The first criminal investigation in Australia – and one of the first in the world – to use DNA to solve a case.
by Liz Porter
The affluent middle-class suburb of North Caulfield, in the southern Australian city of Melbourne, is the kind of area that sends real estate brokers into rhapsodies about “lifestyle” and “leafy outlooks.” Narong Road is located in the very heart of this safe and conservative area. Quiet, respectable and offering a mix of low-rise apartment blocks and spacious houses, it’s a popular address for religious Jewish families because of the short walk to the nearby Caulfield synagogue on the Sabbath.
Yet, over four years in the early to mid-1980s, this pleasant little street became the favorite hunting ground of a brutal and coolly efficient rapist.
The attacks, which began in March 1982 and continued until September 1986, were on women aged from their 20s to 55 and living in the southeastern Melbourne suburbs of Caulfield, Armadale, St. Kilda or areas adjacent to them. There were odd patterns in their occurrence, with intense bursts of activity followed by periods of quiet. Five rapes took place between March and July 1982, the first in Narong Road. Then, between September 1984 and January 1985, there were five more – beginning, again, in Narong Road. A hiatus of almost 18 months followed. Then the rapist resurfaced in July 1986. Once again, his first victim lived in a flat in Narong Road.
With his face masked by a balaclava or clothing and with gloves or socks on his hands to avoid depositing fingerprints, the rapist left so little in the way of traces that the 1988 police operation set up to trap him was dubbed “Operation Shadow.”
The mere outline of his modus operandi may still send a shiver of fear through any woman who lives alone in a ground-floor flat. Especially a flat in a block which, like many in Narong Road, backed on to a laneway. Having observed his target’s home to ascertain the lack of a male resident, the man would break in while the woman was out and burgle the premises. He would then prepare for her return by searching her bedroom for clothing he could use to gag, blindfold and tie her up. He would lie in wait, chain-smoking cigarettes, flushing the butts down the toilet, and arming himself with a kitchen knife or razorblade he had found on the premises. When his victim returned, he would grab her from behind, tie her hands and legs, blindfold and gag her, and rape her. He forced his victims to perform oral sex on him, sometimes washing himself and the victim afterwards. He sometimes also raped his victims vaginally, although he had trouble getting an erection. He would always demand money and insist that his terrified victims then give him time to escape.
Back in 1982 when the rapes first started, Stephen Fontana was a 25-year-old detective senior constable based at Elsternwick, a suburb less than two miles from Narong Road. Accordingly, he was part of a special operation set up after police noted the similarities in the assailant’s mode of attack and concluded that a serial rapist was operating. Most nights, plainclothes officers patrolled the area, hoping to intercept the man before his next attack. They could do little else. The attacker’s efficiency left them with no leads for other methods of inquiry.
Like the kitchen knife or razor, the stockings the man used to tied up and blindfold his victims were always their property. If he had brought tape or rope with him, it might be traced. The victims always lived in ground-floor flats, some of which had been previously burgled. The only evidence that was available – the man’s semen – was collected when the victim was medically examined and stored. It would only be useful when the police finally had a suspect. A new policy on so-called unknown offender rapes had decreed that all samples taken after these rapes should be screened for semen, then bagged, labeled and stored at -94°F.
If the rapes had happened now, and the rapist had any kind of criminal record, his DNA profile would have been one of hundreds of thousands on the Australian national DNA database, and these semen samples would have been enough to implicate him. But this was 1982. The use of DNA as an investigative tool was still years in the future.
And who were the police looking for? Because of his mask and the trauma of an ordeal that lasted for several hours, victims could offer police only the vaguest of details about their attacker’s appearance. Then, in July 1982, the rapes suddenly ceased.
The Rapist Ends His Hiatus
The rapist resumed his attacks in September 1984, attacking five women between September 7 and January 2, 1985. But these crimes were only later positively identified as this particular rapist’s work. Other serial sex offenders were at large for long periods during the 1980s – one, in particular, operating across Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. This fact was later directly attributed to the lack of a central rape squad with the ability to quickly gather and compare information from investigations carried out by different divisions of the force and into previous similar incidents.
Then, on the night of July 5, 1986, a man with a balaclava over his face emerged from his hiding place in a Narong Road apartment, grabbed the terrified female occupant, held a knife to her throat and raped her. Three similar attacks ensued in the adjoining suburb of Armadale and a few suburbs away on August 3, 11 and 25. After the fifth of these attacks, a small task force of local detectives was set up to catch the man. Fortunately for the investigation, Steve Fontana was one of the officers co-opted to the group.
Detective Steve Fontana on the Case
Now a sergeant with the Caulfield crime car squad, his memories of the 1982 Narong Road rapes were still fresh. To Fontana, this coincidence of location seemed ominous. But what, he wondered, had this rapist been doing in the meantime? A chart of unsolved rapes at the police’s Criminal Record Branch was his first step towards an answer.
Its column headings summarized methods used in the different crimes: masks or no masks; balaclavas; knives; no weapons at all; daytime or night-time. After many hours of poring over files, Fontana had collected a pile of 35 folders, all “possible” on this criminal’s brutal CV. Feeling increasingly sick at heart, he read through all 35 victims’ statements.
The rape task force officers had documented a spate of burglaries in the same area. The wave of 1982 rapes had also been associated with break-ins, and Fontana was certain there was a connection. By August 1986, he could point to some evidence to support his theory. On August 8, 1986, a woman living alone in Armadale, arrived home late to find the unmistakably heavy odor of recently smoked cigarettes in the air of her usually fresh-smelling apartment. Shocked, she turned to speak to her boyfriend, who was a few steps behind her in the hallway. There was a sudden crash from inside the flat as an intruder who had been waiting in another room knocked over a photo frame and stepped down hard on it in his rush to escape out a window. Walking into her bedroom, the woman found pantyhose and scarves spread out on her bed.
The Narong Road rapist, Fontana noted, had prepared in just this way, laying out beforehand the material he needed to tie up and blindfold his victims. On this occasion, the intruder, so careful in other ways, had been unable to control the circumstances of his sudden exit. He had left a footprint on the glass of the photo frame. The shoe sole had an odd circular pattern, characteristic of a certain kind of Nike runner. The kind available locally had a blue sole, the investigators had been told by the shoe’s importers. A footprint like this one had also been recorded at the scene of a few other break-ins in the area.
Almost Nabbed – But a Breakthrough
On August 30, a ground-floor apartment in Narong Road was burgled, and money and jewelry were stolen. Told about it by a colleague from Elsternwick police, Fontana urged that every robbery in the area be closely scrutinized. Further investigations revealed that, besides also stealing pantyhose and a kitchen knife, the intruder had spent time in the flat – eating chocolate, watching TV and smoking. It looked as if he had been waiting for the female occupant to return from her Saturday night outing.
“I just had a gut feeling he was going to come back,” recalls Fontana. Backing his instinct, he insisted on setting up a “sting,” placing a fellow officer in the same flat the following Saturday night, September 6. He badly wanted to be there himself, but his 30th birthday was on September 7 and the Saturday night had been set for a celebration with his wife.
At 9:35 p.m. the following Saturday, the policeman waiting inside the Narong Road flat heard the doorbell ring. An hour later, his adrenaline surged at the unmistakable sound of a window being forced open. With every creak of the window frame discernible in the silence, he couldn’t use his police radio. Reaching his hand out to the phone, he began to dial the local police station. But with his first turn of the dial, there was a click and a ringing sound from another phone extension somewhere else in the flat. He hadn’t seen it earlier. He heard a thump and the sound of running feet as the would-be intruder fled.
Within minutes, police cars were screeching to a halt downstairs, and officers were rushing to seal off the surrounding streets. They knocked on doors and scoured every laneway and garden, but found no sign of their quarry.
By midnight Fontana was home, birthday celebrations forgotten as he directed the operation by phone, ordering a check on the license number of every car parked in the surrounding streets. Through the night, police were called to three other break-ins – all flats in Narong Road where the intruder had hidden during the police search. One of them was a flat whose occupant had been raped two months earlier on July 5, in the first of this assailant’s wave of 1986 attacks. It was in this flat that police found one of the characteristic round-patterned Nike footprints.
The car registration checks and follow-up calls yielded one car, a Ford sedan parked in a nearby road and not owned by a resident or known visitor. It was traced to a car yard. Its owner told Fontana that the Ford had been lent to a mate of his. The man’s name was George Gerald Kaufman.
George Kaufman – Heroin Addict and Rapist
As the detective ran through the results of his background check on this man, Fontana felt like a poker player who had just been dealt two pairs of aces. Kaufman was a drug user and convicted thief who had done several prison stints over recent years. His dates of incarceration (September 1982 to August 1984, and January 1985 to early July 1986) coincided exactly with the periods when the rapist had been out of action. The first rape in the most recent series had happened on July 5. Kaufman had been released from prison the day before.
The scant descriptive details available (“between 25 and 35 years old”; “between 175 and 183 cm tall”; “of slim build”; “probably with brown hair;” and “Australian”) matched. Kaufman was 5 feet 10 inches tall (178 cm) of medium build, with brown hair and blue eyes. A report after one attack also quoted a victim as saying he was “well-spoken.” At the time, he was living within less than a mile from the Armadale break-in.
The day after his visit to the car yard, Fontana approached Kaufman for an interview, carefully restricting his questions to the break-ins on the previous Saturday night. He didn’t want his quarry to know he was a rape suspect. Politely and calmly, Kaufman denied all knowledge of the incident. Without a scintilla of evidence to back his instincts, the detective had to let the suspect go. He assuaged his disappointment with a review of recent break-ins in the area, and discovered a clutch of “unsolved” around Narong Road. They were Kaufman’s too, he believed. Fontana arranged for Kaufman to be placed under surveillance, briefly, but the suspect didn’t put a foot wrong.
The officer in charge of the task force was unimpressed with Fontana’s instincts. Kaufman’s criminal history of theft and heroin use contained nothing to qualify him as a potential sex offender. Heroin suppresses the sex drive and the ability to get an erection. (Of course, with the wisdom of hindsight, the mystery assailant’s difficulties in achieving an erection could also have been a clue to the possibility of his being a heroin user.)
With three more attacks in September, the task force followed other leads, investigating other suspects and arresting another man for a similar-sounding rape in the area. This man had left fingerprints and his victim had identified him. But all police in the suburbs around Caulfield, Armadale and St. Kilda had been briefed to watch out for any offender wearing Nike runners with the unusual round-patterned sole.
In November 1986, St. Kilda police spotted George Kaufman entering a motel. He was wearing Nike runners like the ones they had been told to look for – except they had a red sole. They radioed Fontana and his colleagues, who immediately descended on the motel, seized the Nike runners, and sent them to the shoe-mark experts at the State Forensic Science Laboratory. These investigators already had moulds of the footprints left at recent robberies, as well as the photo frame with a footprint left by the intruder in the Armadale flat on August 8.
The job went into the queue, and Fontana spent Christmas looking forward to the prospect of a result. By January he had one: Kaufman’s shoe, the forensic report said, could be positively identified as the shoe that had left the mark on the picture frame. A small surveillance operation was then mounted on Kaufman. He needed to be caught in the act – and burglary would do for a start.
On the night of January 31, 1987, Fontana and three colleagues followed Kaufman to an address in Caulfield. They watched from their van as he walked into an apartment block, returned to his car, opened the boot, removed a jimmy and walked back on to the property. Suddenly an alarm went off, and a panicked Kaufman took off down the road.
Fontana was chilled by the man’s reaction when the police caught up with him. In their previous encounters, Kaufman had been calm to the point of meekness. The man in front of him was a different creature. Fired up, sweating and aggressive, he was ready to take a swing at his plain-clothes pursuers, until they pounced on him and threw him in the back of the van.
“I thought: ‘This is what he’s like when he’s confronted those women,’” Fontana recalls.
By the time the group had arrived at the police station, Kaufman was back to his usual cool self.
But Fontana knew better. The detective wasn’t surprised when, asked about the Armadale Street break-in, Kaufman denied having left the flat occupant’s pantyhose out on the bed as part of preparations to rape her. Knowing he had the footprint evidence, Fontana charged Kaufman with the crime anyway, along with the burglary he and his colleagues had caught him starting.
By April 1987, Kaufman was serving a 16-month prison term for that burglary, with his release date set for August 1988. Fontana was shattered when, a few months later, a magistrate dismissed the “burglary with attempt to rape” charges at a committal hearing (a pre-hearing held to determine whether there is enough evidence for a properly instructed jury to convict on). No jury would convict on the basis of a single footprint, the magistrate argued.
“I told you – I’m not the rapist,” Kaufman called out as he was led out of the court and back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence.
“George, I’ll be waiting for you when you get out,” Fontana replied.
The detective remained true to his word. But by early 1988 he was looking back on a year of frustration in his quest to trap Kaufman. His commanding officer on the task force, who had arrested Kaufman on prior occasions on drug and theft charges, continued to reject Fontana’s insistence that Kaufman was the Narong Road rapist. He was the boss; Fontana was just a sergeant in the crime car squad.
Yet, Fontana felt he knew George Kaufman. He understood what he was capable of – and how his mind worked. The stakeout on his 30th birthday in September 1986 hadn’t been the only time he had predicted the rapist’s next target. A few weeks later, he had been investigating a break-in at a block of units in a laneway in Armadale where a woman had fought off a balaclava-clad attacker. (The tell-tale Nike footprints had been found later in another flat where the perpetrator had broken in to hide). Fontana had looked through the window of the flat next-door, where women’s underwear could be seen drying on a clothes rack, in full view of any prowler.
“He’ll hit that flat,” Fontana had said, frustrated that the flat’s occupant was out at the time and couldn’t be warned about the possible dangers she was facing. An hour later he was called to the block, when a man was seen trying to break into the flat he had identified.
With no support from above, all Steve Fontana could do was write a report, recommending that Kaufman be targeted on his release – and put it on file.
A New Rape-Investigation Team is Formed
In April 1988, Kaufman was still in prison and Fontana was still thinking about him. But his hopes of finally catching the rapist soared when he was asked to join a new Victoria Police team, headed by Detective-Inspector (and now Assistant Commissioner) Dannye Moloney. Moloney had been allotted the task of evaluating and improving Victoria Police’s methods of rape investigation. Scanning the force to find people with a demonstrated interest in the area, he came across Steve Fontana’s name. Fontana agreed to join the team on one condition: that he could investigate Kaufman the moment he was released.
Moloney agreed. He had been researching UK and U.S. police force advances in rape investigation and what he had read had filled him with huge optimism. Police overseas were beginning to use a revolutionary new tool in crime investigation, known as DNA. The scientists over at the State Forensic Science Laboratory were excited about it, and other Australian police were also interested.
A few months earlier, Tasmanian police investigating a murder/rape case had sent samples to the UK for DNA analysis, while ACT police were making plans to send samples to a U.S. company. In Victoria, the homicide squad had been talking about using DNA analysis in an unsolved murder case. The Kaufman case might be the Victorian rape investigators’ chance to have a go at this promising-sounding new technology.
The big challenge ahead for Moloney was convincing the top brass in the police hierarchy of the benefits of this expensive, untested and (for them) unheard-of technique in rape investigation. The process was very difficult to explain – and the exercise of sending samples to a U.S. lab would leave little change from $20,000.
The Birth of DNA Fingerprinting
During the period in which the Narong Road rapist had been operating, a UK-based scientist had made the most dramatic discovery in the entire history of forensic science. In 1984, University of Leicester molecular biologist Professor Alec Jeffreys had developed a technique he called DNA fingerprinting.
DNA (or deoxyribo- nucleic acid) is a long double-stranded spiral molecule coiled inside the nucleus of most human cells. It is composed of four different molecules, which scientists often describe as chemical “letters” in a four-letter alphabet. These “letters” (actually the building-block molecules adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine) repeat millions of times down the long DNA molecule to form different patterns. Some points on the long DNA strand feature patterns which code for general human characteristics (such as heart function). Other patterns code for variations such as hair or eye color. Jeffreys was looking at those areas of the DNA molecule that don’t appear to code for anything, but which vary widely from individual to individual and feature repetitions or “stutters” of code letters, different in every individual. The scientist had discovered a way of recording and comparing those “stutters” (called mini-satellites), producing the results of his analyses as a pattern of bands or stripes on X-ray film – like barcodes. Instead of denoting supermarket products, they referred to part of the genetic make-up of an individual human being.
In 1985, Jeffreys’ expertise had been used in an immigration case to prove that a young man who had been accused of being an illegal immigrant was, in fact, the son of a UK citizen. The same year, the scientist and his team were able to refine their DNA analysis, devising a new technique they called DNA profiling. Instead of looking at several mini-satellites at once, which produced a result that was hard to interpret, the new technique isolated individual mini-satellites at different points on the DNA molecule. This new method produced a pattern on X-ray film that was easier to read and interpret because it showed just two bands per individual – one from the person’s mother and one from their father.
In 1986, the Leicestershire police came to Jeffreys for help with two unsolved murders. In 1983, a 15-year-old schoolgirl had been raped and murdered in the small village of Enderby. In 1986, when another teenage girl was raped and murdered in a strikingly similar way in the nearby village of Narborough, police had arrested a 17-year-old youth who had been working as a kitchen porter at a local mental institution. The youth had been spotted near the murder scene on several occasions, had a history of molesting children, and couldn’t give police a reason for his presence near the lane where the girl’s body had been found. Already emotionally disturbed, the intimidated teenager cracked under the pressure of the police questioning and confessed to the second murder. But he continued to frustrate the police with his stubborn denial of any involvement in the first.
In November 1986, the police decided to use science to tell them what the young man wouldn’t. Confident of finding a match that would tie up their case, they asked Professor Jeffreys to compare the suspect’s blood to semen samples taken from the two victims.
The detectives were shocked with the results. While the DNA profiles of the two semen samples from the different scenes matched each other, they didn’t match the profile of the suspect’s blood sample. Jeffreys, fearing that the technology might somehow have failed, arranged for the Home Office’s Forensic Science Service to do additional testing to check his results. But no mistake had been made in the testing. Like many emotionally vulnerable suspects before and since, the fragile young man had been unable to deal with the pressure of being under suspicion and had made a false confession. Much to the relief of his parents, he was released.
The police then sought Jeffreys’s assistance in organizing the world’s first DNA manhunt – an undertaking immortalized in novelist Joseph Wambaugh’s true-crime epic The Blooding. The mass test, involving almost 5,000 men from the neighboring villages where the killings had occurred, finally unearthed the culprit – but only by chance, when a man was overheard boasting in a pub that he had taken the test for someone else. The man who had missed the “blooding” confessed, and gave a blood sample that matched the crime scene samples.
Back in Melbourne, at the State Forensic Science Laboratory, Victoria Police forensic scientist Dr. Stephen Gutowski had been following the Narborough case and the work of Professor Jeffreys with increasing excitement. At a Copenhagen conference in August 1985, Gutowski had seen Dr. Ivan Balazs of Lifecodes Corporation, New York, present his work using DNA profiling for paternity testing. He could see that this work, in concert with Professor Jeffreys’s research, was about to propel forensic biology in a dramatic new direction.
DNA Profiling as the Future of Crime Investigation
By September 1986, with the enthusiastic support of his immediate superiors at the lab, Gutowski began assembling the scientific equipment necessary for DNA profiling. Over the next 18 months, he and his colleagues assessed the different techniques available in the U.S. and the UK. Victoria Police finally chose the U.S. company, Lifecodes, which already had a track record in the American court system. The company was prepared to sell them a system, and, unlike some others, was prepared to train an Australian scientist to use it.
In July 1988, Gutowski flew to New York to train at the Lifecodes lab, taking with him some blood samples given to him by detectives from the Victorian homicide squad. They had been arguing for the use of DNA in the investigation of a brutal rape/murder in the Victorian town of Geelong and had convinced police command to try the new technology. The venture was a success, in that the scientist obtained excellent scientific results. But their use as evidence was delayed a number of years by the lack of a good comparison sample from the suspect, and when the case finally went to court in 1993 the suspect was acquitted.
On Gutowski’s return to Melbourne, the Victorian laboratory began to implement the Lifecodes system – a decision backed by a $100,000 state government grant which put the lab well on the way to being able to use the new U.S. system for routine local casework.
Moloney and Fontana had been eagerly awaiting Gutowski’s news that the first tests had worked well. If DNA was the future of crime investigation, they wanted to be part of it. The decision to try DNA to finally implicate or eliminate George Kaufman was an expensive one, but from the police point of view, it was money well spent. There was, as yet, no legislation allowing police to take blood (or fingerprint) samples without a suspect’s consent. Police wanted this legislation desperately. There could be no more convincing argument for their view than the successful use of DNA in catching a brutal rapist.
Operation Shadow, as the joint police and forensic scientists’ plan to trap George Kaufman was called, began on August 17, 1988, the day the convicted thief and alleged rapist was released from prison. It involved a 20-day, around-the-clock surveillance of Kaufman, after which police would obtain samples of his DNA by raiding his house for drugs – a legitimate reason given their knowledge of his regular heroin use.
In preparation, detectives examined the files on the 14 rape cases that, Fontana felt, could be categorically attributed to Kaufman. Samples and exhibits from all the cases were tracked down and sent to Gutowski and his team. Some of them had been in storage since 1982, when blood-grouping and enzyme-typing had been the only testing procedures available.
Of the 14 cases, 11 provided frozen semen samples for the scientists to work with. There were also samples of blood from six victims taken fresh in 1988, and bloodstains made from blood taken from three of the victims at the time of the offence and stored at -94°F (-70°C) .The aim was to profile DNA from as many seminal stains as possible, using the victims’ sample to eliminate any contributing DNA from them. The remaining DNA would then be compared with DNA from the suspect.
But what about Kaufman’s own DNA sample? Not only did police have no powers to take a blood sample from him without consent, but they had no intention of letting their target know he was under suspicion for rape.
Kaufman was behaving himself, undoubtedly aware he was under surveillance. A friend had found him a job fitting shower screens (a chilling thought to any woman whose bathroom he may have worked in). Apart from possessing and using heroin, he was leading a law-abiding life. He gave police no grounds to arrest him for theft, let alone for attempted rape.
Fontana had appeared on TV in news reports involving other rape investigations. So, when the house Kaufman was sharing with a girlfriend was the site of a drug raid, he wasn’t part of the team. In this raid, police seized soiled sheets, underpants (both his and hers) and discarded chewing gum – anything that, the scientists had advised them, might yield Kaufman’s DNA, which could then be compared to the samples taken at the rapes.
“Inferred DNA Profiling”
Unlike today, the testing techniques in use at the time required comparatively large samples of DNA (at least a 25-cent-piece sized bloodstain or a five cent-piece sized semen stain). Accordingly, Gutowski wasn’t optimistic about getting definite results from the samples he had been given from the suspect. Fortunately, there was another way. If Kaufman’s estranged former wife and daughter were willing to help police by providing blood samples, the scientist could work out the suspect’s profile by looking at the child’s genotype and subtracting her mother’s genetic contribution. This “inferred profile” could then be compared to profiles taken from the crime scene samples.
Dannye Moloney immediately flew interstate, to visit Kaufman’s former wife, and returned with the samples.
The Victoria Police laboratory was in the process of implementing the Lifecodes system in-house, but it took time. Equipment needed to be manufactured, extensive quality assurance programs run, and legal and contract issues negotiated. Fortunately, the U.S. company agreed to a second visit by Gutowski where he would provide the labor, while they, once again, opened their lab to him.
In November 1988, Gutowski left for New York with the DNA samples from the Kaufman case (and a few others) sealed and packed, in dry ice, in a small polystyrene container in his hand luggage. Before his departure, he had done the first phase of the DNA profiling himself. This involved the extraction of the DNA from the samples, by treating them with a chemical known as proteinase K, an enzyme that digests the protein in blood and semen stains but leaves the DNA intact.
The extraction process was lengthy and, as Gutowski had feared might happen, the chewing gum saliva and most of the samples seized from the suspect’s home yielded only the DNA of bacteria or viruses present in the saliva or semen, rather than human DNA. Yet, Gutowski expected to be able to get a good partial profile of Kaufman by analyzing his former wife and daughter’s samples. That would give him something to compare with the samples taken from the scenes. Not all of them had furnished testable DNA. But there was enough – seven samples from different rape scenes had proved to be testable.
The scientist did the rest of the testing at the Lifecodes’s headquarters, an hour’s train ride north of Manhattan. First he used a special enzymes known as “restriction” enzymes to “cut” the DNA at the critical “mini-satellite” or “stutter” points, which occur at different places in different people. These fragments from the three different DNA sources (the suspect’s wife and child, the victims, and the crime scene semen) were then slotted, side by side, into a special slab of gel and sorted by a process known as electrophoresis, in which an electric current pulls the fragments through the gel, dragging shorter fragments more quickly. Once the current stops, the fragments are lined up in order of length, creating a pattern of bands, one for each sample. The fragments were then transferred on to a nylon membrane which absorbed the pattern and immobilized it on a tough background.
The membrane was then bathed in a solution containing a “probe” made of special laboratory-manufactured synthetic DNA, tagged with a radioactive marker and designed to attach itself to the areas being examined. The excess probe material was then washed off, leaving the bands marked by the probe. At this stage the bands were still invisible. An X-ray film was then pressed against the membrane, registering the radiation-marked bands as barcode-like stripes. With the bands of each sample lined up against each other they could be easily compared.
Importantly, the sizes of the gels and membranes were standardized so that an accurate actual size could be determined for each DNA fragment in the evidentiary samples and reference samples. The fragments could then be compared even when they hadn’t been run through next to one another.
This process was then repeated with different probes, designed to attach themselves to other mini-satellites on the DNA. If the band patterns of the suspect and crime scene sample continued to “match” with each successive probe, the probability increased that the cells in the crime scene sample came from the suspect.
Back in Melbourne, Moloney and Fontana waited anxiously as the results of each successive probe were phoned through to them. The detectives were working on other serial rapist cases. But success or failure in this case had the potential to affect every investigation they did in the future.
It was a slow process, with each result taking up to a week to come up on the X-ray film. The first test, Gutowski recalls, produced a frustrating result. It was a combination of two separate probes, the first giving an ambiguous result – not an exclusion, but not really an inclusion either. The other probe showed clear matches for the suspect’s inferred profile with samples from four different victims. This was good news. But there was one problem. DNA testing then, as it does now, involves the comparison of all results with population databases which record the frequency (or otherwise) of a particular DNA band pattern at a particular point on the DNA molecule in the general population. At the time of these tests, there were no population statistics available for this probe. So, the results couldn’t be used to provide any statistical evidence for an inferred profile.
The second probing provided Gutowski with some positive results to give the detectives. The suspect’s inferred band pattern again matched a band in the four victims. But there were statistics for the patterns associated with this probe. The suspect’s pattern was present in only 6.4 per cent of the American Caucasian population. This was the first solid link between Kaufman and the victims. At the third probing, done by an American scientist after Gutowski had returned to Melbourne, the suspect’s band was present only in 0.3 per cent of the American Caucasian population.
Finally, a repeat of the first probing gave clear-cut results for the part of that probe which had initially given ambiguous results. It only gave a clear result for one victim, but the matching band here was present in only 2.8 per cent of American Caucasians. The overall frequency of this inferred profile, where bands were detected in all three probings, was calculated by multiplying all three percentages together. It was around one in 180,000. The results with the fourth (sex-related) probe also strongly supported a match.
Fontana and Moloney whooped with delight at the news. But there was no time to celebrate. It was time to arrest Kaufman. They had already prepared their strategy for the interview, making up a chart that illustrated what courts call “similar fact evidence” – the parallel methods used in each attack. Fontana had also made up a tape of 10 different voices, one of which was Kaufman’s. Five victims had identified him. They had the footprint evidence. Now they had the pièce de résistance: the DNA.
“Getting him to confess was the biggest challenge,” recalls Moloney. “He was a clever criminal.” The investigative team had no other proof of Kaufman’s identity except the DNA. The science was as yet untested in any Australian court. (The first Australian court case using DNA would open a few months later, in 1989 in the Australian capital city of Canberra). But the detectives weren’t interested in making legal history. They just wanted to use the results to make him confess – and save all the victims the trauma of reliving their experiences in court.
The detectives arrived at Kaufman’s home at 9 a.m. on December 2, 1988. By the time they had explained all the evidence against him and their suspect had begun to confess, the six-hour interrogation time limit was up, and they had to go to court to apply for another six hours. Finally, after 12 hours of questioning, they had a confession. It wasn’t detailed, with the suspect admitting most offences, claiming not to remember some and denying others. But it was enough. Late that night, at a special out-of-session court hearing, Kaufman was charged with 47 counts of rape and robbery. Almost three weeks later, Kaufman requested another interview with Fontana and made a full confession.
Victim impact statements weren’t yet a part of court proceedings in 1989. But once Fontana had charged Kaufman, he visited all the victims and wrote down their experiences, in preparation for the trial. Sitting quietly with his notebook, he listened as the women told him how they had moved house, become reclusive, and found themselves suddenly frightened to go out at night.
From the scientist’s point of view, the best aspect of Kaufman’s sudden cooperation with police was the fact that he agreed to give a blood sample. When compared to the scene samples, it improved the odds of a match to better than one in three million.
The DNA laboratory at the State Forensic Science Laboratory opened for business on July 1, 1989 offering a full profiling service for a modest fee of around $200, as opposed to the 10s of thousands of dollars that had been spent every time a sample had been sent to labs in the UK or the U.S.
Kaufman Pleads Guilty
Two days later, on July 3, Steve Fontana was in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court as Kaufman was committed for trial on 18 rape charges involving all 14 victims, along with 20 burglary offences committed between 1978 and 1986. In October, Kaufman pleaded guilty to all charges – a fact that Fontana attributes to the DNA evidence. “We had similar fact evidence, we had the voice evidence, the shoe- print. But the DNA really helped. The odds were fantastic, the evidence overwhelming.”
If George Kaufman’s trial had proceeded, it would have been the first in Victoria to have DNA profiling offered as evidence by the prosecution. But Dannye Moloney was happy to settle with having run the first criminal investigation in Australia – and one of the first in the world – to have successfully used DNA to solve a case.
As recommended by his rape investigation group, a special rape squad had been set up in April 1989. As its inaugural head, Moloney felt hamstrung by laws which only allowed the taking of DNA samples with suspects’ consent. He had hoped to use this case as an instrument to help change the law. It undoubtedly helped. By December 14, 1989, the day of Kaufman’s sentencing, legislation governing the taking of involuntary DNA samples from suspects had been introduced to the Victorian Parliament.
Commending the detective work that had led to the rapist’s prosecution, and adding that the community was entitled to be outraged by his “violent, threatening and disgraceful” attacks, Judge Bruce McNab sentenced Kaufman to 21 years and three months in prison, with a minimum of 18 years. While in prison, Kaufman refused to take part in a sex offenders’ rehabilitation program. He walked free in November 2002, after serving only 14 years, because of the now-abandoned policy of remissions for good behavior.