Further to fragments of an Opinion of mine published in Rapport (16/05/21), herewith a short expansion to give the more detailed Opinion on the blood in the lodge room (in Kempton Park), a scene believed to be related to the murder of Yolandi Botes. Dismembered parts of Botes’s body were found disposed of in the Vaal River around the time of the discovery of the scene in the room.
The following have to mentioned first. I did not have access to the original scene photos and worked from photos provided by Rapport and found myself on the Internet. With Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) it is important and preferable to work from good, high-resolution photos, as minute phenomena like spines and satellite stains can provide valuable information (wrt e.g. height of fall). While some deductions could be made in his regard, I, therefore, veered towards a macro-approach, and also given the limited material in my possession, this must be seen as a first impression and not as firm deductions.
Due to the media coverage in this regard, it was impossible to escape the possibility (or suspicions) that this scene may be related to the discovery in the Vaal River, but I did not take this possibility into account in my evaluation.
Indications of two bleeding events
The difference in the nature of the patterns (transfer/drag/swipe/wipe vs drips) is indicative of two bleeding events. The difference in intensity also supports this notion.
While it is impossible to guess the difference in time of depositions, it appears as though the body was first handled on the floor (including a degree of dragging) – which would have caused the patterns in the yellow ovals.
The overall pattern (other than drips) includes transfer stains as well as disturbed blood, indicative of a wounded and bloodied body handled on the floor. The blood that caused the intense drip pattern was deposited after the first event of deposition and may be indicative of an outpour of blood from a height rather than active bleeding (i.e. arterial spurts or blood flowing down an upright-standing person). It is suggestive of a person (e.g. with a severe neck wound) who was picked up and flipped horizontally. The blood would then gush out of the wound/s. The rather isolated nature of the pattern (i.e. also no significant drip trail) supports this notion.
Bloodied of body part handled above the basin
When one looks at the basin, it appears as if it overflowed. But it clearly did not. It is also not reconcilable with e.g. washing of hands or a wounded body part IN the basin. So how did the blood flow onto the rim and down the sides? The only reasonable explanation for these patterns is that it is the result of the handling of a bloodied/wounded body part above the line of the rim – where the body part extended over the inside of the basin to such an extent that blood that flowed from it, flowed onto the rim and down the sides. If the source was inside the basin, this could not have happened. However, this must be seen together with the photo below.
Below the basin, to the side but in line with the edge, is a blood pool, indicating intense bleeding. It is at an unlikely place. Together with the blood that flowed down the sides of the basin (and more towards the side of the blood pool), supports the possibility of dismemberment as the body part extended over the edge. Blood would drip down from the body part as it is cut or sawed, to drip onto the floor in a concentrated pool.
While photos from closer and other angles may help to give a better idea, it appears as if a bloodied body part pressed/rested here on the rim. On the premise that a body part was handled on the basin, one would expect it to touch the rim over a wide area, but it is not a given that blood would be transferred onto the rim, and transfer stains could also be masked by blood flowing onto and over the rim.
What appears, at first glance, to be a spatter pattern, is not indicative of (high-velocity) impact spatter – that you would get, for example, as a result of blunt impact (i.e. hammer blows to the head). It is too widely distributed (and with it, too consistent), and too watery/runny (seems diluted). The indications of flow in the yellow oval support the notion of dilution. It is more likely the result of the washing of hands/arms or a bloodied body part under the shower. The water would splash from the blood source (i.e. body part) onto the wall in this inverted U pattern. The chair (with some blood on, also on the seat) could have been used to assist in an act of dismemberment.
It is difficult to evaluate this photo without scale but given the peculiar configuration, it can be assumed with a high degree of confidence that it represents the fingertips of a left hand pressed against the wall – with the lower part of the palm (bordering the pulse), from which diluted blood flows.
This photo is not good enough to say anything meaningful about what appear to an imprint of a right bare foot. If it were a footprint, taking the tile size as a scale indicator, it would suggest a large foot, likely that of a male. Given enough recorded minutia, a footprint can be identified uniquely. Given the amount of blood on the scene – but based on the available photos alone – the lack of footprints is remarkable.
From the available (and limited photos), it is difficult to make deductions that veer towards the micro-level – such as to conclude that a mark was made by a foot or shoe, or to deduce height of drip falls (as indicators such as spines and satellite stains are not clearly visible), but on a macro-level, the available photos suggest, in my opinion, the following:
Seen in totality, the blood on the scene is that of a person that was dead by the time of the depositions, although possibly first seriously (and fatally) wounded, likely in the room. It is not indicative of a wounded person that moved around on his/her own accord, but rather of being moved around by another person. The bleeding appears to have been passive rather than active.
There are convincing indications that there were two bleeding sessions, although the time between these sessions cannot be known. It gives the impression of a person who was handled on the floor before being picked up at a later stage.
Although initial blunt trauma cannot be ruled out (there are no clear indications of such, such as impact spatter), the bleeding largely seems to be the result of sharp trauma.
Particularly revealing, the blood flowing over the sides of the basin, together with the intense blood pool directly under the edge (at an unlikely place), supports the possibility of a dismemberment act performed on the basin.
Diluted spatter in an inverted U pattern against the shower’s wall (on the side of the showerhead) is indicative of a bloodied body part (including bloodied hands/arms) sprayed off under a running shower.
Especially the aspect of the basin, but also the copious amount of blood – and what can be deduced in terms of sequence – leaves a convincing impression that an act of dismemberment was committed in this room.
With all respects to the victim, but the scene is rather more reminiscent of what you would see in a butchery than on a kill-and-leave scene. While it cannot be deduced from photos whether it is one person’s blood, on this premise, given the amount of blood and time-frame suggested, it is highly unlikely that the victim left the room alive or in any effective state. Severe wounding (and bleeding) is suggested. The mere fact that the (or a) body was not found in the room, would suggest disposal in one way or another.
At the time of writing, it has not been confirmed whether the blood in the lodge room is that of Yolandi Botes.
After Fred van der Vyver’s fingerprint was linked to a DVD cover that was found next to the murdered Inge Lotz’s body, the defence disputed the lift, and claimed that the police lifted the fingerprint (that would put Fred with Inge after 15:07 on the day of the murder) from a drinking glass instead, and intentionally switched it with the DVD lift in order to frame Fred for the crime.
The Appeals Court later found that, at most, it could have been a mislabelling mistake by the police. After the defence claimed it came from a drinking glass, the police/NPA sent the lift to Supt Roger Dixon, a geologist, who was working at the Forensic Lab in Pretoria, for verification. In a Section 212 Affidavit, Dixon also claimed that the lift was taken from a drinking glass, even identifying a specific glass.
This led the DPP to withdraw the fingerprint evidence. However, this Section 212 Affidavit by Roger Dixon, as this Discussion document will clearly show, was highly inadmissible. Given the impact that Dixon’s Section 212 had on the course of the case and the outcome, this is a very serious matter, and constitutes a grave error in law, also as Dixon did not testify and was thus not subjected to cross-examination (just as the purported alibi witness Shahana Toefy never testified to Fred’s alibi). Dixon’s 212 Affidavit was adduced into evidence by the defence.
Below are links to 1) Roger Dixon’s original Section 212 as faxed to DPP Adv Rodney de Kock, who on the same day of receiving the Affidavit – without checking its veracity – withdrew the fingerprint evidence (based on this flawed 212 Affidavit), and 2) our Discussion document that illustrates why this Section 212 Affidavit is not admissible, and why it should never have been accepted as evidence of any sorts. We have an authoritative legal opinion on it, which is available on request.
Jason Rohde was convicted on the charges of Murder and of Defeating or Obstructing the Administration of Justice by Judge Salie-Hlope as reported in http://www.saflii.org as State vs Rohde (SS43/2017)  ZAWCHC 146;  1 All SA 740 (WCC) (8 November 2018).
Rohde subsequently appealed his conviction. After his appeal attempt at the Trial Court failed, he petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeal, which granted the appeal. Rohde subsequently applied for bail, and it was granted. He is currently out on free foot, with the appeal hearing scheduled for later this year.
Below is a link to the State’s Head of Argument against the appeal, as prepared by Senior State Prosecutor Louis van Niekerk.
This short preliminary Opinion will only look at some points regarding this case as specifically displayed in Netfix’s Making a Murderer (P1 and P2). I am still exploring the case (which includes looking wider than MAM) and I will, at a later stage, publish a more comprehensive Opinion and video on the case. For now, I will concentrate only on a few forensic aspects, and also on the approach of Kathleen Zellner, Avery’s attorney, and on the input of her experts.
What I specifically want to focus on, for now, is Zellner’s firm assertion and allegation that the police framed Avery by planting his blood in the murdered Teresa Halbach’s vehicle. I am not going into the background of the case, and more background can be found on the internet, such as on Wikipedia.
I need to start with Kathleen Zellner. Zellner is famous for getting 17 wrongful convictions overturned. I do not know enough about the merits of any of these cases to say anything about them. But, what is clear to me, at least, is that the Avery case is simply a challenge for Zellner – nothing more – it is simply to add another wrongful conviction case to her list. Early on, before a proper and full investigation, she declared that her firm “is looking forward adding the Avery case to their list of overturned cases”. She also declares on Netflix that she firmly believes that Avery is innocent and that “she would bet her life on it”. At the same time, Zellner declares that apart from her needing to destroy the State’s case, she is “actually more interested in knowing what really happened”. There are a lot of contradictions and signs of an erroneous approach here.
It is clear that Zellner already decided that Avery is innocent – and it soon becomes evident in the way she conducts experiments and how she engages with her experts, that this is all she wants to prove – she is not really interested in what really happened. It is clear that Zellner does not investigate all possibilities, and that she is only out to disprove the police’s version at all cost, and to get back at State Attorney Ken Kratz, who she clearly detests. Zellner is out to grind axes. In another case (also on Netflix), she talks about “getting revenge”.
It is fine that Zellner is Avery’s attorney, but when you investigate forensic matters, you do not mingle with the family, as this can lead to a biased approach creeping in. You do not sit with them and console them, and promise them how you would free their son. Zellner must decide if she is an attorney or a forensic investigator. She is clearly way too emotionally invested in the case, and it becomes very clear in the way she approaches her investigation. A forensic investigator investigates a case irrespective of what the outcome may be – but can certainly drive campaigns once firm and robust evidence has been uncovered. Evidence you are not only willing to defend in a court of law, but evidence that you can actually defend. But, the investigation itself cannot be driven by emotion and sentiment.
Just to put a few things on the table first. I do not make any case here that Avery is guilty, or that the police’s conduct was all above board, or that Ken Kratz is a savoury character. The question simply is: How right and robust is Zellner’s approach?
Let’s look at Zellner’s approach regarding the blood in the victim’s vehicle. Just a short background, for context. Steven Avery’s blood was found in the victim’s vehicle. Next to the ignition, there was what appears to be a swipe-like contact-transfer bloodstain mark. On the side of the left front seat, there was an elongated bloodstain mark – that shows signs of flow. There were some other bloodstain marks and blood flakes as well but no blood was found on the steering wheel and on the gear lever knob. What we do know, is that at some stage circa the murder, Avery sustained a rather severe cut to his right middle finger.
So, Zellner set out to prove that the bloodstain mark next to the ignition could not have been made by Avery’s bleeding finger. To prove this, she pasted a piece of paper where the mark was found and then asked her associate, with blood on his middle finger, to stick the key into the ignition and turn it, a couple of times, to see if the middle finger would touch that area. It did not. So she found that it can’t. “Even if you do it a hundred times.” And that this is now “a lie” by the police. “If you find one lie like this, there must be more …” Zellner then set out to prove that there would have been blood on the door handle if Avery opened the door of the vehicle (on the premise that he committed the crime). With her experts, she asks why no blood was found on the steering wheel and on the gear lever knob.
There are quite a lot of issues here, most of which left me dumbfounded. Regarding the mark close to the ignition, this “test” was done in a highly controlled and “perfect-world” way (with calculation not excluded) – not what you would necessarily find with an anxious man, perhaps in the dark, trying to start a vehicle, when he may not get the key in the first time – and, where he may have elevated his injured finger away from the others so that it does not touch the key or the other fingers – because the finger is sensitive. It may then well touch that area where the bloodstain mark can be seen. Zellner did not consider or test this possibility.
But, then it became weird. So, Zellner “proved” that blood would have come onto the door handle if Avery opened the door. But, she conveniently assumed that he can only open the door with his right hand – as if it is impossible that he could have opened it with his left hand. On the premise that Avery is guilty, one can only wonder what conceivable reason can there be that he could not have opened the door with his left, uninjured hand.
[In fact, when you open a left-sided door of a vehicle, you will most likely use your left hand to do so – since when you use the right hand, your body is in the way of the opening door. Standing to the right of the door as you face it and while opening it with your left hand, the door will swing open past your left side, without you having to move one bit. So, it would not have been strange if Avery opened the door with his left hand. Why was this never raised by Zellner? This goes way beyond a mere oversight and ventures to the realm of plain dishonesty.]
Then, Zellner and her experts, a bloodstain pattern expert (Stuart James) and a forensic pathologist (Dr. Larry Blum), wonder how an open, bleeding wound could have left such isolated and widespread stains, and not all over the place. It must have escaped them that it is very easy to wipe a bleeding finger off on your clothes – which would remove blood for a while, for it to yield more blood, to be wiped off again. Or you can keep it tucked in your shirt to limit the bleeding. This may explain why no blood was found on the steering wheel and on the gear lever knob. (Even if he wiped his finger off on his clothes, or lifted it away from the others, one may still expect minute traces of blood on the steering wheel and lever knob, from transfer from the hand or other fingers that may have had some blood on, but it may depend on how well these areas where swabbed. It is unlikely that every square millimeter was swabbed.) There is also the possibility that he could simply have elevated his finger not to touch the steering wheel or knob, simply because it was hurting and sensitive (so the finger is essentially dangling in the air). Whether this happened or not, it is disconcerting (but not surprising) that these possibilities were not raised and considered by Zellner, which confirms her selective and biased approach.
[Of course, a vehicle’s door can be opened without using all your fingers, and the cut on his finger was on the outside. So, even if he opened the door with his right hand, blood transfer onto the handle was not a given. Then also, a steering wheel can be operated by using only one hand, or with the assistance of, say, the palm of the other hand. Ten fingers on the steering wheel are not required. Whether automatic or manual, the gear lever knob also does not necessarily require a full grip with all fingers.]
Then, while I thought the bloodstain pattern expert, Stuart James, tried to be reasonable (one could sense his discomfort at times), he was pushed and led by Zellner to give the explanations and answers that she wanted. Their experiments to disprove the police’s claim that the spatter on the back door was caused when the body was “flung into the back”, were particularly odd. The police’s version may not be true (not that is necessarily a lie, simply that it is not the real explanation) but even if it is not quite what had happened, it still does not mean that there are no other possibilities that would still implicate Avery. And this is a problem throughout with Zellner’s approach. She only wants to disprove the police’s claims at all cost, without looking at all possibilities.
So, they flung a dummy with short, stiff, artificial hair, drained with blood (of which we don’t know the make-up of), into the back of the vehicle, to disprove the police’s version. Not taking into account many variables, one which is the viscosity of blood at the time of the action. If Halbach was deposited into the back of the vehicle, nobody can simply assume that it would have been immediately after she died. Another variable is the distance between the source of the blood and the stained surface, as small drops can fly in an arc when the distance is rather long – and therefore directionality is not always crystal clear from the shape of a stain on the stained surface.
Zellner’s associate, then, with his back to the back-door, performs a rather strange experiment, by flicking a hammer backward as he tries to simulate an attack with a hammer, trying to establish how the cast-off spatter pattern on the door would look like. All well, but that is not how a hammer is moved backward when cocking it up for the next blow. The action is much slower and there is no turn of the hammer. Why did the tester not rather face the back-door, to see what may happen from forward cast-off – where blood droplets could have flown off the hammer’s head as it was projected forward at an exponential speed, as is the case with hammer blows? Or why did they not do simulated blunt impact tests on a head, with the head positioned close to the door? Zellner asked James about this, but when he said, “then it becomes difficult”, it was simply left there. Again proving a selective and pedantic effort to disprove the police’s “flung in” version at all cost, as if there are no other possibilities. That is not “to find out what really happened”. That is to selectively prove what you want to be true, at all cost. And that is not the way to go.
Then the input of DNA expert Karl Reich was quite peculiar, to say the least. This with regards to the “sweat DNA” that was found on the latch below the bonnet – Avery’s DNA. In a smug and very confident way, Reich declared that one cannot test for sweat. Which is simply not true. The police may not have tested for sweat, and it may not be a standard test and not routinely done, but to say that there is no test for sweat, is untrue. While non-specific, and while not widely used, there are ways to detect certain chemical compounds (i.e. sodium, phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, calcium, and other metal traces) in relative concentrations in sweat, which would at least distinguish it from other body fluids such as blood, saliva, vaginal fluid, breastmilk, urine, or semen. Read more about body fluid identification for forensic purposes here.
Let’s look at exclusion. While bloodstains may not always be visible with the naked eye, given the quantity of DNA found, one would expect that if blood was the source (or carrier) of the DNA, it would have been visible. If there was reason to believe that it may be blood, routinely used reagents such as Luminol or Blue Star would give a presumptive indication. So we can rule blood out. Also semen. Apart from pretty obvious practical problems (i.e. where would they get his semen?) sperm DNA is haploid (i.e. it only has only one set of chromosomes as opposed to diploid DNA, of say, blood), so it would be detected and distinguished as such. That leaves saliva and sweat. Breastmilk and vaginal fluid can be excluded for obvious reasons. Urine carries very little DNA, as pure urine also does not contain DNA. (It mainly carries loose cells collected from the urinary tract.)
Presumptively one can test for saliva with the alpha-amylase test. But, where would they have gotten Avery’s saliva? From a swab? (As Zellner implies) Unlikely, the swabs that were taken would have been used in the extraction (lysis) process, where the cotton tip is wholly dumped into a test tube with a solution in, to break the cells open to release the DNA for further downstream processes in the profiling process. Even if they had an extra swab – it would be difficult to transfer any significant amount of DNA from an absorbent and dry swab. If they wettened it, it would have diluted the sample.
Reich declares that blood and saliva are very rich in DNA, which is not necessarily untrue, but it may depend. Blood actually only contains 1% DNA, as of all cells in blood, only white blood cells (WBC) contain DNA – and WBCs constitute only 1% of blood cells. In saliva, it may depend on the amount of loose epithelial buccal cells in the mouth at the time of sampling, as pure saliva does not contain DNA. WBCs contribute significantly to the DNA constitution of saliva.
It is also important to note that contrary to popular belief, pure sweat also does not contain DNA. Sweat simply collects and carries loose epithelial cells from the skin and transfers them onto surfaces. While there is a debate (among a very few) about “shedding” – it can reasonably be understood and accepted that a person who did not shower for a day, who is sweaty and has dry skin, may yield significantly more sweat (or transfer) DNA than that very same person who had a shower recently, and who sits lotioned in an air-conditioned laboratory.
Reich’s experiments to show how unrealistically “high” the DNA quantity under the hood is, by doing laboratory-bound and controlled experiments, are simply not robust and reliable. In a certain set of conditions, sweat can transfer a whole lot of DNA (imagine a man stroking his hands through his sweaty, dandruff-rich hair). Furthermore, an anxious person (i.e. one that just committed a murder and needs to get rid of the body) can sweat profusely, and by virtue of that, the sweat may collect and transfer more DNA onto surfaces than is normally the case. Whatever the case may be, these issues were not explored by the DNA expert. Reich gave Zellner the answers that she wanted.
I actually found their arguments rather self-defeating. It does not seem to be disputed that it was Avery’s DNA under the hood, on the latch, and that the DNA count is high (they use this high count to dispute sweat, so they accept the high count). But, they argue that it was planted on the latch and dispute that it was by sweat transfer. So, that only leaves us with saliva. But, again, where did they get Avery’s saliva from? [Just again, a person that did not bathe or shower recently – whose skin is dry and flaky (i.e with dandruff), and who is sweating profusely, can transfer a lot of DNA by sweat, as the sweat picks up loose epithelial cells from the skin. This is a much more realistic proposition than stealing Avery’s saliva.]
While saliva is routinely used in DNA tests and while it yields enough DNA for that purpose, it is not necessarily and always an incredibly rich source of DNA. DNA in saliva would come from loose buccal epithelial cells and white blood cells – WBC which only constitutes 1% of blood – so while it may be a good source it is not necessarily incredibly rich in DNA. It is quite possible that a cell-rich sweat sample can yield the same (or more) DNA as a saliva sample. A further problem with saliva is that degrading enzymes and bacteria within the sample attack DNA integrity and decrease quality very quickly. (A human’s mouth is full of bacteria – that is why a human bite can be so infectious – bacteria is not good on the integrity of DNA). Therefore, DNA in a saliva sample may not last very long, and a planted sample under the hood may have expired soon in terms of DNA yield. Based on this conspectus of points against saliva, saliva can be ruled out. So too vaginal fluid, breastmilk, and urine. Which leaves us with sweat. So where did they get Avery’s sweat from?
What must be borne in mind is that nearly all DNA in your house, as you read here, was transferred there by sweat. DNA is all over the place because of sweat transfer. Sweat is a popular carrier of DNA. Sweat collects loose cells containing DNA from the skin and carries it onto surfaces. Therefore, sweat transfer onto a latch is not an unreasonable proposition to believe. [Apart from transfer by body fluids, DNA transfer onto surfaces can only happen when loose cells (such as dry skin flakes) fall from the body onto surfaces, and from hair and nail clippings. Retention properties and quantities would be minimal and, therefore, these can also be excluded as the source of the DNA under the hood. Which leaves us with sweat as the most likely candidate.]
Then a particularly weird statement by Karl Reich. He found it an “anomaly” that if Avery was guilty and given that his finger bled, that there was not a mixture of his blood and the victim’s blood. Zellner, theatrically, declares how strange it is that “all her blood was found in the back” and “all his blood in the front” of the vehicle. I would really like to ask both Reich and Zellner: Assuming for the sake of the argument that Avery is guilty, who said he bled at the same time that the body was put in the back of the vehicle? It is quite possible that he could have killed Halbach – chucked her into the back of the vehicle – and then injured himself (but before getting into the vehicle). In fact, it is quite possible that he injured himself minutes or even a few hours later. Nothing about the bloodstains can indicate that they were deposited at the same time, or even close to the same time. Or even hours or days apart. On the assumption that Avery is guilty, it would actually be unlikely that he sustained the incision wound on his finger during the attack – as the victim was unlikely to have had a sharp weapon handy to inflict that incised wound. So, it is very possible that he sustained the wound afterwards; say, when he went into the house after he killed her – in whatever way. We do know that he had a cut on his finger. It is common cause. He could have sustained the wound in the minutes or hours after the murder just as he could have sustained it at any other time. The point is, the fact that there was no mixture of their blood, means absolutely nothing. Also, it is possible that he recurringly and concurrently wiped his finger off on his clothes while he placed her in the back of the vehicle. Things do not always happen as we see it in our heads.
There are some other issues too, especially on the circumstantial side, which I will get to at a later stage, but for now, just a brief but important question to Zellner, and to those that slurp up her every word. Steven Avery himself told anybody who cared to listen, that at some point after the murder, his finger re-bled and that he bled into the sink in the kitchen. He then alleges that the framers (which must be the police) drew his blood up from the sink – and that this blood was used to frame him by planting it in the vehicle. The question is: How did the police know that his finger was going to re-bleed – or that it re-bled at a particular time – and that they needed to stand ready with a syringe pump to quickly go to the sink to draw the blood up? This would also entail breaking into his house – he could have arrived back anytime. How could they know his movements?
The police would also have needed an impossible amount of foresight to move the vehicle around on the Avery property and to burn the victim just about next to Steven Avery’s house without being seen (or fearing to be seen); it was impossible for the police to have had this type of foresight. And it would have needed an incredible amount of luck not to have been seen by the various occupants living on the property, including by Avery himself. Coincidence can be ruled out – they needed to be near Avery when he re-bled in order to have sucked the blood up before it congealed – and how much can a healing wound bleed? The stains in the vehicle suggest a reasonable amount of blood, not only a drop or two. (On Avery’s own argument the “hospital blood” is ruled out as the source of the stain in the car. He said it was blood from his finger after it re-bled.)
Therefore, reader, in the meantime, be careful what you simply believe. Don’t be gullible and be careful to be duped. The fact that a lot of things are said in a one-sided TV documentary, albeit on the mighty Netflix, does not make it true. And yes, the series is one-sided – if it was not, they would not have featured only Kathleen Kellner’s experts; they would have consulted with other experts as well. Otherwise, if it was supposed to be about Zellner and her theories, they could have called it ‘The Zellner Diaries’, or something like that. Even the suggestive name ‘Making a Murderer’ implies it as a fact that Avery was made into a murderer.
When you explore a case like this, you consult wider. Netflix has the resources to do a properly balanced series, but at the moment it seems like they simply want to milk this hopscotching narrative. Why Zellner’s word on this must be seen as the final answer and premise of this series, is actually plain strange.
It is one thing to flaunt “facts” around in a documentary – it is something completely different to defend them in a court of law, under cross-examination. So far I have seen nothing from the Zellner camp that would stand up in court, even under below-par cross-examination.
Zellner may have noble intentions but that does not make her approach or assertions right. The mere fact that she did not even consider that Avery may have opened the vehicle’s door with his left-hand shows us that her investigation cannot be trusted one bit. To use her own words, “If you find one lie like this, …”
Zellner made up her mind, decided on the end-point, and is doing everything in her power to selectively shape and fit the path to the end-point that she had decided upon.
As familial searching is still a relatively new concept and still under much debate and implementation, and since it is applied differently across the world, there is no singular definition for it. But, broadly seen, familial searching revolves around the concept of where an unknown DNA sample is deliberately run through a database in order to find a list of profiles that are genetically similar to the unknown profile and to use this information as an investigative lead to interview family members of the near matches (DNA Project, 2017).
This concept relies on the principle that special inheritance patterns link siblings, parents, children, and other close relatives (Rushton, 2011). A child inherits one set of chromosomes from the father and one from the mother (Goodwin, 2007:20). It can therefore be appreciated that two siblings will share similar alleles and hence have reasonably similar profiles. In the case of identical twins, for example, the profiles are exactly similar.
If an unknown sample is found on, for example, a crime scene and there are no suspects, the first attempt would be to get a direct match, thus a match to somebody on the database. Failing to get such a match, a familial search would deliberately run the profile through the database with the hope of finding a link to someone on the database that may be related to the unknown person (i.e. the source of the crime scene DNA), like a brother or sister, or a parent. The search on the database may yield a list of candidate relatives. Investigators would then locate and interview these candidate relatives in the hope to get information about relatives that may tie in with crime scene information or fit a general profiling description – latter which would be constructed by other information; there may, for example, be some eyewitness accounts that may give some supporting clues, such as hair colour or body type, which may then potentially lead investigators to the perpetrator, or at least to the person who is the source of the crime scene DNA.
Value and Limitations: Debate
Although not formally conducted in all countries, familial searching has been used successfully. In California in the USA, in what is dubbed as the ‘Grim Sleeper’ case – and seen as the first high-profile successful use of the technique – Lonnie Franklin was apprehended after a familial search was conducted. Franklin was linked to 10 murders over a 22 year period after a partial match was discovered via his convicted son’s DNA and DNA from various crime scenes. The familial search was key to sparking the investigation into Franklin who would otherwise not have been identified and apprehended (Grad, 2010).
To explain this: The investigators had DNA from the crime scenes. They did not know to whom the DNA belonged. There was no direct match on the database. After deliberately running the profile through the database, a candidate relative of the perpetrator presented. This candidate relative was a man in prison; that is why his profile was on the database. The investigators then viewed relatives of this man as a person of interest and the investigation then directed focus onto the man’s father. They put the father under surveillance, obtained his discarded pizza, and found that his DNA matched that recovered at a Grim Sleeper crime scene.
Familial searching also has the potential to protect and clear the innocent. Daryl Hunt spent 19 years in prison for the brutal rape and murder of a newspaper editor in 1984, but was freed in 2004 after investigation of a partial match resulted in the confession of another man. It was 10 years after his conviction that DNA indicated that another individual had been involved in the crime, but took another 9 years after the DNA testing a familial search was used to track down the killer. The 1984 sample was run through the North Carolina database a revealed a near match to a convicted felon Anthony Brown. This match indicated that a close relative to Brown rather than Hunt was the real perpetrator. By locating Brown, further investigation led them to Willard Brown, Anthony Brown’s brother. The police obtained Willard Brown’s DNA from a cigarette butt, which confirmed him as the perpetrator – he confessed to the murder. In this case, familial searching ended an injustice that would otherwise not have been corrected (DNA Forensics, 2017).
The intentional search of CODIS for partial matches to an item of evidence offers law enforcement agencies a powerful tool for developing investigative leads, apprehending criminals, revitalising cold cases and exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals (Kim, 2011). However, there are still widespread problems worldwide with the official implementation of familial searching, which raise practical, technical, rights-based, legal and ethical concerns (Rushton, 2011).
When 10 random people were to be stopped and asked their opinion on familial searching, one would probably get 10 different answers. Concerns would mainly revolve around the reliability of the process, privacy and then in particular to what degree DNA is perhaps incorrectly perceived by the public.
Possibly partly due to the ‘CSI effect’ DNA is seen as this ultimate and infallible silver bullet: the impression is created that a perpetrator will always leave DNA behind, and also that whatever DNA is found on a scene, must point to guilt. This may make people afraid to be on databases in case of profiling mistakes. In addition, but coupled to that, the unfortunate reality is that in many countries of the world, and particularly in South Africa, the law enforcement agencies are not always seen as trustworthy. Many high-profile cases have shown up mistakes made by the police, which may have either resulted in a wrongful conviction or a wrongful acquittal. Primarily for these reasons, people are jealous of their DNA (i.e. see it more intimate than e.g. fingerprints) – they don’t simply want it on a database where it can potentially wrongfully implicate them in a crime that they did not commit. These are legitimate concerns. While not all perceptions about the SAPS may be valid, one cannot exclude the possibility of mistakes in the investigative chain and also of malicious intent. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns about familial searches, is that it may over/misdirect an investigation (over-reliance) – thus the investigators start from the “match” and work backward – and only focus on that lead and perhaps neglect other leads and information. This may even lead to malicious investigation and prosecution, essentially based on confirmation bias, where the investigators become so convinced of the guilt of one person that they pursue that person with all their might. They may even for example fabricate evidence to assist their efforts. One may argue that if you are innocent, then you should be able to prove your innocent, but apart from the fact that the onus is not and should not be on the accused (according to South African law) – the might of the State may be too strong to fight. In addition, there may be aspects at play, like prosecutor fallacy – i.e. overstating the strength of the DNA evidence in court. And that since it is a technical field, that judges and jurors do not always understand the evidence. The public is rightfully afraid that these factors may lead to wrongful convictions if their DNA comes into the wrong hands or if there are mistakes along the way.
Other concerns are human rights and privacy. To explore this concern, we need to jump somewhat forward and assume the situation where “innocent” people’s profiles are on databases. What right do we have to involve innocent people in activities, such as criminal activities, in which they had no part? Let’s look at an example: An 80-year-old grandmother, a good citizen, pays her taxes, contributes to society constructively, who has never been involved in any criminal activity. Her profile is on the database because her one son is missing – and she voluntarily submitted her profile on the database in the hope of finding him. Now there is a crime somewhere. DNA from the scene – through a familial search – leads to this old lady – i.e. suggesting that a close relative of her may be the source of the crime scene DNA. Now the question is: Do “we” have the right to barge into her house and demand information that may assist with the investigation? In a perfect world, the answer may seem straightforward – all citizens should simply assist – but a second part to this situation, may prompt us to think differently about it. Whether the mother knows that one of her other sons (even including the missing one) may or not be involved in the crime that the investigators are onto, can we really expect a mother to “split” on a child of her – i.e. to potentially expose a child of hers to arrest and face prosecution? Again, the answer may seem simple, but is it? Will you give up your brother or sister, or your son or daughter up for possible arrest? The law may require that from citizens, but in reality? Especially in a case where you may not even be sure about the relative’s guilt or not, should the pressure be put on a family member to potentially expose the relative to a criminal investigation? Perhaps due to evolutionary programming, family members are generally looking out for each other – and one can imagine that to assist the police to put a family member away for life – even while it is your legal duty to do so – may result in friction in a family, resentment, and feelings of guilt. Whatever the legal position may be, from a reality perspective this must be seen as a potential limitation – albeit resistance to carte blanche admission to databases.
Other concerns: “Living under cloud of suspicion” / “If you refuse, it is a sign of guilt” / Groups that are disproportionally more on databases (Rushton, 2011).
There are other problems and potential limitations of familial searching – among other costs and the development of databases. I will not go into too much detail about that in this essay, as w.r.t. a South African context, this essay focusses more on “who should be on the database, and why?” In order to further debate this issue, let’s briefly look at current South African legislation. Loosely verbatim from 15M #7 of the Government Gazette:
“. . . Familial searching means a technique whereby a forensic DNA profile derive from i) of a missing person, or ii) obtained from a family member of a missing person, is deliberately searched against the Missing Person and Unidentified Human Remains Index and the Crime Scene Index of the NFDD to obtain a list of forensic profiles that are almost similar to the forensic DNA profile derived from a sample referred to in subparagraph i and ii.
The Service may use the results of the familial searches referred to in (a) as an investigative lead, by a specially trained police official to i) interview family members of the near matches; or ii) identify unidentified human remains.
The results of familial searches must be dealt with in a sensitive manner” (Criminal Law (Forensic Procedure) Amendment Act 37 of 2013. 2014).
We can accept that “missing persons” only refers to a person that is not implicated in crime. And that South African legislation only allows searches against the Missing Person and Unidentified Remains Index, but also against the Crime Scene Index – the latter referring to profiles obtained from crime scene samples. Considering that there are six indices in total, including Convicted and Arrestee indices – from a forensic and crime-solving point of view, it would have been good if the latter two indices were included. This is not limited to South Africa alone, but some states in the USA would run against these indices – and in the UK they have no problem adding profiles to the database even on the remotest arrests. They add about 40 000 profiles per year. (Commonwealth countries are silent on familial searching. UK and most of USA and New Zealand have no legislation, NZ only serious cases. Canada expressly forbid it. Dutch, only in specific circumstances.)
So, to debate the issue further from a South African perspective, the question is, when and why and from whom should we include profiles – with familial searching in mind? Should the profile of a man who was arrested for speeding, be put on a searchable index? We have looked at some legitimate concerns and possible limitations earlier, but to critically view this from a South African perspective.
We are living a country where crime is rife. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. With outstanding high rates of rape and murder. In Cape Town area there has been an increase in murders of 40% in 2016 (Etheridge, 2017). Newspapers are full of murders. It is relentless and the practical outcome of this is that South Africans generally live in fear behind barbed wires and high fences. Everybody complains about crime. The government and police, and perhaps rightly so, are blamed. Of course, crime is a complicated matter. The high unemployment rate and poverty cannot be ignored as contributing factors. However, as science developed we are now presented with an opportunity (in the form of familial searching) to help fight crime. We must remember, familial searching would not only help to find criminals, but the use of it may also act as a deterrent. But there is resistance. Human rights. Invasion of privacy. And so on. Again, these are legitimate concerns, but the question is, what are we willing to sacrifice for a safer environment – or do we want to continue sitting behind our high fences and just complain about crime? Being unsafe is perhaps not a choice of our own – but improving safety is.
However, to juxtaposition all of this, and although not familial, though somewhat similar in concept, the following real-life example does touch on and ask the same ethical questions.
Over a thirty-year period a man killed at least 10 people in Kansas, with letters signed BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill). As police developed a case against Dennis Raider, they obtained a court order for a pap smear his daughter had given years earlier at a university medical clinic. Investigators compared an STR profile of the clinic specimen (thus of the daughter) with DNA from the BTK crime scenes. Through reverse paternity (statistical) testing, the investigators concluded that the daughter (who did not even know about the testing and thus also did not give consent) was most likely the child of the killer. Raider confessed and pled guilty to the murders (Nakashima, 2008).
Obviously, as many would agree, the outcome is great, but how ethical is it?
The way forward?
Ways to overcome these fears of the public is through education. People should know that while DNA can be extremely valuable evidence, it is only part of an investigation. It will be tested through a legal process. They should learn that even respecting Locard’s principle, it is not to say a perpetrator will always specifically leave DNA evidence behind on a scene, and even if they do, that it may not have been collected by the investigators. But more importantly in the context that we are dealing with, DNA on a scene does not mean that the owner of the DNA committed the crime, even that the owner was there – secondary transfer can transfer your DNA to a place that you have not been to. Other evidence, such as circumstantial evidence (i.e. alibi) must also be considered. People should be educated about DNA – but also of the investigative and legal processes. But with this in mind, faith must be restored in our criminal justice and legal systems. The public must trust the system and that there would not be a misappropriation of their DNA. Quality systems must be implemented and followed. The process must be transparent and performed responsibly. Parameters must be defined clearly by legislation, and they must be communicated to the public. Formal mechanisms of oversight must be implemented and an independent body must oversee processes. Science and technology parameters must be set. There must be a high level of discretion applied during investigations, and investigators must be well-trained (Rushton, 2011).
Familial searching must be sold as only an investigative tool exclusively used to create leads and only used when other methods have been exhausted.
Following is my pro bono Opinion requested by and for true-crime author Nick van der Leek, who has written and published various eBooks on the case. This Opinion was provided in 2018.
Problem Statement: The decedent had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of sampling (i.e. at autopsy). Does this BAC infer actual ingestion or is it possibly the result of postmortem synthesis?
On 13 August 2018 at approximately 13:40, Nicole Utoft reported her friend Shanann Watts missing. Nicole stated that she dropped Shanann off at her residence at around 01:48 (the morning of 13 Aug) after Shanann returned from a business trip to Arizona. Nicole stated that Shanann was fifteen weeks pregnant at the time and was not feeling well during the trip.
Later that morning, Nicole became concerned because Shanann was not answering her cellphone calls or text messages and because Shanann also missed her doctor’s appointment that was scheduled for 10 am. Nicole went to Shanann’s residence and discovered her car in the garage. Nicole attempted to open the front door but a latch prevented it from opening.
Nicole called Shanann’s husband Christopher Watts, and requested him to come to check on Shanann as she believed Shanann may be suffering or was passed out due to some medical condition.
Officer Coonrod, who was called by Nicole, checked all the windows and doors and rear slider door and discovered all to be locked and that there was no way into the house. Officer Coonrod contacted Chris, who said that he was not working and that he was only five minutes away and on his way. When Chris arrived, Officer Coonrod entered the home in an attempt to locate Shanann and their two children but discovered that they were not there.
When questioned by Officer Coonrod, Chris said that Shanann arrived home from her business trip at around 02:00 am (the morning of 13 Aug). Chris stated that he woke up at around 5 am and began talking to Shanann about martial separation and that he wanted to initiate a separation. According to Chris, this was a civil conversation, and that while it was an emotional conversation, they did not argue.
Chris stated that he left the house that morning at about 05:30 and that Shanann was in bed at the time. A neighbour’s video surveillance system recorded this event. Chris stated that Shanann told him that she would be going to a friend’s house later that day with their two children but did not know the name of the friend. Chris stated that he went to a job site near Hudson to check in.
At Officer Coonrod’s request, Detective Baumhover responded to the scene and arrived at the scene at approximately 14:30 (13 Aug). Upon arrival, Detective Baumhover was briefed by Officer Coonrod and learned that Shanann’s personal effects, such as her cellphone, purse, wallet, and medication were located in the house. Upon entering the house, Detective Baumhover observed Shanann’s purse on a kitchen counter and a suitcase located at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bedroom. A pair of women’s shoes were located close to the front door. Upstairs, Detective Baumhover observed that the bed in the master’s bedroom was stripped of its bedding, which was lying on the floor. Both Officer Coonrod and Detective Baumhover checked the bedding for foul play but found nothing to suggest as much. In a loft area, they located Shanann’s cellphone between two cushions of a sofa in the loft area.
On Detective Baumhover’s request, Chris walked them through the timeline again. He now stated that while Shannan arrived at around 2 am, they had the emotional conversation at about 4 am.
The neighbour’s video footage shows Nicole’s vehicle departing from the Watts residence at 01:48 am (Nicole dropped Shanann off at the house after fetching her from the airport). The video footage also shows Chris’s truck backing into the driveway at around 05:27, leaving a few minutes later.
The next day, 14 August, at approximately 07:00, Detective Baumhover learned that Shanann and the children had not returned to the residence. Detective Baumhover requested an immediate press release to be issued and initiated assistance from CBI and ultimately the FBI.
A two-day investigation revealed that Chris was actively involved in an affair with a co-worker, which he denied in the previous interviews.
Chris confessed that after he told Shanann that he wanted a separation, he walked downstairs for a moment, and when he returned, he saw their one child sprawled out on her bed, blue in the face, and that Shanann was actively strangling their other child. Chris said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death. He then loaded all three bodies on the back of his work truck and took them to an oil work site where he buried Shanann near two oil tanks and dumped the girls inside the tanks.
Chris was presented with an aerial photograph of the tank battery area and identified three separate locations in which he placed the bodies.
Drone searches were executed over the area. At approximately 16:15 on 14 August, investigators spotted a bedsheet in the field near the tank battery. The sheet matched the pattern of several pillowcases and a top sheet recovered from a kitchen trash can from the Watts residence earlier that day. The drone search also revealed the fresh movement of dirt, consistent with a clandestine grave, near the oil tanks.
Information from the aggregate Autopsy Report
Date and Time of Death: 00:05 – 16 August 2018 (pronounced dead)
Date and Time of Autopsy: 10:30 – 17 August 2018
I — History of being reported missing and subsequently being found unresponsive in an obvious state of death in a shallow grave
I-A — Asphyxiation due to manual strangulation
I-A-1 — Bruising of the anterior strap muscles of the neck (right and left)
I-B — Mild to moderate decomposition consisting of generalized discoloration, bloating, and skin slippage
II — History of intrauterine pregnancy, second trimester
II-A — Largely decomposed fetus and placental unit
No sign of Shannan and children Baumhover initiated searches
Drone searches Grave spotted
Pronounced dead (body found)
Autopsy / Sampling
Table 1 – Timeline of key events
Time of Shannan’s death (strangulation) = Between 02:00 and 5:00 – 13 August 2018
The neigbour’s video surveillance system is important in this regard. This showed Chris’s truck pull into the driveway at 05:27 and leaving shortly thereafter. As far as is known, the video footage did not show his truck after 05:27 and before he arrived back at the house at 13:40–14:00 on 13 August. It can therefore be assumed that the Time of Death (TOD) was between 02:00 and 05:27 the morning of 13 August 2018.
For the purpose of this report the TOD will be assumed as ±05:00.
Time of recovery of body (pronouncement of death) = 00:05 – 16 August 2018
Time of recovery of body after TOD = 67 hours.
Time of autopsy = 10:30 – 17 August 2018
Time of autopsy after TOD = 101 hours
Time of autopsy after recovery of body = 34 hours
Postmortem BAC Scenarios
Assuming Shannan arrived intoxicated at the house at 02:00 and had nothing further to drink after arrival and between arrival and TOD at 05:00. Assuming thus that the BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ reflects the BAC at the time of death: What was her BAC at the time of arrival to have had a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 ml at the time of death?
— Shannon consumed wine (based on history provided) [1 unit = 1 glass wine (125 mℓ)]
— Elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ / hour (average for women)
What she consumed and absorption is not relevant here as the alcohol is already in the system and we are assuming a known BAC. The amount of food (or any other liquid) she may have consumed during this time is also not relevant as this will not influence the elimination rate.
02:00 – 03:00
0.173 minus 0.015
03:00 – 04:00
0.158 minus 0.015
04:00 – 05:00
0.143 minus 0.015
Table 2 – Backward estimation of the BAC – from an end and known BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at time of sampling
Working back based on an elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ hour, Shanann needed to have had a BAC of approximately 0.173 g / 100 mℓ at the time of arrival at the house to have had a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at 05:00. This is assuming she stopped consuming alcohol at 02:00.
As can be seen from Table 3, if Shannan had a BAC of 0.173 g / 100 mℓ (17.3%) when she arrived home, she would have been visibly intoxicated and subjective effects would have been clear.
Shannan arrived with a BAC of 0 g / 100 mℓ at the house at 02:00 and then started to consume alcohol. How much did she need to consume between 02:00 and 05:00 to have a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of her death at 05:00?
— Elimination of 1 unit per hour (0.015 g / 100 mℓ / hour) after the first hour and the same during every hour after the first hour. She arrives at the house with a BAC of 0 g / 100 mℓ.
Consumption of Units per Hour (1 Unit = 125 mℓ Glass of Wine = 0.02 g / 100 mℓ)
Intake & Elimination
02:00 – 03:00
Plus 2 Units Intake
03:00 – 04:00
Plus 3 Units Intake
Minus 1 Unit Elimination
04:00 – 05:00
Plus 3 Units Intake
Minus 1 Unit Elimination
Table 4 – BAC increase from 02:00 to 05:00 if consumption started at 02;00 from a BAC of Zero
With reference to Table 4, this means that Shanann had to consume approximately 8 glasses of wine in 3 hours to have ended up with a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of her death.
Opinion & Conclusion
To interpret postmortem toxicology results is a complicated process and should be done with great caution. Although alcohol is hydrophilic (thus water-soluble) and distributes equally throughout the body’s water content, unequal distribution to different body parts can take place – i.e. more into the blood and vitreous humor than into organs with greater fat content, like the liver. The time and intensity of consumption is also a consideration. If the decedent ingested a great volume of alcohol shortly before death, it is possible that not all ingested alcohol absorbed into the bloodstream by the time of death and after death may have stayed trapped in the stomach, from where it can diffuse to surrounding organs, leading to elevated and disproportional concentrations in these organs. For this reason, the site from where the sample for analysis was taken is also a consideration, as different sites may yield different results.
After death, postmortem processes alter and corrupt the body, among other leading to lowered pH levels. Autolysis, the self-digestion of cells, is followed by putrefaction when chemical processes further alter the body, which may lead to confusing postmortem results.
For these reasons, non-analytical evidence – i.e. history and context – should be considered in cases of ambiguous results.
Based on the history provided, it would be reasonable to assume that the decedent did not consume any alcohol before arriving at the house at approximately 02:00 on the morning of 13 August. While a depressive or “defeated” state can lead to increased alcohol consumption even among non-regular alcohol consumers, at least two friends stated that even while being anxious and depressed about her marital problems, she did not consume any alcohol at the business function and also not at the dinner they had before the three-hour flight over midnight. It is also unlikely that an airline would serve alcohol on late-night flights. In addition, existing video footage shows the decedent arriving at the house, carrying her suitcase, and that she did not appear to be intoxicated.
Perhaps the best evidence that the decedent did not either arrive intoxicated at the house or consumed alcohol between 02:00 and 05:30, is the statements by her husband (the accused). In neither his first oral statement to Officer Coonrod (which must have been between 13:40 and 14:00) nor during the interview with Detective Baumhover (which must have been shortly after 02:00) did the accused state that the decedent consumed any alcohol. However, more significantly, when the accused confessed that he strangled the decedent because he went into a rage after seeing the decedent strangling their two daughters, he also did not state that she was intoxicated at the time of their argument or of the alleged strangulation of the daughters by the decedent. On this premise, given the context, if the decedent did act irrationally (to such extent that she would strangle their children to death) mentioning during the confession that she was intoxicated, would have counted in the accused’s favour.
However, for the sake of the argument and perspective, if the decedent died with a BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at 05:00 on 13 August, and an elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ / hour is assumed, the decedent had to have arrived at home with a BAC of 0.173 g / 100 mℓ, which is a considerable high level where subjective effects would have been evident. This is not in agreement with provided history and eyewitness statements.
On the premise that the decedent arrived completely sober at the house at 02:00 and then started to consume alcohol, based on the Mellanby effect whereby the BAC peaks after approximately one hour of consumption after which there is a fixed elimination rate of 0.015 g / 100 mℓ per hour, and that the decedent consumed wine, the decedent would have needed to consume approximately 8 glasses of wine in three hours. Apart from the fact that this would seem out of character behaviour, it would have been considerable consumption for a lean woman on an empty stomach and without developed tolerance to alcohol consumption. Her motor skills would have been significantly compromised at a BAC level of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ.
While it would be safe to include postmortem fermentation (postmortem synthesis) as the likely cause of the BAC at the time of sampling on an elimination basis, the following factors need to be considered.
If a dead body is exposed to temperatures higher than 5oC, postmortem processes will have greater potential to ensue. While cooling the body may slow these processes down considerably, even halting them, cooling does not eliminate decomposition completely. It must also be borne in mind that before the body is placed in the fridge, there is exposure to ambient temperature and also in the hours before autopsy when the body is prepared for autopsy and sampling.
In this case, in order to consider the possibility of postmortem fermentation, the two most significant variables to consider are postmortem interval time and temperature over this period. From historical weather data it appears that from the morning of 13 August until the discovery of the body (i.e. declaration of death) at 00:05 on 16 August, the temperature in the relevant area ranged from 8 to 31oC, with mostly sunny days. Given the time-lapse of 67 hours from the assumed time of death (at 5:00 on 13 August) until the declaration of death (when the body was not in cooling yet) at 00:05 on 16 Augusts, and given the average temperature of approximately 20oC (with higher peaks up to 31oC) over this period, in terms of temperature and time, conditions would have been most suitable for the rapid advancement of postmortem processes. However, whatever the conditions may have been, it is clear from the autopsy report that at the time of autopsy, generalized discolouration, bloating and skin slippage have been observed. Therefore, postmortem processes – notably putrefaction – were in progress.
For fermentation to occur, glucose and microbes (i.e. bacteria and yeast) are necessary. Glucose is prevalent in many organs of the body and the cecum is infested with bacteria, and during the postmortem process, especially under temperate conditions and in the presence of air, fermentation is very likely to occur.
Intestinal bacteria can penetrate the intestinal walls after death and can be distributed through the bloodstream via the hepatic portal vein and intestinal lymph system as long as the body temperature exceeds 5oC. For postmortem synthesis to occur, the body must be at 5oC or higher for longer than 4 hours (O’Neal & Poklis, 1996).
Although the body was buried for most of the postmortem period (until discovery), and while bodies in graves take approximately 8 times longer to decompose than in the open, the shallow grave in sandy soil would have allowed enough aeration for decomposition to advance. The thin layer of sand covering the body would have lowered the exposed temperature but it would have been considerably more than 5oC, and therefore still conducive for bacterial proliferation and the advancement of postmortem processes.
According to authoritative pathologist Bernard Knight, under the right conditions, fermentation can lead to elevated alcohol concentrations hours after death, and makes reference to a referenced case where a BAC of 0.15 g / 100 mℓ was observed in a postmortem case, where it was known that there was no antemortem alcohol consumption (Saukko & Knight, 2008).
In their article ‘Postmortem production of Ethanol and factors that influence interpretation’ O’Neal & Poklis (1994) make reference to several cases where postmortem synthesis has led to elevated blood alcohol concentrations. They make reference to a study by Bonnichsen et al. (1953), where a 3-month old infant found not more than 6 hours after death, showed significant ethanol concentration in blood, liver, kidney, and spleen – of 0.235, 0.112, 0.107, and 0.111 g / 100 mℓ respectively (this also shows how the site of sampling can yield different results). They also make reference to a study by Jones et al. (1991) where a 73-year old woman who died from a car crash, had a BAC of 0.053 g / 100 mℓ (it was reported that it was highly unlikely that the decedent consumed any alcohol prior to the crash) (O’Neal & Poklis, 1996). A review of studies of actual postmortem cases revealed that a range of 12–57% of ethanol positive cases was attributed to postmortem synthesis. When all postmortem cases positive for ethanol were surveyed, 12% were the result of postmortem synthesis (Caplan, 1990). When the cases were limited to only to decomposed bodies, the percentage rises to 20% (Zumwalt, 1984; Gilliland, 1993).
While there is no direct correlation between the in vitro cultivation of microbes and ethanol production, it is generally accepted that if no microbes are found in the specimen, the source of the ethanol is ingestion (assuming that the microbes responsible for postmortem synthesis survived long enough to be cultured) (O’Neal & Poklis, 1996). In forensic work, this is not so easy to determine as few laboratories cultivate microbes routinely. In this case, as discussed previously, the case history does not suggest antemortem ingestion.
Certain conditions may raise the microbe level, such as starvation and physical exertion, when the pH rises, leading to increased microbial proliferation and thus potentially increased postmortem synthesis.
When ethanol is absorbed from the stomach, it distributes throughout the body according to the water content of the various tissues and fluids. For this reason, the site of sampling is important to consider as the water content in different tissues varies. It is not clear why the spleen was preferred as sampling site, and although it is often routinely used as sampling site in postmortem cases, if vitreous humor were sampled, a different BAC may have been observed, as vitreous humor is more isolated (and thus less influenced by postmortem redistribution and diffusion) and contains no bacteria. The point being, that the BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ at the time of autopsy, is not necessarily representative of either real ingestion or real postmortem synthesis.
Lastly, although it cannot be stated with any certainty or as fact, after sampling degradation of the sample and postmortem synthesis can take place in the test tubes if storage conditions are not adequate, or if sampling was not done correctly. For the purpose of this report and opinion it is assumed that the headspace gas chromatography method of analysis was done correctly and that the result can be trusted as a true reflection of the ethanol concentration of the sample at the time of sampling, whatever the source of the ethanol was.
Conclusion: Given the history of the unlikely digestion of alcohol prior to death, the 67 hours the body was exposed to temperate conditions, plus (to a lesser extent) the 36 hours after discovery until autopsy, and the evidence of bloating at autopsy (which suggests microbial presence and activity), it is not only possible but highly likely that fermentation and thus postmortem synthesis of alcohol could have taken place. There is no reason to exclude this possibility. A level of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ is a high BAC level, but the conditions would have been extremely suitable and conducive for the postmortem synthesis of ethanol, I order to produce said BAC.
Based on the reason explained in this report, it can be stated with a high degree of confidence that the 0.128 g / mℓ BAC was the result of postmortem synthesis in the body and/or in the collection tubes.
Additional Note: Although the decedent suffered from lupus and fibromyalgia, not enough information is known to consider the influence this may have had on the postmortem synthesis – such as the severity of the conditions and medication she may have been on, or if she had episodes of flare-ups close to the time of death (which may have aided corruption of the postmortem body). Although not entirely relevant, the expelled fetus was most likely the result of pressure on the lower abdomen due to bloating, which exerted pressure on the uterus. The manner in which she was buried (kneeling forward) would have contributed to the pressure on the uterus. It is unlikely that the fetus contributed to the BAC in the spleen as diffusion from the uterus to the spleen must have taken place, and there are various barriers to be crossed. It is also not known when the fetus was expelled, but that would likely have happened as bloating ensued (and the time of bloating would have been the most likely and prolific time of synthesis). Since the biology of a pregnant woman may be altered, the general condition of the body may have been conducive for increased synthesis, but this cannot be stated with any certainty, and therefore neither the medical conditions nor the pregnancy and presence of a fetus were deemed supplementary factors that contributed to the BAC of 0.128 g / 100 mℓ in the spleen at the time of sampling. The postmortem 0.128 g / 100 mℓ BAC due to postmortem synthesis is possible in perfectly healthy (and un-pregnant) individuals who were exposed to suitable conditions for postmortem synthesis. In this case, conditions were most suitable and conducive for the postmortem synthesis of ethanol.
Gilliland, M.G.F. & Bost, R.O. 1993. Alcohol in decomposed bodies, postmortem synthesis and distribution. Journal of Forensic Science. 1266–74.
O’Neal, C.L., Poklis, A. 1996. Postmortem production of ethanol and factors that influence interpretation. American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology.
Zumwalt, R.E., Bost, R.O., Sunshine, I. 1982. Evaluation of ethanol concentrations in decomposed bodies. Journal of Forensic Science. 27:549–54.
Another Triple Murder
On 27 January 2015 Martin, Teresa, and Rudi van Breda were brutally killed in their house in an upmarket security estate near Stellenbosch South Africa. Henri van Breda, one of three siblings in the family, stood trial on their murder and was convicted of their murders in 2018.
The lengthy and thorough investigation by Thomas Mollett & Calvin Mollett, is documented in Oscar vs the Truth – a full-colour A4 landscape book with over 500 crime-scene and other relevant photos and illustrations, and 80K words.
Page through Oscar vs the Truth further below.
Some key points:
1. We physically show evidence that was not properly presented in court, i.e. on which Oscar was not put under cross-examination. Such as the damage to the bedroom door and the indented steel plate in the bathroom.
2. We convincingly show that Reeva was re-dressed after the shooting incident.
3. We point out aspects of the poor autopsy performed by the State forensic pathologist, who had missed a crucial wound at the back of Reeva’s arm.
4. By digital reconstruction we point out how improbable Oscar’s were on, for example, moving the fans, and his movement in “pitch darkness”. In fact, we show why the room would not have been pitch dark at all.
5. We look at various wounds that cannot be reconciled with the shooting event.
6. We analysed the sound dynamics and explain why the Stipps (the neighbours ±70 m across from the bathroom), would have been in a better position to hear screams than even the right-next-door neighbours, and why the Stipps’s testimony should have been accepted above anybody else’s.
7. We explain the sequence of bat vs gun sounds and that why the bat sounds were before the gunshots.
8. We tested many of his versions practically and found them to be unviable, i.e. leaning over the door to retrieve the key.
9. We convincingly show that there was blood outside the toilet before he broke the toilet’s door open.
10. By crime-scene photos we show how disturbed the scene was, indicating a fight that evening.
And much more . . .
Subscribe to the Murder UncuteChannel and get both print-replica (PDF) eBooks of Oscar vs the Truth and The Bloodied Bride FREE in the Video Pool. Videos already in the Video Pool include: Henri van Breda; Rob Packham; Michael Peterson. Many more videos to come out in 2021.
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About the Investigators/Authors:
Thomas Mollett – BSc. (Stell) & MPhil: Biomedical Forensic Science (UCT) (i.p.) Calvin Mollett – BSc. Civil Eng (UCT) & M. Eng Cum Laude (Stell)
Herewith some key points pertaining to the investigation of the murder of Anni Dewani – by Thomas Mollett & Calvin Mollett (authors of Oscar vs the Truth & the Bloody Lies series), as documented in The Bloodied Bride.
1. The primary aim of our investigation was not to go into peripheral issues and personalities, but primarily to TEST Shrien Dewani’s versions because it has never been done before (since he chose not to testify).
2. We explore the question of whether Anni was shot by accident or with intent. We argue, based on established context, that even if she was shot by “accident”, it still does not mean there was not an intention to shoot her at a later stage. In our opinion and based on an unfolding picture, she became a nuisance as she went berserk on the back seat, and while trying to contain her (as she was not restrained by ropes or handcuffs), she was shot by accident in the process, or they just decided “up to here and no further”, shot her to shut her up, took the money (where it was agreed to be left in the pouch), and left into the dark. They already had the money, so couldn’t be bothered further, leaving Anni behind dead or alive. The bigger question remains, was it done on the behest of Shrien?
3. We argue that it was not a “botched” robbery or hijack as there was no intervention by the police or anybody else. They (Qwabe and Mngeni) stopped where they wanted to, did what they did and wanted to do, and left. Nothing went “wrong”. They had all the time in the world. They actually probably did not even care if Anni was dead. They had the money and had no further business with Shrien. What was Shrien going to them if they did not kill Anni, assuming he was behind it all?
4. If it was a planned robbery (that went wrong) the planning and execution would have been much different. Why not just stop the car, take what they wanted, and leave? Why the wild rendezvous, i.e. to throw Tongo out, drive back to Khayelitsha, let Shrien unharmed out of the car, etc.? Even Anni’s expensive ring was still in the car. If the intention was to rob them, why not leave the car until they had found the ring? We sternly beg the question, if it was not a botched robbery, then what was it?
5. There is also no evidence of any intention to rape Anni or to abduct her for ransom (a thing Judge Traverso strangely and irrationally played on).
6. A strong point that we lifted out is that Tongo (the taxi driver) could not have had enough information and foresight to plan a robbery in Guguletu specifically – as he could not have known where Shrien (on his own version) made the dinner booking and whether he would have the money with him. Shrien could have made the booking in Hout Bay. For their plan to work, they had to go on the N2 to go past Gugulethu. Cellphone records show that there was no interaction between Shrien and Tongo from 12 pm till Tongo picked them up from the hotel – so Tongo had to know their plans by ±1 pm already in order to go to Khayelitsha to arrange with Qwabe and Mngeni to “hijack” the car at a specific point in Gugulethu. He could only have obtained that information from Shrien Dewani, which would have ensured that they drive on the N2 and past Gugulethu that evening – to a specific spot that was arranged that afternoon after 1 pm already, by Tongo with Qwabe and Mngeni, in Khayelitsha.
7. One of the key elements of our investigation revolves around a recorded transcription of a meeting that Shrien had with the Hindocha family and his own brother one week after the incident, just after he was implicated. The meeting was secretly taped by Anni’s cousin. Compared to later versions (proven by CCTV, cellphone records, etc.) and against his Plea Statement, Shrien blatantly lied to them. At that stage, he did not know what the cellphone records and CCTV evidence would later reveal. So, at the time, he told them a lot of things that were simply not true and more so, omitted crucial details about especially the Friday night and the Saturday morning. In cases, he made up other stories instead, to cover certain time periods (e.g. that he and Anni went walking late Saturday morning, while he actually went to the money exchanger at that time). It is abundantly, objectively, and provably clear that he concealed his interactions with the taxi driver Tongo.
8. Shrien said (and this is also in his Plea Explanation) that he made a call to Tongo from Surfside’s men’s room since the sound was too loud in the restaurant. But in the men’s room the signal was bad and the sound from the restaurant too loud. Firstly, the toilet is some distance from the restaurant (via a corridor with three walls between the restaurant and the restrooms), and if the signal was that bad and it was that noisy, why still talk to Tongo for 93 sec before going out to meet him outside?
9. In his Plea Explanation, what it comes down to is that on this Saturday night they would now go on a wild ride to pay a phantom pilot for the surprise helicopter trip for Anni. So, Anni is obviously not supposed to know about the trip. Yet, on his own version, the 10K was in Anni’s handbag! How were they supposed to meet and pay the pilot with Anni being with them, while the trip was supposed to be a surprise for Anni? It makes no sense at all. Why not meet the pilot at the hotel the next day while Anni was not around? Why arrange a helicopter trip through a taxi driver and not through the hotel’s concierge service or at the helicopter companies that were not more than 10 min walk from the hotel?
10. We investigated the sequence of events as per telephone records and CCTV footage, which shows plotting – especially at Surfside after things went wrong the first time through Gugulethu. They had to regroup. We made a critical discovery on which Judge Traverso incorrectly worked – without going into too much detail now – where she was under the impression that Mbolombo was speaking to Qwabe on the phone where he was, in fact, speaking to Tongo, which makes a material difference in understanding what happened that evening.
11. We carefully analysed cellphone records and show what influence the fact that Surside’s CCTV’s times and cellphone recorded times were not synchronised as BBC Panorama assumed and used to make certain deductions and allegations. And on which Judge Traverso incorrectly worked.
12. By using a similar car (VW Sharan) we practically show how impossible it would have been for Shrien to have gotten out of the car’s back window as he said he did (he had three versions: he was “pulled out”; “pushed out”; and he was “rolled out like a roly-poly”).
13. After having visited the scene at 11 pm ourselves, we also point out/ask why Shrien chose not to stay in safe sight (right under the street lamps in a rather busy street) after he was “ejected” totally unharmed from the car, but rather wasted time veering off into a block of houses to only 7–10 minutes later “ask for help”. Why would they just let him out of the car – while he could have identified them later? By footage, we show how spotless and uninjured Shrien was after the ejection ordeal.
14. We provably show how Shrien’s version changed over time and especially after he was implicated. First, it was Anni’s idea to go back to Gugulethu to go and check the nightlife out – after he was implicated, it all changed – then it became Tongo’s idea.
15. We argue/ask why would Tongo plead/confess to premeditated murder if it was a “robbery gone wrong”. If you did not intend to kill somebody (i.e. a robbery that had gone wrong), it is not murder but at most dolus eventualis, which would have carried a lesser sentence than 25 years minus the 7 years discount. When Tongo confessed there was no deal on the table. Ditto for Qwabe.
16. We argue that it makes no sense that blame was put on Shrien to make SA look better if a foreigner was rather behind it – it would rather sour bilateral relationships by trying to implicate a foreign visitor. More so a bereaved husband. The NPA went through extraordinary lengths to get Shrien extradited to SA, over a long period of time, and this just to “save SA’s face”?
17. While not going too much into it we touch on the sexuality issue and argue that it was wrong of the judge to not allow it to be explored during the trial. It was not about Shrien’s sexuality, it was about the double-life and secretive aspect that went with it – that could have provided probable motive. Whether with men or women, how can extramarital relationships or interactions not be deemed relevant to explore in a murder case? We cite similar cases where this aspect was deemed relevant.
18. We go into footage of two meetings between Tongo and Shrien (one which was omitted by BBC Panorama and Newling) and in a special way show how Tongo certainly got more than R1 000 during their covert meeting in the Internet room – and ask, if so, why?
19. We explored why it took Shrien four years to come up with the helicopter trip explanation for the money in the car, as the story of the helicopter trip emerged for the first time during the trial. And we uncovered where he got this idea from and the disturbing role BBC Panorama and author Dan Newling played in it. Which is a story within a story.
20. Why would Shrien, a man of luxury, who was about to stay in one of the best hotels in the world and had just flown first class from Johannesburg Airport, suddenly take a ride with an old VW Sharan from the airport while he could have used the hotel’s luxury shuttle transport? Also going out to dinner that night – he lied that the hotel’s shuttle service would only take you to certain restaurants (on a “list” – confirmed to us as being untrue). This was conjured up to explain why he used Tongo’s services and not the hotel’s.
21. Why would Shrien tip the hotel staff (which he did not really use) R15 000 but gave Tongo a measly R1 000 for his services? He hardly had any interaction with the hotel staff and hardly used any of their services.
22. We worked out that based on the 7 000 GBP (as per his Admissions) that Shrien brought to SA, deducting known expenses, there would have been 5 000 GBP left (about R50 000) the day he left back to the UK, the same day he covertly paid Tongo in the Internet room. Enough for Tongo, who also lied about how much he got because it would look bad if he got, say, 50K and the other conspirators only 10K.
23. We argue that while Judge Traverso believed no word coming from Tongo’s mouth, she simply believed that he earned (i.e. 30K a month) because he said so, and based on that she decided that he would not have participated in this plot for such little money – but who knows what he actually got as income (i.e. in salary and tips)? We also point out for how little money you can hire somebody in SA to kill on your behalf.
24. A popular argument by Shrien supporters is that Tongo targeted the Dewani’s as rich tourists (to rob them) – BUT, he could not have known they were rich tourists. They landed in Cape Town on a domestic flight, plus looked very informal. No bling. The fact is also, Shrien approached Tongo, not the other way round.
25. We by no means deny that Mngeni, Qwabe, and Tongo (and to some degree Mbolombo) were all liars, but there is a common thread in their testimonies – but most importantly, they were tested under cross-examination – Shrien Dewani not. Therefore, we tested his versions. We found that over and above all the varying statements, whether to the police or media, his own Plea Explanation does not make a “robbery” possible, as Tongo could not have known where he made the dinner booking and whether he would have the money with him.
26. A colour and illustrative section complements the text section and contains some interesting and valuable footage. (Like trying to get out of the car through the back window, etc.) This eBook weaves the abovementioned points into a coherent narrative.
Buy Oscar vs the Truth eBook only, for 5 USD here (75 ZAR / 3 GBP) here – Get Zoom videos of with it
Buy The Bloodied Bride eBook only, for 3 GBP (75 ZAR / 5 USD) here – Get Zoom videos of with it
Buy the OVTT/TBB set for 100 ZAR (7 USD / 5 GBP) here – Get Zoom videos of both with it
Join the Murder Uncut Facebook page here, to be notified of cases that will be discussed there and on this website. One of the big cases to be discussed and produced into a video soon by Thomas Mollett, is the Steven Avery case (“Making a murderer”).
About the Investigators/Authors:
Thomas Mollett – BSc. (Stell) & MPhil: Biomedical Forensic Science (UCT) (i.p.) Calvin Mollett – BSc. Civil Eng (UCT) & M. Eng Cum Laude (Stell)
Is it possible to remove blood and DNA to an untraceable degree from a blood-stained ornamental hammer?
Thomas Mollett – October 2020
Disclaimer: This is not an academic article, but merely a discussion document – albeit with a conclusion rendered. Hence, it mainly consists of verbatim extracts from literature sources, put in inverted commas. Where “[. . .]” is indicated, it shows that an irrelevant part has been removed for the purpose of brevity, but, while in no recognised style, reference is made to the original source. All underscoring, italics, and bolding were added by the author of this discussion document.
Assuming, for the purpose of the discussion, and on the premise that the hammer shown below has been used in an attack on a victim by multiple blows on the victims head, the question that this discussion document serves to explore is whether it is possible to clean such an object with cleaning agents to the extent that:
Luminol, as a presumptive test, will either show an inconclusive reaction and/or no reaction at all, after being treated with Luminol specifically; and
Whether it is possible to remove all of the victim’s DNA from the object – not only to be unable to yield full profiles, but that physically no DNA of the victim can be found on such an object after a cleansing process.
1. What is Luminol?
1.1 “Luminol is frequently used as a searching or enhancement method at the crime scene. The test is based on the ability of the luminol molecule to be oxidized by the reaction of sodium perborate with an oxidizing agent such as hemoglobin (or other strong oxidizers such as iron, bleach, cleaning agents, and some foodstuffs).” – Marilyn T. Miller, Ed. 2018. In Crime Scene Investigation Laboratory Manual (Second Edition). Source
1.2 “The body requires iron for the synthesis of its oxygen transport proteins, in particular hemoglobin and myoglobin, and for the formation of heme enzymes and other iron-containing enzymes involved in electron transfer and oxidation-reductions. Almost two-thirds of the body iron is found in the hemoglobin present in circulating erythrocytes [red blood cells], 25% is contained in a readily mobilizable iron store, and the remaining 15% is bound to myoglobin in muscle tissue and in a variety of enzymes involved in the oxidative metabolism and many other cell functions.” – N. Abbaspour et al., 2014. ‘Review on iron and its importance for human health’. Source
1.3 “Luminol solution reacts with blood to produce light. The luminol solution contains both luminol (C8H7N3O2) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The hydrogen peroxide reacts with the iron in blood to produce oxygen. This oxygen then reacts with the luminol, changing the structure of the molecule and temporarily adding energy. When energy is added to molecules, it is often absorbed by electrons (tiny charged particles). By absorbing the energy and becoming “excited,” the electrons move to a higher energy level. Then, when the electrons return to their natural, “unexcited” level, they release the energy as visible light.” – Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 2007. Source
1.4. “Hemoglobin is the protein inside red blood cells. It carries oxygen. Red blood cells also remove carbon dioxide from your body, transporting it to the lungs for you to exhale.” – University of Rochester Medical Centre, 2020. ‘What are red blood cells?’ Source
2.Why Luminol reacts with Blood
2.1 “Iron is an essential element for blood production. About 70 percent of your body’s iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood called hemoglobin and in muscle cells called myoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. Myoglobin, in muscle cells, accepts, stores, transports, and releases oxygen.” – UCFS Health, 2020. ‘Hemoglobin and function of Iron’. Source
2.2 “The body requires iron for the synthesis of its oxygen transport proteins, in particular hemoglobin and myoglobin, and for the formation of heme enzymes and other iron-containing enzymes involved in electron transfer and oxidation-reductions. Almost two-thirds of the body iron is found in the hemoglobin present in circulating erythrocytes [red blood cells], 25% is contained in a readily mobilizable iron store, and the remaining 15% is bound to myoglobin in muscle tissue and in a variety of enzymes involved in the oxidative metabolism and many other cell functions.” – N. Abbaspour et al., 2014. ‘Review on iron and its importance for human health’. Source
2.3 “Luminol solution reacts with blood to produce light. The luminol solution contains both luminol (C8H7N3O2) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The hydrogen peroxide reacts with the iron in blood to produce oxygen. This oxygen then reacts with the luminol, changing the structure of the molecule and temporarily adding energy. When energy is added to molecules, it is often absorbed by electrons (tiny charged particles). By absorbing the energy and becoming “excited,” the electrons move to a higher energy level. Then, when the electrons return to their natural, “unexcited” level, they release the energy as visible light.” – Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 2007. Source
2.4. “Hemoglobin is the protein inside red blood cells. It carries oxygen. Red blood cells also remove carbon dioxide from your body, transporting it to the lungs for you to exhale.” – University of Rochester Medical Centre, 2020. ‘What are red blood cells?’ Source
[Note: The Luminol solution reacts with the iron in haemoglobin in red blood cells, by emitting light after the oxidation process excites the H2O2 component of it. Haemoglobin is located inside the red blood cell.
3.Constitution of Blood & DNA Content
3.1 “Blood is a specialized body fluid. It has four main components: plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. [. . .] White blood cells [leukocytes] protect the body from infection. They are much fewer in number than red blood cells, accounting for about 1 percent of your blood.” – American Society of Hematology, 2020. Source
3.2 “[. . .] white blood cells account for only about 1% of your blood [. . .]”– University of Rochester. 2020. Source
[Note: White blood cells contain: Neutrophils, Lymphocytes, Monocytes, Eosinophils, Basophils]
3.3 “Unlike the rest of the cells in your body, your red blood cells lack nuclei. That quirk dates back to the time when mammals began to evolve. Other vertebrates such as fish, reptiles, and birds, have red cells that contain nuclei that are inactive. Losing the nucleus enables the red blood cell to contain more oxygen-carrying hemoglobin, thus enabling more oxygen to be transported in the blood and boosting our metabolism. This is the first study to reveal the proteins involved as a red blood cell loses its nucleus. The researchers plan to further investigate the entire process of red blood cell formation, which may lead to insights about genetic alterations that underlie certain red blood cell disorders.” – Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 2008. Source
3.4 “Platelets are irregularly shaped, have no nucleus, and typically measure only 2–3 micrometers in diameter. Platelets are not true cells, but are instead classified as cell fragments produced by megakaryocytes. Because they lack a nucleus, they do not contain nuclear DNA.” – Nature, 2020. Source
3.5 “Thus, platelets resemble cell fragments rather than fully licensed cells. One of the strongest arguments is probably that platelets have no genes to reorganize, because they have no nucleus and supporting DNA material (apart from the mitochondrial genome).” – Frontiers in Immunology, 2015. ‘Are Platelets Cells? And if Yes, are They Immune Cells?’ Source
3.6 “Plasma is the largest part of your blood. It makes up more than half (about 55%) of its overall content. When separated from the rest of the blood, plasma is a light yellow liquid. Plasma carries water, salts and enzymes.” – University of Rochester, 2020. Source
3.7 “Nuclear DNA is only found in nucleated cells – this rules out three of the four major components of blood: red blood cells (which don’t have nuclei), platelets and plasma. So you only get nuclear DNA in white blood cells, which are outnumbered by red blood cells in the blood stream by about 600 to one.” – ABC Science, 2019. Source
Author’s Note: As confirmed by the above-mentioned sources, in blood, only white blood cells contain a nucleus with DNA within the cell’s nucleus. Neither red blood cells, platelets or plasma contain nuclei and therefore no DNA. White blood cells constitute only about 1% of blood’s constitution. Compared to red blood cells there are about 600 red blood cells for every one white blood cell.
4. The Removal of Blood from Various Objects
4.1 “A team of scientists from the University of Valencia (UV) has proven that traces of blood in various materials are eliminated completely when they are washed with detergents containing active oxygen. The conclusion of the study, published in the latest number of the German journal entitled Naturwissenschaften, points out that these new products alter blood to such an extent that this cannot be detected by reagents used in forensics.” – Science Daily. 2009.
And read the full original article by Castelló et al., 2009 – ‘Active oxygen doctors the evidence’ in Naturwissenschaftenhere
Which concludes with: “The results show that regardless of the type of blood used to generate stains, the age or backing on which they were placed (soft cotton cloth, jeans fabric, toweling) or the washing conditions employed (hot or cold water), washing fabric with products containing active oxygen prevents positive results from being found using presumptive and human haemoglobin tests.”
Author’s Note: A subsequent study by the same authors found that treatment (cloth material at least) with active oxygen agents does not necessarily mean a DNA profile cannot be obtained. While the studies were not compared in detail by the author of this discussion document, it is worrying that the authors of the article state: “These findings [of their previous study] have caused considerable concern both within the forensic and scientific community, and among the general public, so obliging us to seek solutions.” (This will be addressed further in the Post Scriptum of this document.) Source
Author’s Note:Vanish O2 entered the South African market in 2003 – it contains sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate that dissolves in water to form hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate – both powerful cleaning agents.
4.2 “Chlorine bleaches can remove a bloodstain to the naked eye but fortunately, forensics experts can use the application of substances such as luminol or phenolphthalein to show that haemoglobin is present. In fact, even if the shady criminal washed a bloodstained item of clothing 10 times, these chemicals could still reveal blood. [. . .] With oxygen bleach, the bleach has an oxidising agent, which could be a substance such as hydrogen peroxide. In these instances, haemoglobin is completely removed and can’t later be detected. As expected, this presents a unique challenge for forensic scientists. Not only that, but it can significantly compromise an investigation and may mean that evidence is not properly investigated and used in a trial.”– Explore Forensics, 2016. Source
4.3 “The forensic luminol test has long been valued for its ability to detect trace amounts of blood that are invisible to the naked eye. This is the first quantitative study to determine the effect on the luminol test when an attempt is made to clean bloodstained tiles with a known interfering catalyst (bleach). Tiles covered with either wet or dry blood were tested, and either water or sodium hypochlorite solution (bleach) was used to clean the tiles. As expected, the chemiluminescence intensity produced when luminol was applied generally decreased with the number of times that a tile was cleaned with water, until the chemiluminescence was neither visible nor detectable. However, when the tiles were cleaned with bleach there was an initial drop in chemiluminescence intensity, followed by a rise to a consistently high value, visibly indistinguishable from that of blood. Examination of bleach drying time suggested that any interfering effect becomes negligible after 8h.” – J. Craemer et al., 2005. ‘Attempted cleaning of bloodstains and its effect on the forensic luminol test’. Luminescence: The Journal of Biological and Chemical Luminescence. PubMed. Source
4.4 “Blood at crime scenes is one of the most significant traces of evidence in investigation proceedings. Cleaning up these traces with household cleaning products, often containing bleaching agents, inhibits or complicates the detection of DNA. In this study, human blood was applied onto different floor coverings (carpet, laminate, parquet, PVC, tile) and subsequently cleaned with water and bleaching agents (hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite, DanKlorix®, Vanish Oxi Action®) at different times. Samples have been collected afterwards from the floors. The samples underwent a quantitative and qualitative DNA analysis. Cleaning smooth surfaces with water is usually sufficient to prohibit retrieving a DNA profile in most of these cases. Cleaning carpets were more difficult due to their absorbent surface whereas the use of bleaching agents caused an additional reduction of verifiable DNA concentrations. Retrieving partial or complete profiles after the use of bleaching agents was only possible when cleaning with low concentrations of 3% hydrogen peroxide.” – Edler et al., 2020. ‘The effect of bleaching agents on the DNA analysis of bloodstains on different floor coverings’. ResearchGate. Source
5. DNA and Cells
5.1 “In organisms called eukaryotes [an organism consisting of a cell or cells in which the genetic material is DNA in the form of chromosomes contained within a distinct nucleus], DNA is found inside a special area of the cell called the nucleus. Because the cell is very small, and because organisms have many DNA molecules per cell, each DNA molecule must be tightly packaged. This packaged form of the DNA is called a chromosome.” – National Genome Research Institute, 2020. Source
5.2 “In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA tightly coiled many times around proteins called histones that support its structure.” – MedlinePlus, 2020. Source
5.3 “Chromosomal DNA is packaged inside microscopic nuclei with the help of histones. These are positively-charged proteins that strongly adhere to negatively-charged DNA and form complexes called nucleosomes. Each nuclesome is composed of DNA wound 1.65 times around eight histone proteins. Nucleosomes fold up to form a 30-nanometer chromatin fiber, which forms loops averaging 300 nanometers in length. The 300 nm fibers are compressed and folded to produce a 250 nm-wide fiber, which is tightly coiled into the chromatid of a chromosome.” – Scitable, 2014. Source & Read more about the DNA Packaging in the cell here
5.4 “A cell’s plasma membrane defines the cell, outlines its borders, and determines the nature of its interaction with its environment. Cells exclude some substances, take in others, and excrete still others, all in controlled quantities. The plasma membrane must be very flexible to allow certain cells, such as red and white blood cells, to change shape as they pass through narrow capillaries. These are the more obvious plasma membrane functions. In addition, the plasma membrane’s surface carries markers that allow cells to recognize one another, which is vital for tissue and organ formation during early development, and which later plays a role in the immune response’s “self” versus “non-self” distinction.” [. . .]
[. . .] A plasma membrane’s principal components are lipids (phospholipids and cholesterol), proteins, and carbohydrates attached to some of the lipids and proteins. A phospholipid is a molecule consisting of glycerol, two fatty acids, and a phosphate-linked head group. Cholesterol, another lipid comprised of four fused carbon rings, is situated alongside the phospholipids in the membrane’s core. The protein, lipid, and carbohydrate proportions in the plasma membrane vary with cell type, but for a typical human cell, protein accounts for about 50 percent of the composition by mass, lipids (of all types) account for about 40 percent, and carbohydrates comprise the remaining 10 percent. However, protein and lipid concentration varies with different cell membranes.” – Lumen, 2020. Source
6. Extraction of DNA from Cells
6.1 With regards to the extraction of DNA: “The cells in a sample are separated from each other, often by a physical means such as grinding or vortexing, and put into a solution containing salt. The positively charged sodium ions in the salt help protect the negatively charged phosphate groups that run along the backbone of the DNA. A detergent is then added. The detergent breaks down the lipids in the cell membrane and nuclei. DNA is released as these membranes are disrupted.” – Science Learning Hub, 2020. Source
6.2 “Detergent contains sodium laurel sulfate, which cleans dishes by removing fats and proteins. It acts the same way in the DNA extraction protocol, pulling apart the lipids and proteins that make up the membranes surrounding the cell and nucleus. Once these membranes are broken apart, the DNA is released from the cell.” – ResearchGate, 2017. Source
6.3 “[. . .] In this activity, students add soap to lyse (break open) the cell and nuclear membranes and release the DNA. Soap dissolves these membranes because they are basically layers of oil that surround the cell. In other words, dish soap destroys cell membranes in the same way that it cleans oil off dishes and pans. Cell membranes and oil are both made of molecules called lipids. Lipids are large molecules that have two parts: a small, compact hydrophilic head and a long, dangling hydrophobic tail. (Hydrophilic means attracted to water, and hydrophobic means repelled by water.) In lipids, most of the molecule (the tail) is repelled by water, while the tiny head is attracted to water. This head and tail structure of lipids allow them to arrange as large, two-layer sheets when they are in water. The sheet structure allows the hydrophilic, water-loving heads to be exposed to the water, while the hydrophobic, water-hating tails can be tucked into the interior of the sheet. The cell and nuclear membranes are such sheets of lipids, each with the water-attracting heads on the outside and the water-repellent tails on the inside.” – OMSI, 2007. Source
6.4 “Now think about when you wash your dishes– what does the soap do to the oil on the dishes? It breaks it up. Cell membranes are also made of lipids. By adding soap to your cheek cells, it breaks up the membranes of the cell and nucleus and frees the contents of the cell, including DNA. So the DNA begins to float near the top of the soapy water. DNA is soluble in water but not in alcohol. The alcohol helps the DNA precipitate or separate as a solid from a liquid solution. The result is a white clump of thousands of DNA strands that you can see with your naked eye.” Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, 2020. ‘See your own DNA’. Source
6.5 Read more about Lysis (the disintegration of a cell by rupture of the cell wall or membrane) and detergents here
7. Bleach vs Blood
7.1 “Besides washing a bloodstained area with just soap and water, the use of bleach may also be used. To the criminal, this may represent a double benefit. It helps to clean up the bloodstain, and it is hoped the use of bleach also prevents subsequent DNA analysis of the blood. So, how does bleach react with luminol? Fig. 7.49 [below as Fig. 2] shows that bleach will fluoresce much more brightly than blood. The bleach will seem to “sparkle” at times. Blood usually fluoresces a dull blue. You may see a combination of dull blue and an area fluorescing very brightly. If one wants to try to collect a sample of blood for subsequent DNA analysis, try to swab the areas fluorescing a dull blue.” – E.M. Robinson et al., 2017. ScienceDirect. Source
8. Red Blood Cells (RBC) vs White Blood Cells (WBC)
As can be verified from the further below mentioned sources, the main (and most relevant) differences between RBCs and WBCs are:
1. Size: RBCs are much smaller than WBCs – RBC (±7.5µm ) being about half the size of WBCs (±15 µm)
2. Number of cells: RBCs = 5 million RBCs in every cubic mm of blood / WBCs = 3 000 – 7 000 WBCs in every cubic mm of blood (WBCs account for only about 1% of blood’s cell constitution and there are about 600 RBCs for every one WBC)
3. Shape: RBC = Biconcave (like a disc) / WBCs = No set shape but mostly irregular
4. Rouleaux Formation: RBCs = Yes / WBCs = No [Rouleaux formation refers to the stacking of four or more red blood cells – thus they can clot together, aided by the flatter surfaces of their biconcave shape]
5. Lifespan (in circulation): RBCs = ±120 days / WBCs = 5 to 21 days
6. Motility: RBCs = Non-motile (but can move through circulation) / WBCs = generally motile
7. Cell membranes: RBCs = Smooth / The undeformed WBC has many convoluted folds on its surface
8. Deformability / Flexibility: Apart from its larger volume (size) WBCs are less deformable than RBCs, and RBCs are thus more flexible than WBCs Compositions: The granules of WBCs (Neutrophils, ±50% of WBC count, contain lysozymes (enzymes that breaks down cell walls.)
9.1 “Hard surfaces are a combination of porous and nonporous materials. Common hard-surface materials are stainless steel, solid surface, laminate, porcelain, and a wide variety of tile and ridged plastic materials. Some of the more common porous surfaces include laminate, granite, and various types of tile and plastic materials. [. . .] While there are nonporous hard-surface materials such as stainless steel, solid surface and some rigid plastic materials, other commonly used materials such as laminate, granite and some plastic materials are porous.” L. Lybert, 2016. Health Facility Management. ‘Porous and nonporous hard surfaces’. Source
9.2 “Stainless steel is also non-porous which further increases its resistance to corrosion.” Source & Read more about stainless steel here
Author’s Note: While it may depend on its composition and manufacturing, generally rubber would be considered to be porous (or at least more porous than steel). It must be noted, as can be researched, that the pores in a substrate that is considered to be porous, although they may appear perfectly smooth and hard, can be microscopically small.
What has to be mentioned and appreciated foremost is that both haemoglobin and DNA are contained within cells. Haemoglobin, which contains the iron that reacts with Luminol, is found within the red blood cells and DNA (w.r.t. to blood) in the nucleus of the white blood cells. Neither hemoglobin nor DNA are omnipotent, indestructible loose “creatures” with fangs that hook onto anything and everything without having the ability to be removed from it. Firstly, they are in cells, thus, if you remove the cells, as a result, you automatically remove the haemoglobin and DNA too.
Obviously different cells may retain differently on different substrates. But they also have no special clinging abilities. Loose epithelial cells (which also contain DNA) on a non-porous surface such as steel will be easier to remove than red or white blood cells from porous or non-porous surfaces, also due to the stickiness of blood (due to its sugar content). However, the point remains, if you remove the cells you remove the source of haemoglobin and DNA.
While Castelló et al., 2009; 2010 (refer to 4.1) seems to “revise” a previous finding that products containing active oxygen can prevent positive results from being found using presumptive and human haemoglobin tests – or at least they followed the previous study up with a study that found that DNA profiles can still be obtained after treatment with such products. However, there are enough other studies to suggest that blood (i.e. at least haemoglobin) can even be washed off objects with water alone – refer to the study by Creamer et al., 2005, where blood-stained tiles were repeatedly washed with water, and that after ten washes no reaction with Luminol was be produced. (Refer to 4.3)
It can therefore be deduced that if blood (i.e. haemoglobin carrying cells) can be washed from tiles with water to the extent that it can longer be detected by Luminol, then blood can also be washed from the bare steel parts of a hammer with water so that it does not react with Luminol. [Considering also that tiles are more porous than steel.]
In a study investigating the effect of bleaching agents on the DNA analysis of bloodstains on different floor coverings, Edlar et al., 2020 states that “cleaning smooth surfaces with water is usually sufficed to prohibit retrieving a DNA profile in most of the cases” and that on carpets (a particularly absorbing substrate), “retrieving partial or complete profiles after the use of bleaching agents was only possible when cleaning with low concentrations of 3% hydrogen peroxide.” (Refer to 4.4)
Let us look at Section 6 of this document: It is clear that soaps and detergents break down the lipids in cell walls – and that DNA is subsequently released from the cell. This forms part of a routine DNA extraction process. When released, the DNA would unwind and can become grouped – so much so that it is visible with the eye. Furthermore, DNA is soluble in water (unlike in alcohol). Thus, the DNA strands (now loose and unwound) can offer resistance and there can be no reason why they cannot be wiped of a non-porous surface such as stainless steel after the object was soaked in water with even dishwashing liquid – more so if done repeatedly.
Without going into much detail regarding the difference between the reactions of blood vs bleach with Luminol (more can be read here) – bleach will normally glow brighter and longer than blood, which gives a dull and shorter glow. This will also depend on the substrate – i.e. on steel vs a sponge, as on steel more of the haemoglobin will be “on” the surface and will therefore be more exposed to glow.
With regards to this specific case (involving the ornamental hammer), without going into any further merits of the case, it has to be mentioned that after treatment with Luminol the analyst perceived the intensity and duration of glow (on the rubber part only) to be suggestive of blood, and she testified in Court with confidence that it was her opinion that the reaction was indicative of blood rather than anything else.
Regardless, let us look at all (or most of the known) substances that can react with Luminol, albeit with different intensities and durations: blood, faeces, urine, horseradish, copper-containing chemical compounds, excessive smoke in an enclosed space, furniture polish and certain paints.
Given the history (in short) that the hammer was for all intent and purposes a new and unused hammer (although it was bought years prior but was in its box in a closet for some time), before it was given to the accused as a Christmas gift by the victim – and given that (on the accused’s version) that the hammer was in a protected environment (behind his vehicle’s seat) for three months, because he “forgot it there”, and that it was never used, the question arises: Why was there any reaction with Luminol? – given the list mentioned above; what would any possible and reasonable explanation be for the presence of any of those substances on the hammer? The best estimates would be either blood or bleach – the latter which, as have been shown, can be used to clean blood from surfaces – but bleach is volatile and, and after some time is more unlikely to react with Luminol than with traces of blood.
The hammer was then analysed for DNA – but none of the victim’s DNA was “found” on the hammer. Only the DNA of the accused was found on the hammer. Which was not surprising – as after the police discovered the hammer behind his vehicle’s seat, they asked him to take it out from behind the seat – so he touched it with his bare hands (which would have transferred his DNA via sweat to the hammer*). What is strange however, is the lack of any other DNA. The accused’s name was engraved in the stainless steel shaft of the hammer only 2.5 months before; so, where was the DNA of the engraver? [*While ‘pure’ sweat does not contain DNA, it collects and carries loose epithelial cells to be transferred by touch onto objects and surfaces.]
It has to be emphasised that the Luminol reaction was only on the rubber handle, which has little indentations in it. The rubber handle was also not removed to swab the underlying steel part or the inside of the rubber handle.
Given what has been discussed and shown (by literature) to have cleaned stainless steel part of the hammer from haemoglobin and DNA would have been possible, and in fact easy – by repeated washes by dishwashing liquid and or bleaches. We eat with stainless steel cutlery every day because it can be washed cleanly – i.e. from bacteria (also cells) and fat. This doesn’t mean that a blood-stained stainless steel knife will test negative with Luminol after one wash – but most possibly do so after repeated washes, and more so with drying periods in between washes. It must be borne in mind that UV light also degrades DNA and that repeated washes with drying periods in sunlight between washes, could have assisted in destroyed any evidence of DNA on the steel parts. With regards to the rubber handle, with the little indentations in for ensuring a better grip, because Luminol is extremely sensitive, and because it would be more difficult to remove blood completely from the microscopic pores in the rubber and the indentations in it, it is understandable that while there may have been a reaction with Luminol, it does not mean that that the blood still contained DNA. Only 1% of blood contain DNA and given the fact that soaking the hammer in soaped water (water which is extremely penetrable into all nooks and crannies), which would have broken the cells open to release the DNA, it is quite comprehensible that no DNA of the victim could be retrieved from the object, as the released and untangled DNA strands (now offering resistance) could be washed and wiped off from the object just as you would wipe off anything else that would offer some resistance, for example, even a fine grain of salt.
A reasonable question would be: Assuming that it was indeed blood that was detected by Luminol – which means not all red blood cells have been removed – why were no white blood cells (thus DNA) of the victim found?
For this we need to revisit Section 8, and for a start to again look at Figure 3, duplicated as Figure 5 below.
1. There are much more RBCs than WBCs and while it may stay relative, after a thorough wash with soaps and/or detergents (and after repeated washes) very little if any WBCs may have been present, also for the following reasons:
2. WBCs are bigger than RBCs, are more irregularly shaped, with a rougher surface than RBCs. On basic logic it will follow that a bigger, less flexible, a more irregular shaped particle with a rougher outer surface (which all increases resistance) would be easier to wipe/remove from a surface, than a smaller, smoother, more flexible particle that (even on size alone) can be protected in the microscopic pores in the rubber.
3. There are further differences between RBCs and WBCs which would be difficult to extrapolate from blood in the circulatory system to blood on an external object, but it has to be noted that in the circulatory system WBCs has a shorter lifespan than RBCs, RBCs can clot together (Rouleaux formation) and are less motile than WBCs.The granules of Neutrophils (±50% of WBC count) also contain lysozymes (enzymes that breaks down cell walls).
When we look at Fig. 5 above, the question is: Which would be the easiest to remove: the smaller, flatter, smooth red cells or the bigger and rougher surfaced white cells – with, say, wiping an object with these two kinds of cells on it, with a rough piece cloth? Best is to imagine hundreds of very fine dried paint spots on a glass pane – but with a few bigger spots dispersed among them. When you take a dry (or wet) cloth and wipe over the glass pane in order to clean it, which spots will be removed the easiest? The bigger ones. Even while they may have greater surface contact – they offer more resistance against the cloth – therefore a force can be applied to them to move them, less so with smaller spots. Now imagine the same scenario; replacing the fine paint spots with RBCs and the bigger spots with WBCs (which is double the size of RBC and with a more rigid structure and rougher outer surface). Which will be wiped off easier?
Like in any case, it may also depend on sampling. How well was the rubber swabbed? All of it or only a small part of it? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Which brings us to the point of blood as source of DNA. Even in “fresh” blood pools, the WBCs settle out quickly (due to the bigger size, and therefore weight, it will settle at the bottom of the pool) and WBC apoptosis* can occur quickly: neutrophils within 24 hr, lymphocytes by 72–96 hr, and RBCs haemolysis [rupture or destruction of it] can result in low and degraded DNA yield. Platelets and WBCs can clot and form masses which is difficult to extract. The best source is small drops that dry quickly, where the cells are rapidly fixed due to dehydration. – Dr Karin Shires.* 2017. UCT Lecture notes (PP). ‘Types and sources of DNA’. [*Senior Medical Scientist (Haematology), National Health Laboratory Service (Groote Schuur Hospital /UCT)]
*Apoptosis is a form of cell death, also known as programmed cell death, in which a ‘suicide’ program is activated within the cell, leading to fragmentation of the DNA, shrinkage of the cytoplasm, membrane changes, and cell death without lysis or damage to neighboring cells. It is a normal phenomenon, occurring frequently in a multicellular organism.”Source
This all brings us back to the following:
1. After death cells die off and this, together with other factors (such as environmental factors), may cause the degradation of DNA at an early stage already.
2. It depends on how the sample was collected. With one or two swabs of a suspected area, it is quite possible to “miss” the collection of WBCs (especially considering there are 600 fewer WBCs than RBCs) – more so if the area was thoroughly cleaned.
3. If you remove the cells you remove the source RBC or WBCs – and when WBCs are removed its DNA is removed with it.
4. DNA can be released from the WBC by soaps – which then unwinds into ‘something’ significant enough (which can offer resistance) to be washed and/or wiped off from an object or surface.
Given the reasonable deductions made from referenced sources – as well as applying deductive and logical reasoning – a reasonable conclusion can be made that it is possible to clean such a (blood-soaked) hammer to such an extent that all white blood cells (and thus DNA) are removed, or at least to the point of being undetectable, while enough red blood cells may remain to react with Luminol.
Therefore, the absence of a victim’s DNA on an object does not mean it was not used in an attack.
Post Scriptum by the Author
With reference to the two studies by Castelló et al., 2009; 2010: (Refer to Section 4):
Without having scrutinised the two respective articles thoroughly – it stands out that the first study (which on the face of it seems more comprehensive than the second study), the authors conclude: “The results show that regardless of the type of blood used to generate stains, the age or backing on which they were placed (soft cotton cloth, jeans fabric, toweling) or the washing conditions employed (hot or cold water), washing fabric with products containing active oxygen prevents positive results from being found using presumptive and human haemoglobin tests.” They do not say anything about DNA profiling but in the article pertaining to the second study mention that: “These findings [of their previous study] have caused considerable concern both within the forensic and scientific community, and among the general public, so obliging us to seek solutions.” The finding of the second study is that DNA profiles can be obtained after washing/cleaning items with products containing active oxygen.
Without suggesting that “the public concern”, which “obliged them to seek solutions”, may have led to bias in their second study – there is a suggestive aspect to it that public domain information of this nature (i.e. that blood and DNA can be removed to an untraceable level) poses a danger for society – because by reading about this, criminals can now cover their tracks by destroying evidence, such as blood and DNA from surfaces and weapons, which may otherwise implicate them.
This may be true but there is a flip side to it. If, and I repeat if, it is a proven fact (proven by robust studies) that blood and DNA can be totally (or to an untraceable level) be removed from an object (porous or non-porous), then we as forensic scientists should know it and acknowledge it. Scientific studies and findings cannot be driven by “public fear”. The flip side is that it affects argument in court. If the “fact” that blood and DNA cannot be removed completely from bloodied items, prevails, it may cause a murder weapon (with no blood or DNA on it) to be thrown out as evidence while there may be other factors that could suggest that specific object as the murder weapon. For example, based on the size and shape of a knife and how it relates to the wounds or imprints that it may have left on the scene, may simply be ignored because “no blood or DNA was found on it”. If it is a proven fact – or even highly possible – to remove blood and DNA completely from blood-stained objects, that argument/fact should be able to be levelled in court, and evaluated with other possibly corroborative evidence pertaining to the object/weapon.
In this particular case – where the ornamental hammer was implicated as the murder weapon – the “fact” that “no blood and DNA of the victim was found on it” played an instrumental role in dismissing it as the murder weapon. (While “inconclusive” for blood and because no DNA was found, the judge incorrectly stated in his judgement that “there was no blood the hammer”. What was not “found” was the victim’s DNA.) This perception – still prevailing today, even among forensic scientists – that blood and DNA cannot be removed from an object – played a crucial part in the judge dismissing the hammer as the murder weapon.
Returning now to the comment about corroborating evidence. In this particular case, a towel was found in the victim’s bathroom and it is clear (by for example blood and hair on it) that the murder weapon was wiped clean with it straight after the murder. Subsequently, official SAPS photographs have shown (after re-examination by me) imprints on the towel that perfectly resembles parts of the fairly uniquely shaped tail of the hammer (which is also a scarce item), including the bottle opener ring (see photo’s here). Photos of the hammer’s tail also show that it was possibly deformed slightly. While there is no ‘before and after’ photos to make a conclusive statement regarding this, it certainly looks deformed vs what one would expect a new one to look like. Also, the hammer was found under suspicious circumstances in the vehicle of the accused – who would put a Christmas gift of your girlfriend under your vehicle’s seat for no good reason? The size and shape of both ends of the hammers head are also reconcilable with the two types of head wounds (circular and linear) and the diameter of a depressed fracture on the frontal skull bone matches the diameter of the implicated hammer 100% (20 mm, which is also a relatively uncommon size for a hammer). While all of this was disputed, of course, as is needed in an adversarial system – the fact that no DNA of the victim was found on the hammer, played a crucial role in dismissing a weapon, that could on other factors be linked to the crime.
What is ironic, and with this I want to make some remarks about the general overestimated evidentiary value of DNA: In this particular case, even if the victim’s DNA was found on the hammer, the defence could (and rightly so) could have argued that it was to be expected, since the victim would (or may) have handled the hammer before the murder. After all, she gave it to him as a present and one would expect her to have handled it at some time.
People have been wrongfully convicted on DNA evidence – such as Lukis Anderson whose DNA was found on (not under) the nail of a murdered victim – but it was later postulated that the DNA was transferred to the victim’s nail by accident, by paramedics having slipped the same pulse oximeter (which slips over the finger) over both Anderson and the victim’s fingers the same night of the murder. (Anderson was taken to hospital by an ambulance at the time of the murder, for over-intoxication, and just after that, the paramedics went to check the vitals of the victim whose house was relatively close to the hospital.) There was nothing else that linked Anderson to the murder, but based on the DNA evidence he spent some time in jail and faced the death penalty. He was acquitted though after evidence started to point at other suspects. Read about this case and some very interesting similar cases and about DNA evidence in general (about its positives and negatives) in this very interesting and very comprehensive article.
To conclude, as valuable as DNA as evidence can be and is (mostly), it is not the golden bullet in all cases – and must be treated with caution and viewed in conjunction with other evidence. It is perhaps an area that needs more research, but based on arguments presented in this document, which are based on the literature, at the very least we must start adopting the belief that blood and DNA can possibly be removed completely (or to an untraceable degree) from objects, albeit not equally from all objects.
Op 31 Desember 2019 lig die Chinese die WGO in van 41 mense met “misterieuse pneumonia”. Meeste van die gevalle kan verbind word met die Huanan Seekosmark. Op 7 Januarie 2020 word die virus geïdentifiseer as ‘nCov’. Die eerste sterfte in China is op 11 Januarie en die eerste geval in die VSA op 20 Januarie. Op 23 Januarie word Wuhan onder kwarantyn geplaas, met die Hubei-provinsie wat paar dae later volg. Die WGO verklaar die uitbraak as ’n globale gesondheidsnoodgeval op 30 Januarie, en op 31 Januarie verbied President Donald Trump buitelanders wat die voorafgaande twee weke in China was, toegang tot die VSA.
In Italië word die eerste twee gevalle op 31 Januarie bevestig. Op dieselfde dag word alle vlugte na en van China gestaak en ’n noodtoestand vir ses maande word afgekondig. Onder meer, word inkomende reisigers by lughawens se temperatuur deur skandeerders gemonitor. Op 2 Februarie is die virus se genoom se volgorde bepaal en na GenBank opgelaai.
Op 9 Februarie is die dodetal in China 811 – reeds erger as die SARS-uitbraak van 2002/3, waarin maar sowat 774 mense wêreldwyd gesterf het. Op 11 Februarie doop die WGO die uitbraak ‘Covid-19’. Teen die einde van Februarie is daar reeds 1 128 aktiewe gevalle en 29 sterftes in Italië.
Teen 2 Maart is daar 80 151 gevalle en 2 943 sterftes in China. Teen 3 Maart begin gevalle skerp styg in Spanje. Op 5 Maart word die eerste geval in Suid-Afrika bevestig. Op hierdie dag is daar reeds 3 858 gevalle en 148 sterftes in Italië. Op 8 Maart word 80 miljoen mense in Italië op inperking geplaas.
Op 11 Maart verbied Trump 23 Europese lande toegang tot die VSA en op dieselfde dag word Covid-19 deur die WGO as ’n pandemie geklassifiseer. Op hierdie dag was daar reeds 12 462 gevalle en 827 sterftes in Italië. In die ses dae sedert 5 Maart, het die sterftes hier meer as vyfvoudig toegeneem.
Toe President Ramaphosa sy toespraak gemaak het op 15 Maart 2020, waarin hy ’n ramptoestand afgekondig het, wat onder meer sekere reisbeperkings sou insluit, was daar reeds 61 postiewe gevalle in Suid-Afrika, en dit is aanvaar dat uit die 61 gevalle, slegs een as gevolg van plaaslike oordrag was – dus 60 gevalle kon met buitelandse inkoms verbind word, veral met ’n groep van tien mense wat op 1 Maart vanaf Italië die land binnegekom het.
Op 19 Maart was daar 116 positiewe gevalle in Suid-Afrika waarvan slegs 14 as die resultaat van plaaslike oordrag beskou is; dus 102 gevalle was van mense wat van die buiteland af die land binnegekom het met die virus.
As mens kyk na die tydlyn en syfers dan kom die vraag onwillekeurig op: Hoe kon hierdie 102 geïnfekteerde mense in die land toegelaat en losgelaat gewees het terwyl dit vir ’n geruime tyd reeds duidelik was dat ’n pandemie aan die woed is? Waar was die Intelligensie wat die rooi ligte van hierdie pandemie moes opgetel het? Op 5 Maart reeds moes alle inkomelinge, veral vanaf ’n land soos Italië, op die heel minste onmiddellik in kwarantyn geplaas gewees het.
Kom ons kyk na die tydlyn en tendense. In die periode 25 Februarie tot 3 Maart, in Italië, het die gevalle van 322 na 2 502 gestyg, en die sterftes van 10 tot 79.
Op 1 Maart, dus twee weke voor Ramaphosa reisbeperkings ingestel het (op 15 Maart), was daar reeds 3 318 sterftes in China en 34 in Italië. In daardie twee weke, in Italië, het die gevalle van 1 694 tot 24 747 gestyg en sterftes van 34 tot 1 809.
Hierdie getalle en tendense was nie geslote of geheime inligting nie. Wuhan het al op 23 Januarie in kwarantyn gegaan en Italië op 8 Maart. Hierdie is ingrypende optredes deur goot nasies. Teen 9 Februarie was dit reeds duidelik dat hierdie pandemie erger sou wees as die 2003/4-SARS-uitbraak, toe die sterftes in China reeds 811 bereik het. Boonop het die WGO reeds op 30 Januarie die uitbraak as ’n globale gesondheidsnoodgeval verklaar – en as ’n pandemie op 11 Maart. Wêreldwyd was daar op 3 Maart reeds 93 016 gevalle met 3 202 sterftes. Al die rooi ligte was daar. Steeds het Ramaphosa tot 15 Maart gewag om reisbeperkings in te stel.
Voor die tien geïnfekteerde mense vanaf Italië ingekom het, op 1 Maart, het Suid-Afrika nie een enkele (aangetekende) geval in die land gehad nie. Op 4 Maart toe die gevalle en sterftes wêreldwyd 95 314 en 3 285 onderskeidelik was, was daar reeds alle rede om die land se grense te sluit. Tog word inkomelinge van Europa, waar gevalle en sterftes toe reeds erg aan die styg was, in die land toegelaat, en twee weke later sit ons met oor die 100 infeksies slegs van inkomelinge vanaf die buiteland. En van hier af sou plaaslike infeksies begin afskil.
Dit kan dalk gesê word dat baie ander lande, insluitende Italië en VSA, maar traag was om vroeg op te tree. Dit mag dalk so wees, maar Suid-Afrika het steeds heelwat meer tyd gehad om die situasie wêreldwyd te lees. En twee verkeerdes maak nie een reg nie. En om te herhaal: Op 5 Maart, toe die eerste geval in Suid-Afrika bevestig is, was daar reeds 3 858 gevalle en 148 sterftes in Italië. Alle rede om die inkoms van ten minste Europese lande onmiddellik te staak, of inkomelinge reguit vanaf die vliegtuie (van ten minste ons twee grootste internasionale lughawens) in kwarantyn te plaas. Ten tyde was infeksies in ons buurlande weglaatbaar klein.
As daardie tien geïnfekteerde inkomelinge vanaf Italië, nie vrylik toegelaat was om die land binne te kom nie, of indien die grense op 5 Maart reeds gesluit het, kon ons situasie vandaar baie anders gelyk het, en ons kon selfs dalk die vernietigende, wurgende en onversetlike staat van inperking gepaar gewees het. So ook die psigiese bloedspoor veral op ons oumense in ouetehuise, wat in isolasie moes vergaan. In stede daarvan, prys die regering hulself vir hul “vinnige optrede”.
Mens kan maar net hoop dat daar eendag ’n klas-aksie geloods word teen die ANC, deur, onder meer, haarsalonne en gholfbane, wat toe moes bly en skade ly, terwyl taxis vol kon rondry – en die regering dermate dagvaar tot daar nie meer een sent oor is vir hulle om te kan steel nie.
Post Scriptum: Natuurlik is daar baie bespiegelinge en teorieë oor die oorsprong van die virus, en dalk het dit nié van die Huanan Seekosmark ontstaan nie. Wie sal ooit regtig weet wat alles hieragter steek? Maar my verdere argument oor die vertraagde grenssluiting bly egter staan.
Read more about the fascinating Dewani case in the newly released book The Bloodied Bride. Oscar vs the Truth is compulsory reading before or after watching the ESPN documentary.