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Seven months after 21-year-old Christine Wood was reported missing in Winnipeg, forensic investigators scoured a North End home where they believed she spent her last moments alive.
The search revealed traces of her blood and uncovered photos of Wood with her accused killer — images likely unknowingly transferred to the accused's computer after they were deleted from his cellphone.
As the second-degree murder trial for Brett Overby continued Thursday, three Winnipeg Police Service forensic investigators testified about what they found — evidence Crown prosecutors are using to try to prove their murder case against the 32-year-old man.
Overby has pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution believes Overby met Wood through the online dating website Plenty of Fish. On Thursday, the jury heard he may have been deleting his web history and abandoning his Plenty of Fish account around the same time the WPS was asking for the public's help to find Wood.
The 21-year-old former University of Winnipeg student sent her last Facebook messages using a wireless internet connection that was registered to Overby's home address, the Crown has said.
In the unfinished basement of Overby's home at 341 Burrows Ave., investigators sprayed a chemiluminescence solution that glows blue where blood or cleaning products such as bleach may have been present. Based on what he saw in that dark basement, Patrol-Sgt. Brian Neumann testified he believed a blood-letting happened there.
On a bench used for weight-lifting, "there were numerous stains" that could be seen with the naked eye, Neumann said. On a closet door and the floor below, there was a "significant reaction" of blue light. Circled in permanent marker over the course of the search, more than 50 stains that looked like blood were visible, and Neumann counted all of them — "Unfortunately," he said.
He took swabs of the most prominent stains and sent them to the RCMP's forensic lab. The test results showed Christine Wood's blood was on the bench, on the closet door and on a stair step leading to the main floor. Police collected blood samples from Wood's parents, George and Melinda, to conduct the DNA analysis.
Defence lawyer Sarah Inness questioned Neumann about whether a struggle could have taken place inside the home. The officer acknowledged the forensic search, conducted March 22, 2017, could not tell investigators exactly what happened on the day they believe Wood was killed: Aug. 20, 2016.
The search focused on the basement and on the front porch.
The basement door was always closed and locked during the years Overby's former common-law partner lived with him at the Burrows Avenue home, she previously testified. On Wednesday, Shirley Houle told the jury she visited Overby at home Aug. 21, 2016. The basement door was closed during her visit, she testified.
Police also seized Overby's desktop computer, which they obtained permission from a judge to search. What they found led them to believe Overby was trying to cover up his dating site activity.
His HTC-brand smartphone — the one police believe Wood used to send her last Facebook messages — was deactivated within a month of her disappearance, and police never found it. When he was a person of interest in the missing-person investigation, Overby told investigators the phone was stolen during a house party.
Det. Jason Joseph, a WPS specializing in computer forensics, was permitted to search files dating back to Aug. 13, 2016, roughly one week before Wood disappeared.
Joseph testified he copied the contents of Overby's computer and ran it through a program used to automatically organize files. His analysis of the computer's contents piqued the interest of homicide unit Sgt. John O'Donovan, who asked him to search for more information about a photo that appeared to show Wood and Overby together.
Joseph found two similar photos of the victim and her accused killer. They were caches of thumbnail images that were transferred to the desktop computer when the HTC phone was plugged in via a USB cord on Sept. 28, 2016, the officer testified.
He said it's possible for deleted photos to be discovered in a forensic search. In this case, the thumbnail versions of the photos appeared to remain stored in the phone even after they were deleted because new files hadn't overwritten the deleted ones.
Although he couldn't say for certain, Joseph said he believes the photos were taken using the cellphone and were deleted from the phone before they were transferred to the computer. He couldn't say when the photo may have been taken.
Joseph's analysis also showed Overby last accessed his Plenty of Fish account Sept. 28, 2016, the same day police issued a public news release about Wood's disappearance. Jurors heard he later started a different account under a new username.
The trial continues Friday.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.