Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Recognizing the behind-the-scenes work that helped stop a serial killer

Kansas City Police recently arrested a man who killed two women and was intent on killing more. Investigators allege that Derek Richardson, 27, was a serial killer in the making. He has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment of a corpse. He already was targeting other potential victims. You can read more about the case in this Kansas City Star article.

You might have seen the Feb. 8 press conference in which we asked for tips in these cases on television, or the one announcing we had identified and arrested the suspect. You probably saw several of the detectives at those events. They did amazing work on this case. But what you did not see were the people who also worked diligently behind the scene to make the arrest happen.

I presented a Chief’s Coin today to one of those people: Jennifer Howard. She is the DNA Technical Leader at our Crime Lab and was instrumental in solving this case. For two months, she made this case a priority. She and other lab staff tested DNA samples as quickly as possible and came in at all kinds of odd hours to do so.

Jennifer discovered that DNA recovered from the second crime scene matched the first, solidly linking the two cases to the same killer. With this discovery, a task force of detectives from our department and Kearney, Mo., (the first victim’s body was dumped in rural Kearney) went to work. As they developed suspects, Jennifer tested to see whether their DNA matched the profile of that recovered at the crime scenes. Detectives developed about 50 suspects, and Jennifer and her team tested 37 DNA samples (she found the others already in CODIS – the national criminal justice DNA database). She worked quickly, as detectives told her the killer could strike again.

A few days after the Feb. 8 press conference, a tip came in leading detectives to Richardson. Jennifer confirmed his DNA sample was a match to the crime scenes.

Sergeant Doug Niemeier, who led the investigative task force, said Jennifer was the go-to person for DNA work. If they got a sample at 10 p.m., she would come in at 10 p.m. and go to work testing it. And that promptness was important.

“If we didn’t find him, we knew he’d do it again,” Niemeier said.

This above-and-beyond work and attitude is why I was pleased to present Jennifer with the Chief’s Coin today as a special token of appreciation.

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