What DNA Found at Idaho Murder Scene Could Reveal About Killer

Amid the mystery surrounding the murder of four University of Idaho students last week, Newsweek recently spoke with some forensic DNA experts to discuss clues that could be found to help police identify a possible suspect.

On November 13, officers with the Moscow Police Department in Idaho responded to a residence near the university's campus and discovered that four individuals had been fatally stabbed. The four individuals were identified as Ethan Chapin, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21.

Police said that they have yet to identify a suspect or find the possible weapon used in the crime, prompting an array of theories and speculations across social media.

Forensic expert blood sample crime scene investigation
Forensic expert takes a blood sample with a sterile stick collecting evidence. Experts told Newsweek what DNA found at the University of Idaho murder scene could reveal about the killer who is still on the loose. natasaadzic/Getty Images

"Autopsies were conducted on November 17th. The Latah County Coroner confirmed the identity of the four murdered individuals and their cause and manner of death as homicide by stabbing. The coroner stated the four victims were likely asleep, some had defensive wounds, and each was stabbed multiple times. There was no sign of sexual assault," the Moscow Police Department said in a press release.

Michael Marciano, a research associate professor of forensic science at Syracuse University, spoke with Newsweek about some possible evidence that could be recovered at the scene and if it could help investigators build a DNA profile.

"Anything that increases the amount of contact between a perpetrator and a victim, or perpetrator and the crime scene, or the victim and the crime scene, increases the chances of transfer of DNA," Marciano who is also the director of the Forensic & National Security Sciences Institute at Syracuse University, told Newsweek.

Marciano mentioned the defensive wounds found on some of the victims, "which indicates that that person came into direct contact with the perpetrator and tried to fight him or her off."

According to Marciano, if police are able to find DNA at the scene and create a DNA profile for the perpetrator, "there's a high level of probability that they would be able to determine the gender."

Similarly, Joseph Scott Morgan, a distinguished professor of applied forensics at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, also explained to Newsweek that investigators can use phenotyping DNA to "generate a physical profile of the individual."

Morgan, who is also the host of the Body Bags podcast, told Newsweek that through this process, the sex of the individual could be found, as well as the build, eye color and possibly hair color.

Morgan also explained that investigators could search the fingernails of the victims to find possible DNA for a perpetrator. Additionally, investigators will be searching for touch DNA and a possible blood source for a perpetrator if they accidentally cut themself while carrying out the alleged crime.

However, both Marciano and Morgan said that much of the investigation relies on the quality of the DNA collected at the scene, as well as if the perpetrator has even given a fingerprint in the past.

"In order to solve a crime with a late print, the individual has to be in a database. So, we can look at a fingerprint and say, 'wow you did a good job at lifting that print,'" Morgan told Newsweek. "But if you don't have anything to compare it to, it's not gonna help me very much. So, the key here is if the offender has ever given a DNA sample somewhere else, or it's been collected on them and then you get a hit within the system on that subject, if they did in fact leave viable DNA behind."

Similarly, Marciano told Newsweek that "the important thing to note is it's all based on the quality of the DNA profile and the evidence."