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Catching a Suspected Killer

Photo Credit: Clarence Elie Rivera
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By DIANE S. WILLIAMS, DC 37 Your Union Workers' Rights
Catching a Suspected Killer
Pictured: Christina Aligizakis

A highly trained forensic scientist from District Council 37 (New York) helped police catch a man – dubbed the “Tinder serial killer” – suspected of several murders and other violent assaults in New York, Connecticut and California.

“We made the connection here,” said Christina Aligizakis, a Criminalist 3 at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in Manhattan, who interprets DNA samples.

Aligizakis analyzed forensic evidence left at different crime scenes that positively identified suspected serial rapist and murderer Danueal Drayton.

“All the data presented in the DNA profile matched,” said Aligizakis, a member of Local 3005, New York City Health Department Technical Professional Employees. “When I looked at the samples, the numbers matched up.” 

The local represents 203 criminalists working at OCME. These scientists work in three forensic departments at the city’s 34,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art DNA training laboratory, examining 13,500 cases a year. They developed new investigatory procedures while identifying World Trade Center victims following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In addition to identifying the dead, these criminalists perform toxicology studies to determine causes of deaths, intoxication levels in DWI cases and review DNA from robberies, rapes, homicides, and weapons possessions. They may be called on to testify in court as independent witnesses. Their impartial scientific reports inform prosecutors, defense attorneys and detectives in the justice system and bring closure to grieving families.

“Because New York City has the largest, most comprehensive DNA training laboratory available in the world, it is highly respected as the industry standard bearer,” said Local 3005 President Jeff Oshins. “Our members earned a reputation for efficiency and quality work.”

In a gruesome discovery on July 17, death investigators represented by Local 768 and morgue techs represented by Local 420 removed the body of Samantha Stewart, a 29-year-old nurse, from her apartment in Queens. Her killer had knocked out all her teeth and left Stewart, a nurse, battered and strangled in a pool of blood. 

Evidence found at the scene was compared to DNA in a sex assault kit from a June 17 rape of a woman in Brooklyn. These samples landed on Aligizakis’ work station. Her findings identified Drayton. 

Two weeks later, an NYPD special task force extradited Drayton from California, where the Los Angeles Police Department arrested and charged him with kidnapping, rape and strangulation of a woman he met through a ride-hailing app. 

“Drayton used dating apps like Tinder and Plenty of Fish to meet the women he victimized,” New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said at a July press conference. “Dating websites were the common denominator.”

Once in custody, Drayton reportedly confessed to committing other murders in the Bronx and Connecticut, including at least three rapes in New York City. All are under investigation. 

“It felt pretty good that I had a part in taking another criminal off the street,” said Aligizakis. “The link leads to higher charges and longer jail time.”

“Christina is one of our top criminalists and is often the go-to person to analyze DNA in sexual assault cases,” said Samantha Rappa-Giovagnoli, Local 3005 vice president and grievance representative.

A mother of three, Aligizakis joined OCME in 2006. She is one of 134 criminalists authorized to interpret DNA test results. OCME criminalists upload DNA samples into CODIS, the combined index system of DNA samples from local, state and federal databases.

Their entry salary is $47,000 and they can earn up to $87,000 as Criminalist Level 4. Sixty-five percent of OCME criminalists are women. A union salary review in 2015 revealed New York ranks 48th in the nation when it comes to paying criminalists, said Rappa-Giovagnoli, who compiled the data.

“The pay disparity issue is on our radar,” she said.