3 Puzzling Cold Cases Solved With Forensic Science

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.

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