DNA and the M-Vac Highlight of History Channel’s “Hunt for the Zodiac Killer”

These are a few excerpts from an article written by Steve Hodel, a NYTimes Best Selling author.  Fortunately, the portion where the detectives gained access to the Cheri Jo Bates evidence, and had forensic DNA testing done (which included using the M-Vac), escaped the wrath of the article.  Here’s how Steve started his remarks:
“As many of you know, I have been reluctant to watch the recently aired episodic miniseries, “Hunt for Zodiac.”
These programs, while billing themselves as “a search for the truth” almost always do just the opposite.
A fog of sensationalism is created to promote the myth and legend in overly dramatic “recreations” as the show’s producers play fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to present “new truths,” as “alternative facts.”  Each episode promising the solution is at hand so “stay tuned.”
And here’s where the article turned friendly:
Here is where the History Channel program, in my opinion, rolled first a seven then an eleven—The DNA.

The 7.

Riverside Chief of Police Sergio Diaz greenlit his Homicide detective Jim Simons to allow access to Cheri Jo Bates property for DNA retesting. (Last tested in 2000) The sealed Riverside Property was transported to the AISOCC DNA  lab in San Diego.


AISOCC Serologist Suzanna Ryan (seen in above photos) tested the pants worn by Cheri Jo Bates at the time of her murder for human blood. The result was “positive.” She then used an MVAC  (micro vacuum) in an attempt to recover a new DNA sample.
The results indicated that “A male DNA sample mixture was obtained from the victim’s pants and is enough to compare.” 
The show’s producers stated that the Bates new sample “is being sent to a respected DNA lab in Virginia in an attempt to develop a DNA profile.”

Although we haven’t heard of any reportable results, we are ecstatic that the M-Vac system did its job and collected DNA from evidence that was over 50 yrs old.  That’s a pretty incredible feat!


For the original article, click here.

Forensic Tools Bringing Life to Cold Cases by Silvia Z Carr

Sylvia Z Carr

Prof. Mark T. Fitzgerald

Forensic Science

13 June 2018


Forensic Tools Bringing Life to Cold Cases

Forensic specialists have had a large arsenal of tools at their disposal in the past, and recent tools have been added which make their jobs much easier.  Additionally, these tools have been tested on cold cases and have been productive in making that crucial connection which solves the case.

One such case is the 1995 murder of seventeen year old Krystal Beslanowitch in Wasatch County, Utah.  In July, 1995 Krystal Beslanowitch had moved with her boyfriend to Wasatch County, in part to get away from Spokane County and her troubles there.  She was referred to as a ‘street teen’ in that she had been known to use drugs and according to her mother, had been prostituting since the age of 15.  She had a record of run-ins with the law in Spokane County, including auto theft, prostitution, assault and drug violations in the four years prior to moving to Utah.   (Spokane Teen Beaten To Death With Large Rock)

Her broken, bloody body was found in the early morning hours of December 15, 1995 along the bank of the Provo River.  She had been beaten and bludgeoned. The Wasatch County Sheriff stated  “her skull and face had been crushed by repeated blows from a large rock.”  (Spokane Teen Beaten To Death With Large Rock)

The initial investigation had recovered large granite rocks and DNA from underneath the victim’s fingernails.   The investigation went on for two years and covered most of the state, but did not produce a viable suspect.   Joseph Michael Simpson was not on the radar.  Unfortunately, without a solid lead or suspect, the case went “cold”.

In 2009, with improvements in forensic technology, two full time detectives were assigned to the case.  More DNA was extracted off the rocks found near the victim’s body.  New technology at the state crime lab and Sorenson Forensics had made it possible to examine touch DNA evidence from the granite rocks.  (Romero)    By comparing that DNA evidence to CODIS, the case came to life when a match was found in Joseph Michael Simpson, who had been on parole and living outside Salt Lake City at the time of the murder.    To ensure current DNA evidence was collected, in August, 2013 the Wasatch County Sheriff, Todd Bonner (who had been the lead investigator on the original case), went to Florida, where the suspect was living, and followed Simpson until he was able to collect a discarded cigarette butt.  That cigarette butt produced the corraborating DNA evidence to incriminate Joseph Michael Simpson in the 18-year old murder of Krystal Lynn Beslanowitch.

This case had very little physical evidence, and because of the location, weather conditions, and outdoors elements, previous methods of recovering touch DNA evidence were not refined enough to produce identifiable DNA.   It was not until 2013, with a new technique in DNA analysis, forensic scientists were able to extract touch DNA from the granite rock that crushed Krystal’s skull.   (Ziadie)   Touch DNA is defined as “DNA from skin cells transferred onto the surface of an object by simple contact.”  (Richard Saferstein)

The new technology that revived this case is “The M-Vac System” (known as M-Vac) .  This is a vacuum system that was originally designed as a tool to collect bacteria samples off food.  The developer expanded its useage when discussing the M-Vac’s capabilities with a friend who was an FBI agent.  The M-Vac can pull DNA  from many surfaces that are difficult to retrieve evidence from, such as fabrics, rocks, stainless steel, plastic, rough masonite, carpet, floor tiles, skin surfaces, and many others.  (McFall)

Referred to as a wet-vacuum sampling device, a vacuum-assisted instrument, a forensics vacuum and other descriptive terms, the M-Vac System is becoming well known in the forensics field as the DNA collection method to turn to when obtaining a DNA profile is critical for the case, yet traditional methods such as swabbing, cutting and taping are not getting the job done.  The M-Vac System excels at collecting microscopic particles, such as the cells found in saliva, blood or seminal fluids. It collects cells from a wide variety of surfaces.  The M-Vac is superior to swabs, tape, sponges and contact plates in efficacy, especially on porous surfaces. Whether you need to sample forensic evidence in a crime lab or collect DNA material from a difficult object or stain at a crime scene, the M-Vac provides a forensic DNA collection capability that previously did not exist, surpassing swabbing by as much as 100X. (MSI: M-Vac Systems, Inc.)

Touch DNA, or DNA material (usually epithelial cells) that has been deposited by the perpetrator by grabbing, touching or brushing up against an object, is an area where the M-Vac System truly differentiates itself when compared to swabbing, taping and even cutting.  The M-Vac System’s ability to get into the substrate and collect minute amounts of DNA material is extraordinary and a number of investigators are finding success where before there was little hope in generating a DNA profile.  (M-Vac Systems, Inc.)

In an article discussing the solving of the Blasanowitch murder, Jared Bradley, President of M-Vac Systems, Inc. described how the M-Vac System deploys a unique combination of sterile solution spray and vacuum that dramatically increases DNA uptake.    He further stated: “We are pleased to provide the device that helped solve this case.  Getting DNA from a cigarette butt is impressive, but collecting a full DNA profile from an 18 year old rock is amazing.”  (M-Vac Systems, Inc.)

Sheriff Bonner, in discussing the case stated: “It’s a case that’s haunted me for almost my whole career,”   On September 17th 2013, Sheriff Bonner was able to close the loop – he tracked the suspect to Florida and personally put the handcuffs on Joseph Michael Simpson.  He credited the never-ending work of his collegues by saying:  “There are many officers, analysts and agencies that need to be thanked for their part in solving the Beslanowitch homicide.”   Sheriff Bonner further stated. “Without a doubt, the M-Vac system is the major tool that allowed us to make critical DNA connections in this case.”  (Sturler)

DNA Evidence is crucial to many cases, particularly as the extraction methods are producing better samples, and as Courts and the Judicial System  recognize DNA evidence as irrefutable.   Solving the murder of Krystal Beslanowitch eighteen years after-the-fact, based on touch DNA evidence found on rocks at the crime scene, is, as Jared Bradley stated, AMAZING.  It should also be a calling card to other criminals that says ‘we have ways of making you (or the crime scene) talk….’



Byram, Cala. “Wasatch County death is far from being solved.” 16 February 1996. website article. 18 March 2014. <;.


McFall, Michael. “The M-Vac sucks up DNA evidence for crime scene investigations.” The Salt Lake Tribune 25 October 2012. e-Newspaper Article. <;.


MSI: M-Vac Systems, Inc. n.d. Website. 18 March 2014. <;.


M-Vac Systems, Inc. “M-Vac System DNA Collection Device Helps Solve 18yr Old Cold Case.” Forensic Magazine 25 September 2013. e-Magazine. <;.

—. “Why M-Vac: Forensic DNA Collection FAQ.” n.d. website. 18 March 2014. <;.


Richard Saferstein, Ph.D. Forensic Science: From the Crime Scene to the Crime Lab. 2nd. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013. Textbook.


Romero, Pat Reavy and McKenzie. “18 years later, police say a murder mystery is solved.” 19 September 2013. News Article. 18 March 2014.


“Spokane Teen Beaten To Death With Large Rock.” 19 December 1995. Ed. The Spokesman-Review. E-edition newspaper. 18 March 2014. <;.


Sturler, Alice de. “Defrosting Cold Cases.” 25 September 2013. website article. 18 March 2014. <;.


Ziadie, Chelsea. “Cold Case Murder of Krystal Beslanowitch.” 17 December 2013. Article. 18 March 2014.

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