The Disturbing Case of Ali Gilmore's Disappearance

Science and Shoe Leather Solve Many Years-Old Crimes, But Others Remain Unsolved



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Nine years ago, Ali Gilmore vanished.

The 30-year-old state Department of Health analyst, four months pregnant and separated from her husband, was last seen on Thursday night, Feb. 2, 2006. She had left her second job working part time at the Publix bakery on Apalachee Parkway and was heading to her home on Lorraine Court in southwest Tallahassee. She reportedly received a phone call at 12:48 a.m.

But Gilmore was never seen again.

“Where is Ali Gilmore?” her friends, family and coworkers ask on the website started after her disappearance, and maintained for years to honor her memory. It’s a question that remains unanswered.

Despite candlelight vigils, offers of large rewards, extensive searches and lots of publicity, investigators have yet to figure out what happened to Gilmore. Her story is one of the more well-known cold cases in Tallahassee, but there are many others plaguing law enforcement.

The Tallahassee Police Department has 58 cold cases in its files, with seven involving missing persons. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database, or NamUS, has records of 914 missing persons statewide. And nationwide, there are as many as 90,000 missing person cases at any given time, according to NamUs.

On TV, detectives need only an hour to crack a complicated crime. We, the public, want real investigators to mimic the fast-paced narrative in top cop shows and suspense thrillers. And when all else fails, we expect forensic scientists to rush in and save the day.

“It’s the ‘CSI’ effect,” said Karen Martin, chief of forensic services for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Tallahassee Regional Operations Center. “Juries expect there to be scientific evidence for everything.”

Karen Martin, Florida’s real-life forensic scientist at the FDLE.

Matt Burke

 

Forensic advances have certainly given a major boost to modern crime fighters, along with expanded databases, greater weapons knowledge, digital evidence — even cell phone records and Internet searches.

DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid — is but one of many investigative tools, but it is a powerful one, Martin said. DNA is a molecule, a narrow strand containing stunning information — the genetic code that makes each person unique. It can be used to identify — or clear — a potential suspect.

Biological evidence from a crime scene can be compared to offender profiles in DNA databases. And crime scene evidence can also be linked to other crime scenes through DNA databases.

Clues can come from the swab of a mother’s cheek. Skin cells left behind on a piece of clothing. A pinhead-sized drop of blood. Maybe even a dog hair. More sensitive DNA procedures have made it more possible to identify the body of a victim or the profile of a killer.

Over the past 25 years, a significant advance in the field of DNA testing called short tandem repeats “is so discriminating and so sensitive it has greatly improved our ability to get a profile,” Martin said. There’s about a one in a quadrillion chance that another unrelated person has that same profile.

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