48 Years Later, Bugs Clear Convicted Murderer

Tragically, the issue might have been resolved quickly in a court today. DNA evidence could have ruled Truscott out as a suspect, but no DNA evidence remained from the death scene. So Lockyer turned to the relatively new science of forensic entomology.

Merritt and Sherah VanLaerhoven, a forensic entomologist for the province of Ontario, were able to show to the court's satisfaction that their evidence indicated the death occurred much later, probably the following day, at a time when Truscott was known to be somewhere else.

The two scientists were fortunate in that the court record contained several photographs and precise measurements of insects that "colonized" the body moments after death. Chief among them were blow flies that laid hundreds of eggs, beginning soon after they found the body. The life cycle of the blow fly is well known, so it was possible for the scientists to work backwards from the time that the body was discovered to the time when the flies first colonized the body.

That would give them a fairly good fix on the time of death.

"We were able to determine how long it had been since colonization had taken place," Merritt said.

They did that by measuring the size of the larvae, or maggots, in the early photographs. They found that the maggots were not nearly as large as they would have been if they had been present on the body since the early evening of June 9.

Both testified that Lynn was most likely killed the next morning, not during the narrow window the night before when it was possible that Truscott could have been the killer.

Since the time of death weighed so heavily on the minds of jurors nearly half a century ago, the appellate court ruled that the conviction had to be set aside. Lockyer and his fellow attorneys argued that simply reversing the conviction wasn't enough. They wanted the court to go one step further and declare Truscott innocent.

But the court said it had no way under Canadian law to declare someone innocent. The best it could do is to toss out the conviction. The court also said it was not possible to retry the case in a lower court because so many of the witnesses are now dead. The result would most likely be acquittal, which is where the matter stands now.

All these years later, Truscott, who doesn't talk much any more about his ordeal, is free and not guilty, but still has not been declared innocent of a murder that science said he could not have committed.

Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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