Chris Tapp, Krystal Beslanowitch and Uta von Schwedler Are All Reasons Every Crime Lab and Law Enforcement Agency Needs an M-Vac System
Chris Tapp was released from prison on March 22, 2017, after serving 20 years in prison. What was he in for? The murder and rape of Angie Dodge, a vibrant, full of hope, 18-year-old woman that lived in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Angie was brutally stabbed over 16 times. The case against Mr. Tapp was mostly circumstantial and his conviction was largely attributed to a confession. There was little if any hard-physical evidence tying him to the vicious crime. Starting in 2016, with the avid support of the victim’s family and others, investigators began to re-look at the case. They learned about a new wet-vacuum forensic DNA collection system that could more aggressively collect DNA material from the victim’s clothes and a teddy bear that was used to smother her. After an assisting agency sampled Angie’s clothing and the teddy bear, it was concluded that none of the DNA found at the scene matched Chris Tapp. Several months later he walked out of the courtroom a free man, albeit he maintained the murder conviction. Without new forensic methods and technology, including the M-Vac System, Chris Tapp may have been in prison for years or decades longer.
Krystal Beslanowitch was a wayward teen living in Salt Lake City in 1996. She was a drug user and worked as a prostitute, but didn’t deserve to die the way she did. Krystal’s body was found the morning of December 16th, 1996, next to the Provo River in Midway, Utah. She was naked and had been bludgeoned to death by several river rocks, obviously dying a lonely, bitterly cold, terrifying death. Despite the best efforts of the investigating agencies, the leads were few and far between and the case went cold. Fast forward a little over a decade. More sensitive lab processing was coming online and investigators learned that it was possible to process the minute amounts of DNA that would likely be deposited on a rough granite rock from a person’s hand. But the ability to effectively collect that touch DNA was outside the capabilities of the lab and investigators. Within a few more years, however, wet-vacuum DNA collection was invented and a private lab in Salt Lake acquired it. Investigators jumped on the chance to try it and 42 times more DNA material than what is required to produce a full DNA profile was collected. The suspect, Joseph Michael Simpson was identified and within 3 more years he was convicted of murder and is serving life without the possibility of parole. The investigators have all said that without the M-Vac that case may never have been solved.
Uta von Schwedler was a retrovirology researcher at the University of Utah. Originally hailing from Germany, she was a spirited woman who had a zest for life. Her and her ex-husband, Dr. John Wall, had 4 children and after more than four years of being divorced were still in a bitter custody battle. One night, when the four kids and the boyfriend were all away from the home, a perpetrator entered her home, attacked her on her bed, fought with her on the bed in which time she was slashed by a knife several times. Ultimately, she was smothered by her own pillow, injected with a high dose of Xanax, stripped down and put into the bathtub where she drowned. In the tub with her was the knife and one of her favorite scrapbooks, obviously staged as a suicide. Investigators had a significant amount of circumstantial evidence that pointed to her ex-husband, but the physical evidence was weak and the prosecuting attorney would not pursue the case without stronger evidence. Even the DNA that was found on the pillowcase and her bedding, where she fought with her attacker, could be explained away by the defense. The reason being the swabbing method could only collect enough DNA material to produce a 5-loci Y-STR profile, but that could have been deposited by either of Uta’s two male children. The case languished for over a year and a half and it looked as if Dr. Wall may have gotten away with it. Upon learning of the M-Vac System, however, investigators used it on the pillowcase and John Wall’s full profile was obtained. As Dr. Wall had previously told investigators that he had never been in Uta’s house that was now a problem for him. Investigators also had Uta’s bedding sampled with the M-Vac and again his profile was obtained. Using this strong physical evidence combined with all the circumstantial evidence John Wall was convicted of his ex-wife’s murder.
Does every case end like these? No, of course not. But there are many, many cases out there that will go unsolved until investigators can fully utilize the latest and most powerful tools. Every day investigators, whether a CSI, homicide detective or forensic lab serologist, are making decisions about how best to collect DNA evidence and thousands of times every day, they are forced to go with whatever method is available to them rather than what has the best chance to succeed. I’ve heard many times that the investigators move forward knowing it will likely fail but they need to try anyway. What else can they do?
Having worked in the law enforcement environment for a number of years now, I’ve heard multiple times that there is no piece of equipment that investigators know of that can provide the return on investment that the M-Vac System can bring. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office, for example, has used the M-Vac on over 30 cases in the past couple of years and had an impressive success rate, all on cases where more traditional DNA collection methods have been tried first. In several of those cases the DNA profile that the M-Vac produced was the evidence that turned the case around and without it, very dangerous suspects would have been back on the streets to commit more crime. Based on just those few cases their M-Vac system has paid for itself multiple times.
Several years ago when the M-Vac was first introduced to the forensics and criminal investigative communities it was understandable why professionals in those areas would hesitate to use a new and seemingly untried piece of equipment or method. In many cases there is only one chance to get it right so most investigators understandably frown on experimenting with their evidence. That is no longer the case. There are very few scenarios that investigators can come up with where the M-Vac has not had success in that exact or a similar scenario and there are more coming in every day. Numerous labs have easily processed the M-Vac sample so that’s no longer a concern. The cost of the sample is relatively low considering the potential results. The bottom line? The M-Vac system is an effective and worthwhile tool that every lab and law enforcement agency needs to have or at least have quick access to.
If you want more information on how the M-Vac System can help you develop better DNA profiles and solve more crime contact us at www.m-vac.com.
Investigators Use Aggressive Wet-Vacuum DNA Collection Method On 1996 Murder
Christopher Tapp, who 20 years ago was convicted for the 1996 murder of 18 year old Angie Dodge, walked out of the Idaho Falls Courtroom yesterday a free man. According to court documents, Tapp was released early due to a deal made between the prosecution and the defense, and approved by Judge Alan Stephens, that enabled him to be released with time served but he maintained the 1st degree murder conviction. The rape conviction against him was vacated. Much of that deal hinged on DNA evidence left at the crime scene that all points to one man, but that man is not Chris Tapp. Of the DNA evidence collected over the past year, the majority was collected by the M-Vac System.
According to testimony, the process to revisit DNA evidence in the Dodge case began last spring. Advances in DNA technology, including the M-Vac forensic DNA collection method, gave those involved with the case confidence that more DNA material could be collected, and more sensitive lab equipment and methods could better determine whose DNA was on the evidence. A stronger DNA profile or profiles could potentially solidify Angie Dodge’s killer, or eliminate from scrutiny those that did not. Detectives from the Idaho Falls Police Department coordinated with the West Jordan PD in Utah to have the M-Vac used on the evidence. Several items of Angie’s clothing and a teddy bear were all sampled and the collected evidence was then sent to a private crime lab in Salt Lake City.
“After all of the items were sampled and we got the lab results back, none of the major DNA profiles from the evidence matched Chris Tapp,” said Detective Pat McKenna, the lead investigator assigned to the case. “Using the M-Vac was definitely a smart move by the Department as it gave us much more information than we had before. We appreciate the WJPD for their cooperation. We now have stronger DNA evidence, from multiple items from the crime scene, that all points to one suspect. Rest assured we will not stop searching until we find that suspect.”
Before using the M-Vac, lab technicians had tried the swabbing method, but it did not produce full confidence that all the DNA profiles were fully represented. When the investigative team learned of the new and more robust wet-vacuum method, it was an easy decision to try it. And despite the case being over 20 years old and the evidence having been previously swabbed the M-Vac still produced results.
“This is one of a number of cases we have been able to assist in and use our M-Vac system,” states Francine Bardole, West Jordan Police Department Senior CSI. “Multi-agency cooperation is so important in solving tough cases. No one has all the answers, so where we can offer expertise we do so gladly. We’ve successfully used the M-Vac so many times that it’s become an area where we can certainly advise others in where to use it. This case definitely fit into the ‘must try it’ category. It’s a great tool and there are a lot of cases out there where it would help significantly.”
The M-Vac System is being utilized by an increasing number of police agencies and crime labs both in the United States and internationally. As investigators are assigned difficult cases, having a tool like the M-Vac immediately available helps immensely. It can collect critical DNA evidence from a variety of surfaces at the crime scene, in the evidence processing facility or in the crime lab. As the world’s most advanced wet-vacuum forensic DNA collection system, the M-Vac opens up cases and evidence to potential DNA profiles that were not available in the past.
Bonneville County Case #CR-1997-481
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