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Storage of DNA samples from family members may be key to solving cold cases

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DNA may be the link for justice in cold cases experts in the field say and they are rallying that this be used to solve many cases which are shelved at police stations across the Western Cape and country.

DNA could be used of relatives to assist in cold cases experts say. File image

Cape Town – DNA may be the link for justice in cold cases, experts in the field say.

They believe this could be used to solve many cases which are shelved at police stations across the Western Cape and further afield.

Three experts in the field of missing persons believes it will expedite the backlog of cases being probed.

On the South African Police’s website for missing persons, the list of those still missing is appears seemingly endless.

National coordinator for Missing Children South Africa, Bianca van Aswegen; Leon Rossouw, a private investigator of Consulting Detectives who investigates cold cases; and Candice van der Rheede, the founder of Western Cape Missing Persons Unit; have all said that DNA was the key to begin the process of solving these potential crimes.

A sample taken from each parent when a family member person goes missing, that can be tested against unclaimed bodies at mortuaries or, that of bodies which are found buried, could ease the backlog.

They also strongly believe following the missing person’s footstep trail in the form of a timeline is vital to put together pieces of the broken puzzle, including the use of technology.

For Rossouw, how a person disappeared, where and who the last person he or she was in contact with, is vital.

“The only way to solve a cold case is through hard work, thorough analysis of the evidence, and plain old witness interviews, using a timeline and following the evidence and using technology that wasn’t available then,” he said.

He said the mistakes of the past was that there were no designated cold case squads and that a police officer had to deal with fresh cases on top of the old ones.

“When a missing case is assigned to a detective, his other work doesn’t stop. The new case takes priority, but his case load continues to pile up on the desk. The detective works those leads until he or she reaches a dead end and gets reminded about the other cases that are piling up. That is how a missing person’s case becomes a cold case,” he said.

Rossouw also believes it’s vital to take samples from relatives.

“I believe it’s very important to get DNA samples from the mother and/or father of a missing person. When the case becomes a cold case and when the remains of a person are found 20 years later, you do have DNA to compare it to. With many cold cases the mother and/or father is deceased and then they can’t compare the DNA of the remains found with anyone and then that case stays unsolved.”

He added technology such as CCTV, WhatsApp and cellphone records are beneficial tools but that sometimes data became old and expire with storage.

“All cellphone records must be kept for a period of five years after termination, to the knowledge of the provider, of the product concerned or, in any other case, after the rendering of the financial service concerned,” he added.

Van Aswegen said their organisation is rallying with DNAforAfrica, where a database could be made available.

“Cellphone tracing is one of the means that is used in the tracking of a missing person, but is not always helpful in a case of a child where there is no cellphone to be tracked.

“Vehicle tracking is also a form of technology used, but only in cases where a vehicle is involved in a missing person or a vehicle is identified for instance, in a kidnapping.

“Unfortunately there are no DNA databases available in South Africa that would really assist in cold cases and unidentified persons, but we are advocating with DNAforAfrica in the hope that one day this database will be available and help in so many cold cases.”

Van der Rheede also believes in the resources of DNA and continues to revisit cases.

She said often people were found but that families did not inform police or organisations.

“What we do is recirculate it monthly, to remind people they are still missing.

“We previously approached the province (police) to give us some of the cold cases; maybe we can rework these cases and get them closed.

“A lot of the cases, the people returned home, there was no ’92 form’, to close the case officially. These cases are not closed at Saps.

“If there is DNA of bodies of those years or now, DNA can be compared.

“Facebook is more popular, you find many people who can see who is missing by flyers being shared.”

In Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain, there is hope, after the Missing Persons Unit was relaunched with 20 members and five police dogs used for tracing.

Byron de Villiers, the Community Policing Forum chairperson of Lentegeur Police Station, said they were ready to help.

“There was a great need to assist Saps with the search for missing children and adults.The unit has achieved many successes during this time in finding missing persons.

“We also have our own dog unit when needed to assist when searching for missing persons. We work predominantly in the Lentegeur precinct,” he said.

He added, “If anyone wishes to join or wants more information they can contact Kaamillah Ismail on 074 505 4954.”

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