Caught at last
Brian Bowden-Brown was part of the ‘Cold Case’ team of elite detectives set up in 2000 by the Metropolitan Police. In his caseload was the decade old unsolved murder of Irene Grainey. Brian speculated her murderer could have been the ‘Beast of Bermondsey’?
He hoped that a combination of obsessive work and plain luck would combine to give some fresh lead.
After four years, he had nothing.
Sarah Mustoe was hired as part of the forensic review team. The National DNA Database had been launched in 1995. Now DNA could be checked against a list of known offenders. The DNA from the first two attacks showed it was the same attacker. But the extracts of DNA had been used up to establish this. None remained to be added and updated into the database.
And worse, the original swabs hadn’t been retained either.
So the team once again appealed on ‘Crimewatch’. The Met Police put up a £10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
With a financial incentive, a renewed national television appeal and a dedicated team of police and forensic investigators, hopes were high.
They came to nothing.
But Sarah had been working through an old store of forensic exhibits. She told Brian that she’d found some old tapings from the victims clothing.
Fifteen years after they were first taken, Sarah had rediscovered microscopic fibres taken from the victims of the third and fourth attacks.
They were the DNA of the attacker.
The exhibits had such minute particles of bodily fluids that they would have to do ‘low copy number analysis’. This is an extremely sensitive form of DNA profiling.
Because such a method only provides a partial DNA profile, it couldn’t offer a one in a billion match. But it could narrow down the list of potential suspects.
A full profile is effectively twenty matching numbers. The partial profile had only six or seven numbers increasing the numbers of people who might match.
There was a chance that the investigation would go from having no suspects to being overwhelmed by possibilities. And all in the knowledge that even if all the matches were investigated and interviewed, they may not have the right man in the first place.
The results came back.
There were twenty six suspects. This was a manageable amount.
The police first excluded those who were children at the time of the crimes, then those with infallible alibis proving they were in a different location. In some cases, the fact that the criminal suspect was in prison at the time of the original attacks was the reason they were ruled out.
One former convict’s name stood out of the remaining suspects:
He lived near the first Southwark attacks and had moved to Rotherhithe around the time the attacks there had occurred. His hair was down in a fringe. He had a crooked or broken nose.
But all this, with only a partial DNA profile, wasn’t enough to press charges.
The first attack of an elderly woman on Boxing Day 1987 had no modern DNA link. All the police had was a primitive genetic fingerprint that couldn’t be compared to modern DNA.
It would require Roberts to offend again to secure a genetic fingerprint to make a match. For once, the investigators wouldn’t have to wait long.
Roberts was a careful attacker. Despite the violence of his attacks, he ensured there was no forensics, like fingerprints, to link him to the crime scene.
But all of his usual counter-measures meant little when he dropped an item belonging to his stepson. In the home of his latest victim, he left his stepson’s bus pass.
The police went to Robert’s latest address and arrested him.