Radio hosts Paul Harvey and Art Bell reported on a story from Scotland Yard about a bouncer who was stabbed to death in the alley outside The Paradise Bar in London. Pools of blood were left behind after the victim was taken away.
“They swabbed the blood up off the floor, they extracted DNA from it,” says Marcia Eggleston, a researcher at the University of California, Davis. “When they typed it, they couldn’t get a result.” A report went out that the victim somehow had nonhuman blood.
It turned out to be animal blood, which few crime labs are equipped to analyze. Scotland Yard found this out by going to the Internet, where they found the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, which has an extensive database of animal DNA. A sample was sent to their lab and verdict was that the blood matched a bull terrier which belonged to a man who had been kicked out of the bar. This finding helped identify the killer, who has been sentenced to life in prison.
Forensics isn’t the California lab’s main job. About 98 percent of its work is DNA typing to determine the bloodlines of horses. Since 1995, the lab has typed 600,000 horses. “Horses are a multibillion dollar industry,” Eggleston says. “If you buy a $40,000 horse for your kid you want to know who it is. Are these pedigrees correct?”
The lab also has 25,000 samples for cattle, 32,000 for elk, 10,000 for dogs and 53,000 for members of the camel family, including llamas, alpacas and dromedaries. It is believed to be the largest animal DNA testing lab in the world and earned about $4.7 million last year.
Their first crime work occurred about six years ago, when a Simi Valley woman who owned three great danes called. One of her dogs had bitten a neighborhood boy’s arm and she wanted to euthanize only the dog that had attacked. “They heard that UC Davis did animal testing, so they were hoping we might be able to do something,” Eggleston says. The dog had left a saliva trail on the boy’s shirt sleeve, which the lab matched to one of the swabs the woman had scraped from the inside of all three dogs’ cheeks. “We went, ‘Wow, this is kind of cool,”‘ says Eggleston.
Another time, a bloody golf club arrived in the mail that authorities believed had been used to kill a dog. The lab gets one or two such criminal cases a week, in addition to requests for parentage testing. Some are “simple little things,” Eggleston says, like roommates who send carpet samples to prove to landlords it wasn’t their cat that peed on the rug, and ranchers sending samples to confirm whose dog killed their cattle.
A few years ago in rural Chickasaw County, Iowa, a Mennonite woman was gardening with her toddler and the family dog when a man arrived in a pickup truck. He got out, accosted the woman, dragged her to his truck and tried to rape her, according to Doug Strike, former chief deputy for the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s office. “We arrested him,” Strike says. “But she couldn’t pick him out of photo lineup, nor could she say this was the truck.” But the woman had seen her dog, a border collie named Rover, pee on the man’s truck tire, so Strike tracked down the Davis lab.
“We thought, ‘Why not try it?’ ‘Why not think outside the box?’ and it just worked out beautifully for us,” he says. The suspect ended up pleading guilty to attempted sexual assault.
“Parentage testing is important,” Eggleston says. “But it’s not as satisfying as helping to put people behind bars.”
Now if only we could find out more about the story Art told about eyeballs being strewn all over someone?s backyard?.
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