New Light on Heul Girl Murder Case

Earth scientists Gareth Davies and Laura Font use state-of-the art isotope geochemistry techniques to help in the identification of the Heul girl.

03/01/2013 | 3:23 PM

Prof. Gareth Davies and Dr. Laura Font (cluster Deep Earth and Planetary Science) are collaborating with the cold case team of the police in Utrecht and the Netherlands Forensic Institute to help in the identification of the Heul girl (Heulmeisje). In 1976, she was found murdered and partly decomposed in the parking lot ‘De Heul’ near Maarn. New multi-isotope studies at VU University Amsterdam show that she probably grew up in Germany in the Eifel region.

For more than 35 years, the police have been trying to identify the Heul girl. Last year this controversial case was reopened. Until 2006, it was thought that the unidentified victim was Monique Jacobs. However, in 2006, Jacobs contacted her family. She had been living abroad during all this time. The Utrecht cold case team, in collaboration with Font and Davies at the VU, have used a combination of isotope techniques to determine the environment the girl lived in during her childhood and in which geographical regions she was before death. Based on the results obtained by the VU team, the Utrecht cold case team in collaboration with NFI, are trying on the basis of modern DNA profiles to find the identity of Heul girl.

The major new approach of Font and Davies is to use a comprehensive multi-isotope technique that combines stable and radiogenic isotopes. Based on the premise that you are what you eat the stable isotopes (H-C-N-O-S) are records of the local water cycle and our nutritional intake history. In contrast, radiogenic isotopes (Sr-Pb-Nd) record the geology and environmental pollution. Provided human keratinous tissues can be shown to be a viable record of recent food and water intake, then this material will record information of geographical movement weeks to years before their demise. Teeth and bones in contrast will record the information about the geographical location of early years of life.

More information on application of isotopes to Forensic Science can be obtained from Laura Font and Gareth Davies

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