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NASA, USGS, CMU, and Santa Clara DA’s Office Collaborate to Solve a 1991 Cold-Case Murder Investigation
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NASA, USGS, CMU, and Santa Clara DA’s Office Collaborate to Solve a 1991 Cold-Case Murder Investigation

The NASA Payload Directed Flight research team from the Intelligent Systems Division at Ames Research Center, in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park and Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley, provided assistance to the County of Santa Clara’s District Attorney’s Office to solve a 1991 cold case murder investigation. The collaborative team deployed an autonomous ground vehicle to perform magnetic surveys of a vacant lot in Alviso, California, looking for buried material evidence which included car parts and a possible body buried in an old junk yard.

In 1991, a woman was killed but her body and the gun used in the murder were not discovered in the ensuing investigation. The suspect’s car in which the victim was last seen was also missing, and the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The case was recently reopened, when an informant reported that the car might have been disassembled and buried in a large abandoned lot in Alviso, California. Unfortunately the exact location in the lot was not specified, and the cost to excavate the entire area was too high. Further, the lot contained a substantial amount of metallic debris, both buried and on the surface, making a simple survey with metal detectors unfeasible.

The application of NASA research algorithms and technologies provided the means to collect data and locate the buried material evidence, which was subsequently excavated. The excavation led to a successful conviction and resolution of the 18-year-old case. Due to the sensitive nature of the case, the DA’s office asked the team not to advertise the collaboration until completion of the case.

Contact: Corey Ippolito


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