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!




Scientists Release the First Complete Sequence of a Human Y Chromosome (University of California – 8/24/2023)

    • For decades, the Y chromosome — one of the two human sex chromosomes — has been notoriously challenging for the genomics community to sequence due to the complexity of its structure. Now, this elusive area of the genome has been fully sequenced, a feat that finally completes the set of end-to-end human chromosomes and adds 30 million new bases to the human genome reference, mostly from challenging-to-sequence satellite DNA. These bases reveal 41 additional protein-coding genes, and provide crucial insight for those studying important questions related to reproduction, evolution, and population change.

      Researchers from the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) consortium, which is co-led by University of California, Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Engineering Karen Miga, announced this achievement in a paper published Aug. 23 in the journal Nature. The complete, annotated Y chromosome reference is available for use on the UCSC Genome Browser and can be accessed via Github.

How Mobile County Sheriff’s Office Cracked Cold Case Using Genetic Genealogy (NBC15 News – 8/24/2023)

    • On May 18th, 1976, a group of boys made a gruesome discovery in a Grand Bay creek. A woman had been shot in the back of the head. Her hands were cut off. Her identity and who killed her remained a mystery for decades.

      “This case was always in the back of my mind. I grew up in Grant Bay, so we’d always heard the details about the woman being found off of Potter Tract Road in Sessions Creek,” said J.T. Thornton.

      Now a Sgt. with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, J.T. Thornton along with investigative genetic genealogist Olivia McCarter reopened the Jane Doe murder mystery in 2021, but they soon learned Jane Doe had been cremated. No DNA to test. Or so they thought. Thornton discovered a dental mold with skin cells from Jane Doe still on it. They were able to test for DNA.



Two Teen Girls Were Killed Almost 50 Years Ago. DNA Led to Their Killer. (Seattle Times – 8/28/2023)

    • The murders of two 14-year-old best friends had stumped Broward County investigators for decades. They now have more answers almost 50 years later.

      In June 1975, Barbara Schreiber and Darlene Zetterower were hanging out on a bench in their Hollywood neighborhood, enjoying the summer before high school.

      A white van pulled up, and the duo, who loved ones described as “inseparable,” hopped inside. Barbara and Darlene frequently hitchhiked, much to their parents’ surprise.

      Days later, a family on a fishing outing discovered the girls’ bodies in Andytown, an area on the outskirts of the Everglades.

      They had been sexually assaulted and shot to death.

      Over the years, detectives, crime scene investigators and sleuths took a crack at Barbara and Darlene’s case. But they turned up with little evidence and fewer answers.

      Now, DNA shed more light on who was responsible for the girls’ murders, the Broward Sheriff’s Office announced last week. Detective Andrew Gianino of the Cold Case Homicide team tested Darlene’s clothing and developed a full DNA profile of the suspect.



Phoenix Approves $3 Million to Outsource Rape Kit Backlog Testing (Forensic – 8/30/2023)

  • In September 1997, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) deputies were notified of a body floating in the intracoastal waterway (ICW) near Flagler Beach. FCSO deputies arrived and

    Faced with a rape kit backlog inching dangerously close to four-digits, the City of Phoenix has approved $3.4 million in funding to help alleviate the backlog through outsourcing.

    As of July 31, 2023, the Phoenix Police Department had 835 rape kits waiting to be tested, up from the reported 771 untested in May. Of those DNA kits, 533 remained with Phoenix police while 282 of them had been submitted to an outsourced laboratory but had not been tested.

    During the City Council Formal Meeting on Monday afternoon, officials approved a request to allow “additional expenditures” up to $3.4 million for DNA analysis. Existing contracts totaled $815,000, so the increase is a substantial one.

    “These contracts allow the Police Department to outsource biological screening and/or DNA analysis on evidence and provide analysis of evidentiary material associated with criminal investigations, capacity enhancement, backlog reduction, cold case resolution and sexual assault kit testing,” reads the City of Phoenix’s agenda notes.


DNA, Genealogy Tie Fourth Rape to Already-Indicted Suspect (Forensic – 8/30/2023)

  • The Kentucky State Police (KSP) Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) investigative team has achieved a significant breakthrough in a series of sexual assault cases. George Wayne Aldridge, who was indicted earlier this year in Fayette County for three sexual assaults, is now facing an additional indictment for a sexual assault that occurred in Louisville in 2005.

    “I am extremely appreciative of the financial assistance provided by the SAKI investigative teams and their willingness to fund an innovative investigation,” said Lexington Police Detective Monika Rozalski. “Since taking over the cases in 2016, analysts from KSP, Parabon and myself have spent countless hours to ensure these cases and, more importantly, the victims were not forgotten. Our collaborative team effort and the grant funding provided by SAKI led to the indictment of George Wayne Aldridge in Lexington and other jurisdictions.”

    “Our team continues working and reworking these investigations to bring justice to the victims and their families, even if it’s decades later,” said KSP Detective Ben Wolcott, lead SAKI investigator. “We have not, and will not, give up on these cases.”

    The testing of the collected evidence led KSP SAKI investigators to Aldridge, and the subsequent KSP Laboratory Forensic Genetic Genealogy confirmed that his DNA matched the profile found in the sexual assault evidence.


The Hunt for Bones and Closure in Maui’s Burn Fields (Los Angeles Times – 8/31/2023)

  • Three weeks after wildfires burned through Lahaina, the search for human bones — or iwi, as they are known in Hawaiian — has wrapped up, and officials are shifting to clearing toxic debris. But only 115 bodies have been recovered, with fewer than half of them identified.

    Still, an unknown number of people remain unaccounted for, with numbers varying depending on the source. The highest is the FBI’s verified list of 388, though questions surround that figure.



How a Colorado Company Helps Identify Remains After Maui Wildfire (9News – 8/31/2023)

  • Families waiting for answers about their loved ones after the deadly wildfire in Maui may get them from a company here in Colorado. A team of field scientists with Ande flew into Hawaii the day after with equipment to test DNA samples, and identify human remains.


    “When a whole community burns to the ground most of the things you would compare to – the doctors offices are gone, the dental offices are gone. Those records are no longer available,” said Stephen Meer, chief information officer at Ande.

    Meer said they primarily extract DNA from bone fragments, and then they compare that data from living family members. Their DNA instrument can find someone’s DNA identification in 94 minutes. That DNA is linked to someone’s parent and close family members.