The thief smashed a window on a Chevy Silverado on Bogard Street, slipping away before anyone was the wiser. He got away with a $50 GPS unit, but left something behind as well: his DNA.
Charleston police found blood on the pickup and on a nearby paper towel. They shipped off samples to Marshall University for testing. On Tuesday, that genetic evidence led to the arrest of a 58-year-old man in connection with the Aug. 29 theft, police public information officer Charles Francis said.
Vernon Anthony Green of Charleston also is implicated in a July auto break-in on Ashe Street, thanks to blood found in the vehicle and tested at Marshall, authorities said.
These cases are among more than 100 local property crimes solved through a novel DNA analysis program that pairs area police with Marshall's Forensic Science Center in West Virginia.
Investigators from Charleston, North Charleston, Charleston County and Mount Pleasant are participating in the project, which uses genetic evidence to solve burglaries, car break-ins and other crimes.
The project was expected to run for two years, but Marshall recently extended Charleston's participation for another year, said Judy Gordon, director of the Charleston police forensic services division.
"We've gotten really good results," she said. "The first two years of the program were successful beyond our wildest expectations. We feel very fortunate to get a third year."
Of the 266 cases sent so far to Marshall for evaluation, 122 have resulted in matches with known criminals, Gordon said. That evidence has led to more than 20 arrests, and more are pending, police said.
Police focused on cases in which criminals left behind blood, hair, saliva or other evidence that could contain their genetic fingerprint.
The university's lab tests this evidence for DNA and, if successful, forwards the results to the State Law Enforcement Division for verification. SLED then enters the genetic profile into the national DNA database for convicted offenders.
Charleston police have been the biggest beneficiaries so far, with hits on 79 unsolved cases. The program also produced suspect matches in 22 cases for the Sheriff's Office, 12 for North Charleston police and nine for Mount Pleasant police, Gordon said.
Among the Sheriff's Office cases was a September 2008 break-in at Oak Plantation Campground on Johns Island. The burglar escaped with $20 but left behind blood and hair on a broken window, deputies said.
That DNA evidence led investigators to a suspect on no one's radar -- a 26-year-old Pennsylvania man who had been passing through the area on his way to Florida, Detective Robby Colson said.
The suspect, Christopher Anthony, was later picked up on a parole violation in Tennessee and is now back in a Pennsylvania prison, authorities said.
"No one would have solved this if it wasn't for the blood," Colson said.
In the past, police departments have had few places to turn to analyze DNA evidence from property crimes. Many state crime labs are too overburdened testing evidence from homicides, rapes and other violent offenses to bother with property crimes.
The Marshall program, funded by the National Institute of Justice, processed some 600 samples for the Lowcountry departments, and each of those tests costs around $40 to complete, said Terry Fenger, director of the Forensic Science Center.
Marshall officials were pleased with the results and impressed with the effort Charleston police put into screening cases to submit samples with the best chance of yielding DNA, said Jason Chute, technical leader for the Marshall Forensic Science Center.
"I think this has been a great opportunity for both of us."