Archive for the ‘Crime Scenes’ Category


SA forensics: A bloody mess?

Friday, 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

How SAPS forensic teams examine a crime scene

Monday, 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.

Murder in Miniature

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

One woman’s ghastly dollhouse dioramas turned crime scene investigation into a science writes Slate‘s Rachel Nuwer.

Bedroom view, from the Nutshell Dioramas, created by Frances Glessner Lee.

On Aug. 19, 1946, Dorothy Dennison left her house to walk to the local butcher’s shop. It was a Monday afternoon, and the high school student was on summer break. She arrived at the butcher’s shop around noon and purchased some hamburger steak, which her mom planned to fix for dinner that evening.

Hours passed, and Dorothy did not return home. Alarmed, her mother telephoned a neighbor and the butcher, but neither had any leads on where Dorothy could be. At 5:25 p.m., the mother phoned the police to report her daughter missing.

Days passed, but no clues emerged. Finally, on Friday, Officer Patrick Sullivan found her in the darkened home of a church rector who was on vacation. Behind shuttered windows and amid covered furniture, Dorothy lay on her back, dead.

Her arms and legs were spread, and a knife stuck out of her gut. Her white dress had been pulled open, exposing her chest, and bite marks covered her body and legs. Blood had seeped from wounds on her head, haloing her brown hair in a dark pool. She was still wearing the red hair bow and matching ballet slippers that she had left the house in on Monday.

At Maryland’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, I look down at Dorothy’s crumpled body, exactly as it was when Officer Sullivan found her at 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 23, 1946. Dorothy’s tragic end has been preserved forever in a bizarre miniature diorama that captures each physical detail surrounding her death.

Dorothy’s deathscape—dubbed the Parsonage Parlor—is one of 20 dollhouse crime scenes built by a woman named Frances Glessner Lee, nicknamed “the mother of forensic investigation.” Lee’s murder miniatures and pioneering work in criminal sciences forever changed the course of death investigations.

Lee, who went by the name Fanny, was born in 1878 to millionaire parents who made their money selling agricultural equipment. She grew up in Chicago and later said she suffered from a sheltered, lonely childhood. When Lee was 4 years old, her mother—also named Frances—recorded in her diary that her daughter had stated, “I have no company but my doll baby and God.” Along with her older brother, she was home-schooled in a fortresslike house that one architect described as “pathologically private.” Lee learned feminine skills such as sewing, embroidery, painting, and the art of miniatures from her mother and aunts, but at the same time had a fondness for Sherlock Holmes stories and medical texts.

Lee’s parents were firm believers that a woman’s place was in the home, so after her brother left for Harvard University, Lee’s requests to also attend school were rebuffed. As her father liked to say, “A lady doesn’t go to school.”

Thus began several decades of mounting bitterness and regret. Although she continued to harbor dreams of becoming a doctor or nurse—of “doing something in my lifetime that should be of significant value to the community,” as she later wrote—shortly before her 21st birthday, she married Blewett Lee, a lawyer and professor at Northwestern University. The couple had three children, but things soon fell apart and they divorced in 1914, which was a scandalous turn of events at the time.

Despite being free of an unhappy marriage, years passed before Lee could truly come into her own. She was dependent on her family for financial support, but in 1929, that began to change. Her brother passed away, and a few years later her mother followed him to the grave. In 1936, her father died, passing on the family fortune to his daughter.

Kitchen (from afar)

As her daughter-in-law later attested, Lee, meanwhile, had begun nursing a passion for forensics, inspired by one of her brother’s friends, George Burgess Magrath, who served as Boston’s medical examiner and was famously skilled at solving perplexing murder cases of the day. When Lee realized she was free to direct her energy and resources in whatever direction she chose, her thoughts immediately turned to the stories he had told, and to his complaints that murders too often went unsolved because detectives misinterpreted or tampered with evidence or coroners with no medical training botched autopsies. “Investigators used to do dumb things,” says Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the Maryland medical examiner’s office. “They would walk through blood, move bodies, and put their fingers through bullet holes in clothing.”

Lee decided to take it upon herself to reform the country’s legal medicine system. As a start, she donated money to Harvard to create a professorship for a legal medicine expert—which Magrath filled—and also created the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine, which was soon followed by the country’s first forensic pathology program. Although Magrath passed away two years later, through her own research and outreach, Lee became regarded as an expert in the field. She never forgot her source of inspiration, however. As she wrote in a letter in 1951: “I found that no one … knew exactly what legal medicine was supposed to mean. … But fortunately with the skill, knowledge and training of Dr. Magrath to guide me (he, in turn, really started from scratch), I have been able to accomplish a good deal.”

Despite these successes, however, Lee felt that more was needed to teach students the emerging art of evidence gathering. It was impossible to bring them to crime scenes, so Lee decided to create her own miniature crime scenes to use for training. She called her creations the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. “She came up with this idea, and then co-opted the feminine tradition of miniature-making to advance in this male-dominated field,” says Corinne May Botz, an artist and author of The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. “Like Sherlock Holmes, she was setting a scene and creating something like a character study of the victims, and she went about doing this very much from a detached investigator’s point of view.”

The 20 models Lee created were based on actual crime scenes, and she chose only the most puzzling cases in order to test aspiring detectives’ powers of observation and logic. Moreover, many of the cases could not be solved by observing the crime scene alone, demonstrating the need to involve medical examiners and other scientific experts in the process of solving crimes. While some—like poor Dorothy Dennison—were most definitely the victims of foul play, others could have died of natural causes or suicide. It was up to the detectives to find out.

Lee spent $3,000 to $4,500 creating each model, and her obsessive attention to detail shows. Grime from countless unseen hands coats light switches and door handles in cheap motel rooms while contemporary 1940s and ’50s food products line kitchen shelves in more affluent homes. Calendars are turned to the correct month and year that victims died; tiny keys fit into doors that can actually be locked and unlocked; and even a fingernail-sized mousetrap works. A miniature rocking chair rocks exactly three times when it was pulled back to a 45-degree angle, to meet with specifications from the real-life crime scene. “She was nuts about the level of detail,” Goldfarb says.

As for the homicides themselves, Lee attended autopsies, visited crime scenes, and studied blood spatter patterns. She made sure that her corpses possessed the correct degree of bloat and discoloration and that the evidence she was portraying—whether the angle of a knife or the pooling of blood—matched the mysterious circumstances of the deaths. She depicted an eclectic array of mortal endings, from hangings to falls to fires to gas-oven suicides. She often portrayed victims who were far removed from her own experience in life, such as drunks, prostitutes, and the poor.

On the other hand, Botz points out that most of the victims are female, and many died in their homes. Gender and the home, of course, were major themes in Lee’s life. Some scenes hint at their creator’s personal life and interests, too. Like the room depicted in the Nutshell “Pink Bathroom,” Lee also had a pink bathroom in her home. She also enjoyed fish imagery—the wallpaper motif in that scene. “There was an interplay between factual documentation and imaginative fiction,” Botz says. “Her own biases came into play.”

For the larger items—the houses themselves, the roofs—Lee enlisted the help of her carpenter, who followed her specifications exactly. The roof of the “Barn” Nutshell, for example, came from pieces taken from a 200-year-old barn on Lee’s own property, ensuring that it was authentically weathered. With her carpenter’s help, she turned out up to three crime scenes per year.

Dark bathroom (tub)

“She’d have been less frustrated if she had been born today, but it’s lucky for us, because the models are a result of her own personal time and culture, of her Victorian sensibilities and its emphasis on domestic space and family life,” Botz says. “All of these things came together to shape the models.”

In 1945, Harvard installed the first of Lee’s models, and she began delivering biannual, weeklong seminars that used them as training tools. Lee was almost always the only woman in the room. After some initial reluctance, she came to be accepted. She wined and dined her new colleagues, and many of the detectives grew fond of her, sometimes referring to her as “Mother” and sending her Mother’s Day cards. She even became an honorary captain with the New Hampshire State Police, making her the first woman to join the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Most significantly, though, her work mattered. Careful evidence gathering became a quintessential part of investigations, and several states amended their legislation to require better-trained coroners and medical examiners. As Goldfarb says, “She made forensic investigation into a scientific process.”

Lee died in 1962 at the age of 83, and the endowment for the Harvard program ceased. The university shuttered its forensics program and put the Nutshells into storage. They were likely headed for the dumpster, when Harvard professor Russell Fisher accepted a job in Baltimore as Maryland’s chief medical examiner. He brought the Nutshells with him, and in 1968, began using them in teaching seminars. Today, they are permanently installed on the fourth floor of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, behind a door marked “Pathology Exhibit.” The Nutshells are still used as training tools in homicide seminars. “This is not a museum or a gallery, it’s still functional,” Goldfarb says of the exhibit. “Death doesn’t change.”

Lee has a dedicated and growing following. She was the inspiration behind the character Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, and a CSI episode was inspired by her work. Recently, Guillermo del Toro contacted Botz about optioning the rights to create an HBO show about Lee.

Although the Nutshells are not available for public walk-ins, they do get plenty of visitors, ranging from detectives to artists to miniatures aficionados. Paging through a guest book kept on top of the “Three-Room Dwelling” Nutshell—a possible double-murder and suicide that includes an executed infant—a column asking for purpose of visit contains a range of answers, from “artistic curiosity” to “DMort3 Training” to “love.”

Now I, too, have stumbled upon Lee’s intriguing story and perplexing creations, thanks to a field trip organized by the New York–based Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum. Back at the Parsonage Parlor, I am still mulling over what happened to Dorothy. I try to put myself in the detective’s place, to imagine walking into the diorama as a 5-inch-tall figure, as Lee used to instruct of her trainees, and to use my senses to infer information about both Dorothy and her killer. Temperatures, Lee points out in the text contained below the Nutshell, exceeded 90 degrees that week. Dorothy’s body, accordingly, is beginning to show signs of decomposition, mirroring the now-rancid hamburger steak that neatly lies on a nearby chair along with her purse. The blood pooling around her head indicates that she died in that room, but there are no signs of struggle in the room. A hammer smeared with a trace of blood lies near Dorothy’s corpse, but then there’s the knife—which was the actual murder instrument?

Three-room dwelling (baby’s crib)

So was it the butcher who did it, or perhaps the parson, who was supposedly on vacation at the time? Or maybe a secret lover? Most likely, someone she knew lured her in, willingly, to her death, since the purse and meat placed on the chair indicate a casual, relaxed encounter. The bite marks and position of her body suggest a sexual assault, but only a postmortem analysis will reveal whether Dorothy was raped. The teeth marks might help identify her killer by comparing imprints with suspects’ dental records, and if Dorothy had been murdered today, genetic testing could lend clues about her killer’s identity. High-tech tests are not needed to solve this crime, however: According to a 1966 story published in the Harvard Crimson, there is a solution.

But as frustrating as that lingering mystery might be, the answers to the Nutshells are kept secret to preserve their usefulness as training tools. Unless we solve the crime ourselves, we are left to wonder, as I am still doing myself. “Wanting answers is natural,” Goldfarb says. “Everyone wants to know the answers.”

Simply answering the riddle, however, is not the point. As Lee once wrote herself, “The Nutshells Studies are not presented as crimes to be solved. Rather, they are designed as exercises in observing and evaluating indirect evidence, especially that which may have medical importance.”

Sometimes those observations can lead to a well-savored answer, but other times, more information—whether through an autopsy or interrogations—is needed. In other cases, the mystery cannot be solved with certainty, reflecting the grim reality of crime investigations. But whatever the circumstances, the investigator, Lee wrote, is tasked with “seeking only the facts—the Truth in a Nutshell.”

This article was first published by Slate on 9th of June 2014.

Crime Scene Science infographic

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The following is an interesting infographic highlighting some of the various modern forensic methods which may be used to help solve a crime — from DNA profiling to forensic entomology.


TEDTalks – The problem with eyewitness testimony

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference.

In the following TEDTalks video, Scott Fraser, a forensic psychologist who studies how humans remember crimes and bear witness to them, discusses how fallible eyewitness testimony can be and suggests that even close-up eyewitnesses to a crime can create “memories” they couldn’t have seen.

Why? Because the brain abhors a vacuum.

It’s a topic of particular interest that not only illustrates the subjective nature of eyewitness testimony, but also indirectly highlights the issue of how valuable crime scene evidence is to an investigation as the information gathered at a scene can help to either prove or disprove what a witness may have “seen” and “remembered”.

Please note: In the original version of this talk, Scott Fraser misspoke about available footage of Two World Trade Center (Tower 2). The misstatement has been edited out for clarity. To view the original video, please click here.


Crime scene clean-up: Not for the faint-hearted

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The following is an excerpt from an article first published in the March 2014 (Vol. 107, Issue 3) edition of Servamus by Katie Geldenhuys:

Roelien Schutte and Eileen de Jager from Crime Scene Clean-up

A crime scene can be a messy place. When someone has been killed, blood and other body fluids are spilled all over the scene. Once police investigators have completed their investigations at a crime scene, it is no longer the police’s responsibility, and the result is that the grieving family members are left with a bloody, messy room to be cleaned.

It is the responsibility of the victim’s family to remove the bloody evidence of a violent death. For many people, the trauma of cleaning up their loved one’s blood intensifies their loss. Fortunately, there are people, such as Roelien Schutte and Eileen de Jager from Crime Scene Clean-up, who are skilled in cleaning up a violent death scene.

SERVAMUS spoke to these two sisters, whose business is to ease the pain of those who have lost a loved one through a violent death. Roelien says that they started their business in South Africa in October 2000 after they had an opportunity of cleaning crime scenes in the UK when they were much younger. To them, it is not just a job – it is their passion and calling in life. Although they work nationally, they realised at one stage that they cannot do this on their own. Therefore, they established franchises nationwide and today, there are 16 franchises across the country. Roelien added that those who buy in are just as passionate about the work as they are.


The #OscarTrial: What we can learn about crime scene awareness

Monday, March 24th, 2014

The Oscar Pistorius murder trial has been making headlines for many months and whilst a number of issues are being focused upon, we wish to address one key element that has been the subject of much interest and debate, both in the court room and in the media, namely that of crime scene preservation.

Irrespective of the nature or profile of the persons involved in a particular case, securing a crime scene is of great importance and one that requires a high level of priority and understanding by all first responders as well as the general public.

Why should we secure a crime scene?

Ensuring that a crime scene is properly secured is important for a number of reasons.


The role of a forensic nurse in the medical investigation

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

The following is an excerpt from an article that was published in the February 2014 issue of Servamus Magazine wherein they highlight the role a forensic nurse plays in the medical investigation.

The role of a forensic nurse in the medical investigation by Kotie Geldenhuys

Failure to preserve forensic evidence results in a low rate of conviction (Data and McQuoid-Mason, 2001). Trained doctors with the required experience in clinical forensic services are extremely scarce in South Africa, but trained forensic nurses will be able to assist and alleviate this shortage. The application of forensic nurses may be a major contribution towards victim empowerment in general and this action can contribute to an increased reporting rate of child abuse.


Robbie Hunter chooses to Change Lives

Monday, October 29th, 2012

One of our ‘sister’ projects, which is also sponsored by The Change a Life Trust, is an organisation called I Choose to Change a Life,  a turnaround programme that helps youngsters in conflict with the law to develop valuable leadership skills. The Valued Citizens Initiative (VCI) – launched ten years ago by Carole Podetti Ngono – lies behind this inspirational programme. Since 2001 VCI has trained more than 3 500 educators and 420 000 school children from 1 605 public schools across Limpopo, Gauteng, Free State and KawZulu-Natal. Its success lies in its ability to inspire children to respect positive values, take responsibility for their civic rights and abide by the rule of law.

Last Friday, our top South African cyclist, Robbie Hunter joined ‘wheels’ with some fellow cyclists and rode through Soweto in our awesome DNA Project cycling shirts to celebrate the remarkable achievements of six Soweto Primary Schools. This type of camaraderie is critical to the future of our country: and the rehabilitation of young offenders is an integral part of this process.

There are so many organisations doing great things – so many incredibly passionate people choosing to make a difference in our country. And every little bit counts. How do you create a forest? Start by planting a tree. Just one tree. I think the same goes for building up a nation – if we all just do something small, there is no limit to what we could achieve together.


Robbie Hunter with Change a Life cyclists donning our great shirts to raise awareness

Robbie Hunter with Change a Life cyclists donning our great shirts to raise awareness

More about “I Choose to Change a Life”:
iChoose to Change a Life selects youngsters with leadership potential from VCI’s youth diversion programme, which is supported by the Johannesburg, Wynburg and Randburg Childrens’ courts. In recent years there has been a shift from punitive criminal justice practices towards more rehabilitative options in South Africa. Of the 5 000 children whose cases are heard in SA’s courts each month, 1 500 are channelled into diversion programmes such as VCI’s. Young offenders aged between 13 and 21 are encouraged to develop a positive self-image, rebuild family relationships and learn communication skills and emotional intelligence. iChoose to Change a Life is a six-month leadership course focused on diverted offenders who have shown particular commitment and are inspired towards implementing positive change. About 30 youngsters complete the leadership course each year and are encouraged to launch their own anti-crime projects within their communities.

In South Africa an average of 13 000 children are arrested each month for crime. Continued exposure to victimisation, crime and violence has a marked impact on social development and for many young South Africans criminal behaviour has become normalised. In 2011 iChoose to Change a Life launched a series of Stand Against Crime clubs in vulnerable schools in Gauteng to raise awareness and encourage students to deal with issues around crime.

DNA Project cyclists taking to the streets of Soweto with Robbie Hunter

DNA Project cyclists taking to the streets of Soweto with Robbie Hunter

8,000 Men Asked to Provide DNA for 1999 Murder Case in The Netherlands

Monday, October 15th, 2012

September 2012
(The following article first appeared in DNA Forensics: News and Information about DNA Databases)

During a press conference in Drachten, in Friesland,  a Northern province of  The Netherlands, the public prosecution’s office announced that approximately 8,000 men have been asked to provide DNA samples to help solve the 1999 murder of Marianne Vaatstra, a 16-year-old girl.  Miss Vaatstra’s body was found in a field in her town, Zwaagwesteinde. All of the men that were asked to give a DNA sample live within three miles of where the murder occurred, an area that encompasses 12 villages. Law enforcement officials also stated that no person asked to give their DNA will be forced to comply. This is the largest DNA Dragnet of its kind ever undertaken in the Netherlands.

The Dutch television crime journalist Peter R de Vries, made a recent documentary about the Vaatstra murder.  De Vries became well-known in the United States through his documentary about the  disappearance of the 18 year-old American student Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005. De Vries was able to secretly video tape Joran Van der Sloot, confessing to another man that he had killed Natalee Holloway.
De Vries produced a TV-documentary this past May giving information about a Playboy cigarette lighter found in Miss Vaatstra’s bag which contained DNA traces that matched the traces found on the schoolgirl’s body. Tips following the broadcast showed the lighter was on sale in the local area at the time, including in the village of Zwaagwesteinde where she lived.

Marianne Vaatstra

Marianne Vaatstra

After the press conference, Marianne’s father, Mr. Bauke Vaatstra made an emotional appeal for men to take part in the investigation. “This is the last means of finding Marianne’s killer,” he said. “Please give your DNA.”  The National Forensic Institute in The Netherlands, is also carrying out further research in the Dutch national DNA database to try to find relatives of the probable killer. Law enforcement is looking at Familial DNA, as they suspect that the real killer will not come forward to give a DNA sample.

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