Forensic Botanists Discover Clues to the Crime

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.

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