DNA (hooray)

Date Published 01.18.12
Interesting news in the unsolved Holly Piirainen case.  Holly, 10, was visiting her grandmother’s home in Sturbridge, Massachusetts on August 5, 1993 when she left with her brother to visit a neighbor’s puppies.  Her brother returned, but there was no trace of Holly, save for a single shoe found near the side of the road.  Several months later her remains were discovered in a wooded area in nearby Brimfield.


The case has seen its share of leads, suspects and disappointments.  A lot has been made of a possible connection with the Molly Bish case.  Molly, 16, was abducted in June, 2000 while working as a lifeguard at Comins Pond in Warren, several miles to the north of where Holly’s body was found.  Three years after Molly disappeared a hunter stumbled across a girl’s bathing suit in the woods a few miles from the pond; bones found nearby were identified as Molly’s.


Nothing much had been heard of either case when, seemingly out of the blue, investigators announced recently they had forensic evidence linking a now-deceased man to the site where Holly Piirainen’s remains were found.


The man’s name is David E. Pouliot.  He was a Vietnam veteran who worked variously at a juvenile detention center, as a union carpenter, and with the parks department.  He had strong ties to the area, and was known as an avid outdoorsman who frequently hunted and fished in the woods where Holly was found.


Officials are being circumspect about the forensic evidence.  “The nature of the item shows that either Mr. Pouliot, or people associated with him, were in this immediate area at the time relevant to Holly’s disappearance and finding of her remains.”


I’m guessing that DNA testing advances allowed them to re-test an item like a beer can, cigarette, or newspaper.  Serial codes on the first two would allow them to narrow down the date, and if it was right around the time of the crime that would, of course, be significant.


Pouliot died of congestive heart failure, with cocaine abuse an underlying factor, on August 16, 2003.  We don’t know if he was on a self-inflicted downward spiral that contributed to his death, but it’s worth noting that August 2003 is significant for two reasons --- it’s the 10-year anniversary of Holly’s abduction, and it’s just after Molly Bish’s remains had been found; she was laid to rest, on August 2, in a very publicized ceremony.


The Bishes have been described as being “startled” by the similarity between Pouliot and the composite sketch of the suspicious man Molly’s mother saw hanging around Comins Pond around the time of her disappearance.  Here they are compared, below:

Bish suspect

David Pouliot


It’s fascinating to watch, as forensic testing continues to advance rapidly, the  breakthroughs that give cold cases hope, the piece of gum sealed in an envelope that results, decades later, in a name, in the irrefutable evidence that someone --- sometimes the amiable guy in the parks & rec van --- was there in the woods when the terrible moment took place, was in fact the reason it happened at all.


In Victorian England the police used to tell suspects that the murderer’s image had been photographed by an impression left on the dead victim’s retina.  They’d judge whether or not they had the right suspect depending on the reaction.  The retina image idea seems ludicrous now.  But an idea that seems equally fantastical --- that invisible cells you shed when you touch something, even gently, can identify you --- is now true.  Perhaps retina eyeprinting will one day come to pass too.


You’re only as sick as you’re secrets, they say.  It’s increasingly harder to keep a secret.  And for that, hooray.

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RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary: https://t.co/ijA8xHJ8Tm
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.