From Familial Searching to FIGG: Advancing Forensic Science with New DNA Techniques

In this in-depth interview with Ray Wickenheiser, Director of the New York State Police Crime Lab System, brings his 40 years of forensic experience to Denver. With a career that spans the evolution of DNA analysis in forensic science, Ray shares his insights on the transformative impact of DNA technologies on public safety, justice, and the potential for further advancements in the field.


In this conversation, Ray delves into several key topics, including familial searching, forensic investigative genetic genealogy (FIGG), and expanded DNA searching methods. He articulates the differences between these approaches and how they leverage the unique properties of DNA to provide investigative leads in cases that traditional methods cannot solve. Ray’s explanations demystify these complex techniques, making them accessible to a broader audience and showcasing their critical role in advancing forensic investigations.


Ray also touches on his participation in various workshops and panels at ISHI, from leadership challenges in the forensic field to the nuances of privacy and the ethical considerations of discarded DNA samples. His contributions to discussions on leadership highlight the importance of fostering the next generation of forensic scientists and adapting to the changing educational landscape post-COVID. Celebrating his 10th attendance at ISHI, Ray discusses the reasons behind his and his company’s consistent presence at the conference, emphasizing the importance of international collaboration, learning, and sharing within the forensic community.


Laura: Welcome, Ray. Thank you so much for joining us here at ISHI 34. We’re in Denver this year and we have our largest crowd ever. And you actually were pulling, I think, triple duty. At least you did quite a bit for us. We appreciate it.


Ray: First, really, thank you for having me. I really love this meeting. I love the folks that come with it. I was pretty busy this year, and part of it is a function of like, I just don’t want to say no ever. When you get these opportunities, they don’t come around that often. So, it was kind of a little different that I was pretty active this time. But, thrilled to be here.


Laura: Oh my gosh, thank you. We are thrilled to have you. And since this is going to go out to a larger audience, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.


Ray: Sure. So, right now I’m the director of the New York State Police Crime Lab System out of Albany. It’s my fifth crime lab job, so I joke that I can’t hold a job, but it’s also, in my defense, this is my 40th year doing this, so I’ve been around quite a while. So, I have the benefit of, like, I was in trace evidence before DNA came around. So, I’ve been able to see the evolution of DNA and what it’s able to do now, and it’s been nothing short of miraculous, but it has been a while. But just to see what the constant improvements and work of passionate people have been able to do. The difference it has made in people’s lives, how much has improved society, privacy, public safety, but also to see how much more can be and should be done. So, it’s very exciting, and I’m really happy to be here to learn from others and hopefully chip a little bit back in from, you know, giving back given how much I’ve gained from our community.


Laura: It is remarkable what has changed since this began.


Ray: It really is. Yeah.


Laura: Yeah, it’s hard to quantify. I mean, it’s crazy. What led you to a career in this field?


Ray: Frankly, I was just really lucky. I just happened to run into somebody who was an intern in a crime lab, and it was like, whoa, that sounds really interesting. And part of, I think the reason that many of us go into science is we really want to make a difference in people’s lives, and we kind of want something that’s kind of a noble and fun profession. So certainly, that idea of helping solve crimes. But at the same time, if somebody is falsely accused of crime, you definitely want to exonerate or make sure you’re not, you know, focusing on that person as opposed to the right person. So, I think the idea that we’ve got great data that can tell the truth and can help other people come to better decisions on justice and that kind of thing, is really like why you do science. So, I love the practical application of what we do, because you can see the difference it makes in people’s lives. And it’s really kind of a noble calling. And part of it’s also like, I love the group of people that are of that same mindset. It’s a wonderful group to be part of.


Laura: You get that…? I mean, I get that feeling. I know for sure every year that I come here that, you know, search for justice and the human element and the work that you’re doing. It’s based in the science, but the effects, that’s a long run on. It’s amazing. Yeah. Why don’t we talk about one of the first workshops you did for us? Of the many? You talked about additional DNA methods that are available to labs, so we have quite a few, but maybe we’ll start with familial searching.


Ray: Yeah. Well, let me just take a step to say what they have in common. So, the first thing is that when we do with DNA, once we get a profile, is compare it to known people, and we do a direct comparison. Did this DNA from the crime scene match this suspect? And failing getting a match there, we go to databases and then sort of previous days, once we didn’t get a match, we were somewhat done and just had to hurry up and wait. And if the database grew, maybe we’d get a match.

What we’ve been able to do now is really use that unbelievable characteristics and magic of DNA to do even more with it, because our job is maximizing the value of evidence. That’s what we do. And part of that, trying to help solve crimes, provide investigative leads, and using the magic of DNA, where you can use people that are similar but not the same person as family members to enlarge the pool of people that you’re looking at, to try to identify that case that you couldn’t identify or solve previously. So that’s what these techniques that we’re using is using what I’ll call really indirect matches or partial match. So, DNA matches enough that we know is probably a relative, and that then allows us to apply new scientific techniques to help solve those crimes.

So, the first one I think you were mentioning was familial searching. And the idea there is that you’re using existing databases, law enforcement databases and using indirect matching. So, we search that database. We know we already didn’t get a hit, so we didn’t get a direct match. We’re looking to see if we can find relatives in those databases. And we know that unfortunately, crimes are committed among family members as well. And the fact that you can solve a number of those cases where you can say, well, this was a brother or father or a very close relative, then the investigators get that lead, follow up and quite often are able to solve crimes that we could not solve before. We couldn’t solve it with direct matching. Now we’re finding we can use indirect matching using familial searching, using law enforcement databases and our existing STR profiles. So existing technology just expands the search using familial search on law enforcement databases. That is familial searching.


Laura: Which is, you know, a remarkable technique that we’ve been talking about for a while. And of course, right now and over the last couple of years, you know, everyone’s talking about FIGG or IGG. So forensic investigative genetic genealogy, huge topic. How about how about a few words on that?


Ray: Sure. It is a huge topic, and sometimes people are confused between the two because they are somewhat similar. And the difference with forensic investigative genetic genealogy, I’m going to call it FIGG, because it’s a lot easier to say. So what FIGG does is first takes a different kind of part of the DNA profile. So, then a SNP or single nucleotide polymorphism profile. That is unlike the law enforcement databases. We then can apply it to genealogy databases. So, there’s many people who allow themselves or opt in to allowing law enforcement to use their profile to help solve criminal cases. We get that new profile using the DNA from the crime scene. We didn’t get a hit in our law enforcement databases.

With the new SNP profile, we can enter it into the genealogical research databases and what it does through indirect matching is find those relatives, build family trees. We’re not doing anything different than if you were searching for more cousins or if you were adopted. You’re trying to look for birth parents. We’re using exactly the same information, the same publicly accessible information. But the bottom line is we’re trying to solve crimes that we couldn’t before, and we have the crime scene profile. We just don’t have the right suspect. Once we get a lead, we can then compare it directly and see whether it is or it is not. But it’s a lead that just gets us to the person. Just like you get a tip online or you develop a suspect. How we develop the suspect is using this additional DNA profiling and using the genealogical databases.


Laura: That’s a great explanation. And I think it helps people understand the difference between the… I mean, this goes not only out to the ISHI audience, but on our YouTube channel, to anyone who’s interested in the field. And there’s certainly a lot of interest in this.


Ray: There’s a lot of interest, for sure. And it is really cool and interesting.


Laura: It’s fascinating. Now, I’ve heard expanded DNA searching talked about too. Maybe you can say a few words there.


Ray: Okay, so that’s just something to sort of, one of my brain childs and what it was really is using existing techniques that we have now that are validated and we are using and just applying them slightly differently.

And so, it really goes back to that indirect matching. And so, what we have been able to do is we of course use Y-STRs. We use mitochondrial and other types of things, but what we recognize with those other typing techniques, they’re not unique to an individual, but they tell you about the family.

For example, mitochondrial DNA is inherited maternally, which means you get the same profile down through your mother and mother’s mother and mother’s mother. And with Y-STR the same thing on the paternal side. So, you’re going to have the same profile as your dad, your grandfather and so forth.

And because it’s not individualizing but tells you about the family, we can use that as a mechanism to search a database and say, who’s got the same father or paternal family line, but because it’s not unique, it wasn’t that effective for us, but what we were doing was stopping short and saying, well, now that you’ve got a subset of people you know are related, now, you can take the STRs or other mechanisms and compare them to say, who is then closely related.

And that’s something we also do. But putting the two together now you have yet another tool. And so, looking at that, it was like, oh my goodness. There’s an opportunity here using existing techniques, just assembling them in a different manner. We can now go to what we do and as our job which is providing investigative leads.

So just having come up with that idea is just a matter of like, wow, here’s another tool. But it does go to… One is sort of new as the indirect matching concept, which is familial searching, and FIGG, which is now big. But it’s also the idea that before we just did the STR profile, got it into combined DNA index system and let that do the work.

Now what we’re seeing is we really… Our job when somebody discards DNA when committing a crime is not just to get that part of the profile, it’s to get everything to try to help solve the case. So, this was just really a new idea of assembling our existing techniques to try to even better provide investigative leads and solve crimes.


Laura: Which it is fascinating. So many tools in the toolbox, but now different ways to combine them.


Ray: Exactly, exactly. And it’s just bringing us like, oh my goodness, overwhelming. Here’s all these additional tools. But that’s why we come to these conferences and this conference in particular. To me, this is the DNA conference that you want to go to because we’re all working on similar types of techniques and trying to do the same thing, the same mission, helping solve crimes with science, and the idea that the chances that we have the greatest technique here in our own lab, there’s a whole bunch of other brilliant people doing the same thing, why not come and share and then bring those great techniques back to our labs?


Laura: Yeah, no better way than to get everybody together in the same place.


Ray: Exactly. And it’s a lot of fun too while we do it.


Laura: Yes, we try to make it fun too. I believe also rapid DNA. That’s something you’re interested in very much.


Ray: Absolutely. So rapid DNA is just a streamlined or instrumental technique that takes the amount of time manually where we might take, well, certainly hours and maybe a couple of days to get a DNA profile and a bunch of steps brings it together in one instrument. And really to me, like the advancement of technology that you can get that full profile in like 90 minutes is incredible. And if what we’re trying to do is help investigative leads help solve crimes, timeliness is a huge part of it.

The longer someone’s out there committing crimes, just means there’s more chance that more crimes will be committed. So, the idea that we can provide a result, or at least investigative lead more quickly and focus the investigation, that’s a huge time saver. But it’s also a public safety saver as well.

But the other part I really would like to focus on if someone is wrongfully accused. We really want to minimize that time. So, the idea they’re sitting in jail for days and could be minutes when they’re the beauty of DNA is if you get an elimination, that’s 100% and you can say it’s not this person. Do you want to wait for that, or do you want it like now?

And to me, that’s like one of the best arguments for rapid DNA that we really want to get the answer to eliminate the wrongfully accused right up front as opposed to, you know, we talked about in our panel discussion, wrongful convictions and the idea of like, well, what’s the best wrongful conviction is like one that never occurred, right. And using techniques that to me, it’s like, why use them when somebody’s wrongfully convicted? Certainly, we should do it. But the best thing is working on that DNA right now and eliminating the person way before it becomes wrongful conviction.


Laura: Well said. We don’t hear it quite that way very often, and I think that makes it very clear. Right. How many wrongful convictions have we avoided because we are able to use.


Ray: And we’ll never know. But to me, it’s like we should be working on those cases up front. And preventing them and certainly the ones that we do have, you want to make that correct as soon as you can. But as I said, the idea is not having them in the first place.


Laura: Yeah, it’s fantastic. So, with all of your experience, what are some of the challenges that might be helpful to this audience in bringing these to routine casework?


Ray: Sure. Well, it’s always resources is probably the number one and part of the challenge there is even though we save money and it’s a tremendous investment, it still takes an investment because you’re not going to stop doing something existing. Now, eventually that might change or go away, but it always will require some additional investment. So that’s always a challenge because nobody wants to pay more tax dollars or more money to do it.

The other thing is recognizing we always have to do it right, which means you’re going to take that technique, you’re going to learn about it, you’re going to validate it. You have to acquire the instrumentation. So, it takes time and investment. And because we it’s the same group of us that are doing this. You’re busy on cases, so you have to be able to take that time away. So, it’s going to have to build in a little bit of extra time to work on bringing these great techniques. Now long term, it will absolutely save, but the short term, you need some additional impetus of the instrument, the people, the time, the expertise.

But again, that’s back to why do we come together? We shouldn’t all be reinventing the wheel. We should be learning from each other and then going back and spending that time in a very targeted fashion and also sharing the experience so we don’t make the same mistakes over and we do the best practices right up front.


Laura: Excellent point. Why not save some time?


Ray: Exactly, exactly. And do it right the first time.


Laura: Right. You don’t have to go back and do it all over again. Switching gears a bit, you were also on a privacy panel. Let’s talk a little bit about privacy.


Ray: Sure. So, I do want to make a distinction on privacy that when we have DNA that’s found at the crime scene and that’s probative, which means it’s meaningful to help solve the crime, that’s typically been deposited by the person who committed the crime. There’s no assumption of privacy. In fact, it’s our job that we’re going to do everything we can to interrogate that sample and try to solve that crime. Because that person’s still out there committing more crimes, potentially. So, there’s no assumption of privacy. We’re going to do what we can, and that’s our job, and that’s why we’re doing that. Expand the DNA. We’re doing more DNA profiling, not just stopping when we don’t get a hit in CODIS. It’s our duty. We’ve got to do more. So, there’s that piece of it.

But then how privacy comes in is, well, what about those known samples that we’re comparing them to? So, when it’s a suspect or it’s somebody that’s in the CODIS database, well, there’s a reason they’re a suspect. There’s a reason they’re in there. So even though we should treat everyone with respect. Well, that samples in there for a purpose. And generally, we kind of know why that is. The challenge with this indirect matching is we’re going to match people that we know didn’t commit the crime. And that’s kind of a mental leap to go, well, here’s somebody who’s suspected or has committed other crimes. That’s why they’re in the database. You’re going to treat these people by the nature of we know you didn’t do it. You’re going to be just even that much more careful with how you treat the folks. Guarantee that their privacy is respected. And the difference is if somebody in CODIS, by the nature, it’s a recidivist database. They’re in because they committed something where they were arrested. And you’re using the fact that you’re looking at other crimes by nature, that means there’s more than one crime that they committed, one to get in. And then something else that you’re going to try to try to solve.

But for somebody who is known to not have committed this crime, you really want to make sure that you only compare their profile to that case, that they’re helping you solve, because you really want to maintain the trust of those folks. They’re helping you. So, you really have to be very careful with what you do with the sample and make sure that you’re earning the trust that they’re giving you.


Laura: Absolutely. When we talk to a few other members of the privacy panel, informed consent and making sure people understand and just more education out there. People understand that they can help and contribute, and it’s their choice. And this is how we do it.


Ray: And it is amazing that people, when given the right information, absolutely are willing to help you. But then you cannot, essentially disrespect that trust that they have given you. If you told them that this is what you’re going to do with the sample, you live with that and you don’t use it for purposes beyond what you have then then shared with them, and they have agreed to.


Laura: No, you have to keep that trust.


Ray: Exactly. Keep the trust. Use it for this case and then that’s the use and you’re done with it.


Laura: And that makes it an effective tool rather than other things going a different direction.


Ray: Exactly. And maintaining the public trust is like and that’s something we discussed is we’re the scientific good guys. Right. And we want to maintain that. That people trust us and that what we have any part of it, certainly if it’s going to court, it’s discoverable. People can see what we’ve done, and we want to make sure that it’s not… We want to solve this case. It’s in front of us, but we want to be here long term. We’ve got to look after all the cases, not just this case, and do it right so that people trust us. In fact, always want to have forensic evidence because it is a better way to help solve cases. You’ve got this data. Anybody could repeat it. It’s all transparent and aboveboard.


Laura: Yeah. Transparent. You’re right. That’s exactly well said. Very well said. So, something that’s been in the media a lot, and I’m not sure if all of our viewers will know enough about it. Discarded DNA samples. What are they? What does that mean? What challenges do they propose?


Ray: Sure. So, um, discarded DNA and going back to that difference between at a crime scene when somebody discards or leaves the DNA, there’s no presumption… They don’t own it anymore. They tossed it away. It’s like trash. They don’t have a presumption of privacy. So, when it’s at a crime scene, it’s our duty to really interrogate, try to solve that crime.

Now, on the other hand, if I’m an innocent person of this crime or there’s no suspicion on me when I throw away my DNA, there is no presumption of privacy either. But we’d all agree it’s kind of a little sketchy that somebody is going to be following me and picking up my discarded DNA, even for good purposes. Right? So, there might be a good reason to do it and say, for example, I was a very close relative of somebody who’s a suspect. They didn’t want to tip off that suspect and take a chance. So maybe they got my discarded DNA as a brother or close relative to help solve that crime. Well, there’s a pretty good reason that they could… You know what? There’s good rationale there. So, sometimes you might use discarded DNA.

But if I was a distant relative. Wouldn’t it be better just to approach me, explain, get informed consent? And then if for whatever reason, I’m not comfortable there might be other relatives, you have recourse. So, to me it does loop back to that. Always maintaining the public trust, doing things that if that came out in the media that you could describe it and everyone would go, you know what, I see what you’re doing and it’s reasonable.

And I think as long as you could explain it and I kind of use it as like my mom or grandma test to say, if I could explain it to my mom and she wouldn’t swat me for it and would say, okay, that’s reasonable, to me, that would be something that you could really pass on to other people, and they’d say, it’s justifiable.

So, and it’s something we should do as a group. And we should also have different viewpoints where everyone could agree ahead of time to go, what’s the policy and how should we do this? And we should talk about it ahead of time, agree on how we’re going to do it and do it as we’re sitting around the table and have that agreement on a policy that’s reasonable, as opposed to when you get a high profile homicide or group of homicides or serial situation where you start to make decisions maybe on what’s good for this case, but we have to look after the entirety of the cases.

And the time to do is when we’re sitting here rationally, no pressure coming up with good decisions, but also discussing with a lot of viewpoints to make sure we get the best ideas from everyone and then do that thing that is the right thing for everybody.


Laura: Absolutely. You know, it’s really interesting. You use the, you know, the mom test. We actually talked about that in a few other interviews this time. So, I think there’s something, you know, that really resonates about that. You also talked about elimination samples and databases. You touched on that a little bit, but maybe we could talk a little more.


Ray: Yeah, we did. And so, elimination sample is again people known to be innocent of this crime, but would really help us with our interpretation of the case and maybe even potentially somebody who, for whatever reason, their DNA is introduced as contamination or is expected to be there.

In one situation, is you’ve got a stolen car, right? We’re going to expect to find your DNA on your steering wheel of your own car. Right? And if we find a mixed DNA profile of what this is, what a mixed DNA profile is when you get more than one person contributing that profile. So, if you’ve got the person’s profile that stole your car, and then you have your DNA on that same steering wheel, having your sample that we can deduce and figure out, this is the person who stole a car, and this is your profile. We can say with a lot more certainty and get it into CODIS and help solve your crime. So, we really want you to provide that elimination sample.

But you really have to trust us that if we’re going to give that sample, we’re going to use it for that deduction and then not search a bunch of other cases to see if you did any other crimes with that kind of thing. So, getting elimination sample will really help your case. But we really need to make sure we’re earning the trust of that individual that I see why I need the sample. And I’m going to give you that sample to use for that exact, you know, this example of the DNA mixture. So that would be how we would use elimination samples.

The other thing we discussed or certainly I presented upon would be elimination databases like staff databases. And given the sensitivity of our technique has come along such a far way and it’s so very sensitive, we want to make sure we get a DNA profile, it’s truly from the crime scene. And if we didn’t have an elimination database, theoretically it could be somebody from the scene who picked up that item or one of our own staff, and we might stop. Given that we think this is the crime scene profile, and if it was actually one of our personnel, we might not solve that crime thinking that we’ve got the person who did the crime. And it’s actually one of our DNA analysts, for example, who unintentionally we got contamination.

So, we want to make sure that we get the right sample into CODIS. We don’t put the wrong person in there, and we don’t stop prematurely thinking we have the right profile from the suspect down until we truly know wasn’t contamination, it was that foreign DNA. So, there’s good reasons, but it does loop back to we want to make sure that people trust what we’re doing. We are doing the right thing, and we have to be particularly sensitive with people who are helping us, who are giving their own sample, trusting us. Again, we got to earn that trust and that comes with having policies so they know this is what you’re going to do, and we abide by those and check to make sure we’re continuing to do it, which includes auditing and the different things to say. It’s one thing to say you’re doing it. Somebody should be also seeing that we’re doing it and making sure that we’re doing what we say what we do and then we do what we say.


Laura: I thought that you brought that up because employee databases isn’t something that we have talked about yet in any of these interviews. And I think that’s an important point of why it’s important and the best practices and then accountability that follows from that.


Ray: Exactly. We want to use best practices, and we have to be accountable and we are audited. And those are all the things that when we go to court and we say, this is what it is, that we have that information behind it, we are using best practices and in every single thing we do we should be searching for, you know, how can we do it better? You know, we can detect contamination. We’re building that right in. We’re checking against employee databases. And if we find the issue, we can then seek it out, fix it, and then do better next time.


Laura: Absolutely. This segues kind of nicely to another workshop that you were a part of on leadership. Let’s talk about leadership.


Ray: Sure. First of all, it’s a really fun workshop. And part of this, the group that we bring together and there’s several of us, I’ll mention John Collins, Pam Marshall and Julie Sikorsky. They are a blast to work with. And so just the fun part of it, I would come just to do that because I learned so much from them, and it is a lot of fun doing it.

The other thing we recognize is that we each bring something different. Pam’s an academic. John is a former lab director who now does this as a living as a coach. He’s a professional coach. Julie is that front line supervisor who’s working cases herself and mentoring people and bringing new people in a very dynamic. And so, and I’m the old guy.

So, between the group of us, we have different dimensions. And while many of the folks they’re coming to the workshop for a reason, often to improve their skills, but all of us have those practical challenges in the crime lab. So, them coming and as a group again recognizing we have challenges that are similar among our labs, and then learning how other people in different labs one, have the same challenges, but then also how have we overcome them? So, learning from each other and in learning from our experience talking about it, one is just good to know we have the same challenges. We’re in the same boat, so there’s really therapy in that, but also that the component of what are the best practices, the ideas that we have in our lab, other people, we can share those, and then we also can get all those great ideas and bring them back to our lab. It’s a great sharing thing.

There is some group therapy, I’ll admit that, but it’s really, you know, there’s a lot of participation, but everyone brings something to the table, and we have a lot of fun with it, a lot of humor, and it sort of lightens up a little bit of a job because it’s a heavy job. It really is. And there’s a little bit of self-care that takes place in that too, where you got to sort of take some time out to sharpen the axe, and then you can go back kind of energized and bring that back to your home lab.


Laura: Self-care was a big theme this year as well. We really did have quite a few presentations that touched on that. And yes, your workshop, I heard so many wonderful things about it from everybody that attended, from people that weren’t even able to attend, that are desperate to get into the next session that you guys are willing to do for us.


Ray: We’re already looking forward to a brainstorming next year, but part of it is just having so much fun. But also it really isn’t. Thank you for saying that. Hearing positive feedback is really energizing to know that people see the value, but I think we see it in the folks as we’re going through one where they’re nodding along and you can see people are agreeing, but also to get here’s what people’s issues are and the fact that they can talk freely about it in that safe space. Um, it is really very helpful to be able to have the sharing. Then people can make the connections, follow up with each other and have some resources to follow up on.


Laura: Yeah. And I know it’s a safe space, but maybe there are some general topics that you found were themes that are challenges that would be helpful for somebody watching this who wasn’t able to attend.


Ray: Sure. So, this year we focused on the other NGS, you know, the next generation student. We modified that to make next generation scientists. It was great. So, always a catchy title, and there’s some creative people here in the space. Absolutely. So, the idea of we have come through Covid and many of the applicants… So, we’ve got a combination of things.

One is the STEM market. There are not as many science students to pick from. And they have a lot more jobs. Now that’s a great thing. More jobs. But we used to in the crime lab just let all the people come to us. We had plenty of applicants because people want to be forensic scientists. And so, we still get some good applicants, but the numbers are distinctly down. So, we have to do a better job of getting out recruiting.

But also, we want to close the gap of what is the job in forensic science, what does it look like and how do you better prepare yourself and prepare these students? And in recognizing this has been a really tough time, that all of us, entire society and the institutions…

I sure wouldn’t want to be a student coming through Covid, the isolation, the working online, and so much of it was just that socialization that people didn’t get. And as much as we work independently in the crime lab, we absolutely work together as teams and having those social skills and the kinds of things that we want to get in those folks and then also build them in and the challenges we’re having with our new hires. So again, it’s a lot of the sharing of experiences and in recognizing that things have changed, and how can we do better at locating good candidates, bringing them in and training them, and what resources are there that we can share to do even better job with the resources that are entrusted to us?


Laura: Yeah, I think it’s wonderful to see that change recognized and then, you know, adjusting what you need to do to support the new people coming in. That’s very important. In addition to the ongoing, you know, leadership, best practices and just keeping up on the education. Yeah. And the self-care. That’s wonderful. That’s a little therapy in there.


Ray: I mean it’s very tough too when you’re trying to look after other people. You also have to be looking after yourself too. So, there is that self-care, that self-love part of it. It really is a key part of it.


Laura: Definitely important. You have shared so many wonderful things with us. Is there anything we’ve missed that you absolutely want to ensure we include for this?


Ray: Okay, so one of my pet things is business cases. And I’m sure the people that know me, there was automatic eyeball roll. And so, part of it is just a function of I was and have been a frustrated forensic scientist and that we have such great stuff. It’s sort of mystified me to go, why aren’t we getting what we need? And then at some point I did recognize that it’s like, well, because it costs money, and nobody wants to pay more taxes. So, there is a justification. And it just… Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes a while to get these things and build them in place.

So, what I came around to doing is the more we can demonstrate the value and put some numbers to them, because while people support you’re saving lives, you’re preventing crimes. A lot of people are doing that, but how can you measure it and demonstrate the value?

So, to be able to put a number to it and say listen by solving things more quickly, here’s the dollars that it saves. That’s why you want to apply rapid DNA. When you don’t solve cases in that person is still out conducting more crimes, if we could do familial searching, forensic investigative genetic genealogy, or expand the DNA indirect matching, here’s what we could save in terms of the crimes we would prevent. And it is just, unbelievably, a wonderful return on investment. And using some historic cases like the D’Angelo case and the serial killings and serial rapes, just how large a cost it is to society and essentially how cost effective our technology is to show that it’s like for every dollar you would spend in that investment, you’re saving $3,000 or what you’re doing in terms of a current case.

And we did an illustration in a poster session on the Idaho quadruple homicide, which was solved. You know, we read online about using genealogy and certainly 77 days for a solve. Sounds like a long time. But compared to many other cases, and especially those that are decades old, like the Golden State killer case. It’s a tool we should not be just using on cold cases, we should be using it now.

And the idea of what you could solve or prevent and putting it in dollars and cents so that people that are making decisions can go, wow, that is such a large savings. Well, certainly. And that’s why we should be doing it in every case and doing it more quickly.

So, I just love the idea of being able to put dollars and cents to it, and it really illustrates what we already know. We know it’s a great investment to put the dollars and cents. Hopefully the people can take that back to their home jurisdictions and just help the jurors to justify for the decision makers, why is it we want to do this thing? You have all that same argument. You can put dollars and cents into it. It just helps them get to yes, where they go, wow, that is a wise thing to do. Yes. And here’s what we want to do and build that for all our cases so we can do it right and do it more quickly with the latest technology.


Laura: Well, I think that’s wonderful. You brought it full circle. When we’re talking, the multitude of tools and but you need resources if you’re going to use those in different ways and mix them up. And how do you get the resources? Business cases will justify that. So, it’s a very interesting way to look. Yeah. All together.

Before we wrap up, I always like to ask, you know, why you did a lot for us. We really appreciated, I mean, so many panels, workshops. You’re here with us now. Why is that attractive? Why do you feel it’s important to come here or what are what do you like about it?


Ray: So, one is just getting together with the rest of the community because these are such passionate and fun people. And then renewing relationships because over time, you get to know a lot of the people you want to catch up with them and seeing what new things they’re doing, share what we’re doing. Of course.

And I, I don’t say no. You’re inviting me. I’m going to show up. And I love to share what we’re doing, but I get a lot more each time back in learning from other people and being able to apply it to our cases. So why is New York State letting me come out? Because they want more coming back in to see what other people are doing and how we can improve it for our citizenry in New York State. So, we always get more back than we give. But we certainly want to give too. We want to be good stewards and share and get back. So, I love doing it.

But then meeting the folks and again, we’re social people. So, the idea that you see people, you can catch up with them and that’s really part of the fun. There’s a scientific part, a little bit of socialization and self-care. We do have a great time, and the folks that put on ISHIs are really great at it. So, we have a lot of fun too. So, I just really enjoy the conference. It’s a pleasure being here. And it’s been a great year and it’s been very busy, but it’s amazing how fast the time flies. And it seems like I was just here last year, and the year has gone by and here we are again.

Laura: And it goes so fast. You’re right. I mean, I can’t believe it. And speaking of that, I mean, the 35th anniversary is next year. It’s going to be here before we know it. That’s just how it goes. We’ve been asking a few people speculative, so maybe you don’t want to go there, but you know, what do you see… And we don’t necessarily need to use this. We could but we’re in honor of the anniversary, what do you see coming in the next 5 to 10 years? Or it could be aspirational. What would you like to see?


Ray: Oh, boy, that’s a big question.


Laura: It is.


Ray: What would I like to see? I think probably one of the challenges… One thing that ISHI does really well, is bring in folks who have been impacted by artwork, and there is just nothing more moving than having a victim of crime tell their story and what a difference it made in their lives. So, I think the idea for me of celebrating the success and not just the victims of crime, the investigators, the justice system, the people who are wrongfully confused or post-conviction. So, my feeling would be the impact of what the work is, because the motivation for all of us is that what we do in science and what we do in forensic science makes a difference. So, I’d love for everyone to see, like what we do is so worthwhile and celebrating the successes. Taking your 35 to celebrate. Here’s where we were. And look what we have done. Now there’s a lot more to do. And so certainly that should be a part of it, too. But the idea of… I just I have a number of staff who have come along, and I wish we could bring them all, because for me, it is just so motivating to hear from a victim of crime who’ve gone through horrible things, but in their speaking, part of what has given them recovery and worth is that they can give back and take something that was horrible and turn somehow it into good, and advocating and making sure that their terrible situation doesn’t happen to somebody else.

And the gratitude that they show for the folks who helped them out. And even though we we know it, to actually hear it directly is incredibly motivating because we all have bad days. And knowing that in in the back of your mind really drives you through those to, you know, to the successes as well. And we need those. And I mean, we’re human. And it’s like everyone wants to know they’re making a difference. And that celebration of success to me would be a great focus. If I had to put in a plug, that would be what I would throw out there.


Laura: I don’t think there’s any better way to end this than on celebration. I mean, really, we’re so grateful for everyone, including you, that come here and do so much for us. And we are honored, to talk to people who are doing this kind of work, like you said, that it can be very difficult. And we do need to celebrate those successes because you don’t always see the end result. And it’s really nice too.


Ray: That’s right. And a lot of our success, I mean, it’s the honest truth. Our success is built on failure. And it’s like when we don’t get a hit, what do we do? We don’t give up. We keep going. And when someone breaks through, it’s like we should all be breaking through. And then celebrating is like, that was a great idea. Let’s do it right and work together and build on that success. But we learned through necessity, and it has been the push to get better and help solve those unsolvable cases. So, celebrate in the success and the progress to me. Would you know, to me that’s just part of smelling the roses as you go and then working on the next challenge?


Laura: And it builds excitement for that absolute challenge. Absolutely. Yeah. Oh, Ray, thank you so much for coming in. We really appreciate it. This has just been wonderful.


Ray: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure being here. And thanks for the invitation. And I would like an invitation for next year.


Laura: You bet. You better come back next year.


Ray: Thank you. Okay. Thank you.