3 Puzzling Cold Cases Solved With Forensic Science

August 20th, 2014

Using forensic science to solve cases (especially cold cases) is nothing new. We’ve all heard about investigators gathering DNA samples at crime scenes or dusting for fingerprints on suspected weapons. But what happens when something unusual happens in a case? Here are three of our favorite cases that baffled even the forensic science experts. We hope that reading them will help you learn from their mistakes and help solve the next big mysterious cold case!

The Murder of Leanne Tiernan

In August 2001, a man walking his dog in Lindley Woods in West Yorkshire, found the body of 16-year old Leanne Tiernan, buried in a shallow grave. Her head was wrapped in a black plastic bag, held in place with a scarf and a zip tie around her neck; zip ties were also holding her wrists together. Her body was wrapped in green plastic trash can liners and tied with twine. She was found about ten miles from her home in Leeds. She had been walking home from a Christmas shopping trip with her best friend in November 2000 when she disappeared. However, pathologists said her body had not been there since November. She had been strangled and her body stored at low temperatures in the intervening time.

Police were able to track down the suppliers of the dog collar and found a man who had bought several dog collars similar to the one found around Leanne’s neck. This man was John Taylor, a poacher who often hunted in the same woods where Leanne’s body had been found. The twine she was wrapped in was an unusual kind, used for rabbit netting, and was tracked down to a supplier in Devon, which had only produced one batch. It matched twine found in John Taylor’s home. Some of the cable ties used on Leanne Tiernan were of a type used almost exclusively by the patent company of John Taylor’s employer, Parcel Force. When the police searched John Taylor’s house they found more of the cable ties and one of the dog collars.

When the forensic team examined Leanne’s body further, they also found several strands of dog hair. The hair was sent to scientists in Texas who produced a partial dog DNA profile. However, it turned out the dog he’d owned when Leanne disappeared had already died. Even though it never led to a conviction, this was the first time that dog DNA was used as forensic evidence in a British criminal case.

The Murder of Marianne Vaatstra

Because we live in a horrible world, things like rape, murder, and rape-murder can sometimes go unpunished. So the only thing that really makes us feel better is when the perpetrator is caught and prosecuted.

Marianne Vaatsra was found murdered in 1999. Police arrested many people and even held a large scale DNA search, but the perpetrator was never found. After 13 years of unsuccessfully being able to identify the killer, the police had no other option than to quit investigating and move on to more pressing issues. However, someone came up with a great plan. Why don’t police just ask every male citizen living within a 5-mile radius of the crime scene to submit a DNA sample?

On November 19, 2012, police announced it had found a match. Arrested was Jasper S., a 45-year-old man who lived only a few miles from the crime scene. Jasper S. apparently voluntarily gave a DNA sample for testing. In a second study of the sample, it was confirmed that his DNA profile matched the DNA traces found on Marianne’s body.

The Mysterious Floating Feet

The year is 2007 in British Columbia. A young girl who is walking along the beach and stumbles upon a man’s sneaker. Curiosity strikes and she ends up looking inside. To her horror she finds the remains of a human foot.

Less than a week later and nearly 30 miles away, a couple discovers another foot. But this pair does not match. They are both the right feet. This happens again five months later on a nearby island. It’s also a right foot. Nine months total have passed and yet another right shoe has been found. Inside it, a woman’s decomposing foot.

Over the course of five years, a total of 11 shoes washed up on the shore, most with feet in them. In February of 2012, the case was finally cracked. The solution to this conundrum does not involve any huge accident, nor any Tsunami dragging feet along for millions of miles away, and thankfully it doesn’t involve an electric saw psychopath either.

The simple answer is that the feet belong to people that committed suicide jumping into the waters nearby the area. Those that could be identified were linked to depressed individuals who had been reported as missing. There was no sign whatsoever that the limbs had been separated with the use of any tool. On the contrary, those extremities detached as part of the natural body decay process and the most recent foot found was still connected to the leg bones.

But why were all of them wearing sneakers? It cannot be just by accident, and indeed it wasn’t. The truth is, sneakers are designed to be light, and so they usually float in water. The suicide victims who wear heavier shoes end up having their feet sunk to the bottom of the waters, despite being separated from the rest of the body. On the other hand, the ones who were wearing sneakers had their feet floating for a while until some of them reached the coast. The one to blame for picking the feet in sneakers is not a psychopath; it is the natural water buoyancy.

British Columbia could finally rest easy knowing that the only serial killer on the loose was Mother Nature. As to why the shoes were the only things that made it back to shore? Well, that’s still a mystery. Either way, it is the strangest forensics case the area has ever seen.

What makes this phenomenon even more interesting? Feet have been showing up all over the world — Spain, California, the U.K. and New Zealand. The term has since been given the name “The Nike Phenomenon.”

This article was first published online by ForensicScienceDegree.org on 12 August 2014.

SA forensics: A bloody mess?

August 15th, 2014

The following article by Rebecca Davis was first published by the Daily Maverick on 14 August 2014.

Forensic expert Dr David Klatzow has been one of the most vocal and consistent critics of South African police handling of crime scenes and evidence. Speaking on Wednesday about his new book, ‘Justice Denied’, Klatzow wasn’t mincing his words about the quality of local forensic investigations.

One of the DNA Project's "Don't disturb a crime scene" social media messages launched during the Oscar Pistorius Trial

David Klatzow has a simple message for anyone accused of a crime in South Africa: don’t expect to get a fair ride.

“I’ve written a book about this because it seems to me that we have a problem in this country,” Klatzow told an audience at the Cape Town Press Club on Wednesday. He said that there is a justifiable expectation that the state, with its powerful resources, should be able to handle the processing and interpretation of forensic evidence correctly: “One would expect the state to get it right.”

But the reality, Klatzow says, is often depressingly different. He cited the example of Fred van der Vyfer, charged with the murder of his girlfriend Inge Lotz in 2005. Van der Vyfer was ultimately acquitted with the aid of Klatzow, who was hired by the accused’s family to look into the forensic evidence which the state claimed fingered van der Vyfer.

Though questions continue to swirl around who killed Lotz, if not Van der Vyfer, Klatzow remains adamant that “there is not a shred of evidence that proved he did it”. But he says it is frightening to consider what could have happened if van der Vyfer had not been from a wealthy family.

“Fred, had he not had the resources to throw R9 million at the case, would be sitting in Pollsmoor Prison,” Klatzow says, despite the fact that the state’s case against him was “nothing but smoke and mirrors”.

Van der Vyfer’s case is one of a number that Klatzow cites to support his assertion that “dishonesty and incompetence” characterise many police investigations in this country. But the silver lining – if you can call it that – is that this is not a South Africa-specific problem. Klatzow says that in the course of researching his new book, Justice Denied, one thing became apparent: “We are not alone in this deplorable situation”.

Convictions of innocent people based on inaccurate or fraudulent evidence given by police forensic experts has a long history internationally. One example Klatzow gives is that of Dr Hawley Crippen, who was hanged for the murder of his wife in 1910: one of Edwardian London’s most sensational cases.

After the disappearance of Crippen’s wife Cora, Dr Crippen claimed she had returned to America. But there were a number of things that didn’t look good for Crippen. For one, he ran off with his attractive young secretary. For another, when police searched his house for the fourth time, they found human remains buried under the brick floor of his basement. The pathologist used by the prosecution, Dr Bernard Spilsbury, testified that a piece of skin revealed an abdominal scar which was consistent with Cora’s medical history. Crippen was duly found guilty of the murder of his wife and hanged.

In 2007, however, the tissue slides used by Spilsbury were re-examined and DNA extracted from them. These tests reportedly established that the body parts were those of a man.

“On the say-so of a dogmatic pathologist, Crippen went to the gallows for a murder he did not commit,” Klatzow says. “I kick off the book with that because nothing’s changed.” (It should be noted that the idea that Crippen was innocent remains controversial.)

During Apartheid, Klatzow says, police would often produce versions of events after police shootings which were clearly incompatible with the evidence. He recalled the case of the Gugulethu Seven, a group of Umkhonto weSizwe members killed by police in 1986. Klatzow’s investigation showed that contrary to police evidence, the men had been shot at close range. One policeman claimed he had shot one man while the man was “running forwards, right to left”.

“Then why are all the bullet holes in his right hand side?” Klatzow asked.

Apartheid may be over, but Klatzow says that police incompetence and wilful deception in crime scene investigations endure. He calls the aftermath of the killing of mining magnate Brett Kebble “the worst-handled crime scene” he has encountered, saying police wanted to valet Kebble’s car before evidence had been extracted from it.

Klatzow has harsh words, too, for the handling of the Oscar Pistorius crime scene. First policeman Hilton Botha was allowed to walk all over it, he says. Then a policeman handled the gun without gloves – and when alerted to this, wiped it clean and puts it down again. A bullet fragment in the toilet bowl was missed. And to top it all off, Pistorius’ watches were stolen.

“This is handed out as the best our police can do,” Klatzow said. He added that if Pistorius were to be convicted, it would be in spite of the police work on the case, not because of it.

Klatzow also hit out at the state’s forensic laboratories, saying it could still take two years to get a blood sample back, and up to eight years for toxicology results.

“If you have a spouse to knock off, now’s the time to do it,” he said. “And do it with poison.”

But not everyone agrees that the picture is as negative as Klatzow makes out.

“I reckon that there are issues, but I like to be constructive,” Vanessa Lynch, the founder of South Africa’s DNA Project, told the Daily Maverick on Wednesday. She points out that when it comes to old cases, police could only rely on the forensic evidence available at the time.

“In the past, hair shaft analysis was considered to be cutting edge,” Lynch says. “It’s subsequently been recognised that it’s an inexact science. As we’re exposed to more and more forensic processes, we are able to get closer to the truth.”

Lynch acknowledged that substantial challenges remain, but she maintains that forensic evidence – and particularly DNA – is one of the firmest forms of criminal evidence in existence (as opposed to, say, eye-witness testimony). While the Pistorius case was dominating headlines, the DNA Project attempted to use it as a way of educating the public about the need to keep crime scenes undisturbed. “When you don’t disturb a crime scene, forensic evidence has the power to determine exactly what happened,” the DNA Project’s website instructed.

One of the DNA Project’s major initiatives over the past years has been to campaign for the establishment of a database of DNA to be used by police in the investigation of crimes. They succeeded: in January this year the DNA Act was passed. When fully implemented, it will require police to take DNA samples from criminal suspects arrested for serious offences, as well as parolees and convicted offenders. These will be entered into a database and DNA collected from crime scenes will then be compared.

When the act was promulgated, skepticism was expressed as to whether it will ever be effectively implemented – including from Klatzow. Lynch says there have been delays, but “things are moving in the right direction”.

Police still need to be trained to take DNA swabs, and the members of the National Forensics Oversight and Ethics Board appointed. This latter step is crucial, she says, because its members will be ensuring that the act is not a “paper tiger”. But applications for board membership closed in March, and its members have still not been announced.

“Despite that, there’s still movement,” Lynch says. She says the Cape Town forensics lab has set up the necessary systems already to be able to process DNA samples when they start arriving. “The back-end stuff is happening.”

Lynch has a parting shot for critics of South Africa’s forensic work. “At least we have a forensic infrastructure,” she says. “It may require tweaking, but that’s a helluva lot more than some places.” DM

Forensic DNA Evidence vs The Fallibility of Public Opinion

August 11th, 2014

Many of you may have noticed that we launched a campaign last week at the time of the closing arguments presented in the #OscarTrial. Whilst previously we have been fairly silent on the #OscarTrial, it was because of the amount of social media opinion expressed on the matter that we decided to use that very same platform to make people think about another much bigger trial that was playing itself out in the public forum: the case of “Forensic Evidence vs The Fallibility of Public Opinion”. What better place to spread the message about the dangers of speculation in the absence of evidence, than on Twitter, the modern-day switchboard that has expressed so much public opinion on the case! We saw this as an ideal platform to bring awareness to the critical role that ordinary people wield during the course of justice by reaching out to educate the public about the undeniable truth that DNA and other forensic evidence has the power to convict: if it is preserved and properly collected …

When a crime scene is not disturbed, forensic evidence has the power to determine what happened and who committed the crime. Disturb the crime scene, and it seems that everyone starts to rely on the opinions expressed on social media for lack of any other evidence as to who committed that crime! The #OscarTrial trial has more than ever highlighted the importance of securing a crime scene and preserving the evidence contained therein. If carried out correctly, accurate DNA and other forensic evidence collection could have resulted in a very different course of events during the #OscarTrial. But more importantly, it could result in a different outcome for every single case where forensic evidence plays a crucial role in determining what happened at the crime scene.

We certainly hope that amongst the hundreds thousands of social media comments and opinions expressed around the #OscarTrial, that the public did not lose the opportunity to reflect that there are fundamental failings when it comes to how crime scenes are destroyed by all those who walk through them — from neighbours, to security guards to the CSI’s. We wanted to use this stirring of awareness to further embed the message that human fallibility is unavoidable in both law and opinion, but DNA and forensic evidence does not lie. It is an objective account of the truth. Here’s hoping that our message on social media made people think about that undeniable truth! VL

Theodore Wafer Found Guilty Of Second-Degree Murder In Death Of Renisha McBride

August 8th, 2014

Theodore P Wafer

As the #OscarTrial draws to a close with final arguments, another US case, sharing some startling similarities to that of Oscar’s, has recently resulted in the conviction of the accused of second-degree murder.

The following news article by the Huffington Post’s Kate Abbey-Lambertz was first published on 7th of August 2014.

A jury in Detroit found Theodore Wafer guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Renisha McBride Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Wafer, 55, was on trial in Detroit’s Wayne County Circuit Court after shooting 19-year-old McBride on his porch in November. McBride appeared at Wafer’s house in Dearborn Heights, adjacent to Detroit, around 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 2. She crashed her car nearby earlier that night, and no one knows her whereabout in the several hours between the accident and her death. She was severely intoxicated. She knocked on Wafer’s door, potentially looking for help; he came to the door with a loaded shotgun and shot her in the face.

One of the first images the jury saw in the trial was of McBride, lying lifeless on Wafer’s front porch.

Wafer pleaded not guilty and his attorney sought to show the shooting was in self defense. According to the defense, Wafer woke that night to loud, intense banging on his front door and side door and feared multiple people were breaking in.

“In the depth of his being, he’s never been that scared in his life,” defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter said.

Monica McBride and Walter Ray Simmons, parents of Renisha McBride

She cast doubt on the thoroughness of the crime scene investigation and questioned why officials didn’t examine what may have been a footprint on top of an air conditioner in Wafer’s backyard.

The prosecution painted a different picture, of a man who “wanted a confrontation” and a vulnerable woman who needed help and wanted to go home, and ended up dead for it. Wafer had other options, they argued, and pulling the trigger was “negligent” and “reckless.”

The prosecution wondered why Wafer wouldn’t call 911 if he was so scared; Wafer said he had looked for his cell phone when he woke up, but couldn’t find it.

Wafer shot McBride through his locked screen door, which was partially removed when police arrived at the crime scene. An expert witness testified he thought it came out when McBride banged on the door, while the prosecution said it happened after Wafer fired.

He testified during the trial, telling the court he shot McBride to defend himself. When he first spoke to police, he said the shooting was an accident.

“I wasn’t going to cower in my house, I didn’t want to be a victim,” he said during testimony. He also expressed remorse over McBride’s death.

Though race was rarely mentioned in the trial, the tragic death of a young, unarmed black woman in need of help has put Theodore Wafer (who is white) under the spotlight in a line of high-profile cases with black victims. Less than two months before McBride died, former Florida A&M University football player Jonathan Ferrell got in a car accident in Charlotte, N.C. and went to a nearby home seeking help. The woman called police, and when they arrived, Officer Randall Kerrick shot Ferrell, who was unarmed, 10 times. Kerrick was indicted in January. Though the cases have many differences, McBride is also often compared to Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen who was shot to death by a neighborhood watchman in 2012. Shooter George Zimmerman was acquitted last year.

“It’s not about Renisha, it’s about what her actions and other persons’ actions did to make Ted in fear for his life that night,” Carpenter said in her opening statement. “You always need to go back and look at this through Ted’s eyes.”

Wafer faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the second-degree murder charge. The involuntary manslaughter charge carries a 15-year maximum. There is also a mandatory two-year penalty for being in possession of a firearm while committing a felony. Wafer is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 21.

“We are obviously very pleased with the jury verdict and feel that justice was served today, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. “We sincerely hope that this brings some comfort to the family of Renisha McBride.“

#OscarTrial

August 7th, 2014

WHEN YOU DON’T DISTURB A CRIME SCENE, FORENSIC EVIDENCE HAS THE POWER TO DETERMINE EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.

Click on the image to view larger version at http://dnaproject.co.za/oscartrial/


SAPS Forensic Services: Available posts – August 2014

July 29th, 2014

SAPS Forensic Services

New posts within the South African Police Service (SAPS) Forensic Services Division, under the SAPS Act (employment as a police official) and Public Service Act (employment as a civilian employee), have been added to their website and are currently being advertised – http://www.saps.gov.za/careers/careers.php.

Please Note: Police officials are employed in terms of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 (Act No 68 of 1995) and civilian employees are employed in terms of the Public Service Act, 1994 (Act No 103 of 1994).

CLOSING DATE for all applications: 08 AUGUST 2014

POLICE ACT POSTS

Click here to read the application process in terms of the SAPS Act.

Please download the full advertisement for all the new SAPS Act posts, including full requirements, core responsibilities, salary level and how to apply (PDF).

Download the official application form from the SAPS website.

The following posts are available:

1. Post: Major (Chief Forensic Analyst)
Sub Section Commander: Mechanical & Metallurgical Engineering
Section: Ballistics
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Western Cape: Plattekloof (1 Post) (Ref FS 84/2014)

2. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)
Commander: Metallurgical Engineering
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Section: Ballistics
Location of the post: Western Cape: Plattekloof (1 Post) (Ref FS 85/2014)

3. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)
Sub-Section: Fire Investigation: Chemistry Investigation
Section: Chemistry
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Silverton: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 86/2014)

4. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)
Sub-Section: Facial Identification: Local Criminal Record Centre
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: Secunda: Mpumalanga (1 Post) (Ref FS 87/2014)

5. Post: Warrant Officer (Forensic Analyst)
Component: Quality Management
Sub-Section: Environmental Compliance: Regional Laboratory
Location of the post:

  • Ballistics: Eastern Cape: Port Elizabeth [1 post] (Ref FS 88/2014)
  • Biology: Eastern Cape: Port Elizabeth [1 post] (Ref FS 89/2014)

6. Post: Constable
Sub Section: Crime Scene Investigation: Local Criminal Record Centre
Component: Criminal Record & Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: Lydenburg: Mpumalanga (1 Post) (Ref FS 90/2014)

PUBLIC SERVICE ACT POSTS

People who do not want to become police officials but who would like to work for the South African Police Service as civilian employees, may apply for vacant positions. Click here to read the application process in terms of the Public Service Act.

Please download the full advertisement for all the new Public Service Act posts, including full requirements, core responsibilities, salary level and how to apply (PDF).

Download the official application form from the SAPS website.

The following posts are available:

1. Post: Secretary
Division: Forensic Services
Location of the post:

  • Provincial Head: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Western Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 91/2014)
  • Section Head: Questioned Documents: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 92/2014)
  • Component Head: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 93/2014)

2. Post: Data Typist
Sub-Section: Adjudication: Local Criminal Record Centre
Section: Criminalistic Bureau: Local Criminal Record Centre
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post:

  • Musina: Limpopo (2 Posts) (Ref FS 94/2014)
  • Ladysmith: Kwazulu-Natal (1 Post) (Ref FS 95/2014)
  • Lichtenburg: North West (1 Post) (Ref FS 96/2014)
  • Queenstown: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 97/2014)
  • Mthatha: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 98/2014)

3. Post: Administration Clerk
Sub-Section: Local Criminal Record Centre
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post:

  • Cradock: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 99/2014)
  • Bellville: Western Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 100/2014)

4. Post: Accounting Clerk
Sub-Section: Nodal Support Centre
Section: Provincial: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Northern Cape
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: Kimberley: Northern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 101/2014)

5. Post: Personnel Officer
Sub-Section: Nodal Support Centre
Section: Provincial: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Eastern Cape
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: King Williams Town: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 102/2014)

6. Post: Provisioning Administration Clerk
Sub-Section: Nodal Support Centre
Section:

  • Provincial: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Kwazulu-Natal
  • Provincial: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Eastern Cape

Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post:

  • Durban: Kwazulu-Natal (1 Post) (Ref FS 103/2014)
  • King Williams Town: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 104/2014)

7. Post: Administration Clerk
Section: Victim Identification Centre
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 105/2014)

GENERAL:

  • Only the official application form (available on the SAPS website and at SAPS recruitment offices) will be accepted. The Z83 previously utilized will no longer be accepted. All instructions on the application form must be adhered to and previous criminal convictions must be declared. Failure to do so may result in the rejection of the application.
  • The post particulars and reference number of the post must be correctly specified on the application form.
  • Persons who retired from the Public Service by taking a severance package, early retirement or for medical reasons, as well as persons with previous convictions, are excluded.
  • A comprehensive Curriculum Vitae must be submitted together with the application form.
  • Certified copies (certification preferably by Police Officers) of an applicant’s ID document, motor vehicle drivers license (Police Act appointments), Senior Certificate and all educational qualifications obtained and service certificates of previous employers stating the occupation and the period, must also be submitted and attached to every application.
  • APPLICANTS ARE REQUESTED TO INITIAL EACH AND EVERY PAGE OF THE APPLICATION FORM, INCLUDING THE CURRICULUM VITAE (CV) AND ALL ANNEXURES THAT ARE ATTACHED.
  • The copies must be correctly certified on the copy itself, not at the back. The certification must not be older than three months.
  • All qualifications and driver’s licenses submitted will be subjected to verification checking with the relevant institutions. The South African Police Service will verify the residential address of applicants and conduct reference checks.
  • Applications must be mailed timeously. Late applications will not be accepted or considered.
  • The closing date for the applications is 8th of August 2014.
  • Appointments will be made in terms of the SAPS Act or Public Service Act as applicable to the post environment.
  • If a candidate is short-listed, it can be expected of him/her to undergo a personal interview.
  • Applicants appointed under the Police Service Act will be subjected to a medical assessment by a medical practitioner as determined by SAPS prescripts.
  • Applicants appointed under the Police Service Act will be subjected to undergo a lateral entry programme at a SAPS training institution, where applicable.
  • Short-listed candidates for appointment to certain identified posts, will be vetted in terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 (Act No 32 of 2007) and the Children’s Act, 2005 (Act No 38 of 2005). A candidate, whose particulars appear in either the National Register for Sex Offenders or Part B of the Child Protection Register, will be disqualified from appointment to that post.
  • All short-listed candidates will be subjected to fingerprint screening.
  • Correspondence will be conducted with successful candidates only. If you have not been contacted within three (3) months after the closing date of this advertisement, please accept that your application was unsuccessful.
  • The South African Police Service is under no obligation to fill a post after the advertisement thereof.
  • The South African Police Service is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer and it is the intention to promote representivity in the Public Service through the filling of these posts. Persons whose transfer/appointment/promotion will promote representivity will therefore receive preference.

Applications and enquiries can be directed to:
Lt Colonel Klopper / Lt Moonsamy
Tel: (012) 421-0194
Tel: (012) 421-0584

Postal Address:
Private Bag X 322
PRETORIA
0001

Hand Delivery:
Cnr Beckett and Pretorius Street
Strelitzia Building
Arcadia
0083

Forensic Pathology in South Africa

July 25th, 2014

What is forensic pathology?

Forensic pathology is a sub-specialty of pathology that focuses on determining the cause of death by examining a corpse.

South Africa’s Forensic Pathology Service

The Forensic Pathology Service falls under the Department of Health and deals with all cases of unnatural and unexplained deaths. Many of the unexplained death cases turn out to be due to natural causes, such as undiagnosed heart disease or an infection.

What does a forensic pathologist do?

Post-mortem examinations

Assisted by a Forensic Pathology Officer, the pathologist examines dead individuals to accurately establish their identity, the day of death and the cause of death.

They consider the body of the deceased to be a crime scene that they, as medical detectives, process in order to find and preserve evidence to present in future court evidence.

External examination

This reveals tell-tale signs on clothing, such as blood spatter or gunshot soot.

The deceased’s body may exhibit signs of a medical condition such as emaciation, indicating a severe disease like cancer or AIDS.

The body is examined from top to toe and special test samples can be taken to assist in a variety of ways:  toxicological analysis, microbiology to identify infections, chemical analysis, anthropology, odontology – the list of possibilities is very long.

A full body Lodox X-ray image in the case of multiple gunshots. Many of the white spots are bullets but some are metal press studs of the jeans the deceased was wearing. Red indicate the bullets. The yellow rectangle encircles the press studs.

In the Western Cape two of the big mortuaries have Lodox X-ray machines, which we use to do a full body X-ray. Other mortuaries have access to X-ray facilities at government hospitals. This assists hugely in many cases.

For example, where to look for the bullets in a body.

Once located, these bullets will be retrieved and examined by ballistic experts to match them to the murder weapon.

Internal examination

After the external examination, the internal examination is done by removing the chest and abdominal organs and the brain. Earn organ is examined individually and weighed.

Samples for microscopic and toxicological examination can be taken.

DNA samples may assist in identifying the deceased and/or the murderer.

In some instances, a natural disease process is discovered, which means further criminal investigation is not necessary. The finding may be very important for the relatives of the deceased, to come to understand the death and maybe even have themselves tested for risk factors.

Apart from doing autopsies, forensic pathologists are kept busy in many ways:

  • Going to scenes of death when requested by police investigators.
  • Compilation of autopsy reports.
  • Special investigations, for example microscopic examination of organ sections.
  • Drafting medical opinions on cause of death for the court.
  • Giving testimony in court.
  • Advising relatives of the deceased of possible familial disease so that they can go for a check-up and preventive treatment.
  • Teaching undergraduate and postgraduate medical students, lawyers and forensic pathology officers.
  • Research.

Who helps the forensic pathologist at the mortuary?

The forensic pathology officer, who is trained on the job. These officers are not medically qualified, but are taught how to assist. They need a Grade 10, a valid driver’s licence and the ability to work respectfully with living and dead people.

Forensic Pathology Officer

How do you become a forensic pathologist in South Africa?

  • This is a summary of qualifications and time required to become a forensic pathologist:
  • Matric/Grade 12/Umalusi with recommended subjects such as Life Science, Physical Science, Mathematics and English.
  • Six years of medical school.
  • One year of internship under supervision.
  • Two years of COSMOS (community service medical officer service).
  • Four years of registrar training at a medical school.

The above information was extracted from an article originally published in QUEST (2012) by Linda Liebenberg. To read the full article please click here.

Where can I study forensic pathology?

Additional information:

A UCT TV/Stepping Stones Production documentary on the Forensic Pathology Institute in Cape Town.

What is Forensic Entomology?

July 14th, 2014

Forensic science is a discipline that deals with expert scientific evidence relevant to legal cases. It ranges from the more familiar topics of ballistics and blood-stain analysis to esoteric specialities like pigment analysis and forensic botany.

Life cycle of the blowfly

Forensic entomology concerns legal evidence provided by insects.

Just as law is concerned not only with murders, forensic entomology is broad in scope. In fact, it can be subdivided into four arenas: medico-legal forensic entomology is the one most familiar to the public, while urban, stored product, and environmental forensic entomology form the other specialities.

This classification is based on the communities of insects that are typically involved, but also tends to reflect the branches of law and the types of client that a forensic entomologist encounters.

Although the distinctions are somewhat artificial, they help to outline the diverse scope of this kind of work.

Urban forensic entomology

This branch of the discipline is broadly concerned with insects around people’s homes, and usually relates to issues governed by common law or civil law, so the clients are generally private individuals and small businesses. The overwhelming majority of insects in these cases are fly-by-night pests like borer beetles, termites, cockroaches, and mosquitoes, and the subject of the associated litigation might be the competence of fumigation companies and the sanitary practices of livestock owners.

Stored-product forensic entomology

This kind of forensic entomology relates to cases involving insects in stored products, such as food, woven materials, and timber. As in urban forensic entomology, the cases tend to fall under common or civil law and mostly concern pests, but the species are different, and the commercial interests are generally large companies rather than small businesses. The usual suspects are various grain-feeding beetles, clothes moths, and booklice.

Questions regularly asked by the public are along the lines of “Was the worm I found in my chocolate there when I bought it?” and “Was my woollen Persian carpet infested with clothes moths in the factory?” These cases rarely go to court, but insurance claims regarding infested or damaged consignments of valuable goods may warrant the involvement of lawyers and even magistrates.

Medico-legal forensic entomology

This field can be subdivided on the basis of whether civil or criminal law is relevant. Civil cases may include medical and veterinary malpractice as well as neglect by care-givers of children and the aged, who may acquire infestations through negligence. The civil clients are usually private persons, and the insects are generally blowflies and fleshflies.

Some cases may not even involve insects, however. Psychological cases of delusory parasitosis are sometimes brought to entomologists to deal with. These are cases where people are convinced they are infested with parasitic insects that no one else can detect. It takes careful entomological analysis to distinguish between illusory parasitosis (that is, imaginary parasitic infestations), entomophobia (fear of insects), and genuine infestations by various mites living in hair follicles and the epidermis.

The legal issue here is whether the person has a psychosis that requires commitment to an institution, or whether the medical profession has been incompetent in seeking the parasite. An entomologist can help to make this decision.

Where criminal law is pertinent, the discipline is distinguished as medico-criminal forensic entomology, which is the high-profile subject of public awareness. The client group encompasses accused criminals and the State. The routine CSI (Crime Scene Insects) are blowflies, fleshflies, and certain beetles and moths because a death is most often involved. The deaths are usually of humans, but poaching and stock theft can be investigated by similar entomological methods.

A less well-known component of this work is called forensic entomotoxicology, which relates to the detection of chemicals in corpses where insects as used as an investigative tool. Drugs and poisons affect the development and behaviours of insects and accumulate in their tissues, which can provide a rich source of evidence.

Environmental forensic entomology

Here, insects are used to monitor the natural environment for evidence of pollution and undesirable change, and can provide evidence for both civil and criminal cases. This type of forensic entomology is still in the process of gaining recognition as a distinct discipline, and has gained increasing popularity in detecting effects of humans on the environment, either accidental or deliberate. In particular, the science of environmental toxicology has won growing acceptance since the publication of Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring in 1962.

The processes of forensic entomology help police with evidence when they investigate deaths that have occurred. Based on an understanding of the decaying processes of a corpse, and knowledge of the living organisms that invade a corpse, experts are able to estimate the conditions in which the person or animal died.

Work in forensic entomology

Forensic entomologists have two tasks: they develop sources of evidence through academic research, and they apply evidence in particular cases as expert witnesses.

Being an expert witness does not necessarily mean appearing in court. In many civil cases where expert evidence is involved, the matter is settled out of court. In these instances, the evidence can have a direct bearing on whether the case needs to go to court.

The same is true of criminal cases, but here an expert witness can have another role as well. The forensic entomologist may, in some instances, not contribute direct evidence but rather uncover clues that lead the police to crucial discoveries.

In either of these situations, it helps to be good at puzzle solving.

Jobs for forensic entomologists have been scarce throughout the world, but the situation is changing as the science grows.

In South Africa, work as an expert witness in forensic entomology formed a component of a broader job in forensic science within the laboratories of the South African Police Service. Most other expert witnesses who provided entomological evidence to the South African legal system were employed in universities and other research institutions.

But changes in the modern employment market are emphasizing self-employment and entrepreneurship, and the range of clients interested in forensic entomology is widening so much that a career as a forensic consultant is becoming feasible.

Career paths

There are three ways to become a forensic entomologist in South Africa:

  • Obtain a university degree in science subjects including biology or chemistry, then join the South African Police Service and complete a broader training in forensic science in their laboratories. Afterwards, you could work for the State and you could specialize in entomological work that would be primarily medico-criminal.
  • Become a self-employed consultant in forensic entomology. The first step in this direction would be university training in applied entomology, preferably with a specialization in forensic entomology at the level of Master of Science or even a doctorate. The next step is to find work in a mixture of urban, stored-product, medico-legal, and environmental cases for State, private, and commercial clients. A business-orientated way of thinking is a vital asset in taking the consultant route.
  • A third path lies between self-employment and becoming a police scientist. It, too, entails university training in entomology or zoology, normally to the doctoral level, then joining a university or research institute and doing other things (such as teaching or research) in addition to forensic work. One can even specialize in research on forensic entomology, rather than undertaking case work.

Where to study

Forensic entomology is a fascinating subject and, far from being limited to solving murders, it can bring science to bear on a surprising array of commercial, social, and environmental problems. The growth of the subject throughout the world makes it international, while its expansion into new areas of law offers new scientific challenges to provide precise and legally reliable evidence.

The above information was extracted from an article originally published in QUEST (2006) by Martin Villet and Nikite Muller. To read the full article please click here.

Additional website

SciShow – CSI Special Insects Unit: Forensic Entomology

SciShow’s Michael Aranda walks you through the crime-fighting science of forensic entomology, the study of insects used in criminal investigations.

SAPS Forensic Services: Available posts – July 2014

July 2nd, 2014

SAPS Forensic Services stand at the 2nd National Forensic Services Conference held in 2014

New posts within the South African Police Service (SAPS) Forensic Services Division, under the SAPS Act (employment as a police official), have been added to their website and are currently being advertised – http://www.saps.gov.za/careers/careers.php.

Please Note: Police officials are employed in terms of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 (Act No 68 of 1995). Click here to read the application process in terms of the SAPS Act.

CLOSING DATE for applications: 11 July 2014

Please download the full advertisement for all the new forensic services posts, including full requirements, core responsibilities, salary level and how to apply (PDF).

Download the official application form from the SAPS website.

The following posts are available:

1. Post: Colonel

Section Commander: Forensic Psychology
Section: Investigative Psychology
Component: Criminal Record & Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 43/2014)

2. Post: Major

Commander: Crime Scene Laboratories: Local Criminal Record Centre
Section: Provincial: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management: Gauteng
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: Johannesburg: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 44/2014)

3. Post: Major

Commander: Case Administration
Section: Chemistry
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 45/2014)

4. Post: Major

Commander: Chemical Analysis
Section: Regional Laboratory: Eastern Cape
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Port Elizabeth: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 46/2014)

5. Post: Major

Commander: Routine DNA Case Review
Section: Biology
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 47/2014)

6. Post: Major

Commander: DNA Reporting Officers
Section: Biology
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 48/2014)

7. Post: Major

Commander: Case Management
Section: Ballistics
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 49/2014)

8. Post: Major

Commander: Ballistics Analysis
Section: Ballistics
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 50/2014)

9. Post: Major

Commander: Primer Residue Analysis
Section: Scientific Analysis
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 51/2014)

10. Post: Major

Commander: Organic Analysis
Section: Scientific Analysis
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 52/2014)

11. Post: Major

Commander: Biology: Quality Management
Section: Regional Quality Management
Component: Quality Management
Location of the post: Plattekloof: Western Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 53/2014)

12. Post: Lieutenant

Sub-Section: Chemical Processing
Section: Crime Scene Laboratories
Component: Criminal Record & Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: National Office: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 54/2014)

13. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)

Sub Section: DNA Serial Casework
Section: Biology
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 55/2014)

14. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)

Sub Section: Organic Analysis: Material Analysis
Section: Scientific Analysis
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 56/2014)

15. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)

Sub Section: Precious Metals Analysis
Section: Scientific Analysis
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 57/2014)

16. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)

Sub Section: Environmental Compliance: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Section: Quality Management: Crime Scene Management / LCRC’s
Component: Quality Management
Location of the post: Kimberley: Northern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 58/2014)

17. Post: Senior Forensic Analyst (Lieutenant)

Sub Section: Quality Assurance: Crime Scene Laboratories
Section: Quality Management: CR & CSM
Component: Quality Management
Location of the post: Pretoria: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 59/2014)

18. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Section: Chemical Processing: Crime Scene Laboratories
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post: National Office: Pretoria (2 Posts) (Ref FS 60/2014)

19. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Section: Crime Scene Laboratories
Component: Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management
Location of the post:

  • National Office:Pretoria (2 Posts) (Ref FS 61/2014)
  • Vereeniging: Gauteng (1 Post) (Ref FS 62/2014)
  • Mmabatho: North West (1 Post) (Ref FS 63/2014)
  • Kimberley: Northern Cape (2 Posts) (Ref FS 64/2014)
  • Springbok: Northern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 65/2014)
  • Port Alfred: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 66/2014)
  • Mount Road: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 67/2014)
  • Mthatha: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 68/2014)
  • Park Road: Free state (2 Posts) (Ref FS 69/2014)
  • Mitchells Plain: Western Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 70/2014)

20. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Sub-Section: Evidence Recovery
Section: Biology
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Port Elizabeth: Eastern Cape (1 Post) (Ref FS 71/2014)

21. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Sub-Section: DNA Analysis
Section: Biology
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Plattekloof: Western Cape (4 Posts) (Ref FS 72/2014)

22. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Sub-Section: Ballistics Analysis
Section: Ballistics
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post:

  • Silverton: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 73/2014)
  • Port Elizabeth: Eastern Cape (2 Posts) (Ref FS 74/2014)
  • Plattekloof: Western Cape (2 Posts) (Ref FS 75/2014)

23. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Sub Section: Microscopy: Trace Analysis
Section: Scientific Analysis
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Silverton: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 76/2014)

24. Post: Forensic Analyst (Warrant Officer)

Sub Section: Profiling: Material Analysis
Section: Scientific Analysis
Component: Forensic Science Laboratory
Location of the post: Silverton: Pretoria (1 Post) (Ref FS 77/2014)

GENERAL:

  • Only the official application form (available on the SAPS website and at SAPS recruitment offices) will be accepted. The Z83 previously utilized will no longer be accepted. All instructions on the application form must be adhered to and previous criminal convictions must be declared. Failure to do so may result in the rejection of the application.
  • The post particulars and reference number of the post must be correctly specified on the application form.
  • Persons who retired from the Public Service by taking a severance package, early retirement or for medical reasons, as well as persons with previous convictions, are excluded.
  • A comprehensive Curriculum Vitae must be submitted together with the application form.
  • Certified copies (certification preferably by Police Officers) of an applicant’s ID document, motor vehicle drivers license (Police Act appointments), Senior Certificate and all educational qualifications obtained and service certificates of previous employers stating the occupation and the period, must also be submitted and attached to every application.
  • APPLICANTS ARE REQUESTED TO INITIAL EACH AND EVERY PAGE OF THE APPLICATION FORM, INCLUDING THE CURRICULUM VITAE (CV) AND ALL ANNEXURES THAT ARE ATTACHED.
  • The copies must be correctly certified on the copy itself, not at the back. The certification must not be older than three months.
  • All qualifications and driver’s licenses submitted will be subjected to verification checking with the relevant institutions. The South African Police Service will verify the residential address of applicants and conduct reference checks.
  • Applications must be mailed timeously. Late applications will not be accepted or considered.
  • The closing date for the applications is 11th of July 2014.
  • Appointments will be made in terms of the SAPS Act or Public Service Act as applicable to the post environment.
  • If a candidate is short-listed, it can be expected of him/her to undergo a personal interview.
  • Applicants appointed under the Police Service Act will be subjected to a medical assessment by a medical practitioner as determined by SAPS prescripts.
  • Applicants appointed under the Police Service Act will be subjected to undergo a lateral entry programme at a SAPS training institution, where applicable.
  • Short-listed candidates for appointment to certain identified posts, will be vetted in terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 (Act No 32 of 2007) and the Children’s Act, 2005 (Act No 38 of 2005). A candidate, whose particulars appear in either the National Register for Sex Offenders or Part B of the Child Protection Register, will be disqualified from appointment to that post.
  • All short-listed candidates will be subjected to fingerprint screening.
  • Correspondence will be conducted with successful candidates only. If you have not been contacted within three (3) months after the closing date of this advertisement, please accept that your application was unsuccessful.
  • The South African Police Service is under no obligation to fill a post after the advertisement thereof.
  • The South African Police Service is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer and it is the intention to promote representivity in the Public Service through the filling of these posts. Persons whose transfer/appointment/promotion will promote representivity will therefore receive preference.

Applications and enquiries can be directed to:
Lt Colonel Klopper / Lt Moonsamy
Tel: (012) 421-0194
Tel: (012) 421-0584

Postal Address:
Private Bag X 322
PRETORIA
0001

Hand Delivery:
Cnr Beckett and Pretorius Street
Strelitzia Building
Arcadia
0083

How SAPS forensic teams examine a crime scene

June 23rd, 2014

Evidence collected and analysed at the scene of a crime can make or break a case.

To help understand the important roles of the various SAPS personnel, the following adaptation of an article first published online on the 12th March 2014, by Petro-Anne Vlok & Christiaan Boonzaier, looks at how the forensic teams go about their work when processing a crime scene.

SAPS officer taping off a crime scene.

1. First member

  • When called out to a possible murder, the first police officer on the scene, called the first member, assesses if the victim is still alive. If so, the chief priority is to preserve life.
  • If the victim is dead, the officer secures the crime scene using SAPS-identifying tape. Officers are stationed to prevent unauthorised access.

Crime Scene Manager - This person is in charge of the crime scene.

2. Crime scene manager

  • The forensic department’s crime scene manager (CSM) relieves the first member. The CSM takes control of and responsibility for the scene and assigns crime scene technicians and an investigating officer (IO).
  • Next is the planning phase. The CSM, crime scene technicians and IO take a “first walk” through the crime scene, noting possible routes used by the victim or perpetrator as well as spotting what can be collected as evidence. They must take care not to disturb any evidence.
  • The CSM decides which experts and forensic resources are needed and the order in which the scene should be investigated.

3. Photographer

  • Before anyone may touch anything a photographer has to document the scene. Sometimes video documentation is also used or crime scene technicians make sketches.
  • 3D total station scanners are relatively new and effective documenting tools which take 3D images of the scene.

Crime Scene Expert - This person works inside the crime scene collecting evidence.

4. Crime scene technicians

  • They go through the scene with a fine-tooth comb. Because of the high crime rate in SA, crime scene technicians are often unavailable, in which case the IO collects evidence.
  • Technicians often use fluorescent light when searching for DNA samples. Blood, urine, semen and vomit show up in a bluish colour, even if the perpetrator tried to wash it off. UV light can help technicians see evidence hidden from the naked eye such as fingerprints, fibres and bruises on bodies.
  • Technicians are expected to keep meticulous records and note the date, time and place where evidence was collected.  Memory is fallible and wouldn’t hold up under cross-examination in court. Technicians have to label evidence as soon as they bag it.
  • After evidence has been collected on and around the victim, the body is taken to the morgue for further investigation by a forensic pathologist. Bags are placed over the hands and feet to preserve potential DNA evidence under the nails.
  • All collected evidence is preserved in evidence collection kits and sent to the forensic science laboratory for analysis.

Marking the scene

Coloured cones are placed throughout the crime scene to mark where evidence was collected. Each crime scene is different but technicians can, for example, place yellow cones next to blood evidence. The cones are also used to map the crime scene.

What is collected as evidence?

  • Trace evidence: gunshot residue, paint residue, broken glass, unknown chemicals
  • Bodily fluids: blood, semen, saliva, vomit
  • Impressions: fingerprints, footprints, tool marks
  • Weapons and firearms: knives, guns, bullet holes, cartridge casings
  • Documents and devices: diaries, suicide notes, computers, cellphones, memory sticks
  • Hair and fibres

Diagram depicting where various items of evidence are sent for analysis.