Always hang onto evidence: Coppers arrest man in 1983 murder

DA Gerry Leone initiated the cold case program after taking office in 2007

State Police arrested and charged a Holyoke man last night with a 1983 slaying, moving to close an investigation that had been open for 28 years.

The Middlesex district attorney’s office said Shawn Marsh, 46, of Holyoke, had been indicted by a Middlesex grand jury and arrested by State Police in connection with the homicide after evidence against him emerged through new fingerprint testing technology…

The case dates to Aug. 22, 1983, when Malden police, responding to reports of gunshots, found Rodney Wyman, of Simsbury, Conn., suffering from a gunshot wound at the Town Line Motel in Malden. Wyman was rushed to Malden Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities said an immediate investigation into the case yielded no arrests at the time because of a lack of evidence…

The technology, including a national fingerprint identification database, had not been developed at the time of the homicide. The system was launched by the FBI in 1999 and contains the fingerprints, criminal history, and physical description of more than 66 million criminal subjects. It is the largest biometric database in the world…

Authorities alleged that the defendant and another suspect, who has yet to be identified, shot Wyman after breaking into his hotel room with the intention of robbing him.

Bravo. I’m enough of a CSI-freak as it is. But, re-opening and solving cold cases like this one are a special benefit of advances in forensic science.

Suffolk County serial killer has been studying the coppers

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Whoever killed four prostitutes, and possibly four other people, and then dumped their bodies in heavy underbrush along a beachfront causeway on Long Island appears to have a sophisticated understanding of police investigative techniques…

A series of taunting phone calls made to the teenage sister of one of the victims — calls that the police suspect came from the killer — were made from in or around some of the most crowded locations in New York City, including Madison Square Garden and Times Square, according to the people briefed on the case and to the mother of Melissa Barthelemy, that victim.

The locations, detectives say, were probably chosen because they allowed the caller to blend into crowds, so that if investigators pinpointed his location from the cellphone’s signal, they would be unable to pick him out of the crowd using any nearby surveillance cameras, one of the people said.

This fact, as well as the killer’s use of disposable cellphones to contact the four victims who have been identified — women in their 20s who advertised their services on Craigslist — suggested to some investigators that the killer was well versed in criminal investigative techniques, gleaned either through personal experience or in some other way, and could even be in law enforcement himself…

Also, the caller kept each of his vulgar, mocking and insulting calls to less than three minutes, according to the dead woman’s mother, Lynn Barthelemy. The caller made about a half-dozen calls over roughly five weeks to the victim’s sister.

One investigator said the brief duration of the calls thwarted efforts by the New York Police Department to use the signal to pinpoint the caller’s location and find him, something Lynn Barthelemy said they told her they tried to do four times…

Ms. Barthelemy’s body was one of four uncovered over the course of three days in December in the thick undergrowth along Ocean Parkway, near Gilgo Beach, in the town of Babylon. All were dumped in burlap sacks.

RTFA for a bit more detail. I guess back in the day before the multiplicity of CSI variants on TV it would have required a bit of research to know how forensic investigation has moved on since the days of Quincy.

We even had a suicide here in New Mexico that imitated an episode of CSI in an attempt to make it look like murder. Life imitates art, once again.

CSI sleuths target 16th-century Italian murder

As seen on TV

Police in Sicily have called in an international team of forensic scientists and criminologists to help solve the case of a murdered Baroness, 447 years after the crime.

The investigation in Carini — a small town near Palermo — centers on the castle where Baroness Laura Lanza was killed in 1563 with her lover Ludovico Vernagallo when they were caught in bed together…

The Baroness’s father Cesare confessed to the honor killing in a letter to the king, which is currently archived in the Chiesa Madre church in Carini.

“Legend has it, however, that Cesare Lanza did not act alone, but was helped by his son-in-law, Don Vincenzo La Grua,” said the Mayor…

“The idea for the investigation began as a joke,” Marco Strano told Reuters. “I visited Carini in June and when I met La Fata I teased him for not having resolved the murder yet, so he challenged me to solve it.”

And the tourism biz can always use a boost.

Husband exonerated. Wife was murdered by an elk!

Police questioning suspects

A Swedish man who was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife has been cleared, after police decided she was probably killed by an elk.

Ingemar Westlund, aged 68, found the dead body of his wife Agneta, 63, by a lake close to the village of Loftahammer in September 2008.

He was immediately arrested and held in police custody for 10 days.

Now the case has been dropped after forensic analysis found elk hair and saliva on his wife’s clothes

Although the murder investigation was dropped five months ago, details have only just emerged and the police plan to hold a news conference next week to explain what happened.

They think the elk was drunk.

Forensic medicine will gain from disaster research

In an advance toward the first portable device for detecting human bodies buried in disasters and at crime scenes, scientists today report early results from a project to establish the chemical fingerprint of death. Speaking at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), they said a profile of the chemicals released from decomposing bodies could also lead to a valuable new addition to the forensic toolkit: An electronic device that could determine the time elapsed since death quickly, accurately and onsite.

Today, cadaver dogs are the gold standard for detecting and recovering bodies in earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. “These dogs are highly effective, but it takes lots of time, expense and manpower to train them. If there was a device that was as effective for a fraction of the cost, that would be something worth pursuing,” says Dan Sykes, Ph.D., collaborating on this research with graduate student Sarah A. Jones.

To develop such a device, scientists must identify what gases are released as bodies decompose under a variety of natural environmental conditions, Jones noted. In addition, they must detail the time sequence in which those odorant chemicals are released in the hours and days after death…

“Pigs are good models for this research,” Jones says. “They go through the same phases of decomposition as humans, as well as the same number of stages. And those stages last about as long in pigs as they do in humans before complete decomposition occurs and only the bones remain.”

Sykes and Jones placed dead pigs in specially designed odor-collecting units under a variety of environmental conditions. Above each specimen, they affixed special sensors known as solid phase micro extraction (SPME) fibers to capture the gases. These specially-coated fibers are widely used to sample chemical composition of air. Jones and Sykes collected odor data every six to 12 hours over the course of a week.

Studying the week’s worth of odor data, a clear chemical profile emerged. “In days one through three, we found precursors to indole, which is a really good sign. On day three, we found indole and putrescine, the main compounds that we were trying to detect,” Jones says. They now are capturing gases released in a variety of other scenarios to re-construct the different ways human bodies could decompose, creating a more complete picture of decomposition.

Aside from expense, placing dogs in danger – or humans – working a disaster is worth avoiding. Robotic devices are rapidly being developed to search through collapsed buildings, mining rockfalls, etc.. These can be equipped with miniature versions of the devices Sykes and Jones are working towards.

The advantages for CSI’s and coroners are self-evident.

Eating crap processed foods helps CSI catch you

The inventor of a revolutionary new forensic fingerprinting technique claims criminals who eat processed foods are more likely to be discovered by police through their fingerprint sweat corroding metal.

Dr John Bond, a researcher at the University of Leicester and scientific support officer at Northamptonshire Police, said processed food fans are more likely to leave tell-tale signs at a crime scene…Dr Bond said sweaty fingerprint marks made more of a corrosive impression on metal if they had a high salt content.

And he revealed he was currently in early talks with colleagues at the University of Leicester to assess whether a sweat mark left at a crime scene could be analysed to reveal a ‘sweat profile’ ie more about the type of person who left the mark.

Dr Bond…has developed a method that enables scientists to ‘visualise fingerprints’ even after the print itself has been removed. He and colleagues conducted a study into the way fingerprints can corrode metal surfaces. The technique can enhance – after firing– a fingerprint that has been deposited on a small calibre metal cartridge case before it is fired.

RTFA – there are some interesting avenues for forensic research suggested by Dr. Bond’s work.

A “CSI” copycat suicide in New Mexico

State police say they have solved a mysterious eastern New Mexico shooting death that was similar to a shooting depicted in a 2003 “CSI” episode. In both cases a revolver was found tied to balloons in an apparent effort to make the weapon float away.

Authorities determined that Thomas Hickman committed suicide after an investigation that included a detective renting a copy of the episode…

At first, investigators suspected homicide when Hickman, 55, of North Richland Hills, Texas, was found dead March 15 along U.S. 84 southeast of Santa Rosa, his mouth covered by duct tape…

“There were similarities in the episode, where a character did tie helium balloons to a gun and hoped it would float away,” Anglada said.

Medical investigators ruled the death a suicide, Anglada said, and additional evidence led detectives to conclude the scene had been intended to look like a homicide.

They also found he held a life insurance policy that would pay his wife $388,000 or double that amount if his death was accidental.

Of course, trying to commit suicide and make it look like a murder – you don’t get many chances to practice.