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Douglas Leo BEAMISH





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: First time animal's DNA used as evidence in murder trial
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 3, 1994
Date of arrest: May 6, 1995
Date of birth: 1957
Victim profile: Shirley A. Duguay, 32 (his common-law wife)
Method of murder: Beating
Location: Prince Edward Island, Canada
Status: Sentenced to 18 years-to-life in prison on July 19, 1996

Murder of Shirley Duguay

In 1994, Shirley Duguay of Prince Edward Island, Canada went missing and was later found dead in a shallow grave. Among the most compelling pieces of evidence in the case was a leather jacket covered in Duguay's blood and over two dozen white feline hairs.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators recalled that during a previous interview with the estranged husband, Douglas Beamish, that he had a white cat of which he named Snowball. The detectives confiscated the cat and drew blood in which they intended to use DNA fingerprinting to compare it to the DNA found in the white hairs from the jacket, but they found that no one in the world had done this before.

After contacting the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, a laboratory specializing not in forensics, but in the study of genetic diseases, detectives and scientists were able to develop a method in which to test the feline DNA. The test included a fail-safe method of randomly testing 20 other cats from the isolated Prince Edward Island, in order to establish the degree of genetic diversity among cats in the area, to rule out the possibility that the hairs found in the jacket came from a close relative of Snowball, or if all the cats on the island had a common ancestor, rendering the DNA test useless.

The tests revealed that the hairs did come from the cat; Beamish was subsequently convicted for the murder of his wife.

The forensic science of testing cat and dog hairs has been firmly established and studied, but it was an unknown science until the Duguay case.

The case was later told on The New Detectives on December 10, 2002, on episode 3 of season 8.


Parole denied for P.E.I. man who killed common-law wife

By Ryan Ross -

August 01, 2013

An Island man who was found guilty of killing his common-law wife in 1994 will be staying in prison after the National Parole Board denied his release.

Douglas Leo Beamish, 56, is housed in an Ontario prison and appeared before the board on July 26 for a hearing to determine if he should be released on day or full parole.

In its decision, the board said Beamish’s lack of understanding as to why he acts out violently brings into question his ability to not repeat the same behaviour.

Beamish is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder after he was found guilty of killing his common-law wife Shirley Duguay.

Duguay disappeared in 1994 and when Beamish reported it to the police he gave the impression she had abandoned him and her three children. Her body was found in a shallow grave almost a year later.

Beamish lost an appeal of his conviction and the parole board report said he continues to deny his guilt.

In its report, the parole board said Beamish was deemed to have a medium level of motivation and low reintegration potential. The board said his conduct in prison appeared satisfactory but was described as demanding and confrontational with a negative view toward the justice system.

Although he didn’t have a history of institutional violence, the board noted he had numerous charges for disobeying the rules and had 17 disciplinary convictions. Those included 10 refusals to give urine samples.

Beamish had two suspensions from the prison’s education centre and in May he made inappropriate comments to a female correctional officer.

His request for a transfer to a minimum-security prison was also recently denied.

The board said Beamish’s psychiatric risk assessment from September 2012 suggested he represented a low-moderate risk for violence toward the general public, but was an elevated risk to intimate partners.

In its report, the board said Beamish’s behaviour could be described as having a negative attitude.

When he was asked to attend an interview, Beamish responded his hours were Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and he refused to attend.

The board said it was informed at the start of the hearing that Beamish didn’t expect to get a conditional release and his intention for having the hearing was to familiarize himself with the process.

It also said Beamish wasn’t cooperating with his case management team while incarcerated, which lead the board to believe he wouldn’t be able to work with anyone attempting to monitor his reintegration into the community.

The board denied his requests for day and full parole.


Cat Hair Finds Way Into Courtroom in Canadian Murder Trial

By Gina Kolata - The New York Times

April 24, 1997

It was a trial to remember on Prince Edward Island, Canada. A young woman was murdered, her estranged boyfriend was accused of the crime, and the main evidence against him came from the DNA of a cat.

Forensic scientists say the case is the first in which animal DNA has been introduced in court. It came about only because a determined police officer searched until he found a researcher specialized enough to perform the needed analysis.

''Without the cat, the case falls flat,'' the defense lawyer, John L. MacDougall, told the jury. But after hearing testimony about how DNA was obtained from the hair of the family cat, the jury found the accused, Douglas Beamish, guilty of second-degree murder.

The case, decided on Aug. 1, is reported in today's issue of the journal Nature.

It began on Oct. 3, 1994, when Shirley A. Duguay, a 32-year-old mother of five, vanished from her home in Sunnyside, a city of 16,000 that is the second-largest city on Prince Edward Island. Her car was found a few days later, splattered with her blood. Several months later, Ms. Duguay's body was found in a shallow grave.

Earlier, a military team about six miles from her house had stumbled upon a plastic bag containing a man's leather jacket. Ms. Duguay's blood was on the jacket, and several white hairs were in the jacket's lining. Here, the police thought, might be a clue to the murderer's identity.

But when the police had the hairs analyzed, they turned out to be from a cat. A police inspector, Roger Savoie, decided he would simply order a DNA analysis of the cat hairs, and attempt to provide convincing evidence that the murderer was the owner of the cat. Mr. Beamish, the father of three of Ms. Duguay's children, owned a white cat named Snowball.

But when he called DNA testing labs, Mr. Savoie recalled in an interview, ''they had no idea what I was talking about.'' No one, it seemed, had ever got DNA forensic evidence from a domestic animal and no one was willing to try.

Mr. Savoie persisted, calling experts in the United States and Canada, and eventually he came across Dr. Stephen J. O'Brien, chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md., an expert on cats and their genes. Dr. O'Brien, who had never done a forensic DNA analysis, was intrigued and sought advice from a former student, Dr. Lisa Forman, who worked for Cellmark, a Rockville, Md., company that specializes in forensic DNA analysis.

Dr. O'Brien began by attempting to extract DNA from the hairs that had been found on the jacket lining. Of the eight hairs found in the jacket, only one had usable DNA, in its root.

Then he went on to analyze Snowball's blood. ''It looked like a perfect match,'' Dr. O'Brien said, but he wondered whether he really had proof. After all, what if all the cats on the island were so inbred that their DNA was essentially identical? So he called Mr. Savoie and asked him to round up 20 cats from the neighborhood and send their blood to his lab in Frederick. ''We were relieved to find abundant genetic diversity,'' Dr. O'Brien said.

After his conviction, Mr. Beamish was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum security prison, without parole. He is appealing his sentence, his lawyer said. As for Snowball, he remains with Mr. Beamish's parents, Mr. MacDougall said. ''He's still the family cat.''


Killer didn't have a 'Snowball's' chance as cat's DNA puts him away in murder of gal pal

Douglas Beamish sentenced to 18 years-to-life in the fatal beating of Shirley Duguay. First time animal's DNA used as evidence in murder trial

By Mara Bovsun - New York Daily News

Saturday, August 24, 2013

When it comes to four-legged crimefighters, dogs hog the spotlight and the headlines. But 16 years ago, a cat not only caught a killer, but she made history.

On Oct. 3, 1994, Shirley Duguay, a 32-year-old mother of five who lived on Prince Edward Island, vanished.

Four days later, her car turned up a few miles from her home.

Samples of blood spattered in the car’s interior were sent off to the forensics labs of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Tests showed that the blood came from the missing woman.

There was one likely suspect from the start, Duguay’s common-law husband, Douglas Beamish. His 12-year relationship with Duguay had been a stormy one.

Beamish had a prison record and unsavory reputation with the ladies. More than one of his squeezes reported being slapped around.

On the night Duguay vanished, neighbors said, they heard the couple having a screaming argument.

But during an interview at his parents’ home, where he had lived since he and Duguay had split about two years earlier, Beamish insisted he had no idea where she might have gone.

Despite their suspicions, investigators had nothing to link him to her disappearance.

Three days into a massive search of the island, a clue turned up in the woods, a bag containing a pair of sneakers and a leather jacket, both stained with Duguay’s blood.

The shoes were Beamish’s size, and the soles had been worn in a way that was consistent with his walk. But it was not enough for an arrest.

Investigators also found 20 white hairs embedded in the jacket lining. A lab test revealed they were from a cat.

This evidence might have been overlooked, had it not been for an observation by Constable Roger Savoie. During an earlier interview with Beamish, Savoie noticed a white cat wandering around the house, Snowball, the family pet.

If the hair on the jacket came from Snowball, Savoie reasoned, it might provide the link between Beamish and the bloody jacket.

Using DNA in murder investigations was a relatively new science, with the first genetic fingerprint conviction just seven years earlier in Britain. Animal DNA had never been entered into evidence in a murder trial.

Savoie had a hard time convincing anyone that his interest in testing cat hairs was worth more than a chuckle. Phone calls to scientists all over the world yielded polite refusals, until he found Stephen O’Brien, a geneticist with the U.S. National Cancer Institute. O’Brien was also among the world’s foremost authorities on feline DNA.

In his book “Tears of the Cheetah,” O’Brien writes that Savoie called him the last hope. O’Brien said, “I thought to myself, ‘Now this is really interesting!’ ”

As O’Brien assembled a lab team, Savoie got a subpoena to draw a blood sample from Snowball. With one canister containing the white cat hairs and another containing the blood, the constable hopped on a flight to personally hand over the evidence to the geneticist. He was taking no chances that anything could corrupt the chain of evidence.

One of the hairs had a tiny amount of flesh attached to the roots and yielded the DNA to conduct the tests. Snowball’s blood had the same genetic paw print, O’Brien recalled. He estimated that the chance of another cat having that same profile was about 45 million to one.

Analysis of Snowball’s DNA was completed before the most important piece of evidence came to light. On May 6, 1995, a trout fisherman found a shallow grave about 10 miles from where the car was found. It held Duguay’s body. Her hands had been tied behind her back and she had been beaten about the head with such force that a tooth was propelled into one lung.

Police arrested Beamish and charged him with first-degree murder.

Evidence at his eight-week-long trial included a letter in which Beamish had threatened to kill Duguay, with his signature apparently written in blood, and testimony from an old girlfriend, who described a horrible beating at the hands of the defendant.

But Snowball was the star witness. Beamish’s attorney, borrowing a page from the O.J. Simpson trial book of poetry, said, “Without the cat, the case falls flat.”

O’Brien’s data proved convincing, and the jury found Beamish guilty. He was sentenced to 18 years to life on July 19, 1996.

The case did not receive much attention until April the following year, when O’Brien and colleagues Victor David and Marilyn Menotti-Raymond published a brief description of their work in the scientific journal Nature. O’Brien recalled that press punsters went wild — “Purr-fect Match,” “CAT-astrophe for Criminals,” “Fur-ensic Evidence.”

Catty headlines aside, the case set a legal precedent — the first time nonhuman DNA had been used as evidence in a murder trial. Snowball ushered in the era when pets can, silently and unwittingly, rat on their owners.

Hair, blood and even urine from dogs and cats have helped solve several violent crimes in Canada and the U.S.

Britain and the U.S. now have cat and dog DNA databases.

Most recently, Britain, for the first time, had a case strengthened by a shedding pet.

In July, cat hairs helped convict David Hilder for the murder of his neighbor, David Guy, whose dismembered corpse was found wrapped in a curtain on a beach. Hairs on Guy’s torso matched those of Hilder’s pet, Tinker.

As for Beamish, he came up for parole the same month, but since he demonstrated “low reintegration potential,” the prison system will keep its claws on him.


Douglas Leo Beamish


The victim

Shirley Anne Duguay



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