Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: Mysterious Confession

Planning the Operation

Lancaster's lack of a prison record and the D.A.'s refusal to let the detectives seek a search warrant left Bengtson and Flores with only two options. They could ask Lancaster for a DNA sample, or they could use a legal ruse to trick him into leaving one for them.

The detectives opted for the ruse.

"We didn't want to spook Mr. Lancaster," Bengtson says, "because we didn't want him to flee the area and go into hiding."

To get the sample from Lancaster, Flores recruited a friend of hers, Detective Robert Dinlocker of LAPD's Career Criminal Apprehension Unit.

Dinlocker consulted with SID scientists to find out what material best preserved DNA. They told him a hard plastic cup worked best, but a plastic foam cup, such as one made from Styrofoam, also worked well.

It took the cold case detectives almost a month just to find Lancaster. He had moved his camper to a friend's property in Torrance, midway between downtown L.A. and San Pedro.

Now that they knew where Lancaster was, the next step was to introduce him to Dinlocker, who would attempt to get DNA from the aging suspect. Dinlocker needed to create a situation in a public place in which Lancaster voluntarily left a DNA sample behind.

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