We all know dogs have an amazing sense of smell. Our best friends bring us all sorts of stinky surprises. It’s often the neighbors’ trash or a stray shoe, but on rare occasion it can be bones—sometimes even human bones. Dogs also track down the bad guys for us. Only a few short years ago, bloodhounds were the only animals to have their evidence ruled admissible in court. Animal forensics is a relatively new practice, but DNA matches of animal blood, hair, saliva, and excrement have already helped solve homicides. Canine urine has also played a pivotal role in solving a sexual assault case. Cats, birds, and deer, too, have all helped us to put the bad guys behind bars.
10 Killer Traced With His Own Dogs
Four years after the body of Shantay Huntington was found, the identity of the young woman’s killer was finally discovered. The 18-year-old woman had died of asphyxiation in May 2006. Her body, wrapped in a bed sheet and shower curtain, bound with duct tape, was discovered in a wooded area of Loxahatchee, Florida. She was miles away from Miami, where she had last been seen alive. The high school dropout from Colorado had lived in Florida for less than six months at the time of her death.
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Huntington’s known male companion was cleared of any wrongdoing, but that was where the case stuck. Three years later, the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory Forensic Unit at the University of California performed DNA tests on dog hairs retrieved from the bed sheet. The hair proved to contain enough DNA for a profile. Testing suggested that the hairs came from a full sibling of dogs owned by Liliana Toledo. The wooded area where the body was discovered was directly across the street from the Toledo home.
When questioned by investigators, Toledo’s answers turned their attention to Guillermo Romero, her estranged former brother-in-law. Toledo’s sister had a restraining order against Romero at the time of the questioning, but he had two Akita pups from a litter of Toledo’s dogs. A DNA sample from Romero also proved to match human DNA on the shower curtain and duct tape Huntington’s body had been wrapped in. It was the matching evidence of dog DNA as well as human DNA obtained at the murder scene that led to a charge of first-degree murder against Romero. In 2013, Romero pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
9 Two Attack Dogs Turn Tail
We all know that the Brits love their hounds, so it seems only right that dog DNA should be featured in a murder trial in the United Kingdom. The DNA not only helped to condemn one man accused of murder, but it also cleared the name of another. The April 2009 murder of a 16-year-old South London youth occurred during a fight between gang members. Dogs were deployed as weapons and ordered to attack Oluwaseyi Ogunyemi, also known as Seyi. The two dogs set on Seyi were Tyson, a pit bull and mastiff mix, and Mia, a pit bull and Staffordshire mix. Seyi was then stabbed repeatedly and beaten to death. The dogs also received several knife wounds;Tyson was stabbed in the neck.
Tyson left a blood trail that led back to the murdered man after he and his owner, Chrisdian Johnson, fled the area. When police arrested Johnson 13 minutes after the attack, Seyi’s blood was still on his hands. There was blood from Tyson on Johnson’s body as well, backing up the likelihood of his presence at the scene of the murder. Saliva from the other dog, owned by Darcy Menezes, was discovered on torn clothing found at the crime scene. The only weapons used in the murder that were ever found were the dogs themselves.
Menezes was cleared of murdering Seyi and of the attempted murder of another youth. A dog DNA database was used to show the DNA matches from Tyson and Mia were a billion times likelier to be from the two dogs than any other canines. Johnson received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 24 years. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Seyi’s friend Hurui Hiyabu, a 17-year-old he had knifed nine times.
8 Cockatoo Avenges Owner
We can’t help but feel sorry for this little guy who became a victim of the same man who killed his owner. The white-crested cockatoo died defending him, but his greatest deed came after his death. Evidence gathered from the Christmas Eve 2001 crime scene included feathers scattered throughout the house, proof that “Bird,” named after NBA great Larry Bird, had fought back.
The cockatoo’s slain owner was Kevin Butler, 49, of Pleasant Grove, Texas. Crime scene evidence showed that Bird came to Butler’s rescue by diving and pecking at Daniel Torres, 30, who stabbed him with a fork. Butler had been bound, beaten, and stabbed multiple times before he died. His valiant pet, a 46-centimeter-tall (18 in) cockatoo, died of a stab wound to the back. He was also missing a leg when authorities found him.
Torres and Johnny Serna denied any involvement until DNA collected from the blood on Bird’s beak was matched to Torres’s own blood sample. Confronted with unshakable evidence, Serna confessed that his half-brother had slashed Butler’s throat while he himself searched the house for valuables. Torres was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
7 Sexual Predator Stopped By His Mother’s Dog
Orange County resident Dane Williams, 23, was in San Diego for a convention when he had the great misfortune to run into Philong Huynh. Williams’s body was later discovered dumped in a San Diego alley, wrapped in the blanket that eventually linked Huynh to the January 2008 crime. The identity of the sexual predator and murderer was confirmed after hairs taken from a blanket were tested and matched to his mother’s dog.
The victim had been drugged, sexually assaulted, and killed. Eighteen months later, police investigators in San Diego realized the horrific crime bore some resemblance to the sexual assault of another heterosexual man. Both men had been drugged.
DNA evidence obtained from the second victim matched evidence from a sexual assault and murder that occurred 17 months earlier, but it was the dog hairs identified through DNA testing that provided a solid connection between Huynh and the body discovered in the alley. Huynh was convicted in June 2009 and received a life sentence for his crimes against Williams and an additional 10-year sentence for charges stemming from the second attack.
6 Cat Fur Bolsters Manslaughter Case
The dismembered torso of Hampshire resident David Guy was discovered wrapped in a curtain in July 2012 on a Southsea beach in England. Eight cat hairs were taken from the curtain for analysis. While investigators were enthusiastic about the new forensics of cross-matching animal hair DNA, no such system yet existed in the United Kingdom that a court was prepared to accept as proper evidence.
The eight cat hairs and sample hairs from Tinker, a cat belonging to suspect David Hilder, were sent to California for DNA analysis. The tests yielded a match. To bolster their evidence, British investigators arranged for the blood of 152 English cats to be tested. This was the start of the first cat DNA database in the country, and the trial is remembered for featuring the first successful use of cat DNA in the United Kingdom.
Tinker’s DNA evidence was not the only evidence that led to Hilder’s conviction. The constables also found traces of the victim’s blood at the killer’s Southsea apartment. The cat’s DNA evidence did, however, support the prosecution’s case. Hilder, a metal scrap dealer who was a neighbor and friend of the victim, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 12 years.
Tinker now lives with a new family.
5 Robbers Step In Dog Poop
A September 2002 triple-murder in Indiana was solved with the help of dog feces, of all things. A fragment discovered on the Philip Stroud’s shoe was a genetic match for another sample from the dog on the property where the murders took place. Stroud, the 21-year-old killer, was one of four men robbing a Lakeview area property. Stroud left a print from his Nike running shoes behind in dog feces on the property.
The DNA lab was able to match the print as well as the DNA specimen taken from the suspect’s shoe. Stroud claimed he was not at the spot where the bodies of three workmen, who had been building a loft in a barn on a Lakeville property, had been discovered. All three victims had died from gunshot wounds to their heads.
An expert witness from the University of California testified that the feces on Stroud’s sneaker was likely from the same dog responsible for other feces at the crime scene. Stroud was convicted by a jury and later resentenced on appeal to life imprisonment.
4 Grandma’s Trio Of Cats Catch A Killer
Tracy Ann Carson disappeared after celebrating her 40th birthday at a bar in Everton, Iowa, in October 2000. Her remains were revealed seven months later by spring flooding and found by a fisherman. Her body had been partly burned and then buried near a creek bed. Benjamin Michael O’Donnell, 24, was known to have partied with her on the night of her disappearance.
The dead woman had been wrapped in a bolt of fabric that was traced to the home of O’Donnell’s grandmother. Investigators discovered cat hairs on the fabric and the DNA was matched to the grandmother’s three cats. When confronted with this and other DNA evidence—blood traces in the trunk of O’Donnell’s car were matched to the victim—O’Donnell entered an Alford plea of guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder. He had earlier agreed to pay $150,000 to Carson’s estate and to waive future appeals and any other relief actions.
3 Four Dog Hairs Betray Murderer
This is another instance of a suspect accused of a serious crime who decided on a plea bargain after being confronted with animal DNA evidence.
While we know DNA evidence can save victims and their families from prolonged anguish, the guilty pleas of some offenders may be a bittersweet end to the ordeal for some. Patrick Ramsey, 35, sexually assaulted and murdered an 82-year-old woman in her home in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Mildred Hauser was smothered to death.
Ramsey was arrested after using the victim’s credit card. Police found some of Hauser’s jewelry in his possession. Four dog hairs were recovered at the August 2002 crime scene. DNA from one of the hairs discovered at the crime scene matched a DNA sample from a dog living in Ramsey’s house. Shortly before the Pittsburgh man was due to go to trial, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Had Ramsey not entered a plea, a successful conviction at trial would have put him at risk of capital punishment.
2 Violent Criminal Jailed For Life
We breathe a collective sigh of relief when an especially deserving criminal gets put away for good. An English career criminal responsible for almost 1,000 offenses was nailed in March 2002 after a trial that used dog DNA as evidence. Duane Daniels, 27, was convicted of first-degree murder after stabbing a London bouncer through the heart.
Daniels’s friend, Spencer Sheppard, had been ejected from the New Cross Club in March 2002. He was angry. Sheppard returned to the club in southeast London with Daniels and two other men. He also brought his pit bull terrier, Colonel.
Sheppard set the dog on bouncer George Napier, 36, a father of three. Napier was then stabbed to death by Daniels. The dog was injured during the fight, and police followed a trail of blood from its injured ear to Sheppard’s home. DNA from the blood at the scene matched DNA from Sheppard’s dog.
The DNA evidence was used in establishing the guilt of Daniels, Sheppard, Sheppard’s brother Louis, and a fourth suspect, Daniel Clarke, 40. Sheppard received a sentence of eight years. Louis and Clarke received jail sentences of five years each. Colonel was ordered to be euthanized by the same judge who sentenced his master. Meanwhile, Daniels’s violent past continued to catch up with him.
1 Deer DNA Damns Hunter
City folk may not want one in their yard, but animal lovers often make pets of deer in rural areas. Neither Lawrence Cseripko nor his victim, Paul Horvat Jr., were such animal lovers. The two Pennsylvania men were hunters. Horvat was fatally shot in the back in December 1997 after he himself had killed a deer. His Fayette County killer was not convicted of his murder until 2005. During that eight-year period, the science of testing animal DNA caught up with earlier crimes. Evidence secured by police investigators after Horvat’s murder was used to point the finger.
A DNA match between venison taken from Cseripko’s freezer and the blood and deer entrails found near the victim’s body in 2004 linked Cseripko with the crime. The two men were known to have exchanged unfriendly words during the prior year’s hunting season. Cseripko had told the victim he would kill him if he ever saw him again.
Cseripko is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. In an appeal that he later filed himself, the 65-year-old Pennsylvania man argued, among other things, that the evidence which included the deer DNA evidence was insufficient to convict him. The appeal was dismissed.