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!




Alabama Serial Rapist Musician Tied to ‘Horrifying’ Attacks Through DNA Research (FOX News – 2/23/2023)

    • When a renowned French horn player was accused earlier this month of being a serial rapist after genetic genealogy research linked him to several crimes across the country, the scandal rocked the U.S. French horn community

      Elliott Higgins’ pristine image flipped on its head earlier this month, however, when Tuscaloosa authorities and genetic genealogists tied Higgins’ DNA to at least three sexual assaults — including two rapes — in Alabama and Colorado between 1991 and 2004.

      CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs, described the case as “unique” because Higgins didn’t have “any obvious ties to the area” of the crimes he committed.



San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify “Lady in the Fridge” (DNASolves – 2/23/2023)

  • In March 1995, an individual recycling in the unincorporated community of Holt in San Joaquin County located a partially submerged refrigerator in an irrigation canal off Bacon Island Road. Inside the refrigerator was a woman’s body. Investigators at the time believed the woman had been entombed in the refrigerator underwater for several months leading to an advanced state of decomposition.

    For nearly twenty-seven years, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office investigators have been trying to identify the homicide victim dubbed “Lady in the Fridge.” In 2022, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the San Joaquin County Medical Examinier’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the woman or a close relative. Skeletal evidence was sent to Othram’s lab, where Othram’s forensic scientists developed a DNA extract and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown female. In addition, Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to produce investigative leads, which were returned to San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office Investigators.

    A follow-up investigation contacting the victim’s possible mother and daughter was made. They provided their DNA sample to compare, confirming the identification of Amanda Lynn Schumann Deza, born August 11, 1965.


Sister of Colorado Girl Who Went Missing at 14 Became Investigator in Already Bungled Case (FOX News – 2/24/2023)

  • On Aug. 16, 1983, teenager Beth Miller left her Idaho Springs, Colorado, home for a jog and never returned.

    For weeks, there was a massive community search effort for the 14-year-old as neighbors and law enforcement came together to bring her home, but that never happened. McLaughlin was so determined for answers after her sister’s disappearance that she became directly involved in the case in the 1990s when she joined local law enforcement, and doing so led her down an even more complicated path toward answers.



Our Genomes Are Full of ‘Junk DNA’ that Could Be Way More Important than We Realized (Science Alert – 2/27/2023)

  • Of the roughly three billion base pairs making up the human genome, only around 2 percent encodes proteins, leaving the remaining 98 percent with less obvious functions.

    Dismissed by some as useless ‘junk DNA‘, its origins, effects, and potential purpose in the evolution of life has attracted the attention of biologists ever since it was first noticed cluttering up our chromosomes in the 1960s. Now researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel have added some vital insights into the reasons why non-coding DNA persists, which could help us better understand the rich variety of genome sizes across the living world.


DNA Doe Project Identifies Remains Left Behind after Cemetery Move (DNA Doe Project – 3/01/2023)

    • A young woman who died in 1891 in Sanford, Maine has been identified as Edith Patten. Her coffin and remains had been left behind after the city relocated the rest of the graves from Woodlawn Cemetery in Sanford, Maine in 1931.

      In 1900, authorities began moving graves to a newer municipal cemetery in order to accommodate the construction of the Emerson School. Over time, the original cemetery became overgrown and neglected.

      Woodlawn Cemetery had been in operation from about 1870 until 1903 when a new town cemetery was established. By 1931, the town of Sanford decided to relocate all of the remaining graves in order to install a playground for the adjacent elementary school. A newspaper article from 1931 reported that 72 bodies were relocated to Oakdale Cemetery, the municipal cemetery approximately a mile away. City records indicate that all 77 graves known to have existed in Woodlawn Cemetery had been moved.

      But, they missed one. On May 4, 2017, workers digging a waterline during the construction of a gas station and convenience store discovered partial skeletal remains inside a collapsed casket. The remains included finger bones, a jawbone, teeth and ribs. Because the pelvis was missing, the gender could not be confirmed; however, the remains were believed to be those of a female child. It was later determined that Edith died at age 24. Along with the skeletal remains were portions of a Victorian era casket, including several nickel-plated handles and coffin keys.

      Local historian and teacher Paul Auger helped collect and preserve Edith’s remains, championing her case and eventually bringing it to the DNA Doe Project for help with an identification. A DNA profile developed previously by Parabon Nanolabs was optimized with bioinformatics, and investigative genetic genealogists were able to identify Edith Patten by building a family tree from her great-great niece and nephew.


70 Years Ago, A Scientific Discovery Changed the World (NPR – 2/28/2023)

    • Seventy years ago, two scientists had a flash of insight that changed the world. On February 28, 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA, the now-famous double helix. Their discovery helped unlock the mystery of our genetic code, and it helped us understand what makes us us. Here’s NPR correspondent Joe Palca from 1993, commemorating the anniversary of this groundbreaking discovery.



Canadian Bill Seeks DNA Collection in Non-Violent Convictions (Forensic – 3/01/2023)

    • Canada’s second attempt at expanding the collection of DNA evidence for non-violent offences is currently in consideration in committee in the Senate after its second reading in November 2022. The bill has gained the support of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), who say its implementation could have spared a wrongful conviction and brought justice sooner in the cold case murder of a 9-year-old girl.

      Bill S-231: Increasing the Identification of Criminals Through the Use of DNA Act seeks to expand DNA collection to anyone convicted of a crime punishable by five years or more jailtime, including impaired driving, drug trafficking, breaking and entering, or theft over $5,000.

      Canada has a national DNA databank containing the profiles of convicted violent offenders, but some senators, like bill author Claude Carignan, do not think it is enough.