evidence processing



N INETEEN-YEAR- OLD LORI ANN AUKER WAS BATTLING HER ESTRANGED HUSBAND, ROBERT, OVER CUSTODY OF THEIR CHILD . ONE DAY SHE DROVE HER CAR TO THE PENNSYLVANIA MALL WHERE SHE WORKED------AND JUST DISAPPEARED. HER BODY WAS THEN FOUND NEARLY THREE WEEKS LATER AT THE BOTTOM OF AN EMBANKMENT. SHE’D BEEN REPEATEDLY STABBED.


Police immediately suspected Robert Auker, who had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife just weeks before her murder and tried to predate it. But he claimed he was at another mall when his wife was abducted. For more than a year, police were unable to link him to the crime.


Eventually they turned to a silent witness, a time-lapse video camera in an automated teller machine at the mall. The parking lot could be seen in the background of its photographs. But the tape had been reused so often that it was almost transparent—most of the oxide had worn off. Nonetheless, a detective took it to the FBI Criminal Laboratory in Washington, D.C.


One frame on the tape showed a blurred person, possibly a woman, in the distance walking toward the camera. The next frame, ten seconds later, revealed that an automobile had pulled up behind her, its passenger door open. In the frame after that, the woman should have come closer to the camera—but both she and the car were gone. The imbable explanation was that she had gotten into the car.


Although the automobile was visible on only one out-of-focus frame, it was also identified from the tail-light assembly as a Chevy Celebrity made between 1982 and 1985. Robert C. Auker’s father owned a 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity, and he admitted that his son had been using it the day Lori Auker disappeared. It was sold three days after the killing.


When police located the car, it was owned by a Pennsylvania state trooper. But was it the car in the ATM video? To find out, the FBI lab called in the video- enhancement experts.


Using computerized digital processing, they removed some of the tape’s blurriness and heightened the contrast, making the person and the car stand out from the background. The car on the processed tape closely matched Auker’s.


At Robert Auker’s trial, the enhanced video became an important piece of evidence. The jury convicted him of kidnapping and murder and recommended the death penalty. (Auker has appealed his conviction.)


Nazi Fingerprint.


Where once detectives wanted evidence they could see with their own eyes and hold in their hands, technology in the past 20 years has changed the world of crime detection completely and forever. As FBI Special Agent Dale Moreau puts it, “Nowadays we’re more interested in evidence we can’t see.”


OF THE MORE THAN 300 CRIME LABS IN THE UNITED STATES, -----THE MOST EXPERT AT ANALYZING SUCH NEW EVIDENCE IS THE FBI’S. THERE, 6OO TECHNICIANS AND AGENTS COMBINE STREET SAVVY WITH SUCH CUTTING- EDGE TECHNOLOGY AS COMPUTERIZED VIDEO, LASERS AND DNA ANALYSIS TO ANSWER THE AGE-OLD QUESTION: WHO DID IT?


For instance, a computer process called microtopography has made it possible to create a three-dimensional digital map of the surface of a bullet. One day in 1992, lab technicians were demonstrating the systern to Metro Washington police officers. The FBI men keyed in the description of a cartridge case that had been recovered from a homicide the previous March. Strangely, the computer matched it to a cartridge case that had been test-fired from a gun supposedly in police custody since January. It looked as if there was a problem with the computer.


THERE WAS NOT. When Metro Washington Police went to get the gun out of the property room, they discovered it was missing. Soon an internal investigation found that insiders were stealing confiscated weapons and selling them back to criminals on the street.


During the gangster era, fingerprinting became the FBI’s first major scientific tool for tracking public enemies like Ma Barker and John Dillinger.


TODAY THE LAB HAS OVER 200 MILLION CARDS BEARING THE FINGERPRINTS OF MORE THAN 70 MILLION PEOPLE.


Fingerprints can be found just about everywhere. A gang of bank robbers threw away the rubber gloves they’d been wearing to avoid leaving prints----—and their prints were found inside the gloves. A murderer was caught when his prints were developed from a water-soaked map found---—with the victim--—in a car that had been pushed into the Ohio River.


The new technology was strikingly demonstrated in the case of Valerian Trifa, former Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Church of America. The Justice Department had been trying to deport him since 1975, claiming he had once been a member of the Iron Guard, an organization in Romania that was violently anti-Semitic and had sympathized with the Nazis. Trifa denied the accusations.


Then in 1982 the West German government produced a post card written by Trifa in 1941, pledging loyalty to Nazi leader Hemrich Himmler. Trifa denied having written the card. But FBI lab investigators placed the card under an intense laser beam, and a 40-year-old thumb print became visible. The print was identical to the one Trifa had given in 1957 when he became a U.S. citizen. He was deported.


WRONG MAN. No one has ever escaped prosecution by surgically altering his prints. But criminals continue to try


In 1990, Miami police arrested a drug suspect who had sliced the skin on his fingers into small pieces, which he then transplanted onto other fingers. This would make it impossible to link him to previous crimes--—or so he thought.


An FBI specialist cut up photos of the prints and tried fitting the fragments together like a jig-saw puzzle . Working nights and weekends, he restored sections of several prints to their original pattern. They matched those of a fugitive —wanted in a major drug case—and led to the suspect’s conviction.


DNA, the human genetic blueprint, is extraordinarily valuable to forensic scientists because it can link body fluids to a specific person.


  It is the biochemical equivalent of fingerprints.


One case involved a Maryland woman who was raped and beaten by an intruder in her bedroom. She never got a good look at her attacker, but she identified him as a man with whom she’d recently ended a stormy relationship . The man was arrested; it seemed an open-and-shut case.


While in prison awaiting trial, the accused man ran into a former boyfriend of the victim’s roommate. This man, who had lived in that same neighborhood, bore an uncanny resemblance to the suspect, who implored detectives to investigate further.


The FBI lab conducted DNA tests that proved the suspect was not the rapist— the victim had been wrong Prosecutors then obtained a court order allowing them to take a blood sample from the second man. This time the DNA profiles matched

the second man was convicted.


UNWITTIRG CONFESSION. When a person is involved in a crime, there is : a significant chance that hairs and fibers will be left at the scene. In one classic instance a North Carolina bank robber discarded a nylon stocking worn as a mask.


After a woman was arrested as the suspect, the lab made a positive association between her hair and hairs found inside the stocking. Just two strands of hair were all that police needed to solve the murder of Patricia Giesick, who was killed on her honeymoon in New Orleans by a hit-and-run driver. Her husband, Claude, stood to collect $350,000 in life insurance.


Suspicious investigators discovered that the groom had rented two cars the day before the accident. They located the second car and found strands of hair stuck to a tie rod underneath the vehicle.


When the FBI found the hairs “consistent in all microscopic characteristics to Patricia Giesick’s,” her husband confessed to pushing her in front of the car. Then he testified against his accomplice, the driver.


People often destroy paper bearing evidence of their crimes, only to have it come back to haunt them. In 1986 a Massachusetts man was murdered on his birthday, and next. to his body was a note: “Happy Birthday , Friend.” The victim had a girlfriend, and her ex-boyfriend became the suspect. Police found an envelope in the suspect’s car with the name and address of the girlfriend on it. They sent it to the lab for a handwriting comparison.


As it turned out, that crime had a low-tech solution. The FBI examiner was working in his office at 7 a.m., with the envelope on his desk. As the sun rose, sending light into the office at a very low angle, the FBI man noticed faint shadows on the envelope. Looking more closely, he saw a message embossed on the paper: “Happy Birthday, Friend.” The suspect had forgotten that a pencil leaves an impression on the pages underneath.


THE TELL TALE DOT. One of the lab’s most renowned cases centered on Michele Sindona, a financier who had handled money for the Vatican. Charged with fraud in connection with the failure of the Franklin National Bank in the United States, Sindona was scheduled to go on trial in New York City when he disappeared, supposedly kidnapped.


Authorities were skeptical. Two months later Sindona showed up in the city again, claiming he’d escaped from his captors. He said he knew he’d been kept in North America because he had always been transported by automobile.


Prosecutors realized it would be hard to get a jury to understand Sindona’s complex financial dealings. If they could prove he had never been kidnapped, however, but that he had fled to avoid prosecution, the jury would be more likely

to convict.


Agents believed Sindona had spent part of the time he was missing in Sicily. His alibi would collapse if they could show that he’d been on an airplane.


They asked U .S. Customs to supply declarations from travelers between Europe and New York during that period. They had only one clue: Sindona habitually put a small dot inside the bowl of his number 9.


An FBI agent sat in the customs office in Manhattan for days, examining shopping carts full of cards. One afternoon he picked up a card and stared. There in the address, inside the numbe r 9, was a dot. Sindona’s dot.


 The FBI lab developed a fingerprint found on the card . It was Sindona’s . The man’s bail was revoked, and he never spent another free day in his life.


SOURCE:

“HARD EVIDENCE” copyright 1995

by: David Fisher Simon & Schuster ,

1230 Avenue of the Americas,

New York , NY 10020



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