Searching For A Link To A Broken Lifeline

Jan 29, 2015 - by Deborah Rubin Fields - 0 Comments

Fifteen years after the rape and murder of high school senior Noa Eyal, a man was arrested on a charge of domestic violence and was forced to provide a DNA sample. A year later, in 2014, that sample led Israeli investigators not to arrest the man, but to charge his son with premeditated murder, sodomy, and rape.

by Deborah Rubin Fields

February 1998 found middle class Israeli senior high school students cherishing their last month or two of relative freedom. The pressure to study for multiple spring matriculation tests had not yet fully begun and tests for post-graduation compulsory Israeli military service were not quite yet in high gear. So Noa Eyal and her boyfriend Eldad Bribrom decided to take in an evening movie at Jerusalem's Cinematheque theater. When the film (Wild at Heart, curiously about a couple on the run) ended, they took a bus to the center of town to catch buses back to their respective neighborhoods; Noa to the north Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot and Eldad to the close-by town of Maale Adumin.

Just after Eldad boarded his bus by the Davidka Square, things went bad. Noa apparently missed the last Egged Bus Number 36 back to Ramot. [Sidebar: In Judaism, the science of assigning numeric value to Hebrew letters is called gematria or numerology. In Hebrew, the number 36 equals or translates into the word chai or“life,” times two. (Chai is made up of the Hebrew letter het which is equal to eight and the Hebrew letter yud which is equal to 10. Hence, the sum 18 forms the word for “life.” The number 36 would therefore symbolically mean life, multiplied by two.) Thus, in a symbolic way, bus number 36 would have been Noa's lifeline.]

Maybe she considered the parental instruction many gave their adolescent children: "Don't take rides with anyone you don't know. If you don't make the bus, take a taxi or call home. We'll come for you with the car." Or maybe she used the magic words “nothing will happen to me” to envelope herself in a bubble of security. We'll never know what Noa was thinking because the next day a large search party consisting of friends, volunteers and police found her brutally raped and murdered in a wooded area of her neighborhood. Her attacker had apparently hit her on the head with a rock and knifed her to death. Her hands and mouth were found taped. Her clothes, including the bra one of her girlfriends found, were scattered. 

Despite 15 years of intensive police work, Israeli investigators could not find a match for the DNA semen sample extracted from Noa's body. All this changed, however, in the past year. And the way they found Daniel Nachmani, the suspected killer, was a bit of serendipity.

In 2013, the father of the accused was arrested on charges of domestic violence. Following standard procedures, Israeli police fingerprinted the suspect's parent and took a DNA sample for the offender index. Unexpectedly, the sample revealed a similarity to the database (known as the forensic index) DNA sample taken from Noa's body.

This prompted police to look for murder suspects within the father's family (Note: One half of a person's DNA profile comes from the person's father, the other half is inherited from the person's mother.) Police put the currently accused individual under surveillance, a decision likely reinforced by the discovery that four years prior to Noa's murder, the suspect--while still considered a minor--had apparently raped an 11-year-old tourist. However, because of his then juvenile status, his conviction was ascribed to indecent acts rather than rape. For this “lesser” crime, he was convicted to serve a minimal jail sentence.   

When the watched suspect spat on the sidewalk near downtown, the Jerusalem's police investigation unit’s undercover police managed to collect a saliva sample for DNA testing. This DNA sample was later compared with a DNA sample taken from the water cup the suspect used during his subsequent investigation. These samples matched the crime scene DNA sample.

Armed with this information, on November 11, 2014, the State Attorney officially charged the present suspect, Daniel Nachmani, with premeditated murder, sodomy and rape. According to Yehudah Shoshan, lawyer of the accused, while Nachmani is cooperating with police investigators, he nevertheless denies the charges against him.

Nachmani was now 38 years old.  He has been married for several years. His two daughters were already in their early teens. He still lived in Jerusalem and worked in a local garage as a car electrician. Ironically, the vice-president of Jerusalem's Magistrates' Court judge spotted the suspect at the courthouse and expressed astonishment at finding his Honda car electrician in police custody.

Nachmani's friends likewise have been shocked by his arrest. They immediately set about to raise money to help his unemployed wife. 

When Noa was killed, Nachmani was living in another section of Ramot, a few blocks from her family's home. The suspect's cellphone number was one of those listed as being in the geographic area of the murder scene.

In addition, soon after the murder, a taxi driver came forward to inform police he was parked near the Davidka Square bus stop on Sunday night, February 22, 1998, the night of the murder. Under hypnosis, he was able to produce (unfortunately out of sequence) the numbers of the license plate of a small white car in which Noa apparently accepted a ride. The cab driver said the back of the car had stickers, including the sticker of an elite Israeli army unit. The cabbie maintained the car was a white Ford Escort. Much to the chagrin of both the police and the family, a newspaper leaked this story. In any case, there has been some thinking that the car was actually a similar looking Renault.

In the early investigation, police looked for two witnesses the cab driver claimed were standing close to where Noa stood waiting for her bus. These two witnesses were supposed to be young, ultra-orthodox students. Although police checked numerous synagogues and religious schools (yeshivot), these two were never found and never came forward.

Over the years, a few other stories related to the murder investigation have been released to the public. Early on, for example, a person unknown to Noa's father called him claiming he'd seen passengers scrapping stickers off the back window of a white Ford Escort. The father referred this information to the police, but nothing concrete came of it.

Two women in a Tel Aviv bar informed the police that a young male had come into their favorite bar and had begun talking about the murder in a way that made them suspicious. However, he never returned to the bar.

In a further attempt to close in on the murderer, an Israeli television station even ran a program re-creating the details of the killing. But this unsolved murder show did not bring in any more leads.

If this Israeli murder story has a familiar ring to it, it might be because the familial DNA testing Israeli police used resembles the testing administered in the sensational American Grim Sleeper case. In the Israeli case under discussion, the “sins of the father” led to tracking down the son. In the California-based case, by contrast, it was the DNA of the son that raised suspicions when the dates of a series of California murders were applied. The son Christopher Franklin had his DNA tested following his conviction on a felony weapons charge. His DNA sample eventually led police to follow his father. They managed to get a DNA sample from a piece of pizza the father had thrown away. Lonnie Franklin's DNA matched DNA from the crime scenes. Based on this match, police arrested the father at his home. He was charged in the Grim Sleeper murders of 10 south Los Angeles women. Franklin has been held for several years already, as his defense lawyers continue to get trial delays.

The Knesset, Israel's parliament, only enacted the DNA data bank law in 2007. In preparing the legislation, Israeli lawmakers first looked at the data banks which already had been legally established in Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, UK, Canada, Australia and the United States. Israel's law most closely resembles the UK precedent.

Armed with academic degrees in biology and biochemistry, Israel police Commander Ashira Zamir began work on establishing Israel's national DNA data bank in 2003, four years before the data bank was made into law. DNA information had been collected since 1996, but had not been computerized. Samples were recorded in individual files. Today, Chief Superintendent Aliza Raziel heads Israel's DNA laboratory. Working for her are three female senior officers each of whom has a master degree in either pharmacology, biology or chemistry.

Once the law went into effect, these file samples were entered into the computerized data bank. After that step was completed, police began collecting biological samples from jailed prisoners, suspects, accused and convicted individuals. Each year, 55,000 DNA samples are entered into the Israeli database. The current database is said to contain 300,000 samples.

Israeli law does not allow DNA sampling in all cases. Moreover, if an individual does not want to give a sample, police may overrule the person's objection by taking a hair sample. Permissible situations include murder cases, attempted murder cases, drug cases, sexual offenses, property or state security. As the law stands today, police are not allowed to take a sample in cases involving knife possession, theft, fraud, threatening and gambling.

In the case of Noa Eyal, the disqualification of knife possession worked against the police, as

the current accused, Daniel Nachmani had previously been arrested for possessing a knife.

In 2002, the National Institute of Justice stated, “Criminal justice professionals are discovering that advancements in DNA technology are breathing new life into old, cold, or unsolved criminal cases” (Using DNA to Solve Cold Cases). In this regard, Noa's father Dr. Avi Eyal recently commented, “The evil now has a face.”

A trial date has yet to be set for the accused, Daniel Nachmani.

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