by Bob Couttie and John Paolucci

For Olivier Van Den Bogaert, a 41 year old Belgian in pre-trial detention in Kampot charged with rape and murder, his freedom, or long-term incarceration, may ultimately depend on DNA assays carried out in France. Often depicted in TV cop shows as a magic bullet to catch perpetrators, Van Den Bogaert’s family and friends believe that DNA evidence will exonerate him.

But it may not be that easy.

sheAt noon on 10 February 2013, the body of 25-year old French tourist Ophelia Begnis was pulled from the Kampong Bay River in Kampot. Last seen at 4:30 pm the previous afternoon cycling away from the guesthouse in which she had been staying, she had been reported missing that morning, when she was due to depart from this pretty, sleepy tourist town with two friends.

Her body was naked, her face bludgeoned with a heavy bladed weapon and, according to reports, her head was almost severed. Olivier Van Den Bogaert has been charged with rape and murder but there are conflicting eye-witness accounts about his activities on the night of the crime.

A French team led by an investigating judge, in country on another case, visited Kampot to take DNA samples from the victim’s remains. Those results are now in the hands of Cambodian authorities and have yet to be made public.

What are the chances of getting a sufficiently good DNA sample to determine Van Den Bogaert’s guilt or innocence? All Things Crime Blog asked John Paolucci, former NYPD Crime Scene Unit Supervisor and Commander of the OCME Liaison Unit, and current owner of Forensics4Real Inc to analyze this issue for us. This is what Mr. Paolucci came up with:

dnaThe likelihood of obtaining the killer’s DNA profile from the victim, whose body was recovered from the river after a period of possibly 12 but not exceeding 24 hours, will depend on certain conditions.  First of all, a rape had to have taken place; in the course of that rape, the perpetrator had to have ejaculated inside the victim, without using a condom.  The perpetrator must also be producing sperm, so if he had a vasectomy, then sperm cannot be recovered.  If all these factors are in place, then at autopsy, samples should be collected from the victim’s cervix which is less acidic than the vagina, therefore it is an environment where sperm are more likely to be recovered.  Sperm in the victim’s cervix may well survive the victim being in a river for the above-mentioned duration.

If the victim fought with the perpetrator, under normal conditions it would be likely that DNA can be recovered from the area under the victim’s fingernails whether or not a rape occurred.  This is where the victim being dumped into the river is damaging to DNA evidence.  Skin cell DNA soaking in river water for so many hours may become rapidly degraded in the victim’s subungual region.  If the river water is brackish, the peril increases proportionately to the salt content of the brackish water.

So if we DO get a profile……then what?  Since there is a suspect in custody, then a one –to-one comparison can be made between a DNA profile developed from sperm collected in the post mortem examination, and a DNA exemplar from the suspect.  If the suspect is not a match, then the options are very few.

dna3In a country like Cambodia, where DNA testing is not performed, there will not be a local or National database containing DNA profiles into which the unknown DNA profile recovered from the victim can be uploaded.  This being the case, if additional suspects are identified as the investigation continues, DNA exemplars can be collected from them to compare to the unknown profile collected from the victim.  Another tactic for investigators would be to request that all the locals voluntarily provide their DNA exemplar for comparison, and see who, if anyone, refuses to provide an exemplar.  The only other option would be for the French investigators to compare the DNA recovered from the victim to the Interpol database.  There will be a lot of work for investigators, even if that holy grail of biometric identifiers, DNA, is recovered.

A second issue is whether the DNA evidence will be accepted by the Cambodian investigating judge or by the court if the case goes to trial. For Cambodia these are uncharted waters.

Which ever way it goes, Van Den Bogaert’s future is uncertain. All Things Crime Blog has confirmed that, despite his Facebook announcement that he intended to leave Kampot for Ecuador, in April, with a partner, Van Den Bogaert had contracted to lease a new riverside property south of the town to develop a new guesthouse.

For now, his future is a river of uncertainty.

Click here to see earlier reports on this case:

Kampot Murder: The Incredible Shrinking Red-Haired Woman

Dispatch From Cambodia: Murder In A Sleepy Town

The Kampot Murder: The Chilling Price of Innocence

The Kampot Murder: The Mystery of the Red-Headed Woman

Cambodia Murder Investigation: Update From Kampot

More stories from Bob Couttie

Click here to see other posts from John Paolucci:

New York City Housing Police: A Bygone Era Worth Talking About

Forensics Dispatch From New York City: Searching A House Of Horrors



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9 Responses to Kampot Murder Investigation: The DNA Issue

  1. Bob Couttie says:

    A Belgian newspaper has reported that there is no DNA match. This may mean that the culprit left DNA but that it did not match Van Den Bogaert; that there was no culprit’s DNA on the body; that the DNA was inconclusive.

    We are seeking to confirm the situation.

  2. dotty says:

    It sounds as if there WAS dna found on the victims body, but it did NOT match oliviers… the last paragraph from a just published article (“Gazet von Antwerpen”), google translate:

    >>More importantly, there is no match between DNA traces on the body of the Frenchwoman found and the DNA of the Fleming. Meanwhile Olivier Van Den Bogaert staying in appalling conditions in the prison of Kampot and must pay for everything and what still. “The Belgian government is doing what they can,” said his brother Ian.<>Nog belangrijker is dat er geen match is tussen DNA-sporen die op het lichaam van de Française zijn gevonden en het DNA van de Vlaming. Olivier Van Den Bogaert verblijft intussen in erbarmelijke omstandigheden in de gevangenis van Kampot en moet voor alles en nog wat betalen. “De Belgische overheid doet wat ze kan”, zegt zijn broer Ian.”<<

    • Bob Couttie says:

      The family has confirmed to me that the DNA evidence does not match Van Den Bogaert, also the owner of the bicycle cannot make a firm identification. The defence will now try and get him freed on those two bases.

      • Andrew Brenton says:

        Hey Bob,ollys case just came to me , Olly is a very good and trusted friend as I started the Frangipani restaurant on the river at Kampot and we became good friends,please let me know of his status as Olly and I know of the evil in Kampot, yours sincerely Andrew

        • Bob Couttie says:

          Hi, Andrew, I know of Frangipani, although I haven’t yet tried it. I’ll keep the info updated as best as I can.

  3. Michael Sellers says:

    Someone is trying to comment using a false email address. If you wish to comment you must use a genuine email address.

  4. Bob Couttie says:

    We can confirm that those who have read the French report say that there is no evidence of rape.

  5. Paul Booth says:

    Bob, is there an update on this unpleasant murder in a quiet Cambodian town. A what is the ‘evil’ Andrew Brenton refers to.

    • Bob Couttie says:

      No more has been heard since a application for bail was made some weeks ago. I am seeking an update but have heard nothing more. Andrew’s statement is too vague to know what he might be referring to and I’d rather not speculate.

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