JEROME — It wasn’t just luck.
A mother’s dedication and an invention with local connections contributed to finding another suspect in the 1996 rape and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge.
Even before Chris Tapp was cleared of the crime in 2017 and freed from prison after 20 years, Angie’s mother, Carol Dodge, had researched DNA testing and found the M-Vac system. She contacted the company’s president and CEO, Jared Bradley, a 1985 graduate of Jerome High School.
“I remember that conversation like it was yesterday,” Bradley said, adding that Carol Dodge was convinced Tapp was innocent of her daughter’s murder and was working to find a way to identify the person who had left DNA traces on Angie’s clothes and a teddy bear.
Carol Dodge brought the M-Vac to the attention of law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation.
“Initially they were looking to use the M-Vac to find Chris Tapp’s DNA on Angie’s clothing,” Bradley wrote in an email to the Times-News. “After it came up negative, they asked it be used again, even more aggressively and over a wider area, to really find it.”
Additional testing resulted in no matches with Tapp’s DNA, but plenty of evidence was discovered and eventually matched with Brian Dripp’s DNA. Dripp was recently charged with first-degree murder in Angie’s death.
“The M-Vac collects DNA, but it doesn’t identify it,” Bradley explained. Later steps include “lysing” or breaking down the skin, blood, saliva or other cells to get the DNA strands out. Duplication and identification steps follow.
“But it all starts with collecting the cells off of the evidence, which is what the M-Vac does,” Bradley said.
His father, Dr. Bruce Bradley, invented the M-Vac while living in Jerome.
“He was inspired by the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993,” Jared Bradley said.
The elder Bradley grew up on a ranch in southeast Idaho; he moved his family to Jerome in 1979.
“When kids were dying due to tainted beef, that really bothered him,” Jared Bradley said.
Bruce Bradley analyzed the problem and found the weakest point in the detection process in the collection or sampling of the cells. An entire side of beef was sampled with a small 1-by-4 sponge, or, in the case of hamburger, 60 small chunks of meat were sampled from a massive meat bin, his son said. The likelihood of missing E. coli, listeria or other contaminants prompted the man to devise the M-Vac to sample more aggressively.
The food industry never adopted the M-Vac system after it was introduced in 2007, but the DNA-testing industry prompted changes in the company.
The administration, bio-lab and research and development operations were located in Jerome until some difficult adjustments had to be made after Bruce Bradley’s death in 2009. The younger Bradley, who lived in Utah where the M-Vac engineering and sales offices were located, decided to consolidate the operation.
“It was a tough decision, especially because of the history we have in Idaho, but we had to do it for the survival of the company and the system,” Jared Bradley said.
His mother and brother still live in Jerome, as do many of his friends. He still visits several times a year.
“I have lots of great memories growing up there and am proud to call myself an Idaho boy,” he said.
One of his favorite memories was bringing the first M-Vac to Jerome.
“The look on my dad’s face was priceless,” Bradley said. “He had worked for almost 10 years to develop the M-Vac, so being able to hold one in his hands was the realization of an amazing dream.”
Years of operating a service lab to help dairies with various testing needs culminated in the fulfillment of that dream.
The M-Vac’s ability to assist law enforcement in cold cases continues to grow.
Age doesn’t affect the efficacy of the tests if evidence has been stored properly in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, Bradley said. The oldest successful case he knows of involves 52-year-old evidence from a man’s shirt.
M-Vac’s primary customers — mostly crime labs and law enforcement agencies — rely on the system to process DNA accurately to prevent suspects from being wrongly convicted, as was Tapp.
“What continually blows me away are the surfaces that the M-Vac is successful on,” Bradley said. “Rocks, bricks, cement, rope, wigs, duct tape — the sticky side — clothing, spent shell casings, gun grips, ski masks and other rough or porous surfaces that the traditional methods — swabs, taping, cutting, scraping — would never come close to collecting a good profile.”