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Investigators, The M-Vac System Is No Longer The Question

 

There is a junction in the lifecycle of every product or service where its validity and usefulness is verified. Are we there with the M-Vac System? I believe so and here is why. Numerous crime labs, large and small, public and private, have validated it and currently use it successfully. Major universities have studied it and are studying it with positive results. Law enforcement agencies around the world have used the M-Vac System in a variety of ways and scenarios with success. Over the past seven years, there has been study after study performed, validation after validation conducted, performance check after performance check completed and case after case moved forward. The outcomes speak for themselves.

For example, Boston University, a research and learning environment that is beyond reproach, concluded this about the M-Vac in an article published in the Journal of Forensic Identification: “The wet-vacuum collection technique is a potentially useful tool in forensic casework environments. Data indicate this technique may be most valuable for collection of low-level biological evidence…” Below is one of the graphs that Boston University presented at the NEAFS Conference in 2012.

Additional universities such as UC Davis, Cedar Crest College and others have produced similar data. A major research university in Europe’s feedback was “M-Vac definitely has its place as a serious piece of equipment to deal with difficult substrates.”

Major crime labs have also produced a significant amount of comparison and validation data, showing the M-Vac System collecting from 5 to 200X more DNA material than swabbing, taping and cutting, depending on the surface and scenario, but almost always producing a stronger and more stable profile. Richland County Crime Lab, in South Carolina, showed a 30X higher collection rate when comparing the M-Vac to swabbing touch/trace DNA from a brick. They have since had successes in real-world casework from their own cases and in helping nearby agencies with some of their more difficult cases.

Salt Lake City PD recently solved a 39 year old cold case using the M-Vac System, collecting touch DNA from a halter top that the suspect had used to gag the victim, Sharon Schollmeyers. Undoubtedly that halter top had been swabbed, possibly multiple times, with the same result – no actionable results. It wasn’t until they used the M-Vac on the evidence that they were able to bring enough forces to bear to collect sufficient DNA material to produce a viable profile. Once the lab results came back the detectives were able to track down the suspect, Patrick McCabe, make contact with him and within a relatively short amount of time McCabe walked into a Florida police agency, turned himself in and confessed to the killing.

A host of agencies, both large and small, from small city police agencies in rural Utah to huge agencies like Broward County Sheriff’s Department, have successfully used the M-Vac on multiple occasions to collect DNA material from difficult substrates. These scenarios range from touch DNA from a sea-salt covered boat to a 9mm pistol grip used in an armed robbery to clothing that was touched 20+ years ago. In pretty much every case a traditional method such as swabbing had been tried, and failed. It’s time to face the reality. No matter how sensitive the lab extraction, amplification, electrophoresis or DNA sequencing processes are, if sufficient DNA material is not collected from the evidence then lab equipment sensitivity doesn’t matter. And swabbing it again isn’t going to magically produce a better result the second or third time. At that point all that’s happening is wasting DNA material.

The casework and studies suggest that if DNA is the question, and a traditional method has been tried without sufficient results, then the M-Vac System is the next step and probably should have been the first step. If there is DNA material there and the substrate is rough, spread over a large area or porous, the results show that the M-Vac is currently the best method of collecting it. All of the cases where contact is probable, but there is no stain visible, are cases where the M-Vac may be the key. Other key indicators for use are cold cases, or active cases that have stalled, with an inconclusive or partial profile in the case file. Studies and casework suggest using the M-Vac. 5-30x more DNA can make all the difference. The successes show that using the M-Vac on the appropriate evidence types when the crimes happen, both in the crime scene and in the evidence processing room, may help strengthen the case and may help reduce the number of cases stalling or going cold. The simple fact is that a number of cold and active cases have been solved by using the M-Vac. Why? It collected enough DNA from the evidence available to get a viable profile, often times after a traditional method such as swabbing had failed.

Is the M-Vac the magic tool that will solve every case from here on out? Of course not. But it belongs in every investigator’s toolbag to be pulled out when appropriate. We had a conversation with a detective earlier this summer who had submitted two pieces of evidence to be M-Vac’ed, and neither one of them produced a usable profile. She was profoundly disappointed but she understood that it happens. Refusing to give up, she turned in another and got an actionable Y-STR profile. That is going to be the experience of many investigators who use the M-Vac, just as it is with every other DNA collection method. The M-Vac gets used where folks hope DNA was deposited but the other collection methods are unlikely to be effective or haven’t produced results. It also gets used when all hope is lost, but the investigator just doesn’t want to give up. Regardless of the scenario, the M-Vac has shown it belongs in the crime solving process.

It’s proven. It works. Use it. Solve more crimes.

For more information about the M-Vac System, please visit our website at http://www.m-vac.com/.

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Investigators That Expect the Best, Get the Best

Anyone who even remotely follows sports knows who Roger Federer is. As the most successful tennis player in history Roger has been at the top of the sport for over a decade and has more Grand Slam wins and weeks as tennis’ No. 1 ranked player. He has his own clothing line, major sponsors like Nike, Mercedes-Benz and Rolex, and stars in commercials for Lindor Truffles and others. As a whole he is one of the most successful athletes ever, both on and off the court, bringing in over $725 Million over his two-decade career in endorsements and tournament winnings.

How does anyone rise to that level and be that successful, especially as an athlete? Roger Federer isn’t an overly impressive or domineering figure and he doesn’t play with an excessive amount of outward emotion. He’s just a cool, calculating and precise executioner who knows how to use all of the tools that are available to him, including his attitudes and mental focus. If I could sum it up in one word it would have to be: expectations. Roger Federer expects to utilize all his weapons against his opponents, expects to win, expects to be the best, and expects to succeed.

Which is what makes his loss to Juan Del Porto earlier this week in the US Open so remarkable. Not necessarily the actual loss, but what he said about the loss in his post-match interview. In that interview Roger said “I knew I would lose to Del Porto”.  WHAT?!?  Essentially Roger didn’t feel good about the entire tournament, and knew he would lose as soon as he ran into a really good player. Based on the reaction of the sports commentators after the interview, that’s the first time they have ever heard a defeatist attitude from Roger Federer. Again, expectations, only this time it’s of the negative flavor.  A rare occurrence indeed considering who it’s coming from.

I have the opportunity to interact with and observe criminal investigators on a regular basis, and the parallels with athletes like Roger Federer are amazingly similar. Unfortunately, their pay is nowhere close, but the ability to bring all the tools available to bear and solve a crime like murder, rape, assault, and a whole host of other crimes, is comparable. The best detectives fully utilize the crime scene investigators, the patrolmen and women, the crime lab, the press, the public, the agency administration, and all the expertise and tools they bring to the table in a fluid, seamless way that will eventually break open the case and usually result in the crime being solved. Even when one or more of the tools breaks down, those investigators that maintain high expectations and persist, more often than not, will in time conquer the case and find justice for the victim or victims.

A perfect example of this is the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Dept in Heber, Utah. They had a homicide that was a cold case for 18 years. The victim, Krystal Beslanowitch, was found naked next to the Provo River on a cold December morning in 1996. Krystal had been severely beaten with several river rocks and then left for dead. Over the years the investigative team had reopened the case several times, but it wasn’t until 2013 when they were able to take the rocks to a private crime lab in Salt Lake that they got the break they needed. Using the latest in DNA collection and processing techniques, the labs was able to develop a DNA profile from those granite rocks linking the murder to a suspect. The cold case was solved. Fortunately, the investigators always had the expectation of eventually solving the murder which gave them the drive to constantly look for new leads and ways to crack the case, and in time that is exactly what happened.

Another example is a case from Salt Lake that involved a doctor and his ex-wife, a woman named Uta von Schwedler. Uta, a happy and educated mother of four children who worked for the University of Utah, was found drowned in her bathtub in what initially appeared to be suicide. Investigators, however, pursued the case as too many things didn’t add up, and the evidence, especially the circumstantial evidence, pointed at the ex-husband as the primary suspect. About a year and a half into the investigation the detectives learned about a new tool to develop a DNA profile beyond what the current capability was and that tool enabled them to solve the case. Again, the expectations of eventually solving the case motivated the investigators to utilize every means available and persist until they achieved success.

These cases are but two of many that are solved due to the long-standing persistence and effort of professional investigators. Ironically, in both of these cases one of the major tools needed to solve most cases, the state crime lab, became practically useless in its ability to aid in these cases. Because the crime lab hadn’t adopted the latest in DNA collection technology, namely the M-Vac system, the investigators had to turn to a private crime lab that does utilize it to help them solve the cases. Fortunately, the administration and leadership of the agencies saw the value in the extra lab costs, took it out of other budgeted areas and invested it into the cases. So despite the obstacle of a usually critical tool being rendered useless, the investigators maintained a positive and hopeful outlook, persisted, and their expectation of success was realized.

I have seen this pattern all over the world. China, the UAE, South Africa and more, in addition to agencies throughout the United States, where investigators maintained a high level of expectations and persisted through all obstacles to eventually piece all the puzzle together and solve seemingly impossible cases. In many circumstances it is a wonder to behold and a pleasure to work with such determined professionals. When it comes to winning expectations, Roger Federer doesn’t have anything on these guys, even when he is in the right mindset.

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