DNA: COLD CASE FILES
In November 1983 Lynda Mann, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, was raped and murdered in Narborough, Leicestershire. Three years later Dawn Ashworth, also 15, was sexually assaulted and killed in the nearby village of Enderby. DNA samples taken from both bodies showed the same blood type, one only found in 10 per cent of the population.
Richard Buckland, a local 17-year-old with learning disabilities, had been spotted near where Dawn was killed and confessed to her murder. However, he refused to admit to killing Lynda. When scientists compared the DNA samples found on the two bodies they discovered both had been left by the same man – but that man was not Richard Buckland.
In 1987 police screened 4,000 local men. They found no matches but then a man called Ian Kelly was overheard boasting that he had provided a sample on behalf of his friend Colin Pitchfork. In September 1987 Pitchfork was arrested, a DNA test showed he was the killer and in January 1988 he was sentenced to life in prison.
Buckland became the first person to be exonerated in Britain as a result of DNA evidence. Pitchfork was the first to be convicted. The 1983 murder of 16-yearold trainee hairdresser Colette Aram was the first case to be featured on the BBC’s Crimewatch. She had been abducted, raped and strangled and her killer later sent police taunting letters saying they would never catch him.
And they might never have done had Jean-Paul Hutchinson not been arrested for a motoring offence in 2008. The DNA taken from him was a close match to that found on Colette’s body but, aged 20 at the time of his arrest, he had been born five years after her death.
It led police to his father Paul. His DNA matched that found at the scene and his fingerprints were found on the letter sent to police. In 2010 he was jailed for life before killing himself eight months later. Joan Harrison, a 26-year-old mother of two, was thought to have been killed by the Yorkshire Ripper when her body was found in Preston in 1975. Her clothing had been left in a way that would be repeated in other murders, she had a bite mark and jewellery had been taken. A hoax letter also claimed the Ripper had done it.
But when Sutcliffe was finally apprehended in 1981 he was ruled out as a suspect. It was not until 2008 when 60-year-old Christopher Smith from Leeds was arrested that police would find a DNA match. Smith, terminally ill at the time of his arrest, died six days later. When police searched his home they found a note that confessed to the killing. Sex attacker Keith Henderson was caught with the help of a coffee cup. In 2001 he attacked a teenage couple in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Armed with a pistol he surprised them, hit the 16-year-old boy with the gun and made the pair walk to a nearby field.
Once there he forced the girl, also 16, to perform a sex act on him. The quick-thinking victim made sure to collect potential sources of DNA on her clothes and police were able to build a profile of the attacker.
The cold case was reopened in 2007 and the national DNA database led police to one of Henderson’s family members. But it was not enough to secure a conviction. Police mounted a four-day surveillance operation and, using new anti-terror powers, they were able to seize a coffee cup he had used in a café. A swab of the cup showed that his DNA matched that recovered by his victim.
In 2012 he was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison and placed on the sex offenders’ register for life.
In 1986 Royal Navy sailor Michael Shirley was jailed for killing barmaid Linda Cook in Portsmouth, a crime that was dubbed the Cinderella murder. In 2003, after 16 years in prison, he was acquitted of the crime after
The conviction of Melanie Road’s killer was due to DNA testing and Britain’s national database, an invaluable policing tool since the mid-1980s
DNA, the famous double helix discovered by Crick and Watson, carries every individual’s genetic code. The DNA of any two people is 99.9 per cent the same, it is by examining the other 0.1 per cent that scientists can determine genetic matches.
In the mid-1980s an English scientist, Dr Alec Jeffreys, discovered that a strand of DNA contains patterns that are repeated within it. By comparing these between samples it is possible to establish a direct match or whether two people are related. original DNA evidence was found in a drawer and re-examined. Most of what was taken from the original crime scene either proved inconclusive or had been lost. Victor Nealon, a former postman, was convicted in 1997 of attempting to rape a woman leaving a nightclub in Worcestershire.
In 2013, after 17 years in prison during which he persistently proclaimed his innocence, he was finally freed after crucial DNA traces on the victim’s clothing were shown to have come from somebody else. Sean Hodgson had his conviction for murder overturned in 2009 by the Court of Appeal after 27 years in prison. In
HOW THE SCIENTIFIC PROCESS WORKS
Initially this required a large amount of DNA for the test to work. Refined scientific techniques mean that police now need to find only a small sample to establish a match. With DNA found in every cell in our body it can be extracted from hair, flakes of skin or bodily fluids left behind at a crime scene.
Provided the samples are not contaminated this process is phenomenally accurate. The odds of two unrelated people sharing an identical DNA profile are less than one-in-one billion. 1982 he had been found guilty of strangling barmaid Teresa De Simone in Southampton.
His release followed a comprehensive review of the forensic evidence by Hampshire Police and the Forensic Science Service. In 1983 half-brothers Leon Brown and Henry McCollum, who were aged just 15 and 19 when they were arrested, were convicted of raping and murdering 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in North Carolina. Two years ago the pair, both of whom have been diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, were freed as a result of new DNA evidence.
At the time of his release McCollum was America’s longest serving death row prisoner.