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1968

Forensic evidence solves a crime

Bernard Josephs returns to his house in Bromley, England, and finds his wife Claire lying under the bed, her throat slashed and severed to the spine. Defensive wounds to her hands appeared to be caused by a serrated knife. No weapon was found at the Josephs’ house, and police had no other clues to go on. However, the murder was solved, and the killer convicted within four months, through solid forensic investigation.

Authorities first pinned down the time and circumstances of the crime. Ingredients of a meal that Claire had been preparing were still in a bowl in the kitchen. There was no sign of forced entry into the house and a half-empty cup of coffee was left out on the table. Investigators were fairly certain that a friend or acquaintance had dropped by while Claire was making dinner and so they began to concentrate on family and friends.

One of the people the police questioned was Roger Payne, a recent acquaintance of Bernard and Claire, who had earlier convictions for attacks on women. Police discovered several scratches on his hands, which Payne ascribed to a fight with his wife but his alibi for February 7 was far from airtight.

Forensic evidence focused on Payne’s clothing. Claire Josephs had been wearing a cerise woolen dress at the time of her murder. Although Payne’s clothing had been laundered, the seams and hems still contained over 60 cerise wool fibers matching Josephs’ dress. Investigators then examined Payne’s car and found traces of blood matching Josephs’ blood type, as well as additional clothing fibers.

Payne was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in May 1968. While DNA evidence has captured the public’s imagination in recent years, and is a powerful crime-solving tool, basic fiber and blood tests remain the backbone of forensic investigation. They are reliable, relatively inexpensive, and easy for lay people to understand.

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