Isotope Analysis

Article excerpt

This one is a new tool in forensic medicine - isotope analysis. Police in a small county in Florida, United States, are now using the method in solving difficult, forgotten criminal cases.

Essentially, isotope analysis is used by geologists, archeologists, and paleontologists in determining the age, nature, and physical structure of their fossilized subjects.

Now, how in the world can isotope analysis help law enforcers write finis to old, unsolved murder cases?

A five-column news feature in The New York Times weekend supplement in the Manila Bulletin, November 24, 2012, tells readers how. But first, what is an isotope?

It is a species of chemical atoms of the same number and position but differing in mass and physical properties, according to the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.

The unusual police approach to crime solution was triggered by the discovery of a woman's body, with a man's belt wrapped around her neck, in Lake Panasoffkee on February 19, 1971. What the police knew at that time, aided by an old forensic laboratory analysis, was that she was 17 to 24 years old, that was all.

But even that crude deduction was only partly correct. After 41 years since the body's discovery, it would have been ripe to archive the case to the "Unsolved Crime" department.

But early this year, Sumter County Detective Darren Norris, obviously, a crack and persevering investigator, took the woman's skeleton to Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the University of South Florida.

The scientist immediately went to work. He "reconstructed the woman's face, and clothing, took shavings of her tooth enamel and bones." He also recruited Dr. George Kamenov, a geochemist at the University of Florida.

The latter also analyzed chemical traces in those shavings of lead, carbon, and other elements, giving a detailed history of diet and environment of the victim, said the article.

All of the above now constitutes what isotope analysis is all about, and the role it plays in solving murder cases. …