The fingernails of Mary Sullivan: developing reliable methods for selectively isolating endogenous and exogenous DNA from evidence

J Forensic Sci. 2003 Mar;48(2):328-33.


The fingernails of Mary Sullivan, the last victim of the Boston Strangler, were examined to determine if any genetic information about the murderer could be obtained. The nails were extremely friable necessitating the development of new techniques for isolating and purifying DNA. DNA yields from nails were optimized by using a NaOH-based preparation technique, which was simple, efficient, and minimized handling. Methods for selectively and thoroughly removing exogenous material on nails were also developed through use of a species-specific PCR assay, wherein mitochondrial DNA from the nail could easily be differentiated from DNA of contaminating cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caustics / pharmacology
  • DNA Fingerprinting / methods
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / isolation & purification*
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine / methods*
  • Homicide
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Nails / chemistry*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods
  • Sodium Hydroxide / pharmacology


  • Caustics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Sodium Hydroxide