Showing posts with label cold cases. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cold cases. Show all posts

11 February 2024

Why Y: Connecting chromosomes and surnames

There have been many articles discussing the difference between men and women but this one is all about differences in chromosomes - men have XY chromosomes and women are XX people. This Y chromosome has become increasingly used in innovative ways to catch criminals, even in cold cases decades old.

Many of us inherit our father’s surname and men, specifically, also inherit their father’s Y chromosome and their father, in turn, usually gets both from their father who in turn - you get the point - Y and surnames generally go together. As I wrote about previously, we now have a massive data base of DNA from various ancestry sites, voluntarily submitted by millions, and this can be used to connect surnames and DNA.

Does this all fall apart if the murderer is a woman? It does and it doesn’t. Although women do not have a Y chromosome, women transfer mitochondrial DNA from mother to offspring. The male mitochondrial DNA is, except in very rare cases, eliminated, providing a clear way to trace maternal inheritance. This maternal inheritance allows ancestry sites to trace our maternal ancestors. However, women historically have taken their husband’s name and this makes it difficult to use surnames with the same confidence as we do with males.

Recently, a cold case was solved by using Y chromosomes and surnames, finally giving the family closure after almost fifty years. 

In 1975, a sixteen-year-old Montreal teenager, Sharron Prior, went to meet friends at a Pizzeria. On the way she was abducted by Franklin Romine, who brutally beat, raped and then killed Sharron. Despite having DNA from Romaine’s shirt at the murder scene, for almost fifty years law enforcement was unable to identify the murderer. 

In 1974, a man named Franklin Romine had broken into a house and raped a woman in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Two months later, he was released on a $2,500 bond, fled to Canada, brutally murdered Sharron Prior and, a few months later was captured by Canadian border officials, extradited back to West Virginia and was sentenced to five to ten years in prison for sexual assault in the Parkersburg case. He returned to Canada where he died in 1982 and his body was buried in West Virginia. 

In 2023, this difficult murder was solved using Romine’s Y chromosome’s connection with his last name. In this case, the Y chromosome found at the murder site was connected with the surname ‘Romine’ found on ancestry sites of voluntarily submitted DNA and, it was ascertained that Franklin Romine lived in Montreal at the time of the murder. Although he was dead by this time, he still had two living brothers and both provided a DNA sample that showed a strong match. On the basis of this evidence, the body of Franklin Romine was exhumed and his DNA proved to be an exact match for the DNA found at the crime scene. 

Although the cold case is solved, no charges will be laid because Franklin Romine is dead. For the family of Sharron Prior, this matters: “You may never have come back to our house or Congregation Street that weekend but you have never left our hearts and you never will," Sharron's sister Moreen said."We love you Sharron, now may you truly rest in peace.”

13 August 2023

Fodder for Great Crime Stories: Amateur scuba divers

Recently, stories have appeared in the news about amateur scuba divers helping solve missing persons cold cases. 

In Florida, the team of Ken Fleming and Doug Bishop found 60 submerged cars statewide. Also, the controversial Youtube sensation, Jared Leisek, an Oregon entrepreneur who heads Adventures with Purpose, works with volunteer salvage divers to help families find their loved ones. 

Amateur scuba divers solving cold cases has all the makings of a new series of crime novels. I wish someone would write these because they’ve been bouncing around in my fantasies for decades.

About thirty years ago my husband talked me into learning scuba diving. He was trained by an army scuba diver, so he’s extremely competent and also has a great deal of talent. I got trained at a resort, and that, along with my lack of natural talent, made me a competent but not even close to excellent diver. When the children came along, they got the scuba diving fever and certified at eleven and twelve. They have their father’s talent and scuba diving became our family sport.

Over the years, we’ve had wonderful dive adventures and often, as I putter behind my elegant family of divers, I’ve fantasied about helping solve cold cases by discovering guns and bodies by diving expertly to places other divers haven’t gone. This is exactly what I do when watching gymnasts, where I picture elegant tumbling moves while trudging to the kitchen to get more popcorn.

A childhood friend and English teacher recently bemoaned her lack of writing skills by saying, “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach.”. This quote by Bernard Bernard Shaw from his 1905 stage play Man and Superman is often taken out of context and wasn’t meant to demean teachers per se. In fact, as a daughter of scientists - even though I loved Shaw in my teenage years - I also knew this quote is inaccurately used when applied to teachers, because the best scientists, the most competent researchers, taught.

I do think that, for me and maybe me alone, a riff on this quote would be accurate: Those who can do, those who can’t, write about it.

With the pandemic, we haven’t been diving in years, but one of our last dive trips set off a fantasy of a perfect crime, fostered by my fury. We were diving in the Bahamas where, I learned afterwards, they were also feeding sharks. So, when we all innocently did a back roll water entry, an entry where you sit at the edge of the boat with your back against the water, with your regulator in your mouth, held in place with your left hand while your right hand holds the back of your head to prevent your skull from smacking into the first stage regulator when you hit the water. Then, point your chin toward your chest and gently fall backwards. You do a little somersault, pop right back up but it is a tad disorienting.

We headed down into the water and when we were about 30 feet down, I turned to check with my designated ‘buddy’, my son, and saw a shark between us. I looked up, and there were sharks, I looked below and there were sharks. It was simply awful.

We have seen sharks previously, but they keep their distance and leave quickly. Never have we had sharks surround us for a dive. When I got back on the dive boat, I was not just frightened, I was perplexed by the unusual behaviour of the sharks. When I asked about it, our dive master – who looked about twelve years old - explained cheerfully that they feed the sharks to teach divers how friendly they are and, by making friends with sharks, it helps with their conservation.

I was raised by a biologist father who took me on many field trips and he and his colleagues spoke often about conservation. It made me not just an animal lover but also a conservationist. To truly protect animals, you need to also listen to the experts studying them and not anthropomorphize them. Sharks deserve to be protected and can be best protected by not misunderstanding them. A shark is not your friend when they are swimming beside you in hopes of food. It takes one woman on her period or one inadvertent coral cut to put blood int the water and turn you into prey. I’m not a biologist, so I’ll use a term I hope is also used by experts to describe this behaviour: it’s nuts.

As we headed back to shore on the dive boat, my fury gave rise to a plot: chum the waters near a cheerful, far too young dive master (who might be an heiress to millions), and you have a perfect crime.

As I said, those who do, do, those who can’t write – or in my case – fantasize.

On our next dive trip I ensured that the country we went scuba diving banned shark feedings – many of them have – and we had lovely dives where sharks kept their distance.

So, from solving cold cases to creating a perfect murder scenes, amateur scuba diving provides a wealth of story ideas. I’m sure I’ll think of more stories the next time I putter behind my elegant family, pretending I am them.