Category Archives: technology

Literature & Criminology – Interview with Michael Arntfield – WKT #30

 

Michael Arntfield joins us to talk about his latest book, Murder In Plain English – From Manifestos to Memes – Looking at Murder through the words of Killers.

We discuss how artifice and crime are linked and inform each other.

Here is a link to the extensive database of American murders through the Murder Accountability Project, murderdata.org.

Michael Arntfield’s website can be found: (here)

 

 

The theatre of the Grand Guignol:

 

Dana Bradley: Newfoundland police find new evidence in 34-year-old cold case

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Well done Newfoundland police, well done. Ironically, in 2002 Radio Canada did a television show on advances in DNA techniques in the hopes of solving old cold-case. Cases featured on that program, Zone Libre were Dana Bradley. Katherine Hawkes, and Theresa Allore.

It is great that the Newfoundland police kept the evidence for 34-year, now technological advances may at last bring a resolution.

The same cannot be said for Katherine Hawkes and Theresa Allore: Quebec police destroyed all the evidence.

Here is a link to today’s Dana Bradley Story: Newfoundland police find new evidence in 34-year-old cold case

 

Statistique Canada: Le taux d’homicides a reculé de 8 %

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Si vous ne souhaitez pas voir le rapport de Statistique Canada sur 
les homicides à travers le prisme des médias canadiens , ici, c'est 
le rapport directe de StatsCan:

Les services de police canadiens ont déclaré 505 homicides en 2013, soit 38 de moins que l’année précédente. Le taux d’homicides a reculé de 8 % par rapport à 2012 pour s’établir à 1,44 victime pour 100 000 habitants, ce qui représente le taux le plus faible depuis 1966.

La diminution globale des homicides était attribuable au Québec, qui a enregistré une baisse de 40 homicides. Le repli observé au Québec suivait deux années où le nombre d’homicides était supérieur à la moyenne. En 2013, 68 homicides sont survenus dans la province, ce qui correspond à un taux de 0,83 pour 100 000 habitants. Il s’agissait du plus bas taux enregistré au Québec depuis le début de la déclaration des données en 1961.

Alors que le Québec a connu une baisse marquée, six provinces ont fait état d’augmentations modérées du nombre d’homicides en 2013. Compte tenu de ces hausses, les taux d’homicides dans presque toutes les provinces et tous les territoires en 2013 sont demeurés en deçà de leurs moyennes décennales. Faisaient exception Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador et l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, où les taux d’homicides de 2013 ont dépassé leur moyenne décennale précédente.

Les taux d’homicides sont demeurés généralement les plus élevés dans l’Ouest et le Nord. Le Manitoba a affiché le plus fort taux d’homicides provincial (3,87 pour 100 000 habitants), suivi de la Saskatchewan (2,71), de l’Alberta (2,04) et de la Colombie-Britannique (1,66). Alors que les taux d’homicides étaient plus élevés au Nunavut (11,24) et dans les Territoires du Nord-Ouest (4,59) que dans n’importe quelle province, il n’y a pas eu d’homicides au Yukon pour la troisième année consécutive.

Parmi les régions métropolitaines de recensement (RMR) du Canada, Regina a enregistré le taux d’homicides le plus élevé (3,84 pour 100 000 habitants); venaient ensuite Winnipeg (3,24) et Thunder Bay (2,46). Les taux d’homicides étaient inférieurs à la moyenne nationale dans les deux plus grandesRMR canadiennes, à savoir Toronto (1,34) et Montréal (1,08), alors que la troisième RMR en importance, soit Vancouver (1,72), a affiché un taux d’homicides supérieur à la moyenne nationale. Aucun homicide n’a été déclaré à Moncton, à Saguenay, à Sherbrooke, à Peterborough ou à Guelph en 2013.

Les homicides commis à l’aide d’une arme à feu sont en baisse, alors que les homicides perpétrés à l’aide d’une arme pointue augmentent

En 2013, 131 homicides ont été commis à l’aide d’une arme à feu, soit 41 de moins qu’en 2012. De ce fait, le taux d’homicides perpétrés à l’aide d’une arme à feu a atteint son plus bas niveau depuis que des données comparables sont devenues accessibles en 1974. Malgré ce recul, les coups de feu ont été la cause de décès dans environ le quart (27 %) des homicides.

La majorité (68 %) des homicides commis à l’aide d’une arme à feu mettaient en cause une arme de poing, soit une tendance qui se maintient depuis 20 ans. Malgré cette tendance, le taux d’homicides perpétrés à l’aide d’une arme de poing se situait à son niveau le plus bas depuis 1998.

Alors que le nombre d’homicides commis à l’aide d’une arme à feu a diminué en 2013, le nombre d’homicides perpétrés à l’aide d’une arme pointue a augmenté. On a dénombré 195 homicides commis à l’aide d’une arme pointue, soit 31 de plus qu’en 2012. En 2013, 40 % des homicides survenus au Canada mettaient en cause une arme pointue.

Les homicides attribuables à des gangs diminuent

La police a confirmé ou soupçonnait que des gangs étaient impliqués dans 85 homicides en 2013, comparativement à 96 l’année précédente, ce qui représente le premier repli après trois années où le chiffre est resté inchangé. Le taux d’homicides attribuables à des gangs s’établissait à 0,24 pour 100 000 habitants, soit son plus bas niveau enregistré depuis 2004.

Le taux d’homicides attribuables à des gangs était le plus élevé en Colombie-Britannique et au Manitoba, les deux seules régions où le nombre d’homicides attribuables à des gangs a augmenté par rapport à 2012. Parmi les RMR, Kelowna et Regina ont enregistré les taux les plus élevés d’homicides attribuables à des gangs. Les taux d’homicides attribuables à des gangs tendent à être plus élevés dans les RMR que dans les autres régions, tendance qui s’est poursuivie en 2013.

La plupart des victimes connaissaient l’auteur présumé

Dans près de 9 homicides résolus sur 10 (87 %) en 2013, la victime connaissait son assassin, alors que 13 % des victimes ont été tuées par un étranger. Par conséquent, le taux d’homicides commis par un étranger (0,14 pour 100 000 habitants) était le plus faible enregistré en plus de 40 ans.

Plus précisément, dans le cas des homicides survenus en 2013, l’auteur présumé était généralement une connaissance (45 %), un membre de la famille (33 %) ou une relation criminelle (9 %) de la victime. Alors que le nombre d’homicides commis par un étranger a diminué de 25 % en 2013, le nombre d’homicides perpétrés par une connaissance ou un membre de la famille autre que le conjoint était relativement stable. Le nombre d’homicides commis dans le contexte d’une relation criminelle est passé de 23 à 36, ce qui représente une hausse de 57 %.

Baisse du nombre d’homicides entre partenaires intimes

Le nombre de victimes d’homicide commis par un partenaire intime (conjoint, conjoint de fait, partenaire amoureux ou autre partenaire intime, actuel ou ancien) a régressé en 2013. Il s’est produit 68 homicides entre partenaires intimes en 2013, soit 14 de moins que l’année précédente. La plupart des victimes d’homicide commis par un partenaire intime étaient de sexe féminin (82 %), comme par le passé.

Le taux d’homicides perpétrés par un partenaire intime a nettement diminué au cours des deux dernières décennies, quel que soit le sexe de la victime. Le taux d’homicides entre partenaires intimes sur des victimes de sexe masculin a diminué de 73 % de 1993 à 2013, tandis que le taux correspondant pour les victimes de sexe féminin (-48 %) a baissé de près de la moitié pendant la même période.

La plupart des homicides résolus le sont en l’espace d’une semaine

Depuis 2003, environ les trois quarts (76 %) des homicides survenus ont été résolus par la police. Parmi les homicides résolus, près de 7 sur 10 (69 %) l’ont été dans les 7 jours suivants, tandis que 26 % ont été résolus en l’espace de 8 à 364 jours, et 5 % ont été résolus un an ou plus après être survenus.

Parmi les homicides qui ont été commis et résolus depuis 2003, le laps de temps médian entre le moment où l’homicide est survenu et le moment où l’affaire a été résolue était de 2 jours. Ce laps de temps médian était plus long pour les homicides attribuables à des gangs (6 jours) et les homicides liés au commerce des drogues illicites (7 jours). Lorsqu’il s’agissait d’homicides attribuables à des gangs qui ont été perpétrés à l’aide d’une arme à feu, le laps de temps médian était de 16,5 jours entre le moment où ils sont survenus et le moment où ils ont été résolus par la police.

 

#StatsCan: Canadian Homicide rate fell 8% from 2012

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If you don’t wish to view the StatsCan Homicide Report through the lens of Canadian Media, here is the report direct from StatsCan:

Canadian police services reported 505 homicides in 2013, 38 fewer than the previous year. The homicide rate fell 8% from 2012 to 1.44 victims per 100,000 population. This marks the lowest homicide rate since 1966.

The overall decrease in homicides was the result of 40 fewer homicides reported in Quebec. The decrease in Quebec followed two years with higher than average numbers of homicides. There were 68 homicides in the province in 2013, representing a rate of 0.83 per 100,000 population. This was the lowest rate recorded in Quebec since reporting began in 1961.

While Quebec experienced a marked decline, six provinces reported modest increases in the number of homicides in 2013. Taking these increases into account, the homicide rates in nearly every province and territory were below their 10-year averages in 2013. The exceptions were Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, where the 2013 homicide rates were above their previous 10-year average.

Homicide rates continued to be generally highest in the West and the North. Provincially, Manitoba reported the highest homicide rate (3.87 per 100,000 population), followed by Saskatchewan (2.71), Alberta (2.04) and British Columbia (1.66). Nunavut (11.24) and the Northwest Territories (4.59) reported homicide rates higher than any province, while there were no homicides in Yukon for the third consecutive year.

Among Canada’s census metropolitan areas (CMAs), Regina reported the highest homicide rate (3.84 per 100,000 population), followed by Winnipeg (3.24) and Thunder Bay (2.46). Homicide rates were below the national average in Canada’s two largest CMAs, Toronto (1.34) and Montréal (1.08), while the third largest CMA, Vancouver (1.72), reported a homicide rate above the national average. No homicides were reported in Moncton, Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Peterborough or Guelph in 2013.

Firearm-related homicides down, but fatal stabbings increase

There were 131 firearm-related homicides in 2013, down 41 from 2012. This resulted in the lowest rate of firearm-related homicide since comparable data became available in 1974. Despite the decline, shooting was the cause of death in about one-quarter (27%) of homicides.

The majority (68%) of firearm-related homicides were committed with the use of a handgun, a trend that has held over the last 20 years. Despite this trend, the rate of handgun-related homicides reached its lowest point since 1998.

While firearm-related homicides decreased in 2013, the number of fatal stabbings grew. There were 195 fatal stabbings, 31 more than in 2012. Stabbings accounted for 40% of all homicides in Canada in 2013.

Gang-related homicide declines

Police confirmed or suspected the involvement of gangs in 85 homicides in 2013. This compares with 96 reported in the previous year and marks the first decline after three years of no change. The rate of gang-related homicide was 0.24 per 100,000 population, its lowest level since 2004.

The rate of gang-related homicide was highest in British Columbia and Manitoba, the only two regions where the number of gang-related homicides increased compared with 2012. Among CMAs, Kelowna and Regina recorded the highest rates of gang-related homicide. Rates of gang-related homicide tend to be higher in CMAs than in non-CMAs, a trend that continued in 2013.

Most victims knew the accused person

Almost 9 in 10 (87%) solved homicides in 2013 involved a victim being killed by someone they knew, compared with 13% of victims who were killed by a stranger. As a result, the rate of stranger homicide (0.14 per 100,000 population) was the lowest recorded in over 40 years.

More specifically, victims of homicide in 2013 typically knew the accused person as an acquaintance (45%), a family member (33%) or through a criminal relationship (9%). While the number of homicides involving strangers decreased 25% in 2013, those involving acquaintances or non-spousal family members were relatively stable. The number of homicides committed in the context of a criminal relationship increased 57% from 23 to 36.

Fewer intimate partner homicides

The number of victims of intimate partner homicide (homicide committed by a current or former spouse, common-law partner, dating partner or other intimate partner) decreased in 2013. There were 68 intimate partner homicides reported in 2013, 14 fewer than in the previous year. As has been the case historically, most victims of intimate partner homicides were female (82%).

The rate of intimate partner homicide for both male and female victims has declined considerably over the past two decades. The 2013 intimate partner homicide rate for males was 73% lower than it was in 1993, while the rate for females (-48%) declined by nearly half over the same period.

Most solved homicides are solved within one week of their occurrence

Since 2003, about three-quarters (76%) of all homicides that occurred have been solved by police. Of these, nearly 7 in 10 (69%) were solved within 7 days. A further 26% were solved between 8 and 364 days, while 5% were solved one year or more after the incident occurred.

Of homicides that have been committed and solved since 2003, the median length of time between the homicide occurring and being solved was 2 days. Gang-related homicides (6 days) and homicides related to the illegal drug trade (7 days) had a longer median length of time between occurring and being solved. Gang-related homicides committed with the use of a firearm had a median of 16.5 days between occurring and being solved by police.

Theresa Allore Investigation

T-051A follower has brought forward some questions I feel would be beneficial to share with everyone:

Q1: Do you have the feeling that the Quebec police or other police have lied to you ? Or
do you believe that police have always said the truth about that matter?

A1:  I have the feeling that the Quebec Police have their reasons for keeping the truth from me, and their reasons can be separated into three categories:

1. In the most positive sense, they have an interest in solving the case; and sharing too much information with me could potentially damage any ability to solve it.

2. In a negative sense, they may have reasons  for withholding information that could potentially embarrass them.

3. In the EXTREME NEGATIVE sense,  the police may be withholding information that could potentially compromise them, or even implicate them in the case: It has long been suggested that possibly the police were involved in Theresa’s death; either through their association with criminals, or perhaps because some of them were criminals themselves. The evidence here is anecdotal (hearsay), there is no documented evidence of this.

Q2: Is it true that someone has suggested to exhume her body….and why?

A2: The idea of exhuming my sister’s body has been suggested on several occasions. The reasons are to examine whether there might  still be trace DNA evidence that can only be examined by today’s standards. My family is ok with it, we have given our approval anytime any agency should wish to conduct it. One SQ officer wanted to do the exhumation examination, but he couldn’t get the SQ to pay for it. Alternatively we tried to raise money for a private laboratory to do an examination of the remains, but we could never get enough money together to do it, and no one would do it for free.

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Detective Krawczyk’s hunt for sexual predator Donnie Snook

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I have met Detective Paul Krawczyk  on two occasions; once when given a tour of the Toronto police’s major investigations unit, and once in Vancouver when the victims group, CAVA – for which I briefly served as a board member – was giving the entire Toronto child exploitation unit an award. He is a formidable and tenacious investigator. When so much about Toronto is an embarrassment, Krawczyck and the unit are things the city can truly be proud of.

And –  because I grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick – I sadly also know Donnie Snook.

The Toronto Star has written an excellent profile of Krawczyk and his 22 month pursuit of the former Saint John Councillor who was arrested for sexual relations with a child and construction and possession of child pornography:

Donnie Snook investigation: Hunt for unknown sexual predator took Toronto police 22 months

 

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The SQ’s Cold Case Unit: How are they doing?

The answer is, “Not bad”. Solving 2 cold cases a year is actually pretty decent. I sure would like to know their progress since 2010:

La SQ replonge dans ses affaires classées: 200 meurtres non résolus – La Presse 
« on: April 19, 2010, 08:03:12 »
 
(Montréal) Des centaines de dossiers de meurtres non résolus dorment dans 
les entrepôts de la Sûreté du Québec (SQ). Mais depuis la création d’un module 
spécialisé il y a six ans, d’anciennes affaires classées sont portées devant les 
tribunaux à un rythme constant.
 
De 1998 à 2009, 201 meurtres dont l’enquête relevait du corps policier provincial 
n’avaient pas été résolus, indiquent des documents que La Presse a obtenus grâce 
à la loi sur l’accès à l’information. Motivée par les avancées scientifiques et l’arrivée 
des banques d’ADN, la SQ a décidé de revisiter ces anciens dossiers en créant, en 
2004, un module consacré aux cas non résolus. Depuis, 10 affaires classées (cold 
cases, dans le jargon policier) ont été remises à l’appareil judiciaire, dont deux 
depuis janvier dernier. Selon la SQ, deux dossiers ont été résolus en moyenne 
chaque année.
 
À première vue, le chiffre peut sembler peu élevé, mais la résolution d’anciens 
crimes exige un travail de moine de la part des enquêteurs. Une démarche très 
loin du glamour mis de l’avant par les séries télévisées américaines, explique 
l’homme derrière la création de la section. «Des émissions comme CSI ou Cold 
Case, c’est 55 minutes d’action et 5 minutes de rapport! Alors que dans la vraie 
vie, c’est plutôt 15 minutes d’action et 45 minutes de rapport!» lance, à la blague, 
le sergent Martin Hébert. «Notre travail est beaucoup plus long et ardu. Il demande 
de la rigueur et de la persévérance. C’est un travail stratégique qui s’apparente au 
jeu du chat et de la souris, car lorsque tous les éléments sont présents pour déterminer 
le responsable d’un crime, c’est à nous d’en faire usage de la bonne façon pour éviter 
de gaspiller notre preuve.»
 
La SQ n’a pas accepté de révéler combien de personnes travaillent à temps plein à la 
résolution de ces enquêtes. Plusieurs dizaines de policiers peuvent cependant être 
dépêchés lorsque le corps policier pense avoir une piste déterminante. Les motifs 
pour rouvrir une enquête sont très nombreux. Parfois, un criminel se met à table 
et admet sa culpabilité dans d’autres affaires. Ce fut notamment le cas l’an dernier, 
lorsque le tueur à gages Gérald Gallant a avoué sa participation dans 27 meurtres 
commis entre 1978 et 2003.
 
D’autres fois, l’ADN recueilli sur d’anciennes scènes de crime correspond à celui de 
délinquants dont les échantillons ont été colligés à partir de 2000 dans la Banque 
nationale de données génétiques. Les avancées dans la recherche scientifique 
peuvent également jouer un grand rôle.
 
La SQ pense d’ailleurs avoir résolu le meurtre de la petite Sarah Leblanc-Palumbi, 
5 mois, morte mystérieusement il y a près de 18 ans. Martin Hébert préfère ne pas 
trop s’avancer puisque l’affaire est actuellement devant les tribunaux. Le procureur 
de la Couronne a toutefois indiqué publiquement que l’affaire avait été résolue grâce 
à l’évolution des connaissances scientifiques en ce qui a trait aux bébés secoués. Le 
père de la victime, Gabriel Palumbi, a été accusé il y a quelques mois d’homicide 
involontaire. «Plusieurs raisons expliquent la réouverture d’un dossier, mais très 
souvent, c’est grâce à de nouvelles informations fournies par le public», précise 
toutefois Martin Hébert. Il cite notamment le meurtre de Michel Dugas, disparu 
en 1999 à Matane, pour lequel son ex-conjointe Marie-Jeanne Gendron a été 
inculpée en novembre dernier. «C’est un bel exemple de dossier qui a fait appel à 
un peu toutes les techniques auxquelles un enquêteur de meurtre non résolu peut 
avoir accès», explique-t-il. En 2008, la femme s’est départie d’un matelas. La 
personne qui en a hérité a alerté les policiers lorsqu’elle a remarqué qu’il était 
souillé d’une substance brunâtre. Après des tests d’ADN, les policiers ont conclu 
que la tache était en fait le sang de Michel Dugas.
 
Ils y ont également découvert des traces de balles d’arme à feu à la suite d’une 
enquête balistique. À la lumière des révélations, les témoins rencontrés neuf ans 
auparavant ont été revus. Les policiers ont finalement trouvé les ossements du 
disparu enfouis dans la cour arrière de Mme Gendron. «Ce qui motive nos 
enquêteurs, c’est surtout d’amener du réconfort aux familles, aux proches des 
victimes, de mettre du baume sur leurs plaies, dit Martin Hébert.
 
D’autres fois, ça reste une énigme, ce qui peut engendrer une certaine frustration. 
Le défi, c’est de ne pas nous laisser gagner par cela, parce que ça peut nous faire 
perdre une certaine objectivité.»
 
La Sûreté du Québec a offert une récompense de 50 000$ pour un triple meurtre 
particulièrement violent survenu à Saint-Paul-de-Joliette, en 1999. Aucune 
arrestation n’a été faite dans cette affaire.
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This has been an interesting week

I’ll post in bullets:

  • Rob Tripp from CanCrime caught wind of the Victims of Homicide survey and wants to pitch a story about it to the national press.
  • I did a telephone interview today with a reporter with Avis de Recherche, an online video station about Canadien crime (ya… after 8 months my French was REALLY rusty… I am re-inspired by one of my daughters, Theresa who has announced that she will take French in middle-school). Story will be posted in the next 2 months.
  • Another interview request! Someone from Northern Mysteries, a documentary TV series about unsolved mysteries, wants to do a story on Theresa (what is in the water?). Though I did have to correct her on the assumption that Theresa is missing (No, no… found, and very much DEAD).
  • There is a general consensus that my voice has been very much missed (I’m touched! Thanks guys!). Nice to be back in the game.
  • I will post something on what I’ve been up to in the past 8 months; in time, I’m still processing.
  • I should have an announcement about the scholarship shortly.
  • On a side note: since the release of The King of Limbs I am on a total Radiohead jag, just can’t get enough.

New Cold Case Technologies

Slow news week in this world. I figure I better post something (I’m down to 50 hits per day). Here’s a nifty little article about dating teeth:

Teeth As A Forensic Clock

With the right analyses, they can point to date of birth — and of death By Janet Raloff Web edition : Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Here’s something we’re likely to see that endearing techno whiz kid, Abby Sciuto, whip out of her forensic arsenal next season on NCIS. They’re chemical and nuclear technologies to date teeth. And when paired up, new research indicates, they’ll identify not only when people were born but also the age at which they clocked out — thereby pointing to the general date of death.

It’s a bit gruesome to contemplate why coroners and others need these data. We’d all like to hope that when people die, it’s going to be among family or friends who can vouch for the deceased’s identity. But bad things happen to lots of people — sometimes in groups. And identifying them may hinge on knowing their age and how long ago they succumbed — both of which can prove especially challenging when the tissues are decomposing or when all that remains are partial skeletons.

The older of the technologies is known as aspartic acid racemization. A mouthful. The amino acid aspartic acid is a building block of proteins throughout the body. It comes in mirror-image forms — what are conversationally known as left- and right-handed versions. They tend to start out present in roughly a racemic — or 50:50 — mix. Throughout life, all left-handed aspartic acid in the body tends to slowly convert to the right-handed conformation.

This racemization — slow conversion of lefties — is a slow process, Bruce A. Buchholz of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and his coauthors note in the May Molecular & Cellular Proteomics. At 25 °C, it would take about 100,000 years for all left-handed aspartic acid molecules in the body to become righties.

But what has made this molecular clock so useful for forensic anthropologists over the past quarter-century is the fact that it stops dead when someone dies. And by focusing on the enamel of teeth, which is laid down over a short period as each adult tooth forms, chemists know when this outside shell of a tooth developed, which would be during the time that tooth erupted — a fairly predictable age.

By analyzing how much racemization of its aspartic acid occurred, scientists can determine how old the tooth’s owner was at death — generally accurate to about 5.5 years, plus or minus 4.2 years.

What it doesn’t tell you is how long ago that death occurred. But for people born since the mid-1940s, there is a second technique that can deliver a fairly precise age (within about one year) of when a tooth’s enamel was laid down. It looks at the ratio of radioactive carbon-14 in that enamel to stable C-12. This technique’s use on teeth was first described by Buchholz and his colleagues in a 2005 Nature paper.

With six protons and six neutrons, carbon normally has an atomic number of 12. But sometimes a cosmic ray will collide with a nitrogen atom, giving it an extra neutron. It quickly becomes carbon-14 (with six protons and 8 neutrons). This radioactive element has a half-life of some 5,700 years. Over time, that carbon-14 will decay to regular carbon-12.

Through most of Earth’s history, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 was fairly constant — at least until the nuclear-weapons era started. Bomb blasts created a surfeit of C-14 that quickly dispersed around the globe. And the enamel of teeth that erupted since the period of those blasts, basically the mid-1950s — has incorporated an elevated ratio of C-14 to -12 in all of its tissues, including tooth enamel.

But the ratio has varied. Over time, some of the excess C-14 has become buried or incorporated in biota around the globe. And by knowing the rate of its relative disappearance, for want of a better term, physicists can date how long since the mid-50s a tooth formed, based on the ratio of the two carbon isotopes within its enamel.

Again, by knowing the age at which a particular type of tooth erupts — front teeth earlier, molars later — scientists can calculate back from when the tooth formed to determine the year in which a tooth’s owner was born.

Until his group’s new report, scientists hadn’t compared racemization and C-14 analyses on the same teeth, Buchholz says. So they collected teeth that had been extracted by dentists from 40 individuals, people whose age was known (between 13 to 70), and compared the technologies’ relative accuracy in dating choppers.

Overall, C-14 analyses gave superior age-at-birth dates, but only for people whose teeth erupted after the bomb blasts, meaning individuals about 60 and younger. However, when the researchers applied both techniques to teeth, they realized that the racemization offered an additional useful detail, a good gauge of an individual’s age at death.

And they applied it to teeth from a homicide victim in Sweden (where one of the scientists worked). By pairing information from both techniques, they could determine that the victim was born in 1942 and lived for an apparent 46.8 years. That put the victim’s death late in 1988 (plus or minus 2.1 years). Although police have not identified the man, Buchholz’s team reports that owing to the dates they came up with, police think they know who this person might be: “a foreigner believed to be in his forties who was suspected for having set fire to a restaurant in 1988 but then disappeared.”

For people born in the last 50 years or so, the C-14 test can by itself sometimes identify dates of both birth and death, Buchholz notes. Indeed, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary recently employed the technique to help home in on the age of another homicide victim.

Hikers happened onto a lone skull in a wooded area in far eastern Canada on May 17, 2001. For several years, the police worked to identify the victim using a range of techniques, including DNA analysis, facial reconstruction, dental analyses and more. But they had a hard time narrowing their search because they didn’t know when the man had died.

Recently, RNC Inspector John House was looking for other forensic techniques that might be employed when he ran across a paper by Buchholz’s team on the C-14 analysis. He recruited the scientists’ assistance in analyzing some of the skull’s teeth — and hair.

Because the police had some of the man’s wavy black locks, with roots intact, the scientists could subject them to C-14 dating as well. Explains Buchholz: Because hair grows at about a centimeter per month, “the hair root and about an inch of growth gives a good idea of carbon intake over the last couple of months.” And that allows a fairly accurate date of death. In this case, June 1995, plus or minus 1.7 years. Based on the dental enamel’s C-14 ratio, they calculated that the victim had been born between 1955 and 1961.

Alas, the physicist notes, many skulls don’t come with hair. And in these instance, racemization can really come in handy.

By the time the numbers came in for the Newfoundland victim, House says, “The case was very cold” — as in frigid. Now, he says, “it’s become an active investigation again.” And explains why, he says, C-14 analysis “is something I’d definitely use again.”

It isn’t a panacea. The victim still remains unknown. But based on all of the information House’s group has assembled, his police department was able to issue a poster last December with a projected likeness of the man and a host of information that they hope will bring out new leads in their investigation.

By the way, if you’re curious about why racemization is so much less accurate a clock than C-14 for dating a tooth’s age, part of the explanation has to do with temperature. Unlike C-14, the clock runs faster for aspartic-acid racemization when it’s hot. So being in a fire will totally distort a tooth’s apparent age via this technique — as might being left in a desert. Even the placement of a tooth — in the front of the mouth versus the back — can provide a degree or two difference in the temperature at which it’s incubated during an individual’s life, Buchholz notes. “And over a period of 40 years or so, that few degrees can be significant” — enough to alter a tooth’s apparent age by a several years.

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NamUs Missing Person Database Goes Unused by 93 Percent of Law Enforcement

Is anyone surprised by this news?  No. Because we still have a police culture so set in its ways that they’d prefer to rely on memory, scratch pads and file boxes to solve problems when more than adequate tools are practically begging for utilization. Tools that could save lives:

PC News by David Murphy

Since 2009, families and medical examiners have had access to a free online database that’s designed to assist in the identification of more than 40,000 sets of unidentified remains across the country. Dubbed “NamUs,” short for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the program allows both parties to enter identifying characteristics of a missing person or unidentified body in the hopes that this information exchange will help match a face to a fate.

It’s a grim consolation for those whose friends or families have been affected by violence or accidents. Nevertheless, the Associated Press reports that the free service has helped solved 16 cases since the cross-matching feature went live in July of last year. The numbers don’t end there: the service is home to around 6,200 unidentified sets of remains, 2,800 missing people, and–according to The Crime Report–has been accessed (on the missing persons front) by more than 185,000 people as of January 2009.

What’s the problem? According to the AP, only 1,100 of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies, or 6.5 percent, are registered with the service. That’s partly a publicity issue, as numerous law enforcement agencies simply don’t know the service exists. Others are more leery about using limited resources to participate in the service.

That doesn’t sit well with Janice Smolinski, sponsor of the “Billy’s Law” bill that aims to encourage wider use of the NamUs system. If passed–it’s already received House approval and remains pending in the Senate–the bill would generate $10 million in annual grants for law enforcement agencies to both train new users and help them resource the data entry process of adding new details to the system. The bill would also allow for an annual grant of $2.4 million to keep NamUS, as a whole, up-and-running.

As for how the system actually works, NamUs profiles are rated based on a one-to-five star system. A one-star profile contains scant details about a person: perhaps a name, or the location where they disappeared, but that’s it. A five-star profile is the whole kit-and-caboodle, with a full swath of details and identifying characteristics, as well as a picture or rendering of a person’s likely image.

According to The Crime Report, there’s currently no mandate that forces law enforcement to database details about a 21-or-over missing adult. Billy’s Law won’t change that aspect of the system, but it will allow the database to link up with the National Crime Information Center Missing and Unidentified Person File database in hopes that this could increase the detail of NamUS profiles (or, conversely, fill out the system with more.) Similarly, law enforcement will be required to submit missing persons reports for children (21-and-under) to the NamUs database.

For Smolinski, the legislative victory would be bittersweet. She remains confident that the NamUs database will give her the details she needs to close her own case–that of her son, Billy, who went missing in Connecticut in 2004.

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