Chalk up another case solved for the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab forensics unit. It did the initial DNA analysis of cat hairs found on a dismembered body found in Winchester, England last year. They found a rare DNA sequence that matched with a cat belonging to the victim’s neighbor, a David Hilder.
Hilder was convicted with the help of DNA evidence, which was augmented by a data base developed for the case by the University of Leicester. The UC Davis lab is no stranger to solving major crimes. The cat case is similar to a murder case in the Midwest that it helped solve. It also used DNA to match blood from a dog left at a murder scene in London to the dog’s owner who was arrested for the killing.
The lab began doing blood analysis in the 1950’s mostly to trace the lineage of animals. It began working on animal DNA about the same time that human DNA analysis was developed.
One of its first cases was in 1996 when it was asked to work on an attempted rape case in which the victim couldn’t identify the suspect from a line-up.
“She remembered that her dog had urinated on his truck tire, so they sampled the truck tire and when it matched her dog we were able to place him at the crime scene,” said Elizabeth Wictum, Director of the forensics unit of the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab.
About half the lab’s work deals with dogs, but cats, pigs, deer, horses and cattle are part of their work. It works on civil as well as criminal cases. They deal with dog bites, cattle rustling, animal abuse cases and other animal I.D. issues, and is the only lab accredited to do DNA work involving animals.
“Right now we have a couple cases for the Antiques Road Show where they have some antiques and they want to see [if they have a] Rhino horn, so it’s definitely interesting,” said Wictum.
People find the low-key lab mostly through word of mouth, but more and more law enforcement people are making use of the lab’s expertise.