By a nose

by Felicity Monk / 27 December, 2003

Who would have thought that the key to solving great murder mysteries could lie in the contents of a skeleton's schnozz?

Germany 1994: construction workers digging foundations for a new building in the city of Magdeburg unearth the skeletons of 32 men in a mass grave. The victims had died violently some time between the end of World War II and the early 1960s.

Two organisations were identified as possibly responsible for the massacre: German Gestapo officers disposing of dissenters in the last weeks of the war in the spring of 1945 or Soviet secret police who were known to have executed Soviet soldiers, stationed in East Germany in the summer of 1953, for participating in a revolt.

When forensic experts in Magdeburg extracted and tested pollen from the victims' nasal bones, it wasn't long before they had their answer. The pollen grains came from plants that flower in the northern hemisphere's summer months. The bodies were those of Soviet troops.

This is just one example of forensic botany in which evidence from plants is used to investigate and solve crimes. For example, analysis of plant material has linked rape suspects to a crime scene and been used to work out where murder victims ate their last meals.

The four-part BBC series Forensic Science examines four specialised scientific disciplines of forensic investigation, involving maggots, minerals, plant pollen and teeth. Interviewed along with forensic geologists and dentists are practitioners of these detective disciplines, who reveal how they helped solve true crime stories.

Forensic Science, National Radio, Monday-Thursday, 4.06pm

A GREAT FACE FOR RADIO

Aleysha Knowles reckons that, as a little kid, her favourite TV programme must have been the six o'clock news. "I was a talker and liked telling stories. I think I was always destined to do something in the media."

A sports journalist and sports reader for Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB for the past 18 months, 25-year-old Knowles says she loves her job. "In the weekends, most people watch the rugby in their social time, whereas I get to do it all day as

a fulltime job and get paid for it."

After completing a one-year media studies course in Christchurch and armed with the dream of becoming a broadcast journalist, the bolshie Knowles rocked up to the boss of CHTV (Christchurch's regional TV station) and asked for a job.

She was taken on as an intern and worked for the first nine months without pay. "It was an opportunity that I don't think many people get and I will always be so grateful."

When Knowles began sports reporting at CHTV, it had three young female reporters, but no sports journalist. "I thought, 'I'll give it a try', and I've never looked back."

Basketball is her favourite sport and she toured the country with the Tall Blacks during last year's Czech Republic series. "That was just invaluable. I saw a whole new side of sports journalism."

Has she found it difficult being a young woman in her field?

"Early on, I definitely had to prove myself and that's been a personal challenge in the industry - giving myself credibility and making sure they do take me seriously. So I have worked really, really hard on that. If I am going to a press conference about a sport I am not too familiar with, I will go out of my way to make sure I have researched before I go. The last thing I want to do is make a fool of myself."

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