DNA Technology: Cracking Cold Cases and Tracking Criminals

red hand print isolated on linen fabric

(DGIwire) — A team of California investigators has finally solved two cold-case murders dating all the way back to 1976. After submitting a DNA sample, Rodney Halbower was charged with the death of two teenage girls near San Francisco and has been linked to a larger series of slayings, according to a January 23, 2015 article on CBSNews.com.

In the early months of 1976, the girls—along with three other victims Halbower is suspected of killing—were stabbed to death by an unknown serial killer, initially dubbed the “San Mateo Slasher” by a terrified public. The second victim, 14-year-old Tanya Blackwell, was discovered on Gypsy Hill Road, causing the overall killings to be known as “the Gypsy Hill murders.” The case would remain a puzzling mystery to investigators for decades.

Now, nearly 40 years later, the families of the deceased have some modicum of closure. Halbower, who is now a haggard-faced 66-year-old, was serving a sentence in an Oregon prison for a plethora of unrelated violent offenses when authorities extradited him to Redwood City. Once they found that his DNA matched samples found on Paula Louise Baxter, 17, and Veronica Anne Cascio, 18, he was charged with their murders. Cascio’s killing was particularly gruesome: her body was found on a golf course, and she had been stabbed more than 30 times. Evidence of sexual assault was found at all the crime scenes.

Halbower has an extensive history of violence and been imprisoned in both Nevada and Oregon, San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks told CBS News. This case is particularly arresting, as it conclusively ascribes guilt in multiple unresolved cases that had little to no chance of being solved by traditional police proceedings. It also de facto solves at least three other murders, effectively closing the file on a serial murderer. This brings a sense of justice to the victims’ friends and families. None of this would have been remotely possible without the use of DNA technology.

Solving a decades-old case is great, but there’s more: DNA technology is advancing at a rate that allows it to deter crimes. Applied DNA Sciences, a company based in Stony Brook, NY, is a leader in this new and exciting field. One of its most forward-thinking products is DNAnet, an intruder tagging system using embedded plant DNA. If a criminal attempts to break into a home or business, the device activates, spraying the perpetrator with an indelible DNA marker. When authorities begin investigating the crime, they can check for this marker on suspects. DNAnet not only acts as a deterrent, but is also admissible as evidence in criminal court.

“We are glad that DNA technology is working to solve longstanding murder mysteries,” says Dr. James A. Hayward, President and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences. “Theft and counterfeiting are also major challenges. We look forward to using our plant DNA to develop ever-evolving forensic protection systems.”