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Brian Topp

The strange case of the 'time travel' murder

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A woman's body is found in London. DNA turns up a hit, yet the suspect apparently died weeks before the alleged victim. Here, forensic scientist Dr Mike Silverman tells the story of one of the strangest cases of his career.

It was a real-life mystery that could have come straight from the pages of a modern-day detective novel.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26324244

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Fascinating article! Interesting to read how DNA collection has improved over the years.

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Fascinating article! Interesting to read how DNA collection has improved over the years.

I agree. And it was pleasing to see how a simple solution was developed to minimise the problems outlined in the story.

More to the point, no one was charged, convicted or jailed as a result of the DNA result.

The same can't be said here in Australia, where a man spent 16 months in jail for a crime he didn't commit, thanks to a DNA bungle by the laboratory: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/dna-in-the-dock/story-e6frg6z6-1225809214024

Prosecutors said they could not rule out contamination of the DNA sample after it emerged the same forensic medical officer who used the rape kit had taken an earlier sample from Jama in an unrelated matter.
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It was while I was examining the mortuary records that I came across a possible answer. It transpired that the body of the first murder victim had been kept in the freezer for several weeks while the police carried out their initial investigation.

It had been removed from the freezer to allow the pathologist to take additional nail clippings the day before the body of the second murder victim had arrived at the mortuary.

The following day, the same pair of scissors had been used to cut the nails of the second murder victim. Although the scissors had been cleaned between uses, I couldn't help but wonder whether sufficient genetic material had survived the cleaning process to transfer onto the second victim's nails and then produce a DNA profile in the subsequent analysis.

http://www.bbc.com/n...onment-26324244

Well done to this man for finding the possible answer. Just shows how slack people can be sometimes, a mix up like this should never happen. They have the most revolutionary discovery in forensic science, and instead of respecting the importance of the results, they rely on a result without taken due care on how they get it.

In this case, both ladies were dead, but as pointed out by Peter B, peoples lives are at stake due the results. Sorry, will not accept "but humans can make mistakes", not in these cases. They are professionals and their findings are of the up most importance, slacking in not acceptable.

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I'm looking forward to see this case as an episode of CSI or Criminal Minds.

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Granted, I haven't had my quota of morning coffee, but I'm confused. If the DNA collected from the fingernail clippings of both victims matched, doesn't that suggest the same perp. killed both victims?

I mean, are they saying that the DNA from the first victim's fingernail clippings was her own DNA?

(off for another cup...)

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Posted (edited)

Granted, I haven't had my quota of morning coffee, but I'm confused. If the DNA collected from the fingernail clippings of both victims matched, doesn't that suggest the same perp. killed both victims?

I mean, are they saying that the DNA from the first victim's fingernail clippings was her own DNA?

(off for another cup...)

No, what the article said was that the DNA recovered from Victim 1's fingernails was a match for another woman (Victim 2) who had been murdered three weeks earlier. In other words, at first glance it seemed that Victim 1 had been killed by a corpse.

Edited by Peter B

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No, what the article said was that the DNA recovered from Victim 1's fingernails was a match for another woman (Victim 2) who had been murdered three weeks earlier. In other words, at first glance it seemed that Victim 1 had been killed by a corpse.

I understand the time traveler aspect, but Lord help me, I'm (still) confused about the specimens. So, are they saying that the DNA collected from the first victims nail clippings- that's the three-weeks-previous victim- was actually that victims own DNA? :blink:

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Whoa. Wow. Forensic Files will have this one on it!

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Posted (edited)

I understand the time traveler aspect, but Lord help me, I'm (still) confused about the specimens. So, are they saying that the DNA collected from the first victims nail clippings- that's the three-weeks-previous victim- was actually that victims own DNA? :blink:

Sorry, my mistake. I should have explained myself more clearly.

What had actually happened was this:

A. Victim 2 was murdered. A sample of DNA was taken from her fingernails. Her body was placed in storage.

B. Three weeks later, a second set of fingernail clippings was taken from Victim 2's body.

C. The scissors used to take the fingernail clippings were cleaned, but not properly, leaving a tiny amount of Victim 2's DNA on them.

D. Within a short time the same scissors were then used to take fingernail clippings from Victim 1. Some of Victim 2's DNA on the scissors transferred to Victim 1's fingernails. As a result, when the DNA from the fingernails was extracted, it appeared that Victim 1 had very recently been in contact with Victim 2, despite Victim 2 having died three weeks earlier.

Does that help?

Edited by Peter B
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Sorry, my mistake. I should have explained myself more clearly.

No, I'm sorry because I should have explained where I was coming from.

The thing is, it sounds to me like the analysis of the nail clippings from the first victim rendered her own DNA profile and if that's accurate and it was known to be the victims DNA, then I don't know why that profile was in the system.

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