Gina Renee Hall went missing on June 28, 1980. She was a freshman at Radford University, Radford, Virginia. After a night out in Blacksburg, she left with Stephen Epperly, a former Virginia Tech football player.
Epperly was ultimately charged with Hall’s murder and “became the first person in Virginia — and only the fourth in U.S. history — convicted of murder in the absence of a body, a confession or an eyewitness.”
There is a lot online so I am not going to discuss the case or the trial. It was the article below in the paper this morning that prompted this post.
WDBJ7 reports that “Gina’s older sister, Diana Hall Bodmer, with help of a forensic anthropologist out of Tennessee, has found some of Gina’s DNA and remains.”
This is great news. If we can find Gina Renee Hall’s remains we can give her a proper burial. Gina’s remains are most likely spread out over the area where she was murdered. As per the article, “the witness saw “two men dismembering a body in Meadow Creek and they were driving a white van and he believed the woman to be Gina Hall.” If this is true, we need to find Epperly’s accomplice. But there’s more.
The article continues with “Diana was introduced to Dr. Arpad Vass, a forensic anthropologist who had invented an instrument to detect DNA buried beneath the surface. Since then, Gina’s remains have been discovered across eight locations throughout the New River Valley using that device.” And that is what prompted this post.
Vass’ website states that the “United States Patent office approved his patent for the INQUISITOR in July 2018.” And then I remembered why this made me pause. I had read about it before. Andrea Lankford, a former National Park Service ranger, who won several awards for her work as a criminal investigator, wrote a critical review about the Inquisitor in January 2019. You can find that article here.
Lankford describes how she doubts the invention works. Vass mentions that he can find your ancestor’s grave by taking DNA from beneath fingernails and placing it in his machine. Lankford correctly points out that DNA can be mixed. So, I wonder. Is there a DNA strand separating procedure before any profile can be uploaded in the Inquisitor?
Lankford said “I’ve reviewed 14 unsolved cases Vass worked and I can’t find a single one where the Inquisitor detected an actual missing person or their remains.” Her article continues to describe the fee collection and how she asked Dr. Monte Miller, director of Forensic DNA Experts LLC, to conduct an independent and objective analysis. She mentions a six-page report debunking the Inquisitor. I wish that I had a copy of that report.
UPDATE: the Miller report is here. Thank you, Andrea Lankford.
Some of the cases that Lankford refers to where the Inquisitor was used to no avail concern Brandy Hall and Jessica Leeann Hamby. I found it was also used in the cases of Kristin Modafferi, Maura Murray, and Arieanna Day. Diane Fanning writes positively about Dr. Vass during the Casey Anthony trial. The University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center refers to articles about Dr. Vass in Forensic magazine but the links do not work anymore.
Even if Lankford is wrong, as this article suggests, it is strange that said article has no links to the cases discussed where the Inquisitor was instrumental in finding missing persons’ remains and that I cannot find a picture of this instrument.
From Dr. Vass’ own website: “There will soon come a day that criminals will not be able to hide a human body. Dr. Arpad Vass in going to see to it with his new INQUISITOR machine.” He writes that the patent received approval in July 2018 yet there are still no images in 2020.
If I had something so groundbreaking and so powerful to advance unsolved cases, I would be introducing it to the world, teaching others how to use it, etc. to really solve old cases and to alert families that there’s a new tool just like with the M-Vac. They posted clips, went around the world to teach police how to use it, held demonstrations at conferences, etc.
So, here is my concern. Have we tested the remains found in an independent lab and do we have a match with Gina Renee Hall’s family members? Do we have solid proof? I really hope that it is true but I want to see more evidence in light of the above-mentioned concerns.
I am not accusing Dr. Vass of anything however, I would appreciate to see and read for myself about findings, reports, peer reviews, articles in forensic or general science magazines, images, etc.
If you know where to find more information about cases that were successfully closed by Dr. Vass’ invention ‘The Inquisitor’ please let me know. I really do hope that we have finally found Gina.
Rest in peace, Gina Renee Hall.
UPDATE: July 14, 2020: one of my readers alerted me to the following
- In this post you can find a good summary about the current state of the art techniques for finding clandestine graves.
- Dr. Vass does appear to have a long and respected history in forensics.
- There are devices that can detect grave odors.
- Testing for a DNA match from a distance is not likely.
UPDATE: July 2021, Stephen Epperly’s latest parole request was denied.