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!




Native UM Student Works to Create Missing Persons Database (University of Montana – 4/5/2024)

    • Haley Omeasoo was already studying forensic science at the University of Montana when she saw the poster that redefined her life.

      The 2017 poster announced that her former high school classmate, Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, had gone missing on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana. Just 20 at the time, HeavyRunner has never been found in the seven years since.

      HeavyRunner’s plight, and the cases of other missing and murdered indigenous persons (MMIP), gave Omeasoo a new mission: to use her skills to help families searching for lost loved ones, and use DNA analysis to return the remains of Native Americans to their families and tribal groups.

      Omeasoo, a registered member of the Hopi Nation, is also a Blackfeet descendant who grew up on the Blackfeet reservation. She is now a Ph.D. student in forensic and molecular anthropology at UM, working to create the first DNA database of Blackfeet Nation members. She also hopes that one day, she can set up a forensic science lab on the reservation – the first of its kind in Montana.




Long-Lost Photos Reveal Details of World’s First Police Crime Lab (Nature – 4/5/2024)

    • A photographic archive has been discovered in Lyon, France, that adds precious detail to what we know about the founding of the world’s first police crime laboratory in 1910 and its creator, Edmond Locard, a pioneer of forensic science.

      The huge collection, which comprises more than 20,000 glass photographic plates that document the laboratory’s pioneering scientific methods, crime scenes and Locard’s personal correspondence, is thrilling historians at a time when many consider that forensic science has lost its way. “There is a movement to look back to the past for guidance as to how to renew the science of policing,” says Amos Frappa, a historian affiliated with the Sociological Research Centre on Law and Criminal Institutions in Paris, who is overseeing the analysis of the images.



Law Enforcement Hopeful as Access to Forensic Genealogy Testing Expands in Florida (WPBF25 – 4/5/2024)

    • The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a grant program that will expand access to a technology that has helped investigators close high-profile cold cases. The Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy Grant Program will allocate $500,000 for FDLE to make forensic genealogy more accessible.

      “You will have small agencies all over the state of Florida who have unsolved homicides, sexual battery kits with no matches in CODIS and now they can turn to FDLE,” Special Agent Tom Bacon of FDLE said.

      He has been a part of the Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) Unit at FDLE since its inception in 2018.

      FDLE was the first law enforcement agency in the nation with a unit dedicated to forensic genealogy.



Nevada Institute of Forensic Nursing Helps Rural Survivors of Sexual Assault (KUNR – 4/10/2024)

    • Norah Lusk is the co-founder of the organization and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE. Lusk and her team provide forensic nursing care and exams for victims of sexual assault. These forensic sexual assault exams are commonly known as rape kits.

      Although the NVIFN team has an office in Elko, they also operate out of a mobile unit.

      “As things kept rolling, we just saw the need for getting out and getting mobile, that it wasn’t just Elko and our close surrounding areas. It’s Ely, it’s Winnemucca, it’s Lovelock,” Lusk said.

      Survivors can call the hotline and the team will drive out to the requested location, typically in a team of three. This usually consists of a SANE, an advocate and a forensic interviewer.

      This service is essential, Lusk said, because she has seen survivors who have to drive up to four hours to get to a hospital that can provide these examinations.


Human Remains Found in DeWitt County Identified After Over Three Years (FOX SA – 4/9/2024)

    • The DeWitt County Sheriff’s Office has released the identity of human remains found in 2021.

      On Tuesday, authorities announced that human remains were found in Feb of 2021 near Cabeza Road and John Pokluda Road in DeWitt County.

      The remains were identified as those of Maria Bernada Chaves de Vargas, 48, of San Salvador.

      The body was identified by the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University as a result of DNA and physical examination.

      Vargas had apparently last spoken to her family in 2017, advising them that she would be in Houston within a few days. When she had not contacted them, she was reported missing in her home country of El Salvador.

      Police believe she was in the process of being smuggled when she lost her life.


Forensic Genealogy Offers Families the Gift of Closure (Scientific American – 4/9/2024)

  • In 1978, a woman’s body was discovered in Northern Nevada, packed in a garment bag and buried in a shallow grave. Law enforcement actively investigated the crime until all leads were exhausted, and eventually the case went cold. However, the woman was not forgotten, and today she is no longer nameless. In this case, and in many others like it, forensic scientists have finally identified the victim in a decades-old investigation. They’re providing fresh leads for beleaguered detectives. And they’re doing it all with a new kind of DNA evidence called forensic genetic genealogy.

    This relatively new technique that most famously aided in the 2018 arrest of the “Golden State Killer” is both promising and somewhat controversial. The method follows distinct differences in an individual’s genes to reveal familial relations that are not detectable through traditional DNA matches, which can yield leads for identifying persons even when the case has scant investigative information. But privacy experts worry about law enforcement’s interaction with consumer data. As a result, a technique that has become useful to law enforcement efforts has also experienced backlash.


San Diego Cold Case: 1986 Homicide Victim Found Near Lakeside ID’d through Genetic Genealogy (NBC San Diego – 4/9/2024)

    • A homicide victim whose body was discovered near Lakeside nearly four decades ago has been positively identified through investigative genetic genealogysheriff’s officials announced Tuesday.

      The sheriff’s department said Maria Pilar Del Gadillo Carrillo, 43, has been identified as the woman whose body was discovered on Aug. 3, 1986 down an embankment along state Route 67, south of Poway Road.

      Her exact cause of death was not disclosed, but the sheriff’s department said she “had sustained traumatic injuries to her body that were consistent with foul play” and the medical examiner ruled her death was a homicide.

      The case went cold and the victim was not identified until earlier this year following recent attempts to identify her.

      Sheriff’s officials say Carrillo immigrated to the United States in early 1986 from Yahaulica, Jalisco, Mexico.

      With her identity established, detectives are now working to establish her whereabouts in the San Diego area before she was killed. Her family has also been notified that she was positively identified and that the homicide investigation is ongoing, the department said.



Thousands of Washington Criminal Offender DNA Samples Added to Law Enforcement Database (KHQ – 4/10/2024)

  • Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the addition of nearly 2,700 DNA samples from criminal offenders to a national law enforcement database on Wednesday.

    According to the Attorney General’s office, the collection was part of a project to obtain samples from criminal offenders who are legally required to provide their DNA to the state who failed to do so.

    “The samples are added to the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which investigators and prosecutors use to solve serious crimes and bring justice to victims,” Ferguson’s office said.


Tracing Charleston’s History of Slavery, From a Burial Ground to a DNA Swab (New York Times – 4/11/2024)

  • When Edward Lee heard about a project collecting DNA from Black residents like him in Charleston, S.C., he had reason to be skeptical. Knowing that African Americans have been exploited before financially and in medical experiments, he feared that handing over his genetic identity could leave him vulnerable.

    But he knew the people behind the Anson Street African Burial Ground Project, having worked with many of them before on similar efforts to preserve the region’s Black history.

    And they came to him with a unique proposal: With DNA extracted from 36 enslaved people whose bones had been unearthed by a construction crew downtown, researchers were now searching for their living descendants.

    Even if he wasn’t related to any of them, Mr. Lee figured, maybe a DNA test could still provide other answers that had eluded him. He could trace his ancestry to a great-great-grandmother on one side, but no further. So last spring, he sat still as a researcher gently swabbed the inside of his cheek.

    Now, dozens of Black residents have agreed to play their part in this genetic detective work. Their catalyst came in 2013, when workers building a concert hall stumbled upon what is believed to be the oldest known burial ground of enslaved people in Charleston.

    The project’s supporters believe it can serve as a blueprint for how to handle the preservation of neglected aspects of Black history across the country, before development and time erode more of it.



Michigan State Police & Eaton County Sheriff’s Office Team with Othram to Identify a 2009 John Doe (DNASolves – 4/11/2024)

  • In May 2009, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in the Grand River located in Lansing, Michigan, which is nearly 100 miles west of Detroit. Investigators were called to the scene and discovered the individual’s remains stuck in a log jam in a secluded area behind a home. Upon further investigation, investigators determined the remains were that of an adult white male who was likely to be at least 50 years old. The man weighed approximately 190 pounds, stood 6 feet tall, and had short gray hair. The man also had a scar on his abdomen and surgical mesh in his anterior abdominal wall. The man did not have any teeth.

    At the time of discovery, the man was wearing several articles of clothing including a thermal long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved shirt, blue and red plaid boxer-style underwear, and socks. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP5546. Despite investigators’ efforts to identify the man, his identity remained a mystery.

    In 2023, the Michigan State Police partnered with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could generate new leads in hopes of identifying the man. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the forensic evidence and utilized Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team then used the profile in a genealogical search to produce investigative leads.

    Using these leads, investigators conducted a follow-up investigation. This investigation led to potential genetic relatives of the man. Investigators collected a DNA sample from the potential relative for comparison against the unknown man’s DNA profile. This led to the positive identification of the man as William James Arthur, born May 28, 1931. Arthur was originally from Canada and had moved to the Lansing area. His family last spoke to him in 2007. Additional information is not available at this time.