Crime scenes are often riddled with evidence, and other times only a trace of evidence is left behind. It was a small piece of evidence that helped the Akron Police Department help solve a 2000 murder of an Akron woman.
It was an early August morning 18 years ago when Tracy Tomko left for her daily run. But, this time, she never came home.
Her death was a mystery.
Tiny pieces of evidence told police Tracy Tomko had been hit by a car, her body dragged into a wooded area near her Akron apartment. "He laid her down in a puddle and she ended up drowning," said Akron Detective Donald Frost.
Trace evidence was all that was left behind — shards of glass and a little plastic piece that would turn out to be key to unlocking this mystery.
"You can say you don't take it personal, but you do become vested in a case," said Lt. Brian Oldaker.
Oldaker was vested, and he wasn't going to let this case go cold.
"We exhausted what we had, we worked the case for six months without a resolution," said Oldaker.
The clue that led to the car
At first, police weren't sure how the financial analyst was killed. They knew it happened on the morning of August 11, 2000, but not how.
From a tiny piece of plastic, Oldaker discovered the car was an early 1990s Ford Tempo. That was crucial because police had spent months searching for a different make and model. Within hours of the new discovery, a police officer spotted a Ford Tempo with a missing piece of plastic.
"We discovered our suspect went out of state to get the windshield replaced on the dates that matched up, and the interview led to a confession, " said Oldaker.
The man charged with the crime pleaded guilty to several charges, including involuntary manslaughter where he spent 10 years in prison.
Forensic science for the win
Trace evidence solved this case, and it is important and valuable to have a team of forensic scientists at the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigations who specialize in it.
"When a perpetrator comes into an environment and encounters a victim or a scene, they leave something behind or they take something with them. Trace evidence's job is to match those up, " said Suzanne Elliott, a trace evidence examiner with BCI in London, Ohio.
Police departments statewide send BCI their trace evidence in hopes that it will help solve their cases.
"I've had a number of cases where there were very big ah-ha moments. Things came together and I thought, 'This is it,'" said Elliott.
There have been huge advancements in DNA. But DNA is not always left behind. That's when investigators hope they find tried and true trace evidence.
"The traditional forms of trace evidence are still as viable as they've ever been," said Akron Police Lt. Dave Whiddon.