The Serial Killer Ate My Homework

Watching some of these investigative reporters attempt to solve crimes gets as boring as watching American league baseball. No-one wants to single and bunt their way to victory, it’s all about the DH bases loaded home run, let’s hang it all to a serial killer and solve five crimes at once.

Israel Keyes

Take the case of Nancy West writing in a recent New Hampshire Sunday News article about murder suspect Israel Keyes. Keyes is being held in Alaska for the alleged kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig from an Anchorage coffee shop. Keyes is also apparently  a person of interest in the slaying of Essex, Vermont couple, Bill and Lorraine Currier, who were randomly abducted and murdered in June 2011 (apparently Keyes has told investigators the bodies could be found in a Vermont landfill).  The article (and apparently an impatient public, and capitulating law enforcement agencies) then attempts to tie Keyes to the disappearance and murder of Celina Cass, whose body was retrieved from a local river over a year ago, less than a quarter of a mile from her home. The evidence? Cass disappeared the month after the Currier murders.

Never mind that where the Curriers live in Essex, Vermont is a good five-hour drive on rough roads to where Cass disappeared in New Hampshire. Never mind that the psychological profile of someone who robs and kills a couple in their 50s is vastly different from someone who murders an 11-year-old. Investigators also note that Keyes owned a cabin near the Canadian border in Constable, New York. Let me put that in perspective for you; that’s three states, and over 300 miles. It’s like saying a person from Cornwall, Ontario is a suspect in a Sherbrooke, Quebec murder simply because there once was a penitentiary in Cornwall.

It gets better. The article also notes that the cases of Maura Murray and Louise Chaput remain unsolved in New Hampshire. 

Celia Cass

I’ll make this really easy for everyone. There is no evidence that Israel Keyes murdered Celina Cass (or Murray or Chaput). Cass was found a quarter of a mile from her house and was most likely murdered by a family member.

As I wrote about in my last post, through a long process of trial and error I have become a disciple of the least effort principle of Occam’s Razor. By all means keep your mind open for the unexpected, but also keep it simple, let the facts speak for themselves. The pressure and temptation to throw everything into some great unifying theory in criminal investigation is strong. I remember back in the Summer of 2005 I was working with NBC television to do a story for Dateline NBC on my sister’s murder. The producers were interested in exploring an angle between her case, and the then two new investigations into the twin disappearances of Briana Maitland and Maura Murray. The producers wanted myself and Geographic Profiler, Kim Rossmo to go on record and suggest that all the cases might be related, that their was a possibility that a serial killer had been operating across the American-Canadian border over a period of three decades. There was absolutely no evidence to support this theory. Rossmo explained that when establishing locus and territoriality in geographic profiling, the span of a serial predator quickly diminishes at a point of say, 30 miles. For someone to be operating in a playing field of several hundred miles is very rare, if not impossible. Some might cite Ted Bundy, but that was never really the case: Bundy travelled. In the case of the Green River Killings one of the major inhibitors to resolving that investigation was the temptation to tie too much together (to essentially make Gary Ridgeway and Robert Pickton one person). When we told the producers at NBC that there no evidence to support such a sensational theory they didn’t care. They wanted us to say it anyway.

Eventually we backed away from the Dateline story, and the producers were not interested in doing a show that stuck with the facts. I will admit that the temptation to give them what they wanted was there. Regardless if it was true, a Dateline story would have given my sister’s case International exposure. It could have led to information that could have solved the case. But the premise wasn’t true, it could have done more damage than good. And anyway, an American audience would do little to shed light on events of 3o-years-ago; what ultimately was needed was a program in the French language, produced for locals, by locals (which is ultimately was what we got).

In November 1999, 16-year-old Julie Surprenant disappeared from a Montreal bus-stop. Less than two years later, 14-year-old Julie Bureau went missing

Julie Surprenant’s father, Michel

from her home near Sherbrooke, Quebec. Then ten months later the body of 27-year-old Julie Boisvenu was found in a ditch near Sherbrooke. She had been raped, beaten and strangled to death. The press quickly tried to suggest that the cases were somehow linked. Their evidence? The girls were all named Julie. I’m not joking. I remember the La Presse headline, Les Trois Julies, and I myself got caught up in this hysteria. So what happened? Julie Surprenant was abducted and killed by serial offender Richard Bouillon who, on his prison death bed, confessed to a nurse that he killed her. Her body has never been found. Julie Bureau was a runaway who resurfaced three years later, apparently living under everyone’s noses in Sherbrooke.  Julie Boisvenu was murdered by Hugo Bernier, who is currently serving a life sentence. Bernier was a repeat offender, but not a hardened criminal like Bouillon.

This brings me full circle to the cases on Briana Maitland and Maura Murray. Both disappeared

Maura Murray

within a month of each other eight years ago. Both disappearances involved abandoned automobiles on lonely forested highways. Both were young, attractive women with their whole lives ahead of them. For years investigators, the media and the public have tried to link the cases. It took the first year and a half before investigators officially dismissed any connection, wasting valuable resources and time.

The cases are vastly different.

Murray appears to have been under numerous stressors that could have given her a reason to runaway. She may be living somewhere else, or she may have been in despair and perhaps died in the woods. Maitland’s disappearance seems to be linked to foul play. Friends and associates to this day are not talking. She may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where Maitland’s investigation appears to have stalled, the Murray case has received fresh interest with the creation of a blog by investigative journalist James Renner  ( apparently to the dismay of the family unfortunately). Nevertheless, Renner appears clear-headed and dedicated to sticking to the facts of the case. I hope both cases soon find their resolutions.


Did Brianna Maitland go to Montreal?

Brianna Maitland

In a 2011 television interview for, I believe, The Discovery Network, Brianna Maitland’s mother said that Brianna was a restless girl, eager to find her independence, and had indicated that she wanted get away from the rural confines of upstate Vermont and live in a big city like New York or Montreal.

So, did Brianna Maitland – missing since 2004 – run away to Montreal? Certainly it would be easy to slip away over the Quebec border unnoticed. A recent Montreal Gazette article marks the closing of the Stanstead – Derby Line border crossing, the last unstaffed crossing, where criminals have been going back-and-forth for decades. Note that Stanstead is less than an hour from where Brianna was last seen in Montgomery, Vermont. When I was a kid, I attended hockey camp in Stanstead and I well remember walking back and forth across the border to get American candy bars; no-one every stopped you.

Still, although the Quebec police at one time were investigating the possibility that Brianna was in Montreal (I know because I asked them, and they confirmed it… and then later Brianna’s father, Bruce told me  he was working with Quebec Police) I think it is highly doubtful that Montreal was her destination the night of March 19, 2004. I think what’s been the biggest problem since the beginning of this case is too many silly leads that have distracted the investigation. Investigators lost valuable time trying to establish or discredit a link to the Maura Murray disappearance. In 2006, an affidavit surfaced from a young woman claiming that Brianna’s body was dismembered, and the remains scattered at a Vermont pig farm (note that in 2006, the Robert Pickton trail was in full swing in British Columbia: pig mania was everywhere). I have even heard the stories about Brianna being sacrificed by local teens in a devil worshipping ceremony. Then there was the runaway angle (she’s in Montreal, no she’s in New York, no she’s in Atlantic City).

This kind of fear-culture hysteria is not uncommon, My family experienced it ourselves in the 5 months in which Theresa was missing. Here’s the litany of time-wasters we had to endure:

– She was in Montreal, or Florida, or “out West”.

– She committed suicide.

– She had a baby and was living in a convent.

– She was a lesbian and was so ashamed that she ran away to… a convent.

– The Hells Angels got her.

– Her friends killed her. No wait… her friends did drugs with her, THEN killed her. 

– She was strapped to a bed for five months before finally being allowed to die.

Sound familiar? 

Brianna’s mother describes her daughter as being fearless, trustful of others, she saw the good in everyone. she wanted to be independent, to try new things, she experimented with life, used drugs recreationally, extremely beautiful and attractive, wanted attention, wanted to be loved. Could give as good as she could get (took martial arts), if confronted she would put up a fight.

When I hear that description I hear my mother describing Theresa. They are the same women. And women like that court danger, and sometimes danger stalks them.

When Theresa was eventually found – she wasn’t where any of the “experts” said she was. Her body was less than a mile from where she lived.  Eight years later, I believe investigators need to go back to square one with Brianna. I believe in Occam’s Razor. I believe in the compelling principle of simplicity, especially when it comes to criminals and their behavior. Can people keep a secret after eight years? If they can after thirty-four, they definitely can keep their mouths’ shut for eight. Especially if you refuse to apply any pressure. I would DEFINITELY take a trip to Jamaica / Queens and speak again to Ramon Ryans and Low Jackson (I have every confidence Bruce Maitland has tried to, the police need to). Don’t wait for the forensic results from that skull found in Danby last winter. Trust me, it’s not her. Your answers lie right in Montgomery, and with the people who were in Montgomery, March 19, 2004.


10 Years Later – Who Killed Theresa?


Ten years ago today we posed a question to Canadians through the medium of its national newspaper, The National Post: Who killed my sister, Theresa Allore? The point of those series of articles – written by Patricia Pearson, and featured on the front page of the paper over three consecutive days, August 10th weekend, 2002 – was not only to find an answer to that question, but to suggest that many things – while perhaps not killing Theresa – but certainly many things led to her disappearance and murder, and then later hindered a proper investigation, leaving the case unsolved to this day. The police, legal and justice systems in Quebec “killed Theresa”. The education system in Quebec “killed Theresa”. We killed Theresa because we failed her when she needed us most. Just as we killed Isabelle Bolduc, Julie Bosivenu, Julie Surprenant, Marilyn Bergeron, and on and on and on.

So here are some thoughts on those articles written ten years ago. You can find the original articles here (in English and French). If you need a primer on the case I started a Wikipedia page on it here . Also, if you’re more visual, CTV’s W-5 did an hour on the story in 2005 I believe, and you can find the video here. (I no longer like to talk to directly about the murders; it disturbs me).

 So, how did it come to be that this case got dragged out of obscurity and placed on the front page of a national newspaper? Well, I knew the writer, Patricia Pearson quite well. She was my first girlfriend in high School. We later attended university together in Toronto, so we were very close and she had lived through the death of my sister. I remember I had been visiting my parents in Saint John, New Brunswick, this would have been about a year before the articles were published, and I was thinking about re-investigating the case, and about several media avenues where to present it. I was on a plane and there was a copy of The Post. Patricia had written this funny little piece on shaving cream warmers. Remember those little devises you could stick on the top of a shaving cream can to warm the stuff before it went on your face? Stupid, right? Well she thought so too, and she wrote this piece about it. I remember thinking, that Patricia might be a good choice to do the story. I wouldn’t have to do a lot of back filling about how nutty my family was because of Theresa’s death; she had lived through that. And, she had covered the Holmolka – Bernardo case in Toronto, so she had that “going” for her.

She was not however my first choice. My first choice was Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point had just been released, and Malcolm was another friend with whom I’d gone to college. (I went to school at Trinity College, University of Toronto… pretty tony. I would routinely breakfast, lunch and dine with Patricia, Malcolm, Atom Egoyan, Andy Coyne, Kate Zernike, Bruce Headlam, Pam Mackinnon, and on and on and on… (and no, don’t ask me what the hell I was doing there)). Anyway, Malcolm turned me down. He had been in the States too long and felt ill equipt to do an investigative piece on a Canadian murder, let alone what that involved sticking his nose in the politics of Quebec.

In the days before the story went to press, Patricia was out of town, she was up north at her cottage in Peterborough, so that left me to work out the final details with the Post’s editors. I really can’t remember who came up with the title Who Killed Theresa?  Normally that sort of thing isn’t provided by the writer, an editor contributes that, but I believe in this case it was in fact Patricia. Anyway, it stuck. I do remember in the final days they came to me with the bi-line for the final installment, “Pattern Points to a Serial Killer”. They were quite concerned that this might be a bit too sensational, that it might upset my family too much. I thought it just fine; if it brought readers to the paper, the more the merrier.

The key to the stories was getting the endorsement of Kim Rossmo, the now famous geographic profiler who broke the case of Robert Pickton and the missing women from Vancouver’s downtown Eastside. Without Rossmo, the story would have been simply an antique love letter full of pain and regret. Rossmo suggested that someone could have been responsible for three unsolved murders, and that even after 25 years the cases were still solvable, if the Surete du Quebec would simple show some initiative and do their jobs. Patricia and I were two amateur sleuths, but with Rossmo’s buy-in we had to be taken seriously; it was like having Sherlock Holmes the guest star on The New Scooby-Do Movies.

When those stories broke, they did and did not have a profound impact on the case. Initially I received a lot of response from friends. August is the time to relax and go to the cottage. I had friends at their places in the Muskokas or the Eastern Townships and they were just trying to get away and do a little light reader, then they had this murder mystery thrown at them where they knew the main players.

It did cause a stir, but it played best in Upper Canada and points west (people love to point at shit in other people’s’ yards), in Quebec it did very little. It would take years more work, me having to learn the French language and then courting the French media before the story met with deserved outrage in the Quebec papers.

I trace the emergence of vicitms advocacy in the arena of homicide like this in Quebec:  Marcel Bolduc laid the foundation, myself, Michel Surprenant and Pierre Hugues Boisvenu converged at just the right time in a perfect storm of victim outrage. Pierre took the torch and ran with it. There is always room for improvement, but looking back, the relationship between the police and victims advocates has never been better in Quebec.

So ten years later… where are we? Patricia is still in Toronto, we email from time to time. Pierre Hugues Boisvenu is of course in the Senate (don’t be too hard on Pierre… some say he’s sold out, but Pierre keeps his cards close to the vest. He always has a plan, he will have the last laugh). Kim Rossmo is using crime mapping to make sure soldiers don’t get hurt in Afganistan; is there a better use of his talents? The last time we communicated Clifford Olsen had contacted him claiming responsibility for my sister’s death (Olsen always was a blowhard, and completely full of it). Kim and I are Facebook “friends”, but WTF am I supposed to say to him, “Hey Kim!,I like your new profile picture! LMFAO!”

So where are we? Well I think if we had had a man like André Noël at the helm we might have gotten some answers. Ten years later…almost thirty-four years later, I still don’t know who killed Theresa. Though I’m pretty confident I know where to find the answers. The National Post stories made the locus all of Canada (and over the years I have been urged to promote the case on America’s Most Wanted: pointless, trust me).  We slowly moved the focus to Quebec, then narrowed the focus to Sherbrooke and the Eastern Townships. Now bring that focus still closer. Go to the town of Compton, Quebec where Theresa’s body was found (population 3,000). So, 3,000 people… maybe 1,000 households. Knock on each one of those doors and ask them, “do you know who killed Theresa?”.  You’ll get your answer.


Marilyn Bergeron – still missing

Je ne peux pas y croire. Marilyn Bergeron a disparu depuis 2008. J’ai toujours pensé que ce cas serait résolu, que Marilyn allait revenir à son domicile. Ici, il mensonges exposés, comme une plaie ouverte.

La famille a mis en place un site web vraiment super. Check it out here: Trouvez Marilyn Bergeron.


Laval police searching for a missing 28-year-old woman, Émilie Bélanger

Wow, This stuff just never ends:

MONTREAL – Laval police are currently searching for a missing 28-year-old woman.

Émilie Bélanger was last seen on July 13. She occasionally lived with her grandfather and has left him a voicemail two weeks ago.

Since then, she has not given anyone information on her whereabouts. She is described as white, 5-foot-3 and weighs 100 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes and speaks French.

Laval police believe that she could be on the island of Montreal or in Laval.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Laval Police department at 450-662-INFO, referencing case number 2012-295.



Rocky Mount Women / GQ: No good deed…

GQ story on alleged serial killings splits opinions
By Brie Handgraaf
Rocky Mount Telegram

The people interviewed for a recent national story on Rocky Mount’s alleged serial killer case are divided on the published product.

Jackie Wiggins, mother of victim Jackie Nikelia ‘Nikki’ Thorpe, spoke with the author of the article in June’s issue of “Gentleman’s Quarterly” last fall and said she has mixed opinions about how it turned out.

“I was pleased with it as far as the publication about the girls and stuff, but his interview with this cabbie person was kind of shocking to me,” she said. “He came out with a whole lot of information that could have been useful earlier (in the investigation).”

She said she is reserving judgment on some of the quotes from officials used in the article.
“I think they said some things that now I hope they regret,” she said. “I guess the reporter reported as he heard it, but I’m waiting to hear their version of it.”

Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs was negatively portrayed in the article. Combs said the author took him out of context.

“Most people assume the mayor knows everything that is going on, but I’m not always aware of what the police department is working on,” he said. “He also made a comment about how I wasn’t at the candlelight vigil, but I really didn’t know about it. Nobody called me so I never knew about it.”

He added the article was skewed to overplay the race issue.

“I’m not sure I realized the direction he was going with it,” he said. “He wanted to paint a picture between Edgecombe and Nash counties, but I think, overall, that as a mayor, I look at it as all one city. I think because he is writing a book on race in the South, the whole article was based on race more than anything.”

Wiggins said she also believes the focus on race was dramatized.

“When he talked about the train tracks diving the blacks and whites, I think it could have been worded better,” she said. “I guess that was just his way of getting the point across, but our schools are integrated. I feel like some things were stretched.”

Rocky Mount councilman and local NAACP president Andre Knight said race does play into how much media attention, or lack thereof, the case has gotten.

“I think (the author) used race as a backdrop,” he said. “I think when it comes to African-American women and children (as victims of crime), they don’t get near the coverage other nationalities get in the media.”

Knight and Wiggins commended the author for his portrayal of the girls — not just how they died, but how they lived as well.

“He gave the women a real face. He talked about not just their addictions, but how these women were actually engaged in society. They were good people,” Knight said. “He was trying to actually put a face other than a mugshot on these women. I think he gave them some dignity as well.”

Wiggins actually was pleased with the relatively graphic portrayal of the victims’ deaths in the article.

“He was printing that to make people see just how tragic and demeaning the bodies were left,” she said. “He described what it was like. He put it like it was. I think the readers can see what we saw and how we felt.”

Knight said he hopes the national media attention will help the investigation.
“This case hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it needs,” he said. “We don’t need this to go by the wayside. It is still very important to the families and the community.”
Combs said the attention will likely taper off.

“Other communities have had similar things happen and I hate to say this, but soon the national media moves on to something new,” he said. “Hopefully, someone will see this in the media and come forward with new information.

“I just hope people take it for what it is. It is a magazine article by someone trying to write a book.

“He took a lot of liberty along the way. It is what it is.”


Remains of Tiffany Morrison ID’d

Lack of media coverage indeed; I’d never heard of this case:

Human remains found in an aboriginal community south of Montreal on Tuesday have been identified as those of a woman missing since 2006.

The bones have been identified as those of Tiffany Morrison, 25, from the Kahnawake reserve, officials with the local police force confirmed on Friday.

The remains were found by a construction worker in a wooded area near the Mercier Bridge, which links Montreal to the South Shore region, said Warren White, an investigator with the Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers.

The bones had been covered with some branches, White said.

Morrison was reportedly last seen in a taxi with a man on the Kahnawake reserve, southwest of Montreal, on June 18, 2006.

Morrison’s family had been critical of what it said was a lack of media coverage of her disappearance.


Human remains found near Mercier bridge (thanks Anon)

Kahnawake Peacekeepers are investigating human remains discovered Monday afternoon near the Mercier Bridge.

A construction worker found bones and a skull on the south shore, between routes 138 and 132.

The remains were hidden underneath saplings and branches, leading police to declare the area a crime scene.

A forensics investigator is examining the remains, and trying to determine whether they belong to a man or a woman, and the approximate age of the person.

Police hope that preliminary results will be available as of Thursday.


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.


Brianna Maitland not found

The Vermont State Police say a search in Richford for a 17-year-old Sheldon girl who disappeared in 2004 was unsuccessful.

Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Team with help from a K-9 dog unit searched Prive Hill Road on Monday for evidence linked to the disappearance of Brianna Maitland. But authorities say no evidence was found.

Maitland was last seen on March 19, 2004 at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, where she worked as a dishwasher.

Her car was found the next day a short distance away, but she has not been seen since.

Police believe she was the victim of foul play.

The Maitland family continues to offer a $20,000 reward for information leading to her location and to the person responsible for her disappearance.