With its red dirt roads, cobalt sky, and deep green forests, Canada’s Prince Edward Island looks idyllic. Yet on October 3, 1994, a horrible crime took place there. Shirley Duguay, 32, disappeared and was believed murdered. But searchers looked for weeks, and all they found was her blood-spattered car.
Then a man’s blood-stained jacket turned up in the woods. Stuck to the lining were several stiff, white hairs. Constable Savoie, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, remembered seeing an all-white tomcat named Snowball at the home of his chief suspect, Douglas Beamish. Beamish was Shirley’s sometime boyfriend and an ex-con. Could those hairs be from Snowball? If so, they would tie Beamish to Shirley’s car—the scene of the crime.
Savoie sent the jacket to the police lab for a DNA examination. Found in body cells, DNA is like a chemical fingerprint. It’s unique to every individual. And the blood on the jacket matched the blood in the car.
But the lab wouldn’t test the animal hairs. “We only do humans,” the scientists said. Frustrated, Savoie called lab after lab. They all refused. Finally, he contacted Dr. Stephen J. O’Brien. Dr. O’Brien ran a laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, in Frederick, Maryland. He was studying house cats in hopes of finding treatments for human diseases. “You’re my last hope,” Savoie pleaded.
Dr. O’Brien asked Savoie for a blood sample from Snowball. That would give him two kinds of fur-ensic, er, forensic evidence—blood and hairs. Then he told Savoie to follow FBI guidelines and pack the evidence in separate canisters, hop a plane, and hand-deliver them.
Dr. O’Brien’s team compared the DNA in Snowball’s hair to the DNA in his blood. Bingo! It was an almost purr-fect match! But Prince Edward Island is small and isolated. What if many island cats were related, with similar DNA?
Savoie went cat-catching again and collected blood samples from a bunch of neighborhood fur balls. To Dr. O’Brien’s relief, their DNA profiles were all different. Statistically, the chance of another cat having DNA similar to Snowball’s was one in forty-five million!
Meanwhile, a fisherman stumbled upon Shirley’s body.
Roger Beamish was arrested. Thanks to Dr. O’Brien’s testimony, he was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 18 years in prison. This marked the first time animal DNA was used to convict a criminal. Score one for Dr. O’Brien, Constable Savoie, and Deputy Snowball!
With veterinarian expert Dr. Gary Weitzman as guide, Aline Alexander Newman helps kids understand what cats are trying to communicate by their body language and behavior. So if you've ever wondered what Fluffy means when she's purring or moving her tail emphatically from left to right--How to Speak Cat: A Guide to Decoding Cat Language is for you! It's full of insights, expert advice, and real-life cat scenarios, and showcases more than 30 poses, so you'll soon learn what each meow and flick of the tail means!
The NONFICTION MINUTE is a division of iNK THINK TANK INC.
a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation.