Over the passage of time, humans have come a long way in terms of intelligence dealing with evidence and crime scenes, but along the way, we’ve encountered several situations that took us off guard and left us perplexed, despite our expanding scientific understanding and advanced methodologies. One such case was of a deceased woman who, based on the information available at the time, appeared to have been murdered by an actual time traveler. The case gain popularity and was classified as “Time Travel Murder”.
In 1997, a lady was found brutally murdered without leaving much evidence except for what appeared to be a trace bit of skin stuck between her fingernails, indicating that she had struggled with and possibly scratched her attacker.
Some of the biological material was removed for analysis in the hope that it would shed light on what had occurred, which was a significant development at the time, as DNA analysis was still in its infancy at the time, and for many people, the ability to identify someone from just a few scraps of their skin appeared to be magic.
The samples were sent in and processed through a database, where they quickly yielded a match. However, rather than resolving the problem, this would merely add to the bizarreness. It came out that the DNA match was from another woman who had also been slain, and she had been murdered three weeks prior to the initial victim in a completely different part of the city.
There was no discernible connection between the two killings, and perplexed police at the time could not comprehend why a dead lady would have the biological material of another woman who had died three weeks prior under her nails, and the case became known as the “Time Travel Murder.” It was a perplexing case, surrounded by strange circumstances and evidence that suggested something more akin to science fiction than reality. How could this have occurred?
An inquiry into the perplexing case was undertaken, and it was initially assumed that the fingernail samples, which were gathered in accordance with regular forensic protocol, had been jumbled up or tainted in some way.
Mike Silverman, then the Forensic Science Service’s national account manager and author of the forensic history book Written In Blood, was tasked with determining what was going on, but it would not be simple.
He initially suspected that the laboratory had made a mistake and that the fingernail samples had been mislabeled, with the clippings labeled as belonging to the second victim actually belonging to the first, but a careful examination of the nail polish pattern revealed that the samples had been properly labeled after all.
Additionally, it was determined that because the two samples from two distinct individuals had never been extracted concurrently, there was virtually no chance that they could have been mixed accidentally.
Silverman was then perplexed by the methods employed to gather fingernail samples from the two victims, and it was determined that both remains had been transported to the same place three weeks apart for autopsy.
The body of the first victim was kept in cold storage for several weeks while an investigation was conducted. Following that, the nail clippings were extracted, and the following day, the strange body of the second victim arrived at the same morgue.
Interestingly, the same pair of scissors was discovered to have been used on both victims, and despite meticulous cleaning, it was speculated that some of the genetic material may have survived for the second series of cuts, contaminating the samples retrieved from the second victim. This was a somewhat revolutionary discovery at the time, as nothing was known about DNA cross-contamination of evidence.
This was not entirely impossible, given the technology of forensic DNA analysis was still in its development, there were few agreed-upon processes for truly preventing such a thing from occurring and little information of the extent to which such a thing could occur.
We just lacked the knowledge of this weird new technology to develop appropriate methods for dealing with DNA evidence, and as a result, there were numerous issues that we were unaware of. This was a far cry from today’s completely clean crime scenes when detectives know to wear protective gear and take great care to avoid contamination.
What scientists didn’t realize in 1997 was that even a few errant cells can significantly alter DNA samples, resulting in cross-contamination that can confuse results and even derail entire cases based on DNA evidence.
Indeed, DNA from three separate people was discovered on the nail scissors, and the sample from the first victim had carried over, resulting in the first victim’s DNA moving to the second, creating the illusion of a perpetrator traveling through time to commit murder.
In reality, the two women had nothing in common. The mishap and the ensuing seemingly enigmatic case established the practice of using disposable scissors to collect fingernail clippings for forensic examinations and then storing the scissors with the samples to demonstrate that they have not been used previously.
Although this case was eventually solved, demonstrating that there was no time-traveling murderer, after all, it is an odd little episode in the strange history of forensic science, demonstrating that sometimes our ever-expanding technology can get ahead of itself, developing faster than our understanding of how it all works or what to do with it.
While DNA analysis has shown to be an extraordinary tool for solving cold cases of murders and discovering historical riddles, it has not always been perfect, and may never be. What are your views about this baffling time-travel murder mystery? Could it really be possible that a time traveler murdered that woman?
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