PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Diane Ingalls came home in the middle of the day last spring and noticed her dog was frantic. The front door was open.
“There was someone, indeed, in the house when I came home,” she said, and added the burglar fled out the back door.
The thief had gone through every inch of their house, and opened all the drawers.
“Everything was pulled out and all over the floor,” her husband, Chris Ingalls, said. “I came in starting to inspect things they had gone through, first thing I notice just laying in the sink is this orange juice container. I thought that was odd.”
The thief grabbed a container of OJ from their refrigerator, took a gulp directly from the bottle, and left it in the sink.
“The forensic guy marched right in here, took out his kit and swabbed it,” Chris said.
The sample was sent to the DNA Testing Unit at the Oregon State Crime Lab in Clackamas where forensic scientists found a match — Christopher Lathrop of Portland.
Court records said when detectives confronted Lathrop with the DNA evidence, he “confessed…he burglarized” the Ingalls’ home twice.
He stole so much property he had to unload and then return to steal more, the documents said.
But he was busted because of his thirst.
“That is common,” said Stephenie Winter Sermeno, the supervisor of OSPs DNA lab.
Through 2013, forensic scientists had 5650 DNA hits on items and samples they’ve analyzed. More than 5000 times they’ve connected a crime to a criminal through DNA left behind on something, even food.
“Whether it’s a piece of cheese or a sandwich or one analyst had a pickle that was partially eaten at a scene and left behind and we were able to obtain a profile from that,” she told KOIN 6 News.
The crime lab is now having success at a faster rate. In 2010, it took 18 months to examine DNA evidence from a burglary or other property crime. The backlog is down to six months, and for violent crimes the wait is four months.
One big reason, said 8-year forensic science veteran Heather Feaman, is better technology.
“When I first started here we had an extraction procedure that was very hands on, that took almost an entire day,” Feaman said. “Now we have robotics that will do that entire process in about an hour.”
Federal grants have also paid to hire more forensic scientists and to pay them to work hundreds of hours of overtime.
The State of Washington’s crime lab doesn’t even test DNA from property crimes like burglary. They only test DNA from violent crimes like assault, rape and murder.
Officials there told KOIN 6 News they don’t have the funding to research property crimes like Oregon does. The advantage they have is their backlog is only three months.
The Oregon lab’s goal is to cut their turnaround time to one month within the next few years. The staff also wants to improve on the rate of return, which is already high.
In 48% of all burglary cases they analyze, the lab finds a match between the DNA at the scene of a crime and someone in their DNA database.
Like Christopher Lathrop.
He was already in the database because of previous convictions.
Diane Ingalls said the way they caught the thief “is fantastic.”
Her husband said, “If thieves would recycle, it wouldn’t have happened.”