Sept. 2, 2013
An edited extract from Cold Case Files: Past crimes solved by new forensic science – winner of Australia’s 2012 Davitt Award for best true crime book and available for Kindle in the United States on amazon.com. Hard copies available at www.panmacillan.com.au
by Liz Porter
What are the chances of revisiting a crime scene, more than 11 years after a murder – and several years after it has been renovated and repainted – and finding the blood stain that will finally crack the case?
British crime scene expert Andrew Barclay and forensic scientist Dr Angela Gallop would both describe the odds of success in such a case as “very low.”
But during 1999 and 2000, the duo was able to revisit a 1988 crime, where most of the blood stains had already been destroyed by earlier testing, and find the stain that would eventually lead them to a killer.
The Murder of Lynette White
By 1999, the murder of sex worker Lynette White, stabbed to death in 1988 in Cardiff, was beginning to look like one of those cases that are doomed to remain “cold” forever.
In December 1988 local police had arrested a group of local men, one of them the boyfriend of the victim. Late in 1990 three of the men, soon known as “the Cardiff Three” were convicted. But by 1992 all three had been freed after an appeal court found that their convictions had been based on statements and confessions that had been bullied out of witnesses and one of the defendants. Fortunately, the original forensic testing done at Miss White’s apartment, in the dockside area of Butetown, was police work of a far better quality.
The first police on the scene had documented copious blood stains, most of them bloodied fingerprints left on the apartment’s walls. The blood grouping tests in use at the time had alerted investigators to the presence of blood that did not belong to the victim. But 1988 was the very beginning of the era of DNA testing, and the main police focus had been on extracting useful fingerprints from the stains: a process that rendered the stains useless for future DNA testing.
By 1999, newer DNA techniques had evolved, and scientists were able to produce results from tiny amounts of blood. But new blood samples, undamaged by previous testing, were required.
To find any such untested material, Barclay and Gallop needed to work out exactly where the killer had been in the flat, so they could find places where he might have shed blood that had not yet been found.
The 1988 police had done a relatively thorough job of recording their findings. This enabled Barclay to map the crime scene and locate each of the recovered fingermarks in the position in which it had been found. He could also identify the positions of these prints on some of the flat’s original wallpaper: paper from the hallway wall had spent the intervening decade folded up in a storage cupboard at a police station in Cardiff. Unfortunately the paper from the murder room had been lost, although color crime-scene photos offered a detailed record of the blood stains on the wall.
The crime scene map and photos – and the wallpaper – revealed the existence of several interesting blood stains that had been more or less ignored in 1988, because the investigators had been focused on the fingerprints.
The 1988 investigators had quickly realized why there were so many bloodied finger marks on the walls: there had been no coins in the flat’s pay-as-you-go electricity meter (then a common arrangement for gas and electricity in low-rent accommodation). The room in which White was murdered would have been illuminated at the time by the street light outside the window, but the rest of the flat would have been pitch-black. So after committing the murder, the killer had to feel his way out of the flat. Outside the room was a narrow corridor, which immediately took an unexpected turn towards the flat’s front door. The light in the building’s communal hall was also out, meaning the murderer had to find his way down the staircase by touch, before reaching the door that opened onto the street.
Barclay and Gallop began looking at the bloodied finger marks from the hall and bedroom walls. One of the forensic scientists on the case in 1988 had been certain that the killer had cut himself during the attack, and he had identified some of the wall stains as cast-off blood – drops shed from the murderer’s bleeding hand.
This phenomenon is not unusual in knife murders involving multiple stab wounds: the handle of the knife becomes so slippery with blood that the killer’s own hand slides along it and onto the sharp cutting edge, making cuts – possibly severe ones – on his palm. The crime-scene photos reinforced this theory, with the smears of blood left by the killer becoming more intense as he felt his way along the wall towards the exit, suggesting that his own blood was still flowing as he left the flat. If the blood had been the victim’s alone, the smears would have become fainter.
Back in 1988, the gentrification of the dockside area had only just begun and was temporarily halted by the aftermath of the murder. But by 1999 it was long complete and the murder flat, by then exquisitely repainted and redecorated, bore no resemblance to the slum dwelling in the crime-scene photos. Fortunately, its owner was willing to allow both Gallop and Barclay to visit and inspect it.
Bringing the Murder Narrative Alive
Late on a dark November night in 1999, Dave Barclay made his way up to the flat. He wanted to walk in the killer’s shoes and to do so in conditions as close as possible to the winter dark that would have shrouded the flat in February 1988.
Starting in the pitch black of the murder room, Barclay closed his eyes and took his first steps. Unable to prevent himself from opening his eyes, he wedged a handkerchief behind his glasses and began feeling his way out of the main room. Taking the sharp left turn into the narrow corridor that led towards the flat’s front door, he tried to match his fingers to the places where the killer had been seen to touch the wall. The aim of the exercise was three-fold: to calculate the killer’s height – an estimated 183 cm, some 5 cm shorter than Barclay; to gauge the manner of his exit – most probably a panicked rush; and most importantly, to identify new places where the assailant might have left bloody traces.
Meanwhile Angela Gallop had been supervising the reconstruction of the flat’s main room and passageway in the lab at Culham, just outside Oxford. The salvaged hall wallpaper was mounted on panels representing the passageway. The mocked- up crime scene brought the murder narrative alive, with the blood stain patterns on the wallpaper mapping the movements of someone running down the corridor with blood on his or her hands. A vivid slap mark on the wall opposite the murder room door showed how the killer had rushed out, in darkness, into a corridor with an abrupt left turn. The stain even revealed blood squirting out from underneath the palm. Along the wall, successive smears at hand height documented the murderer’s path along the passageway. A crime-scene photo showed a diagonal smear across the front door, near the catch, deposited as the killer fumbled to find a way to open it and leave the premises.
Gallop also worked through the vast volume of material that the 1988 crime scene officers had collected. There was a cache of condoms, matches and coins from a cardboard box on a windowsill, along with rubbish from the floor, including biscuit or cake packaging and a piece of trampled cellophane from the cover of a cigarette packet. With the housekeeping standards of the flat, it was impossible to tell whether the cellophane had been dropped by the killer or had been lying on the floor for months. Gallop noticed some smeared blood on it, and, more interestingly, one tiny discrete blood spot. It looked like blood that had been airborne; she’d seen blood spots exactly like it at other scenes involving a frenzied knife attack. Spotting can happen in many ways, one of which occurs when a killer, his or her hand bearing the palm cuts common in such cases, continues to wield the knife, flicking small drops of blood around the room. The cellophane was sent for processing and produced a clear DNA profile. It wasn’t the victim’s. And it was male.
The scientific team christened this unknown person ‘Cellophane Man.’ All they knew about him was his DNA profile. The sample did not necessarily tie him to the murder; in principle, the blood could have been shed weeks earlier. But if they could find the same blood in the marks on the walls and on White’s clothing, they would know it belonged to the killer. Gallop retested White’s jeans and one blood-stained sock. She could obtain only partial profiles; as far as they went, however, they matched the cellophane sample. But the scientist wanted to try a spread of blood samples that had been taken from White’s body and as close as possible to it, in the hope of getting better results.
Testing blood from cardboard boxes that had been stacked against the wall near to where White’s head had been, Gallop found a partial profile of Cellophane Man. But once again, she needed more. Returning to the crime-scene photos, she studied the blood stains on the walls. One drop of cast-off blood under a window was so large that it had run down the wall. The 1988 tests had shown that it wasn’t White’s. Might some of it have trickled right down behind the skirting board? Although the flat had been renovated, might the painters have merely slapped on a new coat of color over the old without sanding down the surface first? It was a long shot, but worth a try.
At Gallop’s request, police crime-scene officers removed an almost meter-long section of skirting board directly below the spot where the cast-off foreign blood had been identified. They also removed the front door in the hope of unearthing the diagonal smear of blood left as the killer groped for the catch in the darkness and shown in a crime scene photo.
Back at the lab, Gallop’s assistant scraped away at the skirting board paint under the microscope. It was a difficult, delicate procedure: go in too cautiously and you miss what might be there; scrape too deeply and you go through all the layers of paint and miss the hidden forensic treasure altogether. The lab technician got it just right, uncovering blood stains which later yielded profiles of both Cellophane Man and his victim. More cast-off blood was found behind the skirting board; it contained a full profile of Cellophane Man.
The scraping back of paint from the front door revealed no visible blood staining, but the scientists were able to chemically detect blood traces which produced a mixed profile. Its components were from Cellophane Man and Lynette White.
The killer’s cut hands had been on the walls and the door – and in contact with White’s blood. It was time to return to the victim’s clothing yet again and look for Cellophane Man there.
When White’s body was discovered, her jacket and sweatshirt had been soaked with her own blood and twisted around her body in a strange way, possibly as a result of the killer manhandling her into the spot on the floor where she was found. Gallop spent several hours working out precisely how the clothing had shifted during this process and trying to calculate the places where the killer was most likely to have placed his hands while moving the body. She took five samples and found Cellophane Man’s DNA on both the jacket and the sweatshirt.
Gallop had also discovered some crime-scene swabs collected during the original investigation but not analyzed. They were samples of stains from the wall outside the door of the murder room, from the wall opposite that room and from a wall near the entrance. They yielded full or partial profiles of Cellophane Man. In one place, there was a mixture of Cellophane Man’s and White’s blood – the same result as that from the recently tested front door and skirting board.
The same foreign blood had now been found on the victim’s body and at different spots along the killer’s exit route from the flat. Put together, these results spelled out the narrative of the murder.
By January 2002, South Wales Police were ready to go public with the news that they had DNA samples from the scene, including the killer’s. All the original suspects, including those acquitted, had volunteered for DNA testing. The police also began intelligence-led screening: an analysis of the database of 5,000 names that had come up in the original investigation, in order to reduce it to a shorter list of suspects who could be eliminated through DNA testing. In the meantime they were hoping for a tip-off from the public that might help them to give Cellophane Man a name.
The investigators had been repeatedly running Cellophane Man’s profile against the more than 1.5 million profiles on the UK’s national database. New profiles were being added every week, with more than 560,000 added in the 2001–02 financial year. Three hundred samples taken in 1988 were also tested. But there were no matches with either the database or any other suspects identified in the review.
Familial DNA Matching
It was time to consider familial DNA matching: a search of the DNA database for a profile that is a match close enough to the one already found to mean that it belongs to a sibling or close relative of the person sought.
The technique of familial matching had only just been devised, and was still so new that it had to be done manually. To make the search feasible, the scientists looking for Cellophane Man’s relatives narrowed their field to Cardiff, making the slightly risky assumption, given that the murder happened in the area of the docks, that the killer had been local, with a local family.
One of the alleles out of the 20 in the man’s DNA profile was relatively rare, occurring in about one in every 100 people. The scientists used it as a starting point, which enabled them to whittle a list of thousands down to 600. They then looked for profiles that had seven or more alleles in common with the killer’s. That reduced the pool to 70. The scientists looked at all the matching components in the profiles, checked their individual rarity and calculated the relative frequency of the different combinations found in the list.
One profile stood head and shoulders above the others in terms of its similarity to Cellophane Man’s. But it belonged to a 14-year-old boy, who hadn’t even been born at the time of the murder but had been DNA tested after committing a minor crime.
The boy’s father, the police surmised, could be the killer; he was certainly of an appropriate age. Initially, the boy’s mother was DNA tested so the scientists could subtract the parts of the boy’s DNA that came from her and see whether the relevant components were still left. They were. The father was then tested. But, while his profile was very similar to Cellophane Man’s, it wasn’t a match. The man’s brother was tested: again, the result was similar but not a match.
A Lifetime Loser
Questioned again, the family revealed there was another brother. According to his siblings, Jeffrey Gafoor was a lifetime loner who had always had difficulty making friends. In 1990, he had suddenly gone to Germany for a short period. His departure, it could now be seen, had coincided with the conviction of the Cardiff Three, but his family had had no reason to make that link. Three years later, when he moved away from Cardiff and cut himself off from his family, his siblings had assumed that the impetus for his retreat had been the death of their mother. They weren’t to know that his self-imposed exile had followed the Cardiff Three’s successful appeal against their conviction. Around this time, Gafoor had come to the attention of police for the first and, until 2003, only time in his life. After hitting a work colleague over the head with a house brick during an argument, he had been sentenced to 80 hours’ community service. But he was not DNA tested because he was convicted in 1992 – two years before the passing of the legislation that set out procedures for the DNA testing of people convicted and even suspected of criminal offences.
In 2003, Gafoor, then 38, was living half an hour out of Cardiff, working nights as a security guard, rarely leaving his home during the day and avoiding most human contact. His landlord’s front door was only three meters away from his own, but, rather than pay his rent in person and have to speak to the man, each month he would drive almost two kilometers to the nearest mail box and post his rent check.
On 28 February 2003, police visited Gafoor at work and took a DNA sample from him. They were not going to arrest him until they had the DNA results, but they kept him under surveillance, in case he decided to run. That surveillance saved his life: curious about a series of visits he had made to chemist’s shops, police broke into their quarry’s flat and discovered him in the process of swallowing the 64 paracetamol tablets he had bought. They rushed him to hospital, obtaining a partial confession on the way, in which he reportedly said: ‘Just for the record, I did kill Lynette White. I have been waiting for this for 15 years. I sincerely hope to die.’ Before he recovered, the DNA profile results were in. Jeffrey Gafoor was Cellophane Man.
On 4 July, 2003, Gafoor stood in the Cardiff Crown Court dock and pleaded guilty to murdering Lynette White. Through his barrister, he apologized to his victim’s family, claiming that the murder had happened after he changed his mind about wanting to have sex and White refused to return the £30 he had paid her. According to the barrister, Gafoor had not committed a premeditated sexual killing; rather, he had been carrying a knife because he had been robbed three months earlier in Butetown. During his argument with White, he had threatened her with the knife. She had then grabbed the weapon and a struggle had ensued. ‘He doesn’t know why what followed, followed,’ the barrister told the court. ‘There was shame, panic, and there was a frenzied attack with a knife.’