In 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization: History’s Most Influential Felines, author Sam Stall recounts the story of how cat DNA helped solve a murder.
This story began in 1994, when Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Prince Edward Island found the body of Shirley Duguay buried in a shallow grave.
Douglas Beamish almost got away with murder, but cat DNA evidence from his pet Snowball led to his capture.
Investigators found a blood-soaked leather jacket buried with the body. They tested the blood, and discovered all the blood belonged to the victim. Authorities also discovered many strands of long white hair which turned out to belong to a cat.
The authorities remembered that the victim’s common-law husband, Douglas Beamish, lived in a house not far from the burial site. Beamish happened to own a white cat named Snowball. The Mounties got a blood sample from Snowball. They wanted to analyze it to determine if the DNA matched the white hairs found on the body.
This type of analysis had never been done. After many calls authorities found a team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Research in Maryland that would possibly be able to help. The research team was working on development of a map of the feline genome when approached to help with this case.
The researchers were able to tie the blood sample to the DNA on the hairs recovered from the victim’s jacket. Beamish was convicted of Duguay’s murder and imprisoned.
This case set a precedent for use of cat DNA to place criminals at crime scenes. The U. S. Department of Justice awarded a grant to establish the National Feline Genetic Database. This database provides information to help forensics labs worldwide tie cat hairs found at crime scenes to specific cats.
More Pet DNA Cases Solved
In the last few years, hair, blood, saliva, and other bodily fluids from dogs, cats and birds have helped solve several violent crimes in the U.S. and Canada. With 68 percent of American households (about 85 million families) owning a pet, there’s a lot of opportunity for animals to, inadvertently, help in criminal investigations.
An article published on AETV.com earlier this year recounts four stories of pet DNA being used to help solve crimes. The video below describes how Larry Bird, a cockatoo, defended his owner and helped police find the killer: