The science of forensics is always changing, and more and more people are fascinated by it. Why? It’s one of the few science based methodologies that’s used on a day-to-day basis that makes grand discoveries as a matter of routine. Most science that’s done consists of small-scale tests that are repeated over many years before a “breakthrough” is made.
With forensics, a “breakthrough” is made on every case – that’s how homicides, burglaries, and other crimes are solved. Here are some of the more famous cases that were solved using forensics.
The Murder Of Leanne Tiernan
The 2001 murder of a 16-year old named Leanne Tiernan mystified police. First, she was buried in a shallow grave, and her body was wrapped in a plastic bag. She was found 10 miles from her home in Leeds. Tiernan was walking home from a Christmas shopping trip with her best friend in November when she suddenly disappeared.
According to forensics, she wasn’t actually murdered in November though. She had been strangled and her body kept at low temperatures for quite some time. Police were able to track down suppliers of a dog collar that was used to help secure the bag she was wrapped up in.
Eventually, police were able to use dog hair found on Leanne’s body as DNA evidence, linking the dog hair to a man named John Taylor. While it didn’t lead to a conviction, it was the first time that dog hair had been used in an investigation.
Marianne Vaatstra’s Murder
In the case of Marianne Vaatstra, DNA evidence was again used to help solve a crime. Marianne was, unfortunately, a victim of rape and murder at the hands of 45-year old Jasper S. Police discovered that he was the suspect thanks to a DNA sample found on Vaatstra’s body.
Unfortunately, police didn’t discover the murderer for 13 years. Someone eventually came up with the idea of collecting DNA samples from everyone in the community. That’s when they found their man.
The perpetrator lived not 5 miles from the scene of the crime. Companies like usainvestigators.com are called in all of the time for forensics work similar to this. DNA evidence, whether it’s through profiling or more advanced sequencing, is becoming more and more important for solving crimes. Criminals are getting smarter, better at hiding evidence, and more evasive of law enforcement.
But, perpetrators can’t hide their DNA.
The Mysterious Floating Feet
Back in 2007, a mysterious series of events kept happening. A young girl finds a man’s sneaker. Inside, she finds the remains of a human foot. Less than a week later, another sneaker with a foot inside is found 30 miles away. The pair did not match. Months go by and more and more feet in sneakers are found.
Over the course of five years, 11 shoes wash up on the shore. Were these people being murdered by a serial killer? No. As it turns out, these people had committed suicide. There was no evidence that a tool had been used to cut the limbs. They had decayed as a natural decomposition process. The sneakers floated because that’s what they’re designed to do – be light on an individual’s foot.
This phenomenon has become so commonplace that it has its own name: the Nike Phenomenon.
Jack The Ripper
You’ve undoubtedly heard of Jack The Ripper. It was an unidentified person who killed five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London between August 7th and November 10th in 1888.
Unfortunately, forensics wasn’t what it is today, and the killer was never found. But, T.V. series were made based on the legend, and even a follow up criminal dubbed “Jack the Stripper,” a so-called “copycat killer,” killed at least six prostitutes in a similar fashion in the 1960s. He too was never found.
Today, it might be easier, using DNA sequencing to piece together evidence from the victim’s body.
The Zodiac Killer
The Zodiac Killer is one of the more famous modern serial killers. He’s known for taunting police with messages, and hard-to-decrypt codes. Unfortunately, because forensics didn’t have the technology to capture prints and handwriting with the same accuracy that it does today, the killer was never found.
One of the world’s largest art heists happened in Boston Massachusetts on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days. Two men entered as Boston Police, and were let into the Isabella Stewart Gardener Art Museum by the guards.
In less than 90 minutes, the men had stolen 13 pieces of art valued at over $300 million. The art has never been recovered, but forensics technology may help discover the thieves in the future.
Jaron Stern is a world-renowned advisor on terrorism countermeasures, threat assessment and crisis response who has been featured on many TV and radio shows. His commentary on terrorism, special warfare tactics and intelligence operations has made him a respected consultant. His leadership and experience in strategic security planning has made him the president of a leading risk management and force-protection company. His articles appear mainly on crime, investigative and forensic science websites and blogs.