Tag Archives: Mysteries

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?

Note – This page and all pages at this blog are permanently archived, and if you choose to copy my words or plagiarize any of my ideas, if I was the first to publish that idea or ideas, I will find out and I will make you sorry.

Links to more info

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Microchimerism&oldid=881842128

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2887685/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3458919/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633676/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3921195/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4199806/

 

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.

The same face? The same young lady?

Face recognition, face identification, face matching, call it whatever you like, the question of whether some photographs are records of the same face (at different ages) is central to solving a long-argued and fascinating mystery about the famous author Lewis Carroll. My first impression, as a super-recognizer, is that the mystery photo is of the same young lady. As a super-recognizer I look at the whole face and feel whether it is the same person whose face I have already become familiar with. As a logical person who who understands that a proper investigation involves looking for any evidence that potentially could disprove a proposition, I would like to spend more time looking individually at all of the facial and body features in two photos to see if they match or have clear differences that cannot be explained by the effects of age or other possible alteration, just as the people do in this documentary.

http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/secret-world-of-lewis-carroll/ZW0302A001S00

Damn, it’s behind a paywall

I was wondering whether this interesting-sounding paper might mention face memory ability, because other research has shown that ability in this area peaks much later than many other cognitive abilities, in the third decade of life, as I recall, and no one knows why, and it is one of those fascinating mysteries in psychological science that I love to ponder. It is certainly nice to know that there is even one cognitive ability that peaks as late as the seventh decade of life, considering how long it has been since I saw my 30th birthday. I also noticed that one of the authors of the paper (Laura Germine) is one who has done face memory research in the past, and some of the data used in the study was gathered using a website that has a history of offering free to the internet public access to world-class face memory and face perception tests (testmybrain.org). But the paper is behind a paywall, so I’m left wondering.

http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/03/06/0956797614567339.abstract

http://www.medicaldaily.com/some-cognitive-skills-peak-age-70-new-views-intelligence-bring-hope-lifetime-ability-325634

https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/and-another-interesting-recent-article-in-a-science-magazine-about-face-recognition/

http://www.testmybrain.org/index.php

http://www.gameswithwords.org/

More thoughts on Somerton Man

I’ve written about this mysterious Australian crime case before at this blog, and I’ve just started watching an online video of Sunday’s 60 Minutes story about this case, and I’ve got some observations about the appearance of the body shown in photos in the 60 Minutes (Australia) story.

He did have odd-looking ears and I don’t doubt the idea that this trait would be genetic and could be traced in a descendant, as I’ve read somewhere. The ears could certainly be useful for identification of the body.

I don’t know if he was a spy for the Ruskies back in the Cold War era, but I doubt that he was of Russian stock. I feel that he had a very Australian-looking face. I feel that it is the face typical of a race of people founded mostly by British convicts. He’s got that street-smart look, that Aussie look, that normal look. I don’t feel that he looks like a foreigner.

Lastly, I wouldn’t speculate one way or another whether the potential grand-daughter of Somerton Man is actually his descendant, based on their ears and faces, except that I think it is possible.

http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8759245

In my opinion as a super-recognizer…

The photos featured in this article of William Wilcox and George Cassidy are not the same person. Wilcox looks considerably older, slimmer and sharper than Cassidy to my eye, and their ears do not match.
http://billingsgazette.com/news/local/the-bandit-invincible-local-author-explores-the-mystery-of-butch/article_18333d98-9f32-5423-ad05-f8ca84cac843.html

And another story on 60 Minutes about a major personal mystery which was solved by visual recognition and visual memory

Memories of the scenery of a long-ago journey, Google Earth, a very old photograph of a young boy and face recognition – these are the elements that found the solution to an impossible quest. Saroo Brierley’s amazing story of finding a lost mother within the incomprehensibly huge population and landmass of India is a demonstration of the incredible power and potential of the use of images as data in contemporary computer technology and the natural visual processing and visual memory capabilities of the human brain.

Lost and Found. 60 Minutes (Australia). June 21st 2013. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8678261

Saroo was also a guest on Breakfast on ABC’s Radio National on June 25th 2013, interviewed with her usual skill and intelligence by Fran Kelly. Saroo is promoting his autobiography titled A Long Way Home.

Long Way Home: An extraordinary story. Breakfast. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/long-way-home-an-extraordinary-story/4777562

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

Ear recognition the key, not face recognition?

One of the stories on 60 Minutes (Australian) a couple of weeks ago was interesting in terms of the visual and forensic recognition and identification of a person. The title of the true story was The Imposter,  reported by Karl Stefanovic and produced by Gareth Harvey. The story was about the missing American boy Nicholas Barclay and the French serial impostor Frédéric Bourdin who pretended to be the missing boy grown older. A documentary film about this story was released this year. Amazingly, he was believed by close relatives of the missing boy even though his eyes and hair were of a different colour to the missing boy, his age was a mismatch, he had a French accent, and of course a different face. The most disturbing aspect of the story was how an obvious faker found in Spain could have been misidentified as a missing American boy by police, the FBI and the US immigration department, and then legally documented as the missing boy and flown to the USA. These organizations are full of blind people? I guess these organizations must have a great record for employing the disabled, but also a lousy record for doing their jobs accurately. I’m not sure if these organizations need to recruit some super-recognizers, or just need to employ more people with basic thinking and decision-making skills and a firm grasp on rationality.

An interesting feature that this case shares with the baffling Australian mystery the Taman Shud Case or the Mystery of the Somerton Man is the forensic examination of ears to identify a person. The French impostor was busted by private investigator Charlie Parker who noticed that the ears of Barclay and  Bourdin did not match. ”I asked the cameraman to zoom in on his ears, because I knew that was the way to identify people for sure; I had read a book about Scotland Yard doing that.” This is another thing that amazes me about this case; I don’t understand why the ears were seen as a more certain way to prove that the man with the French accent wasn’t the American missing boy than the different colours of the irises of their eyes or their clearly different faces. Why are ears seen as a more objective measure? Because they are an overlooked part of the body that people don’t cosmetically alter much? It makes me wonder whether our culture has been misled into thinking that face recognition by humans is a subjective art because of instances of facial misidentifications by some prosopagnosics whose disability isn’t understood. Most people are very good at identifying faces of other people from their own race, and are also naturally very good at identifying voices. Some people are exceptionally good at remembering faces. There are times when we need to trust our own natural abilities and use our common sense.

Missing boy and the will to believe. by Stephanie Bunbury Sydney Morning Herald. February 23, 2013

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/missing-boy-and-the-will-to-believe-20130222-2evb8.html#ixzz2PhgTuPLA

60 Minutes. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8633767

Somerton Beach Mystery Man. Reporter: Simon Royal. Stateline (South Australia) Broadcast: 15/05/2009  http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/sa/content/2006/s2573273.htm

Ashton Foley’s mugshots – a minor mystery

A collection of old mugshots of Ashton Foley from her misadventures in the USA were published in Saturday’s West. I’m still left wondering why in one of them her skin looks markedly darker and the overall effect in that shot was of an African-American look, while I didn’t get that impression from the other photos, neither from a fairly recent Australian interview video of Foley that can be seen on the internet. One clue is that the brown-skinned mugshot was taken not long after she had given birth to twins. I considered whether melasma, or the “mask of pregnancy” might have been the cause of her darker skin, but from what I’ve read about it. it manifests as brown blotches, not an overall darker complexion. Perhaps she just got a tan. What I find interesting is how a slight change of skin tone changed the way I would describe her race. I think this shows how much of a red herring eyewitness categorizations of race can be, if they can be altered by small changes in the skin tone of individuals.