Death, decomposition and detector dogs
UTS Science in Focus: Death, Decomposition and Detector-Dogs
Shari Forbes: Dogs are referred to as man’s best friend, and apologies if you’re a cat lover; it’s not me who says that, it’s just what they’re known as. They’re members of the Canidae family – the family that also includes wolves, jackals, coyotes, foxes, all those dog-like mammals. The domestic dog is a sub-species of the grey wolf. Scientific name is Canis lupus, and many of the dogs still look or resemble their ancestors the wolf – so, the husky, the shepherds, you can probably think of a few others. But the majority of dogs don’t resemble the wolf, as you all know, and regardless of this, it has been, even if you can’t believe it, it’s been proven that they genetically diverged from their ancestors the wolf approximately 15,000 years ago. And so as you probably can imagine, 15,000 years is a long time, they are in fact one of the oldest domestic species in the world.
So why did we bother domesticating the wolf? Well, basically it was the early hunter-gatherers who actually tried to domesticate them because of their amazing hunting capability. So they used them to hunt for food and to assist them in capturing prey and that was really their first role in a domesticated environment. Their second domestic role was for herding. So you may be familiar with shepherds herding livestock, particularly in mountainous regions, and you will be familiar with the fact that many farms still use dogs for herding live, sorry, livestock such as sheep and cattle – domestic livestock.
Their other historical role that they’re well known for is carrying and pulling loads, and the well-recognised would be the huskies, who are often seen pulling sleds, which carry both passengers as well as carrying supplies and resources and food. And that’s often in very icy or snowy conditions, such as Canada, where I spent quite a bit of time. So they have been around for a long time in their domestic roles, but we continue to expand those roles. You’re probably familiar with the rescue dogs; the most famous or well-known would be the St Bernards. These are the ones that were originally used in the Italian and Swiss Alps to find missing people, and now they’re often sent in to find in missing hikers and other people as well. But most of us would be more familiar with dogs just simply as companionship, so most of us probably have a dog simply as a pet, not for hunting or herding or anything else. They’re also used for assistance though, so as well as being a companion they can also assist people in need, such as the guide dogs that assist the visually impaired. And this assistance has been extended into other industries and the police and the military is the one that I’ll probably focus mostly only tonight, because that’s where we work with these dogs.
So within the military, police have been, sorry, the military have been using them for many years. Dogs have actually been used in warfare since as early as the 7th century BC, but most of the knowledge we have of dogs in warfare is to do with the last century or so, particularly with World War 1, World War 2 and subsequent wars thereafter. In World War 1, they were used to deliver messages, not unlike the carrier pigeon. They were also used again for their pulling power, so they were used to pull guns and ammunition, and you can see here an image of the Belgian machine guns being transported onto the battlefield by one of their dogs, and this was not uncommon to see this.
During World War 2, they were used again, similar to rescue dogs, to actually recover injured soldiers or injured victims from the battlefield and to get them back to safety. Unfortunately towards the end of World War 2, they became very experimental, so attempts were made to actually strap explosives to them and send them onto the battlefield to try and destroy invading tanks. They were also used for medical experimentation. I’m pleased to say, both of those roles failed pretty miserably, so as a result dogs were no longer used for experiments, or experimentation, and so most dogs from World War 1 and World War 2 are remembered as in fact war heroes – as being very instrumental to the military unit that they were a part of.
One of the best known examples of this, and you may have heard this story, if you haven’t it’s with the Smithsonian Institute that you can read it, was a very small dog known as Sergeant Stubby. Now I know he doesn’t look scary, so what was he doing in the military? But h was actually a very important war hero. At the end of World War 1, he was the most decorated war dog in history. He was also the first dog to be officially promoted through the ranks to Sergeant. So his name is just Stubby. Sergeant is in fact his title, and his rank, and you can see here he’s very well decorated with the medals on his coat. Now Sergeant Stubby started his life as a stray, so he was actually taken in by an officer who was living on a military base at that time in America. But he very quickly became integrated into the unit. So each day he would go out with the officers, the soldiers. He would actually perform the drills with them, he learnt all of their bugle calls and he even had a modified salute. So at the time that the sergeants would stand to attention, or soldiers would stand to attention salute, Sergeant Stubby would do the same as best he could. So he stood to attention, he raised his little right paw, he placed it on is right eyebrow, and that was his salute. And this is what I’m told; he did actually do it. So he was really considered a member of that unit. He was very instrumental to the military, and as a result of that, he got taken to war – very unheard of back then.
Now why is he so well decorated? Well, he was with that unit for 18 months on the battlefield on the Western Front, and during that time, he was involved in 17 battles. He did a number of amazing things. He did rescue a large number of soldiers, injured soldiers, from the battlefield; I don’t know how, because he was about 1/10 the size of any of those soldiers, but he did it. Amazingly, he caught a German spy, so the story goes. So he actually managed to attack a German spy, hold onto him, keep him there long enough until somebody came in and helped him out. But the one that he’s really well known for, and is probably realistically the main one that he really did, was the fact that he detected a gas attack before anyone else. So a mustard gas attack; basically the gas grenades were thrown into their sleeping quarters for his particular unit, very early in the morning, pre-dawn. Everybody else was sound asleep, but because of his amazing sense of smell, he actually woke, recognised it as a dangerous substance, and proceeded to awaken everyone else in that unit. So he barked at them; he even bit them if they wouldn’t wake up, until he had the whole unit up and out of there. And as a result they evacuated everyone without any injuries or fatalities. And this is really the reason that he’s got so many medals on his jacket today. So he was very much considered a part of that unit, as I’ve already said.
But as I also said, it’s really their sense of smell. This is why we continue to use them for hunting, and all the other roles that we’ve trained them for over history. And I’ll just give you a quick rundown on sense of smell, because I think most of you probably know that dogs have a far superior sense of smell to humans, although we’re pretty good compared to some other animals as well. Humans do use all five senses, but we rely very heavily on sight. So coming here tonight, not sure which way you walked, but you would have been guiding your way here by people you saw, traffic lights that stopped you, cars coming towards you and so on, and that’s really how you interact on a day-to-day basis. Dogs also use all of their senses, including sight, but they rely most heavily on smell. So they would have seen all of that as well, but they see it as scent pictures, so they would have seen the scent of that traffic light, the scent of those cars and the scent of the people that they actually passed. And this is why they’re so great at odour detection. If we compare their olfactory system to ours, you can see it does look quite different. And the main thing to know is the complementary thing for both of us is, when we inhale an odour, the gaseous molecules go into our nose, into our nasal cavity. They’re dissolved in the mucous membranes, and they bind to an olfactory receptor which sends a signal to our brains, saying ‘This smells like something’, whatever it might be.
The difference, mainly, is that those olfactory receptors are part of the olfactory cells in the nasal cavity, and while humans have about five million olfactory cells, dogs, depending on their breed, can have anywhere from 100 – 300 million olfactory cells, so already they’re superior to us because they have more cells there. The reason they have more, or one of, is that the area where our cells are contained is about the size of a postage stamp, whereas the area that the dogs’ cells are contained is 17 times larger, so they can actually house more cells and therefore more receptors, and as a result this translates to the fact that they can smell more compounds than we can. So an average human might be able to detect hundreds of compounds, sometimes thousands if you have a really great sense of smell. Dogs can usually detect thousands, if not tens of thousands, of compounds. So they have an ability to just detect far more compounds than we can possibly process.
The other reason they’re so good, and the reason we use them for odour detection, is what we call enhanced sensitivity. And I’ll use the following analogy to explain this: Basically if somebody walked into the room at the moment, say they came into the back of the room. You wouldn’t need to turn around before, after a few minutes, you would start to smell the odour of pizza. And I think everyone in this room would probably recognise that for what it was – it smells like pizza, so somebody’s got pizza in the room – who is it? That’s not going to happen, but say that was going to. The reason you can smell that as pizza is because humans process scents as a mixture, so they just take all the compounds, they put it into a mixture, they send a signal to the brain, sorry, the olfactory receptor sends a signal to the brain saying ‘This cumulatively smells like pizza.’ What it doesn’t tell you brain is whether it’s a pepperoni pizza, a cheese pizza, Hawaiian, supreme, whatever it is you’ve actually got. The difference with the dogs is that they can process that. So instead of just smelling pizza, they’re actually smelling the individual ingredients, so they smell the scent of dough, they smell the scent of tomato sauce, cheese, capsicum, onion, pepperoni, whatever you’ve actually put on the pizza. And this is what we call enhanced sensitivity – the ability to key in on individual compounds, not just a mixture, and also on top of that to actually not just key in on them, but to exclude surrounding odours as well. So we tend to exclude surrounding odours to a degree, but they can really narrow down a particular odour, no matter how many interfering odours are around them. Sometimes there is a limit, but generally they’re very, very good at, so that’s the reason we use them for scent detection.
In law enforcement we have quite a range, but you may have heard that tother industries are starting to use them quite extensively as well, and we’ll just go through a few of those. The firearms and explosive dogs and the currency and drugs dogs; you’re probably familiar with these ones; they do tend to be in the news. You may not have seen them; they often work a little bit behind the scenes at airports and seaports and other areas of border crossing, but you may also have seen them – sometimes they are out visible. The other ones we use a lot are the accelerant detection canines. These dogs are trained to alert the scent of flammable or ignitable liquids, and so what they’re trying to do is locate a source, a potential area where an accelerant may be present, and that guides the investigators in terms of collecting evidence in an area and then sending that to the lab with the hope that if an accelerant is confirmed, this gives information that it is an intentionally set fire.
The other ones we have are illegal wildlife trading, and that’s very important in Australia, and also a whole range of other contrabands. So you’ve probably heard you can train a dog to detect almost anything, and it’s not far from the truth. You may have read recently in the newspaper about an initiative by the NSW Government to train dogs to detect mobile phone contraband, and these were mobile phones that were being illegally brought into prisons, and obviously prisoners are not meant to have access to them, and these dogs, very successfully, were able to find the majority of mobile phones that were illegally housed within that prison. So there’s a really broad range of uses, and we continue to expand those uses.
The other areas that are starting to really investigate the use of scent detection is the medical field. So we have what’s known as diabetic or hypo alert dogs. These dogs are trained to detect low blood sugar levels, so when the odour from the breath of their owner is – sorry, when their owner has a low blood sugar level, the odour from their breath is quite different do when they have a normal blood sugar level, and they can actually alert their owner well before the owner would even know that it’s dropping.
They also have cancer detection dogs. This is a little bit debateable at the moment; we’re still very much training in this area and researching, but there are specific cancer types that give off volatile biomarkers in the dogs … sorry, I should have the image up there … in a person’s breath, and they can detect that as well.
The conservation canines, we use them to count endangered species in the particular environment, and if you’ve travelled recently internationally, you’ll probably know the DAFF biosecurity risk dogs; their names just recently changed. These are the guys that you often see running around the carousel, sniffing at your luggage. What they’re looking for is nothing dangerous; they just want to know if you’re carrying an apple or a banana or some nuts or something else that we told you not to bring into Australia but that you forgot that you left in your bag. And it’s not the food that they’re concerned about; it’s really the pest species that could be contained within those food products, and it can be really detrimental to our ecosystem. So there’s, again, a huge range of other assistance dogs and alert dogs that we have. Tonight, however, I’d just like to focus on two. That’s what’s known as the live scent or tracking dog, and the human remains or cadaver detection dog. That’s where most of my work is in, the latter one there.
So live scent tracking, you’re probably familiar with, because this is the one that’s been with the police the longest; it’s the one that on TV you see them present clothing to the dog, it’s from a victim or an offender. The dog scents it and then goes off and miraculously finds the person. It’s not really that miraculous; they’re just doing their job, and the way it actually works is that they’re basing it on what’s known as a unique odour profile. So whether or not you all knew it, each one of you has a unique odour profile. Maybe you can smell it, maybe you can’t. Certainly a dog would be able to smell that. The reason it’s unique is a number of reasons; it’s based on your genetics, but also on cultural influences. So the first thing with your genetics is that we all secrete bodily fluids differently – we all sweat differently, basically, is what we’re saying there. On top of that, we all metabolise foods and beverages and other things differently as well. And we may or may not have some form of a disease, so some of us might have diabetes, unfortunately some people will have cancer, as I mentioned earlier. As you can imagine, no two people could really secrete bodily fluids, metabolised foods and have the same disease in the exact same ratio. And so this means naturally you’re going to have a unique profile. But to add on top of that, you all have cultural influences that just continue to make it more and more unique. Your diet, for example; are you somebody who loves onion and garlic? And you can certainly smell that the next day, but so can the dogs. Are you somebody who has a lot of spices in you food, for example? Even just your toiletries – what kind of shampoo you use, deodorant, makeup, cologne. All of these things that we don’t really think about each day that is changing our odour profile. Our clothing can even change it, if we like to wear natural products, such as cotton or wool, and that has a different odour to synthetic products such as polyesters. So those can change as well. And then just your living conditions – are you a smoker, do you live with somebody who smokes, do you like to burn aromatherapy candles when you have a bath, do you like to burn incense each day? All of these are giving off odours that are being taken up by your body to a certain degree. So all of those combined means, as you can probably see, that we can’t possibly have two people with the same odour profile, and that’s what the scent tracking dogs are actually relying on.
So how do they go about tracking? Well, here’s a schematic to show you the important things. Basically, we call it a scent pool or a scent cone. The scent pool is your odour that just naturally stays with you. So if you were out missing in the woods, you were feeling thirsty, you were feeling weak, you lay down, that scent pool would just hover around you in a fairly small radius or diameter, so it wouldn’t really travel far. And these are not great conditions for the dogs to try and find you in. What is very valuable to them is any degree of wind, so the smallest amount of wind would change that scent pool into a scent cone, and this is what’s very beneficial, because it disperses the odour, so it gives the dogs a better chance of finding it, but it also forms that cone so that once they pick up the scent, they can actually key in using their enhanced sensitivity and follow that back to the point of the cone. And theoretically, that’s where you should be, whether or you’re alive or deceased. And so that’s what the dogs are really relying on, is any kind of wind in the environment to pick up your scent and then key in on it.
The other thing that’s really important and often is forgotten and, I think, is equally important, is actually the canine handler. So we think about the dogs just running off and doing these things themselves, and that’s really not the case. The handler is integral; he or she is part of the team. The reason that’s important is because of the relationship that forms between the handler and the dog. As you all know, dogs can’t talk, so the dog can’t tell us ‘I’ve picked up the scent, it’s over there, I’m going off, follow me if you feel like it.’ What the dog is trying to tell the owner is, ‘I’ve picked up the scent’, but he’s going to do that using changing behaviour, and it’s going to have very subtle cues that the handler needs to be able to recognise. And so that’s why that relationship is really, really important – that the handler can actually recognise those cues, and you’ll see some of them later in the video.
The other important thing is to remember that the dog, like the police officer and like Sergeant Stubby, is a member of the police force, so they are really an integral part of the team and also of the police community. And before I go on and talk about what we do here, I’d actually just like to share a story with you, and this is just one case example I have too tonight. This is not a forensic case example, I’ll warn you straight away, but it is one of my favourite stories, and the reason I tell this story is because at the time, and up until I actually conducted this case, it wasn’t really clear to me just how important that relationship was between the dog and the handler. It also wasn’t clear to me that the dogs were really a police officer, a police officer in a dog form. And this case was a really good example, and that’s why I’d like to share it with you.
I was in Canada at the time; this was when I was working and consulting for the Ontario provincial police and most of my requests were to assist with searching or locating buried human remains – that’s where my expertise lay. This particular case, we were asked to locate buried canine remains. This is why it’s not forensic. This was in October 2011, it was the Ontario Provincial Police North Bay Detachment, and what they asked us was whether we could conduct a search of the front lawn – their front lawn, I should say – to locate a canine known as Cloud the Second, and I’ll just call him Cloud from hereon in. So Cloud was a live scent tracking dog with the Ontario Provincial Police, and so I’ll just warn you this is a story about a live scent tracking dog, not about using a live scent tracking dog, so there is a difference. And Cloud was in fact the victim in this particular case. Why we were looking for his buried remains resulted from his final operation. So his final operation involved a fairly notorious or infamous person in Canada known as Donald Kelly. This was back in 1975, I should mention. Donald Kelly was currently in prison, he was awaiting trial for a double murder charge and he managed to overpower a prison guard and flee from prison with a rifle and a stolen car. He was on the run for approximately two weeks, at which point the police decided to call in Cloud and his handler to see whether or not he could in fact pick up Kelly’s scent. And he was successful in doing this; he actually found the fugitive hiding in a remote wilderness cabin, approximately 140 kilometres from the prison, so he had travelled some distance but remember he had stolen a vehicle so he could do that. So the police surrounded the cabin, and unfortunately around that time, the fugitive became aware of their presence. As they approached the cabin, the fugitive fled. And at this point they sent Cloud ahead of them; they sent Cloud in, and that’s typically what they do, to try and hold the fugitive and see if the fugitive is armed and try and disarm him, basically. As he ran in, the police started to fire, because they didn’t want Kelly to escape again, so they started to fire at the fleeing fugitive as Cloud started to run towards him as well. Now Cloud was successful in grabbing him; he got a hold of his back calf and he held him there until the police arrived. Unfortunately before they arrived, Kelly was armed and he simply turned, he placed his gun to the back of Cloud’s head, and he fired. And that was his attempt to try and escape from Cloud.
Now, they were successful in recovering and capturing the fugitive Donald Kelly but unfortunately Cloud did die at the scene, several moments later. So he was killed in the line of duty, and as I said this was back in 1975. What I was told, and what became very amazing to me, and this is when I really appreciate what they meant to the police was, because he was killed in the line of duty, he was treated just as a police officer. He was given a full police burial involving all of the police community, the Commissioner, everyone else was there. He was buried in a plywood casket that was encased in concrete, and he was buried beneath the flagpole on their front lawn. So this was really a very meaningful moment for the police community, because he was in fact the first dog, the first OPP dog to die in the line of duty, ever, in their history, so it was a big deal. So as I said, he was buried beneath the flagpole. Before I go on, I should show you what Cloud looks like, so there’s Cloud the Second. He was a shepherd, and as I said these are the ones you’re probably most familiar with, and he has his working collar on. Now, later on you’ll see in the video that they do use working harnesses now, but at the time it was a working collar. What that means is that as soon as you put it on the dog, they know they’re in work mode, so it tells them they’re about to start tracking or scenting. This image was taken shortly before his death, and this is Cloud with this handler; at the time it was Constable Ray Carson, and Ray has subsequently retired as a Staff Sergeant, so he went right through the ranks.
Okay, as I said, buried beneath the flagpole. Obvious question – why did they need me to find him? Unfortunately, as you can see, this is not a building from the 1970s. This is a fairly recently renovated building – this is the North Bay Detachment. There have been numerous renovations over the years; the flagpole had been repeatedly moved because the entrance had been repeatedly moved, and unfortunately once the handler had left there were no good historical informational records of where that original flagpole had actually been. So the second question then is, why, after 36 years, did they suddenly want to recover his remains? If they hadn’t worried about it now, why was it so important? Because these premises were being vacate by the police, and they’d actually sold it to developers, and the absolute last thing they wanted was some developer to bring up his remains. As one of the officers said to me on the day, ‘We simply don’t leave one of our own behind.’ And that was really important to them, so they wanted to recover his remains and then be able to cremate him so he wasn’t moving from burial ground to burial ground. So that’s why I was called in.
Now, the first thing I can tell you is that we weren’t going to use a scent detection dog to find a scent detection dog. They’re not trained to look for human remains. So that was out of the question. Instead, we chose to use geophysical equipment. I’ll talk about this a bit more later, but ground penetrating radar you may have heard of, and it’s very useful for searching sub-surface, so below the soil. So we were called in – you can just see the police gridding up here – and we set up our own grids and we run the radar over it and collect all the data and then we sit down and look at it and say okay, where’s the most likely place that Cloud’s actually buried? And it just happened that it was this quadrant that he was buried in, so we quickly located the area of interest. We did have an excavator there; we normally wouldn’t for a forensic investigation but we did for this one, because we knew he was buried in a casket encase in concrete, so this was going to be a heavy gravesite. Very quickly, you can see I don’t do a lot of digging – normally I do, but the police don’t always allow me to do digging. So very quickly the police found the plywood casket, and soon also found evidence of the concrete, so we knew we’d hit it, we knew we had the gravesite. We were able to clear that up – I did actually dig for this part. We were able to clear around it and recover the casket and thankfully the excavator was there, because there was absolutely no way we were lifting that concrete-encased casket out of the gravesite. So here it is here – hopefully you can get a sense of the size. I’ll just show you – it stood about this stall, and it was probably about this long, so it was quite a big casket, because he was also quite a big dog in life. I’m just going to pause on this slide, because I’d actually like to share a bit more of the story with you.
So, as we were standing around thinking, ‘How are we going to open this casket that’s still got concrete around it?’ I was actually approached by a young man – there were probably about 30 police officers here that day, but this one wasn’t in uniform. And this young man identified himself to me as the son of Ray Carson, who was the handler of Cloud. And he said to me, he gave me some really valuable information, and he said Ray was now 76 years old, he retired as I said as a staff sergeant, and unfortunately he had advanced Parkinson’s disease, so he was not very well. He was in a nursing home, he rarely left the nursing home, he didn’t even go out for Christmas or Thanksgiving, his son said, but importantly he was here that day. So he was sitting in a car because, you’ll see later, it’s really cold up there, and he was waiting for us to excavate his remains. He said that he felt it was really important to make sure he was there, to make sure he was being treated with respect – and that’s Cloud being treated with respect, not himself, which we were obviously doing. So his son actually asked me if I’d be willing to be talk to Ray, which of course I was happy to do, and the first thing Ray said to me was ‘Well, it’s been 36 years, what are we really expecting here? We’re probably just expecting a bunch of bones, right? I know he’s not going to look like he did the day we buried him.’ And I was going to agree with him, because 36 years is a really long time, but then I looked over and thought well, we had this immaculately preserved casket, which it shouldn’t be – after 36 years it shouldn’t look anything like this, and it was encased in concrete.
As I mentioned, for those of you who don’t know, North Bay’s about five hours, six hours north of Toronto in Canada. It’s a very cold climate; during summer, the highs are barely over 20; during winter the lows are minus 20. So year round it’s a fairly cold climate, and this was a deep grave. That helped to preserve the casket. And I said to Ray, ‘Is there anything else you can tell me about the burial? Because the casket looks really good, and I want to believe that Cloud might look equally as good, but that’s really going to depend on what’s happening inside that casket.’ And he said ‘Actually, yeah, I can tell you a few things. I do remember it. On the day we buried him, we decided to wrap him in his favourite sleeping bag.’ So Cloud used to sleep in a green, fairly thick woollen sleeping bag every night on his bed, and they’d thought it would be really comforting for him to be wrapped in this sleeping bag. I guess that meant a lot to them, and probably him – I’m not sure. And so they said, ‘Yeah, we wrapped him in this sleep bag and put him in the casket. We also put down plastic, because we just didn’t feel like we wanted his fur to get all scratched by the wood.’ It probably didn’t matter, but it’s a really nice thought – again, it was really comforting for them to think that he was being treated really well. And he was – he was given a fantastic burial. What was valuable was that information, because what I do know from my expertise in decomposition is that when you wrap a body, it actually helps to slow down decomposition, and in some instances it can even preserve the body by forming a substance known as [adiposea]. Combined with all the information that I had and this really great looking casket here, I said to Ray ‘You know, I’m just going to have a guess – I think he’s going to look as good as the casket does.’ Ray was pretty sceptical – that’s fair enough; it had been 36 years. But that’s what I told him, and he said ‘Okay, that’s what I’ll prepare myself for seeing Cloud looking exactly the same.’ He said that a bit mocking me, but that’s fine – he’s allowed to do that. So we opened – sorry, I’ll finally get back to the slide – we opened the casket; you can see on the right hand side, the green sleeping bag. So it was still intact; very little degradation to it, even the zipper, well, it didn’t work but it was still there, which was important. And on the left is the green plastic that they had put down, and it had moved a bit during us moving the casket, but generally it was all still intact.
Now the fact that it took three police officers plus myself to lift his remains out of that casket told me immediately that he had not decomposed, so he was very well preserved, because he basically weighed the same in death as he did in life, which I’m told for shepherds can be 60, 70 kilos, which is why they use them for tracking dogs and things like that. So just a warning, the next image may be distressing to some of you, because it’s an opening of the sleeping bag. So we did open the sleeping bag, we took off the plastic, and Ray was present for this part – this was really the part he wanted to be there for. And if you didn’t know he was a shepherd beforehand, I think you could have guessed it from this image. That’s how well he was preserved, and I personally have never seen remains as preserved as this particular animal. It was truly phenomenal. But the story didn’t end there – so I apologise that I will be on this slide for a minute if you want to keep looking away. At this point, his son came back to me, he said ‘Okay, you got it right, good guess, well, done. But now I have another question for you – actually, this is favour.’ He said, ‘Dad wasn’t expecting this; he was pretty sure it was going to be bones. Now that we know he’s so well preserved, we want to ask something to see if it’s possible.’ And he said, ‘Dad didn’t ask me to ask you this, but I know it’s really bothered him.’ For some reason, after his burial, a rumour started, a controversial rumour – I don’t know if it was in the police, in the public, what happened – that it wasn’t actually Donald Kelly’s gun that caused the fatal wound, but it was the police firing that had actually caused Cloud’s fatal wound. This was the rumour going around, that one of their fires had actually hit him and that he had later died as a result of that gunshot wound, not as a result of the one from Donald Kelly.
So what they asked me was, and I’m not a pathologist or a vet, but I said I’d do it – could I do an examination of the remains, just to see if there was any evidence of other gunshot wounds? And with a body this well preserved, there would be evidence, it if had preserved the soft tissue, it would also preserve a gunshot wound. So of course I do have a happy ending to this story – I wouldn’t tell it otherwise. After our examination, it took quite a while to do it, we conclusively said that the only gunshot wound was to the back of Cloud’s head, and that was the one that was known to be put there by Donald Kelly. So you can imagine the relief on Ray’s face when we told him that. For 36 years he’d doubted himself – he’d thought that perhaps it was him or one of his colleagues that had actually killed Cloud. And Cloud was his first canine, and he’d had subsequent canines since then, but this really meant a lot to him.
I guess the one thing I can say is the best part of my job, if you can really think there’s a good part to it, is the fact that I get to be part of a team that assists in providing resolution to a victim’s family – that’s what we do. Now, Cloud is by no means human, and he was a victim, and Ray was his family, and so we provided resolution that day. And even though it should have been a really sombre mood, everyone was just really happy. It was a great outcome for us – it’s not a forensic story, but it is one of my favourites because not only did I see an amazing thing that day with the preservation, but I also helped in that resolution, and really that’s the best we can essentially do. So that’s the story of Cloud; as I said, I do have another case example later on. Just to conclude though what happened to him, I mentioned they did want to cremate him and they did that. They put his remains in an urn and that working collar, we actually recovered that, so that was well and truly preserved, and they’ve got that on display on the Ontario Provincial Police Museum should anyone ever be up that way in Canada and want to visit it. Again, if it’s not really clear to you what he meant to the handler, just to show you again what he meant to the police, not only did they give him a full burial originally, but upon the exhumation, they then held another ceremony to honour his memory. It was a special recognition ceremony held in January 2012, 37 years later. So he was still meaning a lot to the police then, and because he was the first dog to die in the line of duty for the OPP, he’s now recognised as the face of the OPP canine unit, so any memorabilia you see if theirs, logos, everything else, it has that picture of Cloud that you saw earlier, and again, it just shows you what these dogs really mean in terms of being a member of that police community.
Now, that’s a live scent tracking dog. As I said, most of our work is actually with cadaver detection dogs, and many years ago, they decided to separate the two. At one point, they used to have dogs doing both – trying to find human, ah sorry, living and deceased humans. That became a real challenge for the dogs, so now we just train them either as live scent tracking or as cadaver detection dogs. Now, the reason we use them, or when we do use them, is predominantly for victim recovery, so we use them for missing persons, usually missing persons that we believe to be deceased simply based on the amount of time they’ve been missing. We use them for homicide investigations where there’s evidence that perhaps an attempt was made to conceal evidence of a homicide or of a crime, and more and more they’re being used for disasters .So you probably know they’ve been used in natural disasters, such as the Japan earthquake, this image here, and the tsunami that followed, as well as man-made disasters. This is an image from 9/11, the World Trade Centre attacks, and just to give you an idea, they had over 1000 live scent and cadaver detection dogs following the 9/11 attacks, and that was for many weeks after, looking for both living and deceased victims, so it was a huge endeavour they undertook.
As I said, we now train them just to search and locate human remains, so human remains can be anything, really. It can be a whole body, or it could be something like a body that’s been completely skeletonised, has been scavenged and scattered and those bones dispersed over a really large area. So it can be quite a broad scenario for the dogs to work with. It can be those clandestine graves I mentioned, which is really difficult because they’re trying to detect an odour beneath the soil surface. And as I said, it can be disaster victims, but the kind of disaster is very broad. It could be, as you can see, this is Reika – no, sorry, this is Dare. Apologies. This is one of the OPP canines that I worked with – cadaver dogs that I worked with in Canada. And he’s searching through rubble following an earthquake. So that’s one scenario, but he could equally be tasked with looking for remains in a water environment, such as following a tsunami, which is a completely different environment. And again, as I said, their ability is just to key in on that odour, decomposition odour, amongst all the interfering background odours.
The one on the right here is Bertie; he’s with the NSW Police. You’ll see him later, I think. And here he’s actually tasked with an indoor scene; this is a crime scene, so they can also do crime scenes as well. So, at this point I did want to just show you a brief video. The first thing I wanted to show you was how – this is a fairly short video – but just show you how they’re actually trained. So the police are the handlers, and they are also the trainers. I’m just very privileged that I get to attend their training, and I’ll talk more to you about what we do from our training perspective, but if we could just bring up the first video on pause, I’ll just explain what you’re going to see. As I said, it’s fairly short, but this is the training scenario. It’s an indoor environment that they use, and the way these dogs are trained, it’s a pretty common police method, is to line up cinder blocks, so they have a series that they run around. Within each cinder block they place a metal can, because it has no odour, or very minimal odour. We place our training aids inside that can, a very small amount, 1ml or sometimes less, and then we seal that can and put some holes in the tops so the odour permeates through. What you’re going to see is just how they teach the dogs to actually detect these odours. They ask, or basically they task the dog to find the odour, so they say ‘Find it’ as they’re going along, and you’ll see the handler actually present the dog with each can. It’s important that they actually spend time on each individual can, so that they can actually have enough time to detect the odour if it’s there, but also so their brains can process it, because there’s lots of different odours; we put a lot of distractors in there as well, and so they have to process ‘Is this the one that I get a reward for, or should I just pass it by?’ The other thing you’ll see is the handler needs time to recognise that change in behaviour and those subtle cues. So this is Bronte who you’re going to see here; she works very fast; she’s a springer spaniel. She’ll go from can to can extremely fast; what her passive alert, and all of their alerts are what we call a passive alert; it means they don’t bark, they don’t dig, they don’t scratch – they just freeze. So as soon as they get that odour, they freeze with their nose pointed in the direction, and that’s the best thing for if they found human remains. You don’t want them scratching, digging or doing anything else to human remains, so that’s why they’re taught to do that. What you’ll notice with Bronte – they all have their own personalities and that’s great and I wish you could have seen that tonight – Bronte will freeze, except for her tail. Her tail will just keep going, because she cannot stop it. So we can probably run it now – I’ll stop talking.
Shari Forbes: So it was hard to see, I know how hard, because she does keep shaking, but the handlers recognise those very subtle cues. As you saw, they have a play reward, so I should have mentioned that earlier. Some dogs are trained on a food reward; the cadaver dogs are trained on a play reward, especially the springer spaniels. They have so much energy that they stop working after a few feeds, but they will never stop working if you keep playing with them, so that’s a really big deal for them.
I’ll show you a second video just to show you the difference in personalities – if we can just bring it up on pause again and I’ll briefly mention it. It’s the exact same training environment. This one is Digger, and you can see he’s a shepherd, so most of the cadaver dogs in NSW Police are springer spaniels, but occasionally there’s a different one and this is an exception. He’s equally as good, there’s no real difference, and what you’ll see with him is that he’s much slower, so he’s not like Bronte going in a really hurried pace, even though she’s great at doing it. He will be a bit more methodical, and again, he has his own personality which the handler needs to detect. So he does freeze; he doesn’t keep his tail wagging. His whole body freezes. He’s a little bit concerned that maybe you didn’t get that he was freezing, so if he feels like maybe you haven’t seen it – you being the handler – he does a little dance. So he actually moves his paws just to say, ‘Pretty confident here, what are we all waiting for?’ So if we want to play this one …
Shari Forbes: So, they all have their own personalities, and I’m really sorry that you couldn’t see that tonight, but hopefully you get a sense of it here. And so that’s just to show you that this is how the training actually works. And the reason I tell you that is basically to explain where we come in. So what do we possibly have to offer the police? Because they’ve already got all of this covered and they are by far the experts in terms of terms of cadaver dogs and cadaver detection dogs. What we help out with is the training aids. So if you think about an explosive or a drug dog, they will actually be able to get access to drugs and explosives, get the one of interest, present it as a training aid, and train the dog on it so they can go and find the real thing. Obviously, with humans and cadaver dogs, we can’t do that. It’s not realistic that we would ever be able to present the dog with a cadaver or with human remains. So we have a bunch of training aids that we try and use and basically we’re trying to make up the whole. So we have human tissue; there’s a lot of ethical and legal paperwork required for the police to have access to this. So it is difficult for them to acquire it, but sometimes they can do it.
Most of the time they simply use blood, so they’ll just donate their own blood, I’ll donate blood, whoever they can get will donate blood. Again, with the appropriate paperwork and ethical and legal requirement, they might be able to get corpse blood as well, but that’s very rare. We can help them out with decomposition fluid from our research. Occasionally we can also give them grave soil, so if we conduct a victim recovery of a gravesite, we won’t touch the remains – they’ll be recovered and taken back to the morgue, but we will collect a sample of soil at the bottom because it actually traps the decomposition odour at the bottom and they can use that as a training aid. The same for clothing and through the coroner’s court or through a morgue and only with the permission of a family can they sometimes get clothing that the family no longer wants back, and that has been in contact with decomposed remains. Again, it traps the odour and the dogs can use that as a training aid. And thankfully we are able to get bone because of teaching resources. So we like to believe that all of this combined makes up the real thing, but we don’t really know. And that’s pretty much where we come into it, and why we have this collaboration.
There’s a lot of issues associated with the training aids, and the police worldwide have a lot of questions about them. The first question is, is one type of sample really sufficient? So as I said, most of the time they just have blood. If they just train them on blood, can they really expect the dogs to go out and find bone? Do those two products actually have the same scent? That’s what they don’t know, and that’s what we’re working on chemically profiling. The other question – do they mimic the complete odour profile? So as I said, we try and combine all these and say ‘We think that’s what a real body would look like’, but from an odour perspective, is that true? Do any of these actually have the complete volatile profile that decomposed remains would have?
The big question is what are the dogs actually detecting? As I’ve already said, they can’t talk. The dogs can’t tell us what they’re detecting. What we suspect is it’s not a lot of compounds, but just a few key compounds they’re really honing in on. And the other question we often get from police is how long can they detect the scent? So police always get asked about cold cases – can the dogs go out and try and find remains that have been missing for 30 years. And their answer is, ‘I don’t know. We can give it a shot!’ But from a chemical point of view, is there still any odour even coming off the remains at that point? And if so, how diluted is it, how likely is it that the dogs will actually be able to find them? So in order to do this kind of research – finally into the death and decomposition; I left it towards the end. We have to study decomposition odour; we can only answer these questions if we know what decomposed remains truly smell like. And I should mention, I think everyone’s thinking ‘We already know what decomposition odour smells like – it smells bad.’ And it certainly does, if you’ve ever smelled road kill or something else decomposing. But the important thing to know is that we what we associate as decomposition is not what the dogs do. So we smell really small molecules – hydrogen sulphide, rotten egg gas, methane, things that you smell at a landfill for example. That’s what we say is decomposition. That’s not what the dogs detect; they ignore those compounds, because they’re also present in sewage, in landfill and in all these other things that would really confuse them. They focus on larger compounds known as volatile organic compounds. So you might be wondering how do we do this research. Like the police, we don’t have access to human remains for decomposition research, and so we use the next best thing. Forensically it has been shown that the domestic pig carcass is a pretty good analogue for human decomposition. There’s a number of reasons, the main one being that they lack heavy fur, so like us they have skin and fine hair. And the other important one is that they’re omnivores. Now of course, we don’t share the same diet as a pig, but because they’re omnivores, they share the same bacteria in their stomach and in their gut as we do. And it’s that bacteria that actually initiates decomposition, so if we’re going to model human decomposition, we need to have the right starting point. And that’s why we use them. How do we actually go about conducting this research? Well, this is my site, and it’s quite fortuitous that my site looks similar to somewhere you may actually consider dumping a body – because it is a very remote wilderness or forested area, and so while most people wouldn’t really like this site, it’s actually perfect for what we do, because we are trying to mimic a real scenario when we do this research.
On the left is our weather station; we have to monitor the environment variables constantly because they impact decomposition. What you’re looking at – these cages, now, again, realistically human remains would not be caged. Scavengers would have access to them and could disperse them over a large area, but for our purposes we do have to cage them so that we can continue to monitor the decomposition odour, and the decomposition process. So when we’re ready, just a warning, the next images are of decomposition. We place pig carcasses out in these cages, and then we just watch. So decomposition is a continual process, but we do define stages where visually it changes. The first stage is fresh, and macroscopically there’s very little change. This is immediately after death.
The next stage, macroscopically, there is a lot of change. This is otherwise known as bloat; the bacteria are starting to work in the stomach and the gut at this point, and they’re forming gases which have nowhere to go. So as a result, they blow up the body; they distend the torso and the remains, and obviously that’s where the name comes from. It’s also the point whereby we start to smell decomposition, but the dogs can actually smell it before here, back in the fresh stage.
The next stage is quite active, hence the name ‘active decay’. And this is the point whereby the insects start to really join the party, I guess you could say. And they also start to work on the tissues. They lay eggs, which form or hatch into maggots. The maggots will ingest the tissue and liquefy it, and everything just starts to degrade and break down, and you can see to what extent that’s happening because – it may not be clear, but there’s actually frothing of the liquid there. That’s how much they’re actually active at this stage. The odour is very distinct at this point, but again what we smell and what the dogs smell is quite different.
Advanced decay is the next stage, and then dry remains. And this is typical in Australia, particularly Sydney, because we have quite a warm client. So the tissue tends to dry out and mummify. We get some bone exposure; if we’re really lucky, we get a lot of bone exposure, known as skeletisation, and at this point the bones are disarticulated and may start to disperse within the environment. So as I said, we sit back and we watch. We actually monitor their visual process, but we also chemically measure that odour across of these stages. I get a really good question all the time – it’s a fairly obvious one, but I like it because everybody says to me ‘How do you trap odour? You can’t even see it – how do you know that you’ve actually got a sample when you’re out in the field?’ So just to show you, this is how we trap it. We place a hood over the remains; we allow it to accumulate for a while. We place a tube on a vent in the top and attach a pump – this is really similar to environmental air sampling, incidentally – and then we just draw that gas onto that tube and we can cap it and bring it back to the lab. So we can be certain that the odour is actually on that tube. We bring it back – I won’t bore you too much with this. We place it into this instrument here; it flushes all the gas off, puts it in this instrument here, and basically what this does is identify each individual compound. So remember I said that dogs identify individual compounds, not a mixture of odours the way we do. And that’s really beneficial because we can identify and sometimes quantify what those compounds actually are.
So we’ve been working on this for a number of years – I’ve been in Canada for a while and then I’ve been back here for a year, and what we’ve found so far is that decomposition odour is extremely complex, so there are hundreds of chemical compounds within the decomposition odour. We know though that the dogs don’t locate all of those compounds. What we’ve found so far is that there are several key compounds which are consistently present, and we believe, but have not proven, that some of these are consistent compounds; they’re there throughout the different decomposition stages, they’re there in different environments – we’ve found them in Canada, we’ve found them here in Australia, our colleagues in Belgium have found them, so they’re showing up in different environments. And we think that perhaps these might be the ones that the dogs are actually alerting to, because we know they can find remains in different stages, but we still need to test that. So that’s where we’re at at the moment, trying to determine whether those are the compounds of interest, and also whether they’re present in the natural training aids. So we can confirm to the police that yep, you’re on the right track, you’re absolutely using the right training aids, and that’s something that they want to know – it’s not just for our benefit that we’re doing this.
The long-term goal of our research, and I can’t answer this one just yet, but just to give you the future of our research, is to try and provide a more accurate training aid. Ideally it would be great if the police didn’t have to deal with bio hazardous material, so it would be great if we could make a synthetic product for them that we knew had the exact right compounds on it that they could present to the dogs, and be assured that the dogs would then detect decomposed remains in the field. And really that’s our long-term goal; we’re not there yet, it will take many years for us to do that, but it is to try and enhance their accuracy and the response of the cadaver dogs.
Now, just in closing I am going to present a case example. As I said, I wanted to show you one more footage of the dogs because you didn’t get to see them in person tonight. This is Bronte again, so the tail wagger, and this is another example of training. So you saw them set up in a very confined, closed space, which is great for when they’re learning, but we have to teach them, or the police have to teach them, how to search in a realistic scenario. So if we put it on pause, you’ll see this is meant to be a crime scene, so this is a mock crime scene house. It’s set up to look like just any kind of bedroom, basically, and what we’ve done is put a very small again, less than 1ml, drop of blood, in an area that an investigator would not be able to find. So this is not uncommon – that the dogs, because they’re trained on blood, might be sent into a crime scene to find what we call latent blood, and that’s blood that’s not visible to the naked eye, and they’re much better at doing it than any of the forensic techniques we have like luminol and other things for locating blood.
So here you’re going to see, it’s off the leash, so this time there’s no guidance by the handler. You’ll see Bronte go in, she’ll run around and do her own search, she will pick up the scent, but as I said we put it in a really difficult area so she won’t be able to get it straight away. You’ll see her really struggling to find where the cone is – where the point of that source is. Eventually she gives up, she reorients, she instantly recognises that she’s at the source, and you’ll see her alert. She actually alerts for a longer period of time, and then you’ll see the reward by the handler. So if we could just start the video …
Shari Forbes: I know – it wasn’t very fair of us to put it there, was it?
Shari Forbes: Tail never stops.
Shari Forbes: you can see how long they can hold that – and they can hold that positive alert for a really long time. They’re actually trained to hold it there. After a while they’ll get a little bit antsy, they’ll start looking over their shoulder to see if everyone’s left the room and somebody’s forgotten to reward them, but they can actually hold that for a long period of time because realistically the handler may not be with them when they’re doing a search and it may be a little while before they actually catch up. So that’s pretty important.
Okay so in closing – sorry to keep you here, I’ll just give you one more case example. This is a forensic scenario, and one that I wanted to share with you again because we did use the dogs with this one. This was again with the Ontario Provincial Police in Canada, and this was back in July 2011. The police requested a search of a residential home and we were informed that there was a possible male victim buried under concrete in the basement. The victim had been kidnapped – in fact, two victims had been kidnapped, but one had been released after a ransom was paid by his family. So one of them was released, one was not and the other one had been missing for six months.
The kidnap victim who was released, he was our witness and he said that at the time, the last time he saw the other victim, he was tied up and so badly beaten he was pretty sure he was dead. So that was the information we had, and why we were going into this particular area. Now I talked earlier about GPR, and we use GPR again here. It’s important to know that we always use a series of different tools. The dog’s not the only tool we use for searching or recovering remains. And with concrete, you can imagine, it’s really difficult for dogs to scent through concrete, so that was not our first option, but it was going to help us later on as you’ll see. Our first option was GPR; this just shows you what it does. Basically, it’s a radar – we send a signal into the ground, we receive the signal. If it detects an anomaly, it tells us that by changing its signal in the shape of a hyperbola. So unlike what you see on CSI, it doesn’t’ give us a body outline, it sadly doesn’t give us an image of the victim, but it gives us this hyperbola, so this tells us that there is a disturbance; that there’s something different in the characteristics in that area. Now, it could just be a tree root or a rock, and it’s up to the experts to actually tell the difference.
This was the house that we were asked to search, and originally the police had searched this house but they’d only searched the outside. The reason they’d searched it is because two suspects were identified and they were the tenants of this particular house. The witness also confirmed that this was the house that he’d been held for a period of a week before he was released.
The ground penetrating radar’s on the right; as I said, they used it to conduct an outdoor search; they didn’t find anything. The landlord had approved that first search, and six months later when he noticed that even though they’d paid, the tenants had paid for a year lease, and they seemed to have stopped inhabiting the house about three months earlier, and this was really suspicious. He contacted the police and we decided to go back in and search the whole house. For those of you who’ve lived in North America or even seen a North American house, they all have basements – that’s just part of their design. And if you look at this red circle here, this was the window at the ceiling of the basement; if you looked into it, you were looking down into the basement, so it is usually sub-surface area.
Okay, so we went in, this is what the basement looked like. It was just being used by the landlord as a storage facility. And he gave us permission to remove all of his belongings and also to pull up the carpeting, although it hadn’t really been laid; it was just rugs thrown down. So we pulled everything up. As soon as we did that, we found an area of interest. Now, it’s not a body outline, but it actually looks pretty good, and this was really suspicious to us, because the landlord confirmed he’d bought the house new, and he’d never done any renovations to the concrete in that area, and he’d never had a tenant who’d requested a renovation to the concrete, so there was no understanding as to why this concrete was new compared to the surrounding concrete that was old.
One thing to tell you is that the police, unless they can designate it as a crime scene, have to repair or pay to replace any damage they do to a structure. So the obvious question would have been like, why didn’t we just pull it up? But the answer was that the police didn’t want to do damage until they confirmed this was a crime scene. So that’s where we got called in with the GPR, to actually conduct our search. We did that; you remember with Cloud, we had to make up our own grid. With a concrete, a GPR that we use through concrete, it’s much smaller, and we have our own grid and we essentially just run it over, collect the data, and as I said, we process it all at the end. So we collected 31 grids, not just the area of interest but the whole basement. It took us about nine hours, so it’s not a fast process, but the area of interest is grid three, which is right under the stairs, if you can see it.
Now if we transpose this onto the GPR data, just keep your eye on this particular area here. So this is grid three, where the circle is. What the GPR does is takes depth slices, so every two and a half centimetres it gives us a signal. And what we’re looking for is a change in that area compared to the surrounding area. So initially there wasn’t much change; there was a minor change, because the concrete was different to the surrounding concrete. But it was once we got through the concrete to this particular area here that we were particularly interested. This was beneath the concrete and it was the soil underneath. And hopefully you can see that it does look quite different to the surrounding area – it’s quite blue. It also looks similar to that area down the bottom, which is blue, that we later found was a leaking pipe. So again, the police were sort of like ‘Well, we’re not convinced. If you’re telling us that’s a leaking pipe, why isn’t this a leaking pipe?’ And that was a good question – it could be. So GPR can only go so far. At this point we had to call in the dogs, and thankfully we always bring them anyway, so they were already there. So the next thing we had to do was try and basically allow that odour to permeate from underneath the concrete. So the police said, ‘If the dogs alert, that’s enough evidence for us that there is a disturbance here and that disturbance smells like decomposition.’ So that’s what they were asking for.
So then we essentially just drilled two holes through the concrete; they were happy to repair that damage should this not be a crime scene, and we sent in Reika – and this is Reika; she’s with the Ontario Provincial Police again, one of the cadaver dogs, so it was like Bronte’s search. Basically we all left the basement. The canine handler just put her at the top of the stairs, put her harness on her, as you can see, took her leash off, put her down the stairs, closed the door, and we all ran around to that window on the outside that you saw earlier to see if she alerted.
Shari Forbes: She didn’t take long; it was less than two minutes. She did do her thorough, methodical search – she’s very good at that – but within I think probably even less than a minute, she’d keyed in on that scent and she alerted right over one of those holes. That was good enough for the police – they had a disturbance and they had one that smelled like decomposition. And as I said to you, they don’t usually detect sewage, so we could rule out leaking pipes and other issues like that. So at that point they pulled up the concrete. You can see it was about 10-15 centimetres deep, and we found what had caused our anomaly. It was like a leaking pipe; there was a large amount of water there, but that was a result of the digging of the grave, because they had actually hit the groundwater table. So if you remember, this basement is already about seven feet deep below the surface, and then the grave was below that again, so this was quite a deep burial. As you’ll see in the next image, it was actually about four feet before we found evidence of the remains, and about five and a half feet to the base of the grave, so we’re talking 12 feet below the ground. So not surprising they hit the groundwater table; the grave flooded, and that’s what gave us the anomaly with the GPR, but the dog could still detect the odour through that flooding and through the water, and that’s why they gave an alert.
A warning – the next image may be considered distressing to some of you, and feel free to look away, but this was what we found. So it was the victim; you can see how deep the grave was, because that’s a long-handled shovel on the side. Just to give you an orientation here, the head is on the left; the feet are on the right. The victim was wrapped in black plastic garbage bags, and he still had his hands tied in front of him. His legs had also been hog tied, so he’s facing down and they’re pulled up and behind him, which is why you can see them sticking up out of the grave. What was amazing, and you’re probably starting to think this happens all the time but it’s just these two cases, was how well preserved he was, again. It’s the same idea; it was really cold environment, he was actually buried in January, middle of winter in Canada. It was a really deep grave; nothing could get in there to work on the decomposition. He had plastic wrapped around him, so it was really just the internal decomposition that was working there. And so he was really well preserved. And the bonus of that was that we did get a DNA profile, even after six months decomposition. The forensic scientist did, I should say. We identified him and confirmed that he was the kidnapped victim. He was a real estate agent known as Tony Han. The coroner was able to determine cause of death; he died of a heart attack, which they believed was resulting from detention-related stress; in other words, he’d been beaten to death. Unfortunately you can never prove that a heart attack is not natural, so the people who were charged with this were charged with kidnapping and manslaughter as opposed to first degree murder, and in addition to those two suspects, they identified five others who were involved in this kidnapping. As of July this year, six of them had received jail sentences of between two and 11 years, which is really not that much. Unfortunately the main offender is still at large, so there is a warrant out for his arrest in Canada, but they believe he has fled back to China where he has family, and it is unlikely that he’s ever going to face those charges in Canada. But as I said earlier, we do our job and really that’s to provide resolution to the victim’s family, and we were able to do that in this case. So we recovered Tony’s remains and they could give him a proper burial. And in doing so they could also start the mourning process, and that’s really the ultimate goal there.
So that’s just an example of one of those. As I said, I apologise, I’ve kept you way over time tonight so I will conclude there. I’d like to thank everyone for coming; I’d like to thank the NSW Police Force Dog Unit who unfortunately couldn’t be here. I’d really like to thank Bronte, Chloe, Digger and Bertie, because they’re the dogs I get to work with, and all of the wonderful handlers who help with our research and, in closing, just thanking you for being here tonight.
12 September 2013
Test Tags: forensic science, cadaver detection, police dogs, chemistry, decomposition
Cadaver-detection dogs are specially trained scent-detection canines used by the police to locate human remains. These canines can be deployed to locate missing persons, victims of homicide, or following mass disasters such as the Bali Bombings and Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. They have a superior scenting capability compared to humans due to their larger proportion of olfactory cells. Even with advancements in technology and electronic sensors, canines remain the most reliable real-time detectors due to their mobility in large search areas and aptitude for locating a target odour.
The NSW Police Force Dog Unit train their cadaver-detection dogs using a combination of natural and artificial scent sources. Natural scent sources can include blood, teeth and bones. Artificial scent sources are synthetically produced to represent the odour of decomposition. Given the difficulty associated with using real samples for training, these aids are the closest representations available. However it is still unknown whether the odours of these training aids chemically represent the odour of death and decay. This knowledge is important to ensure cadaver-detection dogs are exposed to accurate representations of the odours they are tasked with locating.
In this talk, Professor Shari Forbes will discuss her research investigating the chemical odour of death and decomposition and how this will aid cadaver-detection dog training in Australia.
UTS Science in Focus is a free public lecture series showcasing the latest research from prominent UTS scientists and researchers.
Dr Xanthe Spindler takes you through the exciting world of fingerprints and discuss the advances in technology that continue to change the future of fingermark detection in solving crimes.