Soil is trace evidence in the field of forensics, still, it is a crucial piece of the exhibit that can establish the link between the victim, suspects, and the crime scene.

The following case shows how soil can be considered important evidence for the conviction of the accused.

An Irish student Karen Buckley (then 24 years old), who was from Cork, was a nurse and had moved to Glasgow in February to study occupational therapy at Glasgow Caledonian University, was brutally murdered in 2015.

The culprit Alexander Pacteau (then 21 years old) was a former schoolboy when met Karen at a Glasgow nightclub. He was jailed for life in 2015, after being convicted of murdering Karen.

Karen’s Murder Case

Karen was taken to Pacteau’s car where he strangled her and repeatedly hit her on the head with a foot-long wrench. Then he carried her body into his flat in Kelvindale and tried to dissolve her corpse in a bath of caustic soda.

Later he dumped her remains in a barrel at a farm near Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire. Pacteau cleverly had his car professionally cleaned by a valet service after the killing in order to destroy evidence.

However, the dirt on his car had been missed which was the crucial evidence in this case from where the police got an important lead.

Professor Lorna Dawson, a soil expert told how some soil that remained on the car’s tires proved crucial. Her analysis showed the car had been at Dawsholm Park in Glasgow where Karen’s handbag was dumped.

Analysis of dirt found on Pacteau’s boots also showed he had recently been at the farm.

According to an expert witness, Professor Dawson, head of soil forensics at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, when the car reached them, it was very clean. But on careful examination, a band of soil was discovered from the tires which could have been missed or avoided while the car was being washed.

She added, “We showed that profile was very similar to the turning point at Dawsholm Park. This was quite important because it took that vehicle nearby the bin at the entrance to Dawsholm Park where Karen’s handbag was found. The soil evidence linked him to where Karen was found and to Dawsholm Park.”

Pacteau admitted murdering Karen and hiding her body and was ordered to serve a minimum of 23 years at the High Court in Glasgow in September 2015.

She explained that she was very happy and proud of her team as the physical evidence of the soil and the vegetation had done its job because it had helped Pacteau admit to killing Karen.

Sally Hanlon, director of Support after Crime Services, admired the work of Lorna Dawson as it helped him to get a quick outcome of a conviction. He added that the murder trials are very difficult for families of the deceased but this early guilty plea was a benefit to the family.

Judge Lady Rae described the case as “shocking and disturbing” and said she found it “extremely difficult” to find words to describe what he did to Karen.

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