1. The Ted Bundy Case
The Crime: Mass homicide, rape, and torture
For almost ten years, Ted Bundy terrorized the country with a rape-torture-murder spree in Florida, the Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountain states. After years of public denial, Bundy eventually confessed to over 30 murders, although some estimates claim his actual death toll could be as high as 100.
The Forensic Clue: Bite Marks
Because Bundy’s case existed in the earlier years of forensics, DNA matching technology was unavailable as a tool for gaining a conviction. Fortunately, clever detectives were able to connect him using bite marks left on one of his female victims. Before tissue evidence deteriorated beyond identification, a prudent detective had taken a picture of teeth marks on one of Bundy’s female victims. Luckily, Ted Bundy happened to have a distinctive set of chipped, crooked teeth and a model made of his teeth made by a forensic dentist were easily matched to the photo. Based on this evidence, Bundy became the first man in Florida to be convicted based on bite marks.
2. The Leanne Tiernan Case
The Crime: Abduction and murder
Leanne Tiernan was a 16 year old British school girl who was kidnapped and murdered in 2000. The missing persons inquiry surrounding her case was one of the largest in the history of the West Yorkshire Police. Her body was eventually found in dense woodlands near a busy car park in West Yorkshire.
The Forensic Clues: A dog collar, twine, cable ties, carpet fibers, pollen
Leanne’s body was found wrapped inside nine green plastic bags tied with twine. Additionally, a black bag was around her head with a leather dog collar around her neck. Her body had then been placed inside a floral patterned duvet cover. Plastic ties had been used to bind her hands. A dark scarf was also around her neck.
The leather dog collar found on her body was manufactured by a company based in Nottingham, England, who sold the product to 220 different wholesalers. The 112th company contacted by detectives was a Liverpool based mail order company called “Pets Pyjamas,” who confirmed that they had made three sales in the area, one of which was to a man name John Taylor, a local who lived less than 1,300 yards from Tiernan’s home.
The second forensic clue, a unique piece of twine was found to have been manufactured by a company in Devon, England who usually supplied products to the Ministry of Defense, but had made one small “one off” batch that was sold to the public for rabbit catching. This batch was an exact match for the twine used on Leanne, and was subsequently found at Taylor’s home.
Cable ties found on Tiernan’s body were identified as being made by an Italian company who sold 99% of what they produced to the Royal Mail, of which Taylor’s employer was a subsidiary, giving him direct access to the ties. The same cable ties were then found in Taylor’s home when it was searched.
When police searched Taylor’s home, they discovered that he had recently removed and burned all the carpeting. Fortunately, upon careful inspection, they were able to find carpet fibers underneath floor boards that matched fibers found on Leanne’s Body.
Lastly, forensic experts were able to connect pollen found on Leanne with pollen that existed solely in Taylor’s garden, where she had been just before she was killed.
Based on the magnitude of circumstantial forensic evidence compiled by the diligent detectives, Taylor was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Leanne Tiernan.
3. The Craig Harman Brick Incident
The Crime: Manslaughter
On the evening of March 20th 2003, Craig Harman and a friend had spent the night drinking. In the early morning as they were making their way home after a failed attempt at stealing at Renault Cleo, the two started hurling bricks at oncoming traffic from a nearby overpass.
One of the bricks thrown went through the windshield of a passing vehicle and killed 53 year old Michael Little.
The Forensic Clue: Familial DNA
By examining the brick that killed Michael Little, forensic researchers discovered a mixed DNA profile of Mr. Little and another individual. Using a sensitive DNA technique known as DNA Low Copy Number, scientists were able to show that the partial profile from the brick matched the profile from the car, linking the two crimes. The profile was then run against the National DNA Database, but no matches were found.
Subsequent analysis of ethnic markers of the DNA showed that the perpetrator was a white male, while details of the crime indicated that he was under the age of 35. Using this knowledge, police called for local volunteers in the area to submit DNA in hopes of getting lucky. Unfortunately no direct match was found in the local scan.
Undeterred, police next used a technique known as “familial DNA searching” in hopes of finding a close relative of the perpetrator among those who had submitted their DNA. This technique yielded a result. One of the profiles matched the DNA in the crime scene in 16 out of 20 key areas, suggesting a close relation to the killer.
This information led police directly to Craig Harman, who was then profiled and found to have DNA exactly matching the brick and car. Harman eventually admitted to throwing the brick and was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. This was one of the first cases of familial DNA being used to solve a case.
4. The Danielle Jones Case
The Crime: Murder
Danielle Jones was last seen near her home in East Tilbury, England on her way to school. A man who drove a blue van was seen with her. Stuart Campbell who was Danielle’s uncle had just such a van.
Police immediately suspected Campbell and after initially delaying his questioning, hoping to find her alive, Campbell was questioned. During his interrogation Campbell was uncooperative, refusing to answer most questions posed by the police. He was later released due to lack of evidence.
The Forensic Clue: Text messages
After several months, police became convinced that Danielle had been murdered, even though her body was never found. Despite this, police had successfully compiled significant evidence to link Campbell with the crime. This evidence included blood-stained stockings found in the loft of Campbell’s house; lip gloss used by Jones; and a diary kept by Campbell that revealed an obsession with teenage girls.
The final piece of evidence came from forensic analysis of cell phone communications. According to mobile switching records, Cambell’s alibi of being at a store more than 30 minutes away was false. Additionally, mobile phone records showed that Campbell’s and Jones’s mobile phones had been within the range of the same mobile phone mast at the time text messages had allegedly been sent by Jones to Campbell after her disappearance. This, along with forensic authorship analysis indicated that Campbell had written the message, not Jones, in an attempt to make it appear as though Jones were still alive.
Based on this evidence, Campbell was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Danielle Jones.
5. The BTK Killer Case
The Crime: Mass torture killings
From the mid 1970′s though the early 1990′s, ten victims were killed by the notorious BTK killer. BTK was given this name because of his typical style of killing which involved binding, torturing, and killing his victims. BTK’s notoriety was the result of the cat and mouse game he enjoyed playing with detectives, often sending them letters taunting their inability to capture him and describing his own murders. He also sent letters to local media, which resulted in a frenzy of public attention to the case.
The Forensic Clue: A floppy disk
In 2005, recently after resuming sending letters taunting police and local media, the BTK killer mailed a 1.44MB floppy disk to KSAS-TV in Wichita KS. Unbeknownst to the BTK killer, there was evidence of a recently deleted Microsoft Word file that contained meta-data with several clues. The document was marked as being last modified by a “Dennis” and the deleted document itself made mentions of “Christ Lutheran Church.”
Using this information, police began surveillance on Dennis Rader, who was president of the the churches congregational council. During this period, police obtained a warrant for the medical records of Rader’s daughter. A tissue sample provided by her was tested and showed familial ties to DNA evidence found at the scene of an earlier BTK murder.
This evidence, along with a subsequent confession resulted in a conviction of Dennis Rader. He was sentenced to ten consecutive terms of life in prison.
6. The Schoolboy Murders
The Crime: Multiple Murders
In 1982, 11 year old Ricky Stetson went missing in Portland, Maine after going for a jog. Then In 1983, Danny Joe Eberle of Bellevue, Nebraska and Christopher Walden of Papillion, Nebraska both went missing. All three young boys had been the victims of the same man, a man known as the “The Nebraska Boy Snatcher.” When the bodies of each boy were found, it was apparent that they had suffered a brutal end. All three had been stabbed to death and Walden had been nearly decapitated.
The Forensic Clue: Rope
In January of 1984 a preschool teacher in Nebraska, near to where two of the boys had been found, called police saying she had seen a young man suspiciously driving in the area. She had written down his license plate and was subsequently threatened by the man for doing so. By tracing the license plate, police found the car was being rented John Joubert, an enlisted radar technician from a nearby Air Force Base.
A search warrant was issued for Joubert’s home, where suspicious rope had been found that was of a similar nature to rope found used in the killings. Forensic investigation determined that the rope was not of a common sort and was actually an unusual rope that had been made exclusively for the US military in South Korea. Further investigation found that it was a perfect match for the rope used in the crime. Under interrogation, Joubert admitted getting it from the scoutmaster from the boy scout troupe for which he was an assistant.
Further forensic investigation matched Joubert’s teeth to bite marks found on the body of Ricky Stetson in Maine. Joubert was found guilty of all three murders and sentenced to death. He was killed in Nebraska by the electric chair in 1996.
7. The Danielle Van Dam Case
The Crime: Murder
On February 1, 2002, Brenda Van Dam and a few of her friends went out to a local bar, leaving her husband to look after their daughter Danielle. Brenda returned to her home with friends early the next morning and Brenda went to bed believing her daughter was safe asleep in her room. The next morning, the couple found Danielle was missing from her room. After a frantic search, they called police. Sadly, Danielle would never return home alive. Her badly decomposed body was found on February 27th.
The Forensic Clue: Insects and dog hair
Law enforcement immediately began an investigation, starting by interviewing neighbors about the incident. Two neighbors, David Westerfield and another individual, were found to have been gone on the morning Danielle went missing. Further investigation revealed that Danielle and her mother had sold girl scout cookies to Westerfield 3 days prior to her disappearance. Based on this, Westerfield became the prime suspect.
After searching Westerfield’s mobile home, police found two small stains of Danielle’s blood on some of his clothing and in his home. Westerfield was also found to have child pornography on his computer.
In addition to the evidence collected at Westerfield’s home, the testimony of forensic entomologists played a key role in the case. Entomology, the study of insects, was used to help determine the time of deposition of Danielle’s body, which was necessary to show that it was possible, timing wise, for Westerfield to have been the perpetrator of the murder. Three separate entomologists were called in, each with slightly varying versions of the possible timing of her death. Entomologists provided by the defense claimed that larvae growth showed that Danielle’s body was deposited at the time when Westerfield was already in police custody. Further expert testimony disputed this finding, showing that, in fact, her body had been deposited before Westerfield’s arrest. This testimony prevented Westerfield from having a viable alibi and opened the door for his conviction.
In addition to the blood and entomological evidence, dog hairs were found in Westerfields car that belonged to Danielle’s weimaraner. These pieces of evidence were enough to lead to a conviction.
Westerfield was sentenced to death, and is currently at San Quentin State Prison.