Woman who helped crack Soham and Suffolk strangler cases tells how she solves murders from a corpse’s nose

Woman who helped crack Soham and Suffolk strangler cases tells how she solves murders from a corpse’s nose

THE smallest clues can help solve a crime.  The expertise of one of our  leading forensic scientists and criminal investigators  is “forensic ecology”.

Professor Patricia Wiltshire  has been able to give information on what has happened during a murder from the pollen grains and spores found on a  victim.

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Forensic expert Professor Patricia Wiltshire reveals in a new memoir how she can crack crimes the cops can’t[/caption]

Looking for vital clues on a battered and decomposing corpse can help ensure justice is served

Over the past 25 years, she has worked on approaching 300 criminal cases,  including the Soham murders, the abduction of Milly Dowler and the Ipswich serial killer.

Here, in an extract from her compelling new memoir Traces, she  tells in her own words how she helps solve the most baffling of crimes . . .

A LIFELESS body is found in a wood. Fingerprints are not always at a crime scene. There might be no trace of DNA.

In the absence of clues, a body in a shallow grave might have remained a mystery for ever.

But what if there was another way to indicate somebody’s guilt? What if there were other traces left on us that were so pervasive that, no matter how forensically aware a criminal was, they could never quite shake it off? This is where I come in.

My role is to read and present the possibilities told by the grains of pollen, spores of plants, fungi, lichens and microorganisms that have been retrieved to piece together facts from the natural world.

Though I am sometimes known by other names — one is the “Snot Lady” because I can obtain pollen grains from the nasal cavities of the dead — first and foremost I am a forensic ecologist. I operate where the criminal and natural worlds interact.

Alive, your body is a mass of beautifully balanced ecosystems — and so it is in death. Your dead body is a rich and vibrant paradise for microbes. Nature is marking us in every step we take . . .


In Welwyn Garden City, Herts, a girl claimed a boy had threatened to kill her unless she agreed to have intercourse. She was ravaged by deep scratches and a large, body-shaped impression had been made in a rose bed where she said the attack took place. The man denied her claims.

The only exhibits were the suspect’s bomber jacket and his shoes.

The proportion of rose pollen in the flower bed was ten per cent and on the jacket front was seven per cent. Lime trees had been planted with the roses. For lime, the result was 18 per cent to 15 per cent. There was a high likelihood the jacket front and the elbows had been in contact with the foliage and soil in the flower bed.

The boy was lying. He must have been stunned his jacket had revealed the truth and he reluctantly confessed. The girl was spared the agony of the witness box.


A girl staggered into a police station on the edge of the North Wessex Downs in obvious distress. She told police she had been attacked in a strip of land planted with trees and shrubs, between two rows of houses near her home.

“He forced me down to the ground and there were woodchips scattered around. He was wearing pyjama bottoms with Snoopy on them over his jeans,” she said.

The boy said she had consented to sex and he denied ever having been to the area where she claimed it had happened.

Both sets of clothes had picked up an immense amount of material. Nature had left its imprint on them and in the eyes of the law that was enough to vindicate the victim and expose an accused man as the rapist he was. The boy quickly confessed.

The professor teaches cops how to look for clues provided by nature that could help snare a killer
Even a burnt out car cannot hide evidence from Professor Wiltshire and her team


Very few times in my career have I let my guard down and been affected by cadavers in the mortuary. The first was a 22-year-old prostitute found dead in a wood, leaving three children. I was deeply sad for that girl because of all she had suffered.

Another case that moved me was the murder of a 15-year-old Scandinavian girl, so completely perfect as she lay there on the slab, naked in the harsh lights of the mortuary. She was killed in woodland on a lovely summer’s day because of a man’s frantic lust and his obsession with seeing her naked.


On one occasion I was briefly baffled by a case in Yorkshire. Two boys had found a  new sports bag in the road. Inside was  a mummified corpse. No one had a clue about the identity of this dead man.

Except for the lower legs and feet, the  body was tightly encased in clingfilm plastic. A solitary yellow sycamore leaf was stuck to the thigh and, from the shins down, the skin was covered by a black sooty material. The “soot” was a thick mass of fungal spores. From the leaf I obtained quite a few pollen grains. The “picture of place” was an unkempt garden and, strangely, there was plenty of rose-type pollen, some Clematis and some pollen of sycamore, pine, and birch.

The man had been stabbed but it was impossible to determine how long he had been dead. What was curious was the sand stuck to the skin on the back and front of the torso and in his hair. After facial reconstruction, the man was discovered to be a Yemeni immigrant.

His home and family were quickly identified. When I got to the house, the remains of an old Clematis plant straggled on the fence next to some rose. There was a sycamore tree.

That single leaf had preserved enough of a picture of the place to tell us part of the story, but there was other evidence to implicate the victim’s son and grandson.

The cellar revealed a burial place, as well as the source of the sand particles stuck to the victim’s skin.

The grandfather was a cruel old man. They could not tolerate him any more. The old man had put his kukri knife in the fire and deliberately burned his grandson’s leg with the blade. They grabbed the knife from him and stabbed him with it.


A girl had been missing for almost a year when, in the dying days of summer 2001, she was discovered in an excavated depression on the borders of a Yorkshire forestry plantation. She was still wrapped in the duvet her killer had hastily put around her body.

Not yet 15,  her disappearance on the way home after a shopping trip sparked one of the largest missing-persons hunts  in Yorkshire’s history.

A dog walker found her. At the burial site, native hardwood species had been planted along the adjacent road. The way this poor girl had been wrapped up meant she had not been exposed to the grave soil or surrounding vegetation.

Whatever trace evidence I might retrieve would not represent the woodland of her burial but the last place she made contact with the “outside world”.

From the  samples. The “place” jumped out at me. The girl had been placed near a privet hedge that was probably neglected. It must have flowered prolifically to account for the high levels of pollen in the victim’s hair.  Possibly the bushes were large and the hedge tall.

While I worked on the pollen, the police had a suspect and a warrant to search his house. There was little doubt in my mind the girl and duvet had been lying in this back yard for some time before she was buried.

The samples I took confirmed what our analysis had demonstrated. There was a high likelihood this was the garden, and the specific part of that garden, where the girl had lain.

I am often asked if my experiences with death, rape, and other crimes have affected me.

The two deaths that have affected me most in my life were those of my beloved 19-month-old daughter Sian, who died from a rare autoimmune disease, and my grandmother, who half-raised me and introduced me to the natural world in Wales, where I was born and raised.

Their deaths made me realise every corpse I encounter had someone who felt the same about them. This keeps me respectful and caring for innocent victims.’

Grains of pollen, spores of plants, fungi, lichens and microorganisms can help Professor Wiltshire ensure that crimes don’t go unpunished
Professor Wiltshire getting down to earth and taking soil samples that could be vital when it comes to solving a crime


JOANNE NELSON vanished on Valentine’s Day in 2005 from her home in Hull.

For 11 days, Joanne’s boyfriend, Paul Dyson,  told the world she had run away. He made pleas for her to return.

But the secret was too terrible to keep and eventually he confessed to strangling her after she nagged him over household chores. The police had their man but there was a problem – there was no body.

On the night he murdered Joanne, Dyson wrapped her body in plastic and drove her as far as he could along unfamiliar country lanes until he found a lonely spot where he could bury her. Now, more than a week later, he could recall so little of where he had been, it might have been anywhere in Yorkshire that needed less than half a tank of petrol to get there.

The area I had to consider was vast. Dyson had disposed of Joanne’s body in her own Vauxhall estate.

This meant evidence of where the car had been could be understood from pollen grains, spores and other microscopic particulates that could be retrieved from the vehicle.

After conducting my analysis, I told Detective Superintendent Ray Higgins: “She won’t be buried under the ground at all.

“She’s in a hollow, off the path, and will be covered over with birch twig litter.”

The police were beside themselves with the new information and set off with Joanne’s murderer cuffed in the back of a police car.

They found Joanne’s body quite quickly and later said they were taken aback at the accuracy of my description.


  • Traces, by Professor Patricia Wiltshire, is published by Bonnier, £16.99.

  • GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL exclusive@the-sun.co.uk

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