Dec 08 2023

This Week in Forensic Science

NewsForensic

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!

 

 

 

Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 1997 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 11/30/2023)

    • In June 1997, rock climbers dicovered the remains of an unidentified woman buried under stones in a shallow grave in Reno, Nevada. Detectives estimated that the remains belonged to a white woman between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five years. The woman was 5’2” in height and she had brown hair at the time of her death. Her weight and eye color could not be determined. Investigators noted that during the woman’s life, the left side of her mandible was fractured and repaired by the placement of a metal plate. Due to the condition of the woman’s remains, the cause of her death could not be determined. However, the case details led investigators to conclude that her manner of death was homicide.

      Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP7713. A forensic reconstruction was created to depict how the woman may have looked like during her life. Despite the efforts of law enforcement to identify the woman, no leads yielded a match and the case went cold.

      In 2023, the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract that was used in Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified homicide victim. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads that were returned to the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office.

      In a follow-up investigation led by Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office Medicolegal Death Investigator/Technician Supervisor Sarah Turner, old paper fingerprint records were positively matched to fingerprints taken from the body after death, with assistance from the FBI. The unidentified woman is now known to be Lorena Gayle Mosley (AKA Lorena Gayle Sherwood). Mosely was 41 years old at the time of her death.

 

 

Suspected Victim of Serial Killer Identified Nearly 50 Years After His Murder, Authorities Say (ABCNews – 11/29/2023)

  • The suspected victim of a convicted serial killer has been identified using investigative genetic genealogy nearly 50 years after his body was found near a California trail, authorities said.

    Michael Ray Schlicht is believed to be an early victim of infamous serial killer Randy Kraft — who was sentenced to death in 1989 for the brutal murders of 16 young men in Orange County between 1972 and 1983 — according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

    The so-called Scorecard Killer, Kraft is believed to have tortured and killed dozens more victims in California, Oregon and Michigan. He is also known as “The Freeway Killer” for targeting young male hitchhikers.

     

Gilgo Beach Suspect’s Wife’s Cheek Swab Matches Her DNA on Victims (ABCNews – 11/30/2023)

    • A DNA sample taken from the estranged wife of the alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer matches her genetic material that was found on the remains of victims, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

      Investigators obtained a cheek swab from Asa Ellerup the night her husband, Rex Heuermann, was arrested for the murders of three women whose remains were found wrapped in burlap in a marshy area near Gilgo Beach on Long Island. Prosecutors have cleared Ellerup of any wrongdoing and have said she was out of town at the time of the murders.

      Meanwhile, Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to first and second degree murders charges in the deaths of Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Costello and Megan Waterman. He is also the prime suspect in the killing of a fourth Gilgo Beach victim, Maureen Brainard Barnes. The Suffolk County district Attorney’s office has said DNA from Heuermann’s cheek swab matched his genetic material found on a pizza box investigators recovered from the trash near his Manhattan office.

       

 

Barrington Hills Police Department Teams with Othram to Identify 1979 John Doe (DNASolves – 12/01/2023)

  • In August 1979, a horseback rider discovered the remains of an unidentified individual in a grassy area off Old Dundee Road in Barrington Hills, a suburban village located about 40 miles northwest of Chicago, Illinois. The Barrington Hills Police Department responded to the scene and located the severed legs and torso of a white male. It is estimated that the man was approximately 5’7″ to 5’8″ tall and less than 50 years old. A search of the area did not yield any other remains. The man’s manner of death was determined to be homicide.

    With no identifying characteristics available, the identity of the man could not be determined. Despite the efforts of law enforcement, the case went cold and the man was classified as John Doe. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP112246. Investigators are now seeking to utilize DNA technology that was unavailable in 1979 in hopes that an identification of the victim will bring closure for surviving family members.

    In 2023, the Barrington Hills Police Department teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help to finally identify the remains of the homicide victim. Othram will work to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the man using Forensic Grade Genome Sequencing® that can be used in a forensic genetic genealogy search to generate new investigative leads. Anyone with information that could assist in this investigation is encouraged to contact the Barrington Hills Police Department, referencing case number 1979-2050.

     

     

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 1994 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 12/01/2023)

  • In October 1994, the remains of an unidentified individual were found buried in a shallow grave in the 5600 block of 47th Street South in Wichita, Kansas. Kansas Gas and Electric Company workers were cleaning ditches and tree rows in the area when they made the discovery. Investigators responded to the scene and determined that the individual was a 20- to 30-year-old white man with auburn/sandy-colored hair. He was 5′8″ to 6′0″ tall. An examination was performed by the Sedgwick County Coroner’s Office and a forensic anthropologist, who determined that the man’s manner of death was homicide.

     

    In 2008, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP2434. In 2021, the FBI and the Smithsonian Institute’s Department of Anthropology worked to create a computer-enhanced facial reconstruction of the man to depict how he may have looked during his life. The composite sketch was released to the public in hopes that new leads would be generated in the case and the man could be identified. Unfortunately, the identity of the man remained a mystery.

    In 2022, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the homicide victim. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement.

    Using these new leads, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s detectives conducted a follow-up investigation and made contact with a potential relative of the decedent. This investigation led to the identification of the homicide victim as Harold “James” Crawford, born January 11, 1973. James, a resident of Wichita, was 21 years old at the time of his death.

     

 

UT Receives National Institute of Justice Awards for Forensic Research (The University of Tennessee Knoxville – 12/04/2023)

  • The Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has received two grants totaling over $580,000 from the Office of Justice Program’s National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. A longtime grantee across numerous forensics research topics, the center – which includes the Anthropological Research Facility, also known as the Body Farm – is known worldwide for its research and training.

    The first of the two new research projects will help law enforcement locate clandestine graves, and the second will help inform how relic DNA in the soil affects forensic investigations.

     

     

     

Seattle Police Department Teams with Othram to Identify 2017 King County John Doe (DNASolves – 12/04/2023)

  • In December 2017 and January 2018, the partial remains of an unknown individual washed ashore near Four Mile Rock in Seattle, Washington. Four Mile Rock is located on the shore of the Puget Sound and is fully accessible at low tide. The Seattle Police Department responded to the scene. An autopsy revealed that the remains belonged to a male individual, who was between the ages of 30 and 60 years at his time of death. While the man’s weight could not be determined, it was estimated that the man was between 5’8” and 5’11” in height and he likely died in 2016 or 2017. Investigators found black Adidas brand underwear and black Air Jordan high top tennis shoes on the individual’s body.

    After the discovery of the man’s remains, a remote-operated underwater vessel searched the area, but did not find any additional forensic evidence. Despite the extensive efforts of law enforcement, the man’s identity remained a mystery. A forensic reconstruction was created to depict how the man may have looked during his life. Details of the missing person case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons database (NamUs) as UP17874. The man was never identified and the case went cold.

    In 2023, the Seattle Police Department submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. The services provided by Othram for this case were funded through crowdfunding donations made to the Seattle Police Foundation. We are grateful to those who donated and for the support from the Seattle Police Foundation.

    Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement.

    In a follow-up investigation, investigators made contact with potential relatives of the man and were able to obtain a familial DNA reference sample. The reference sample was then submitted to Othram for comparison against the DNA of the unidentified man using KinSNP® Rapid Relationship Familial Testing. King County John Doe is now known to be 33-year-old Paul J. Bossart, Jr, who was originally from Illinois. Paul’s family indicated that he had left home in November 2017, with plans to relocate to Seattle and was never heard from again. The circumstances of how the man ended up in the water are still under investigation.

     

 

Forensic Genealogy Helping to Solve Some of the Toughest Cold Cases (WFMZ69 News – 12/04/2023)

  • Forensic genealogy is being used more and more to help the police and victims’ loved ones get answers.

    “Forensic genealogy is being used to identify DNA that we don’t know who the source is,” said Teresa Vreeland, BODE Technology director of forensic genealogy services.

    Investigators recently used Virginia-based BODE Technology to help solve the murder of Cynthia Baver, who was killed at her home on North Tenth Street in Reading in 2001.

 

DNA Connects Florida Death Row Inmate to Nearly 25-Year-Old Rape and Murder Cold Case, Sheriff Says (CNN – 12/05/2023)

  • A nearly 25-year-old rape and murder cold case has been solved due to DNA forensics and genetics, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

    Sheriff Gregory Tony identified the victim as Eileen Truppner and the killer as Lucious Boyd, 64, at a news conference. Boyd is on death row for a murder committed two weeks before Truppner’s death, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

    In December 1998, Truppner’s body was found by a boater in southwest Broward County near US Route 27, according to a news statement from May.

    Using DNA found at the crime scene, investigators contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement genealogy unit. DNA swabs from Truppner’s relatives were taken for comparison.

 

mtDNA, Y-STR Analysis Help Account for WWII Pilot (Forensic – 12/06/2023)

  • The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recently announced that U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Fred L. Brewer Jr., 23, of Charlotte, North Carolina, killed during World War II, was accounted for Aug. 10, 2023.

    In late 1944, Brewer was a pilot with the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, in the European Theater. On Oct. 19, Brewer departed Ramitelli Air Base, Italy, as one of 57 fighters assigned to escort bombers to their targets in Regensburg, Germany. While enroute to their targets, the bomber group encountered heavy cloud cover over the Udine area of Italy, which forced several escort fighters to return early. According to another pilot witness, Brewer had attempted a steep climb to get above the cloud cover, which caused the engine of his P-51C Mustang, Traveling Light, to stall. It was reported Brewer’s aircraft had rolled over with the canopy jettisoned, but he was not observed ejecting from the plane. Brewer’s remains were not recovered, and he was subsequently declared missing in action.

    In 2011, researchers discovered that an Italian resident of Moggio Udinese, Italy, used airplane wreckage found at a nearby crash site to create a memorial to fallen Americans who died during World War II. Around the same time, researchers analyzed the file for Unknown Remains X-125 Mirandola (X-125), which had been recovered but not identified from the Moggio Udinese civilian cemetery by American forces in 1946. These remains, unable to be identified at the time, were then interred at the Florence American Cemetery, Italy.

    In 2022, DPAA and the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) exhumed Unknown Remains X-125 for forensic analysis. These remains were sent to the DPAA Laboratory for examination and identification.

    To identify Brewer’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis.

 

Largest-Ever Emmett Till Grant Supports Washington’s Newest Cold Case Unit (Forensic – 12/06/2023)

  • Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is continuing to take strides in his office’s focus to help solve cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people.

    Late last month, the office was awarded the largest-ever federal Emmett Till Cold Case Investigations and Prosecution grant. Ferguson applied for a $750,000 grant, only to receive $1.5 million—double the requested amount. The grant monies will support the new Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & People (MMIWP) Cold Case Unit within the Office of the Attorney General.

    Ferguson appointed Brian George, a 27-year law enforcement veteran and enrolled member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, to lead to unit, which is the first of its kind in the nation.

    In addition to George, the unit will include investigators and a case navigator whose primary function is to work with and maintain regular, consistent communication with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people, and to convey information between the investigators and families using culturally appropriate and trauma-informed practices.

 

 

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