When the dismembered torso of a murdered man floated to shore at a British beach last year, it carried with it some unusual evidence: eight domestic cat hairs. They turned out to be the clue that identified the murderer and put him behind bars.
Police in Hampshire, England, sent a sample of the cat hairs to the Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California, Davis, for DNA analysis. Testing showed that they belonged to a cat with a distinctive DNA profile—a profile similar to Tinker, the beloved pet of the man police suspected of the murder.
Back in the U.K. and armed with info from UC Davis, police contacted Dr. Jon Wetton, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, who had already established a canine DNA database for the U.K. Forensic Science Service. Could he do the same for felines? Yes, he could.
And after further investigation by Dr. Wetton’s team, Tinker unwittingly turned stool pigeon and implicated his owner in the crime.
In the U.K., there are about 10 million cats and 10 million dogs. If you’re a pet owner, you’ll appreciate that your clothes, furniture, and certain parts of the house are pretty much saturated with pet hairs. If someone broke into your house and brushed against curtains as they came in through the window, they might pick up cat and dog hairs. They would end up being tagged by the pet in your house.
We've been following these developments for some time. See our 2011 story on the Canadian snitch, Snowball, and the Meowplex database. Soon, there'll be nowhere in the world safe from feline finks.