How Times Have Changed

April 25 is National DNA Day.

In 1960 when I was in Miss Nelson’s biology class at Bisbee High School, I don’t believe the topic of DNA was ever mentioned. Yes, we dissected frogs and inch worms, but nobody brought up DNA. Some forward-thinking scientists may have known about it back then, but everybody else was in the dark.

When I started writing the Beaumont books in the early eighties, things hadn’t really changed all that much. Blood evidence found at crime scenes could be typed which served to rule out some individuals but didn’t rule anyone in. Hair evidence found at crime scenes could be examined under microscopes to determine if it was “similar” but it couldn’t be definitively matched.

As for fingerprint evidence? Comparisons could be made only to those on file in that particular jurisdiction’s collection of prints. There was no way to make connections between fingerprints on file in one location to those in the next town or county over. This made it possible for serial killers to operate in relatively small geographical areas without anyone ever making connections between those separate crimes.

But things have changed since then, and computer science has made all the difference! AFIS, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System makes it possible to make connections between suspects and unsolved crimes from all over the country.

The National Integrated Ballistics Information Network provides investigators with the same kind of tools regarding firearms and bullets.

Then there’s CODIS—The Combined DNA Index System. When it first surfaced, that was a game-changer in terms of crime fighting and connecting up the dots for many more of those unsolved serial killer cases.

Initially, large amounts of evidence from crime scenes ended up being consumed in order to achieve a DNA profile, but that has changed. Now it’s possible to replicate DNA found in tiny amounts at crime scenes, making more available for profiling purposes.

In 2018, the world woke up to discover things had changed overnight even more when a genealogist identified the Golden State Killer who had eluded arrest for decades. She used DNA found at various crime scenes to create a family tree and eventually narrow the field of suspects down to a single individual.

These days killers who have literally gotten away with murder for twenty, thirty, or even fifty years are slowly being hunted down and brought to account. It’s about time! In the process, innocent people who may have spent decades living under a cloud of suspicion can finally be fully cleared.

I watch a lot of true crime—blood and guts TV—as Bill calls it. (He much prefers his HGTV to my BGTV.). Often when a killer is finally brought down, people talk about closure. I’m not sure there any such thing as “closure.” No matter what, the victim is still dead. The murdered loved one is still missing from their family’s holiday celebrations, but at least they finally have answers.

So today I’m celebrating DNA day because it can be used to fight crime and provide those much need answers. It can help investigators determine who was at a crime scene and who wasn’t.

Come to think of it, though, we should probably also be celebrating cell phones, because they can do the same thing—tell investigators exactly where suspects were or weren’t at the time a crime was commited.

That’s something else nobody was talking about back in the 1960s. The characters on Startrek could punch a device on their uniforms and talk to other members of the crew, but that was all SciFi, right?

Now all I have to do is punch a button on my Apple Watch.

Boy howdy, how the world has changed!

A Blog PS:

Shortly after I finished writing the celebration of DNA, I received a gleeful call from a good friend of mine, Mary Daise, and it was too good not to send along.

First a bit of history.

Bill’s first wife, Lynn, passed away in December of 1984. We married in December of 1985. My kids and I moved into what had once been his and Lynn’s home in Bellevue’s VueCrest neighborhood.

In February of 1986, there was a knock on the front door. When I opened it, there was a tiny woman with bright red hair. She explained that her name was Mary Daise and that she was collecting money for the Heart Fund. Since she expected Lynn Schilb to answer the door, she was more than slightly surprised to find a complete stranger standing in front of her.

I invited her in, told her who I was, and explained about Bill’s and my fast-moving romance. Much to my astonishment, she had already read Until Proven Guilty. From that moment on, we were friends. She owns and has read and reread every single one of my books and has taken them with her whenever she has moved from one place to another.

In the days before Google, if I needed to find a scene or an event in one of the previous books, I could always call Mary and ask her. If she didn’t know it off the top of the head, she would search until she found it and then let me know.

Yesterday was her birthday, and a good friend and neighbor in her current apartment complex, Gilda Dumlao, made the card you see pictured here. It’s a birthday card, yes, but it’s also a tribute to our now almost forty-year friendship.

Today, April 26th, is Mary’s actual birthday. So Happy 90th, Mary, and I don’t think you’ll mind seeing this card twice.