Tag Archives: Murder

Fetal microchimerism as a (new?) form of forensic evidence – could my scientific idea solve the Tegan Lane mystery?

So, here’s my understanding of the bare bones of the situation; young mother is sent to jail for the best part of her life after one of her offspring, a daughter reportedly born and conceived during an “affair”, cannot be found by child welfare dept. Mother claims she gave newborn to the baby’s biological father to raise in an informal arrangement, but is no longer in contact with him. Police reportedly searched high and low for baby and custodial father, unsuccessfully, and charged the mother with murder, despite no body or forensic evidence of foul play. The very existence of the custodial father is disputed by some, and it is unclear how these people believe the female child was conceived. Maybe they are very religious, or maybe they have assumed that the biological father was this woman’s regular partner, with whom she did not wish to raise a child. The man in the affair, if he exists, could be living in any part of the world.

Finding the “missing” daughter alive should be a “get out of jail” card for the mother, but perhaps proving her identity to the satisfaction of relevant authorities might not be a simple matter. Finding the custodial or biological father of the “missing” child could solve the mystery of what happened to the child, and would also lend some credibility to the mother’s account of what happened to the child. An obvious potential type of tool to solve this mystery would be genealogical DNA sharing databases, as have been used to investigate crimes such as the repulsive Golden State Killer. I’m not sure whether police powers would be required to complete this kind of investigation in this case, and I’m also not sure whether the jailed mother has or even could practically or legally pursue this line of investigation using her own DNA, from within the confines of jail.

It appears that there is no record of the DNA of the missing daughter (who would now be a young adult if still alive) as the Guthrie Test was never done on her as a newborn (a battery of genetic tests on a blood sample to detect rare disorders treatable in infancy), but I think there is a better than even chance that the mother still is in posession of some of that child’s DNA, and also DNA of that child’s father. How? Where? Inside her body, through fetomaternal microchimerism  also possibly through male microchimerism. To complicate matters, the mother has also had a number of pregnancies and partners, so she will have quite a library of other people’s DNA chugging around in her veins and living within her organs, potentially even within her brain (as is that case in any well-lived woman’s life), but I believe that searching for that particular child’s DNA inside the body of the jailed biological mother could possibly by done by a process of elimination, in a laboratory. I guess whatever DNA content in the child’s genome is not identical with the mother’s DNA must be the natural, custodial father’s DNA. Not all of his DNA will be present, but perhaps enough DNA to use to find him or his relatives on a DNA sharing database. There you go!

P.S. Do blood banks and tissue or organ donation organisations need to review their privacy policies to acknowedge the fact that various facts can be deduced about a woman’s (and maybe a man’s) sexual, reproductive and family history from microchimerism testing of their blood or tissues?

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Observations on Beaumont children disappearance suspect – a diagnosis for Harry Phipps?

I’ve been watching coverage of the latest investigation of the disappearance of the Beaumont children in South Australia in 1966. Three physical characteristics of the suspect, the late wealthy and well-connected businessman Harry Phipps can be seen in photograps shown in recent reports: hypertelorism, gynecomastia and a narrow palate. These traits or disorders can be found in normal people but they are also associated with genetic disorders. It seems too much of a coincidence for a group of inborn disorder traits to be found in a murder suspect who is known to have been a violent paedophile, a long-term perpetrator of incest, a wife-beater, and a cross-dresser who displayed a “psychotic” temper. This certainly reads like a description of a person who was put together incorrectly, which is not an excuse for the vile criminal behaviour, but perhaps is a big step towards an explanation for Australia’s most tragic and terrible mystery.

I’m not sure how many children Phipps fathered, but I’ve only found mention of one, an estranged son who is no longer alive. If this is the only offspring of Phipps, possibly this is evidence of low fertility, which considered in combination with his tall, slim build, gynecomastia, cross-dressing and hypertelorism could be a symptom of the inborn but not inherited chromosomal disorder Klinefelter syndrome, which can be associated with an increased risk of psychosis, executive dysfunction and learning difficulties.

Ever noticed how the faces of couples often look a lot alike?

I notice it all the time, and perhaps this has something to do with being a super-recognizer. It seems to be especially common among couples that include a murderer or a politician. You should consider assortative mating or narcissism before you assume incest.





See No Evil

The See No Evil TV series episiode 3 about the murder of Kelsey Smith, which was broadcast on the Sunday just past on the Nine TV network in Australia was an illustrative example of the central and essential importance of crowdsourced face recognition and CCTV surveillance in solving serious crimes. I just wish that law-enforcement authorities wouold do more to use these tools to prevent crimes or to intervene in crimes, rather than waiting for someone to be killed or harmed, then using these tools to solve crimes.




Will a super-recognizer identify the British man who murdered American journalist James Foley?

A number of names have been put forward by the press:


The value of CCTV questioned in Queensland

The value of CCTV in preventing crime has been questioned in Queensland following another tragic murder of a young person, which resonates with concerns about CCTV that I’ve aired at this blog in the past. CCTV might be a valuable tool in solving crimes, but everyone would much prefer that crimes be prevented or at least intercepted in a timely manner by police. The full video of this story will probably appear in a day or two at the 7.30 website.


Is face recognition (in conjunction with other forms of identification) once again the key to solving a crime mystery?

“I started to read about the shearers’ strike and I made a discovery. I found a photograph of the Strike Committee and there, standing up, in the middle is a person that I know was Joe Quinn. At this stage, he was calling himself Payne but I know him and recognise him as Joe Quinn from Gatton. I was so surprised to see that he was quite an influential member of the strike committee. And I remembered evidence that had been disregarded that Michael had a confrontation with a union official in a barber shop in north west Queensland and I wondered if the confrontation had been with this man, Joe Quinn.” – STEPHANIE BENNETT

This is a transcript from a story on the current affairs TV series Australian Story about a lady by the name of Stephanie Bennett who has spent years trying to solve the mystery of the horrific and vile Gatton murders. Bennett’s theory is that Quinn was the ringleader in the murders in company with others. I find her argument believable. Here are some more quotes from the transcript of the report:

“So Mum believes that Joe Quinn had been using aliases for years to evade the law. But he had a tattoo, he had some missing fingers, and he’d had a gunshot accident to the groin some years ago.” – ANGELA O’MALIA

“And under the name Adams, he is described as having one tattoo on his left forearm…” – STEPHANIE BENNETT

My knowledge of critical thinking and fallacies in decision-making tells me that questions need to be asked about this kind of evidence. Was the tattoo an exact match, visually or by description? How common was it for men at the time to have a tattoo on the left forearm, missing fingers or a gunshot wound to the groin? One needs to always consider base rates within the relevant population before deciding that some characteristic is unusual or abnormal or significant in some way. One must also ask how reliable was Bennett’s visual recognition of Quinn in the photo. But I guess such doubts might be unnecessary given the info that Quinn lost his job and was sent to jail for past crimes. One can only assume that this conviction was based on good evidence available at the time.

This interesting mystery is one of countless demonstrations of the importance of excellent face memory ability in solving crimes and identifying suspects, and it also demonstrates why we should never discourage the habit of criminal types to adorn their bodies with tattoos. In doing this they give a gift to police and detectives who are trying to identify persons of interest. Faces and tattoos are highly visible, permanent and distinctive features that can be used to identify people who are suspected of committing crimes. It is a wonder and a paradox that the section of society which has the most to lose from having a tattoo is the one that appears to have the most enthusiasm for getting them.

The story of this Australian murder mystery is also a reminder that criminals and psychopaths can and often do have charismatic and popular personalities. Regardless of whether or not Quinn was involved in the murders, it appears that he had been a leader in one of Australia’s most important industrial disputes, but also had a criminal past and a habit of using false names, and his dark past eventually caught up with him resulting in some time in prison. There is a popular image of the criminal psychopaths as loners, but it is more often the case that they are leaders.

Australian Story. When Blood Runs Cold – Transcript: Monday, 17 June , 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2012/s3783411.htm

Unsolved Mysteries is my guilty TV watching pleasure, but I read New Scientist with pride

Journalism in the areas of crime, the supernatural and miscellaneous weird stuff are not my usual choices in reading or viewing, at least not in the daytime, but there’s nothing more fascinating than a mystery, except for a clever solution to a mystery. One interesting aspect of this compelling TV show from the United States, which is generally broadcast late at night around the weekend, is that every episode of Unsolved Mysteries involves facial recognition as the solution or an important element of the story’s mystery. Other types of visual recognition can be an important feature in the narratives. One episode of the show recently broadcast in Australia was a murder mystery in which a police officer who had just investigated a murder later attended the home of the victim’s girlfriend who had disappeared. Just by chance the police officer looked into a linen closet and noticed in there pillow-slips with a fabric design which matched the sheet that had been found wrapped around the boyfriend’s body. I’ll bet that’s a variety of visual recognition that the scientists haven’t named yet.

While catching up with reading some back issues of New Scientist magazine today I came across another story about a criminal conviction that resulted from some very sharp soft-furnishing fabric design recognition skills on the part of an American law-enforcement officer. It’s not a nice story, not nice at all, but at least there’s some inspiration to be found in the good people using technology to fight the vile crime of child sexual abuse. An investigator at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children noticed that among the countless horrible images received at the NCMEC two were of girls of a similar age on what looked like the same bedspread of a distinctive appearance. I have no idea how the police trace these things, but the locations where that style of bedspread were sold were identified, and this was the clue that led to the identification of the children and the criminal. Google have developed for the NCMEC software designed to achieve similar feats of visual object recognition as the investigator’s human visual recognition of the bedspread. It is hoped that the automation of the identification of items of interior decoration in images of child abuse will help to solve more crimes. Of course, the NCMEC also works to identify the child victims of crime themselves, in the Child Victim Identification Program. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are partners in the NCMEC’s Technology Coalition, and the application of technology to the task of identification is viewed as the only way to deal with the increasing volume of pornographic material submitted to the NCMEC every year.

Unsolved Mysteries   http://www.unsolved.com/

Peter Aldhous Fighting online child porn. New Scientist. April 9th 2011. p.23-24. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028075.000-automating-the-hunt-for-child-pornographers.html

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (US)  http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet?

A Face to Avoid (on aesthetic grounds at least)

I had known for a long time that the murderer with some type of personality disorder had the same surname as a man who I will refer to as “Mr Train-smash”, a perplexing person who I used to know many years ago. I have also known for a long time that there is a genetic link and a definite family resemblance between Mr Train-smash and Mr Vile. I’m not the only person who thinks Mr Vile is vile. A great many people share my opinion. We have good reasons.

I knew about the shared surname but there was nothing else that I knew of to link these three strange men, so that’s the last I thought of it. Then I was reading the paper and saw a photo of the killer, with his flat cheeks, fairly long face, his underbite and his unattractive eyes, with not just bags under them, but wrinkly pouches under them that look odd in a young man, and something about his eyes that makes one think of Down syndrome. All three men have these features. At least it is some consolation that Mr Murderer won’t be fathering any kids. I don’t think they allow that type of thing in maximum security.