Mystery Solved: UNC Snake Expert Helps Catch Child Killer
A biology professor at the University of Northern Colorado will soon be known for more than research, according to CBS4 Denver.
Professor Steve Mackessy, a snake expert, used his knowledge of snake venom to help the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) solve the 2014 murder of 2-year-old Aleka Esa-Bella Scheyk Gonzales.
Mackessy was studying snakes in 2014 in western Colorado when he received messages from the RCMP. He originally thought the calls were a prank, as he never intended for his research to be used in criminal investigations.
Mackessy and his students' reptile research primarily focuses on how snake venom can be used to fight cancer and high blood pressure. However, once he learned the calls were legitimate, Mackessy immediately offered to help with the case.
Police suspected that the boyfriend of the child's mother, identified as 51-year-old Henry Thomas, was somehow involved in her passing.
Thomas claimed that the child died after falling down the stairs, but RCMP began looking as venom as a possible cause of death after poisonous, illegal snakes were found on his property.
After applying for multiple clearances, the RCMP was able to get the evidence, which included samples of snake venom and skins, across the border and into Colorado.
Mackessy and his students quickly tested the samples, and discovered they were an exact match to the venom that was found inside the toddler's body when she died.
An RCMP spokeperson confirmed that snake venom was the official cause of death of Aleka Gonzales.
Thomas administered the venom to the child via syringes. He also injected himself with venom in order to stimulate his immune system.
After being confronted with the test results, Thomas confessed to giving snake venom to the child. He is now awaiting a prison sentence in a court east of Vancouver.
Mackessy expressed his pride in the team's ability to step outside of their comfort zone to bring justice to the case, stating "...[our investigation] was central to them solving this case, and bringing closure to this tragedy."