DNA testing led to an arrest in the unsolved rape and murder case of two young girls in Old Bailey, England over thirty years ago. Russell Bishop, 52, is being held in connection with the 1986 sexual assault and strangulation of nine-year-old girls Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows. This arrest brings the case full circle, as Bishop was acquitted of the crime after a jury trial in 1987.
In 1986, authorities had circumstantial evidence tying Bishop to the murders, but they lacked the concrete physical evidence needed for a conviction. Bishop was released, surfacing three years later when he was arrested for kidnapping, raping and attempting to murder a seven-year-old girl. The girl survived her injuries and was later able to positively identify Bishop as her attacker.
With Bishop in prison for his latest crime, advances in DNA technology allowed prosecutors to retest old evidence. Their findings led the court to vacate Bishop’s acquittal and allowed him to be retried for the rape and murder of Karen and Nicola.
At the center of the prosecution’s new case are samples taken from Karen’s forearm — skin flakes and shirt fibers that could now be tested for a DNA match. An independent lab tested the shirt and skin with DNA-17 Short Tandem Repeat (STR) technology. The results were a match for Bishop. An additional test that specifically identifies male DNA, Y23 Y-STR, was used to create a genetic profile that was also a match to Bishop. “The science has developed over the years, allowing far greater sensitivity than was possible before,” said prosecutor Brian Altman. “The DNA findings would be approximately one billion times more likely if DNA was present from the defendant, Karen and an unknown person, rather than if DNA was present from Karen and two unknown people.”
On the strength of these new DNA reports, Altman is confident he will get a conviction. “They prove scientifically not only that [Bishop] was the wearer of the [shirt] and that garment was connected to his home environment, but also that it is linked to the two girls and therefore their murder.” Altman is hoping this new trial will bring closure to the girls’ families and the surrounding community.