James, Theresa, Karen, and Kathryn about the time of the Loch Ard Gorge blowhole, Port Campbell Park, Victoria, Australia

A crime that could not escape media attention in Australia, any more than the Manson family murders could have evaded the public eye here in the States-Elmer Crawford brutally murdered his pregnant wife Theresa (35) and his three children Kathryn (13), James (8), and Karen (6) in 1970. He then disappeared.   
He electrocuted them while they slept using an electrical cable he had fashioned from an extension cord and alligator clips he attached to various places on their bodies, then bashed them with a hammer.  He then drove nearly four hundred miles with their bodies in the back of his car, and rolled it over the side of the Loch Ard Gorge in Port Campbell National Park, Victoria.  He was probably hoping the car would vanish into the Gorge’s spectacular blowhole where the sea surges underground for 100 metres and then erupts through a huge hole, 17 metres deep and 40 metres wide.  To his misfortune, a drainage ditch on the cliff overlooking the Gorge prevented Elmer from easily rolling the car off the edge of the cliff.  The crude ramp he built to maneuver it over the ditch caused the car to land on the embankment below, thwarting what might have otherwise been a perfect crime.    

Loch Ard Gorge blowhole, Port Campbell Park, Victoria, Australia

 Elmer’s motive for committing such an horrific crime may never be known, but an unfinished letter written by his wife indicated his unhappiness with her pregnancy, and that she had recently discovered that Elmer had been stealing from the Victoria Racing Club where he had been employed for years.         
Fast forward to 2008, when Australian genealogy sleuth Deb Cashion noticed a resemblance between an age-progressed picture of Elmer in a Victoria’s Herald Sun newspaper article and that of an unidentified man who had died in a Texas hospital three years earlier. Facial recognition experts with the Victoria police and the FBI in Quantico, VA agreed that there was a close match beween the two, but sought a DNA test to confirm the identification.  
As an experienced photo analyst, I am aware that facial recognition is not an exact science, nor are age progression techniques.  Two people can strongly resemble each other, yet not be related at all.  How many times have you run into someone who looks enough like you to be your twin?  Age progression techniques have been used to produce highly accurate renditions of what individuals look like at an advanced age, based on the aging patterns of their parents and their psychological profiles.  But until a person is found, is it not possible to know how well his appearance as an older person has been predicted.  Yet facial recognition and age progression techniques can be used to rule-out that two people are the same, by comparing features such as the shape of the hairline and eyebrows, and the width of the nose bridge.  The folds in earlobes can also be useful.  If selected features mismatch, the two people cannot be the same.  

Elmer about the time of the murders, what he might look like today, and the man who died unidentified in a Texas hospital

The unidentified Texan could not be ruled out as Elmer Crawford.  Both men were the same height, had the same eye color, and tilted their head at the same angle.  They also had the same deformity of their left ears.  The Texan’s hairline was similar to that of the age-progessed photo of Elmer, as were his wrinkled forehead and jowls.       

Yet even a close match between the two did not prove they were the same person.  Since the man in Texas had obliterated his fingerprints, fingerprinting could be not used.  A DNA test was needed.  That’s where I came in. 

To be continued…   

DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case, Australia, 1970 – Part II

Read most recent Herald Sun Articles:  

DNA tests confirm unidentified body in Texas is not Elmer Crawford          August 26, 2010     http://tiny.cc/f483i  

On the trail of killer dad Elmer Crawford                                                                   August 26, 2010     http://tiny.cc/le3gk