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!




Murder of California Waitress in 1996 Solved after DNA Match Identifies Suspect (NBC News – 12/10/2021)

  • A DNA match has helped cold case investigators solve the killing of a San Francisco Bay Area waitress whose body was found in a restaurant’s basement bathroom 25 years ago, authorities said Thursday.

    A murder charge was filed by prosecutors against prison inmate Danny Lamont Hamilton, alleging he drowned Priscilla Lewis during an attempted rape and burglary at a restaurant in the city of Crockett on September 24, 1996, said a statement from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.



New Technology Lets Police Link DNA to Appearance and Ancestry – and it’s Coming to Australia (The Conversation – 12/12/2021)

  • The Australian Federal Police recently announced plans to use DNA samples collected at crime scenes to make predictions about potential suspects.

    This technology, called forensic “DNA phenotyping”, can reveal a surprising and growing amount of highly personal information from the traces of DNA that we all leave behind, everywhere we go – including information about our biological sex, ancestry and appearance.

    Queensland police have already used versions of this approach to identify a suspect and identify remains. Forensic services in Queensland and New South Wales have also investigated the use of predictive DNA.

    This technology can reveal much more about a suspect than previous DNA forensics methods. But how does it work? What are the ethical issues? And what approaches are other countries around the world taking?


Serial Killer’s ‘Yonkers Jane Doe’ ID’d Nearly 30 Years After Body Found in Dumpster (PIX11 – 12/13/2021)

  • She was a victim of serial killer Robert Shulman, a postal worker from Hicksville, Long Island convicted of killing and dismembering five women in the 1990s using barbells and a baseball bat. But no one knew her name — until now.

    Det. John Geiss, of the Yonkers Cold Case Squad, told PIX11 News on Monday Meresa Hammonds was the victim found in a Yonkers dumpster on June 27, 1992. She was a mother of two sons who was living in New Jersey. She was 31 years old.


Illinois Police, Parabon, ID Body Found in 1975 (Forensic – 12/13/2021)

  • On Dec. 23, 1975, the Davie Police Department discovered the body of an unidentified white female floating in a canal in the area of 2600 SW 154th Avenue. After carefully assessing the case and meeting with investigators from the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office, the Davie Police Department determined the circumstances of this case suggested homicide.

    On Nov. 15, 2019, Davie Police Cold Case Unit learned the unidentified female was buried at Wake Forest Lawn in Davie, FL. A month later, the Davie Police Department made history by exhuming the remains of the unidentified female.

    Once DNA was extracted and sent to Parabon, CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist, began the process of creating a family tree. Moore traced the family back to the early 1800s and started working her way from the past to the present.’


Maryland Forensic Labs Receive $2M to Reduce DNA Backlogs (Forensic – 12/13/2021)

  • U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone (all D-Md.) havr announced $2,085,897 in federal funding to help relieve police department backlogs of forensic biology and DNA cases


DNA Doe Project Helps Tyler Police Identify Remains Found in 2004 (KLTV7 – 12/14/2021)

  • Investigative genetic genealogists from the DNA Doe Project, along with Tyler Police Detective James Holt, have confirmed the identification of the remains of a man found in 2004.

    On December 23, 2004 juveniles found a decomposed human skeleton in a barn in a wooded area near the intersection of Hwy 69S and FM 2813 in South Tyler, Smith County, Texas. A Forensic Medical Examiner determined the remains were that of a white male thought to be between 27 and 42 years old. It was estimated the man died months earlier that same year.


Remains Found in a Garbage Bag in 1982 Identified as Former O’Jays Member (NBC News – 12/15/2021)

  • Partial human remains found nearly four decades ago in a garbage bag behind an Ohio business were identified by police Tuesday as Frank Little Jr., a former songwriter and guitarist for the O’Jays.

    The discovery was made after the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that uses genetic genealogy to help identify “Jane and John Does,” provided authorities with the names of potential living relatives of the person found in the garbage bag, police in the city of Twinsburg said in a news release.

    The bag was found on Feb. 18, 1982, behind a now-shuttered business in Twinsburg, about 25 miles southeast of Cleveland.


N.C. Investigators, Othram ID Body Found in 1995 (Forensic – 12/15/2021)

  • In December 1995, metal detectorists were exploring the area near the Roanoke River in the Garysburg (Northampton County) North Carolina area. They came upon what they thought was a large smooth stone. After picking it up, they discovered that it was a human skull. They called the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office. Officers responded and upon a closer examination of the area found an intact skeleton. The skeleton was covered with a thin layer of soil and leaves. It was clothed in a pair of brown pants and a dark coat. The North Carolina SBI was notified who sent agents to the location and assisted the Sheriff’s Office with exhuming the remains.



Central Florida Detectives are Working With a Forensic Anthropologist to Solve Decades-Old Cold Cases (WMFV NPR – 12/15/2021)

  • Detectives in Central Florida are teaming up with a forensic anthropologist from the University of South Florida to try and solve cold cases that go back decades.

    Forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle started the ‘Left for Dead’ project in 2015, to try and help solve murders of women whose bodies were found in Central Florida between 1970 and 1990.

    Kimmerle said there are as many as 15,000 unsolved homicides in Florida. Her team narrowed down the cases to about 200 missing women in Central Florida, 80 unsolved homicides and 35 unidentified women.



Winnebago County John Doe ID’ed After 6 Years (Forensic – 12/17/2021)

  • In April 2015, a man discovered human remains near the railroad tracks, south of County GG, just east of Interstate 41, in the town of Vinland. An initial examination suggested the human remains belonged to a white male but no age estimate could be made. It was estimated that the remains might have been at the scene for up to two years prior. Cause of death was not clear. Investigators pursued all available leads and traditional forensic DNA testing was used to build a CODIS profile. No matches to identity were found in the government databases. A forensic facial reconstruction was developed to aid in identification but did not generate productive leads either. Multiple men were ruled out as the unknown man based on STR comparisons. The unknown man remained unidentified.



Genealogy ID’s Rohnert Park John Doe from 2015 (Forensic – 12/17/2021)

  • The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office received confirmation that a John Doe death reported on January 2, 2015 has been positively identified using genetic genealogy and the assistance of the DNA Doe Project in Sebastopol.

    Stephen Patrick Archer (48 at time of death), Seattle, Washington, was found near a walking path in Rohnert Park. Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety (RPDPS) initially investigated his death as a non-traumatic, non-suspicious death. However, his cause of death and identity were unknown. The Sonoma County Coroner’s Office was notified, and he was soon after that known only as “15 John Doe,” as he was the first coroner case of 2015.



New Way to Find Genetic Variations Removes Bias from Human Genotyping (Forensic – 12/17/2021)

  • Since the first sequencing of the human genome more than 20 years ago, the study of human genomes has relied almost exclusively on a single reference genome to which others are compared to identify genetic variations. Scientists have long recognized that a single reference genome cannot represent human diversity and that using it introduces a pervasive bias into these studies. Now, they finally have a practical alternative.

    In a paper published in Science, researchers at the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute have introduced a new tool, called Giraffe, that can efficiently map new genome sequences to a “pangenome” representing many diverse human genome sequences. They show that this approach allows a more comprehensive characterization of genetic variations and can improve the genomic analyses used by a wide range of researchers and clinicians.