DNA helping as police review cold case crimes

AS a crime of the most tragic sort, the horrific murder-suicide at Margaret River on Friday has drawn media attention from around the world.

We look on, as outsiders, at the grief of a father, aghast at the deaths of his children by the hand of a grandfather who should have protected them, but who shot them, his daughter, his wife and then himself. It’s an intensity of pain and anguish that most of us will hopefully never have to experience.

But there’s another type of anguish that can come with violent death –  the anguish of uncertainty, of long years spent waiting and hoping that police will find an elusive clue needed to close the book on an unsolved crime.

As a rule, the longer a crime remains unsolved, the less chance there is of a resolution, but if there’s one thing that has aided the forensic effort in recent years, it’s the extraordinary progress made in DNA testing. According to University of Newcastle forensic criminologist Xanthe Mallett, police reviewing some 570 NSW “cold cases” will have access to a new DNA technology, including a genealogy data base of a type that led to the arrest of a former policeman suspected of being the infamous  “Golden State” serial killer in California in the 1970s and 1980s.

More than 20 of the NSW cold cases are from the Hunter. They include such high-profile crimes as the suspected abduction and murder of Cardiff schoolgirl Gordana Kotevski (pictured), who disappeared in 1994, the “gentleman grocer”, Frank Newbury, bashed to death in his Cooks Hill shop in 2007 at the age of 87, and the trio of young Lake Macquarie women, Leanne Goodall, Robyn Hickie and Amanda Robinson, who all went missing in late 1978 and early 1979.

Cases such as this become burned into the region’s psyche. We remember them each time the police revive their efforts. Each time a reward is posted. Each time a relative speaks out on a fateful anniversary.

With the police again trawling through the cold case files, those with a personal tie to these victims will have their pain made fresh again. But they will also have their hopes of closure revived.

And with the magic of DNA matching, those who know in their hearts the truth of these tragedies, might want to realise that the chances of them getting away with their crimes are getting that bit smaller.

ISSUE: 38,800.