Using Pine Trees to Solve Murders
Killers often hide the bodies of their victims in dense, wooded areas. To further conceal the remains, they often cover them with brush, leaves, dirt, and other handy material and debris. They use leafy tree branches to erase their footsteps and tire tracks. They drive stolen cars with stolen license plates attached to mask their identities while delivering the bodies of their victims to their hidden grave sites. And, of course, they sometimes wear masks while committing their crimes.
However, no matter how well-hidden those bodies may be, they’re often discovered by hunters, hikers, and even kids playing in the woods. A quick phone call to the police brings out the detectives, the medical examiner, and a gaggle of crime scene investigators. Soon the names of suspects begin to float among the officials and, as a result of intensive clue-gathering, the list is narrowed down and the key players are questioned.
Sometimes, investigators have a difficult time connecting a suspect to the place where the victim’s body was discovered, which, of course, is the final piece to the puzzle. The piece that nails the door shut for a conviction.
Here’s where “Detective Pine Tree” enters the picture.
Obviously a pine tree cannot become an actual police detective. For starters, they have no hands for holding donuts and coffee cups. Nor will their size allow them inside a Denny’s restaurant for a half-price meal of Moons Over My Hammy.
So here’s how it works.
1. Suspect kills someone and takes the body out to a wooded area to hide it.
2. He digs a shallow grave, covers it with soil, branches, and leaves.
3. The killer covers all traces of having been there—brush away tracks, etc.
4. He goes home, changes clothes, and returns to his job as a meat cutter at the local Piggly Wiggly.
5. Police investigators are called to the scene after the body was discovered by a group of tie-dyed-shirt-wearing mushroom hunters. Two members of the group, a Mr. Cheech and a Mr. Chong, drove directly to the police station to report their discovery. Before heading to the PD the pair instructed their friend Tim Leary to stand guard and to not eat any mushrooms within a 20-foot radius of the body.
6. Investigators arrived and went about the usual business of evidence collection. One detective, however, noticed two pine trees in the immediate area. Aha, she thought, and set about the task of collecting pine pollen (the yellow dusty stuff found in the male cones, aka catkins). The savvy detective sent the pollen samples to the lab for DNA testing.
7. As the investigation progressed, detectives narrowed their suspect list down to one individual, a meat cutter who worked at the local Piggly Wiggly. They were able to obtain a search warrant for his home where they collected various items of potentially-related evidence, including a few articles of dirty clothing.
8. Our super-sharp detective sent the clothing to the lab for DNA testing. One particular item, a cotton shirt, was of particular interest.
9. A few days later the detective’s hunch was proven to be correct. Pine pollen was found on the cotton shirt and its DNA was a perfect match to the pollen collected from the pine tree at the spot where the victim’s body was discovered.
10. Case solved.
Yes, researchers have indeed developed a testing procedure that makes it possible to use pine pollen to place bad guys at a particular location, such as the one in a fictional tale above. Pine pollen, according to Dr. David Gangitano, one of the researchers and author of the study report, remains testable, comparable, and stable on cotton clothing for up to 14 days. Therefore, it is indeed possible to link a suspect’s clothing to a particular geographical area, such as a clandestine burial site near a particular pine tree.
In a similar study conducted by the same researchers, pollen from marijuana can be tested (DNA) to match samples that could link across several cases. In other words, the test could prove that I.M. High’s bag of pot came from the plants grown by Mr. Carter Cartel in the mountains of western Mexico.
* Regarding the evil pair of villains pictured in the top photo. Well, that’s Lee Child of Jack Reacher fame and Marcia Clark (yes, that Marcia Clark) at the Writers’ Police Academy. They did not kill the poor non-human victim, nor did they bury the faux body. And they’re certainly not evil. They did, however, have fantastic time at the WPA while learning about shallow graves and other extremely detailed and exciting hands-on workshops.
Now, here’s some wonderful news. You, too, can have a fantastic time at the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy because we have squeezed out a bit more room. Therefore, registration is open so hurry and grab the few remaining spots before they’re gone!