National Science Week 2022:How tiny fragments of glass assisted AFP to solve murder

As National Science Week highlights the role of glass in everyday life, the AFP is able to reveal how tiny fragments of glass assisted the AFP to solve a murder on Norfolk Island 20 years ago, the first reported murder in 150 years.

In March 2002, the body of a woman, 29, was discovered at a picnic site on the island with multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken pelvis and a stab wound.

The AFP led the homicide investigation deploying some of the nation’s best forensic scientists and capabilities including crime scene investigators and Forensics Chemists.

During the post mortem examination trace DNA and other evidence, including hair, plant material, paint and glass fragments were collected.

AFP Senior Forensic Intelligence Officer, Katrina Edmondson said the experts immediately understood how important the glass fragments could be to help the investigation.

“The experts had the knowledge of the research around glass transfer and persistence, which showed that the occurrence of glass fragments in hair is very uncommon, particularly in such a high number,” Ms Edmondson said.

“Analysis of the physical and chemical properties of the glass which had been recovered from both the hair and body indicated that it was similar to wine bottle glass and different to vehicle or architectural glass.”

Over the next four years, forensic examinations continued on Norfolk Island on vehicles, residences, properties and items of interest to the investigation.

AFP forensics continued to collect and analyse evidence. Using a suite of instrumental analytical techniques, forensic chemists were able to compare the glass recovered from the victim with numerous samples of glass recovered from various scenes of interest on the island.

In 2005, a vehicle which was linked to a suspect at the time of the murder was recovered after being abandoned shortly after the incident.

The vehicle was forensically examined and the chemists found a match between the glass recovered from the boot of the vehicle and the glass recovered from the woman’s hair, body and clothing. Fragments of matching glass were also recovered from a grassed area adjacent to the driveway at a residence linked to the same suspect.

A New Zealand man was convicted of murder and was sentenced to 24 years with a non-parole period of 18 years.

“In this complex homicide case, the glass evidence was an important piece of the puzzle, providing a connection between the deceased and a vehicle and location linked to the suspect,” Ms Edmondson said.

“The forensic chemists produced reports, and as expert witnesses presented the findings of their examinations at the trial held on Norfolk Island in 2006. They were able to assist the judge and jury to understand the value of glass evidence in the context of this case.”

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