Cat DNA might seem like the most random way to solve a crime, but experts in Britain say that’s exactly what they used to pin a murder on a suspect. Now, they’ve created a database full of feline DNA with the help of veterinary records and say they want to publish it in the hopes that it will someday help solve more crimes.
Last July, when the dismembered torso of Hampshire man David Guy was found on a beach wrapped in a curtain, analysts pored over the gruesome discovery and found eight cat hairs on the material. After sending the hairs to California to be tested against hundreds of other cat samples, they came back with a match to Tinker, the pet cat belonging to suspect David Hilder. But they weren’t sure how concrete the DNA evidence was. That’s where Dr. Jon Wetton came in.
“Hampshire police wanted to know the evidential strength of the match. I explained that could only be determined with reference to a database of UK cats – which did not exist at the time. Having produced a similar database for dogs during my previous employment with the forensic science service, we proposed creating a cat database from scratch. Within each cat hair are two types of DNA, individual-specific “nuclear DNA” detectable in the roots of some larger hairs, and “mitochondrial DNA” which is shared by all maternally-related individuals and can be found even in the finest hair shafts.”
That mitochondrial DNA helped link the suspect to materials used in the crime, and Hilder is now serving a life sentence for manslaughter.
“This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the UK,” Wetton said. “We now hope to publish the database so it can be used in future crime investigations. This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the UK are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households.”