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!




NIST Expert Team to Investigate the Surfside Condo Collapse (Forensic – 8/27/2021)

  • The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced today the expert team members who will conduct a technical investigation into the June 24, 2021, partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida.



DNA Match Leads to Arrest of Suspect in 1981 Murder of Single Mom (Forensic – 8/27/2021)

  • On Oct. 15, 1981, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office went to the residence of 30-year-old Sonia Carmen Herok Stone in Monterey County, California. She had been murdered. Ms. Stone was a single mother, living alone with her young daughter and worked as a merchandizer for Levi Strauss Company at the time of her death.


Michigan Inmate Charged in Florida Teen’s 1985 Death (Forensic – 8/27/2021)

  • DNA evidence helped investigators match the 1985 kidnapping, sexual assault and death of a 17-year-old Florida girl to a man already serving two life sentences in Michigan on sexual assault charges, police said.

    David Nelson Austin, 59, has been charged with first-degree murder, armed kidnapping and sexual battery in the stabbing death of Leslie McCray, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Chief T.K. Waters said during a news conference late Thursday.


Genome from Ancient Teen Reveals Previously Unknown Group of Humans (Forensic – 8/27/2021)

  • The oldest genome of a modern human from the Wallacea region – the islands between western Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – indicates a previously undescribed ancient human relationship. The international study was accomplished through close collaboration with several researchers and institutions from Indonesia. It was headed by Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and the Science of Human History (Jena), Cosimo Posth of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, and Adam Brumm of Griffith University, Australia.

    Researchers were able to isolate sufficient genetic material from the skull of an individual buried more than 7,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. It belonged to a hunter-gatherer society and was interred at the site now called Leang Panninge (Bat Cave). A large part of the genetic code matched that of today’s Papua New Guineans and Aboriginal Australians. Yet portions of the genome did not match these groups. This brings new surprises about the evolution of modern humans.



Calaveras County Crypt Opened to Identify Serial Killer Victims with DNA Testing (KCRA3 – 8/27/2021)

  • On a mountainside just outside of Wilseyville in eastern Calaveras County, Leonard Lake and his accomplice Charles Ng murdered victims from as far away as the Bay Area and neighbors just next door. This past weekend, investigators reopened the case by taking the top off of a crypt in a San Andreas cemetery and removing unidentified remains for advanced DNA identification. The hope is to give families of victims some resolution.


Genetic Material of Argentine 1982 Combatants Lands in Cordoba for DNA Testing (MercoPress – 8/28/2021)

  • Argentine forensic anthropologist Luis Fondebrider, at the service of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Thursday landed in Córdoba in a private flight from the Falkland Islands carrying genetic material to be used in determining the identity combatants buried in grave C.1.10 at Darwin’s military cemetery.

    The samples are to be analyzed at the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team’s (EAAF) local laboratory to help link those remains to the actual names of the five Gendarmeria Nacional Alacrán Group commandos killed when their Puma helicopter was downed by a British missile on May 30, 1982, over Mount Kent.



Wisconsin Man, 84, Gets Consecutive Life Sentences for 1976 Double Homicide After DNA Matches Him to the Crime (FOXNews – 8/28/2021)

  • An 84-year-old man was sentenced to consecutive life sentences in Wisconsin Friday after a DNA match in 2019 helped investigators solve a pair of more-than-four-decade-old cold case murders.

    Raymand Vannieuwenhoven was convicted last month of murdering 25-year-old David Schuldes and 24-year-old Ellen Matheys at a northeastern Wisconsin campsite in July 1976.



Report: New DNA Technology Approved to Identify 9/11 Remains (APNews – 8/29/2021)

  • Cutting-edge DNA technology will be used to analyze the remains of more than 1,100 victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center that have yet to be identified.

    Newsday reported Saturday that the New York City medical examiner’s office has been approved to use the forensic method known as Next Generation Sequencing, which is already being used by the Department of Defense to identify remains from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.



The Census has Revealed a More Multiracial U.S. One Reason? Cheaper DNA Tests (LAist – 8/29/2021)

  • For about 1 in 10 people counted for last year’s U.S. census, a single check box was not enough to report their racial identities.

    Their multifaceted responses to the race question for the 2020 head count helped produce the data released this month for redrawing voting maps, enforcing civil rights laws and guiding federal funds to local communities.

    Now, demographers and other researchers are trying to figure out what caused the number of people who identified with more than one racial group to jump over the past decade by an eye-popping 276%.



DNA from a Tooth Identifies Victim from 40-Year-Old Collier Homicide Case (NBC2 – 8/31/2021)

  • DNA Labs International managed to obtain a partial DNA profile in February 2020, almost forty years after the body was discovered. The partial profile was then entered into CODIS, which is the FBI’s national database for DNA.

    In addition to the profile pulled from the tooth, a bone from the skeleton was sent to the University of North Texas for further testing.

    That’s when a breakthrough happened.



Prosecutor: Fingerprints, DNA Linked Suspect to Murder of 60-Year-Old Lansing Man (Lansing State Journal – 8/29/2021)

  • Fingerprints on a gun recovered in a field next to an abandoned school led police to the person who killed a Lansing man in April 2021.

    Brandon Gearhart, 31, of Lansing is charged with homicide, possession of a weapon by a felon and two felony firearms offenses in connection with the April 21 death of Larry Fields, 60, also of Lansing.

    On Friday, Judge Cynthia Ward ruled prosecutors showed sufficient evidence to justify the charges and sent the case to Ingham County Circuit Court for trial.


Snohomish County, Othram to ID Man Discovered Last Year in Shallow Grave (Forensic – 8/30/2021)

  • In September 2020, a man living in a homeless camp in McCollum Park ventured out to dig a hole to bury his trash. While digging the hole, the man discovered what he described as a “large bone”. Although hesitant at first, the man finally reported the skeletal remains to law enforcement. Investigators, acting on this tip, performed an excavation of the area and found more remains, including a male human skull. Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has now partnered with Othram with the goal of using advanced forensic technology to identify this man or his family. Anyone that has information that could aid this investigation is encouraged to contact the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office at (425) 438-6200. Please refer to medical exam case number 200927-87 or NamUs UP75023. A DNASolves fund has been created to cover the costs of testing for this case.



Selfies of Missing Persons Before They Disappear Used for Future Forensic Dental Identification (Phys Org – 8/30/2021)

  • Selfies taken by missing persons before they disappear could prove key for future forensic dental identification, according to a researcher studying at the University of Dundee. Selfies showing teeth and gum shields are just some of the new dental identifiers to now appear on a checklist designed to aid the police and forensic odontologists in missing person cases.

    The Dental Identification Record Checklist, which is the first of its kind, was developed by Dr. Claire Sallis and her supervisor Dr. Scheila Mânica at the University of Dundee’s School of Dentistry.

    It aims to speed up the process of forensic identification by allowing police to request more dental by-products than ever before, such as bleaching trays or teeth molds and helps remind law enforcement officers to check for supplementary evidence such as selfies that may portray the missing person’s teeth.



Decades Later, DNA in a Grave in Brazil Resolves Murders of 3 South Florida Women (Miami Herald – 8/31/2021)

  • It didn’t take long for Miami detectives to determine that a 24-year-old Miami woman found floating in Biscayne Bay two decades ago had been killed by a local tourist guide and flight attendant named Roberto Fernandes.

    Finding Fernandes, however, proved much more difficult. They knew he fled to his native Brazil two days after the murder and that he had supposedly perished in a 2005 plane crash in Paraguay — the Miami murder case seemingly dying with him.



PCR Method Enables Better Analysis of Degraded, Challenging DNA Samples (Forensic – 9/1/2021)

  • Difficult and highly degraded DNA samples are the bane of every forensic DNA analyst. When possible, DNA samples are collected, stored and transported from the crime scene to the laboratory carefully and with the proper protocols in place.

    Of course, analysts can’t always be that lucky. Touch evidence, hairs and skeletal remains that have been exposed to the elements push the limits of current forensic DNA typing technologies. In a new proof-of-concept study, researchers at the University of North Texas (UNT) have developed, in collaboration with NimaGen, a reverse complement PCR (RC-PCR) short amplicon 85 SNP-plex panel that can be used to improve library preparation for DNA analysis of these difficult samples.



DNA Exonerates Ron Jacobsen After 30 Years of Wrongful Conviction (Forensic – 9/1/2021)

  • The Newton County District Attorney’s Office has dropped all charges against Ron Jacobsen, who spent 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Jacobsen was released from prison on Nov. 4, 2020, on $500,000 bail, after DNA testing proved his innocence. Jacobsen had been wrongfully convicted of a 1990 kidnapping and rape in Covington, Ga.



Reflections on Assisting With the 9/11 World Trade Center DNA Identifications (NIST– 9/1/2021)

  • On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I walked to work from my home in Olde Towne Gaithersburg, Maryland, and arrived at my office shortly before 9 a.m. I had just returned from an International Society for Forensic Genetics meeting in Germany where I had spoken on a new DNA test our NIST team had developed. My task that morning was to prepare some samples in our laboratory of this new DNA test to ship to our collaborators in the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (NYC OCME) Forensic Biology Laboratory.

    However, these particular samples were never sent, as the attention of the NYC OCME — and the rest of the world — moved to the aftermath of the events on that fateful morning.



The Complex Truth About ‘Junk DNA’ (Quanta Magazine – 9/1/2021)

  • Genomes hold immense quantities of noncoding DNA. Some of it is essential for life, some seems useless, and some has its own agenda.



Genetic Genealogy Helps Lead to Charges in 1999 Murder of NJ Teen (NBC10 Philadelphia – 9/1/2021)

  • Bruce Cymanski is now charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping in the 1999 death of 17-year-old high school senior Nancy Noga in Sayreville, New Jersey



Investigation Identifies Remains Found in Montana Wilderness (US News & World Report – 9/1/2021)

  • Investigators using forensic genealogy have been able to identify human remains that were found in a southwestern Montana wilderness area seven years ago as a Texas man who was last seen by his parents in 2011.



‘Jane Doe’ Identified by Phoenix Police Four Years After Death from Heat Exhaustion (NBC News 12 – 9/1/2021)

  • The Phoenix Police Department has recently identified a woman found dead from heat exhaustion near 22nd Place and Garfield Street in 2017. The woman had been referred to as “Jane Doe” until Phoenix police used forensic genealogy techniques to identify her as Laura Jean Jordan. Earlier this year, Phoenix police teamed up with the DNA Doe Project to scan through databases of DNA to find any connections to the unknown woman.



‘I Am Pursuing Research that Could Change the World of Forensic DNA Analysis’ (University of New Haven – 9/2/2021)

  • My involvement in the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program has enabled me to conduct cutting-edge research while making important connections in the field of forensic science.