Alexander Whipple is charged with aggravated murder. Photo courtesy of Deseret News
Thanks to new technology, called Rapid DNA, police in Logan were able to link the case of a missing 5-year-old girl, Elizabeth Shelley, to the suspect, her uncle Alexander Whipple, 21.
Lizzy was last seen Saturday at 2 a.m. when other family members went to bed. When the family awakened at 10 a.m., the girl and her uncle were gone. Authorities later arrested Whipple on an outstanding warrant related to a parole violation.
On Tuesday, during a news conference, Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said, “We feel strongly that we have evidence connecting Alex [Whipple] to this disappearance,” the chief said, adding the evidence included “DNA positive” material including blood.
“We believe Lizzy is hurt, but we don’t know what condition she is in,” he said at the time.
Rapid DNA technology shortens the testing time from weeks to as quickly as 90 minutes by inserting a swab of DNA into a cartridge and putting that into a machine for analysis.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office owns two of the portable machines.
On Wednesday, Logan police, armed with the DNA evidence, negotiated a deal with Whipple, who agreed to tell investigators where the body was located if they would rule out the possibility of the death penalty in his case. Whipple drew a map. The girl’s body was found a half-block from her home in a heavily-wooded area, which had been searched earlier.
Whipple now faces five charges, including aggravated murder and child kidnapping.
Nate Mutter, of the Attorney General’s Office, spoke Thursday about Utah’s new Rapid DNA machines on the “Dave and Dujanovic” show.
“It’s fully automated. All we need to worry about is getting the DNA sample into the loading chip. . . and the instrument does all the work,” Mutter said. “Very police officer-friendly.”
When speaking about helping police use leverage to recover the missing girl’s body Mutter says, “In about 90 minutes to 115 minutes, we will have our answers. And that was the case with Logan.”
Mutter said the portable machines can reduce the pressure of requests on crime labs to run DNA samples. But he said the crime lab is involved in the Logan case and will do more technical work, confirm the preliminary results “and take it to the next level,” he said.
Annette Mattern of ANDE, the company behind the Rapid DNA development, talked about the technology on Thursday’s show.
It was originally developed along with the military for counterterrorism purposes, she said.
“It was used extensively in areas where the military needed to know whose DNA might be associated with an explosive device,” Mattern said. “As you can imagine, it would be very difficult to send hundreds of DNA samples to a domestic lab in the United States.”
The military required that the instruments could be driven around in the back of a truck, she explained, and be operated by a person without a scientific background and yet still maintain the integrity of the tests.
Mattern said the technology has been approved by the FBI and the Defense Department. She says law enforcement and prosecutors still go through the necessary steps and protocols when using the Rapid DNA results. She added that four DNA tests cost $1,000.
Sounds like a great deal if it catches a murderer or rapist.