NATA accreditation helps to catch the ‘Beast of Bondi’

Member News December 13, 2022
NATA accreditation helps to catch the ‘Beast of Bondi’
NATA team

NSW Health Pathology’s Forensic and Analytical Science Service (FASS) has been NATA accredited since 1999. Their accreditation scope covers genetic analysis, forensic toxicology, forensic chemistry/criminalistics, forensic biology and analysis of controlled substances.

We spoke to Carole Field, the DNA database manager at FASS about this decades old case and how the evidence came to light.

Q:           How did NSW Health’s FASS become involved in the DNA testing on this case?

FASS provided the DNA results that assisted NSW Police to track down the man known as the ‘Beast of Bondi’ who was responsible for a series of sexual assaults across Sydney’s eastern suburbs dating back to the 1980s.

When NSW Police confirmed they had finally identified the serial sex offender in September 2022, a team of forensic DNA experts in Sydney knew their work had helped solve a cold case spanning four decades.

The male offender targeted women aged between 14 and 55, entering their homes or abducting them while they were out jogging or walking. The cases were assigned to the NSW Police Strike Force Doreen and included 31 attempted and actual sexual assault offences between 1985 and 2001.

 “Strike Force Doreen has been with us for such a long time,” explained Ms Field. “The whole lab gets excited when something like this is solved. I always felt we were going to resolve these cases, but you just don’t know.”

Q:           What was the process?

Initially, attempts were made to match the man’s DNA profile across Australia and internationally. NSW Health Pathology’s FASS undertook analysis of 12 Forensic Biology/DNA cases between the late 1980s to the early 2000s with the same male DNA profile.

“The male DNA profile recovered from crime scene samples was uploaded onto the NSW and National DNA database but did not match any reference sample on the database. The profile remained on the database which continuously searches for a match,” said Ms Field.

In 2013 Strike Force Doreen was included in a pilot study for Familial Searching in an attempt to identify a possible close relative or relatives of the offender, however, no candidates were identified. Similar searches were repeated periodically and in 2016 a potential relative match was identified with a Y-DNA profile which indicates an individual may be on the same paternal line.

In 2020, an additional Y-DNA match occurred to an individual with a different surname to the original 2016 Y-DNA match. Both individuals had the same Y-DNA profile as each other but autosomal DNA testing revealed neither was the offender/source. Using this information, police created an extended family tree to link the 2016 familial searching candidate with the 2020 Y-DNA candidate. Y-DNA (paternal line) and mitochondrial DNA (maternal line) testing was used to exclude individuals.

Q:           How did the results help catch the offender in this case?

Following investigative work by police, a DNA sample was submitted to the lab for analysis that indicated a relationship to the crime scene samples. Following the match to this sample, a DNA sample from the person thought to be the offender was obtained. It was compared to the DNA from the semen sample and found to be a match to a man who died at the age of 66 earlier this year. In September 2022, it was confirmed his DNA matched the suspect profile.

“Mitochondrial DNA testing is a specialist test within FASS’ capability,” noted Ms Field.

Q:           What has changed with technology that allowed the successful closing of this cold case?

“The close working relationship between the DNA experts at FASS and NSW Police contributed to the successful outcome,” noted Ms Field. “I believe the interaction between our teams has significantly improved over time. We have a cold case coordinator – Dr David Bruce and the police have a dedicated investigation team. We have a great relationship, and we regularly meet to discuss not just this case, but many aspects of the scientific DNA analysis and capabilities.”

Ms Field believes as time goes on, the DNA database will grow and become an increasingly powerful tool to generate DNA links and give police the information they need to solve many other cold cases.