NASA Robot Solves 19-Year-Old Murder Mystery

Dawn Sanchez was last seen alive when she stepped into Bernado Bass' car in 1991. Her disappearance and death remained unsolved until recently when—thanks to a little NASA robot—her murderer was sentenced to six years in prison.

Bass was Sanchez's boyfriend at the time of her disappearance and there were witness reports claiming that he shot the girl "in a vacant lot after the two got into a fight." The only problem was that no evidence to support this explanation was anywhere to be found. No car. No gun. No body.

This meant that Bass got away with the murder until recently when parts from the suspect's car were found buried in a large abandoned lot. They most likely would not have been found without the aid of the NASA equipment borrowed for the investigation. Using this equipment, investigators were able to figure out just where they needed to excavate:

The case was dismissed in 1991 due to lack of evidence. The case was recently reopened, when an informant reported that the car may have been disassembled and buried in a large abandoned lot in Alviso. The exact location in the lot was not specified, and the cost to excavate the entire area was too high. Further, the lot contained a substantial amount of buried and surface metallic debris, making a simple survey with metal detectors insufficient.

[...]

[T]he mixed team of scientists and engineers from CMIL, NASA Ames and the USGS deployed an instrumented Senseta MAX 5.0A rover hosting the research technologies under development, and mapped the magnetic environment of the survey area. The USGS received the processed data set, and after further post-processing, presented the county DA's office with their analysis and possible locations for excavation. Based on this data, the county excavated the site and retrieved car parts that matched the suspect's car.

The suspect, Bass, was apprehended and sentenced to six years of prison for manslaughter. [NASA via Smart Planet via PopSci]