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Glitter's Connection To Forensic Science

Glitter swatch (courtesy Joe Coburn and RJA Plastics)
Glitter swatch (courtesy Joe Coburn and RJA Plastics)

TL;DL (Too Long; Didn’t Listen)

Get ready for some extra sparkle on the heels of last week’s deep dive into “The Great Glitter Mystery.” Retired Forensic Scientist Ed Jones has one of the world’s largest glitter collections. And his side hobby has served him well over the years – glitter helped him solve a murder case back in 2001.

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      Full Transcript:

      This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.

      Ben Brock Johnson: If you missed last week’s episode about the great glitter mystery, stop right now. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go listen to that right now, and then come back for this sweet, sweet bonus content.

      Amory Sivertson: But if you did listen to The Great Glitter Mystery, you are in for some extra sparkle right now, my friends. As you heard in the episode, we went down a lot of rabbit holes and we talked to a lot of people while we were trying to figure out the largest mystery customer of a New Jersey glitter manufacturer named Glitterex.

      Ben: During our quest, it became clear that some of the people we talked to, the rabbit holes we dove down, could be episodes in and of themselves, which is how we get today’s snacktime. About someone who told us, without any clues, that he thought Glitterex’s largest customer was connected to the paint industry.

      Ed Jones: That would be my guess.

      Amory: Who’s guess? Ed Jones’ guess.

      Ed: Well, I hope I could give a good guess.

      Ben: Ed better hope he could give a good guess, because he’s got credentials. You want us to present those credentials? Ed had got what is thought to be the largest glitter collection in the world! More than a thousand unique samples.

      Amory: How do you store all of this, Ed? I'm picturing like just shelves and shelves and shelves of little glass jars.

      Ed: You'd be shocked. I have almost all thousand in a three ring binder.

      Amory: Wow. So just very small samples, huh?

      Ed: If you can picture a clear plastic sheet with three holes punched on it...

      Amory: Yep.

      Ed: ...with 20 slots coin collectors use them to put their coins in. Well what I use is those same sheets.

      Amory: Ed’s interest — obsession? — with glitter, started with an obsession with microscopes.

      Ed: I'm kind of addicted to the microscope. I belong to microscope clubs and I make things for the microscope and under the microscope. Glitter is so fun to look at under the microscope because it's manmade. And you can make it in all these visually exciting forms, which you really don't see with the naked eye but under the microscope they become apparent. And I've collected it for many many years and used it in my artwork.

      Amory: Oh what kind of art do you make?

      Ed: Microscope slides that usually spell something out in twelve point Times New Roman print. I'd spell out like, LAMS 2001 and the letter L would consist of maybe 30 or 40 different little micro objects and then A the same thing and then M-S and then the year and I would put that all on a microscope slide which would just be normal sized print.

      Amory: Whoa, so it looks when you look at it not under a microscope it just looks like regular writing. And then you put it under the microscope--

      Ed: And then you go ooooooooo!

      Amory: Ed has a lot of experience with microscopes because, well...

      Ed: I'm a retired scientist from the Ventura sheriff's crime lab and I'm a forensic scientist.

      Ben: A forensic scientist, with a love for glitter, and a specialty in trace evidence.

      Ed: Well the funny way to describe trace evidence is anything that doesn't bleed or go bang. In reality trace evidence is pretty much anything which can be compared and or analyzed, even though trace implies it's small. Sometimes we deal with very large things. The common thinking of trace evidence is hairs, fibers, soil, building materials. Glitter falls into the same category as all trace evidence in that anytime there is a contact there is a transfer.

      Amory: A transfer as in, oh hey, were you around glitter earlier today? How did I know? Oh, because it’s all over you!

      Ed: And in all cases involving trace evidence there's always the triangle between the victim, suspect, and crime scene, and you're always trying to link those three together. And one of the reasons why glitter is so good is because it's so small and it's so hard to clean up.

      Ben: And because it’s so hard to clean up, glitter actually helped solve a murder case that Ed worked on back in 2001. The victim, Megan Barroso, had red glitter in her hair — a remnant of the 4th of July party she was on her way home from at the time.

      Amory: And the suspect, Vincent Sanchez, hadn’t cleaned out his truck well enough afterwards.

      Ed: I actually found glitter on her, the scalp actually peels off of the off of the skull in that form of degradation. I was looking through the scalp under the microscope when I was picking off the glitter there and I picked out 10 glitter particles out of her hair with the forceps under the microscope and used those for comparison against the stuff from the tape lift from his truck.

      Ben: The trace evidence triangle, victim, suspect, crime scene, was complete.

      Amory: Although Ed has retired from forensic science, his glitter collection could still serve as a useful crime-solving tool. In fact, part of it came from a former colleague of his at the Ventura crime lab.

      Ed: He went off to one of these major companies that manufacture the glitter and he actually got like a hundred and fifty different samples from them and was able to pay for them through the California Association of Criminalists and then he distributed those samples and I got those samples as a nice chunk into my collection.

      Ben: While Ed couldn’t ultimately help us solve our own glitter mystery, he still gets to be listed on the Wikipedia page for glitter, for that beast of a three ring binder glitter collection. And he can share in our frustration over the general secrecy in the industry.

      Ed: Whenever I was doing my collecting and buying them, whenever I buy them, it doesn't really say who manufactures it. It just says who distributes it.

      Amory: Oh wow.

      Ed: Which is really kind of difficult for any kind of serious tracking or tracing.

      Amory: A little suspicious if you ask me...

      Ben: Little bit. Though, given everything we’ve learned about the glitter industry at this point, not shocking. All that glitters is nunna-ya-damn-buisness.

      Amory: Coming up next week, who hijacked the airwaves of a Chicago TV station 32 years ago to broadcast a video of a guy wearing a Max Headroom mask and saying things like this?

      Headroom mask audio: That does it. He’s a frickin’ nerd. Hehehehe. Yeah, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky. Frickin’ liberal. Oh Jesus.

      Ben: We actually don’t know. But we’re on the case! We’ll report back next week.

    Josh Crane Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
    Josh is a producer for podcasts and new programs at WBUR.



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