Modern television shows like CSI, NCIS, and Bones give an insight into what it is like to be on a crime scene. More importantly, these programs portray the semi-realistic process of catching a criminal. From investigating the crime scene to making the arrest, vital steps are taken to find the perpetrator, but the key to cracking the case lies in the evidence. The study of evidence is known as forensic science, which applies scientific information to the physical proof.
The field of forensic science is vast, so scientists specialize in certain areas: forensic biology, forensic toxicology, forensic pathology, or forensic anthropology Forensic Sciences). Forensic biology is the study of bodily fluids and DNA. Biologists can build a suspect’s profile based off of the person’s DNA. Initially, the analysis of DNA was strictly used for determining paternity. DNA profiling was not introduced into the legal systems until 1986 when a double rape-murder case made its way to the English court. The police asked Alec Jefferys, a molecular biologist, to test the DNA of a seventeen- year-old boy who confessed to the crime.
The tests came back proving he was innocent, and soon after, the real perpetrator was caught using DNA testing. One year later, the use of DNA nalysis made its way to the United States. The Circuit Court in Orange County, Florida was able to convict Tommy Lee Andrews of rape. Analysts collected a blood sample from him, and it matched a semen sample found on the victim. Prosecutors quickly picked up on this new form of evidence, but defense attorneys questioned the validity of DNA testing. The issue was ultimately resolved in 2001 after courts showed their support for the reliability of this new evidence (Calandro).
In November of 1983, fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann went missing. Her body was found on the property of Carlton Hayes Psychiatric Hospital n Narborough, Leicestershire. She had been raped and murdered. After DNA testing, scientists were able to identify that the murderer had type A blood and semen found in only 10% of males; however, the police were not able to identify the suspect. Three years later, another fifteen-year-old girl, Dawn Ashworth, was similarly raped and strangled in the nearby town of Enderby. The semen collected was the same as the semen collected from Lynda Mann, proving these two cases were linked.
A seventeen-year-old boy, Richard Buckland, was seen near Dawn’s murder scene. He worked at the Carlton Hayed Psychiatric Hospital and knew details about Dawn’s body that were never released to the public eye. Richard confessed to the murder of Dawn Ashworth but not Lynda Mann. Scientists, therefore, collected samples of his semen and his blood, and the specimens matched both cases. However, the DNA tests confirmed that the murderer was not Buckland who became the first person exonerated through DNA analysis (Elvidge). In 1987, police and forensic biologists conducted a mass search for the real identity of the murderer.
They collected semen and blood samples from four thousand men between the ages of eventeen and thirty-four who lived in the area of both crime scenes. They first tested those who did not have an alibi for both murders and had a high turnout rate. With no positive matches, the police and scientists opened the screening to those who did have an alibi, yet there was still no match. Later that year, a woman overheard her colleague, lan Kelly, discussing how he posed as a friend, a local baker named Colin Pitchfork, and took the test.
The police arrested Pitchfork in September of 1987, and scientists connected his DNA to the murders of Dawn Ashworth and Lynda Mann. Pitchfork was entenced to life in prison in January of 1988. This case was the first murder conviction that utilized DNA profiling, and forensic biology is still widely used today to connect and solve crimes (Elvidge). Forensic toxicology is the study of toxins and drugs. Toxicologists can identify types of poisons murderers use, chemicals that are present at the time of death, and other drugs or toxins that are located at the crime scene.
Poisoning people before the 1830s was considered easy, and most coroners would say the victims died from natural causes. It was not until English chemist, James Marsh, did the world have an accurate ay of detecting arsenic in human bodies. In 1852, at the age of nineteen, Mary Ann Cotton was expecting her first child. Mary Ann and her husband traveled around looking for employment and had five children along the way. Unfortunately, four of the five died. After Mary Ann was twenty-four, she had three more children who died.
Coroners said they had all died from diarrhea because there was not a test for arsenic poisoning. Cotton quickly claimed the life insurance for each child. Not long after this, Mary’s husband was hurt in a mining accident and was said to have died of gastric fever. Fortunately for her, he had convinced her husband to obtain life insurance. The recently buried bodies of Cotton’s family were exhumed, and scientists used Marsh’s test to look for arsenic poisoning. Mary Ann Cotton was found guilty for implementing high doses of arsenic into the bodies of her loved ones and was sentenced to death (Getlen).
In 1966, Janie Lou Gibbs was living in Georgia with her husband Charles and her three kids: Roger, Melvin, and Marvin. On January 21, this family experienced their first tragedy. Janie had prepared a meal for her husband, Charles, who collapsed and died soon after he finished eating. Doctors aid his cause of death was an undiagnosed case of liver disease. Nine months passed, and the second member of the family died. Marvin had died under similar circumstances as his dad, and a couple of months later, his brother, Melvin, also died. The doctors initially diagnosed this cause of death as hepatitis.
Roger and Janie were the only members still alive at the end of the year (Warder). The year of 1967 brought new life to the Gibbs family. Janie finally became a grandmother when her son and his wife had their first son, Ronnie. Unfortunately by the end of the year, both Roger and Ronnie were pronounced dead. Ronnie died of a heart condition when he was only one month old. Three weeks later, Roger died of kidney failure. At this point, Janie had collected almost $31,000 in life insurance. The police started to connect the deaths and became suspicious of foul play.
They exhumed all the members of the Gibbs family, and toxicologists were successfully able to prove that high levels of arsenic were in all the bodies. Janie had been using rat poison to murder each one of her family members to gain money. She was arrested but was declared insane. She spent some time in a mental institution before finally being charged or fives cases of murder. She was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for all five murders; however, she was moved to a nursing home because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She stayed there until her death in 2010 (Warder).
In both cases, forensic toxicologists were able to link each murder and help pinpoint who the murderer was. These killings are just a small portion of the crimes committed in which forensic toxicology is able to play a huge role in solving. Forensic pathology is the study of human remains. Pathologists can determine the cause of death, time of death, and wound atterns. In 44 BC, the first autopsy was recorded, which was Julius Caesar. Since then, the field of forensic pathology has evolved. After studying trauma on human organs, Ambroise Pare, a French doctor, laid the foundation for modern pathology in the 1540s (Edson).
Forensic pathology is used in every unexpected death to uncover specific details; however, it was not utilized in the United States until 1959 when it was finally recognized by the American Board of Psychology (History of Forensic Pathology). On October 1, 2007, seven-month-old Gage Maloun was pronounced dead. Five years later, this case ade its way to the courts. The forensic pathologist on this cold-case was Daniel Wade Davis. He testified during the trial of James Maloun, the father of Gage. Davis said the baby had undergone a severe case of traumatic brain injury.
The cause of death was blunt force trauma. Davis spent most of his testimony explaining shaken baby syndrome, which is when a child’s brain moves around inside the skull while shaking a baby rapidly. The victims of this event can lose the stimuli in the brain that controls breathing; therefore, they stop breathing. At seven months, there was no logical way that Gage could do this to imself. James Maloun was interviewed by police earlier in the case, and he said that when he was caring for his son on September 28, 2007, he shook his child for five seconds.
He pleaded guilty and was charged with reckless second-degree murder; however, he only had to serve three years on supervised probation (Fry). Forensic pathology is used in every homicide, suicide, and unexpected death. Without this field, people would be left with questions that could not be answered, and more murderers would be walking among everyone. Forensic anthropology is the study of bones. Anthropologists an identify what race, gender, and age a person is when he/she dies. They can uncover if someone was suffering from a disease, how long a body has been decomposing, and cause of death.
On March 9, 1971, Randall Lee Harvey left his house for the last time, and that night he disappeared from his place of work. His mother reported him missing two days later. Police could find no trace of Randall, not even his bicycle could be found. After two and a half years, his skeletal remains were found in a boat shed as well as several other victims of Dean Corll. Harvey had been shot in the eye with a . 22 caliber gun nd strangled. After thirty-five years, Randall was officially identified. With the help of his sisters and skeletal analysis, the identification of Randall Lee Harvey was made easier.
The forensic anthropologist on the case, Dr. Sharon Derrick, said, “Putting those factors all together made a very strong case for identification. ” Forensic anthropology sheds light on cases that have been closed for years (O’Hare). Anthropologists are able to bring peace back to a family and answer the one question on everyone’s mind, “Where did they go? ” Without this field, morgues would be filled with unidentified bodies, and family embers would constantly be worried as to where or what happened to the one person that went missing.
In 1981, forensic anthropologist Bill Bass established the first outdoor research facility in the field of forensics. Located in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, also known as “The Body Farm,” allows forensic students to have a hands-on learning experience. People donate their bodies so scientists and students can study human decomposition. Since 1981, five other facilities have opened across the United States. These outdoor labs simulate realistic crime scenes that target all areas of forensic science.
Some bodies are hidden in cars. Some bodies are buried in shallow graves. Some bodies are placed in basements. These research facilities give opportunities to future forensic scientists. Some even get to work with local law enforcement in actual cases. Researchers and scientists travel from all over the world to study in this unique facility. When Bill Bass founded the facility in Knoxville, he had no idea his “body farm” would inspire others to open their own in other parts of the world (Killgrove).
Forensic science is a broad field of study; therefore, scientists specialize in certain areas. Forensic biologists study bodily fluids and DNA. Forensic toxicologists study toxins and drugs. Forensic pathologists study human remains. Forensic anthropologists study bones. Each area is equally important to uncover the mystery behind a crime. Without one piece, a case can go unsolved. The answers lie in the details, and that is why forensic scientists exist. Their mission is to find the answers in the evidence.