Robert Donald Auker
In 1989, 19-year-old Lori Ann Auker of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania disappeared. Though her car was found parked close to the pet shop where she worked, Lori had not shown up for work. Nearly three weeks after she disappeared, the body of a young woman was found by another woman walking nearby whose suspicions were aroused by a strong, rancid odour. The victim was found wearing jeans, a jacket and sneakers and had been stabbed numerous times. Deputy Coroner Matthew Olley pronounced the victim dead at the scene and had the body transported to pathologist Dr Isidore Mihalakis for autopsy. Unfortunately attempts made by the pathologist to estimate time since death were futile due to the level of decomposition.
Lori Auker had been last seen on 24th May wearing these clothes and dental records confirmed the victim’s identity as Lori. Lori’s estranged husband, Robert Donald Auker, was immediately the prime suspect. He had recently taken out a life insurance policy on her, despite the couple being in the middle of a custody battle when she disappeared. Lori’s mother and numerous friends informed police that the victim had been living in fear of Robert, believing he would hurt her and take away their son. Furthermore, Lori’s boyfriend at the time, Malcolm Derk, believed Robert to have been stalking Lori.
Entomologist Dr K C Kim was called upon to examine a variety of insect specimens collected from the corpse by the pathologist. By studying the species present, their relative maturity and the different states of decomposition that attract different insects, Kim was able to estimate the time of death. In order to do this, Dr Kim was required to obtain a climate report from a nearby weather station in order to take into account the effects of weather on insect development, necessary in accurately establishing post-mortem interval. Kim ultimately established that the body had been decomposing for 19 to 25 days.
However the entomological evidence alone was not sufficient in charging Auker. An ATM’s video camera near the parking lot where the victim’s car was parked was seized and examined by FBI forensic experts. One frame was discovered depicting Lori climbing into a Chevrolet Celebrity, a car which Robert Auker had been driving on the day of her disappearance. Investigators tracked down and seized the car in order to recreate the parking lot scene to ensure that this was in fact the car Lori got into. Auker was arrested and charged.
In March 1992, Robert Donald Auker was convicted of kidnapping and murder and sentenced to death.
Commonwealth v. Auker, 545 Pa. 521, 681 A.2d 1305 (1996)
Kiely, T F., 2001. Forensic Evidence: Science and the Criminal Law. Florida: CRC Press LCL.