The discovery under murdered lawyer Ciara Glennon’s fingernails of male DNA matching samples taken from a teenage rape victim has been highlighted by a senior detective as a crucial “turning point” in the Claremont serial killings investigation.
Telstra technician Bradley Robert Edwards, 51, is on trial in the WA Supreme Court charged with the wilful murders of Ms Glennon, Sarah Spiers and Jane Rimmer in 1996 and 1997.
He has pleaded not guilty to the murders, but has admitted to the violent rape of a 17-year-old girl he abducted at Karrakatta Cemetery in 1995, and a sexually motivated attack on another teenager as she slept in her bedroom at her parents’ home in 1988.
Detective Sergeant Jim Stanbury, a former head of the Macro Task Force set up to investigate the Claremont killings, took critical exhibits relating to the case, including scrapings from Ms Glennon’s fingernails, to the UK for specialised DNA testing in 2008.
Scientists at Forensic Science Service (FSS) laboratories in Birmingham made the breakthrough discovery of male DNA on scrapings from Ms Glennon’s left thumb and middle finger.
‘Now we had a living witness’
When the male profile was entered into the DNA database on WA, a match was recorded with DNA found on the 17-year-old girl.
This was left on her body after a horrific ordeal, in which she was snatched from a Claremont park and bundled into Edwards’s van with her hands and feet bound, before being driven to the nearby cemetery where she was brutally raped twice.
Sergeant Stanbury said the DNA match between the two crimes had been a clear “turning point” that changed the course of the Claremont investigation.
“Now that we had this match to the sex assault … we had a living witness,” he said.
“We had a description of the person responsible, we had vehicles or a vehicle, I should say, that was possibly involved.
“We had a method, a style of assault [and] attack … and of course we had the highly discriminating DNA profile.
“We then didn’t have to rely on alibis or anything like that. We could target individuals for interview and for DNA, and if their DNA didn’t match they would be eliminated from the investigation.
“It was definitely a turning point for the Macro investigation.”
He said a review of forensic opportunities was undertaken as a result of the breakthrough, and items relating to both the rape and murders were sent to various laboratories around the world for further testing.
Closure of UK forensic lab a setback to police
Earlier, the court was shown key documents that revealed police were investigating multiple suspects for the Claremont killings as late as 2008.The documents were among paperwork sent to the UK with the fingernail samples for Low Copy Number (LCN) testing, a technique not available in Australia at the time.
Also included were other samples for testing relating to the murder of 11-year-old schoolboy Gerard Ross in October 1997.
“There are a number of persons of interest in relation to both investigations,” the documents noted.
But Sergeant Stanbury revealed the investigation received a setback in 2010 with the news that the FSS was shutting down, forcing WA Police to find a new forensic laboratory to undertake tests on important items and retrieve about 500 exhibits held by the UK lab relating to WA crimes.
These included debris taken from Ms Glennon’s bloodstained t-shirt, including fibres that became critical in the case, known as AJM 33.
The fibres allegedly matched clothing worn by Edwards during the course of his work for Telstra.
Rayney evidence among items returned from UK
Also included in the large batch of exhibits ultimately brought back to Australia were items relating to the high-profile murder of Supreme Court registration Corrine Rayney.
Documents shown in court revealed eight crates of items had been returned to WA Police relating to Operation Dargan, the name given to the Rayney investigation.
Ms Rayney was murdered in 2007 and her body was discovered buried in Kings Park, near the Perth CBD, eight days after she vanished.
Her husband, former state prosecutor Lloyd Rayney, was named by police as the “only” and “prime suspect” in her murder, but he always maintained his innocence and was found not guilty of murdering her in a 2012 trial.
Spreadsheet lists items found at dump site
Other documents shown at the trial on Monday included a spreadsheet of items held by the Special Crime Squad in February 2011 relating to the Claremont investigation.
The 18-page document detailed items taken from Ms Rimmer’s car and home, including one poignantly listed as “Stuffed toy rabbit (21st gift), Jenny requests return. No forensic value”.
Other items were taken from the semi-rural suburb of Wellard in Perth’s south, where Ms Rimmer’s body was found in August 1996, including a bag of women’s clothing, a plastic lunchbox, two gloves, a pair of Katies-brand shorts and a pair of cream-coloured shorts.
There were also a variety of items seized from Ms Rimmer’s car, ranging from McDonald’s food wrappers and an apple core to a Bankwest ATM receipt and a packet of Extra brand chewing gum.
The Claremont trial, before Justice Stephen Hall, is continuing.