Gruesome Mysteries: Forensics Cracks the Case Once Again

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For many of us, the area in which we live is filled with relative peace and tranquility. But, sometimes, a gruesome and brutal crime will occur in our community. And then suddenly, that harmony is turned upside down.

Fortunately, modern forensic science has enabled law enforcement to uncover the mysteries surrounding these horrific crimes. And, in turn, this has led to the extensive hunt and swift arrest of the inhumane monsters who commit these vicious attacks.

Here are a few cases in which the miracle of modern forensic science helped restore peace to anxious and terrified communities.

A Murder in Holland

Situated between the North Sea and Germany, the small nation of Holland is known to be a generally safe place to live. This quiet image, however, was shattered in 1999 after the brutal murder of a 17-year old girl in small northern town.

Despite a widespread manhunt, involving numerous arrests and an extensive DNA search, the perp’s identity was never determined. After thirteen years of an unsuccessful investigation, the case went cold. Then, one day, a member of the police department decided that the case needed to be solved, and that the killer of Marianne Vaastra be brought to justice.

The police aimed to take DNA samples from every man living within a 5-mile radius of the murder scene. Within a short period of time, the killer was identified – a 45-year-old man who resided only a few miles from where the murder occurred.

Shockingly, the killer was not even asked to produce a DNA sample; he voluntarily gave it to the police.

A California Killer

In the mid-1980s, Southern California endured a year-long killing spree by the so-called Night Stalker, who would break into people’s homes during their midnight slumber. He would then brutally attack, and murder his victims.

Claiming 13 lives, the Night Stalker was no closer to being caught until one fateful evening: August 24, 1985. With the entire community on high-alert, a teenager noticed a strange car cruising through the neighborhood. The teenager recorded the license plate, and notified the police. That night, the killer’s latest murder occurred just minutes from where the teenager noticed the car.

Law enforcement subsequently tracked down the vehicle, which had been abandoned. But inside, the police discovered a crucial piece of evidence – a fingerprint. Utilizing a new computer system, the police were able to match the fingerprint to Richard Ramirez, a local 25-year old man.

Within only a few days, Ramirez was hunted down, arrested and sentenced to death.

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The Mysterious Shoes of British Columbia

Over a five year span, beginning in 2007, a total of 11 shoes mysteriously washed ashore in British Columbia’s Georgia Strait. Theories abound, the local police had no idea where these shoes were coming from. One of the main theories was that the shoes were the result of a serial killer with a foot fetish.

Then a breakthrough occurred; one of the shoes contained bones. After forensic analysis, it was determined the remains belonged to Stefan Zahorujko, a man whose boat had capsized in the area over 20 years prior. The coroner determined the cause of death was accidental. The rest of shoes were attributed to the incident.

Mother Nature was apparently the culprit, and the mystery was solved. The question lingered though – why did only the shoes make it ashore?

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May You Have a Merry Christmas!

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It’s been an amazing year! Yes, there’s been some ups and downs, but there are always things that we can be thankful for. I cannot believe that it’s that holiday time once again. For me, it’s a time of reflection, thankfulness, and joy. I’m particularly thankful for those of you who have supported me and my books–and for that I’m truly grateful.

A couple of highlights this year has been three book awards I received for my two series: Emily Stone Thrillers & Chip Palmer Forensic Mysteries. Here’s my trusty German shepherd Odin_Awardcompanion, Odin, wearing one of my book medals.

The other big announcement for 2018 is that I signed with Bookouture for a three book deal! I still have to pinch myself that it’s real. 20180915_172015The first book will be out May 31, 2019. I’ve been sworn to secrecy until the cover reveal, which will be in a couple of months. But, what I can tell you, is that it is a forensic crime series with a police detective who is a former military K9 veteran. I will be updating about the first book in the weeks/months to come.

There will be many new things coming up in 2019. A new book series with some fun events, more from Emily Stone, forensics, series of first-hand accounts of police ride alongs, and video blogs! 2019 here I come!

 

May you be blessed with a joyous Christmas, and peace and happiness in the coming New Year 2019.

 

 

 

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Forensic Justice: 4 High-Profile Cold Murder Cases Solved by DNA

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The continuing development of highly-accurate forensic science techniques is a fascinating study into the evolution of crime fighting and justice. Over the past decade, there’s been an explosion of cold cases being solved through the use of various forensic analysis methods. Most notably, the precision now used in analyzing DNA crime-scene evidence has led to the resolution of cases that have sometimes remained unsolved for over 50 years.

When a 30-year old murder case is solved, it not only shows that science has come a long way, but it also demonstrates the pure dedication of the generations of investigators assigned to the case.

Here are four high-profile murder cases that were once ‘cold,’ but through the magic of DNA analysis, the killers were held accountable for their horrific deeds.

The Killing of Krystal Beslanowitch

In 1995, the body of Krystal Beslanowitch was found dumped along the banks of Utah’s Provo River. It was evident that her death was caused by a crushing blow to the head. Sheriff Todd Bonner was the lead investigator on the case, and his desire for justice was insatiable.

Despite running into dead-end leads for years, Sheriff Bonner did not relent. And although the case technically went cold, the team of investigators assigned to the matter always kept the image of Krystal’s lifeless body ingrained in their subconscious.

So, in 2013, when the idea was posited that DNA evidence could possibly be extracted from the granite rocks on which Krystal’s body was found, Sheriff Bonner seized the opportunity. Utilizing a forensic vacuum, an entire day was dedicated to the extraction of DNA evidence from the solid granite.

After careful analysis, the DNA found in the rocks led to a match – Joseph Michael Simpson, a resort bus driver who lived in the area at the time of the killing.  Finally, after 18 years, an arrest was made in Florida. Simpson was charged with murder and was swiftly convicted. He is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The Sexual Assault and Death of Patricia Beard

In March of 1981, a 32-year old Denver resident named Patricia Beard was sexually assaulted and strangled to death in her room at a facility that housed mentally challenged adults. Patricia’s lifeless body was found partially clothed, face down on a bed. Her killer had entered the facility through a partially ajar window.

The initial investigation led nowhere. And in 1994, most of the evidence obtained in the case was discarded. All hope for finding justice for Patricia seemed lost. But then, in 2011 – exactly 30 years after the murder – a Denver cold case detective crossed paths with the misfiled rape kit from Patricia’s murder investigation.

DNA evidence found on a vaginal swab was submitted to the national DNA database. The analysis yielded no positive hits for over 2 years. Then, in 2013, a positive match occurred. And it revealed that a 53-year old Pennsylvania man named Hector Bencomo-Hinojos had sexual contact with Patricia within hours of her death.

The perp denied he knew Patricia. But Bencomo-Hinojos’ lies were eventually brought to light. Within two years of the positive DNA match, the rapist and killer pled guilty to murder.

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Photo courtesy of TED.com.

Austin Newlywed Murder

Debra Reiding was an 18-year old newlywed who had just moved to Austin, Texas from a small town in rural Montana. Living in a small home with her husband and working a steady job at a popular restaurant, things looked bright for young Debra.

Then, one night, after returning from work, Debra’s husband found her dead body lying in their home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Although the police had several suspects on their radar, no arrests were made. And the case went cold for 34 years. Then, in 2013, the case was reopened by the cold case unit at the Austin Police Department.

After reviewing notes from the case file, detectives zeroed in on Michael Anthony Galvan, who was Debra’s co-worker at the time of the killing. Although he denied knowing Debra, there was ample evidence to show that he drove her home from work several times and had been present in her home on at least two prior occasions.

Police eventually obtained a search warrant to retrieve DNA samples from Galvan. Detectives conducted surveillance on the suspect while he was eating at a restaurant, and after he left, they grabbed his toothpicks. And those toothpicks were damning, because they resulted in a positive DNA match.

Galvan was eventually sentenced and indicted on capital murder charges.

The Killing of Anna Palmer

In 1998, the brutal murder of a 10-year old Utah girl sent shockwaves through a normally quiet neighborhood in Salt Lake City. Killed just outside her front door, Anna Palmer’s body was found with multiple stab wounds.

Anna’s horrific attack left police baffled. No witnesses. No apparent suspects. And very little evidence. The case eventually went cold. But then, in 2009, the matter was reopened. At that time, the SLC Police Department summoned the help of outside forensic experts. Utilizing visible and alternative light sources, the investigators focused on the victim’s fingernails. Specifically, they were looking for any DNA under Anna’s nails that did not belong to her.

The idea worked. Within a very short time of conducting the forensic analysis, investigators discovered DNA – that didn’t belong to Anna – under her fingernails. The culprit was Matthew Brock, a then-teenager who had lived a block away from Anna’s home. Already serving a 10-year prison sentence for a sexual crime against a child, Brock pled guilty to murdering Anna.

Justice was served when the killer was sentenced to life in prison for the tragic death of 10-year old Anna Palmer.

Although not perfect, DNA analysis has proven itself as a valuable tool in securing convictions of killers. Cases that were once forgotten are brought to the forefront thanks to the amazing work of investigators who never relent in their pursuit of justice. Do you know of any interesting cold cases solved by DNA?

***

Read the latest in the Forensic Mystery Award-winning Series.

2018 Bronze Medal for Mystery from Readers’ Favorite

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SCENE OF THE CRIME, A Chip Palmer Forensic Mystery

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Catch the Killer: 3 Historically Significant Criminal Profilers

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Photo courtesy of criminaljusticedegreelink.com.

Everyone seems to love a good criminal profiler story. A ruthless killer is on the loose. Law enforcement can’t seem to make any progress on the case. Then, some mastermind detective steps in. And using their investigation skills, along with their expertise in psychology and behavioral science, they create a detailed profile of the maniacal killer.

And, as a result, the police then have a reasonably accurate portrait of the person they are looking for. Which, in turn, enables law enforcement to focus their efforts on a narrower field of potential perps. And, due in large part to the meticulous work of the investigator’s criminal profiling, the police will have greatly increased their chances of making an arrest.

Today’s criminal profilers utilize the methodologies and techniques pioneered by their predecessors. And, in that regard, here are three historically prominent criminal profilers, who have paved the way.

Thomas Bond (1841 – 1901)

Dr. Thomas Bond, a British surgeon, is widely considered western civilization’s first true criminal profiler. Bond’s rise to prominence originated with his involvement in the investigation of London’s notorious Jack the Ripper killings.

In the late 1880s, serial killer Jack the Ripper terrorized the streets of London. The police were having no luck in finding a suspect. That’s when Dr. Bond and his colleague Dr. George Phillips got involved. In what many consider the first application of criminal profiling methodologies, Dr. Bond studied autopsy results and crime scene evidence from Jack the Ripper’s murder victims.

Utilizing his expertise in human behavior and biology, Dr. Bond drafted a detailed report of what he believed to be Jack the Ripper’s personality traits, behavioral characteristics and lifestyle.

Many in law enforcement believed that Jack the Ripper had a medical background due to his removal of the victims’ internal organs and other surgical incisions made to their bodies. But Dr. Bond contradicted the prevailing view by assessing that the killer had no medical training whatsoever.  And that his mutilation of bodies showed he had no true knowledge of human anatomy.

Despite Dr. Bond’s detailed written report of Jack the Ripper’s characteristics, the police never found the killer. Nevertheless, the early days of criminal profiling had now begun, and future investigators have relied upon and studied Dr. Bond’s sound methodologies.

Walter C. Langer (1899 – 1981)

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to German immigrants, Dr. William Langer graduated Harvard University in 1935 with a Ph.D. in psychoanalysis. Upon graduating, Langer moved to Vienna, where he was analyzed by and worked under Dr. Anna Freud, the daughter of legendary psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.

Dr. Langer’s specialty – psychoanalysis – investigates the intersection of a person’s conscious and unconscious fears, and repressed memories. The ultimate goal of this type of therapy is to resolve inner and outer conflicts.

After World War II broke out, Dr. Langer began working for the US government in the Office of Strategic Service. He was immediately tasked with performing a criminal profile on the Nazi movement and, in particular, on Adolf Hitler. In drafting his study, Dr. Lang applied his background in behavior and psychology, and utilized the Allies intelligence gathering of Hitler’s crimes against humanity.

The end result was the historically significant report – The Mind of Adolf Hitler. The report was held top-secret for over 30 years but was eventually released to the public in 1972 and subsequently translated into many languages.

In his report, Dr. Langer predicted that the “most plausible outcome” of Hitler’s demise would be suicide. And as history has revealed – his prediction was accurate. Dr. Langer also suggested that if Hitler didn’t kill himself, a military coup would have most likely eventually occurred.

Dr. Langer’s methodology in profiling Hitler has been studied for generations and has been used by others in the field who have been tasked with analyzing despots, and other war criminals.

In addition to his profiling, Dr. Langer has been credited with helping Jewish people and other vulnerable groups escape Vienna after the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938.

 

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Photo courtesy of wlrn.com.

James A. Brussel (1905 – 1982)

A trailblazer in the investigative techniques used in the criminal profiling process, Dr. James Brussel assisted the NYPD in several high-profile cases.

Most notably, Dr. Brussel helped solve the mystery of a serial bomber who terrorized Manhattan during a 16-year period beginning in 1940. The so-called “mad bomber” would plant homemade bombs in random places throughout the city, like phone booths and movie theaters. He would also target iconic, well-populated places such as Penn Station, Grand Central Station and Radio City Music Hall.

After years of no leads, the police became extremely frustrated that they had no information on the bomber’s identity or motivation. So, they called in Dr. Brussel for help.

After studying crime scene photos and letters mailed to the press by the perp, Dr. Brussel delivered a detailed criminal profile of the bomber.

And by detailed – I mean extremely detailed. Dr. Brussel concluded that the bomber was a heavy-set middle-aged man from Connecticut, who was a skilled mechanic with a hatred for his dad and an obsessional love for his mother. Additionally, Dr. Brussel opined that the perp had a deep resentment for ConEd, the city’s power company. And last but not least – Dr. Brussel believed that when the mad bomber was caught, he’d be wearing a fully buttoned, double-breasted suit.

This profile turned out to be unbelievably accurate. In fact, when they arrested George Metesky, he was wearing pajamas but when the police allowed him to change his clothes – he reappeared wearing a fully buttoned, double-breasted suit. And his hatred for ConEd was also accurate, as he had been injured while employed with the utility company.

Dr. Brussel’s techniques are well-respected and taught to the new generation of profilers.

Criminal profiling is certainly a very intellectually and emotionally demanding job. What personal traits do you think are needed in order to excel at that job?

***

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6 Fascinating Advances in Forensic Science #Crime #Writing

What can I say, I’m a forensic nerd and proud of it. I wanted to reblog this previous article of mine detailing some fascinating areas of forensics. There are some amazing developments in science as well as forensic science. Here I highlight six of those advances, but there are many more. I like to shine a light on such intriguing and noteworthy forensics in today’s crazy world. Please feel free to leave a comment 🙂

Author Jennifer Chase

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Photo courtesy of www.mitnicksecurity.com.

Forensic science is a captivating topic, as evidenced by the droves of television shows and movies that dabble in the theme. The problem is – these programs, albeit entertaining, are full of misinformation.

One common entertainment trope involves a crime scene investigator gathering forensic evidence, and then within a day or so, the mystery has been solved!

In reality, forensic analysis is relatively time consuming, and complex. Notwithstanding the complex nature of forensics, it is unquestionable that modern forensic science is advancing at a rapid pace. So, hopefully one day in the near future, real life with align with the movies.

Here are some cool advances that are paving the way for quick, efficient and accurate forensic analysis.

Hair Protein Markers

Scientists have identified unique protein markers in our hair that may possibly be used in conjunction with DNA profiling for identifying people.  DNA profiling…

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN: 31 Things That Scare Me

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I thought I’d keep up with the yearly tradition and post what actually scares a criminologist and crime fiction author. Some things stay the same, but I’m always adding new ones to the list.

So just in case you were wondering…

  1. People text messaging and surfing the Internet when they drive.
  2. Cleaning the cat litter box twice a day.
  3. Men who wear socks with sandals sporting a man bun.
  4. People referred to with three first names.
  5. The growing hate among communities that is dividing us.
  6. Gas station restrooms.
  7. The rapid growth of hypocrisy among the general population.
  8. Heat waves.
  9. Sink holes.
  10. Actually knowing the words to most 80s songs.
  11. Political debates on any side–there’s no debate anymore.
  12. Hearing a strange sound and thinking it was only my imagination.
  13. Feeling completely comfortable and relaxed studying serial killers and crime scenes for hours.
  14. Not being able to buy new shoes.
  15. The facial expressions of news reporters when things don’t go their way.
  16. Enjoying television reruns including reality shows and cooking shows.
  17. Knowing when the phone is about to ring.
  18. Thinking that real superheroes are actually forensic scientists and cold case detectives.
  19. Relating to Sigourney Weaver’s character “Helen Hudson” in the 1995 movie Copycat.
  20. Knowing that there are such things as bedbugs.
  21. The incessant ticking of the clock.
  22. People who don’t like black dogs or black cats.
  23. The increasing number of endangered species.
  24. People without a sense of humor—but think they do.
  25. Predatory people looking for child victims.
  26. Fast food French fries having the same shelf life as a Twinkie.
  27. Having to find a scarier book to read or a scarier movie to watch than the last.
  28. Feeling comfortable in my own shoes.
  29. Not knowing what’s around every corner.
  30. Making this scary list.
  31. And finally… the most scariest thing of all… not being able to write every day.

Please feel free to comment on what scares you?

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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Halloween Horror: 4 True-Life Stories of Holiday Terror

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Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com.

Halloween – the creepy holiday where people decide it’s okay to release their inner freak. And for the most part, it’s all in the name of fun. But sometimes, the creepiness goes too far and people wind up hurt. Or even, dead.

Here are 4 horrific true-life stories of Halloween mayhem.

Mischief Leads to Murder in the Bronx

Egging, a popular and dangerous Halloween tradition, has sometimes led to very unfortunate consequences. And the reason is simple. Innocent, unsuspecting people are pelted with raw eggs, and then anger ensues. Most of the time, cooler heads prevail, and everyone goes on their merry way. But not this time.

On Halloween night in 1998, twenty-something Karl Jackson was driving with his girlfriend and her son through the Bronx. Suddenly, an egg slammed into their car. Understandably angry, Karl stopped the car, got out and exchanged words with the teenage eggers.

Karl eventually got back in the car and drove off. Little did he know, but one of the punk teenagers, Curtis Sterling, got into his own car and followed Karl. Shortly thereafter, 17-year old Sterling approached Karl’s parked car and shot him in the head. Killing Karl instantly.

A tragic story indeed. Sterling was sentenced to 20 years in prison. And each year on Halloween, Karl’s mother sends the killer a card that simply reads “I’m glad you’re still there.”

The Slaying of Marvin Brandland

The year was 1982. And the night started out as a typical Halloween for Marvin and Ethel Brandland. They joyfully handed out candy to neighborhood trick or treaters. Then, something went terribly wrong. The doorbell rang one last time on that notorious Halloween evening. Standing in the doorway was a young man wearing a pillowcase for a mask.

The masked man immediately threatened to shoot the elderly couple if they did not fork over some cash. But this was no random robbery. And that’s because the man specifically demanded money from the Brandland’s basement safe. And only a handful of people knew about that safe. So, it had to be someone they knew. But who specifically, they had no clue.

Based on the size and apparent age of the man, Marvin thought the whole situation was an annoying teenage prank. So, he laughed it off and reached for the gun. That’s when the thief shot Marvin in the throat. In panic mode, the killer threw off the pillowcase and fled.

Ethel ran to help her husband, and never got a chance to see the murderer’s unmasked face. The investigation into Marvin’s murder never materialized into any convictions. The case went cold.

Then, many years later, the case was reopened. And, in 2010, the pillowcase was submitted for DNA testing. But unfortunately, the pillowcase did not contain enough genetic material, leading to an inconclusive analysis. To date, no one has been brought to justice for the slaying of Marvin Brandland.

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Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

Murders of Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman

In the early hours of Halloween in 1981, Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman were murdered in their Manhattan apartment. Their bodies were found severely beaten, and each of them had bullet holes in the back of their heads. Investigators determined that they were shot execution style.

Many theories as to the motive were tossed around. However, no solid leads ever turned up. Then, one day, the police had a potential crack in the case. A prison snitch told investigators that he heard a fellow inmate discussing the murder weeks before it occurred.

And who was that inmate? Well, it was none other than serial killer David Berkowitz…also known as the Son of Sam.

Supposedly, Berkowitz belonged to a satanic cult who would commit crimes on his behalf. The snitch claimed that the murder victim, Sisman, had photographic evidence of one of Berkowitz’s unsolved crimes. And, in an effort to escape unrelated drug charges, Sisman was planning on handing over the evidence to police. So, in an effort to stop this, some of Berkowitz’s cult members murdered Sisman and his girlfriend.

The informant’s story gained some traction, but there was never enough evidence to pin the crime on any individual. The murders were never solved, and the case still remains open with the NYPD.

Halloween Mayhem

It was a peaceful Halloween night in 1963 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Hundreds of people were enjoying a special “Holiday on Ice” skating event at the fairgrounds’ Coliseum. At around 11 p.m., the skating public was just finishing up a Mardi Gras themed medley of songs. Everyone was in great spirits.

But then, the unthinkable occurred.

Propane gas had begun to leak from a rusty tank located at the concession area of the Coliseum. But no one had a clue that this was happening. And just as the skaters began to form a pinwheel formation for a special skating dance, the leaked gas came into contact with an electric popcorn machine.

Then, boom!

A massive explosion shot a blast of fire 40 feet into the air through the seating area located above the concession area. Body parts and building debris rained down. The explosion was devastating. 54 people were immediately killed, with 20 more perishing soon thereafter from injuries, resulting in a death toll of 74. A striking 400 more people were injured.

Despite the clear negligence that led to this horrifying deadly event, no one was ever convicted. The only semblance of justice was the $4.6 million in settlements received by survivors and victims of the explosion.

No amount of fake spiderwebs or spooky carved pumpkins could top the horror of these truly disturbing events. Do you have any scary Halloween stories to share?

***

Read the latest in the Forensic Mystery Award-winning Series.

SCENE OF THE CRIME, A Chip Palmer Forensic Mystery

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