Murder by the Boyne River
A German tourist went missing while walking the 8 km from Drogheda to visit the Neolithic site at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath. Three weeks later her body was discovered hidden in undergrowth near the road she would have walked.
On the 17th of October 2001 a scientist from the laboratory attended the scene in Donore, Co. Meath. The woman's body was in an advanced state of decay. She was lying on her back and an attempt had been made to hide the body by covering it in vegetation .Her upper body was fully clothed in a blue Gore-Tex rain jacket. She was naked from the waist down except for panties, which were around her knees.
A number of men were working on road construction not far from where the body was found. The woman would have walked past these works on the day she disappeared. One of the workers had a prior conviction for the manslaughter of an elderly woman for which he had spent time in prison; he soon emerged as a suspect in the case.
At the post mortem, various samples were taken from the body including vaginal swabs. In the laboratory these swabs were found to contain semen. The semen on the internal vaginal swabs was, surprisingly, still in good condition despite the advanced state of decay of the body. DNA profiling was carried out on these swabs and it was found that the semen matched the DNA profile of the suspect.
On examination of the woman's clothes, a distinctive smell, similar to that of Jeyes Fluid, was evident above the expected smell of decay.
Meanwhile, items of lower clothing, which matched the description of those worn by the deceased, were found in a skip beside the church in Donore. This included a pair of distinctive red shoes. There were small pieces of leather missing from the shoes. Unlike the clothing taken from the body, there was no smell of decaying body fluids or disinfectant on these clothes. This suggested that the items were not on the body when it was decaying. However small pieces of red leather, which appeared to have been nibbled at by animals, were found beside the body. These matched the red leather in the shoes found in the skip. This would suggest that the shoes were at the scene long enough for an animal to begin gnawing at them and were taken from the scene to the skip some hours or days after the murder. It is likely that the killer went back to the scene some time after the murder, and collected the clothing and shoes, which he then dumped.
The location where the clothes were found was close to a wooden electricity pole and there was a suggestion that the wood had recently been treated with creosote as a preservative. A bottle of Jeyes Fluid was also reportedly found in a rubbish skip nearby. These were possible sources of the smell from the clothing from the body.
The panties were analysed in the Chemistry section to see whether the source of the smell could be identified. The chemist agreed that there was a distinctive tarry smell from the item.
The panties were placed in a nylon bag to retain any volatile materials that might be present. On heating the bag and its contents, a sample of air removed and analysed using gas chromatography. Gas chromatography is an analytical and comparative technique that separates mixtures into their component parts; it is a versatile technique routinely used in the analysis of drug and fire cases.
A distinctive pattern of peaks was visible in the chromatogram of the air from the bag. This was compared with chromatograms of reference samples of Jeyes Fluid and of creosote from the scene. The similarity to the Jeyes Fluid chromatogram and difference from that of creosote was evident. This led the scientist to conclude that the results provided support for the view that the smell from the panties was Jeyes Fluid rather than creosote.
The container found in the rubbish skip turned out to be a disinfectant with a lemon perfume, which was quite different from Jeyes Fluid.
In the subsequent trial it transpired that the accused had bought Jeyes Fluid around that time, stating that it was to clean out dog kennels. It is likely that he went back to the scene and poured the Jeyes Fluid over the body some time after the murder, at the same time collecting the clothing which he placed in the skip.
Forensic Evidence was central to the investigation and subsequent prosecution. The suspect was charged, tried and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.