Credit: Dr. James Fixton. University of Melbourne, Australia
Thank you Dr. James for your valuable inputs and helping me in completing the scientific part of the story. Thank you for spending your valuable time for giving what I wanted, and sorry for troubling you with so many late night emails and phone calls. As I used to say always " YOU ARE THE BEST".
Early one morning in a deserted area outside of Goa, a tourist discovered the body of a young women. She had been beaten, bound, strangled, and possibly raped. The surrounding plants would tell more about the killer than any other single piece of evidence. The evidence which Maya produced in front of the judge, made entire court room went crazy, including the killer.
No matter how intelligent or successful Maya is, but when it comes to vacation, she is unlucky. She had a vodka and lying under sunlight on the beach applying body lotion, she left her mobile, satellite phone at her apartment and right now she is the princess of her kingdom. A round cowboy hat, sunglasses, lotion applied shining body, a red bikini on her golden coloured skin, made her more like a successful model than a cop or princes. But the only mistake she did was carrying the badge in her bag.
The tourist who saw the body of a young women, came to Maya like a messenger and stopped right in front of Maya. For a second he forgot why he was running with panic by looking at Maya. Later he came out of his romantic imagination and told Maya that he found a nude dead body of young women far from the beach and he saw the badge and thought to tell her. Maya asked him why he was looking at the bag, instead of looking at her?
Maya wore a track suit and took her bag and left to crime scene along with the tourist. When Maya arrived at crime scene, she gathered every possible piece of evidence. The victim was nude, except for a pulled-up tank top and a T-shirt wrapped around the neck, which was probably used to strangle her. Her wrist and ankle were loosely bound with shoelaces and what looked like picture hanging wire. Nearby, Maya found a syringe, some article of clothing, then she heard some evidence. It was a pager, fond deep in grass of a few feet from the body. When Maya turned the body, she got shocked, she knew the victim.
Maya called the local police and her boss as well. She insisted her boss that she want to be the part of investigation and she needed all the approval and paperwork required, her boss tried to convince her but he knows that it's impossible to keep Maya away when she want to solve the case. After so many calls and requests, Maya's boss was successful is acquiring all the approvals and paperworks and he deployed Maya as lead investigator of the case.
She turned her apartment to a work station, first she got the most important thing to solve the case, "The Big White board" and asked her team to come Goa to assist her in the case, she didn't want any help from local police. When the team arrived, she briefed them about the case and the evidence she found at the crime scene. The hunt for the killer started.
As she found the pager at crime scene, she ordered a large search, the photographer took some Ariel photographs of the area from a helicopter. There appeared to be a circular area of matted grass where an altercation (a noisy argument or disagreement, in this case, the murder) possibly took place. CSU (crime scene unit) took the victim's remains to the medical examiner for identification and autopsy. But Maya already identified the victim, a 30-year old Sarah Johnson, a single mother of two young children. She met her a bar two days before, apart from her name, Maya didn't know nothing more.
Sarah Johnson was born and raised in an area called Panaji. She made her living on the streets of Panaji, she had a history of shot changing truck drivers in various deals at local truck stop, which earned her the nick name "Chameleon". Her friends cautioned her that her lifestyle was probably gonna find her in a lot of trouble someday. At her free times, she used to work as waitress at some local Goa bars, thats where Maya met her for yeh first time. But wanted to know only not thing, who killed her?
Maya started the investigation with the pager found lying near the dead body. It belongs to a truck driver called Joseph. Maya called him for some questioning and asked about the pager, he said that on his way home from work the night before, he stopped to make a phone call. Thats when he met Sarah for the first time. He said that she asked for a ride to the city. Once started to drive she made some sexual advances, they pulled off the road and had consensual sex in the cab of his truck. Afterwards, as he was dropping her off, he said she attempted to steal some of his things off the dashboard. After a brief scuffle, he retrieved his wallet. She got out and left on foot. Jospeh said that was the last he saw of her. The next morning, he noticed that his pager was missing, assumed he lost it and called the pager company to report it missing.
During the interrogation of Joseph, Maya noticed scratch marks on the side of his face. Maya thought that, if there were scratches on the suspect's face, the she can expect those were inflicted by victim's fingers, fingernails. There should be some residue of either the skin cells and or maybe even blood under fingernails. She called the medical examiner immediately but the autopsy of Sarah revealed no skin or blood under any of her fingernails. But the medical examiner found that Sarah's death was caused by asphyxiation (the state or process of being deprived of oxygen, which can result in unconsciousness or death; suffocation.) due to strangulation. Blood test showed cocaine in her system. However, there were no signs of any type of sexual activity. There was no semen found, no foreign hair, clothing fiber's, or saliva found anywhere on her body.
They autopsy told Maya how Sarah died, but provided no clues about her killer. There is one suspect Joseph was apparently a dead end. Maya cant charge Joseph for having consensual sex. Now Maya had not only a murder, but a mystery.
The next day, Maya decided to go to crime scene again to get familiarise with the scene where the body was found. Sarah Johnson's body was discovered in a remote part of Goa, Maya was looking for anything out of place or unusual, anything that might have been overlooked the day before. Then she was something peculiar on a palo verde tree just a few feet from where the body was found. She parked her car on the pavement, she noticed that there was a branch hanging over, and when she looked at that branch, she noticed a that there was a fresh abrasion, and she had no idea what it might mean, she took a picture of it, the she took some beans off of that particular tree.
Meanwhile CSU and Maya's team confiscated Joseph's truck to look for possible evidence linking him or his truck to the crime scene. It was complete clean, no finger prints, semen, blood, saliva, hair, or clothing fiber - no evidence at all that Joseph was even in the trunk. But when CSU and photographers looked in the back of the truck, they made an interesting discovery, they found two bean pods from a palo verde tree. When Maya learned about the bean pods found in the truck, Maya started to think that was it possible that Joseph truck brushed against the palo verde tree at the crime scene, causing two bean pods to drop into the back of the truck? The problem was palo verde trees were common in suburbs of Goa, there are tens of thousands of them in Goa alone.
Now, Maya need to find a way to continue the hunt for the killer, when she was looking at the white board and discussing the case with her team, she got a crazy idea. To see if DNA testing could match the bean pods from Jospeh's truck to the tree with the abrasion at the crime scene. Her team was silent and started looking at Maya as she become crazy, because in the history of crime investigation, no one did the plant DNA test to catch the killer. That's why this is a crazy idea.
Maya has to found someone, somewhere in India that is involved in DNA testing of pant life. She doesn’t know from where to start, she started to working the phones, calling scientists all over the India, she got answers like it could be done to maybe it could be done, and that if it could be done that the cost would be prohibitive. Fifty telephone calls later she found someone who offered some hope- ironically, just a 500KM away, at the university of Mumbai. But the question maya's team had was, could DNA really show that one plant or tree was different from another, even though they were the same species?
DNA is present in all cells of all living things. Its a little like computer program containing all of the information necessary to create a living thing. All humans have different DNA profiles, except for identical twins. In the early 1980's, doctor Alec Jeffreys, a British scientist, discovered a test that made it possible to identify an individual's DNA profile. Jeffreys breakthrough technique was first used in a criminal case in 1986. But plant DNA had never been used in a criminal case, and scientists were't even sure they could figure out a way to extract DNA from the palo verde seed pods.
Maya had circumstantial evidence linking Joseph o the Sarah Johnson's murder, but she needed something more definitive. Maya knew that she would have to prove that Joseph was at the crime scene, and palo verde pods were maya's best chance. The scientist at Mumbai university has no idea that their research would be cornerstone of a murder case. Scientists at Mumbai university used what is known as a randomly amplified polymorphic DNA technique or RAPID. This is a less common test than RFLP (Restriction fragment length polymorphism) the one used in searches of human DNA. One of the great things about RAPID is that you are able to know nothing about an individual species or type of organism. You don't have to have any prior knowledge about it, all you have to do is get DNA and the method works.
The test begins by removing the beans from their hard-outer shell or pod. Seeds have DNA both from the mother tree and other trees that would've pollinated it, so they need to get rid of those and just use the pod material, which will only have DNA from mother tree. The shells are put into liquid nitrogen making them brittle and easier to grind into a fine powder. A chemical solution (As per request from the doctor I am not mentioning the chemical name) is added, and the DNA floats free, a sticky bundle of complex molecules. The sample amount of DNA from a seed pod is too small for analysis, so scientists increase the sample size by copying the DNA strand. They use a technique called polymerase chain reaction, PCR. The copying process takes place in a thermal DNA cycler. Within a few hours, this technique multiplies DNA millions of times. The DNA is then placed into various lanes of a gel with a dye added, and then subjected to an electrical field.
Under ultraviolet light, its possible to see how the electrical current draws the negatively charged fragments, the result resembles a barcode, the genetic fingerprint of a palo verde tree. These results Maya, to make an important discovery, the two pods found in Joseph's truck matched each other, and they also matched the pods taken from the tree at the crime scene, the tree next to Sarah Johnson's body was discovered. Every other palo verde tree tested had a completely different DNA profile. It was the result which Maya was hoped for. To make sure that this evidence is enough to arrest the killer, she needed to show to the judge and prosecution, that all of the palo verde trees in Goa had a different DNA profile. SO, Maya sent some 100 different palo verde pods to lab by asking to prove that each had a separate distinct DNA profile. She submitted this scientific proof in front of judge and asked the permission to submit the result as evidence, and she consulted more than 20 different scientists to get their opinion on the result. All the scientist agreed that DNA of plants are different from one another same as like humans. And this statement from all the scientists gave Maya a big go and the judge accepted the plant DNA as evidence.
Now Maya called Joseph for interrogation again and but this time Maya was so confident in getting Joseph's confession. She used her all knowledge and intelligence to make a theory. As per Maya Joseph met Sarah Johnson at a phone booth, they spoke briefly and Sarah asked for a ride. They drove to a deserted location for what was going to be a consensual sexual encounter. Jospeh asked Sarah if she would agree to some light bondage (hope there is no need to explain this stuff) and tied her wrists and ankles with some picture frame wire and shoelaces. At some point, Sarah Johnson objected to what was happening and asked Jospeh to stop. Sarah got out pf the truck and tried to run, with Joseph fast behind. Quickly, the situation turned violent. The two struggled in the open field, Joseph lost the pager he carried on his waist, which fell in to the high grass. Jospeh strangled Sarah with her own
T-shirt, then he dragged her body under some nearby bushes and left. As Joseph drove away, his truck brushed against the palo verde tree, leaving the abrasion. Two seed pods dropped into the back of his truck. Jospeh lived 18 mins from the area and his wife told police that she awoke as Joseph returned home just after 02:00 in the morning, which matches the time of death. The most critical evidence in the case was a plant DNA.
When the case went to trail, the defendant challenged the evidence implying the pods were planted in the back of Joseph's truck. But the as per report of Maya and CSU, the seed pods were found in Joseph's truck before samples were taken from the crime scene. The judge found Joseph guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Maya solved the case with the help of a tree.