Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

How A Grasshopper in a Radiator Convicted a Man of Murder

Xanthippus Corallipes Pantherinus

It was about ten years ago that UC Davis insect identification expert Lynn Kimsey was first contacted by investigators to identify dead bugs in a radiator. At first, Kimsey didn’t know why the FBI wanted to know more about the species found inside this particular car’s radiator. But in a 2007 trial it became clear that the radiator was in the car driven by Vincent Brothers to brutally murder five members of his family: His wife, Joanie, his sons, Marques and Marshall, his daughter, Lyndsey, and his mother-in-law, Earnestine Harper. Only one daughter, Margaret, survived.

Brothers, once a vice principal of a Bakersfield elementary school, took the stand to testify that he was in Ohio on Sunday July 6, 2003 while his family was being murdered. His alibi was that he was visiting with his brothers, who he hadn’t seen in ten years and lived in Ohio. He claimed he never left the state of Ohio during his visit, and so could not have been in California to commit the murder. That’s where the bugs come in.

During the trial, Kimsey testified that the species of dead bugs in Brother’s rental car were from California and other locations strictly west of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. She said there was no way that these bugs could have been in Ohio. The timing of the year also served as evidence that Brothers had driven the car to commit the murders and then back to Ohio. The fact that butterflies were not found in the radiator indicated that the driving was mostly at night.

on May 15, 2007, a California jury found Vincent Brothers guilty of five counts of first-degree murder. On September 28, 2007, Brothers was sentenced to the death penalty. His only surviving daughter, Margaret, spoke at the sentencing hearing. She said that she was resigning from the Brothers family and left the courtroom. She later told a reporter that she would only ever see her father once again — on the day of his execution.

Some of the bugs entered into evidence that helped convict VIncent Brothers:

  • Xanthippus Corallipes Pantherinus: large grasshopper, found west of the Rockies and eastern slope of the Rockies
  • Neacoryphus Rubicollis: true bug, found in Arizona, California and Utah
  • Genus Piesma (family Piesmatidae): true bug found in Arizona, California and Utah.
  • Polistes Aurifer: paper wasp, found in Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Idaho and Utah

Read more about the story at Murder Revisited on Blogspot. feature story: Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology

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