DNA sample helps police identify suspect in break-in

William Charles Nolan

A busted door. A rifled safe. Missing money.

This was the scene that confronted Charleston police when they responded to a break-in at a West Ashley towing yard Sept. 16. The burglar was long gone, along with $4,200 from Turky's Towing.

Suspicion quickly turned to a disgruntled former employee who had been fired two months earlier. But with no eyewitnesses and no fingerprints to be found, there seemed to be little hope of proving that hunch.

Or was there?

Crime scene technician Rich Wiersma spotted a small drop of blood on the door and collected the sample as evidence. That genetic clue eventually would lead investigators to file a burglary charge this week against a man already jailed in connection with another break-in, police said.

Police were able to crack the case with help from a new program that uses DNA analysis to solve burglaries, car break-ins and other property crimes.

Many state crime labs are too overburdened testing evidence from homicides, rapes and other violent offenses to bother with property crimes. But those crimes are now getting some extra attention through a federally funded program at Marshall University Forensic Science Center in West Virginia.

Charleston police and three other area law enforcement agencies are participating in the program and sending evidence samples to Marshall. The university's lab tests 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.

The blood collected from the September burglary at Turky's was among the first batch of 66 case samples sent to Marshall, and it was first piece of evidence to yield an arrest, said Judy Gordon, director of the Charleston police forensic services division.

Detective Jomar Albayalde said investigators long had suspected the burglary was committed by former employee William Charles Nolan, 40, who has a criminal record. Investigators got a search warrant that allowed them to collect a DNA swab from Nolan while he was at the county jail. Marshall compared the swab against the blood.

The result: a match. "Score one for the property crime guys," Albayalde said.

Police are awaiting the result from a second batch of samples sent to Marshall last month.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or gsmith@postandcourier.com.