) where it scored a hit against an unsolved, outstanding rape case from 1990.

Some will say this is an excellent example of why DNA samples should be retained – what price does society put on solving a rape? On the other hand, some will say that the small number of successful random hits like this are far outweighed by the number of people who consider their civil liberties and human rights are violated by having their DNA retained on a database when they haven’t been proved to have do anything criminal.

Forensic DNA resource Anna Sandiford Nov 20

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I often receive queries about forensic DNA – how to get a job, how it works, what it’s all about.  As a result, I have trawled about the web quite a lot and encountered The DNA Initiative. It’s an American website, so some things are not immediately applicable to other countries (such as Statues and case law, but they’re still interesting).  Overall ,it seems to be a comprehensive site that explains all about forensic DNA including how it can be applied in Cold Case Reviews.

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