DNA Detectives

The New DNA Evidence

Snowball, a white American shorthaired cat who now lives with the parents of his original owner on Prince Edward Island, may be the first feline in history to have been served with a court order demanding a sample of his blood. He also must be the first cat that has ever provided evidence leading to the conviction of his master of second-degree murder.

In October, 1994, Shirley A. Duguay, a 32-year-old mother of five children, disappeared from her home in Sunnyside, a city of 16,000. Three weeks later, a military team out on maneuvers about five miles from the victim's home discovered a plastic bag containing a man's bloodstained leather jacket. At the scene detectives found several white hairs, which they presumed to be human, in the coat lining, a discovery that they thought might help to identify its owner. The hairs turned out to be from a cat. The police already knew that Douglas Beamish, Shirley's boyfriend and the father of three of her children, owned a white cat. Based on circumstantial evidence, they strongly suggested that Beamish had killed Shirley Duguay, but without a body no arrest was made. The search for the body, which was interrupted by a harsh winter, ended on May 6, 1995, when Ms. Duguay's remains were unearthed from a shallow grave. Soon thereafter police arrested Beamish, who was charged with murder.

When police inspector, Roger Savoie, learned that the white hairs were from a cat, he assumed that he could simply obtain a blood sample from Beamish's cat, Snowball, and compare the DNA profile of the crime scene hairs with the profile of the cat's blood. But the first several forensic DNA labs that he called were reluctant to take on the job. They had no experience with analyzing cat DNA and no feline reference population to provide the data with which to calculate the odds that a match between the hairs on the jacket and Snowball's blood could occur by chance alone. Making call after call, inspector Savoie eventually reached Dr. Stephen J.

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