Crime rates may differ from country to country, and county to county. West Yorkshire, though possibly home to sleepy villages compared to the sprawling metropoleis of London and the south, still has its fair share of grisly murders.
In 2001, during the heady days of summer, a female body was found in Lindley Woods, Otley. The body was eventually identified as Leanne Tiernan, who was reportedly abducted less than a mile from her home, after a Christmas shopping trip, the previous November.
The search for Leanne was huge in scale, with more than 200 DNA samples taken; 1,750 buildings, 32 drain shafts and more than 800 sheds were scoured over for clues – even household waste collections in the area were paused, in the hope evidence could be found. But no trace of her surfaced until that day in the woods.
Police offers to the murder scene faced a grisly picture. At first glance, suffocation could have been thought the cause of death, given that she had a plastic bag over her head that was secured by a dog collar. A scarf was also around her neck, as was a zip tie. Leanne’s hands were similarly secured with even more zip ties. Her body was wrapped in a number of green refuse sacks, secured by twine, with a duvet encasing everything.
With no immediate, obvious leads, the police got to work. One of their expert’s findings pointed to the possibility that Leanne’s body hadn’t been languishing in the woods during the months since her disappearance. The manner in which her body had decomposed led forensic experts to believe she’d been kept in cold storage after her murder, until a few weeks before her body was found. The killer could have put the body in storage simply to avoid detection – or maybe even as a trophy, however sick to the stomach that may sound.
Initial enquiries centred around the dog collar used in Leanne’s murder. After intensive research and follow-up, a number of similar collars were found to have been purchased by a John Taylor – a poacher who often hunted in the woods where Leanne’s body was discovered. Tests on the twine around Leanne’s neck showed that it was often used as netting for catching rabbits; the particular brand/type used was made exclusively by one manufacturer in Devon, which narrowed this field of inquiry substantially. When police searched John Taylor’s home, they found more of this unique twine, zip ties, and dog collars. A credible suspect….and the evidence was mounting.
Strands of dog hair were also found on Leanne. Forensic experts in Texas were able to create a partial profile for the breed of dog in question, from fibres at the scene. However, the dog Taylor owned when Leanne was first abducted had since died, which made tracing the hairs back to him a promising lead that was eventually unsubstantiated. Although the dog hair wasn’t able to bring about Taylor’s conviction, it was the first case where this type of canine forensic profiling had been used.
Taylor was eventually convicted and received two life sentences. He also admitted to more crimes following his arrest and incarceration. Forensic teams – particularly those examining the various strands and fibres – played a huge part in this case. That the perpetrator was found guilty and put away was a success. No barking up the wrong tree with this one…
Thanks to James Barker at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.