Cat owners know the truth: cat hair gets everywhere. Even criminals can’t help but track their pets’ hair onto crime scenes, leaving furry clues as to the identity of the perpetrator. That’s why the University of Leicester put together a forensic database of cat DNA, and it’s already been used to solve a crime.
Last month, David Hilder was convicted of manslaughter in Winchester, England, thanks in part to the catalog of cat DNA compiled by the university. Police had discovered cat hair on a dismembered torso discovered in a trash bag on a British beach in July of last year. With the assistance of the DNA database, detectives were able to match the hairs to a cat that belonged to Hilder, the deceased’s neighbor.
Working with police, a team from the University of Leicester gathered samples from 152 felines across England and compiled the genetic material in the database. “Only three of the samples obtained matched the hairs from the crime scene,” a statement from the University of Leicester said. The finding suggests that while the match with Hilder’s cat wasn’t perfect, it was pretty good, and along with other evidence in the case, it helped convict him of the crime. Hilder was sentenced last month to life in prison, with a minimum term of 12 years before he is eligible for parole.
While cat DNA had been used to help solve crimes in the U.S. and Canada, this was the first time that feline DNA had been used in a criminal trial in the U.K. Jon Wetton, who led the project, told the BBC, “This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the U.K. are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households.” In addition to potentially helping solve future crimes, the cat-DNA database could potentially be used for cold cases as well.