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DNA doesn’t always give answers

By Staff | Sep 4, 2011

On television shows like NCIS and CSI the officers collect some DNA from the crime scene and send it to the lab.

Within minutes – or so it seems – the lab tech has the results and the law enforcement officers are off to arrest the ‘perp’ and haul him off to jail.

At the trial, the suspect has little hope because his DNA was at the scene and he is going to be easily convicted.

DNA has also been used to free someone who has been in prison for years, convicted of a crime he did not commit. DNA was used to prove it was someone else.

However, it seems that getting a DNA test result is not as easy as shown on TV. While they get their results in minutes, so the crime can be easily solved within the hour of the show, in real life it can take longer.

Sometimes a lot longer.

You may recall a story in the Register back in April about some human remains found near Keystone, S.D., in the Black Hills.

Officials suspected the remains could be Michael Berry, a former resident of Blue Earth.

Berry had gone missing in that same area on June 8, 2006. The last time he had been seen was in Keystone asking directions to an area mine.

Berry was 61 at the time.

An autopsy was performed on the remains and it was determined to be a male around Berry’s age and height.

Some of the remains were sent to the University of North Texas for DNA extraction and analysis.

That was in April and this is now September.

We have called the sheriff’s office in Pennington County, S.D., several times over the past months and get the same answer, which is that they know nothing new.

Maybe they should have sent the remains to the NCIS lab for analysis. They sure seem to be able analyze human remains quickly and easily.

Using DNA to solve long time cold cases is not unusual.

Former Faribault County Commissioner Barb Steier has had some recent experience with this kind of case.

Her 17-year-old cousin, Doug Mueller, went missing in the Phoenix, Ariz., area in 1977.

A ransom note was found and the ransom paid by Steier’s uncle and aunt, but the ransom was never picked up.

Over the years the case grew cold. There were ‘sightings’ of Doug many times, but they never panned out.

Five years ago a human leg bone was found in a remote area of Phoenix called Pinnacle Peak.

Finally this last spring an investigator researched all the many missing persons cases in the Phoenix area (I guess there are many of them) and came across the case of Doug Mueller.

A DNA test, which took quite a while to complete, matched the DNA of the bone to that of other members of the Mueller family. It was, indeed, Doug Mueller’s leg bone.

Steier says the family has wondered for over 30 years what happened to Doug and now they at least have some closure.

However, the exact details of his death are not known. His death has become a homicide case and is still being investigated.

But the trail is quite cold and may never be solved.

It would be if it was on a TV show of course.

Then there is the mysterious case of Blue Earth’s own Jane Doe.

She is the woman who’s body was found along I-90 in a drainage ditch near the Bricelyn exit on May 30, 1980.

Nine years later her killer confessed (an on-duty Minnesota Highway Patrol officer). He is in prison in Texas serving time for several other crimes as well.

But his victim has never been identified.

DNA samples were taken from the body, but the problem was there were not any matches with any DNA on file.

Over the years there have been several attempts to tie Jane Doe to missing persons from around the country.

It has never been successful and Jane Doe lies buried in Riverside Cemetery in Blue Earth. Her gravestone identifies her only as Jane Doe.

It is suspected by authorities that she was a runaway hitchhiker from an unknown location, and may never have been listed as missing in her home city.

So, while DNA is what solves all crimes in an hour on TV shows, in real life it only works some of the time.

And, getting DNA results can take months, not minutes.