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!




Syracuse University’s Forensic Science Institute Partners with Leda Health to Explore Feasibility of Early Evidence Sexual Assault Kits (BusinessWire – 8/03/2023)

    • According to recent data from the Department of Defense, there were over 7,000 reports of sexual assault against service members in 2022. That number could be even higher, but unfortunately, many instances of sexual assault in the armed forces go unreported. This aligns with national statistics stating that less than 30 percent of sexual assault survivors make it to the hospital for a forensic medical exam. Without DNA evidence from an examination, it becomes more challenging to bring someone to justice. In response, the Defense Department has declared that it’s a top priority to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for sexual assault.

      As part of this effort, the Air Force Work Project (AFWERX), a Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), has contracted with Leda Health, a company specializing in healthcare innovation, to explore the use case of early evidence – or self-collection – sexual assault kits. Leda’s Early Evidence Kits are a resource that allows survivors of sexual assault to collect their own evidence privately following a rape or sexual assault. As a result of this collaboration, Leda has partnered with the Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute at Syracuse University, which is providing forensic expertise and subject matter insight as Leda looks to scale up the distribution of their test kits.

      Co-investigators from SU’s Forensic Science Institute include Executive Director Kathleen Corrado and Research Associate Professor Michael Marciano. They bring to the project extensive experience and knowledge of sexual assault kit processing and are well-versed in the latest technologies being used in the field. Both Corrado and Marciano have also served on the National Institute of Science and Technology’s Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) Human Forensic Biology Subcommittee, which develops forensic science standards, including those related to the collection of biological evidence and forensic DNA analysis.

      Marciano and Corrado are specifically assisting Leda with gap analysis assessment, examining evidence collection processes, the chain of custody, documentation, and legal issues that need to be considered when using early evidence kits. While currently wrapping up phase one of the project, which explores the feasibility of the self-collection test kits, Leda hopes to soon advance to phase two, which would involve a more in-depth exploration into the uses of the kits and their potential impact across different branches of the military.

Illinois State Police Crime Lab Makes Major Improvements to DNA Testing Backlog (ABC7 – 8/03/2023)

    • Major DNA backlog improvements have been made six years after an I-Team investigation uncovered massive DNA delays and murder evidence sitting in Illinois labs.

      Robin Woolery, the Deputy Director of Forensic Services at the Illinois State Police, said the state crime lab system has made huge strides in the last few years and has significantly brought down the number of criminal cases that need DNA analyzed.

      “The true test is how fast can an agency get their results back to be able to utilize those results and record, or find their bad guy,” Woolery said.

      According to Woolery, there has been a 37% decrease in DNA backlog for all cases that come into all labs in the state, which includes homicide, sexual assault, any cases that involve a crime against a person, and property crime cases. In addition, the turnaround time has dropped from seven months to four months.



NCMEC Releases First Image of Baby Abducted More Than 30 Years Ago (KSBY6 – 8/03/2023)

    • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released the first-ever image of a baby abducted from a Los Angeles Park in 1987.

      Officials said there were no photos of Juan Tristan who was abducted from his mother, Christina Torres, when he was 7 weeks old. The image released Thursday was created by forensics artists at NCMEC with the use of photos of Juan’s family members. The image showed what Juan may look like today at the age of 36.



Old African American Cemetery Yields DNA Links to 41,000 New ‘Relatives’ (The Washington Post – 8/04/2023)

  • Scientists said Thursday that they have found more than 41,000 genetic “relatives” of 27 enslaved people who were buried in Maryland’s Catoctin Furnace African American Cemetery about 220 years ago.

    Experts from Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution said the discovery showcased a new research approach that could be invaluable to people seeking clues about long-lost ancestors.

    The method could be especially vital for African Americans, whose lineages were often destroyed by generations of enslavement and whose family histories went unrecorded, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Science.


Suffolk County Police Department and the FBI Team with Othram to Identify a 1996 Gilgo Beach Murder Victim (DNASolves – 8/04/2023)

  • In April 1996, the legs of an unidentified woman were recovered inside of a black garbage bag at Blue Point Beach in Suffolk County, New York. Later, in April 2011, the woman’s skull was recovered near Ocean Parkway west of Tobay Beach in Nassau County, New York. The woman’s torso and hands were never recovered. Investigators determine the woman was white and likely between the ages of 18 and 50. They discovered several scars on the decedent’s right leg including a 3 1/2” on the lateral mid-leg area, a 1” linear scar on the lateral mid to lower leg, and a ½” scar on the medial ankle. The woman’s left leg had a 2″ surgical scar with adjacent suture scars on the medial left ankle. The woman had red nail polish on all toes that, at the time of her discovery in 1996, was noted to be from a recent pedicure. The woman’s height and weight as well as other identifying characteristics could not be estimated.

    Because she could not be identified, the woman became known as “Jane Doe Seven” and “Fire Island Jane Doe.” In 2011, details of the woman’s unidentified person case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP9098. Despite law enforcement’s exhaustive efforts, Fire Island Jane Doe remained unidentified.

    In 2022, the Suffolk County Police Department in collaboration with the FBI teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help to identify Fire Island Jane Doe. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the forensic evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive genealogical profile. After successfully completing the process, the DNA profile was delivered to the FBI’s forensic genetic genealogy team and the FBI team performed the necessary work to generate investigative leads.

    The FBI team working with Suffolk County Police Department continued the investigation and were eventually able to confirmed the identity of Fire Island Jane Doe as Karen Vergata of Manhattan, New York. Vergata was 34 years old at the time of her death. Vergata was missing since Valentine’s Day in 1996.


The Remains of a Woman Found Buried in 2007 were Just ID’d – But She was Never Reported Missing (People – 8/04/2023)

  • Florida police are asking the public for help tracking down the family of a Sarasota woman whose skeletal remains were found buried in the woods 16 years ago, hoping to find answers as to who’s responsible for her death and why her family never reported her missing.

    The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that investigators finally identified the victim as Jeana Lynn Burrus, a 39-year-old mother who lived on Pauline Avenue in Sarasota, Fla., with her husband James Burrus and their son James Burrus, Jr.

    Jeana’s body was first discovered in 2007, buried in what police described as “a shallow grave in a wooded area of Ashton Ct. in Sarasota.” Detectives were unable to identify Jeana’s body for more than a decade and a half before advancements in DNA testing helped crack the case, according to the sheriff office’s press release this week.



Arrest Made in July 21st Homicide (Delray Beach Police Department – 8/04/2023)

  • Delray Beach police have arrested William Lowe Jr., 78, in connection with the murder of his 80-year-old wife, Aydil Barbosa Fontes. Lowe is now facing charges of first-degree murder.
    The investigation began on July 21st when police discovered three suitcases and two small bags in the Intracoastal Waterway, containing human remains later identified as those of the victim.
    From the outset of the investigation, the Delray Beach Police Department sought assistance from the public to help identify the victim and any information related to the crime. Delray Beach Police Chief Russ Mager said the response from the community was overwhelming. “This murder has gripped our community. Many thoughtful people have provided information which has proved valuable to the case. Since day one, our detectives and officers worked tirelessly to identify the victim and bring her killer to justice,” Mager said.
    Lead Detective Mike Liberta said detectives conducted neighborhood canvases and developed multiple witnesses who were able to give information about a vehicle and individual seen in the area several times prior to the suitcases being located. “Video surveillance was collected from multiple sources and detectives were able to confirm the statements made by these witnesses,” Liberta said. Liberta added, “a vehicle tag was obtained, which led us to a subject that lived in the immediate vicinity where the suitcases were located.” Police followed up on this information, leading to the arrest of Lowe Jr. near his Delray Beach home.



’10 Million Names’ Project Aims to Recover Hidden History of Enslaved African Americans (ABC News – 8/04/2023)

  • For centuries, access to the Black American story has been severely limited by the lack of genealogical records of enslaved African Americans and their descendants.

    Now, a team of dedicated researchers and genealogists is seeking to change that with “10 Million Names,” an ambitious new project aimed at recovering the names of approximately 10 million women, men and children of African descent who were enslaved in what became the United States.

    Those 10 million people have approximately 44 million living descendants, according to Kendra Field, Ph.D., the initiative’s chief historian.



Police Use Maryland Relative’s DNA to Identify Body of Missing Florida Mom Jeana Burrus (CBS News Baltimore – 8/05/2023)

  • A woman with Maryland ties vanished without a trace in Florida, and for 17 years, her family in Maryland wondered what happened to her.

    Police in Florida have now determined that Jeana Burrus was killed and placed in a shallow grave.

    WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren spoke to her loved ones in Maryland. They told him that they are into tracing their genealogy and her aunt submitted DNA in hopes of finding long-lost relatives.

    It ended up solving a cold case.



Connecticut Office of Chief Medical Examiner and Othram Partner to Identify 2014 Middlesex County John Doe (DNASolves – 8/05/2023)

  • In November 2014, the body of a deceased male was discovered in Cromwell, Connecticut. Kayakers found the unidentified male’s body floating in the Connecticut River. Investigators with the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office believe that the man was African American and between the ages of 21 and 35. It was estimated that the man had died with weeks of being discovered. The unidentified man was 5’10” tall and weighed approximately 200 pounds at the time of his death. He had black hair, a black mustache, and beard. Two distinctive scars were present on the man’s body, including a 1-to-1.5-inch curvilinear scar over the left elbow and a 1-to-1.25-inch hypertrophic scar surrounded by suture scars on the dorsal side of the right hand. At the time of the discovery, the unknown man was wearing white Asics brand sneakers, blue checkered boxer shorts, and blue jeans with white nylon shorts over the jeans. The blue jeans had a black sock attached to the belt loop in what appeared to be a makeshift belt.

    In December 2014, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case number #UP13320. Despite exhaustive efforts from investigators, the case has gone cold due to lack of leads or clues to his identity.

    In 2023, in an ongoing collaboration aimed at solving the backlog of cold cases in the state, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner partnered with Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing to generate new leads in the case. Anyone with information that could aid in this investigation is encouraged to contact the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by calling  860-679-3980 and referencing agency case 06-12497 or NamUs ID #UP8907.



A Va. Research Farm Prepares to Receive a Key Addition – A Dead Body (The Washington Post – 8/07/2023)

  • George Mason University is gearing up to receive its first donated body to its Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory, better known as “the body farm.” Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI profiler who now works as director of George Mason’s forensic science program, said researchers at the farm study how donated bodies decompose over time, hoping that their findings can be used to help law enforcement solve homicides and cold cases.

    “Typically, this is the kind of environment where bad guys put victims,” O’Toole said. “This isn’t some general experiment. We’re studying pragmatic problems that homicide detectives run into.” For example, O’Toole said, investigators often have trouble extracting good DNA samples from degrading skeletal remains. The farm will have a bone laboratory with bones from every donor to help researchers make comparisons and improve the quality of DNA taken from skeletons found outside of their controlled setting.



Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and State Police Team with Othram to Identify 1983 Hartford County John Doe (DNASolves – 8/07/2023)

  • In November 1983, the skeletal remains of a white male were located in Hartford County, Conneticut. A news article published in The Hartford Courant reported in November 1983 that the man’s remains were discovered near the shore of the Connecticut River in Great Meadows, a salt marsh along the coast of Connecticut. The age of the man was estimated to be between 30 and 60 years at his time of death. Investigators determined that the man had likely been deceased for months. Unfortunately, due to the condition of the remains, the cause of death could not be definitively determined.

    Several personal items including three General Motors automobile keys and a Sanyo brand digital watch, with a silver stretch band, were found on or near the man’s remains. Additionally, a tan wool jacket, blue shirt, tan pans, with a waist size of 35 inches, a brown belt, black socks, and black loafer-style shoes were found on the body of the man. Aside from these items, there were no identifying documents or clues that could readily identify the man.

    In 2011, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case number UP8901. Since the discovery of the man’s remains, law enforcement investigators have pursued various leads about his identity, but none have yielded an identity for the man. With all leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.

    In 2023, as part of an ongoing collaboration aimed at solving the backlog of cold cases in Connecticut, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner partnered with Othram to generate new leads in the case using advanced DNA testing. Skeletal remains were sent to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the forensic evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to generate a comprehensive DNA profile. The profile was used by Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team to produce investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement.

    The costs associated with Othram’s testing and analysis were generously funded by philanthropist and advocate, Jeanne Ayotte. We are incredibly grateful for the support Jeanne provided in this investigation.

    Once investigative leads were returned to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, they worked with the State Police to confirm that the unknown man from 1983 was in fact Francis Patrick Fitzpatrick, born October 21, 1939. Fitzpatrick was originally from Springfield, Massachuttes. He was last seen in March of 1983, but his body was never found until now. His death is not being investigated as a homicide.



50 Years After Victim of Houston ‘Candy Man’ Killer Dean Corll was Found, There’s a New Sketch in Efforts to Identify Him (KHOU11 – 8/07/2023)

  • Fifty years ago this week, two teen serial killers led police to the bodies of 28 boys and young men buried in gravesites across the Houston area, including a boat storage shed, the Sam Rayburn Reservoir and a High Island beach on the Bolivar Peninsula.


    The victims, ages 13 to 20, were lured away from the Heights and murdered by Dean Corll — who became known as the Candy Man — and his accomplices, Elmer Wayne Henley and David Owen Brooks.  


    The Houston Mass Murders came to light on Aug. 8, 1973, when police were called to Corll’s home on Lamar Street in Pasadena. Henley, 17, was standing over the body of Corll, 38. Henley told police that he shot him six times in self-defense.  But that’s not all.


    Henley and David Brooks, 18, admitted they helped Corll kidnap, torture and kill dozens of young males from 1970 to 1973. For two days, they led shocked investigators to one gravesite after another, 28 bodies in all.  They said the victims, who became known as the Lost Boys, were tortured and raped before they were killed.


    Some of them had been reported missing by their families but were written off by police as runaways. Over the years, 27 victims were eventually identified. Five decades later, the last one found is still known only as John Doe 1973.  



Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s & Coroner’s Office Team with Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office and Othram to ID 2014 John Doe (DNASolves – 8/07/2023)

  • In December 2014, a hiker discovered human remains in a wooded area just south of Newport, Washington off Highway 2. The Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and determined that there did not appear to be any suspicious circumstances. The area near the railroad tracks where the remains were found was known to be frequented by transient individuals. It appeared that the individual may have been transient. The following items were found near the remains: a single black boot size 13 with a brand name listed as “BRAHMA,” a navy and red striped stocking cap, pants with a size of 48-inch waist and 30-inch inseam, a plaid button up shirt with the size of XXXL with a brand name of “FADED GLORY” and a red fleece style zip up hooded jacket. A gold rimmed pair of eyeglasses were also located. The Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office canvassed several local homeless shelters in the region in an attempt to identify this individual.

    In December 2014, an autopsy was conducted by the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office and due to the age of the skeletal remains, they were sent to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office for examination by the Washington State Forensic Anthropologist the late Dr. Kathy Taylor. Dr. Taylor performed an examination of the remains and determined that they belonged to a middle-aged Caucasian male. The male likely would have had significant degenerative disease or arthritis that would have impacted his ability to walk.

    From 2015 to 2023, the Pend Oreille County Coroner’s Office with the assistant of the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office and Forensic Odontologist Dr. Gary Bell ruled out several missing persons by circumstances and dental records.

    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 investigative genetic genealogy, for our unsolved cold case. In October 2022, skeletal remains were sent to Othram’s laboratory for additional testing so that Othram could build 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 used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man and Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the DNA profile in a forensic genetic genealogy research to generate investigative leads. Othram genealogists worked together with Nicole Hamada, a death investigator with the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, to find possible relatives. DNA reference testing of Randall’s brother ultimately confirmed that the decedent was Randall Reed Priborsky. The Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office was able to determine that Randall had been in the Oldtown, Idaho area in 2008.

    It was reported that Randall was last in contact with family in 2003. Randall was born in Sioux City, lowa and enjoyed reading. The circumstances of his disappearance are not known. On July 28, 2023, Pend Oreille County Coroner Dolly Hunt officially identified the decedent as Randall Reed Priborsky.



Police to Measure ‘Toll of the Job’ on CSIs, Digital Forensic Experts (Forensic – 8/09/2023)

  • Leicestershire Police will measure the “physical and mental toll of the job” on its forensic teams in a groundbreaking study using data analytics from the world of Formula One.

    Around 50 CSIs and digital forensic staff have volunteered to take part in the four-month study. The anonymous data they provide will enable researchers to study the impact of visiting traumatic crime scenes, viewing distressing images and other challenges in police work.

    Participants will use a wearable device similar to a smart watch to capture their heart rate and other physiological data while on shift, at home and during the night. They will also take part in daily surveys and games through a bespoke secure app to assess their wellbeing, cognitive capacity and stress levels. Receiving regular feedback regarding their wellbeing could help staff build their resilience and self-awareness, and encourage them to seek help earlier.

    Leicestershire Police managers will also have access to anonymized reports, which they hope will identify trends across the team and tasks that make staff feel stressed and burnt out. The participants’ data is private only to them, and is aggregated and anonymized at all times in line with GDPR regulation.


Florida Man Confesses to Murder of His Girlfriend 50 Years Ago: ‘Had to Come Clean’ (New York Post – 8/07/2023)

  • A retired man living in Florida confessed to the cold-case murder of his girlfriend after nearly 50 years, because he felt he “had to come clean,” according to federal court documents.

    Florida authorities arrested Rodney Mervyn Nichols, an 81-year-old former Montreal resident, in early July after Canadian police tied him to Jewell Langford’s 1975 murder through DNA evidence and a confession, according to a memo from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

    “Following a telephone consultation with a legal aid lawyer in Canada, NICHOLS then stated that he had an altercation with LANGFORD that started in his home in Montreal, and that he subsequently dumped her body in the Nation River,” the document states.