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Botanists at the National Herbarium have over the years contributed expert advice in criminal investigations. Dr Joyce Vickery played a prominent role in the investigation of the Graham Thorne murder in 1960. (This was the subject of an ABC Science show: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2004/1158388.htm).
The majority of forensic cases are the routine identification and certification of illicit drug plants, usually Cannabis and Papaver somniferum.
However, the NSW Police present to us plant exhibits collected during the investigation of kidnappings, murder, armed robbery. The unusual complexity of the geology of some parts of New South Wales means that plant communities can be quite specific to particular areas and where a crime has crossed plant community boundaries plant evidence can trace in a general sense where a victim or suspect has been.
Systematic Botanist Joy Everett was recently able to identify an unusual suite of plants taken from the underside of a vehicle suspected to be used during the Jodie Gallante murder. While plant evidence can rarely convict, in this case it confirmed that the suspect had probably been in the Bilpin area where her body was found, contrary to his claims. Police to proceeded with that line of inquiry and he eventually pleaded guilty. Some of the unusual aspects of this murder investigation have been the subject of a television documentary and a book. More usually the plants that get caught up in events are seeds of common weeds that many of us could be carrying around. Police now regularly look for plant evidence because even if it is not conclusive it often has an investigative value.
Senior Principal Research Scientist Surrey Jacobs was able to narrow the search area following a kidnapping (that turned out to be murder). Again the evidence was based on plants (in this case grasses) picked up when the crime crossed from a sandstone to a shale area.
Plant material from the underside of a car of interest in the Jodie Gallante murder.