What is Forensic Science and Scientific Analysis
Cases Solved Through Forensic Science and Analysis
The LLNL Forensic Science Center under the leadership of Brian Andresen played numerous roles in famous law enforcement cases.
- The Forensic Science Center (FSC) has played a pivotal role in several well-publicized criminal investigations. For example, FSC examined the composition and structure of tiny bomb fragments containing trace metal and chemical residues in the Unabomber case.
- The center provided analysis and testimony leading to the conviction of Fremont, California, bomber Rodney Blach, a former Chicago Police Department forensic investigator. Blach was convicted of planting bombs during 1998 at the homes of the police chief, a city council member, and others. Former FSC Director Brian Andresen helped investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to reconstruct what Tom Rogers, assistant district attorney, characterized as “the largest as well as the most electronically sophisticated domestic pipe bombs the ATF had ever encountered.” Rogers said, “The electronic aspects of the devices were beyond the expertise of anyone at the ATF.”
- FSC supported the Democratic National Convention in 2000 by providing a mobile forensic laboratory for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Terrorist Early Warning Group. The center was also instrumental in interpreting factors surrounding the death of Gloria Ramirez, who made several hospital emergency room personnel violently ill in a well-publicized Southern California case.
- FSC helped prosecutors in Glendale, California, rearrest Efren Saldivar, the self-proclaimed Angel of Death and alleged killer of many terminally ill hospital patients. FSC scientists performed toxicology analyses on exhumed tissues from 20 patients. They didn’t expect to find anything. However, with the help of completely new techniques, including sample collection procedures developed by the center, they were able to identify the drug Pavulon in the bodies of six of the deceased patients. The rearrest of Saldivar was based primarily on the center’s findings.
- Identifying Bullet Fragments: FSC came to the aid of Kings County, California, authorities who were stymied by an execution-style triple homicide. The evidence included a variety of bullet fragments but no weapons. Investigators found corroded, expended casings scattered around the grounds where the suspects lived. FSC personnel led by Rick Randich chemically treated the casings to remove corrosion and then used optical and scanning electron microscopes to match the crime-scene evidence with residence specimens. The staff published its restoration methods as an aid to other agencies.
- The center analyzed debris from an explosion that killed a scientist during a 1992 cold fusion experiment at SRI International in Palo Alto, California. In testing the explosion debris, FSC chemists discovered a trace amount of oil in the interior of the SRI electrochemical cell. They determined that a likely source of this oil was lubricating fluid that remained from machining the metal cell components. They concluded that the high-pressure oxygen atmosphere of the electrochemical cell possibly created the potential for an explosive reaction with the oil.
- Many FSC investigations involve identifying unknown substances. One specimen brought to the center was a suspicious green liquid uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during a search of a stolen cache of weapons. The container of the liquid was labeled “poison” and gave a dilution formula for use. FSC chemists analyzed the solution for chemical warfare agents but finally identified it as a concentrated cleaning agent.
- Another extraordinary analysis centered on a shipment of white crystals in ampoules from China that was thought to be heroin. The powder was interdicted by the U.S. Customs Service and subsequently investigated by the FBI. FSC analyses identified the material as tetrodotoxin, a deadly marine neurotoxin derived from puffer fish. “The definite identification of tetrodotoxin was a real success story for the center,” says Andresen.
- In the past several months, FSC has been helping authorities to identify samples of substances suspected of being anthrax. Several of the specimens brought to the center by law enforcement officials were from the local community, while others were from locations at the Laboratory. None was found to be real anthrax; instead, the powders were determined to be food materials, dust, dirt, cell culture medium, and powdered paper.