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.
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?
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