Not long ago I spent the day training a law enforcement agency that had recently purchased an M-Vac System. During the introduction presentation I typically give to familiarize those present with the latest in data, techniques, agencies that have solved cases, and the types of evidence surfaces that the M-Vac has successfully collected DNA material from, a captain in the investigations division mentioned they had already identified a case that had essentially stalled due to the inability to produce a DNA profile, and were hoping the M-Vac could be the key in the case. It was a high profile homicide where they had exhausted every lead, but as all good investigators do, maintained hope that they would catch a break somewhere that could help solve it.
Of course I logged that in my mind and during the training I tried to make sure the investigators in the training would be sufficiently confident and comfortable in collecting from a variety of items, but especially items that were similar to the case evidence the captain had described. The evidence surfaces were cement, like cinderblock, and a strapping-like material, both of which are very difficult to collect forensic DNA material from.
Less than a week later, I received a message from one of the senior investigators saying they were in the process of “M-Vacing” the evidence we had discussed, and they would let me know how it went. Fingers crossed I hoped for the seemingly impossible. Why seemingly impossible? Because they were searching for touch DNA off of evidence that had been submerged in sea water for over 5 days.
For those that are familiar with forensic DNA profiling, DNA would not typically survive long in those conditions, and adding the difficulty of collecting touch DNA to that scenario makes collection of viable DNA even less probable.
Not long after that I received another message that they had several profiles from the evidence! Imagine that scenario. An investigation was stalled, the investigators were frustrated because they had limited options on what else they could do, the family of the victim was facing the very real possibility that their loved one may never get justice, and the community was looking at their law enforcement agency being unable to solve a heinous murder of one of their citizens. Instead, thanks to the M-Vac, persistence and the expertise of the investigators, this seemingly impossible case is moving toward being solved and the perpetrators being brought to justice.
Does every case work out this way? Of course not. But more and more cases that had almost zero chance of obtaining a valid forensic DNA profile, let alone being solved, are now moving forward. The M-Vac System is a tool that every law enforcement agency and crime lab needs access to, and most need their own. Many times the investigation is time sensitive, and the relatively small investment made in purchasing an M-Vac would pale in comparison to that moment. As we have been told time and time again by our friends in law enforcement, if an agency can solve even one case with the M-Vac that otherwise may not have been solved, the system more than pays for itself. Everything after that is bonus. So the question is – is there an M-Vac near you?