The M-Vac System and The Zodiac Killer

Zodiac Suspects

Of all the binge-worthy TV series, History Channel's "The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer" is definitely one of the best. History has masterfully combined America's most notorious unsolved serial killings, modern technology to include an artificial intelligence infused super-computer, two seasoned detectives and enough plot twists to intrigue even the most hardened viewer. The series is truly a work of art and the suspense is brutal!

One of the intriguing investigative methods the detectives (Sal LaBarbera and Ken Mains) are taking is to look at what they call "outliers", or unsolved cases that have similarities to the known Zodiac killings, and, by trying to solve the outliers and tie them into the Zodiac killings, potentially identifying suspects that otherwise may not come up on an investigator's radar. Clearly, after 50 years of highly trained and skilled investigators, ranging from the FBI to San Francisco's finest, looking at the Zodiac killings, someone would have come up with an answer and solved the case if the direct investigative methods could have possibly worked. Unfortunately, to date they haven't so it is exciting to see all the potential connections Sal and Ken have turned up.

One such lead is the 1966 Riverside, California, cold case murder of Cheri Jo Bates. This murder predates the known Zodiac killings by at least two years. Since it's in southern California as opposed to the San Francisco Bay area, it's not surprising that investigators may have missed any ties, let alone actually linked the Bates murder to the Zodiac. This show has, however, and the similarities and connections are eerie! Could Cheri Jo Bates have been one of the first Zodiac killings, when the killer was just getting started? The potential is real. Ultimately though, the goal of every investigation is to actually solve the case, and in order to do that physical evidence is critically important.

Enter the M-Vac System, which is the latest and most advanced forensic DNA collection tool available. The M-Vac aggressively sprays a sterile solution onto a surface and simultaneously applies vacuum pressure to collect the solution and whatever DNA material is present on the surface. It is up to 200X more effective than swabbing, which is the most commonly used collection method, so using it to collect any DNA material from the Cheri Jo Bates murder makes perfect sense. Undoubtedly other methods like swabbing had been tried so trying a new tool that is more assertive should be the next step. The detectives employed DNA and serology expert Suzanna Ryan, who has an M-Vac system in her lab, and they utilized the M-Vac (see picture below) to sample various parts of the victim's pants, focusing on areas they thought the suspect may have touched. Based on interviews, news articles and the dialogue on the show, we know the M-Vac collected DNA – from evidence that is 50+ years old!

For example, in a recent article entitled "Zodiac Killer: Detectives hope DNA will unlock murderer's ID at last", it says "During the examination of Bates' clothing, I discovered, without a doubt, two bloody handprints at the bottom of her pants," said Mains, a former FBI task force member and Marine Corps veteran. "We have touch DNA from those handprints." As if that is not astounding enough, we now know there was viable DNA collected, and it is likely male! Could it possibly be DNA from one of the suspects they are investigating? Could it be the Zodiac killer?

Millions of people, including me, will be watching tomorrow night's show to learn exactly that!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.