DNA tests used to trace victim’s origin
Boy’s murder linked to child trafficking
Toronto Star (Canada), Aug. 2, 2003
SANDRO CONTENTA, EUROPEAN BUREAU
LONDON—One more turn of the tide and the torso of the boy in the River Thames would have been swept out to the North Sea, the story of his chilling end buried perhaps forever in a watery grave.
But the alarm was sounded when the bright orange shorts hanging from the torso caught the eye of a passerby up high on Tower Bridge.
Police fished out what was left of Adam, the name they eventually gave the still unidentified boy, at the foot of the Globe Theatre on Sept. 21, 2001.
Since then, the story pieced together of what police consider London’s first known ritual killing is macabre enough to have challenged even Shakespeare’s imagination. And the investigative work that has brought police close to cracking the case is groundbreaking.
It combined unprecedented forensic research with old-fashioned legwork that took investigators to Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S., South Africa, Nigeria, Scotland and Ireland.
The latest break in the investigation came Tuesday, when Metropolitan Police raided several homes in London and arrested 21 suspected members of a child trafficking ring.
“We’re pretty convinced that we are on to a group of individuals who trafficked Adam into the country,” said Detective Inspector William O’Reilly.
The arrests highlighted a UNICEF report the next day estimating that thousands of children have been smuggled into Britain during the past several years to be exploited as sex slaves, or for slave labour.
But public attention was especially focused on what police described as evidence of occult rituals found in the raided apartments, such as an animal skull with a nail driven through it.
Most of those arrested come from Benin City, Nigeria, an area where remarkable forensic sleuthing in the case has determined as Adam’s home.
“I must stress we are not judging any cultures,” said Andy Baker, the police commander heading the investigation. “We are investigating a crime — the crime of murder.”
When the remains of Adam were found, investigators quickly figured out that his torso had been in the water for up to 10 days, that he was black, he was between four and eight years old, and murder ended his life.
It wasn’t the first limbless and headless torso 50-year-old Ray Fysh had seen in his forensic career. But it left him scratching his head.
Bodies are dismembered, he says, either to hide the victim’s identity, or to more easily transport and dispose of the body. But with Adam, no effort had been made to weigh down or conceal the torso once his killers dumped it in the Thames.
“In fact, he had orange shorts on, which made him stand out like a beacon,” Fysh says.
Even more puzzling was the conclusion that the shorts were placed on the torso after Adam was killed, because his legs could not have been hacked off with them on. The inside tag had washing instructions in German, and the brand was made exclusively in China for a German chain of stores.
“None of us knew, really, what we were dealing with at the time,” says Fysh, a scientist with Britain’s Forensic Science Service, and the forensic co-ordinator in the Adam case.
“Nobody had come across this sort of stuff before,” he adds.
Fysh’s team began with basic forensic work. They mapped a profile of Adam’s DNA, to be used to identify his parents if they’re ever found. They covered his torso with tape in a bid to lift any hairs or fibres that might belong to the murderer, and came up blank. Swab tests found no evidence of sexual assault.
Toxicology tests found only one drug in Adam, a cough suppressant called Pholcodine, bought without a prescription at any pharmacy. Adam was treated for a cough shortly before he was killed.
“It wasn’t obvious then, but looking back on it now, it shows some sort of duty of care to this child,” Fysh says.
The way Adam’s limbs were cut off was brutally precise.
The killer either used a series of heavy, razor-sharp kitchen knives, or one that was sharpened throughout the dismemberment.
“They cut the skin, peeled the muscle back, and then cut through the bone. They never went through a joint,” Fysh says.
Dismemberment occurred when Adam was already dead. But the cause of death was no less horrible. He was slaughtered like an animal.
“The cause of death was a knife trauma to the neck,” Fysh says, choosing his words carefully. “The child then went into extensive blood loss.”
About six weeks after Adam’s torso was discovered, police searching the river for the rest of his body found seven half-burned candles wrapped inside a white cotton bedsheet. The name Adekoyejo Fola Adoye was written three times on the sheet, and cut into the candles.
But in the end, the candles and bedsheet turned out to have nothing to do with Adam. Detectives found that Adoye lived in New York, and his London-based parents had performed a ceremony with the Celestial Church of Christ to celebrate the fact that he had not been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre.
Still, police suspected they were stumbling into an uncharted area of the macabre and supernatural, and turned for guidance to Richard Hoskins, a specialist in African religions at King’s College in London.
Europol estimates there have been at least nine cases of ritual killing across Europe in the past 15 years, and Hoskins believes more are bound to occur as immigration grows.
Every year, about 300 people are killed in South Africa for muti, a Zulu word for traditional medicine. Muti is usually a mixture of herbs, but in rare cases human body parts are used.
About the same number are killed yearly in parts of Nigeria in illegal human sacrifices where the victim’s blood is offered to gods, spirits or ancestors, Hoskins adds. Body parts might be kept powerful trophies or souvenirs.
Tribes that practise animal sacrifices consider the ritual killing of humans a terrible moral and legal crime — a taboo that makes those who break it feel all the more empowered, especially when children are the victims, Hoskins says.
“Because of the innocence and the purity of the child it becomes the most powerful form of magic that can be done.”
The cut in Adam’s neck led Hoskins to believe the ritual was more likely from the west of Africa than the south.
“It was done in a very specific and deliberate way, clearly to bleed him to death in a relatively quick way. The point was to spill blood on the ground as an offering,” he says.
Hoskins says the orange colour of Adam’s shorts, and the dumping of his torso in the river is also ritually significant. He believes the murder or murderers sacrificed Adam to gain some sort of power or good luck for an undertaking in Britain.
For police, Hoskins’ theories were horribly fascinating, but brought them no closer to identifying Adam or his killers. Finding out whatever they could about his short life became the focus of Fysh’s forensic team by January, 2002.
Adam’s stomach was empty. The last time he ate was 12 to 18 hours before his death.
In his lower intestine — an area rarely examined in forensic work — they found traces of pollen from a tree found in London, but not in Africa.
“So we know he was alive and breathing in London before he was killed,” Fysh says.
Also in his lower intestine were tiny clay pellets with specks of pure gold embedded on their surface, along with what appeared to be finely ground up bones. To determine the origin of the crushed bones, they were sent to the New York forensic team that conducted innovative work to identify victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Hoskins says the concoction in Adam’s stomach is typical of the potions used to prepare victims for ritual killings in sub-Sahara Africa. It’s part of a process that led to Adam getting cough medicine to ensure he was a healthy offering to the gods.
“The case of Adam is definitely a ritualistic killing. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Hoskins says. “The remarkable thing is that he was brought from Africa to the U.K. specifically for the purpose.”
Hoskins didn’t believe Adam was the victim of a muti killing, but police weren’t ruling it out without hard evidence.
In April, 2002, detectives travelled to South Africa for a Johannesburg press conference where Nelson Mandela made a public appeal for information about Adam.
But in July, a break in the case would point to Hoskins’ theory.
Social workers in Glasgow had reported seeing strange items in the home of a 31-year-old West African asylum seeker. Police searched the flat and found objects they believed were associated with curses, including whisky jars filled with chicken feathers. More significant were the clothes found, which police believe were purchased in the same German shop were Adam’s orange shorts were likely bought.
The woman, Joyce Osagiede, was arrested and questioned about Adam’s murder. She was not charged, and was later deported to her Nigerian hometown, in the Benin City area.
At about the same time, Fysh’s team decided to try something never before attempted in forensic work.
They began by mapping Adam’s “mitochondrial DNA” (mtDNA), which is exclusively passed on from mothers to siblings. Children have the same mtDNA as their mother, who in turn has the same mtDNA as her mother, and so on.
They compared Adam’s mtDNA to 6,000 sequences published in scientific studies. Adam’s sequence had never been found among populations in southern African, or in people in eastern Africa. But it matched mtDNA found in the northwestern part of the continent.
To further narrow the search, the team called on the services of Ken Pye, a professor of soil geology at the University of London. The next series of tests were based on the maxim, “We are what we eat.”
There is a certain level of the mineral strontium that works its way through the food chain; from water, to earth, to plants, to animals, and, finally, into the bones of humans.
In other words, people walk around with a strontium signature that matches the one in their environment. And if a person moves from one country to another, it takes six to 10 years before the strontium signature in the bones changes to match the new habitat.
Given Adam’s likely age, his strontium signature would not only determine the place of his birth, but the place where he grew up. It matched the signature found in a zone of ancient, Precambrian rock, which in Africa is mostly predominant in Nigeria. Suddenly, the forensic evidence also began matching Hoskins’ academic research.
Fysh and detective O’Reilly travelled to Nigeria last November and spent 2½ weeks collecting rocks, animal bones and vegetables from local markets in a 10,000 square kilometre area.
They also collected post-mortem human bones from three sites around the country, including Benin City.
They returned to London with 120 samples, and by the end of January matched the strontium signature in Adam’s bones to that found in a corridor stretching from Benin City to Ibaden, where villages of the Yoruba tribe dot the only main road along the way.
It was, in forensic terms, a eureka moment.
“From a torso floating in the Thames, we now think the child was born and raised in the Benin City area,” Fysh says.
Detectives have since gone to the area to post leaflets on trees about Adam’s murder, and to encourage local residents who might have information to come forward. They also publicized a reward of $110,000 for tips leading to the arrest of Adam’s killers and a $5,500 reward for information that will identify him.
The next big break came July 2, when Irish police arrested a 37-year-old Nigerian man in Dublin on an extradition warrant issued by German police.
In March, 2001, Sam Onogigovie was sentenced in his absence to seven years in Germany, for forgery and crimes linked to the trafficking of people.
He’s believed to be the estranged husband of Osagiede, the woman arrested in Glasgow and deported to Benin City last year. Police are seeking a DNA test to determine whether he’s Adam’s father, but believe he was more likely involved in smuggling the boy to London.
“It’s a case we all dearly would like to solve,” Fysh says. “At the end of the day, it’s a murder of a very young boy in grotesque circumstances.
“We want to send a message out there we will not accept this in London. We accept people’s culture. But a murder we will not accept.”