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!




34 Years After Woman’s Murder, “Familial DNA” Leads to Suspect Nearly 2,000 Miles Away (ABC News 19 – 12/09/2022)

    • A Washington state man has been charged in the 1988 slaying of a Wisconsin woman after he was identified using “familial DNA searching” to examine records of people who may be related to the suspect. Gene C. Meyer, 66, is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault with use of a dangerous weapon in the killing of 60-year-old Betty Rolf, CBS affiliate WFRV reported.



Genetic Genealogy Credited for Breakthrough in 1988 Baca County Cold Case (ABC7 Denver – 12/09/2022)

  • In June 1988, a farmer told the Baca County Sheriff’s Office he had found what he believed to be human remains on a farm about 20 miles southwest of the town of Springfield in southeast Colorado. The coroner at the time determined the remains were human and had been there for a few years. After an extensive investigation, detectives couldn’t identify the remains, and the case became cold. But in May 2021, investigative genetic geneologist Michele Kennedy with Solved by DNA got involved.

    The DNA was sent to a private lab and uploaded to two genealogical databases used by law enforcement — Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch. That’s where Kennedy’s job came into play.

    “There was one really close match in Family Tree DNA, and later determined it was a first cousin once removed,” she said.

    Last month, after tracking down Jane Doe’s relatives and building a family tree, Kennedy determined the remains were those of Nora Castillo — 34 years after they were discovered.



There are Few Black Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. One University Wants to Change That. (NBC News – 12/10/2022)

  • The hospital where Sharita Godwin works in central North Carolina doesn’t have any Black nurses trained in administering forensic exams to sexual assault victims.

    She’s aiming to become the first one. Last week, Godwin joined seven other nurses from across the region at Fayetteville State University, as part of the historically Black school’s first class for aspiring sexual assault nurse examiners. The program, which took place over a couple of multiday sessions this fall, trained nurses to treat patients in crisis, including collecting forensic evidence for law enforcement and preventing sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.



Genetic Genealogy IDs 1991 John Doe Once Thought to be a Jane Doe (Forensic Magazine – 12/14/2022)

  • On Nov. 1, 1991, skeletal remains were located by hunters in a shallow grave, along a private farm lane on the north side of State Route 56 east, just west of State Route 159. The remains were initially thought to have been of an Indigenous American, which has been the history of that area, however upon further review by anthropologists it was determined the remains had likely been in the ground for no more than 3 years. The remains were initially believed to belong to a female due to the small stature, with an estimated height of 5’1 – 5’4. At the time they believed the subject was approximately 25 years of age.

    Since 1991, investigators from the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office have collaborated with many different agencies to try to gain information on this case. Some of the agencies include Pickaway County Coroner’s Office Dr. Michael Geron and Dr. John Ellis, The Ohio State Department of Anthropology, Dr. Elizabeth Murray from Mount Saint Joseph University, Michelle Yezzo and Kristen Slaper from BCI, Dr. Neal Haskell from Purdue University, The Analytical Genetic Testing Center, Cell Mark Diagnostics Laboratories, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    In 2012, the bones were examined by scientists at North Texas University and an attempt was made to extract DNA. They were successful and it was then proven that the individual was male. Additionally, it was noted that the individual may have ancestry originating from the Indian Subcontinent.

    In 2021, Ellis and Lt Johnathan Strawser decided to pursue genetic genealogy. Due to the condition of the bones, additional specialized testing was required. The testing was performed by Hudson Alpha. Afterward, Saber Investigations provided bioinformatics, which resulted in a DNA profile suitable for genetic genealogy.

    On Nov. 1, 2022, exactly 31 years from the date of discovery, AdvanceDNA met with the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office. After extensive research and partnership with nine private citizens, who were determined to be genetic relative matches of the man, AdvanceDNA was able to identify a strong lead in his identity.

    Tuesday, after a multistep verification process, his identity has been confirmed as Robert A. Mullins, of Columbus, Ohio.


A Family Tree of Humanity Released in 2022 Shows How We’re All Related (NewScientist – 12/14/2022)

    • It is one thing to work out your own family tree. It is another to create one for all of humanity. But biologists have made a start: in February, Gil McVean at the University of Oxford and his colleagues unveiled a family tree of humanity based on 3601 modern genomes and eight ancient genomes.


Long Beach Police Department Team & the Los Angeles FBI Team with Othram to Identify Long Beach John Doe (DNASolves – 12/14/2022)

    • On June 3, 1978, the body of an unidentified male was found lying on the pavement of Division Street, east of Corona Avenue in Long Beach. The victim had succumbed to his injuries and was determined deceased at the scene. LBPD Homicide Detectives responded to investigate the incident. The victim became known as “John Doe 1978” as a result of his identity being unattainable, however, he was believed to have been between 15 and 19 years old.

      Over the last four decades, several generations of LBPD Homicide Detectives diligently worked the case, even expanding the investigation internationally to other countries in their attempt to identify the victim. Despite their hard work, all investigative leads were ultimately exhausted, and the case went cold.

      As the years passed, advances in investigative genealogy made it possible for detectives to develop new investigative leads, thereby reigniting the investigation. Through partnerships with statewide and national organizations, Homicide Detectives were able to have a DNA sample of “John Doe 1978” created for investigative genealogy. Badly degraded and chemically damaged skeletal evidence was sent to Othram’s lab in The Woodlands, Texas. This skeletal evidence had failed prior attempts, but Othram was able to develop a suitable DNA extract for testing. Othram then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile from the skeletal remains and this DNA profile was returned to FBI investigators that then used the profile in a genealogical search. A close relative match enabled investigators to narrow the search to a candidate family member.

      In September 2022, the investigative leads assisted in identifying “John Doe 1978” as Kenneth Nevada Williams, a 15-year-old male who had run away from his home in the City of La Puente in 1978. Williams was never reported missing. Homicide Detectives were successfully able to locate and contact Williams’ family members and subsequently confirm his identity.


PBSO Forensic Team Uses New Pilot Program to Solve ‘Baby June’ Mystery (FOX29 WFLX – 12/15/2022)

    • Julie Sikorsky, the forensic scientist supervisor of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Biology Unit, told WFLX she’s “extremely excited.”

      “I’m excited we were able to bring this solve to the county,” Sikorsky said Thursday. “I’m excited this new technology worked for us. I mean, we expected it, but we didn’t think it would be this quick.”

      Sikorsky said this was a pilot program.

      “This was out first case for our genetic genealogy program, our investigative genetic genealogy program,” she said. “So this was a case we knew was important to the county. If you live in this county, you know this case.”



Familial DNA Search Solves 1994 Murder of 89-Year-Old (Forensic – 12/16/2022)

    • On a Saturday in April 1994, 89-year-old Lillian DeCloe relaxed at her Pompano Beach home and awaited a visit later that day from a niece who helped care for her.

      That visit would never happen. Instead, violence and rage burst into DeCloe’s quiet, peaceful home that day and a killer took her life.

      For 28 years, DeCloe’s family wondered who could possibly murder this harmless woman, who spent her life as a teacher and nurse, caring for others. This past August, Broward Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Homicide Unit detectives gave them the answer they’d long sought—her killer had been identified.

      BSO’s Cold Case Homicide Unit reopened DeCloe’s case after the unit formed in 2019. Their work launched a journey through old case files, through DNA databases and eventually to the grave of a former United States Marine who once lived a few houses away from DeCloe’s home.

      A series of breakthroughs led to DeCloe’s killer—the first from DNA evidence recovered from DeCloe’s nightgown. The killer left semen on the garment after he sexually assaulted her. From that evidence, BSO’s Crime Lab developed a suspect profile.



Next-Generation Sequencing Could Change Research on Sexual Assault Cases (News Medical Life Sciences – 12/16/2022)

    • Next-generation sequencing (NGS) can aid law enforcement in solving decades-old cases and provide justice for victims. There is a higher chance of finding a perpetrator when NGS data is used, as opposed to the traditional DNA profile. In this interview, Alexis Garloff talks to News-Medical about her next-generation sequencing research and the applications in forensics, particularly in sexual assault cases.



Mesa County Coroner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2019 John Doe (DNASolves – 12/16/2022)

    • In December 2019, skeletal remains from an unknown man were discovered at an overlook in Gateway, Colorado. The discovery was made by a hunting guide scouting the area. The man was found with personal belongings scattered throughout the area but none of the items assisted in the identification of the man. Investigators initially estimated that the unknown male was between 30 and 60 years old at the time of his death, and that he was between 5’7” and 6’2” in height. Investigators were unable to determine the man’s weight, hair color, or hair length. Additionally, the man’s cause of death was not clear.

      In December 2019, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP62500. Skeletal remains were sent to University of North Texas for identification, as well as to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Despite the exhaustive efforts of law enforcement, the man’s identity remained a mystery. With few leads for investigators to pursue, the case eventually went cold.

      In 2022, Mesa County Coroner’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the man or a close relative.

      A follow up investigation using these leads determined that the unknown man was in fact, Larry Dean Watts, born March 6, 1949.



The State of Forensic Science 13 Years After NAS Report (Forensic Magazine – 12/19/2022)

    • When Henry Swofford stepped to the microphone at a gathering of forensic scientists in 2016, he surprised the audience when he announced that he had directed his investigators to no longer use the terms “identification” or “individualization” to link an item of evidence to a specific person. Investigators could no longer say that a latent fingerprint found at a crime scene was an absolute match with a suspect.

      At the time Swofford was the chief of the Latent Print Branch of the Defense Forensic Science Center in Forest Park, Georgia, so his directive had immediate impact for military forensic science worldwide. His reasoning was that the identification of a specific individual based on partial and degraded impressions cannot be stated with “absolute certainty,” because scientific data do not support such claims.

      Swofford’s concerns, shared by many in the forensics community, were triggered by the landmark 2009 National Research Council report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. The report was highly critical of what was passing for science in some fields of forensics and had an immediate impact on law enforcement, crime laboratories, courtrooms, and, importantly, the broader scientific community.

      The efforts to improve forensic science have been significant and ongoing since the National Research Council report, but has the problem been solved? Does the forensic testimony now introduced in court rest on solid scientific ground?



SAKI Leads to Arrest for Multiple 2007 Rapes (Forensic Magazine – 12/19/2022)

    • On Nov. 7, 2022, detectives with the Fayetteville Police Department’s Cold Case Sexual Assault Unit charged Christopher James McMillian, of Fayetteville, NC, with 3 counts of First Degree Rape, 2 counts of First Degree Kidnapping, 1st Degree Sexual Offense, and Communication of Threats.

      On Dec. 14, 2022 McMillian was located and arrested by members of the Fayetteville Police Departments Violent Crime Apprehension Team. McMillan is currently being held at the Cumberland County Jail under a $200,000.00 secured bond.

      The charges for McMillan stem from a series of rapes and kidnapping incidents that occurred in 2007. The initial investigation determined that in August 2007 that McMillan would offer his victims’ rides. McMillan took them to a secluded location and sexually assaulted them.

      The initial investigation in 2007 went unsolved due to limitations in DNA technology; however, the sexual assault kits from these cases were recently submitted for testing utilizing funds from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s FY2015 National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant and McMillan was identified as a suspect.



Bode Technology Awarded NIJ Research and Development Grant to Advance Investigative Genetic Genealogy (PRWeb – 12/19/2022)

    • Bode Technology announced that it has been awarded a $437K grant (15PNIJ-21-GG-04143-MUMU) from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) under the Research and Development in Forensic Science for Criminal Justice Purposes grant program to address pressing research in the groundbreaking field of Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) that enables law enforcement to solve more cold cases.



AFP Forensics Called to Solve Christmas Mystery (Australian Federal Police – 12/19/2022)

    • AFP forensic experts are releasing details of a previously classified investigation into the mystery of the ‘night before Christmas’.

      The investigation started after curious Australian children who woke to a clatter on Christmas Eves’ past, referred the matter to the AFP in the hope its world-class forensic team could shed light on the centuries-old mystery of who had been inside their homes.

      Members of the AFP have worked through the night for the past few Christmas Eves, responding to reports of the miracle happening and gathering evidence from around Australia.



Kentucky State Police Forensic Lab Utilizes DNA Technology to Identify Missing Person (Kentucky State Police – 12/19/2022)

    • The Kentucky State Police (KSP) Forensic Lab partnered with Othram Inc. using advanced DNA testing to establish an identity for a victim in an unsolved case. Recently, KSP positively identified a “Jane Doe” recovered along a roadside in rural Owen County from 1988 as Linda Bennett.



DDP Helps ID 1971 Murder Victim (Forensic Magazine – 12/21/2022)

    • he Rock County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) today announced a break in a cold case homicide. A murder victim whose remains were found 41 years ago in Rock County, Minn. has been identified through genetic genealogy and DNA. Louis Anthony Gattaino, of Omaha, Nebraska, had been missing since October 1971. He was 25 at the time.

      On March 13, 1981, a highway worker found skeletal remains of a man now identified as Gattaino near a culvert along Minnesota Interstate 90 near County Highway 23 in Beaver Creek Township. Despite an exhaustive investigation the man’s identity remained a mystery.

      BCA forensic scientists obtained DNA from the remains but it did not match to anyone in convicted offender or missing persons databases.

      Then this past August, researchers from the DNA Doe Project working with a public genealogy database identified a likely genetic connection to Gattaino’s family. BCA agents and Rock County investigators travelled to Omaha to collect DNA samples from several family members. BCA forensic scientists obtained DNA results that support the familial relationship last week and Rock County investigators notified Gattaino’s family members of the results.



Similarities, DNA Identify Jane Doe as Missing Woman (Forensic – 12/21/2022)

    • On July 15, 2020, Wanda Ashford Floyd was transported to Decatur General Hospital for an unknown medical issue. She was released from the hospital later the same day. Approximately a week later, police were notified by friends of Floyd that they had not heard from her.

      On July 31, a fisherman reported to the Decatur Police Department that they believed they found human remains in Flint Creek of Morgan County. DNA was collected and sent for analysis with no matching reports in the database.

      In December 2021, the Lawrence County Alabama Sheriff’s Office updated its Facebook page with request for information concerning the disappearance of Floyd.

      In late 2021, an investigator with the Mobile County Cold Case Unit contacted Decatur Police to help with investigative genetic genealogy on the unidentified Jane Doe. Due to some similarities between the Jane Doe and Floyd, a close family member of Floyd provided a DNA sample.

      The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit—working with Moxxy Forensic Investigations, Hudson-Alpha Discovery, Saber Investigations, GEDMatch, and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences—were able to determine the identity of Jane Doe as Wanda Ashford Floyd.

      The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank their partners who volunteered their services, Carla Davis, who fully funded the lab cost, the Decatur Police Department, and genealogy analyst Olivia McCarter of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.