Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Pressed for Crime: The Heather Stigliano Murder Mystery

Consistent Evidence

On Nov. 14, 1991, a Melbourne police officer observed a suspicious vehicle driving down a local roadway. When he ran a routine check of the vehicles license plate, he discovered that the car was stolen and initiated a traffic stop. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and identified himself as James Bernard Whipple. The officer arrested Whipple at the scene, and he was later transported to the Brevard County jail in Sharpes.

When investigators searched Heather's stolen car, they found a bent serrated knife, a broken clothes iron, a pair of men's athletic shoes and bloody clothing. By the time they were finished examining the car, they were not lacking in evidence tying Whipple to the murder.

As investigators attempted to sort out the details, the knife was sent to forensic pathologist Dr. Jamie Downs for comparison to the stab wounds on Heather's body.

"I looked at the separation of the tines of the serrated knife—the little points that stuck out—and noted that those were at repeated intervals, very consistent repeated intervals," Downs said. "A group of abrasions on her neck, no bigger than a half an inch, were matched to the knife [found] in possession of the suspect. To me that is really impressive. That is what forensics is—answering questions that haven't even been thought of yet."

In addition to the knife analysis, Downs also matched a broken clothes iron found in the vehicle to the unidentified pieces of plastic found near Heather's body, suggesting that it too had been used during the commission of her murder.

"At that point it became a puzzle. After everything was photographically documented, I started gluing the plastic pieces back together," said detective Steve Derrick. "The pieces from the crime scene and the iron in the car created a link to Whipple being at the crime scene."

Investigators also matched the shoes found in Whipple's possession to the imprints found at the crime scene and the ones that Downs had discovered on Heather's shirt.

"There were a number of small cuts—little nicked out areas in the raised areas of the outsole—which corresponded from that shoe to the bloody impression in the bathroom," Derrick said. "The right shoe that had been taken from Whipple was the shoe to the exclusion of all others. The outsole design of Whipple's shoes also matched the bloody impression on the shirt."

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