The Use of Forensic Odontology to Solve a Forensic Science Case

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Methods, Solutions and Scientific Concepts
  3. Evaluation of Methods
  4. Societal Impacts and Legal Ramifications
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

Introduction

Forensic Science is the study of civil and criminal law, which can be broken down into many categories. Forensic Odontology is specifically important because teeth are composed of enamel, one of the hardest biological substances in the human body, they are very well protected by soft tissues in the body, for example, the tongue (PMC 2018). Teeth can also survive immersion, decomposition and direct heat in excess of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (PMC 2018). Forensic Odontology is used to solve many cases and help identify the victims of many crimes, including the “Charred Remains” case of arson.

On July 6, 1991, in Vancouver, British Columbia the body of 30-year-old Mary Lynn Breeden was discovered in a garbage bin, burning hours away from turning into ashes in a gasoline fire. She had been last seen at an after-hours night club, the night before being discovered (Dawn). Mary Lynn Breeden was found eventually, by a working janitor, as a small charred figure. Investigators had to get creative because most DNA that could have been useful in identification or linking the crime to a suspect was lost in the extreme heat of the fire. The case of Mary Lynn Breeden was the first-time tooth pulp had been used to convict a suspect. Along with Forensic Odontology, the Forensic Image Analyst team would assist in the conviction of 25-year-old suspect Chris Cruz (student and model) to the grizzly crime (“Charred Remains”).

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Methods, Solutions and Scientific Concepts

Upon further investigation to determine the cause of death, evidence found included .22 caliber hollow point bullets in the brain that caused multiple fractures to the face and skull (“Charred Remains”). Pathologist Dr. Laurel Gray was able to determine that Mary Lynn Breeden had been shot in the head before death and therefore, died as a result of gunshot wounds (Still). Extensive amounts of blood were found when a close analysis was done indicating that Mary Lynn had been alive when shot due to quantities of blood located in the brain. Breeden’s body was identified by dental records. After close examination of the charred body, and its remaining teeth, dental records for Mary Lynn were compared to the sample. Both had a rare condition called Mesiodens, as discovered by Dr. Larry Cheevers who is a Forensic Odontologist working the case (“Charred Remains”). Mesiodens is a rare condition where an extra tooth exists in the gums, for Mary Lynn’s case it was the top two front teeth (“Charred Remains”). In Cruz's car, bloodstains were discovered, but with limited DNA from Lynn Breeden's body, Dr. David Sweet was keen on using the tooth pulp extracted from remaining teeth, as a reference sample to attempt to associate Chris Cruz to the murder (“Charred Remains”). Immediately after Lynn Breeden’s death, a woman identified later as Tonya Forrester attempted to clear out Mary Lynn Breeden’s bank account but was denied by the bank when asked for identification (Dawn). Upon closer investigation of the CCTV from the bank, the Forensic Image Analyst team noticed a glare in the window, a person, later identified to be Chris Cruz through the processing of the photo to remove glare (“Charred Remains”).

Evaluation of Methods

The case of Mary Lynn Breeden was incredibly accurate in the identification of DNA and connecting the suspect, Chris Cruz to the murder. Firstly, hair was not a viable source of DNA due to the temperature at which the body burned. Hair would have been very useful, because hair would have linked the remains to a victim along with her past use of cocaine, “hair is nourished by blood flowing through capillaries located close to the hair root. Drugs present in blood diffuse through the capillary walls into the base of the hair and become permanently entrapped in the hair’s hardening protein structure. As the hair continues to grow, the drug’s location on the hair becomes a historical marker for delineating drug intake” (Saferstein 2020). Furthermore, the skull being studied by pathologist Dr. Gray showed evidence of a .22 caliber weapon being used (Still). This generated an idea of the cause of death and a possible suspect. The skull could have also been useful for Forensic Anthropologists to study and determine the sex of the victim and descent. In this case, the skull would have been discovered to be of Caucasian descent after studying the eye orbits, frontal plate, and nasal cavity. Blood eventually became valuable not because it was found on the victim, but a potential suspect had the remaining piece of this forensic puzzle. Investigators became weary of Chris Cruz, and the blood discovered in and on his car, as they needed to find a way to associate him with the crime. Forensic Odontology was used, and tooth pulp was extracted as a sample along with the evidence of blood (jacket covered in blood with playboy bunny necklace in pocket) found in Cruz’s car (Ogilvie). Thin Layer Chromatography showed a clear result of the tooth pulp matching the DNA in the car. The Rf values had lined up with the tooth pulp extracted and a sample of blood found in the car, leading to a match being made. The main limitation in the “Charred Remains” case was the lack of DNA left behind, but investigators were able to work past this.

Societal Impacts and Legal Ramifications

The case of Mary Lynn Breeden is drug influenced as both her and Chris Cruz were heavily involved in the drug scene, specifically cocaine. Crown Counsel Richard Cairns explained that this was a murder for money (Ogilvie). Cruz’s goal was to clear Mary Lynn’s account of the $4,500 she had, making it a planned and deliberate crime, ‘“He was ready to kill Mary-Lynn Breeden when she fell into his grasp”’(Ogilvie). The use of cocaine is considered highly taboo and the gateway to not only other drugs but the possibility to commit a crime. Some long-term effects of cocaine use as described by Health Canada include erratic or violent behaviour, cocaine is considered a highly addictive and dangerous narcotic (Canada 2018). If cocaine had not been in the systems of both Mary Lynn Breeden and Chris Cruz, this crime would have been extremely unlikely to occur. In court, the jury recommended that Chris Cruz would serve 18 years before being eligible for parole. Crown Counsel Richard Cairns explained, ‘“In the car, he had all the instruments necessary … He had the tire iron, the .22 gun, the gasoline container and bolt cutters, and he knew the location of the dumpster . . . was that just a fluke?”’(Ogilvie). Finally, Chris Cruz was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 18 years, convicted on first- degree murder (Newswire).

Conclusion

After close analysis of the case regarding Mary Lynn Breeden, it can be determined that her murder was drug-fueled and could have been easily avoided. This case leaves a historical marker in Forensic Science as tooth pulp was extracted and used for the very first time. It is applaudable that with such little DNA and lack of storyline that the team involved, was able to come to a conclusion and serve Chris Cruz his sentence.

Bibliography

  1. PMC, Europe. “Dental Color Measurement to Predict DNA Concentration in Incinerated Teeth for Human Identification.” Europe PMC, 25 Apr. 2018, europepmc.org/article/MED/29698524.
  2. 'Bank Photo of Woman Gives Police New Lead in Slaying of Pub Waitress: [4* Edition].' The Vancouver Sun, Jul 16, 1991, pp. B10. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/243426661?accountid=15182.
  3. Hanna, Dawn. 'Woman Tried to Clear Out Account of Murder Victim; Woman Attempted to Clear Out Account of Dumpster Victim (5*): [4* Edition].' The Vancouver Sun, Jul 15, 1991, pp. B1. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/243427868?accountid=15182.
  4. Still, Larry. 'Woman Died from Gunshot Wounds, Pathologist Says: [FINAL Edition].'The Vancouver Sun, Nov 08, 1993, pp. B2. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/243239454?accountid=15182.
  5. Newswire. 'Life in Prison for Vancouver Man Who Killed Woman, Burned Body -.'Times - Colonist, Nov 20, 1993, pp. 1. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/345494724?accountid=15182.
  6. Ogilvie, Clare. '`Murder for Money': [Final Edition].' The Province, Nov 03, 1993, pp. A10. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/267489249?accountid=15182.
  7. Ogilvie, Clare. '`Shark, Predator' Convicted of Murder: [Final C Edition].' The Province, Nov 12, 1993, pp. A12. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/267482591?accountid=15182.
  8. “Charred Remains.” Medstar Television, 1997.
  9. Saferstein, Richard. Criminalistics: an Introduction to Forensic Science. Pearson, 2020.
  10. Canada, Health. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, Government of Canada, 30 Nov. 2018, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/controlled-illegal-drugs/cocaine-crack.html.
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