FBI Presents M-Vac Forensic DNA Collection Data at SAFS Conference
Forensic Science Community Very Interested in M-Vac vs Swab Comparison
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH — May 07, 2019— Forensic DNA technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, to include rapid DNA systems, genealogical DNA databases, new DNA markers and kits, and more aggressive DNA collection techniques and systems. For every one of those areas and products, the objective analysis the FBI conducts to determine feasibility and use in investigations is a milestone. Last week the M-Vac system also reached that milestone, with impressive results. In the FBI’s comparison validation, on substrates ranging from pressure-treated wood to automotive carpet, the M-Vac collected between 5 and 47 times more DNA material than the swabbing method.
The data was presented by visiting scientist Jessica McLamb, MS, at the Southern Association of Forensic Scientists (SAFS) Conference in Asheville, NC, and concluded with this summary: “The M-Vac may provide an alternative collection method on porous surfaces and when swabbing is unsuccessful.” This statement confirms that M-Vac Systems, the system manufacturer, has properly positioned the tool to investigators. The M-Vac system’s value to the forensic and law enforcement communities is not in totally replacing other collection methods such as swabbing, taping or cutting, but in giving investigators a new and more powerful option should one or more of the other methods fail to produce a profile.
“As a former detective and crime scene specialist I am impressed with the way the FBI scientists have approached this project. Evaluating a tool like the M-Vac requires them to look at the system from a lab and a crime scene perspective,” stated Sgt (Ret) Stewart Mosher. “It seems they are really going after it and challenging the system. When working a case, especially a high-profile case where your every move may be questioned, we can’t take a chance on equipment and methods that haven’t gone through the wringer. Everything I’ve seen is they are doing just that.”
In her presentation on Friday, Ms. McLamb discussed the data of Phase 1 and 2 of a planned 4-phase project. Phase 1 was Quality Assurance; Phase 2 was Compare FBI SOP vs M-Vac on Large Objects; Phase 3 will be Compare SOP vs M-Vac on Small Objects (such as rope, carpet and floor mat); and Phase 4 will be M-Vac After Swabbing on Large and Small Objects. Ms. McLamb estimates the project will be completed within the next two years.
“We are extremely excited about this data and the way the M-Vac performed in this study,” said Jared Bradley, president of M-Vac Systems. “Law enforcement agencies and crime labs around the world will be looking at this data and be assured that the M-Vac has a place in their forensic DNA collection plans. The M-Vac may not be used in every case, but if there are rough or porous surfaces, degraded DNA, or minute traces of DNA material, the M-Vac is a powerful option. If investigators only have one shot at getting a good profile and there’s minute amounts of DNA material, then the traditional methods may not get the job done. Why risk it? We tell all our customers ‘if you can see it (a biological stain like blood) then you don’t need the M-Vac. If you can’t, there is no better choice.’ That rule of thumb has served many agencies and cases well.”
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.
About M-Vac Systems
M-Vac Systems is the world’s leader in wet-vacuum forensic DNA collection. Made in the USA and engineered for maximum collection capabilities, M-Vac Systems’ technology is the most innovative and capable forensic DNA material collection tool available for crime scene investigators, forensic scientists, sexual assault nurse examiners and other law enforcement specialists. For a more detailed description of the product and validation data, visit http://m-vac.com/why-mvac. Additional information and sales quotes can be obtained by contacting M-Vac Systems by phone or through the website.
Originally published on the Hunt a Killer blog dated 1/5/2019.
An Interview with Senior Crime Scene Investigator and
Forensic Analyst Francine Bardole
Many of us are familiar with the idea of a “cold case” in a removed way — we watch documentaries and listen to podcasts about murders committed by the faceless, keeping an eye out for new developments. But senior crime scene investigator and forensic analyst Francine Bardole of the Cold Case Foundation is on the inside pushing those developments along.
The Cold Case Foundation is a non-profit organization that not only works to solve unsolved cases, but supports the victims of these crimes and their loved ones whether there’s an arrest on the horizon or not. Hunt a Killer is proud to work with the CCF, donating a portion of the proceeds from every single box sold to support those affected by real crime. (Read more about our partnership here.)
We spoke to Francine about her job, her excitement over the new developments in DNA technology, what she thinks about the recent true crime boom and what she sees on the horizon for the Cold Case Foundation.
By what method do most cases end up getting closed?
There are many variables that come into play when it comes to solving cases. The investigators, crime scene experts, witnesses, evidence, forensic experts, technology, financial resources, etc. are intricate to the solving and closing of cases. It has been my experience that the best results are achieved through communication and cooperation between all involved.
Reaching out to experts in the criminal justice fields, forensic disciplines and technologies can help bring closure to a case much sooner than separate efforts. The sooner the case is solved, the sooner the perpetrator is off the streets and the community is safe from further victimization.
In the past, fingerprints were viewed as the “gold standard” that could link a suspect to a crime or a crime scene. Fingerprints are a valuable forensic method of identification which should not be overlooked — but in order to make an identification with a fingerprint, there needs to be enough of the fingerprint available to be compared to a suspect or entered into the AFIS fingerprint database.
Obtaining a comparable or AFIS-quality fingerprint is not always possible. With the emergence of DNA technology, which has advanced over the years, a criminal only needs to leave a few cells in order to obtain enough DNA to identify them or to enter their DNA profile into the CODIS DNA database. DNA is often more readily available than fingerprints. The tide has turned and DNA is now deemed the “gold standard” when it comes to identification.
What recent developments in the field excite you?
The developments in the collection and analysis of DNA trace evidence is very exciting. DNA has revolutionized criminal investigations and will continue to do so as technologies and testing improve. Unfortunately, many law enforcement agencies are not aware of some of these technologies and developments which could help solve cases.
There is the M-Vac DNA collection system which can collect trace or touch DNA from clothing, bedding, tape, rock, rope and other porous materials often touched by the suspect, left at the scene or on the victim. Often traditional swabbing methods are unable to get into the small weave or pores of an item.
Swabbing for touch DNA is often a guessing game, making it difficult to know where a suspect may have left their DNA. The M-Vac can cover larger areas where the suspect may have touched and left their DNA. One notable case which the M-Vac helped solve is the Krystal Lynn Beslanowitch 1995 cold case.
There is the Bardole Method [editor’s note: developed by Francine herself] which is a soaking method that can obtain DNA from shell casings, bullets, firearm components and other small items where swabs cannot reach. This method can access the minute ridges crevices, nooks and crannies where traditional swabbing methods are unable to access. Traditional swabbing methods rarely obtain enough DNA from spent shell casings to compare to a suspect. These cases are often shelved with the idea there is no more that can be done. Thanks to this method something can be done.
DNA test results often come back as “mixtures” or “inconclusive” which are common with law enforcement DNA evidence using laboratory DNA thresholds. Cybergenetics TrueAllele is a DNA software which can “unmix” these mixtures without threshold restraints and help solve many cases which have been abandoned as inconclusive.
CCF doesn’t only focus on case resolution — it’s also about care. We’d love for you to share a little about what you do to support victims and loved ones in the aftermath of a crime.
“The Cold Case Foundation is dedicated to stopping the deadly compounding effect of cold cases and providing hope and resources to families affected by violent crime. The Cold Case Foundation is devoted to raising public awareness and creating partnerships to assist and provide law enforcement whatever resources are needed to bring about closure.” (from coldcasefoundation.org)
Police agencies and families often reach out for help or answers in solving their cold cases. Both need closure, especially the families who have waited and suffered for so long. These family want to know what they can do to help the police solve their loved one’s cold case. They are often frustrated or upset and feel forgotten. I find it amazing, the research these families do on their own in order to find new developments, techniques or technologies that may help solve their case.
I am currently working high profile cold cases using both the M-Vac and the Bardole Method thanks to the cooperation and willingness of families, police departments and investigators reaching out to the CCF. I hope to be able to share the results with all of you once the results are in and the cases have been adjudicated.
What is it like to work on these cases? What impact does it have on your life?
It is challenging and, at the same time, exciting. Individuals with years of experience work together to help shed new light, see with new eyes, and apply new technologies to examine and discuss all elements of the crime prior to, during and after. What one sees as a dead-end can be an open door to another.
When the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together in a logical, scientific manner due to the efforts of those working together, there is excitement and hope that there will be closure for the families of victims and those who never gave up and supported these families.
The impact is knowing you have become part of the whole who have worked hard to recognize the importance of a life taken, the family who has suffered and the police who have worked countless hours, days, months and years in order to finally bring closure to those they serve.
What areas of the organization are you looking forward to growing with increased support?
Unsolved murders throughout the United States have a compounding financial and workload effect on our police departments. Each time a case is reopened, the cost goes up, personnel who once worked the case have retired or are no longer available, DNA evidence is lost, degraded or becomes unavailable, witnesses leave or become unavailable and the case keeps getting colder. The sooner CCF is able to bring their forensic experts to the table, the higher the probability of solving the case.
More forensic technologies and methods will emerge as the CCF continues to grow. Keeping up with and obtaining the latest equipment, technologies and methods will be something to anticipate and look forward to — as well as bringing awareness to the public and police agencies as to what new technologies are available to help solve their cold cases.
We will continue assisting families and law enforcement with experts in all areas of forensics, and identifying perpetrators to bring closure to the families who have waited and suffered for so long.
Do you feel the popularity of true crime is helpful to support the work of CCF?
Absolutely. True crime brings the reality of what goes on prior to, during and after a crime has been committed to the public’s attention. The more attention a case gets, the more likely it will be solved. It bridges the gap between what police do, what private citizens can do and how working together as a team can help solve cold cases.