In a breakthrough moment in the history of criminal investigation, police in England solved a murder with the help of a shiny new DNA database of British felines — yup, the bad guy was collared by his own cat’s DNA.
It is common for human DNA to be used to tie a suspect to a crime, and it is not uncommon for animal DNA to be of assistance in solving crimes, but according to Jon Whetton of the University of Leister, “This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the U.K.” No doubt this is also the first time that the DNA of local domestic animals has been used so systematically. He added, “This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the U.K. are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households.”
In this case investigators found cat hairs stuck around the dismembered torso of David Guy, 30, whose remains were found in a garbage bag on a beach in England by a group of foreign students. Detectives tested the mitochondrial DNA in the cat hair and matched it to Guy’s neighbor’s cat, Tinker. Mitochondrial DNA, however, can be shared by a large number of animals, so without knowing the prevalence of Tinker’s Mitochondrial DNA in the general cat population in that area, police had no way of knowing if the match was significant. Also, they seem to have lacked any specific motive for the crime. Prosecutors, however, knew that the Guy and his neighbor, David Hilder, 47, had a love/hate relationship and speculate that they had a disagreement about Tinker.
Whetton and a colleague helped investigators compile a mitochondrial DNA database of 132 cats from around England. When police compared the DNA from the cat hairs found on Guy’s body against Whetton’s newly-created database there was a match in only three cases. Those results were considered significant enough to be presented along with other blood and DNA evidence at Hilder’s trial. Though no jury would have convicted a man on the strength of the cat-DNA evidence alone, prosecutors used that evidence to support other physical evidence found in the case.
Hilder was convicted on July 30, 2013, of manslaughter and sentenced to serve a minimum 12 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
Tinker, according to police, is doing well and has a new home.