Forensic Botanists Discover Clues to the Crime

February 25, 2008

Fiction writers need to be aware of the advances in forensic science and techniques for gathering and analyzing evidence so their stories are relevant in today’s market.  The following true crime story was featured on a show called Forensic Files which airs on TRU TV. I thought it was interesting because police investigations are becoming more sophisticated.  Shows like CSI dramatize the facts, but there are still elements of truth.   Fourteen year old Genna disappeared from her home and no one witnessed anything suspicious in the neighborhood.  The next day, her nude body was found in a ditch 20 miles outside of town.  The coroner determined cause of death was strangulation, however there were other injuries, including blunt force injuries to the head and post mortem pressure marks. These marks would normally fade quickly, but when the blood doesn’t circulate away from the pressure spot the color remains.  Police checked the Genna’s home, but found no signs of struggle.  Police began to check into alibis of Genna’s family, her mother, her older brother and her step father Doug.   Doug said he was at work in the morning, however, the security cameras were off that day.  He provided a second alibi, a fast food restaurant.  Amazingly, the fast food restaurant’s cameras weren’t working either, so police could not verify Doug’s alibi.  They searched his car and didn’t find any blood or signs the vehicle had been recently cleaned.  They did find plant material under the car.   Forensic Botanists examined the material and found yellow star thistle which was present at the crime scene and on the body.  Diagnostic characteristics are unique aspects of the plant which differentiate it from other plants of the same species, such as developmental life cycles of each plant.  The plant was too common to tie Doug to the crime scene. Police investigators returned to the marks on Genna’s body to find more evidence.  Photographs of the marks were sent to a Photogrammatrist, who was able to create a 3 dimensional image of the skin pattern and precise measurements of the object which created the marks.   Acting on a hunch, investigators placed a model, similar is size and weight to Genna, in a vehicle similar to Doug’s and found the pressure marks were made by a seat belt buckle and an edge of carpeting.  He was convicted, but maintains his innocence to date.


Traces in Blood

January 3, 2008

Con men are able to insinuate themselves into the lives of their marks by catering to individual’s needs, hopes and desires. Consider the following true crime story highlighted in an recent episode of Notorious, December 2007. 

Albuquerque NM, a land rich with legends of the supernatural, including UFOs.  Linda Henning had a passing interest in UFO until she met Diazien Hossencofft, and her casual interest turned to obsession.  Hossencofft convinced Henning that he was an alien, and somehow manipulated her to murder his wife.   In 1999, 36 year old Girly Chew Hossencofft failed to show up for work. Her boss and coworkers were immediately concerned for Girly’s safety, because Girly had told them of repeated threats she received from her estranged husband, Diazien.  

Detective Michael Fox checked her home for any evidence of wrong doing and noticed the overwhelming smell of bleach, often used to cover up blood.  Investigators used Luminal, which emits a glowing light when it comes in contact with blood. The results were frightening obvious; stains on the floor lit up “like a Christmas tree.” 

Diazien had disappeared, but police were able to question Henning, who showed up as personal reference on papers belonging to Diazien. Henning claimed she didn’t know him well, and she believed he was a doctor, suffering from leukemia.  Days later, a hundred miles from Albuquerque, a road worker found bloody clothes and a tarp. 

Diazien Hossencofft was born Armand Chavez in Houston Texas. He graduated college in California and doctored his transcripts to attend medical school. When his deception was discovered, he was expelled from school.  He changed his name and told people he was a geneticist and sold fake cancer treatments. He also claimed he had suffered from cancer to gain sympathy.  He married Girly Chew in 1993.  Girly didn’t know that Hossencofft was a fraud.  Police tracked Hossencofft down, but were unable to charge him with murder, because no body had been found.  They were able to arrest him for making threatening phone calls to potential witnesses.   

diazien-hossencofft.jpg

The police removed the carpet from Girly’s apartment so forensic investigators combed the fibers for DNA evidence.  Miniscule samples were used to create a DNA profile which was compared to known samples taken from Girly and Linda Henning.  The carpet also had a large number of cat hairs, which were also linked back to Henning, who owned several cats.  Police believed Henning was covering for Diazien.  Trace evidence found on the bloody clothing yielded DNA from both Girly and Diazien. Henning was arrested and both she and Diazien were charged with murder, though police still weren’t sure of Henning’s full involvement. They believed she was an accomplice, brainwashed to act with Diazien. Friends noticed a change in Henning’s manner: she was hostile, threatening and unpleasant, where once she had been kind, sensitive and friendly. 

Bill Miller was also arrested when he was linked to Henning, Hossencofft and Girly’s apartment.  Blood evidence indicates a fight occurred between Girly and Linda. At some point Miller entered the scene, subdued Girly and took her to another location to kill her.  Hossencofft pled guilty in exchange for life in prison.  Prosecutors made the deal because a body still hadn’t been found.  Hossencofft admitted he masterminded the plan and blamed Miller for the murder, but said Henning had no involvement.  He claimed he planted Henning’s blood on the scene.

Despite Hossencofft’s denials, prosecutors moved forward with Henning’s trial.  Witnesses testified that Henning was acting strangely and forensic investigators presented their evidence. The defense called Diazien to contradict the testimony of prosecution witnesses.  Hossencofft’s testimony was violent, callous and psychopathic.  The jurors disregarded Hossencofft’s testimony entirely because his behavior was so bizarre. Based on forensic evidence and witness testimony, Henning was found guilty and sentenced to 73 years in prison.  She continues to maintain she is innocent. Bill Miller was not charged with murder, but was charged with tampering with evidence. He received one year of probation.  

Girly Chew has still not been found.


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