New technological advances can bring even the most difficult cold case back to life. A mystery that might have been unsolvable in the 1950s can brim with new evidence in the modern era. These scientists and researchers who are tirelessly working to create new innovations are the real heroes in forensics.
When Krystal Beslanowitch was murdered in 1995, police thought they knew who the killer was, but didn’t have enough concrete evidence to convict him. For 18 years, the case went cold. And the remaining Beslanowitches had to live with the knowledge that Krystal’s killer was still on the loose. Luckily for them, the people at M-Vac Systems came to the rescue.
Let’s start from the beginning. On December 14, 1995, Tracy Beslanowitch left to pick up a snack at Circle K gas station outside Salt Lake City, Utah. When she didn’t return home, her boyfriend, Chris, was worried.
Close to 11 p.m., Chris drove to the Circle K. There wasn’t any sign of Tracy. He also knocked on a few of his neighbor’s doors. What he didn’t do that night was contact the police. The next morning, he was in for a major shock.
At 8:40 a.m, a farmer and his son spotted a body floating in the Utah River. It was a teen girl, covered in wounds around her head and neck. Granite rocks nearby were flecked with her blood.
Crime scene technicians and the police scanned the scene. They found a pair of socks — and that was it. She became a Jane Doe. Not for long though. Investigators released a sketch of two of the tattoos they found on her body to local news stations in an attempt to ID her.
Unfortunately for Chris, he recognized the tattoos. They were Tracy’s. Chris called the police to confirm his suspicions and set off a string of phone calls. After Chris contacted the cops, they in turn, called Tracy’s father. They learned something extremely surprising.
The Jane Doe wasn’t Tracy. She was actually Krystal Beslanowitch, his stepdaughter. Krystal regularly borrowed her sister’s identity for one reason or another. This time, she’d taken it to fool her boyfriend.
The police thought Chris was lying about not knowing it was Krystal and made him their top suspect. This theory quickly fell apart. Chris was financially dependent on Krystal and didn’t have access to a car!
Another subject was Herb Fry, a Utah taxi driver. Herb was crushing hard on Krystal, and others claimed he was obsessed with her. Once again, this fell through. There wasn’t anything material to tie him to the crime scene.
In 2008, forensic scientists tested the blood-flecked rocks for DNA. The female profile matched Krystal’s. There was also a partial male profile, but it didn’t match either Herb or Chris, so the police were completely out of suspects.
Time marched on, as time does, and in 2013, Sorenson Forensics developed an innovative DNA-extraction product: the Microbial-Vac System, or M-Vac for short. It’s basically a hand-held vacuum that collects DNA samples.
M-Vac Systems / LinkedIn
Interestingly, the M-Vac didn’t have a crime-solving-based purpose initially. The invention was intended to remove bacteria and other contaminants from food products. That’s a great idea, but researchers soon explored its other applications.
M-Vac Systems / Twitter
The M-Vac sprays a special solution to collect the DNA, while simultaneously vacuuming the material. That material is concentrated in a filter and then decoded by scientists. This device makes it easier to get more complete DNA profiles from tricky spots.
M-Vac Systems / Youtube
Forensicists used the handy M-Vac to test new areas of the site and obtained touch DNA — minute traces of skin and other DNA-rich human materials that can be left behind when an assailant touches something at a crime scene. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Manchester Evening News
The team put the information into CODIS (a U.S.-based DNA collection database) and got a match. The man who left his DNA on the rocks in 1995 was Joseph Michael Simpson. Granted, investigators needed to confirm it was him before moving forward.
They flew to Florida, where Joseph resided, and collected a cigarette butt that Joseph threw on the ground (a murderer AND a litterer?). Thanks to his carelessness, after 18 years, investigators finally had their murderer.
It’s unclear how Krystal and Joseph were linked. Krystal’s mother explained to Utah newspaper that her daughter was heavily involved with drugs and was a sex worker. Joseph may have been a past client — but all that matters is that thanks to the M-Vac and hardworking investigators, Krystal is getting justice.
In September 2016, a jury convicted Joseph of beating Krystal to death. This wasn’t the first time Joseph killed someone. When he brutally bludgeoned Krystal, he was out on parole for a 1987 second-degree felony murder.
Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
“Mr. Simpson stabbed a man multiple times and left him lying there with a knife still in his back, and then, when he got out on parole, he took rocks to Krystal Beslanowitch’s head until she was his second victim, ” Deputy Wasatch County Attorney McKay King told jurors.
Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images
Sadly, Krystal and Chris had only moved to Utah about five months earlier from Spokane, Washington. They’d hoped for a new, peaceful life in Salt Lake City, but now all Krystal’s loved ones had were memories.
Photo by: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Krystal’s mom remembers her fondly. “Every time she came home she had her arms spread out wide and a big smile on her face. I never refused her,” Linde Toreson said in a 1996 interview. But she can take solace knowing her daughter’s case is leading to justice for other families.
The M-Vac success is bringing a technological approach to decades-old mysteries. For instance, Marlene Warren was relaxing in her ritzy Wellington Aero Club home alongside her 22-year-old son and his friends on the sunny morning of May 26, 1990. It was close to 11:00 AM and nothing seemed out of the ordinary… yet.
But then a white Chrysler LeBaron approached Marlene’s driveway. A clown stepped out of the car, holding flowers and balloons, one of them reading “You’re the Greatest.” This was not the beginning of a party.
Lewis Anderson / YouTube
The circus figure rang Marlene’s doorbell and handing her the gifts when she opened the door. Then, the clown shot her in the face. Immediately, the shooter got back into the LeBaron and drove away, never to be seen again.
Tragically, Marlene passed away two days later from her brutal gunshot wounds. An investigation launched right away, and police discovered the getaway car sitting in a nearby parking lot. Who could do such a thing? There was so much to unpack.
Palm Beach Post
The first suspect? Michael Warren, Marlene’s husband. He told authorities he was on his way to a Miami racetrack when the fatal shooting occurred. He also ran a used car lot and a car rental company.
But he wasn’t the only suspect; it wasn’t long before authorities started kicking around the name “Sheila Keen.” She ran a business that repossessed cars, and she worked closely with Michael… too closely.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
The two car aficionados denied having an affair, but Marlene’s parents begged to differ. Marlene had confided in her parents, telling them she suspected Michael had a mistress. Not only that, but Marlene also told her parents “If something happens to me, Michael did it.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
Considering Marlene and Michael owned several properties in Marlene’s name, a hypothetical divorce would’ve been messy in terms of money. This plus the suspected affair made Michael a prime suspect… until something extremely telling was uncovered about Sheila.
Marlene Warren Family Photo
It was discovered that Sheila reportedly lived close to Palm Beach County’s only costume shop, which happened to sell the exact same balloons held by the Wellington killer clown. But police had a hard time tracking down any more reliable info.
Frustratingly, the only witnesses at and/or nearby the scene had memories that contradicted the crumbs of evidence police had already gathered. Several witnesses said the clown appeared to be a man with light blue eyes and described a different getaway car — not the white Chrysler LeBaron.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
Meanwhile, Sheila Keen is a woman with brown eyes. Despite Marlene Warren’s son seeing the clown’s brown eyes, he still said it would shock him if Sheila was a prime suspect. He just couldn’t imagine her doing such an evil thing.
Years went by without arrests. Later, in an unrelated case, Michael was convicted of racketeering and odometer tampering, serving three-and-a-half years in prison. He was released in 1997, which was also the year he — and Sheila — moved to Virginia.
Michael Warren Family Photo
They wed in a tacky Las Vegas chapel in 2002 (possibly married by an ordained Elvis Presley impersonator) and lived in Abingdon, Virginia. The duo started a new life together, running a fast food restaurant called The Purple Cow.
Kelia Anne MacCluskey / The New York Times
But with no concrete evidence, the investigation went cold… until Palm Beach County authorities reopened the case in 2014. New technologies allowed investigators to analyze old clues originally found at the scene.
Palm Beach Post
DNA analysis was redone with the evidence discovered at the scene in 1990, which included orange fibers thought to be from the clown wig. Meanwhile, witnesses who were around to hear the gunshot and get a glimpse of the clown’s getaway car were recontacted all those years later.
Jan Homann / Wikimedia Commons
Peculiarly, Michael and Sheila’s Virginia neighbors said they knew the duo as “Debbie” and “Mike;” another neighbor noted that Michael was known to have a fiery temper. None of the neighbors had any clue about the couple’s chaotic beginnings in Florida.
Broward County Sheriff’s Office
What really helped bring the case together, however, was a piece of hair the FBI found inside the Chrysler LeBaron car abandoned in a lot nearby the crime scene. In 2017, DNA technology could finally make a connection as to whom it belonged to.
“There was actually an excellent job of collection of evidence at the time in 1990. And because of that collection, we’re able to now use advances in DNA technology,” prosecutor Brian Fernandes stated. Authorities could finally make an arrest.
Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post
Aided by new testimonies, and DNA technology re-evaluating old evidence, authorities made their move. In August 2017, almost three decades after Marlene’s murder, Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff Fred Newman got a spontaneous call from his counterpart in Palm Beach County, Florida, regarding Sheila Keen Warren.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
After decades of mystery, Sheila Keen Warren was arrested on September 27, 2017, and charged with first-degree murder for killing Marlene Warren in 1990. Defense attorney Richard Lubin said “Sheila Warren ‘vehemently denies’ killing Marlene Warren and will plead not guilty.”
While prosecutors, including Palm Beach County, Florida, State Attorney Dave Aronberg, were originally seeking the death penalty for Sheila Keen Warren, as of 2020 they decided against it, planning to take a closer look at the case before making such a permanent decision.
Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post
“You can’t tell me that he [Mike] didn’t know. No way in heck … if there’s a hell, I hope she [Sheila] rots in it,” Marlene’s mother, Shirley Twing, said. Eerily, Marlene’s parents were fond of clowns prior to Marlene’s murder, even having a circus room in their home, adorned with clown paintings.
And while it’s been 30 years since the Sunshine State has seen killer clown Sheila Keen Warren, more creepy clowns have emerged in the gator capital of America. Locals were horrified.
Disturbing clown sightings near Naples, Florida, have been occurring for years, finally making their way to mainstream media in 2014 when a CCTV video featuring a certain clown went viral. This was just the beginning of the clown frenzy.
The 13th Floor
The oddest thing about these sightings (besides everything), which transpired at random public places, as well as outside people’s HOUSES, was that the public soon realized it was the same clown who appeared in all the eerie CCTV footage. We have goosebumps.
Well, we’d like to introduce you to Wrinkles, Wrinkles the Clown. While he creeps the hell out of unsuspecting Floridians, the chapped, frowny figure has become a near celebrity.
Naples Daily News
Once you’ve seen him, it’s hard to forget him. With his eternally pale, leathery face, crimson frown, and harrowing black holes for eyes, it’s hard not to stare in pure terror. He dons a red jumpsuit glazed with white polka dots, and often carries a cluster of balloons.
Horror News Network
The increasingly frequent clown glimpses spawned a popular Instagram account, called @hvuseenwrinkles, which posts photos of reported sightings of Wrinkles. While the whole shtick is quite engrossing, his helpless victims don’t think so.
@spotwrinkles / Twitter
Said innocent victims, however, aren’t picked at random. See, Wrinkles the Clown runs a business. Tired parents hit up Wrinkles whenever their darned, meddlesome kids deserve a good scare. It’s all in good fun, of course… well, for the parents.
@spotwrinkles / Twitter
Remember that ominous CCTV footage we mentioned? Well, it featured a hair-raising scene involving Wrinkles slowly creeping out from underneath a bed, getting ready to horrify the snoozing child atop the mattress.
The ending of the video sees Wrinkles eerily stare directly into the lens before proceeding to abruptly shut off the security camera. Believe it or not, the child’s parents are to blame for this raging nightmare fuel!
In another disquieting, yet profitable, instance, Wrinkles was delighted to frighten a boy in public. “He was scared of clowns and I showed up across the street from him at the bus stop and he just started crying in front of his friends and ran home,” he stated.
We’ll say, Wrinkles the Clown is no dummy, as he took advantage of his viral quality by posting promotional stickers and flyers, as well as online advertisements, all around town. Take notes, kids.
@hvuseenwrinkles / Instagram
Wrinkles’ growing popularity caused his voicemail to fill with messages from more fed-up parents, prank calls from kids, and even demands for Wrinkles’ help with dumping dead bodies. Goodness, we hope the latter category was just some dark baffoonery!
@hvuseenwrinkles / Instagram
Considering he’s a real dude with a business number, who is Wrinkles the Clown, really? According to a 2015 profile by The Washington Post, Wrinkles is a divorced Rhode Islander and military veteran who took up “professional clowning” subsequent to retiring to Florida.
@hvuseenwrinkles / Instagram
At 65-years-old, Wrinkles wasn’t into playing shuffleboard and chess with the rest of the oldies, so he invested his time into clowning. The eccentric Wrinkles doesn’t like kids, declared balloon animals to be “stupid,” and “wants to bring scary back.” Now that’s what we’re talking about.
Tampa Austin Chronicle
When the laughable real-life clown contagion hit America in 2016, GQ made it a point to interview the wrinkly Southern menace. Wrinkles, who refused to reveal his given name, boasted to GQ that he apparently has a lengthy list of celebrity clients. Way to go, Wrinkles!
Just as any internet phenomenon, the buzz surrounding Wrinkles settled down; that is until the 2019 trailer for the Magnolia Pictures International documentary appropriately titled Wrinkles the Clown made its merry way around YouTube. Wrinkles was back with a vengeance.
Tampa Bay Times
“With incredible access to the mastermind behind the mask, Wrinkles the Clown is a cryptic and playful exploration of these questions, as well as an inside look at myth-building and the unpredictable spread of imagination in the internet age,” reads the synopsis.
In the the trailer, Wrinkles hauntingly states “No-one was hiring me when I was just a regular clown. I just thought, ‘Yeah, you know, maybe I’ll give it a little edge.'”
Considering the 2019 buzz surrounding IT Chapter Two and Joker, Wrinkles clearly loved perpetuating the myth of the scary clown. It looks like Wrinkles the Clown’s reign has just begun.
IT Chapter Two
When Wrinkles the Clown first lurked around dark corners of the Sunshine State in 2014, no one thought the spine-chilling figure would become an internet-savvy, film festival sweetheart. Wrinkles is a creepy clown with a brain for business, and we respect his haunting hustle.
While Wrinkles’ road to online fame is unique, the interweb is scattered with viral scary stuff. From more clowns (so many clowns), to haunted dolls, you’re likely to find wild stories that’ll have you saying “nope.” One particular story concerning a cursed piece of furniture will have you shaking.
@hvuseenwrinkles / Instagram
Daniel Awety moved to the small English village of Kirby Wiske in the late 1600s with his daughter, Elizabeth. But Daniel wasn’t just moving to the country for the fresh air; he had another mission in mind.
See, Daniel was a criminal counterfeiter. He figured the open space would provide enough security that he could print his fake money in peace without too many interruptions. So he purchased a large farm and named it Danotty Hall.
Elizabeth, too, was enjoying the country, but for much different reasons. She had met a young man named Thomas Busby and fell head over heels. The two were quickly married, but the honeymoon didn’t last long.
Elizabeth and Thomas moved into a local inn down the road from Danotty Hall. This locale turned out to be perfect for Thomas because he had a secret of his own: he was an alcoholic.
Daniel tried to make the best of Elizabeth’s marriage and offered Thomas a part in his criminal enterprise. But Thomas’ alcoholism quickly turned their partnership sour and Daniel decided to take drastic measures.
One night, Daniel stormed over to the inn and demanded Elizabeth leave Thomas for good. But Elizabeth refused and insisted on staying put in the inn until Thomas returned. So Daniel took a seat and waited.
When Thomas busted in, he was already drunk and irate. So, when Daniel confronted him, they immediately launched into a huge argument. What Daniel didn’t realize was that Thomas was mad about something else altogether.
See, while Daniel was yelling at Thomas to leave his daughter, Thomas was livid about something else entirely. Apparently, Thomas was upset that Daniel had sat down in his chair. His favorite chair.
Clearly not getting anywhere, Daniel returned home without Elizabeth. But Thomas was still outraged by the betrayal and followed Daniel. When he reached the farm, Thomas grabbed a hammer and bludgeoned Daniel to death.
The town found the body the next day and swiftly charged Thomas with murder. He was convicted in 1702, then hanged, dipped in pitch, and hung up on the gallows. Just to make sure he was really, really dead.
But just before he died, Thomas had some parting words for the town. When they dragged him off to be hanged, he cursed everyone that would sit in his favorite chair. Of course, the town didn’t heed his warning.
The inn owner thought he could profit off Thomas’ infamous curse and renamed the establishment the “Busby Stoop Inn.” He then charged people to come take a peek at Thomas’ chair. This had a strange effect.
For some strange reason, people who dared to sit in that chair for centuries after were plagued with terrible luck. Some even place the chair’s death toll at over 60.
One builder’s apprentice was dared by his co-workers to sit in the chair. He accepted the challenge, certain nothing would happen. Yet, later that day, he fell right through a roof and died. The stories only get worse.
The curse was so deadly, that one owner hid the chair away in the cellar generations later. But when a delivery man inquired about the artifact, he let him try it out. The man died in a car crash later that night.
The curse continued when a chimney sweep dared to sit in the chair while having a couple drinks. But he never made it home; he was found hanging just feet away from the gallows that had once held Thomas Busby.
The chair’s wrath continued well into the 1970s when two pilots dared each other to try the tantalizing seat. Though they only sat down for a brief moment, the pair died in a car accident after leaving the inn.
Soon after this, the then-owner of the inn had had enough and got rid of the chair once and for all. He pawned it off to the local museum where it has sat for the past forty years.
The Thirsk Museum wasn’t taking any chances, though. They hung the chair high up on a wall so that no one could sit in it — no matter how much they begged. Years later, though, experts discovered something curious about the chair.
After a laboratory tested the chair, they discovered it might not be as old as the museum purported it to be! The story of the curse — and the curse itself — may not have been true. Of course, the same can’t be said for the cursed object one farmer dug up…
Life is strange sometimes. One minute you’re just plowing your field and the next you’re finding an ancient artifact on your own property. So it goes, right? At least that’s how it happened for one farmer back in 1785.
While working on his field, the farmer suddenly heard an odd noise, as if he’d run over something hard. Concerned, he decided to see what had caused the sound. But when he knelt down to take a closer look at the dirt, he spotted something that made his mouth drop…
The farmer discovered a strange gold ring that he’d never seen before in his life. After picking it up and giving it a quick once over, he had no idea that he’d potentially just found an artifact that would inspire some of the greatest stories ever told.
Kim French / Twitter
First, he noted that the ring was a signet, which are used to make seals. It was engraved with the Latin phrase “SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE,” which translates to “Senicianus live well in God.” It weighed 12 grams—about the same weight as a modern man’s gold wedding band—and was designed to fit only on a gloved finger.
Though the farmer didn’t know it, the ring’s origins could be traced back to the fourth century, when a Roman man named Silvianus visited the Celtic temple of Nodens, a healing god. As he bathed there, his ring was stolen by an unknown thief.
Silvianus was said to have thought the burglar was a man he’d seen inside the temple named Senicianus. In response to this alleged transgression, Silvianus supposedly cursed the man out of anger.
After traveling some 100 miles away, it’s believed that Senicianus abandoned the ring in the town of Silchester. With no knowledge of this legend, the farmer who found it decided to keep the gold ring he’d found, hoping that one day he could sell it and become rich.
Eventually, the farmer sold the ring to a family living at The Vyne, a 16th-century country manor house outside of Hampshire, who’d taken a particular interest in its origins. After making the purchase, however, it remained in their library untouched. It was largely forgotten about until many years later, in 1888, when the then-owner of the home, Chaloner Chute, wrote about the item.
Meanwhile, a team of archaeologists were conducting a dig at the site of the old Nodens temple when they suddenly uncovered a plaque called “defixio,” or the “cursed tablet.” On it, the legend of Silvanius and Senacianus was detailed…
Also inscribed on the tablet was a quote, which roughly translated to: “For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one half its worth to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus, permit no good health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens.”
Unable verify the authenticity of this story, the tablet would sit in the estate’s museum, untouched, for several decades. In 1928, however, a young archaeologist named Mortimer Wheeler and his wife, Tessa, were brought to the site to examine it. They worked at the site for two years before their investigation eventually led them to The Vyne and the ring.
The Wheelers sought the help in two Oxford University friends, whom they hoped could offer some insight into the story surrounding the ring. Remarkably, those men were none other than philosopher and archaeologist R.G. Collingwood and Celtic literature and Anglo-Saxon professor, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Naturally, it’s rumored that the two years Tolkien spent researching Silvanius, the thieving Senicianus, and their cursed ring inspired him to write The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings trilogy!
In 2013, The Vyne ring was moved from the library and placed on permanent display at the manor, alongside a copy of the tablet and a first-edition copy of The Hobbit. Thanks to their love of Tolkien’s work, The Vyne family is happy to teach visitors about the history of the original One Ring.