Two University of Ottawa
researchers are building a national
crime-solving database — one haircut at a time.
By Tyler Irving
In June of 2001, a nurse working at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal was walking to her car when she made a gruesome discovery. A human skull lay in the grass just behind the vehicle’s rear bumper. Police found the rest of the body up a small rise in the wooded area behind the parking lot. One of the corpse’s arms was hooked around a tree as if to break a fall. Investigators determined that the body was female, wearing hospital clothing, and had lain in the woods for about two years. Hospital records, however, did not show any missing patients and DNA extracted from the body didn’t match any records the police had on file. For years, the quest to identify ‘Madame Victoria,’ as the body came to be known, met with dead ends.
Finally, in 2010, police contacted University of Ottawa researchers Michelle Chartrand and her supervisor Gilles St-Jean. They are experts in isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IR-MS), an old analytical chemistry technique that is finding new applications in the world of forensic science. Together, Chartrand and St-Jean are building Canada’s first national isotope database, a tool that could provide the clues needed to crack unsolved cases like that of Madame Victoria. ...
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