A Stray Grasshopper Helps Solve A Murder

By Brent McKnight | 8 years ago

GrasshopperScience isn’t just awesome, no, it has practical applications, too, for example, solving murders. We see this kind of stuff on TV all the time, where a bunch of hunky/sultry forensics techs use all of these cool, expensive looking tools to find that one stray eyelash, that one stray drop of semen, that seals the perpetrator’s fate at the end of the episode. If you’re like most of us, you always stop and wonder to yourself just how accurate these portrayals are, just how often this sort of thing actually happens in real life. The answer is, not nearly as often as these shows would have you believe—I know, I was just as shocked as you that TV would lie to us—but it does happen. Like one case where a grasshopper caught an accused murderer in the middle of one whopper of a lie.

Two FBI agents, a detective, and a radiator walk into an entomology lab… Sounds like the beginning of a particularly unfunny joke, but this actually happened to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis. See, the law enforcement officials needed her help identifying insects that were embedded in the car parts. A 44-year-old man named Vincent Brothers was being accused of driving from Ohio to California in order to brutally murder five members of his family, including his estranged wife and children in 2003. His defense claimed that the rental car he was driving had never left the Buckeye State, but the prosecution hoped to prove otherwise.

That’s where Kimsey came in. They needed her expertise to compare the evidence to the millions of specimens in the museum and give them a definitive answer. Which she did. Kimsey was able to identify several species of insects mashed into the radiator that are native to parts of the country that are nowhere near Ohio. There was a grasshopper native to the Great Plains region on the Eastern slope of the Rockies, as well as wasps that are centered in Southern California. Needless to say, they caught the defendant in a lie, and he now faces the death penalty.

Kimsey had never been called to testify in a criminal court before, and noted that it is nothing like what you see in primetime. She said, “It was nothing like what Hollywood portrays it. It was all seriousness. The judge tolerated little off-track behavior.” So much for all the wacky antics we see nightly in made up courtrooms.

Cases like this may be a rarity in real life, but this is like a weekly occurrence numerous shows, like Fox’s forensics procedural Bones. You can’t get through a single case without Dr. Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne), a conspiracy nut and self-described “bug and slime guy,” gleaning some vital clue from an insect a stray bit of pollen.