DNA sweats out confession
But Milam County deputies have "sweated out" a confession the high tech way recently involving a rural burglary ring operating in the southern part of the county in July.
Deputy Sheriff Chris White said a confession implicating Houston residents Mario Moreno Alvarado, 27, and Antonio Vega, 33, was obtained after deputies sent off sweat droplets collected at one crime scene to the state for DNA analysis.
A third suspect, 27-year-old Silvino Tobias Castillo of Houston, believed to be the "brains" of the theft ring, was arrested Monday in Houston by White and members of the Houston Police Department.
He was returned to Milam County, charged with burglary of a building and is being held in lieu of $75,000 bond.
It marked what looked to be the end of a case whose big break came when an off-duty Milam County deputy sheriff spotted one of the suspects' vehicles in Caldwell.
Alvarado and Vega were arrested in July in Burleson County after a series of break-ins in Burleson and Milam counties.
White said the two men had not been cooperating with investigators until the possibility of a DNA match was mentioned.
"One of them then confessed to Deput y Jay Beathard and implicated the other two men," White said.
"We were told that Castillo, who was then still at large, was the head of the outfit and had paid the other two."
Wh ite sa id t he subst a nc e believed to be sweat was collected at the site of a break-in south of Milano.
"A n at tempt wa s made to remove a welding cabinet from a trailer," White said. "It took a lot of effort. It was July and all the investigators were sweating so we figured whoever did this had obviously sweated a lot, too."
"We looked down and there, in the dirt were some splatters of something," he said. "We collected it for DNA analysis."
"There had been surveillance of Castillo's home in Houston for quite a while," White said. "Early this week I went down there and joined in the surveillance with Houston authorities.
"He showed up and we served the arrest warrant for burglary," White said.
Did Castillo exhibit the same willingness to talk about the break-ins?
"He said he wanted to see his lawyer," White said.
Rural residents in early July began alerting authorities of a suspicious white van on rural roads in the two counties and eventually a blue van also came under suspicion.
A two-county manhunt ensued, led by Sheriff David Greene, with investigators at one time having the suspects in sight.
But the cases's big break came when off-duty deputy Mike Clore, driving in Caldwell, spotted a white van he thought might have been the one used in the burglaries.
Clore had the sheriff's department run the license plate numbers, it was the van being sought and the identification led to the arrests of Alvarado and Vega.
How does an investigator even think to look for sweat droplets and link them to possible DNA?
"It's part of our training," White said. "We're supposed to look for anything that could be a source of DNA."
The sweat droplets were collected at a rural location south of Milano which was the site of one burglary.
Also being analyzed by forensic scientists are bolt cutters believed to have been used in a break-in at Friendship Baptist Church, just across the Burleson County line, where a lawn tractor was taken from a storage shed.
Authorities theorized suspects drove rural roads in the daytime, looking for barns and storage buildings with no homes nearby, then returned at night to break in and steal items.
The lawn tractor stolen from Friendship Baptist was found in the blue van.
Investigators in Houston raided a residence in that city, found stolen tools, none from Milam County, and a map believed to show possible locations for other rural farm burglaries.
"This was a huge team effort on the part of the Milam County Sheriff' Department," White said.
"It starts with the sheriff who was out there leading everything and then let me take the time to go to Houston for the surveillance that ended in the third arrest," he said.
"Our entire surveillance unit played a part in this," White said.
In early September Deputies Clore and Lee Dixon received commendations for exceptional service in connection with their work on the case.