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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

Sikeston sleuth solves crimes in the laboratory

Sunday, April 22, 2007

(Photo)
Dr. Mike Zaricor
FARMINGTON -- A forensic pathologist with roots in Sikeston will soon be featured on a television program for his part in solving a 15-year-old murder case.

Dr. Mike Zaricor, a pathologist at the Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington for 27 years, will appear on an episode of "Forensics Files" slated to air on Court-TV Sept. 19.

Zaricor was interviewed about a month ago for the program to explain his work on evidence related to the strangulation death of 31-year-old Laura Ann Wynn, "a case out of Poplar Bluff that had laid fallow for about 12-15 years," he said. "It is interesting, I guess, because of the DNA involved."

The murder occurred on May 6, 1992, or early the early morning hours of May 7, 1992.

"She had an argument with a guy in a bar, went home and he was there waiting for her," Zaricor recalled. "He hit her in the back of the head and rendered her unconscious, or unable to defend herself anyway. He went into her apartment then and eventually sexually assaulted her."

The initial investigation didn't turn up enough evidence to bring the primary suspect to trial.

"He pretty well cleaned up the scene -- they didn't have any prints or anything inside but there were four Kleenex tissues in the room," Zaricor said. "They didn't think about having the Kleenex evaluated for DNA at the time -- they thought it would be hers."

Also, DNA testing wasn't nearly as sophisticated when the tissues were first recovered as possible evidence, Zaricor noted.

A couple of years ago, however, a detective that "probably wasn't out of high school when it happened," Zaricor said, figured "DNA technique had advanced enough they thought they could get something."

A runny nose may have been the killer's undoing. Testing on the Kleenex revealed DNA that matched Samuel Andrew Freeman -- the person Wynn had argued with at the bar the night she was killed.

"When you have a homicide it is usually someone attached to the family or a friend and in this case it was neither of the above," Zaricor said.

With the current popularity of television shows like CSI, one could easily get the impression that DNA evidence is the key to breaking a great number of murder cases but Zaricor said in his experience, DNA evidence is a rarity.

"I think this is my second case in which DNA had anything to do with it," he said. "I was involved in the first case DNA ever was used in Missouri for prosecution and conviction."

This first case was the abduction and murder of a 12-year-old girl from St. Louis whose body had been dumped in the river near Piedmont in the mid 1980s.

"They found a drop of blood in a little Vaseline jar," Zaricor said. "It turned out to be (the killer's). As I understood it, that was the first case Missouri had in which DNA was admitted into evidence and used to convict anybody."

Most of Zaricor's work is related to investigations into "young people overdoses, middle-aged deaths without a medical history, plane crashes -- stuff like that," he said.

With many drug overdoses, coroners aren't able to tell what killed them. "Families tend to clean up a scene when someone dies from a drug overdose so there's nothing to indicate why a person dies," he explained.

A recent case Zaricor worked on involved a death in a Sikeston hotel which was ruled a suicide. He determined the death was caused by drinking ethylene glycol -- the active ingredient in antifreeze.

A graduate of Sikeston Senior High School, Zaricor is the son of Annette Zaricor of Sikeston. "I went to Mizzou for a couple years -- played baseball there," Zaricor said. "Then I came back to Cape and graduated from Southeast."

He began his career in 1980 and has since then worked on 300 to 400 homicide cases.

"Mostly retrieving bullets for investigators to do ballistic tests on, measuring knife wounds, stuff like that," Zaricor said. "Sometimes beatings, fires to cover up evidence -- I've had several of those."

In addition to providing key evidence for many local murder cases, one local case that Zaricor worked on which was particularly memorable was the fraternity hazing death of a young black man at Southeast Missouri State University.

"The autopsy showed he was beaten to death -- kicked to death, pretty much," Zaricor said.

While Zaricor was a good enough athlete to have played minor league baseball, he has no regrets over the career path he chose, having had an interest in law enforcement even as a kid.

"I made the right choice as far as specialities in medicine," he said. "I feel like I've been pretty lucky to do what I've done."

Some information for this story was provided by The Daily American Republic.