A brief history of forensic DnA
1990 – 2010
marking 20 years of DnA analysis for the
new Zealand criminal justice system
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It seems hard to believe that only a little more than two decades ago, using
DNA to fight crime was unheard of. The development of DNA ‘fingerprinting’
revolutionised forensic science and the investigation of crime worldwide.
In the early years DNA profiling was primarily used to solve serious crimes.
It is now routinely used to investigate a range of crimes from burglaries, to
homicides. Often the investigation of a major crime using DNA technology
has led to a number of different and often completely unrelated crimes
being solved. When confronted with DNA evidence many offenders plead
guilty, saving resources and money in criminal investigations, and through
the court system. The continual development and improvements in the use
of forensic DNA technology has enabled some of New Zealand’s most
challenging cold cases to be solved. and it is also
an extremely important tool in exonerating the
innocent. Behind the scenes it can be the
tool that excludes suspects or changes the
focus of a police investigation.
New Zealand has continually been at the
forefront of developing and utilising forensic
DNA technology. Our forensic scientists have
been instrumental in major technological
advances; most notably in the development of
low copy number trace DNA and interpretation
of DNA profiles. New Zealand’s ‘hit rate,’
linking individuals to crimes through the
databank, is one of the highest in the
world. Our DNA expertise is recognised
throughout the world and our forensic
systems and scientists are sought after by other
jurisdictions particularly in Australasia. The New Zealand
criminal justice system has benefitted from two decades of continuous
development and implementation of forensic DNA. The partnership between
users of the criminal justice system, and particularly between ESR and the
ESR provides independent impartial forensic service expertise to support
the New Zealand justice system. This comprehensive forensic service is New Zealand Police, should ensure that New Zealand retains its place as a
underpinned by robust research and the latest DNA technology. world leader in the use of this crime fighting technology.
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forensic DnA timeline 2001
Theresa Cormack ‘cold
case’ solved using improved 2007
Mid 1990s – 2000 DNA technology Increased
ESR introduces more discrimination
1985 sensitive and discriminating between DNA
British scientists, Drs Peter Gill, DNA technology profiles
Alec Jeffreys and Dave Werrett
publish “Forensic application of 2004
New Zealand exports 2006
Introduction of DNA
profiling into casework
1987–1988 in New Zealand
NZ scientists begin training
in the new technology
Introduction of DNA
profiling into casework in
Low Copy Number
to NZ casework
Robots introduced to
the DNA laboratory
First DNA evidence 2002
presented in NZ court NZ’s purpose built forensic 2009 – 100,000th
DNA laboratory opens individual profile
added to databank
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A brief history of forensic DnA analysis in 1990 DnA evidence presented violation and 68 other offences and was
in new Zealand court sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In 1990 Dr Lawton presented DNA In 1995 seven rapes and a homicide in
evidence for the first time in a New South Auckland were linked by DNA
Zealand court in Q v Pengelly. testing. In 1996 DNA linked another
In 1985 British scientists, Drs services for the series of rapes in central Auckland to the
Michael James Pengelly was accused of
Peter Gill, Alec Jeffreys and Dave New Zealand Police South Auckland rapes. A mass DNA
the murder of an elderly woman in her
Werrett published a paper in Nature, including the screen of several thousand men was
Auckland home. Various bloodstains
“Forensic application of DNA identification and undertaken. Malcolm Rewa headed the
were located in the house. These were
fingerprints.” grouping of bloodstains suspect list but couldn’t be located. In
blood typed, then DNA tested. It was
and semen stains. This was May 1996 Rewa was arrested following
This provided a method for found that some of the bloodstains
done using blood typing. an attack on a 16 year old girl. His
identification of individuals by DNA could not be from the deceased. DNA
The new DNA-based method DNA profile matched the DNA linked
profiling and was the beginning of testing showed that the blood could be
would prove to be far crimes. On the first day of his trial he
DNA testing in forensic science. from the accused, and Pengelly was later
more discriminating than pleaded guilty to all cases where there
It’s proved to be the biggest convicted of the murder.
conventional blood typing for was DNA evidence except for the
single advance in the field since
the identification of individuals homicide. He was found guilty in 26
involved in crime. Early 1990s Amplification other cases. A second trial found him
In a paper to mark 20 years since the of DnA guilty of the homicide.
discovery Drs Gill and Prof Jobling
said – “Sherlock Holmes said ‘it has
1987-1988 new Zealand The first PCR-based methods were
long been an axiom of mine that the
scientists begin training in the introduced into NZ in the early 1990s.
new technology This meant the DNA could be extracted
little things are infinitely the most
and amplified (copied many times) to
important’, but he never could have In 1987 forensic scientist Dr Steve obtain a DNA profile. Results were
imagined that such a little thing, the Cordiner was awarded a fellowship to obtained within a few days rather than
DNA molecule, could become perhaps study the new technique with Dr Geoff the previous timeframes of weeks.
the most powerful single tool in the Chambers at Victoria University.
multifaceted fight against crime. Twenty Police recognised that a large number
At the same time Dr Margaret Lawton, of sexual assaults in South Auckland
years after the development of DNA
Government Analyst at DSIR Auckland, between 1983 and 1994 occurred with
fingerprinting, forensic DNA analysis is
was given responsibility for managing the same modus operandi and developed
key to either conviction or exoneration
the introduction of DNA profiling into a profile of an assailant. ESR reviewed
of suspects. It is also central to the
casework in New Zealand. old cases and was able to link 15 of
identification of victims of crimes,
accidents and disasters, driving the Funding was provided to establish new the sexual assaults using the new
development of innovative methods in DNA testing facilities, and in 1988 a DNA testing.
molecular genetics, statistics and the use group of NZ forensic scientists went A mass DNA screen was undertaken
of massive intelligence databases.” to the UK to train at the Home Office and 700 suspects were eliminated from It was these types of investigations
Laboratory with Drs Gill and Werrett the investigation. One male on the that provided the impetus for the
At the time of the DNA breakthrough
in the UK, New Zealand’s DSIR When they returned to NZ they began suspect list matched. Joseph Thompson establishment of the NZ National DNA
Chemistry Division provided forensic establishing DNA profiling laboratories. admitted a total of 61 charges of sexual Databank.
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the national DnA Database In the UK in 1993 –‘94 Dr Gill was Between 1996 and 2000, ESR increased
leading the team which confirmed the number of STR loci tested from 3 to
the identity of the remains of the 6, then 10.
contains DNA profiles from Romanov family, murdered in 1918,
Discrimination between individuals
and the subsequent investigation which
improved from likelihood ratios of
individuals and the crime disproved the claim of Anna Anderson
one in 100s in the early days to one
to be the Duchess Anastasia.
in hundreds of millions. Sensitivity
sample Database contains This work led the way for the use of also improved with modifications to
forensic DNA analysis methods in technology and equipment used.
DNA profiles from unsolved the investigation of historic crimes
of international significance, and
ultimately the use of these and similar
crimes. by comparing the two techniques in the investigation of mass
disasters, including war crimes.
databases, possible suspects
1995-1996 national DnA
can be identified and crimes Databank established
The introduction of the Criminal
linked. Investigations (Blood Samples) Act
1995, legislated for a “DNA Profile
Databank”. The New Zealand National
When introduced, the new DNA Databank was implemented in
August 1996 and is composed of two
Zealand national DnA Databank separate databases;
• the National DNA Database
was the second national DnA • the Crime Sample Database.
Databank in the world, the first Mid 1990s – 2000
In 1995 ESR introduced the more 2001 cold case solved using
being established in the United sensitive and discriminating STR improved DnA technology
(Short Tandem Repeat) technology into
Due to advances in genetic
Kingdom in 1995. forensic casework. This involved the
fingerprinting, a minute sample of
analysis of three STR DNA loci plus
semen from the Theresa Cormack case
a gender test. The increased sensitivity
was able to be profiled.
allowed for results to be obtained
from smaller forensic samples such as Fifteen years after Cormack’s death,
bloodspots and saliva stains, as well as police arrested Jules Mikus for
Image depicts raw data from forensic DNA sequencer small numbers of spermatozoa. Cormack’s murder.
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2006 Low copy number 2006 y-str introduced 2008 familial testing assists
technology introduced to nZ In Y-STR analysis, specific regions of with murder case
casework DNA on the Y male chromosome are Familial DNA testing, successfully led
In the first years of forensic DNA a large targeted and copied many times. Y-STR to the apprehension of a suspect in the
bloodstain the size of an old 50 cent DNA profiling system selectively targets historic Marie Jamieson homicide.
coin was thought to be the minimum male DNA even in the presence of large
amount of sample required for successful amounts of female DNA (e.g. traces of
DNA analysis. By 2006 a mere smudge, male DNA on a vaginal swab which will
such as a nose-print against a glass, was have lots of female DNA present on it).
enough to give a DNA result that could This means that results can be obtained
be linked to an offender. from very small amounts of male DNA.
The Forensic Science Service, led by
Dr Gill, developed and implemented
Low Copy Number DNA profiling in
the late 1990s and early 2000s. ESR
Principal Scientist, Dr John Buckleton,
2002 nZ’s purpose built DnA worked with Dr Gill and others at the
laboratory opens UK Forensic Science Service to establish Since the outcome of such a search
the technique and develop interpretation requires careful consideration and much
In May 2002 ESR opened a purpose
guidelines. investigative follow-up by the Police,
built DNA testing facility in Auckland.
familial searching is only recommended
NZ is one of only a few countries After a period of extensive validation
in a small number of selected cases.
to have purpose built forensic DNA and upgrading of ESR’s forensic
laboratory facilities designed to laboratories in Auckland, Christchurch These are typically homicides or serious
minimise contamination. and Wellington, the technology was sexual assaults where no link has been
implemented into forensic casework. established with the national DNA
databank and all other persons of
2004 exporting databank
interest have been eliminated. To date
The LCN technique copies a DNA familial searching has been undertaken
Forensic DNA systems developed sample through 34 cycles compared
2007 increased discrimination in fewer than 20 cases.
by ESR are introduced in Thailand. with 28 under standard DNA ESR increased the number of loci
Following the Boxing Day Tsunami, tested to 15, allowing even more
methods. This equates to a 50-fold 2008 new extraction
ESR assisted with DNA expertise and discrimination between profiles and
increase in sensitivity. It can be technology introduced
systems for disaster victim identification. assisting in cases where discrimination
used to obtain profiles from items
between closely related family members DNA IQ™, allowed for the development
that have only been touched, and
2005 robots introduced to on samples where standard DNA
is required. of robotic methods for the extraction of
parts of the DnA laboratory case samples.
testing is unsuccessful. FaSTR DNA, a software programme,
Automation enables faster processing It is only used in a limited number designed and built by ESR for the
and help ensures consistency, of appropriate cases. automated interpretation of DNA 2009 100,000th individual
minimising handling errors. profiles was also introduced. profile added to databank
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LooKinG forWArD the neW ZeALAnD nAtionAL DnA DAtAbAnK
ESR will introduce the definitive Current areas of research and The New Zealand National DNA 2100 2400 2700 3000 3300 3600
identification of human body fluids development in the DNA/RNA Databank has two databases:
and tissues by mRNA profiling. This area include: • National DNA Database (profiles of 1800
innovative technology will be initially individuals)
• the identification of botanical
applied to selected casework samples. 1400
evidence including DNA profiling of • Crime Sample Database (profiles from 1200
It allows for the identification of cannabis seizures to establish common unsolved crimes) 1000
body fluids, (vaginal fluids, menstrual origins and the discrimination of
Now most individual profiles loaded 800
blood and saliva) at the same time as psychoactive cannabis from hemp
to the databank come from buccal 600
determination of the DNA profile. (fibre producing cannabis)
scrapes (taken from inside the mouth). 400
The introduction of this technology is a • investigations of the behaviour of low Once a DNA profile has been taken the 200
direct consequence of ESR investment level contributions to DNA mixtures sample is destroyed and only the profile 0
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• ageing of injuries and bruises using
numbers that are stored on the profile
Also coming is the Laser Microdissector. molecular biology and proteomic
database. The only genetic information very seriously. The databank system is
This combination of microscope and methods
that can be obtained from this profile on a separate dedicated secure system
dissection apparatus will allow ESR
• development of cell identification is gender. that is physically isolated and contains a
scientists to identify and select cells
methods using proteomics (the large- number of security features.
individually for further profiling. Thus, The overall success rate in DNA
scale study of proteins, their structure
spermatozoa will be able to be selected matching in NZ is world-leading. External parties, including the New
and processed independently of other 63% of all unsolved cases loaded to the Zealand Police, cannot access any
cells and body fluids in case samples. • ageing body fluid stains at crime scenes crime sample databases are linked to information on the database.
individuals, and more than 30% linked
Access by ESR staff is extremely limited,
to another crime.
physically and by system security
ESR and the New Zealand Police features, to only those working with the
comply with all requirements of the forensic DNA facility.
CI(BS) Act in order to maintain the
ESR’s DNA laboratory has three teams:
integrity of the DNA Databank as a
forensic investigative tool. The Act • the National DNA Database team
is designed with a strong focus on
• the Crime Sample Database team
the rights of the individual. It places
rigorous requirements on the police as • the Priority Casework team.
investigators and collectors of samples, The Priority Casework team in the DNA
and also on ESR as custodians of the laboratory analyses forensic samples
databank. for major criminal investigations.
ESR has strict protocols in regard to Priority cases are commonly run under
management of the National DNA extremely tight timings, with scientists
Databank and takes its custodial role often in the laboratory around the clock.
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Historic ‘cold cases’
One of the most important and valuable qualities of DNA profiling is its
ability to solve historic cases. DNA technology allows for samples from
unsolved historic crimes to be analysed. This has often led to the arrest of a
suspect many years after the offence was committed.
teresa cormack case
In 1987, six-year old Teresa Cormack
went missing. Eight days later her
body was discovered. Hairs found on
her body were examined and stored.
Swabs were sent to Britain for testing
but contained insufficient material to
provide a profile.
In the 1990s the remaining swabs were
retested – again there was no result.
Maureen McKinnel case
Then in 2001, following significant Following the success of the Cormack
developments in DNA technology, case, the officer-in-charge of a 16-year-
the remaining forensic evidence was old homicide case in Arrowtown asked
examined. This time a profile was that samples be retested using new
extracted from a very small amount of DNA testing methods. The victim’s
semen saved on a microscope slide. reference profile was determined from
the remains of a blood sample, and this
A massive screening exercise began to
was compared with DNA obtained from
identify a potential match. One was
her nail clippings. The clippings resulted
found – Jules Mikus. To confirm the
in DNA profiles of two males.
match, the hairs stored for 15 years were
flown to the United States and exposed The Police began the process of
to mitochondrial DNA extraction (the reviewing their suspects. One of the
DNA located in structures within cells profiles belonged to a legitimate male
that convert the energy from food). contact. The following year, Jarrod
The resultant DNA profile matched the Mangels provided a voluntary blood
profile obtained from Mikus’ blood. sample.
Further blood samples confirmed
The database recorded a profile match
to the McKinnel case. Sixteen years after
Fifteen years after the murder Jules the murder, Mangels was arrested and
Mikus was found guilty of the charged. In February 2004, he pleaded
abduction, sexual violation and murder guilty to the crime, apologising in the
of Teresa Cormack. courtroom. He was sentenced to life.
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Wayne Jarden case operation backcapture
In 1988 a woman was brutally attacked generated from the biological samples Changes to the New Zealand Criminal
and raped in her flat in St. Albans, did not match any individual profiles Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act,
Christchurch. Samples were analysed, held on the DNA database. In 2007 (1995), allowed for the compulsory
but at the time there was insufficient the case was re-examined using a new collection and storage of DNA profiles
DNA to be useful. technique of familial testing. This from imprisoned offenders.
involves looking for people who may be
Twelve years later, ESR scientists The Act permits comparison of these
closely related to the offender.
analysed the biological samples using DNA profiles to DNA profiles obtained
new DNA technology. It indicated that Police obtained DNA samples from two from crime scene samples stored on the
the attacker was responsible for another family members. A profile was generated New Zealand Crime Sample Database.
unsolved Christchurch rape, that of a which matched crime scene profiles
This operation identified 87 links to
90-year-old in April 1996. from the two rapes and in 2009 Wayne
crimes. Of these links, 65% were ‘cold
Robert Jarden pleaded guilty to both
Despite this, a suspect was not links’, meaning a previously unreported
identified, as the DNA profiles suspect was linked to a crime through
Janelle Patton case DNA.
ESR’s LCN DNA laboratory and
Recent DNA forensic stories - every contact leaves a trace operation oakley
expertise in trace DNA analysis were
used for a high-profile Norfolk Island The case started with the discovery
of the hair as belonging to 23-year-old homicide case. of semen on doorknobs and car door
Whetu Te Hiko. handles at an address in Mt Albert over
Australian Federal Police sought ESR’s
several months. Samples submitted to
In addition, shoeprints invisible to the expertise in the case of 29-year-old
the Crime Sample database showed
naked eye were discovered at the scene Sydney woman Janelle Patton, murdered
that these cases were linked to the
of the crime, leading from the classroom on Norfolk Island on Easter Sunday
to a bathroom. ESR scientists lifted 2002, the first homicide on the island
the prints using an electrostatic dust- for 150 years. Using a covert
lifting kit. surveillance camera,
ESR scientists were able to obtain
the Police arrested a
The soles of the shoes were identified a DNA profile corresponding to
male suspect, who
Lois Dear case as a brand sold at The Warehouse in the murder victim from a sample
consented to providing
Tokoroa. Police discovered only three extract from the boot of the accused’s
In July 2006, the body of 66-year-old a DNA sample. The suspect’s profile
pairs had been sold, only one in the size car, supporting the prosecution case that
teacher Lois Dear was discovered in matched that of the samples from the
that Te Hiko wore. Police then trolled 28-year-old New Zealand chef Glenn
her Tokoroa classroom at Strathmore crime scene, and he received a six-
through store security tapes for that Peter McNeill had killed Miss Patton,
Primary school. There were no month suspended sentence.
particular occasion and found video of then moved her body by car to another
fingerprints, nor any blood found at the
Te Hiko purchasing those shoes. location. . . . but the story doesn’t end there.
scene; however, there was a hair and a
shoeprint. Ten years earlier it wouldn’t Te Hiko pleaded guilty to the murder He was found guilty of murder in Later, a series of serious sexual assaults
have been possible to collect DNA from and in May 2007 was sentenced to life March 2007, and sentenced to 24 years on young females began. Samples from
a single strand of hair. However, new imprisonment with a minimum of in jail with a minimum non-parole the scenes linked the assaults not only
technologies led to the identification 18 years non-parole. period of 18 years. to each other, but also to the earlier
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indecencies in Mt Albert. The offender Low Copy Number DNA profile
pleaded guilty and is serving 18 years Other uses for forensic DNA
links rape and murder
ESR scientists were able to generate a Distribution of blood
DNA profile using low copy number
Attempted child abduction DNA profiling is also highly useful for
technology. A DNA profile was
resolving the distribution of blood at a
Two attempts were made to abduct generated from the rope used to strangle
crime scene and for investigating crimes
young girls off an Auckland street. The a Dunedin student in a rape.
where more than one person has been
first girl got away with a ripped jacket, The profile linked to Liam Reid, who killed or injured.
but a second was forced into a car. She was also identified through standard
managed to escape from a rear door By identifying the likely source of
DNA testing as the likely perpetrator in
of the moving car, dragging an item a bloodstain at a crime scene, the
the Emma Agnew murder case.
from the car with her. Urgent forensic investigation team can determine the
examination of this item yielded a DNA The two cases were heard together in location of people during the offence
profile, which linked to a person not on a combined trial in November 2008. and track how individuals moved
the suspect list. Reid was found guilty and sentenced through the crime scene.
to a minimum non-parole term of
As a result, the police were able to make In 2007 when Graham Burton went
a speedy arrest. A full confession was on a shooting spree in hills near
obtained and the girls were spared the Wellington, Police were concerned
ordeal of facing the offender in court. that there may be more victims than
were immediately found. Urgent
DNA analysis from the multiple blood
trails came from victims that were
DNA profiling is used as a powerful and
accurate forensic tool in many different Prolonged abuse
ways by the New Zealand Police, in A case using profiling results has
more than three thousand cases per proved that physical abuse occurred at
year. Some of the less well-known uses a dwelling over a long period of time.
include: The result was achieved by positively
identifying the source of minute
Post-mortem examination bloodstains distributed throughout the
crime scene as belonging to the victims.
DNA profiling can be used in post-
mortem examination where identification
of the deceased is difficult due to
incineration, drowning, or complete or
partial decomposition. It is used in cases
where the more common methods of
A DNA profile using low copy number technology was generated from the rope used to strangle a radiography (X-rays) and odontology
Dunedin student in a rape. (forensic dentistry) are unsuitable.
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