AKRON, Ohio - Quick-thinking forensic experts cracked an Akron murder mystery after spotting a tiny clue that was hiding in plain sight.
Julianna Grna, 85, and her 43-year-old son were bludgeoned to death in their Akron home in July 2009. But police were left with no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon.
It seemed as if the case would go unsolved until a forensic expert with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification spotted tiny pieces of paper on the bathroom floor.
Investigator Dan Winterich suspected the killer may have used something to clean up the blood. Then, he spotted an almost empty roll of toilet paper sitting on top of the toilet.
"We kind of have to walk in the shoes of the suspect and think where did he touch? What did he pick up?" said Winterich.
It was their last chance and it all came down to something known as "touch DNA.”
"Touch DNA is unlike blood or semen or saliva," Winterich said. "It's from skin cells from the subject touching items."
Winterich carefully gathered the toilet paper roll and brought it to the forensic lab at the Bureau of Criminal Identification in Richfield. Forensic scientist Stacy Violi then carefully used a cotton swap to collect any remaining skin cells inside the center of the toilet paper roll.
"The moistened swab would pick up any trace amount of DNA that was deposited inside from touching or handling the object," said Violi.
Suddenly, a murder scene that gave up no evidence revealed a killer. Johnnie Cook was sentenced to life in prison for the murder after his DNA was matched to the scene.
"It was huge," said Winterch. "We needed to tie him to the scene and nothing is better than DNA."
Forensic experts said just six or eight skin cells can be enough for a touch DNA match.
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