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Science Clinches CasePainstaking analysis of the victim's address book

It was just a little scrap of paper when Nassau detectives

found it. They held it against the light. Studied it under a lens. Nothing.

Then, after days of delicate drying, detectives placed it under the green light

of a VSC 2000 machine that scanned it with high-resolution light rays. The

words that popped up on the screen stunned the onlooking detectives: "Don't be

mad. I told the truth."

Police investigating the now-celebrated case of the pregnant woman's body

sealed for 30 years in a barrel in the crawl space of a Jericho house used many

techniques to try to find her killer. Detectives scoured property records,

traced the manufacturer of the barrel and interviewed past owners of the house.

All signs pointed to one of the former owners, Howard Elkins, as the suspect.

But in the end, only science could provide the crucial clues detectives needed

to identify the woman in the barrel. And only science could allow Reyna

Angelica Marroquin to speak from the dead.

At first, the address book was indecipherable, soaking like a sponge in fluids

from the decomposed body. After a painstaking restoration by the police

department's Questioned Documents Unit, the book surrendered not only the name

of the woman in the barrel but her Social Security number, resident-alien

number, address and phone number. The book also yielded the name, address and

phone number of her employer, Elkins. It also provided a listing for Enriqueta

Andrade, a confidante of Marroquin, who told police Elkins and Marroquin had

been lovers.

"The most significant leads in the case came out of the documents found in the

barrel," said Det. Lt. Frank Guidice, commander of the Homicide Squad. "In the

early stages, we didn't know if the writings were retrievable."

It was a warm Friday in early September when Nassau homicide investigators

called Det. Joan Fiertner in the Department's Questioned Documents Unit for

help in their case. Along with clothes and jewelry found on the body that

provided useless clues, police found what looked like an address book. They

needed Fiertner to go to the Nassau County Medical Examiner's Office to pick it

up and begin restoring it.

The challenges of the task became obvious the minute Fiertner stepped into an

elevator to descend into the county morgue and encountered a pungent smell. It

was the stench of decomposed human flesh and body fluids, unleashed after three

decades of stewing in a barrel.

"It was brutal," Fiertner said. "The strongest smell I've ever smelled...It

took me a week and a half to get the smell out of my own house."

As Fiertner walked down the hallway at police headquarters with the rank book,

people in the offices along the way turned their heads in disgust.

Fiertner, a 12-year police veteran who has been with the unit for two years,

and Det. Sgt. Dennis Ryan, the unit commander, left the book in a forensic

evidence drying locker over the weekend to try to draw out some of the

moisture. It was difficult for detectives to be in the same room with the book

for more than a few minutes. To handle the book and the smell, Fiertner and

Ryan wore charcoal-filtered respirators, goggles, rubber gloves and lab coats

as a precaution against potential toxins. "It was soaking wet, completely slimy

with goo all over it," Ryan said. "We never had anything like this before."

It was Ryan who first took a crack at opening the book. He delicately slid the

blunt corner of a plastic ruler between the pages, but nothing could be read at

that point.

"The pages were stuck together, so I was trying to catch an open spot on the

book and slide the ruler through the page," Ryan said.

The next day, Fiertner picked up where he left off and separated more pages,

placing pieces of paper towels between the pages to absorb excess moisture. She

placed it under the VSC 2000, which exposes a document to a variety of light

sources and light filters covering various wavelengths of the light spectrum to

aid in visualizing marks and writings that the naked eye can't see.

Every time Fiertner wanted to flip a page, she had to return to the forensic

evidence room, gear up in full breathing regalia, take the book out of the

plastic, flip the page and seal it again to walk the book back to the VSC 2000

in her office.

Four days after Fiertner took possession of the book, she began to make out

names and numbers, but it wasn't until two days later that Fiertner stumbled

upon Marroquin's identifying information. Marroquin was an immigrant from El

Salvador who entered the country legally in 1966.

"I taped a piece of clear acetate over the VSC 2000 computer screen over what I

had seen in the book, and I took a magic marker and traced the name and the

information as it appeared on the book," Fiertner said. "After that popped up

on the screen, one of the homicide fellows came walking in and I said 'Look at

this.'"

Not only did it allow officers to identify the dead woman, but it provided the

name of Andrade, the witness who could link Marroquin, Elkins and the pregnancy.

"It was like hitting a home run," Fiertner said.

One of her last discoveries was a brown scrap of paper the size of a business

card folded in one of the pages of the book. She and Ryan had studied the

paper, held it against the light, scrutinized it under a lens, but it wasn't

until they placed it beneath the green light of the VSC 2000 machine that the

writing on the paper became visible. The words come back as a haunting reminder

of Marroquin's last days.

"Don't be mad. I told the truth," the paper said in Marroquin's handwriting.

The note re-enforced police suspicions that Marroquin, who was 9 months

pregnant, was killed by Elkins after she called his wife to disclose the affair.

The 72-year-old retired plastics manufacturer ended up shooting himself to

death in a neighbor's garage in Boca Raton, Fla., last month after homicide

detectives went down to question him about the body found under his former

house.

"These leads were necessary for us to solve the case," Guidice said. "It took a

good team of people doing their jobs for us to put the whole thing together."

After yielding so many clues, Fiertner and Ryan, the department's only two

documents specialists, are trying to figure out how to preserve the book. They

are considering freeze-drying it in liquid nitrogen or deep freezing it

conventionally.

"We don't think the book is ever going to dry completely," Ryan said. "So now

we face the problem of what to do with it when we're done. It's crucial

homicide evidence. It's not something we can just toss in the garbage."

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