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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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 Why M-Vac. Additional information and sales quotes can be obtained by contacting M-Vac Systems by phone or through the website.
Poaching any animal is criminal and inhumane, but killing animals only for their tusks, horns or pelts is exceptionally disgusting and it needs to be stopped. In many countries significant resources are dedicated to this effort, which most of the world applauds, but more can always be done, especially as new methods and technologies emerge. Poachers are constantly refining their methods so catching and prosecuting them is a herculean task. Combine that with the market forces, namely the massive flow of money to satisfy the demand for rhino horn and other rare animal parts, and it is a deadly game where short term the animals lose and long term all of society loses. Clearly anti-poaching task forces must adapt to stay ahead of the poaching, and be given the resources to effectively do their job.
South Africa, as a prime example of a country dedicated to stop poaching, has been training anti-poaching dogs for several years to help with the significant problem of poaching in its territories, and those dogs can now even parachute or rappel from helicopters for more rapid deployment. Extensive ground and air surveillance is constantly deployed to cover the tens of thousands of square kilometers of safari area that extends into multiple countries. They have also developed an extensive rhino DNA database to help track horns and other body parts if an animal is killed. These are just a few of the many methods members of the South African Police Services use in their efforts to stop poaching. Other countries around the world where poaching is a problem are also making similar efforts.
But how do investigators build a criminal case against poachers, especially if they are not caught in the act? Considering the vastness of the area, limited resources, the elusiveness of the poachers and many other factors, building an actual criminal case can be extremely difficult. Until the demand and the extraordinary flow of money for the body parts of these animals is dramatically reduced the only deterrent is to effectively catch and prosecute the poachers. In many cases this requires physical evidence which, considering the difficult environment of the crime scene, can prove to be nearly impossible. The weather can be extremely harsh, the animal may be dead for an extended period of time so evidence is likely degraded or gone and the poachers themselves are numerous and often come from third-world countries where there are no formal records to compare physical evidence to.
One answer to this litany of problems is DNA evidence. DNA, whether it be from a rhino or a human, is the most differentiating evidence investigators can obtain. If a viable DNA profile can be developed from the evidence, and a reference sample obtained, it can make or break a case. As is the case with human investigations, however, developing that viable DNA profile is easier said than
done. If the investigators are looking for human DNA at the crime scene and off of the poached animal, the scenario rarely lends itself to being a simple process. For example, the skin of a rhino is fairly smooth and pliable when the animal is alive, but within a very short amount of time after death, it becomes as rough as sandpaper. Deep cracks and fissures can appear, especially in hot weather. Ask any investigator what it’s like trying to collect DNA material off of a surface like that and most likely they will show you in body language, as well as expression, how difficult it is.
Enter the M-Vac System. Over the past few years investigators in the US, China, the Middle East and other areas of the world have used the M-Vac to collect forensic DNA material from a variety of rough, dirty, porous and otherwise difficult surfaces to develop viable and even full DNA profiles, often times after a traditional method such as swabbing has failed. Research has shown the M-Vac to be up to 200X more effective than the swabbing method, and numerous cold and active cases have borne that out to be true as well. Porous and rough surfaces like rocks, bricks, wood, cement, stuffed animals, gun grips and others have all yielded positive results, so collecting DNA material in seemingly impossible scenarios is not beyond the M-Vac collection system.
With that in mind, there is no reason to believe that the M-Vac would not also be the best choice for collecting human DNA off of poached animal hides whether it be rhino, elephant, leopard or any other animal. That also goes for collecting minute amounts of animal DNA from surfaces like car trunks, poacher clothing or other possibilities investigators may encounter. It just makes sense. On most any porous, fibrous or rough surface, a wet-vacuum will most certainly collect more cellular or DNA material than any other method currently used.
Considering the track record the M-Vac System has developed in helping solve cases that were either stalled or had gone completely cold, many of which were deemed unsolvable without a DNA profile, the chances of the M-Vac being an extremely valuable tool in fighting against the bane of poaching are very high. In speaking to a number of forensic and law enforcement professionals that are actually involved with these types of investigations, we are excited about the future and helping rid the world of poaching our most precious resources.
For more information on wet-vacuum forensic DNA collection go to www.m-vac.com