Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology

Forensic Botany

Catchweed bedstraw, Galium aperine

The larger seed was determined to be Galium aperine, or catchweed bedstraw. The smaller seed was from the genus Poa, and was identified as Kentucky bluegrass. While bluegrass will propagate through the air, Galium aperine does not, and is transferred from the bedstraw plant to the coat of a passing animal and eventually to the ground. The identification of the two seeds presented additional questions for investigators, as neither bedstraw nor mature Kentucky bluegrass was found at the Neal residence. If the plants were not present at the Neal farm, where did the seeds come from?

Kentucky bluegrass
Kentucky bluegrass

The answer did not present itself until September 9, when the bodies were found in Nettle Creek Cemetery.

After the cemetery crime scene had been secured, the investigators once again called on the experts at Seed Technology and a plant expert from Scott's Lawn and Garden, Inc. to determine if bedstraw and bluegrass were present where the bodies were found. Working under klieg lights as the sun went down, Robert Hesson, the plant expert, and Anne Daniel from Seed Technology, scoured the crime scene in search of the plants.

Knight Road property, aerial front view.
Knight Road property, aerial front view.

At first, the search was futile because Galium aperine is an extremely fragile weed and could have easily been destroyed by the many crime-scene workers who had trampled over the area. Hesson was on his knees looking near the bare spot where Cody and India were found, and when he stood up, Daniel noticed a seed had attached itself to his blue jeans. It was Galium aperine. Almost immediately after that, Daniel's husband noticed that her pants had picked up another Galium seed. Some time later, the experts located the remains of the Galium plant.  

Later Daniel and Hesson conducted a survey of the plants at the Knight Road property and found no Galium aperine. The team did find bluegrass; however, that particular grass only produces mature seeds after reaching a height of 12 to 18 inches and the shorter, mowed bluegrass at the Neal house was producing only immature seeds. The bluegrass at Nettle Creek Cemetery was producing mature seeds like those found in Neal's pockets, Hesson testified.

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