It’s been a long day. I have survived the work day, made the trek across the I-74 Bridge with moderate frustration, let the dog out, and now I can breathe. I’ve got my chips, my Dr. Pepper, and my PJs on. All that’s left is my couch and my creepy Netflix shows on crime and unsolved cases.

A noticeable factor in a lot of these shows and the reasons why cases were “cold” or closed was due to DNA evidence not being “founded” yet. It is nuts to me to know that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) wasn’t actually a key piece in solving crimes until 1987! The first DNA conviction came when Colin Pitchfork was convicted of two counts of rape and murder, charges he was found guilty of through the use of a blood sample he had provided when police asked local men to volunteer to give blood or saliva samples.

Do you remember the “Green River Killer?” The serial killer in Washington State, who in 1982 and 1983 assaulted and murdered upwards of 71 women? The case was cold for two decades. Despite a $15 million investigation and huge task force implemented and dedicated to solving the crimes, it went unsolved. During this time, the Green River Killer is suspected of murdering many more women, so many that he claims he, “lost count.” 

There was a breakthrough in 2001, when DNA testing was used to successfully convict suspect Gary Ridgway of 49 “Green River” murders through samples of his hair and saliva archived in police records.

The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) maintains DNA files at the local, state, and national levels. Using this system, law enforcement can compare evidence and DNA from separate crime scenes, possibly linking perpetrators to multiple crimes. Convicted offenders of certain offenses are required to provide DNA samples (murder, rape, assault, etc.) which are logged into CODIS, making it easier to link serial offenders to a case.

DNA cannot only be the golden ticket to solving a crime, but also can be the saving grace to someone who is wrongfully accused. Actually, the first time DNA made its way to a courtroom was to exonerate the person who was originally accused of the Colin Pitchfork rape and murder crimes. In 1985, Alec Jeffreys, a molecular biologist in England, was asked to exonerate a young man accused of sexually assaulting and murdering two women. In turn, Colin Pitchfork, the man mentioned above, was successfully identified to be the perpetrator.

You also may have heard of the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is an organization working each day to exonerate, through DNA testing, those who have been wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project has exonerated 365 since its founding in 1992 (the nearest Innocence Project group to us is in Kansas City, Missouri). The average number of years served by those who have been exonerated by the Innocence Project is 14!

But the success of DNA testing comes with downfalls. The Department of Justice reports there are constant backlogs of unanalyzed DNA samples. Although in place to help solve some of the most violent and serious crimes, the lack of up-to-date technology and overwhelming backups of DNA testing have resulted in substantial delays in prosecution.

Increased funding and education for DNA processing and analyzing was pushed when former President George W. Bush was in office. The hope was by putting more dollars toward the whole DNA process and recognizing its important role for practicing a fair justice system, technology always would be current, and there would be enough of those working within the system to keep up with the influx of DNA.

I think it’s amazing we live in a time where this is possible — where we can take the smallest strand of hair, the tiniest speck of saliva, blood, skin cells, urine, etc., to place someone at the scene of a crime.

I personally don’t enjoy watching a crime show in which I know the case goes cold. It’s sad, and makes it a little difficult to sleep that night. So save yourself the anxiety and watch the shows that have occurred post-1987 for an ending which is more likely to result in the offender getting prosecuted and put into prison. Better yet, turn on all the lights and watch a Disney movie afterward!