Baltimore County, MA – Wednesday, November 1, 2023:
Baltimore County Announces Landmark Commitment to Complete Testing of All GBMC Slides by 2024 to Support Cold Case Sexual Assault Investigations and Aid Survivors
Following passage of new state law and through a combination of over $2 million in new funding, County to expedite testing of cold case sexual assault forensic evidence preserved since the 1970s
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Baltimore County Police Department Chief Robert McCullough today announced a landmark commitment to aggressively expedite testing of cold case sexual assault forensic evidence preserved by GBMC since the 1970s.
Baltimore County plans to complete testing of all remaining GBMC slide cases by the end of 2024 in order to support cold case investigations and aid survivors of sexual assault thanks to a combination of newly-announced awards, including a $1.5 million grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services and a generous grant of up to $500,000 from the Hackerman Foundation.
“Every resident in Baltimore County should feel safe in their community, and ensuring that our police department has the tools, resources, and support needed to analyze forensic evidence is critical,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. “We hope that long-awaited justice – and closure – will be delivered to victims of sexual assault as a result of this expedited testing, and thank GBMC for the careful preservation of this evidence along with the Hackerman Foundation and our State and County partners for their generous support.”
In the 1970s, GBMC emergency room physician Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker recognized the value of evidence from sexual assault survivors and preserved evidence of more than two thousand sexual assaults on microscope slides. The late Dr. Breitenecker continued this collection practice into the early 1990s when the standardized SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence) exam emerged.
These slides have been maintained at GBMC and have proven viable for DNA testing which have led to the conviction of several offenders for decades-old crimes. For example, in August 2023, Baltimore County detectives made an arrest in the rape investigations of five Baltimore County women utilizing forensic evidence collected under the GBMC slide project.
“Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker’s foresight in preserving this evidence before DNA matching became common practice was revolutionary. Many sexual assault victims have found justice and closure decades after crimes were committed against them, thanks to his innovative mindset,” said Dr. John. B. Chessare, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center HealthCare System. “At GBMC HealthCare, we are proud of his work and to continue a legacy of supporting and caring for sexual assault and domestic violence victims through our SAFE and Domestic Violence Program.”
In 2019, Olszewski formed the Sexual Assault Investigations Task Force to examine investigation and prosecution policies. Since then, the administration has worked with state and local partners to implement the Task Force’s recommendations, including increasing the capacity to test SAFE kits, establishing a cold case investigations squad within the Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, and seeking funding sources to assist in these efforts.
While the County has made significant progress to date, numerous factors including the disruption of the COVID-19 and external testing capacity, have resulted in a continued need to advance this work.
Under the leadership of Baltimore County State Senator Shelly Hettleman and other leaders in the General Assembly, earlier this year, the state of Maryland updated the definition of a SAFE kit to include the GBMC slides, creating new legal pathways for Baltimore County to take a more holistic approach of obtaining and testing these slides.
“I am proud to have played a part, along with my General Assembly colleagues, to pass legislation to protect and preserve the GBMC slides,” said Senator Shelly Hettleman. “In partnership with the State, County Executive, and the Hackerman Foundation, I am thrilled that there are now resources available to finish testing the slides because we know that DNA collected from sexual assault survivors decades ago might hold the keys to solving crimes — because they already have.”
As a result, GBMC’s Pathology Department began a comprehensive accounting of remaining Breitenecker cases in order to facilitate the complete transfer of all remaining materials. This accounting allowed for more accurate project management and has led to the efficient, rapid, valid transfer of those materials. In partnership with GBMC and the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office, Baltimore County is now in the process of transferring all remaining cases and slides from GBMC to the Baltimore County Police Department, which will further expedite the county’s ability to efficiently log and test samples.
“Dr. Breitenecker’s groundbreaking work collecting forensic evidence has empowered our office to identify and obtain at least 49 criminal convictions in sexual assault cases — including in the case of serial rapist Alphonso Hill,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger. “By obtaining all remaining slides, Baltimore County will be able to more effectively test evidence and our office remains ready to work with our partners in the Baltimore County Police Department to aggressively pursue cases and seek justice for victims.”
Baltimore County will leverage an existing agreement with forensic labs vendor Bode Technology to support increased testing of all remaining slides. Under the revised agreement, Bode has agreed to accept and test these slides in higher volumes. This project will result in testing all of the remaining approximately 1,400 cases by the end of 2024—years ahead of when previously thought possible.
To enable this work, Baltimore County announced today it has received a $1.5 million supplemental appropriation from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services which will be utilized for the outsourced testing of these slides.
In addition, the Hackerman Foundation, in partnership with Season of Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing funding for investigative agencies and families to help solve cold cases and bring resolution to those impacted by unsolved violent crimes, today launched the “BreitLight Justice Fund” to administer private philanthropic funding to support this testing effort.
The Hackerman Foundation is providing a generous commitment of up to $500,000 to the newly-created “BreitLight Justice Fund.” Individuals interested in supporting the “BreitLight Justice Fund” can visit www.seasonofjustice.org/breitlightjusticefund for more information.
The Hackerman Foundation had previously awarded Baltimore County $300,000 in grant funding to Baltimore County and the Baltimore County Police Department to support cold case sexual assault investigations and improve current and future investigations. This previous grant funded much of the investigative work that has laid the foundation for this expedited transfer and testing process.
“Baltimore County’s new partnership with Season of Justice is a testament to the impact a private foundation can have on the advancement of change where it is needed most,” said Nancy Hackerman, President of The Hackerman Foundation. “Our initial $300,000 grant to Baltimore County led to the arrest of one individual now charged with five rapes, and the work has only just begun. We are proud to partner with Season of Justice and the County once again on the creation of the new BreitLight Justice Fund to help expedite testing on the remaining sexual assault slides, so thoughtfully cared for and protected by Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker, a forensic pathologist, whose vision for change challenged how sexual assault victims were treated in the ‘70s and 80’s. His advanced foresight on DNA sequencing, and his desire to bring justice and social change, is a charge The Hackerman Foundation is proud to stand with.”
Baltimore County will utilize a combination of County general funds and up to $500,000 in federal ARPA funds to support the completion of this effort.
The new grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services is expected to go before the Baltimore County Council in December 2023.
Sexual Assault Resources:
- Baltimore County Police Department Special Victim’s Unit: 410-887-2223
- GBMC SAFE – DV Program provides medical services and victim resources as well as a listing of Sexual Assault Services that are available to victims and survivors of Sexual Assault, Child Abuse and Domestic Violence
- TurnAround, Inc. – Baltimore County’s Certified Rape Crisis Center
- Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault MCASA
- Victim Notification “Opt-In” Portal https://mcasa.org/survivors/saki
- Victim Information Notification Everyday (VINE) (https://vinelink.vineapps.com/state/MD)