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Forensics


In every murder on the award winning CSI series it's that microscopic detail, the invisible evidence, the DNA sample recovered from the scene of crime that closes the deal on a final arrest.

And if you believe their state of the art technology forensic science is leading the way in crime resolution - the makers of these dramas say that fact isn't that far off from fiction - but in South Africa it seems to be more like science fantasy.

Hennie van Rooyen (Investigator): 'Being on my son's murder scene was one of the most devastating, one of the most horrific things, I have ever experienced in my life. I cannot explain how terrible the assistance I got for the police was. The training of the detectives in our country, the training of those attending to our crime scenes, is the poorest of the poorest.'

Hennie van Rooyen's son Eugene was murdered two years ago, together with his flatmate Krappies.

Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): 'Hennie wasn't looking at this murder, the murder of Eugene, just as a father, he is also one of the most experienced crime scene investigators in this country.'

It was in the early hours of the morning when intruders broke into this townhouse. The first shots fired were at Krappies

Hennie: 'They fired three shots and they hit him in the chest. Krappies fell here in a pool of blood, and I believe, he died instantly.'

Eugene hearing the noise came out of his bedroom, then quickly retreated locking his bedroom door.

Hennie: 'They kicked the door out of the room out of the frame. They kicked the closed, locked door. He must have given them quite a battle in this room because blood was splattered on the ceiling, against the walls, three or four shots were fired into the walls.'

Derek: 'After a titanic struggle in this bedroom where Eugene was shot though the left shoulder, he managed to get through to the bathroom and lock the door. But they just broke the door down, in fact broke it off hinges, and then shot him through the neck.'

The burglars fled taking two cell phones and Eugene's car.

Derek: 'Shot through the shoulder and through the neck dripping with blood, Eugene was able to get out of the bathroom, get out of the bedroom, come down the passage here. Actually stepping over his friend, Krappies' body, he went through his own flat to next door and started banging on door trying to get help.'

Hennie: 'The emergency service didn't pitch up, the police didn't pitch up. Forty-five minutes later the one neighbour took my son with his bakkie to Unitas hospital.'

After lying in a coma for 10 days, Eugene died.

Hennie: 'My son and myself had close to a perfect relationship. I wasn't just his father, I was his friend, I was his mentor. He was my only son. I have one daughter left, but he was my only son, my best friend.'

Derek: 'Hennie, what did you find here?

Hennie: 'Well, Derek, I've been a detective for 18 years. I've attended many bloody bad murder scenes. I have never seen so much blood at one crime scene as I did right here with my own son.'

Derek: 'Hennie, do you think you should have come in here, just after the murder?'

Hennie: 'Yes, I wanted to see. I wanted to see what happened to my son. I wanted to know what really happened.'

What really happened did not seem to concern the detectives assigned to the case who spent less than three hours at the crime scene. Hennie, who now trains investigators and has written six books on the subject, was appalled.

Hennie: 'The crime scene is the primary source of information, 80 percent the information for your investigation you will find at the crime scene.'

Because of Hennie's connections in the police the detectives came back and spent a further 10 days gathering evidence, but even that proved fruitless.

Hennie: 'The detective investigating this case went to my home to take a statement. Twice I had to help him to push his vehicle because it wouldn't start. How can you investigate a double murder when the investigator in uniform has a dilapidated car that won't even start?'

Looking for clues himself, Hennie, found evidence of how the intruders had entered the house, evidence that could have held vital DNA traces.

Hennie: 'And I discovered right here at this electric box two pairs of shoe tracks. So I took the whole lid - after the funeral that morning - to the forensic guys in Pretoria. Of course, three days later when I went back to fetch the lid to put it back on the electric box they couldn't find it. It was just gone.'

Derek: 'The murder of Eugene is just another case for the record books, one of thousands of unsolved and forgotten crimes in this country. But sometimes out of the worst tragedies comes a glimmer of hope: it was two violent murders in 2004 that sparked a new initiative to fight crime in this country

Vanessa Lynch (The DNA Project): 'This project is so much bigger than what actually occurred and that is very much part of what my father was about. He was so much bigger than just the person.'

John Lynch, Vanessa's father was murdered in his home in Bryanston, Johannesburg. That morning, Vanessa had seen her parents off at Cape Town airport.

Vanessa: 'I didn't realise that at the time that it was the last time I would put my arms around him and say goodbye. He was murdered that night at 7 o'clock, 12 hours later. I had the phone call saying that he had been shot.'

Derek: 'Vanessa, it is so difficult going back, but what did you piece together?'

Vanessa: 'They had been drinking in the back garden because we found brandy and coke. So obviously it was premeditated that they were going to break in. My dad had just seen off a friend and was coming in the front door. They must have come in the backdoor. My mother was in the bedroom at the time. He just screamed. My mother heard him scream 'No'. Obviously, they had guns and she heard them open fire at him.'

Derek: 'Where was he shot?'

Vanessa: 'He was shot seven times. He was shot all over his body.'

From Cape Town, Vanessa's husband, Stuart, a doctor, tried to help her mother keep her father alive.

Vanessa: 'The emergency services hadn't arrived yet and he was just trying to find out from my mum where he had been shot and if he was still conscious. He was conscious at that time. So he just tried to calm her down and listen to what he was saying. But unfortunately there was nothing he could do to help him.'

Taking the next available flight to Johannesburg, Vanessa arrived on the scene the next morning.

Derek: 'What did you see when you came into the house?'

Vanessa: 'Nothing. Everything had been washed and taken away. That is the thing, at the time it didn't occur to me because you are so devastated by the events. Friends have come and washed all the blood away thinking that we mustn't see this. They just washed scene away. The police officers that were there had obviously just come and gone. There had been no cordoning off of the scene. The investigators came a few days later and took a statement from my mother and basically closed the file and said we don't think we are going to find these guys. That was it.'

Derek: 'So nobody at the scene, no policeman said don't touch a thing this is a crime scene?'

Vanessa: 'I don't think that this is a deliberate sabotage of a crime scene. This was just ignorance.'

Derek: 'But the police took some items into their possession?'

Vanessa: 'They took the brandy bottle. I phoned them and said where is that bottle? His very words were 'I have thrown it away because we do not have the technology to uplift DNA evidence from this bottle'. That is not true.'

While John Lynch's murder was, reduced to yet another nameless statistic, it was the disappearance and subsequent murder of 21-year-old Leigh Mathews that same year that became a media sensation. Her parents Rob and Sharron were overwhelmed by the amount of public and police support.

Rob Matthews (The DNA Project): 'The support that we have had from the public, from people we know, from people we don't know, from around the world we have had emails. I think the encouragement is that the South African police do have the capacity to solve a crime like this.'

For the Matthews family justice was swift, arrest and sentence was made within a year.

Vanessa: 'What struck me with the case is that there had been 15 investigators sent to the scene, they had cordoned off the scene, and a lot of resources that had been allocated to her case. I turned around to my mother at the time and said, 'Why is that case being treated differently to our case? Why didn't we have 15 investigators at our scene?' Everything was the exact opposite to our case.'

Derek: 'There must be thousands of people who feel just the same way?'

Vanessa: 'Well, that is the whole thing. I wrote to Rob Matthews and I said, 'You have been given a voice for whatever reason and you have to use that voice and you have to use that platform to do something'. His response to me was: 'I agree absolutely, what can we do?''

Rob: 'Derek, we received enormous amounts of flowers. So we thought let us try and do something different. So we opened up a bank account and said anybody who wants to send us flowers rather put some money into this trust account and we want it to make a difference. Before we knew it there was over R100 000 in the account.'

With this money and further fundraising The DNA Project, was born.

Vanessa: 'We went to the Commissioner of the Forensic Science Laboratories and we said to him at the time, 'We understand that there are shortfalls ... what is it that you require?' From that time we always had a constructive approach with them. It was very important for us to form an alliance with them and to support them and understand what it is that they required.'

The DNA project initially started out donating much needed equipment to our forensic laboratories to help catch up with the forensic backlog.

But more importantly Vanessa came to realise that what was needed for long-term crime resolution was an effective national DNA database. The one in operation was small and ineffective.

Vanessa: 'Throughout the world this is primarily how they are solving crime. This is the gold standard of crime resolution in the 21st Century, without a doubt.'

Derek: 'Vanessa's passionate and believes that a national DNA database can and will turn the current crime situation around, deterring criminals from repeat offences, and making it easier to identify and prosecute offenders.'

Vanessa: 'I am so convinced that this is a way of fighting crime because it puts that person's DNA at a scene forever. They cannot remove their DNA, it is there.'

In her crusade to improve and expand our database Vanessa has formed relationships with forensic labs in other countries, their expertise can only help.

Vanessa: 'Why not look to other countries that are already ten years down the line. Get them in here ... let them look at us and rather than reinvent the wheel show us how we can get to the stage where they are at.'

We went with Vanessa to the Forensic Science Services in Britain. They are the leaders in DNA data-basing, and their ability to use it in solving crimes is not matched globally. The lab that deals with the majority of crimes in the UK is in Birmingham.

Derek: 'We are all used to signing register when we visit a business or a corporation. But here at the Forensic Science Service they go a lot further. Why do they do that? Because just that could leave a DNA trace.'

Entering this facility meant the FSS had to have a record of all our DNA so any trace we left could be referenced back to us and not confuse their criminal data base.

Derek: 'So I'm on the visitors' DNA list.'

FSS: 'That's right.'

It was 1987, when DNA was first used in a crime investigation in the UK. Two decades later huge breakthroughs in DNA technology have not only speeded up the process, but also ultra sensitive profiling techniques.

Alan Matthews (International Business Director, Forensic Science Services UK): 'The ability to recover the DNA has changed now from perhaps previously requiring things the size of a coin in terms of a blood sample to the point now that you don't even see the sample, yet you can recover DNA.'

As an ex-cop Alan Matthews knows what is needed in a crime scene investigation - rapid results.

Alan: 'What we have now is ability from the Forensic Science Service to be able to deliver DNA results in major crime cases in under 24-hours. This means that sometimes you don't need 50 or so officers working on a case for weeks and months. You can quickly focus in on your key suspect and it makes the whole thing more efficient.'

Derek: 'Could change a bail application?'

Alan: 'It could significantly because in the UK we can keep people in custody, with the courts approval, for up to four days. Certainly, within that time we could get a DNA result back that could give conclusive proof to be able to charge somebody with an offence and detain them in custody for a major crime.'

Derek: 'Behind this door is some extremely sophisticated equipment which extracts the DNA from a sample and purifies it and amplifies it. Now, that's almost like genetic photocopying and it means from a single cell they can do a full DNA profile.'

And it's the revolutionary DNA techniques used in these laboratories that are giving law enforcement the edge over criminals. Here, science meets Hollywood minus, of course, the glossy CSI cast and location.

Now cases that have gone 'cold' even decades old can be solved, and current previously untraceable crimes cracked, like, in the recent conviction of a serial rapist in London.

Alan: 'This guy was responsible for undertaking 11 rapes over a year period. This involved six different police forces; it was in and around London. Even though he wasn't on the database they at least knew they were dealing with the same person, which in itself is of major importance.'

The rapist thought he was could outfox the cops by wearing a condom.

Alan: 'The victim actually put her hands around the suspect, obviously trying to fight him off. So her hands were around his neck and things like that. One of the police officers was very forensically aware and said don't wash your hands and made sure her hands were swabbed. The swabbing from her hands then identified the DNA profile.'

There are four million profiles on the National DNA Database, that's five percent of the UK population. South Africa has a mere 80 000 and that's not because our machines can't handle it.

Vanessa: 'The speed at which technology is moving you need to address that with legislation. Research has shown that throughout the world all the countries that have used DNA databases as a crime resolution tool have had to amend legislation.'

Derek: 'The problem is that it is not easy to increase the DNA databases under our present laws. The Criminal Procedures Act prevents DNA samples being taken from convicted offenders and this is something that Vanessa is fighting to overturn.'

Derek: 'One of the main problems is that we can't take DNA samples from convicted offenders?'

Vanessa: 'Correct. So this needs to be change. DNA samples need to be taken. They need to remain on the database and they need to remain long after the conviction has taken place. If there is no conviction they need to remain on that database for a certain period of time.'

Derek: 'You say it should stay on the database?'

Alan: 'Criminological research, around the world, says that if you have committed a crime the chances of you committing a further crime are much higher than the average member of the public. Also, you start committing generally minor crimes and you gradually build up to commit more serious crimes. Therefore, it would make more sense to take a profile from somebody at the earliest opportunity in that criminal career and make sure then you can use that as a means of identifying and detecting this person when they commit crime in the future.'

Vanessa: 'To bridge the gap between what is occurring here and what we have in South Africa is not that big. They do have the makings of a great facility.'

Derek: 'These are state of the art machines, but they are only as good as the DNA samples taken from the scenes of crime and there you may only get one chance.'

Alan: 'This isn't just simply about building a laboratory, it is an end-to end-process. It starts from the crime scene and it is very important to get the crime scene correct.'

It's called the 'golden hour', that time the detectives spend at the crime scene. The quality of evidence they collect will determine the result and hopefully a conviction, like in the murder of Leigh Matthews.

But sadly, in South Africa more often then not that 'golden hour' is time wasted.

Hennie: 'It comes down to the human factor. You can have the most wonderful expensive technology, but if the detectives and investigators don't do their jobs professionally and thoroughly, technology is of no use.'

Vanessa: 'Had I known then what I know today I would have stood vigil at the crime scene, even if it had been for months, in order to make sure that it was preserved and that nobody went on to it and all that evidence had been taken.'


IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:
While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.
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