New forensics method to track down criminals

Posted: 11:52 PM, Feb 26, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-26 23:52:57-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Criminals have one more reason to be nervous.  There is new DNA evidence being used beyond hair, blood and skin that could lead law enforcement to a criminal’s neighborhood, or one day, straight to their front door.

The science is so new, most law enforcement offices don’t know how to use it.  However, experts believe it could be a major tool that unlocks new clues to cases.

One recent case, the case of so-called “Baby Doe” in Massachusetts, used the technology.  The forensics students at Palm Beach Atlantic University followed the “Baby Doe” case closely as it unfolded. 

“It really is a small emerging sect of the technology,” explained Forensics Professor Tiffany Roy. 

Micro-DNA or Microbial DNA is based on particles that are on our clothing, skin and bones.  They are picked up from the foods that we eat and the plants and animals living nearby.  It is transferred to our clothing and items we touch, like cell phones and computer keyboards. 

“Your own body chemistry, your nutrition, the things you eat, all of those things impact the bacterial profile that would be the exterior of the skin so that does transfer to your personal items,” explained Roy.

Some of it is captured into your skin or even your bones. 

“When you see the plant life that grows in Jacksonville, it’s very different from the soil that’s here in West Palm Beach,” she said.

The samples of DNA are compared against other slides under a microscope and put through a gene sequencer.  Each unique biological particle points closer to a region or even a city.  A study at the University of Colorado at Boulder found bacteria and particles led the scientists to front doors of many participants.  They were more successful with samples leading to general neighborhoods. 

Roy believes as the technology and the database of particles for comparison continues to grow, the science will become more accurate. 

There are some limitations at this time.  The technology is so new, comparison samples remain limited.  As with all cases, evidence must be collected meticulously yet fast or risk being lost.

In the “Baby Doe” case, Massachusetts State Police distributed a flyer with a forensics sketch of a little girl.  She had been found dead, discarded in a trash bag next to a river.  The forensics sketch artist created a likely face from the remains and it was shared more than 60 million times on social media and through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  Tips poured in from all over the world; however, the girl was not identified right away.

Small amounts of water with soot and pine was discovered among the tiny body, clothing and blanket inside the bag. That body told investigators the child had likely lived in the Boston area.  Just 6 miles the Boston city border was the answer.

“Baby Doe” was identified as two-and-a-half-year-old Bella Neveah Amoroso Bond.  It took 85 days between the discovery of her body and her identification.  Michael Patrick McCarthy and Bella’s mother, Rachelle Dee Bond, were charged.  Each of them now awaits trial. 

Roy says no matter which type of evidence leads to a conviction, the science of forensics can be satisfying when it brings answers.

“The time comes when everybody when they mess up, and that's when they leave their evidence behind,” she said.