Archive for the ‘Crime Scenes’ Category


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.

Read related articles here.

‘I was bored, so I raped’

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Of the 37 783 prisoners released under the presidents special remission in the spirit of Freedom Day, 47 are already back in jail and facing charges including murder, attempted murder and rape reports Botho Molosankwe

PN prisoners1

A prisoner who benefited from President Jacob Zuma’s special remission of sentences was re-arrested after he broke into a woman’s house and raped her – because he was bored.

The man had been free for only two weeks when he re-offended.

The man, who was released from a prison in Wepener, Free State, on May 8, allegedly committed the housebreaking and rape offences on May 22.

According to the Department of Correctional Services, the man said he had committed the crimes because he had nothing to do.

The man, who cannot be named as he has yet to plead, is one of the 37 783 prisoners who were released from various prisons across the country following Zuma’s special remission of sentence to certain categories of prisoners.

However, within a month of their early release, 47 are already back behind bars and facing charges of murder, attempted murder, rape, robbery, assault, kidnapping, theft, stock theft, possession of drugs, possession of stolen goods and housebreaking.

The re-offenders, when asked why they had committed the crimes so soon after their release, blamed boredom, homelessness, hunger, poverty, drug addiction and unemployment.

Another man, who had initially been arrested for assault, committed murder just after being released. The Limpopo, man had been out for only two days.

“He is alleged to have gone home and found his girlfriend with another man. A fight broke out and he is alleged to have killed the girlfriend’s lover.

One man who was serving time for attempted murder when he was released was re-arrested on charges of committing the same offence.

Another man, who was on parole for housebreaking and theft, was arrested just a few hours after being granted his freedom. Khumalo said that as part of his parole conditions, correctional services officials used to check on him periodically at home.

On May 9, they told him that he was now a free man and would no longer be getting visits from them. A few hours later, the man was behind bars for housebreaking and theft, again.

Khumalo said that although the prisoners were released out of a gesture of humanity, those who had re-offended had spat in the face of the government that had released them.

“And other departments are affected too. The police have to hunt them and take them to police stations. The Justice Department has to invest time and effort to bring the suspects to book and sentence them. And we, as Correctional Services, have to update our records,” Khumalo pointed out.

Correctional Services is expected to conduct pre-release assessments and run pre-release preparation programmes.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma had “noted what had happened and would take that into consideration as we move forward”.


The DNA Project  cannot help but surmise how many more of the 37, 783 ex-cons released may be committing more crimes – but we have no way of detecting them because we have no legislation which mandates that all arrestees or at the very least convicted offenders, have their DNA profile entered onto a national DNA database. Instead, because of the delay in passing this vital legislation, these criminals have been released with little opportunity to protect the public when they return to crime. DNA Databases have been proven to not only identify the most violent criminals, but have also served to exonerate those wrongly arrested and convicted. If these individuals who had been released had had their DNA taken and entered onto the database, they would be identified at an earlier stage and more reliably than ever before. So, because of the fact that we have to wait until the DNA legislation is passed, South Africans have just been given 37,783 more reasons to ask the Portfolio Committee on Police to finally pass the DNA database legislation.

Touch DNA: Useful in Solving ‘Volume’ Crimes

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

What is Touch DNA?

Touch DNA is a forensic method for analysing DNA left at the scene of a crime. It is called “touch DNA” because it only requires very small samples, for example, skin cells left on an object after it has been touched or handled. Touch DNA analysis only requires seven or eight cells from the outermost layer of human skin.(Wikipedia)

This relatively new forensic technique of using “touch DNA” is being employed in several countries to help solve those crimes which have  previously been too difficult or impossible to solve. This new technique is mostly used for investigating property or high volume crimes and involves testing evidence such as an object or broken glass for “touch DNA” – microscopic skin cells containing DNA that naturally rub off when an object, such as a cell phone or steering wheel, is touched.

Even gloves don’t let them get away with it!

Touch DNA technology can even be used if the suspect was wearing gloves at the time of committing the crime because there’s a high likelihood that the skin cells were transferred onto the gloves when the perpetrator was putting them on. Property and other nonviolent crimes are often overlooked in South Africa due to the fact that no violence was involved or due to a lack of physical evidence. Or so it seems….. However, the SA Forensic Science Lab recognises that not only do criminals have a ‘career path’ which often starts with less serious crimes, but more violent criminals also dabble in other types of crimes, such as housebreaking. This is why they advocate for the use of Touch DNA in South Africa. The rationale behind collecting DNA from ‘volume’ crimes would be to include these DNA profiles onto a DNA database where the chance of a match to a known suspect would be  increased.

A disposable vacuum collection system used for the forensic collection of liquids, fibers, powders, cellular material, blood, urine, and saliva. The Nib attachment allows the vacuum device to collect Touch DNA samples and other trace evidence

A disposable vacuum collection system used for the forensic collection of liquids, fibers, powders, cellular material, blood, urine, and saliva. The Nib attachment allows the vacuum device to collect Touch DNA samples and other trace evidence

This type of technology could be used  effectively in hijackings as there will be a large number of physical clues left behind in a vehicle if employing ‘Touch DNA’ as a methodology to collect evidence from these types of crimes.

Collecting  the best samples

In order to take advantage of touch DNA, it is also important  for the CSI to collect the right samples. This technique can be used on samples taken from guns, steering wheels, cell phones, glass, plastic, wood, cloth, fabric, to name a few. It does however require discretion inso far as focusing on the places a suspect is likely to have touched. Eg, in the case of a hijacking, taking samples from the entire dashboard would not be prudent.  Instead, the CSI should focus on processing the steering wheel; the door and the door handles; the rear view mirror; the gear stick; the controls for the windows, the stereo and the air conditioner.

If the crime scene is indoors, observe the scene. Did the suspect try to cover up by washing his hands? If so, tell the CSI to take samples from the faucet and sink surfaces. Look for bathroom or kitchen towels or discarded paper towels. (BUT DON’T TOUCH THEM!) Tell the CSI to remember to process the doors and windows that a suspect may have used to enter or exit the property/crime scene. Ensure that any clothing that may belong to the suspect is tested for touch DNA too. Finally, look for any items that are out of place—chances are, the suspect was the one who moved them!

If you are a non essential, non forensic person (in other words EVERYONE OTHER THAN A QUALIFIED CRIME SCENE INVETIGATOR!), keep out of the crime scene and take notes should you have observed anything which the CSI may be able to use to assist in his or her investigation of the crime scene.

Remember as always DNA CSI!

Vanessa Lynch

Please contact Maya Moodley at should you wish to benefit from a free DNA Awareness workshop in your area.

Criminal Foiled By Discarded Water Bottle

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

I came across the below story yesterday when reading about interesting cases in the quarterly Forensic DNAResource Report. It caught my eye not because I think catching a petty thief in the USA is a particularly serious offence – but because at the scene of my father’s murder in Johannesburg, SA,  the perpetrators who shot my dad just prior to breaking into our family home, had been drinking brandy and coke in the garden out of an old coke bottle. This bottle, which contained valuable DNA evidence as to who was present at the crime scene when my father was killed, was later discarded by the police. When I asked why they had done that, they said to me that ‘we do not have the technology in this country to uplift DNA evidence from the bottle’. This is not only untrue, but illustrates the tragedy of destroying valuable evidence from a crime scene which could ultimately have convicted the people who murdered my father. There was only one chance to collect and preserve that evidence, and it was lost. Forever. We can never go back – and as such, that crucial link to my father’s killers, lost with it.

This is why I am so passionate about creating crime scene awareness in South Africa. We need to all become forensically aware and prevent this type of thing from happening over and over again. The rationale behind this objective is that without the proper preservation and collection of valuable DNA and other forensic evidence left at a crime scene, the opportunity to link the perpetrator to the crime committed, will be lost.

Don’t let it happen. Ask us how you can be part of the solution. If you or your community/group/workforce are interested in receiving DNA Awareness training or know of any group who would benefit from this information, please contact us via and she will send you the necessary information.

Here is the story:

Police: Year-old Boca Grande burglary solved

July 28, 2011

Charlotte County Sheriff’s detectives say they have solved a year-old case thanks to a DNA match of the burglar who left behind a bottle of water.

A home in Boca Grande on the Charlotte County side was burgled in June 2010. Police say the burglar entered through a second-story window and stole televisions, three dirt bikes and a Volkswagen Euro Van. The van was recovered in Sarasota County but the three dirt bikes were not recovered.

Crime scene technicians located fingerprints and found a bottle of water in the home. On July 13, police say the water bottle tested positive for Eric William Griffith, whose details were already on the database.

Detectives arrested Griffith at his home Tuesday and charged him with burglary, grand theft motor vehicle and grand theft.

DNA in the Courtroom

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

If you are reading this blog, then we have to assume that at the very least, you have recognised that DNA profiling in a criminal context has fast become the most powerful criminal justice tool used in the world today and is increasingly vital to ensuring accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system. The DNA Project certainly recognises this fact and in its national effort to create DNA awareness in SA, we have extended our awareness campaign beyond just the crime scene, to include awareness in our justice system. Without convictions, all the hard work at ground level may also be set to fail, because it is not used expeditiously in a case where it could potentially provide one of the strongest forms of evidence to link the suspect to the crime scene.

However, to ensure DNA’s optimum use in criminal proceedings, it is imperative that criminal justice litigators are properly conversant with the scientific basis and presentation of such evidence, as well as with its potential usefulness in criminal cases. As such, the DNA Project is hosting and funding the its first Legal workshop tomorrow for the Western Cape Branch of the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority). Over 60 prosecutors will be present as well as representatives from the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Justice. The aim of this course is to form a bridge between the science of DNA and the legal aspects of DNA evidence. It will provide criminal justice litigators with the necessary information not only to understand the significance of DNA evidence, but also to successfully adduce, recognize and if necessary, challenge the validity of such evidence in court.

Below is a brief outline of the issues which will be covered in the full day course:

Part One: Overview of DNA Profiling – Prof. Valerie Corfield

A single cigarette butt left at the scene of a robbery and murder has led to the conviction of a 24-year-old man

1.1 The science underlying DNA profiling — what does a profile look like, how does a DNA database work for criminal intelligence and the latest developments in this field.
1.2 Collection of samples for DNA Purposes: sample taking in terms of the current CPA and proposed sample taking in terms of the new Draft Bill
1.3 SAPS FSL Disclosure Policies

Part Two: The DNA Bill – Ms Vanessa Lynch

4.1 An overview of current legislation regulating DNA collection, analysis and use in the courtroom
4.2 An introduction to the draft DNA Bill and its impact on the way in which DNA profiles will be regulated in SA

Part Three: DNA in the Courtroom – Dr Andra le Roux Kemp
3.1 The significance of a Match and whether it ought to be challenged
3.2 Constitutionality of section 212
3.3 Evaluation of evidence: the possible grounds upon which challenges to the weight of DNA evidence can be made
3.4 Defense and prosecution fallacies

Part Four: Pre-trial Issues – Lt Col. Sharlene Otto
2.1 Interpreting the lab report
2.2 Meaning of a match
2.3 Important Questions to ask in preparation for trail

The presenters:

Professor Valerie Corfield,  BSc Hons Botany (Bristol, UK); MSc Cell Biology (Wright Sate University, USA); PhD Genetics (University of the Witwatersrand).Medical scientist, Department of Medical Biosciences, Stellenbosch University. Professor Corfield’s research focus is the molecular genetics of inherited heart disease. She has published extensively and is rated as a scientist with international recognition by the National Research Foundation, for which she serves on several committees. Now semi-retired from her academic position, she delivers lectures and develops and presents interactive workshops which engage the general public in a greater understanding of science and appreciation of its societal implications. Activities include DNA and its applications in forensics. She holds a Wellcome Trust International Engagement award in biomedicine and presents workshops for The DNA Project, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement and Science Centres across South Africa.

Ms Vanessa Lynch BA (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) LLB (UCT), Founder and Executive Director of the DNA Project. Ms. Lynch qualified as an attorney from UCT in 1993. She left her position as a Commercial attorney in 2005 in order to undertake the work of the DNA Project on a full-time basis and is now the Executive Director of this organisation. She founded the DNA Project following the brutal murder of her father in 2004 after seeking a way in which to meaningfully contribute towards the alleviation of crime in South Africa in a manner which was significant, achievable, tangible and would ultimately have a long term impact towards negating the high crime rate in S.A. An assessment of successful criminal justice systems all pointed to one obvious solution: the abatement of crime in other countries was ultimately achieved through the implementation and development of a National DNA Criminal Intelligence Database. In an effort to emulate this success in South Africa, she established a non-profit organisation to practically address the crime situation in South Africa through the expanded use of DNA evidence in conjunction with South Africa’s National DNA Database.

Dr Andra le Roux-Kemp
BA, LLB (Stell), CML (UNISA), LLD (Stell). Adv of the High Court of South Africa; Part-time lecturer at Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Law. Dr Andra le Roux-Kemp obtained the BA, LLB and LLD degrees from Stellenbosch University and a postgraduate certificate in Medicine and Law from UNISA. Her primary area of interest and expertise relate to particular themes in Criminal Justice and Medical- and Health Law. She has published both locally and is the author of the recently published book Law, Power and the Doctor-Patient Relationship: A Legal Perspective (2011). She is a member of the South African Medico-Legal Society (SAMLS) and the Criminological and Victimological Society of South Africa (CRIMSA) and teaches a LLM module in Legal Medicine annually at Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Law.

Lieutenant Colonel Sharlene Otto: CHIEF FORENSIC ANALYST and REPORTING OFFICER – Biology Unit of the Forensic Science Laboratory (SAPS, Cape Town) Lt Col. Otto has a B. Sc.-degree, with Botany and Zoology as majors from the UFS as well as  a Higher Teaching Diploma and has been attached to the Biology Unit of the Forensic Science Laboratory since November 1993.  Since that time she has received intensive training in serology and various DNA-technique, statistics, STR’s and has attended and presented at both national and international DNA conferences. Sharelene has been involved in the DNA analysis of biological evidentiary samples since 1996 and since November 1997 she has been involved in the STR-analysis of these samples. During October 2003. Lt Col. Otto takes part in both internal and external proficiency tests on a regular basis all of which have completed them all successfully.  In total, Lt Col. Otto has 25 years experience in the biological sciences and is one of South Africa’s most experienced and valuable DNA Forensic Experts.

The DNA Project has funded this DNA Awareness workshop with funds raised to promote DNA Awareness in SA. The DNA Project wishes to thank the Change a Life Trust and Juta for their kind sponsorship towards this workshop.

For more information contact