This Week in Forensic Science

No one has hours to scour the papers to keep up with the latest news, so we’ve curated the top news stories in the field of Forensic Science for this week. Here’s what you need to know to get out the door!




Jury Finds Robert Steven Wright Guilty of Renee Sweeney’s Murder (Toronto Sun – 3/29/2023)

    • On Jan. 27, 1998, Renee Sweeney, an employee working alone at the Adults Only Video store in the strip mall at 1500 Paris St. was brutally murdered, stabbed 27 times. Just over 25 years later, the man who was arrested in North Bay on Dec. 11, 2018, for her murder – Robert Steven Wright, an 18-year-old Lockerby Composite School student in Sudbury at the time of the slaying – was found guilty of second-degree murder following a lengthy trial.



Man Arrested After DNA Found on Burrito Connected to Arson at Anti-Abortion Office: Investigators (ABC7 – 3/29/2023)

  • On May 8, someone vandalized the outside of a Madison office building. They broke a window and started a fire in the office of Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-abortion rights group.

    Hours later, Madison police called it “targeted” arson.

    Since then, investigators have been trying to figure out who did it, and on Tuesday, they made their first arrest.

    A criminal complaint said investigators connected Hridindu Roychowdhury to the scene with DNA.

    The document said they found his DNA on several pieces of evidence, including a Molotov cocktail and the ignition wheel and button of a lighter.

    Investigators said they then got a sample of Roychowdhury’s DNA after he threw away a partially eaten burrito earlier this month.


Spokane Police Department Partners with Othram to Identify Millie Doe (DNASolves – 3/29/2023)

  • In June 1984, two fisherman discovered a nude female body along the south shore of the Spokane River. Her hands and feet were dismembered and her head was decapitated. The body was never identified and no females matching the Medical Examiner’s description were reported missing at the time of the gruesome discovery.

    In April of 1998 a skull was found in a vacant lot at 7th Ave and Sherman by a woman walking her dog. Investigators considered the skull may be that of Millie Doe. Again, tips and leads poured in, but none ever led to a viable identification.

    In September of 2021, SPD’s Sgt. Zac Storment submitted forensic evidence from Millie’s remains to Othram. The samples were retrieved from Millie’s torso, which was buried in a local cemetery and exhumed by Detective Giese in January 2001.

    Utilizing that DNA, Othram was able to narrow the search. With assistance from the Spokane County Clerk and Washington State Department of Health, detectives were able to locate a divorce record which listed two sisters. The genealogy investigation determined only these two sisters could possibly be Millie. Which sister was not entirely clear initially, as it appeared both were deceased. However, Deputy Medicolegal Death Investigator Nicole Hamada with the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office located the younger sister alive in the Midwest. Detectives with the Oklahoma City Police Department Cold Case Unit made contact with her. That sister provided DNA and is assisting in the investigation.

    On February 17th, 2023, the identity of Millie was revealed as Ruth Belle Waymire, born in 1960, when Othram confirmed the sibling relationship using KinSNP familial reference testing.



DNA Breakthrough Leads to Arrest in Sexual Assault of 13-Year-Old Cambridge Girl More than 20 Years Later ( – 3/30/2023)

  • Law enforcement authorities announced Thursday that they arrested a suspect in connection with a decades-old burglary and sexual assault case following an investigative breakthrough.

    Roger W. Reddick, Jr., 41, of Cambridge, allegedly entered the room of a 13-year-old girl and assaulted her in 2000. He faces three counts of rape of a child with force in the Cambridge District Court, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office announced.

    The breakthrough that led to Reddick’s arrest was a result of work done in the specialized Cold Case Unit within Ryan’s office.


Funding Available through the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program (BJA– 3/30/2023)

DNA Identifies Skeletonized Human Remains of Real Estate Agent Found in 1984 (Forensic – 3/31/2023)

    • In June 1984, skeletonized human remains were discovered in a farm outbuilding near Troy, Missouri. Analysis performed at the time of recovery suggested that these were the remains of an adult male of European ancestry, between 40 and 80 years old at the time of death. He likely stood between 6’ to 6’2” and was dressed in expensive, formal clothing. The cause of death was a gunshot wound, and the manner of death was determined to be homicide. It was estimated that he had been deceased for approximately 6 months.

      Traditional forensic DNA testing was used to search CODIS and the case was entered into NamUs as UP 5012, but no match was found. Over the years, investigators pursued all available leads in an attempt to identify the victim, but in spite of these efforts, the homicide victim remained unidentified for 38 years.

      After successfully working another unidentified remains case together, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office teamed up once again with Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) and Othram to work this case.



Professor Wins Fulbright Awarded to Study Sexual Assault Prevention (Forensic – 3/31/2023)

    • Throughout her career, Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation Associate Professor Kelly Davis has worked to translate her research into action. An expert in alcohol-involved sexual assault, Davis’ studies have been cited in U.S. legislation and have earned her a MERIT Award and now the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Award.

      The program will take her to the United Kingdom beginning in early 2024 to collaborate with colleagues at the University of Birmingham. Their work will focus on ways to reduce sexual assaults involving alcohol through education and perpetrator prevention efforts.



Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s & Coroner’s Office Team with Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office and Othram to ID 1982 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 3/31/2023)

    • In November 1982, per newspaper reports, a human skull was discovered by a hunter in a remote wooded area north of Newport, Washington. The Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and the remains were reported to have been examined by multiple agencies.

      In September 2022, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office invited the Pend Oreille County Coroner’s Office to join in a collaboration with Othram to obtain an advanced DNA profile, suitable for forensic genetic genealogy, for the unsolved cold case. In October 2022, a section of the skull was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas for additional DNA testing and development of a DNA profile that could be uploaded to genealogical databases.

      In January 2023, Othram successfully obtained a DNA extract that was sufficient for testing. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a DNA profile that could be used for forensic genetic genealogy. Othram’s in-house genealogy team completed the genetic genealogy and subsequently provided investigative leads to investigators which led to relatives of Mildred (Allison) Hubertz, a woman who disappeared from St. Ignatius, Montana in 1968.



Their Stories Were Lost to Slavery. Now DNA is Writing Them. ( – 4/2/2023)

    • In recent decades, advances in DNA research have allowed scientists to use ancient remains and peer into the lives of long-dead people. In Charleston, that’s meant tracing some of the African roots that were cut off by slavery.

      “We’re bringing their memory back to life,” said Raquel Fleskes, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who studied the remains. “This is a way of restoring dignity to individuals that should’ve always had this dignity.”



Can Investigators use Household Dust as a Forensic Tool? (NC State Home – 4/3/2023)

    • A North Carolina State University-led study found it is possible to retrieve forensically relevant information from human DNA in household dust. After sampling indoor dust from 13 households, the researchers were able to detect DNA from household residents over 90% of the time, and DNA from non-occupants 50% of the time. The work could be a way to help investigators find leads in difficult cases.

      Specifically, the researchers were able to obtain single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, from the dust samples. SNPs are sites within the genome that vary between individuals – corresponding to characteristics like eye color– that can give investigators a “snapshot” of the person.



Grieving Families in Panama Finding Comfort Through Forensic Science (Australian Institute of International Affairs – 4/3/2023)

    • In Panama, forensic doctors are working to give loved ones the closure they need. In the humanitarian field, forensic doctors have the privilege of playing a fundamental role in alleviating human tragedy. They make themselves present, fleetingly, in moments of deep pain, constant uncertainty, and extensive melancholy. They are there when, daily, people face the various forms of physical limits. They are there when death materialises; when a father, a daughter, a sibling has been torn from the bosom of a family, due to circumstances of life, violence, conflict, or migration. Forensic doctors are there when the fragrant roses of existence prick souls with their sharpest thorns.



DNA, Genealogy Research Identifies Michigan Jane Doe (WNEM5 – 4/4/2023)

    • New DNA testing technology has allowed police to identify a woman’s body found in Ohio about 43 years ago.

      On March 30, 1980, the partially decomposed body of a woman was discovered on a beach near Cedar Point Road in Sandusky, according to the Porchlight Project.

      The organization said the woman, now identified as at Patricia Greenwood of Michigan, was determined to be between 20 to 30-years-old, about 5′5″ and about 120 pounds. They said she was wearing a “disco style” dress, and no hair, scars, or identifying items were found on her body.

      The Porchlight Project, which is a nonprofit that funds DNA testing for cold cases in Ohio, offered to fund the cold case effort in 2021 to discover Greenwood’s identity.



Ohio Finally Makes Strangulation a Felony (Forensic – 4/5/2023)

    • On Tuesday, a new law took effect in Ohio that makes strangulation a felony offense. Up until that time, Ohio was the only state in the U.S. that failed to recognize the potentially deadly crime as a felony.

      The law was signed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in early January, with a 90-day effect rule in place. It was part of Senate Bill 288, a sweeping bill that covers everything from criminal justice reforms and sexual assault kits to distracted driving and drug offenses in its 500 pages.

      As of April 4, 2023 in the state of Ohio, an individual is guilty of strangulation if they cause serious physical harm or cause a substantial risk of serious physical harm to another person by means of strangulation or suffocation. Now, strangulation can be charged as a second-degree, fourth-degree or fifth-degree felony.



DNA Shows a Woman was Aboard Doomed 17th Century Swedish Warship (Forensic – 4/5/2023)

    • Since 2004, the Vasa Museum collaborated with the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University, which examined all the skeletons on Vasa in order to find out as much as possible about the various individuals on the doomed vessel.

      “It is very difficult to extract DNA from bones that have been on the seabed for 333 years, but not impossible,” Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University said in the statement. “Simply put, we found no Y chromosomes in G’s genome. But we couldn’t be completely sure and we wanted to have the results confirmed.”

      So they turned to the Delaware-based Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. And thanks to the forensics laboratory specializing in DNA profiling at the Dover Air Force Base, “we have been able to confirm that the individual G was a woman, using the new test,” Allen said.



Cal State LA, California Forensic Science Institute Project Fights for Wrongfully Convicted (Forensic – 4/5/2023)

    • Aft​​er serving 38 years in pris​on for a crime he didn’t commit, Maurice Hastings was declared innocent on March 1, 2023—a decision that followed an October 2022 court order overturning ​his conviction. This victory was won through the advocacy efforts of the Los Angeles Innocence Project, a nonprofit based at Cal State LA working in partnership with the university’s California Forensic Science Institute (CFSI).

      In Hastings’s case, Los Angeles Innocence Project attorneys were​ able to locate and test the DNA evidence taken from the 1983 crime, which was then connected to another individual who had been found guilty of other, similar crimes around the same time.



Ukrainian Groups Learn About DNA Use to Identify War Victims (Manistee News Advocate – 4/6/2023)

    • Representatives of Ukrainian civil society and rights groups have visited an organization that uses high-tech DNA techniques to identify people who go missing in conflicts and natural disasters, a move intended to boost cooperation during the ongoing war in Ukraine.

      The head of the International Commission on Missing Persons, a Hague-based group that operates a human identification facility, said Thursday that her organization faces unprecedented challenges as it seeks to collect DNA samples and evidence amid the fighting.



Innovative Forensic Investigations Partners with The Retired Investigators Guild (PR Newswire – 4/7/2023)

    • Innovative Forensic Investigations, LLC (IFI), a world leader in the field of investigative genetic genealogy, and The Retired Investigators Guild (The RIG), a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation are pleased to announce the signing of a strategic partnership agreement that will make IFI’s unique services accessible to thousands of American law enforcement agencies, bringing renewed hope for families who have been victimized by violent crime that their cases may finally be solved.



Mexico Publishes Guidelines for Long-Awaited National Forensic Database (Fronteras – 4/7/2023)

    • Mexico has published guidelines for the implementation and operation of a national forensic database meant to help find and identify the more than 100,000 people registered as missing in the country.

      Mexico’s federal prosecutor this week published the rules that will govern a long-awaited national forensic database and other national registries whose creation was established as part of a 20-17 law regarding disappearances.

      The database — which is more than five years behind schedule — should streamline state and federal forensic data and integrate that information with records of missing people, mass and clandestine graves and unidentified bodies — though some of that data still needs to be compiled.



Florida Bill Seeks to Add Privacy Protections for Genealogy Customers (Forensic – 4/10/2023)

    • A new bill in Florida that seeks to add privacy protections for people who share their DNA with third-parties unanimously passed the Senate committee late last week. It is now with the Rules committee.

      Senate Bill 1402 seeks to provide an exemption from public records requirements for investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) information and materials, including any “DNA record,” such as SNPs and whole genome sequencing data.

      Senator Jonathan Martin, sponsor of the bill, says it will protect people who become unwittingly involved in an IGG investigation. Although consumers need to “opt-in” to law enforcement searching when using sites like GEDmatch, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and more, Martin argued people may not realize the public ramifications of becoming involved with an investigation.



Carlsbad Police Department and the FBI Teams with Othram to Identify the Suspect in the 1987 Rape & Murder of Donna Sue Hyatt (Forensic – 4/11/2023)

    • In July 1987, Donna Sue Hyatt was found deceased at her residence. The investigation conducted by the Carlsbad Police Department later determined she had been sexually assaulted and murdered. Before her death, witnesses advised officers they had seen Donna with a tall, Caucasian male, leaving a nearby store on foot. Investigative leads were thoroughly followed up on, but eventually the investigation stalled and the murder has gone unsolved since 1987.

      Detective Joey Landgraf and Detective Tim Nyce, with the Carlsbad Police Department, began reviewing the cold homicide case 36 years later. They were able to utilize new investigative techniques that could help identify a potential suspect. Crime scene evidence was sent to Othram where Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® was used to build a comprehensive DNA profile for an unknown male suspect. The DNA profile was used by the FBI’s forensic genetic genealogy team to develop investigative leads.



Genealogy Links Possible Tulsa Race Massacre Remains to Surnames, Locations (Forensic – 4/12/2023)

    • In the most promising breakthrough yet, forensic scientists and researchers have generated investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) profiles for 6 unidentified individuals excavated from Oaklawn Cemetery during the 1921Graves investigation to identify victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

      The forensic and IGG teams at Intermountain Forensics (IMF) have flagged specific surnames in specific counties and states as DNA relatives of the unidentified remains.

      “We do not believe a match of this type has ever been achieved before in American history,” said Mayor GT Bynum during a press conference announcing the breakthrough Wednesday morning.



Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner Teams with Othram to Identify 1998 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 4/12/2023)

    • In December 1998, the body of an adult man was found on a hillside wrapped in a tarp in the mountainous terrain of Santa Cruz County, California’s Bear Creek Road. The remains were found to be in an advanced state of decomposition. An autopsy was performed and revealed the most striking aspect of injury to be blunt force trauma. A subsequent investigation conducted by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office led to the arrest and conviction of three individuals for the murder of the unidentified man. However, the man remained unidentified. For over twenty years, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office followed leads regarding the identity of the unknown man. In 2009, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP3067.

      In 2021, the Santa Cruz Sheriff-Coroner’s Office, including the Sheriff’s Office Forensics Services team, made the decision to use forensic genetic genealogy to provide an identity of the decedent and notify his next of kin. Investigators enlisted the help of Othram to perform advanced forensic DNA testing of the remains.



Nonprofit Working to Solve California Cold Case with ENC Ties Using Investigative Genealogy (Public Radio for Eastern North Carolina – 4/13/2023)

    • A nonprofit that got its start more than five years ago continues to work to identify John and Jane Does using investigative genealogy, and in one case has identified eastern North Carolina ties to a body found under a bridge in California nearly 30 years ago.

      The DNA Doe Project works to identify unnamed deceased people through the volunteer efforts of more than 60 experienced genetic genealogists. One of those volunteers is Lisa Needler, who is working to help identify a man known as the Wohler Bridge John Doe.



Uganda Inaugurates National Forensic Sciences University (Monitor – 4/13/2023)

    • The first National Forensic Science University (NFSU) has been inaugurated in Uganda to provide training in forensics to security organs, law enforcement agencies and other government departments in the country. NFSU will facilitate and promote academic learning and practices in the field of forensic science in conjunction with applied behavioural science studies, law studies, criminology, scientific methods and techniques to investigate crime, cyber security, and digital forensics, among others.