TAMPA - Three decades before the popularity of forensics TV shows like CSI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement wanted to go beyond simple sleuthing. They knew that technology mixed with well-trained scientists was the wave of the future -- and today, they have gained a reputation for being one of the best crime labs in the nation.
From firearm forensics to DNA and fingerprints, solving some of the Bay area's biggest crimes usually involves a stop at FDLE's crime lab.
"We treat every case like it's a puzzle," said Larry Bedore, a former FDLE crime scene analyst.
Bedore is now the director of investigations for the medical examiner's office, but in the early years of the crime lab, he was part of a revolutionary dream team of 20-somethings with zero experience who made the crime scene unit what it is today -- a powerful crime-fighting force.
However, his choice to join the unit was not without sacrifice.
"I had to take a pay cut to accept the job," Bedore said. "My wife thought I was certifiably nuts."
With the right evidence, the crime lab can make a conviction concrete. These days, fingerprint systems are automated, DNA evidence can be found on almost anything, and computers can match bullet grooves from guns used in other crimes.
But despite all the advancements -- much has stayed the same.
"It's still the human mind that has to make that judgement call," said Bedore.
Barbara Vohlken has been a part of that unit since the beginning. Now, as a senior crime lab analyst, she's one of only five of the original 15 members still working for the FDLE.
She still remembers when the crime lab began -- just 30 years ago.
"We all came together and went through ten weeks of intensive training in Tallahassee together," Vohlken said.
Bedore and Vohlken had barely finished their training when they were thrown on the front lines to investigate a gruesome murder in Holmes Beach. In 1980, Dr. Juan Dumois, his two sons, and an innocent bystander were killed in cold blood by a hitchhiker, who seemingly vanished into thin air.
The case is still unsolved today. Since then, Vohlken has worked on many other high profile cases, including helping to process evidence that convicted one of the Bay Area's worst serial killers, Bobby Joe Long.
Sifting through all the evidence in those cases took time and commitment, but Vohlken knows she is a critical piece of the puzzle.
"We know that what we're doing is important, and that we're able to do something for law enforcement and serve our communities in a way that very few people get a chance to," she said.
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