Christopher Bernard Wilder, known as The Beauty Queen Killer, killed at least eight women and girls during a cross-country crime spree in the mid-1980s. Posing as a photographer, he lured his victims with promises of modeling careers. He was eventually shot and killed following a massive manhunt, but his story doesn’t end there. Investigators believe he may be responsible for at least ten more unsolved murders from New York to Florida, and now they are applying the newest technology to old evidence to help them prove it.
In 2017, Wilder’s genetic profile was uploaded for the first time into the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database so his DNA can now be compared to evidence in cases across the country. To accomplish this, forensic scientists at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office used two Promega Genetic Identity products, the PowerQuant® System and PowerPlex® Fusion System, to help them obtain a DNA profile from evidence in a 1980 rape case to which Wilder had plead guilty and served five years’ probation. Samples from this evidence had a high amount of degradation.
“We didn’t expect to get anything at all from the DNA profile… We were definitely surprised by the results we obtained,” says scientist Alyse Yacovone-Margetts, who assisted on the case.
With Wilder’s DNA profile now in the national database, investigators have one more piece of information to possibly bring closure to loved ones of some of these victims. Credit is due to the determined detectives and skilled forensic scientists, but Brandy Plean, who completed all of the DNA interpretation for the case, also gives a nod to the Promega products for yielding such complete results.
“I definitely think both of these products helped with this case because you just have more information in general about your sample.”
What Forensics and Paternity Laboratories Need
Forensics and paternity laboratories deal with tremendous caseloads and tight turnaround times. Dependable results, throughput and reliable product supply are critical in this setting. These labs use limited, and often challenging samples, to develop law enforcement leads from crime scenes. Sexual assault evidence kit backlogs and property crime samples are some of the more challenging samples for labs to process. Promega offers a menu of tools for forensic and paternity labs for each step in the forensic workflow, from preprocessing and differential extraction to quantification, STR amplification and analysis. Our new custom Casework Direct kit is designed for rapid processing of swabs from casework samples, cuttings of sexual assault swabs or stained fabric prior to quantifying human DNA. The streamlined protocol will enable crime labs to more efficiently and effectively address these difficult samples.
In addition, forensics and paternity labs help bring closure to families whose loved ones are missing or lost in mass disasters, and even help exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted of a crime. Researchers and analysts need to know that they will get optimal and reliable results from the valuable and often irreplaceable samples. Launching soon, the Spectrum CE System, built with input from analysts throughout the field will enable more efficient STR analysis and enhanced workflow flexibility. More than ever before, labs will be able to receive more information from challenging sample types, save time with increased sample processing capacity, and experience the flexibility to add samples during runs. All of this will be available with the same high level of service and support that customers have come to expect from Promega.
We have worked with forensic and paternity laboratories for more than 30 years and support their challenging workflow by providing products for efficient DNA extraction through discriminating STR analysis.