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!
Legislators should increase state funding for DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy of unidentified human remains, a state task force recommended.
The recommendations came from a Washington task force on missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in a report adopted unanimously on Nov. 20.
The report said DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy can help identify missing Indigenous people “and bring a measure of closure to families.” The primary barrier to testing is cost strapped agencies, according to the report.
The task force also recommended:
—The state establish a work group co-led by the Attorney General’s office, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, family members and two tribal epidemiology centers to develop best practices for Indigenous data collection by law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners.
—On the federal level, that the U.S. Department of Justice Programs establish a nationwide Missing Indigenous Persons Alert.
In February 1986, the legs of an unidentified individual were found in the West River in New Haven, Connecticut. The legs were discovered twenty yards downstream from the Chapel Street Bridge. No other remains were found. It was determined that the remains were that of a White male between the ages of twenty and fifty years. Hair on the man’s legs was described as being light brown in color. It was estimated that two days had elapsed between the man’s death and the discovery of his remains.
With limited information available, the man’s identity remained a mystery and the case went cold despite investigators’ attempts to identify him. The man became known as New Haven County John Doe (1986). In 2015, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP13994.
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 in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram will use Forensic-Grade Genomic Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile to generate new investigative leads for the case.
In September 1994, two teenagers discovered a human skull in a wooded area near a stream off of Interstate 95 in Darien, Connecticut. Investigators determined that the skull belonged to a white female who was between the ages of 40 and 50 years. It is estimated that the woman died as many as ten years prior to the discovery of her remains. No belongings or identifying characteristics were recovered and the identity of the woman was unknown.
In 2015, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case number UP14546. Since the discovery of the woman’s remains, law enforcement investigators have pursued various leads about her identity. Despite their efforts, the case went cold.
In 2023, in an ongoing collaboration aimed at solving the backlog of cold cases in Connecticut, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner submitted forensic evidence to Otham’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown woman. 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 investigators.
In a follow-up investigation, Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner investigators made contact with potential relatives of the woman, and were able to obtain a familial DNA reference sample. That reference sample DNA was submitted to Othram for comparison against the DNA of the unidentified woman using KinSNP® Rapid Relationship Familial Testing. This information allowed law enforcement to establish that the human skull found in 1994 was that of Patricia Hall, born June 4, 1962.
In September 2003, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in the Atlantic Ocean approximately five miles east of the Boynton Beach Inlet near Boynton Beach, Florida. Fishermen discovered the individual floating face down in the edge of patch of weeds. Investigators determined the remains were that of a white male who was between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-five years. The man was estimated to be approximately 6’1” tall and weighed approximately 176 pounds.
The man had an aged tattoo that appeared to be an eagle with an anchor and the letters “USN” or “USM” which were believed to mean US Navy or US Marines. The man was wearing a white t-shirt, a white polo shirt with black and brown pinstripes on the border of the sleeves and neckline, khaki pants, and brown socks. Investigators were unable to identify the man and he became known as “Maritime John Doe”.
In 2008, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP1037. Throughout the course of the investigation, a forensic sketch was developed to depict how the man have looked during his life. Law enforcement provided information about the case to the public via social media and by profiling the case on “The Lead Podcast”. Despite their extensive efforts, the man could not be identified.
In 2023, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for Maritime John Doe. 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 investigators.
In a follow-up investigation, investigators made contact with potential genetic relatives of the man, and were able to obtain a familial DNA reference sample. That reference sample DNA was submitted to Othram for comparison against the DNA of the unidentified man using KinSNP® Rapid Relationship Familial Testing. This information allowed law enforcement to establish the identity of “Maritime John Doe” as seventy-six-year-old Donald H. Kirk who was born July 18, 1927. Donald was reported missing to the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department on September 15, 2003.
House Republican Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler is introducing the Cold Case Modernization Act this week to expand genealogy testing at the federal level for cold case victims. Reschenthaler’s bill looks to solve cold cases by expanding Department of Justice (DOJ) criteria for grant funding toward forensic genealogy testing for unidentified human remains.
Reschenthaler’s legislation would open up the funds to non-homicide victims as well as victims whose causes of death are undetermined. Specifically, Reschenthaler’s bill says that any DOJ “grant awarded to States and units of local government for forensic genetic [genealogy] may be used to identify unidentified human remains without regard to whether the manner of death is determined to be a homicide.”
In September 2001, Ontario Provincial Police found the body of a man in an outhouse on a cross-country ski trail. The body was found near Deep River, Ontario located in the Laurentian Hills. The man was wearing Pepe brand blue jeans, a black Fundamentals shirt, a long-sleeved dark blue cotton shirt, black Replay running shoes, and a black leather Calvin Klein belt. He also wore a silver ring with an aquamarine stone on his right little finger and had a blue Levi’s pocket watch with a built-in compass. His possessions also included Copper Koh Sakai glasses with reflective lenses, a blue nylon Eagle Creek backpack containing a candle, lantern, mini flashlight, a water container, protein bars from a GNC store, and $60 in cash.
A post-mortem examination conducted in 2001 concluded that the man died due to a medical condition, likely ruling out foul play. Investigators believe that the man was found within a few days of his death. Investigators could not find anyone that recognized him or could identify him. The details of the case were checked against missing person reports and fingerprint records across Canada and the United States, but ultimately he could not be identified and the case eventually went cold.
In 2023, the Ontario Provincial Police, in collaboration with the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner, teamed with the Toronto Police Service and Othram, to leverage forensic genetic genealogy to identify the unknown man. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas and Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Once the profile was developed, the Toronto Police Service used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to identify new leads in the case.
The leads along with a follow up investigation enabled law enforcement to locate the man’s family and his identity was confirmed through additional DNA testing. Out of respect for the family’s privacy, investigators have not released the man’s name. The reason for his presence in the area where his body was found remains unknown.
In September 1984, the partial remains of an unidentified individual were found near the area of 5000 East Trent Street in Spokane, Washington. Police recovered the individual’s remains and turned them over to the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office for investigation and identification. It was determined that the remains were that of a male. Based on the evidence recovered at the scene, no identifying characteristics or other information could be determined for the individual.
Details of the case were uploaded to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP93149. With few leads to follow, the case went unsolved. For nearly four decades, the person’s identity was a mystery.
In 2022, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office once again teamed with Othram to use advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy to identify the unknown individual. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a DNA extract that was used with Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown 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 the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office. These leads along with a follow up investigation enabled the agency to locate the man’s family and confirm his identity. Out of respect for the family’s wishes, investigators have not released the man’s name.
In August 2022, the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office received American Rescue Plan funds to help identify human remains using forensic genetic genealogy. Using these funds, the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office has teamed with Othram on multiple cases, including the recent identifications of Clifford Wayne Bippes, Juanes Gaspar, and Bruce Frank Sherman. We are grateful for their willingness to collaborate and desire to solve these cases.
Thirty-seven years ago, Clarence Wilson was found by Montgomery county investigators in Crater Lake. He had been shot multiple times, weighted down by cement blocks, tied up with electrical cords, and thrown in the water, according to Fox26 Houston.
Crater Lake, which is believed to be more than 600ft deep, has previously been called a “dumping ground for bodies” by local news.
For 37 years, Wilson’s identity was unknown. In 2015 Fadi Rizk, a Montgomery county detective, told ABC13 that Wilson’s body had been exhumed for DNA testing, but no match had been found in the national database at that time.
Rizk took the case on in 2020 and saw “we were able to get DNA in this case prior” and “felt there was a good chance” they would be “able to get more from genealogy”, he told the outlet.
After sending the Wilson’s remains to Othram Lab in the Woodlands, they successfully got more DNA from Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) and a potential relative was identified – Gwen Tranum.
Rizk got in touch with Tranum earlier this year, received some of her DNA, and ultimately helped determine that the body from the lake was Tranum’s own brother.
In July 2000, skeletal remains were discovered by Open Space trail workers who were building the Galbraith hiking trail north of Golden, Colorado. The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office determined that the man likely died at that location in the fall or early winter of 1999. The remains belong to a white male estimated to be between the ages of 45 and 55 years. Investigators determined that the decedent was approximately 5’3″ in height and had a slim build, weighing approximately 135 pounds. A dental exam at autopsy revealed evidence of poor dental health, a tooth implant, a root canal, and gum disease.
Several articles of clothing were recovered within the vicinity of the man’s remain, including a size large green camouflage jacket and plaid shirt, and size 32×30 blue jeans. At the time of discovery, the man was wearing white Nike tennis shoes and socks. Additionally, a Marlboro cigarette package was recovered near the man’s remains.
In January 2014, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case number #UP11940. To help visualize the man’s appearance during his life, an artist rendering was created in 2016. Despite continuous efforts by law enforcement to identify the man, no leads have yielded a match and the man’s identity remains a mystery.
In 2023, the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office teamed with Othram to generate new leads in the case using advanced DNA technology and forensic genetic genealogy. Anyone with information that could aid in the identification, is encouraged to contact the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office by calling 303-271-6466 and referencing agency case number 2000-550.
New technology is available for law enforcement but it comes at a high price; forensic genetic genealogy is not a cheap process. This is something that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation does not available in their labs, according to Special Agent Brandon Elkins.
“Last year, we received funding from the governor and General Assembly in the amount of about $100,000, in hopes of us being able to utilize forensic genetic genealogy,” Elkins said.
The DNA Reunion Project’s goal was to see whether, somewhere in the world, they can find meaningful genetic matches and mend family trees that genocide had sundered. Since its launch a year ago, the reunion project has mailed more than 1,000 kits to 17 countries. The genealogy company Ancestry has donated 2,500 kits, and the project also encourages participants to upload samples to other commercial registries, in the hope thatas the databases grow, matches will become more likely.
A Florida man has been arrested for allegedly raping two women in New York City more than 20 years ago after investigators used a cutting-edge genetic tracing method to link him to the crimes, authorities said Thursday.
Jancys Santiago, 48, was charged in a pair of cold cases — a 2000 rape in Manhattan and a 2001 rape in the Bronx — with the help of “Investigative Genetic Genealogy,” an emerging field that combines DNA analysis and traditional genealogy research, the Bronx and Manhattan District Attorneys’ Offices said.
It was the first time the method was used in the Empire State to solve sexual assault cases, the DAs’ Offices claimed.
“Our Bronx victim said she had been waiting more than 20 years to hear that her alleged rapist was caught,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement.
“Investigative Genetic Genealogy will help solve all sorts of cold cases, not limited to murders, and hold perpetrators accountable. It will also help to name our unidentified homicide victims so their relatives can have closure.”
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