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!
In a first for Toronto police, investigators have used DNA collected and stored by popular ancestry-tracking websites to identify a missing person in a non-criminal matter.
Police were trying to identify a woman whose body was found in June 2020 in Trinity Bellwoods Park, west of downtown. She was homeless with no identification and she had few belongings. Investigators turned to her DNA the following year after other methods, such as public appeals and the release of sketches, had failed.
Dallas County Criminal District Attorney John Creuzot has announced that the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the Dallas Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, arrested Edward Morgan, 60, for the 1984 capital murder of Mary Jane Thompson.
This arrest comes nearly 38 years to the day that 21-year-old Mary Jane Thompson was found behind a Dallas warehouse. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered on Irving Boulevard on February 13, 1984. Since then, her assailant has remained at large.
In September 1990, a human skull was found next to the roadway of Joshua Road in Stafford County Virginia. The skull was discovered by a property owner who then notified the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office. It was believed the skull was that of a Caucasian Male, between the ages of 15-18 years old and had been deceased 1-3 years at the time of discovery. His cause of death was undetermined. There was no evidence of trauma to his skull and no other skeletal remains were found. Cause of death was not clear.
Over the years many leads were pursued. A forensic facial reconstruction was commissioned in hopes that someone would recognize the young man. Standard DNA testing was used to search CODIS, but no hits were found. With all leads exhausted, the young man’s identity remained a mystery.
In November 2021, Stafford County Detective Dave Wood and the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children teamed up with Othram to use advanced DNA testing to attempt to generate new investigative leads that might point to the man’s identity.
While bones appear devoid of identity to the untrained eye, a forensic anthropologist can spy subtle features and differences. This pattern of clues can help them piece together the person those bones represent, an important skill in crime victim identification.
Some of those subtle differences pertain to biological sex—which isn’t the same as gender, a social construction. In her research, Binghamton University graduate student Mary St. John uses software techniques and quantitative measures to track differences in human cheekbones, which will lead to a new method for determining the sex of unknown individuals.
On Friday, the Council Bluffs Police Department announced the identity of Lee Rotatori’s killer, closing a case that had been open for nearly 40 years.
Rotatori was a 32-year-old woman who had just come from Nunica, Michigan to Council Bluffs to work at nearby Jennie Edmundson Hospital in June 1982. She was so new to the area that she did not yet have permanent housing, leading her to stay for multiple nights at the Best Western Frontier Motor Lodge — now the Best Western Crossroads of the Bluffs — just off of the I-29 and I-80 interchange.
After just four days since reporting for orientation for her new job as food service director for the hospital, Rotatori did not show up for her formal first day of work. On June 25, hotel staff was sent to check on her. They found Rotatori dead in her room and turned over the scene to investigators, who determined that her death was the result of a single stab wound to the heart. There was additional evidence of sexual assault, and some valuables were missing as well.
In May 1988, a couple from Owenton, KY spotted an unresponsive woman on their way to get the newspaper. The unknown woman was found partially nude with the exception of a pair of dark brown men’s dress socks. Investigators estimated that the woman was 25 to 40 years old , likely Cacausian, and with dark brown hair. At the time of her death she was about 5’5” tall and she weighed 120 lbs. She was missing portions of her left hand and she had a stick-and-poke tattoo of the name “Steve” on her upper right arm. Along with the men’s socks she was wearing, investigators recovered a brown nylon blouse, a pair of white men’s Winner’s Choice tennis shoes size 5 1/2, a pair of jeans, and a blue bra in proximity to the site of discovery. Though the woman had been deceased for a few days and likely exposed to the elements, investigators were able to determine that the death was a homicide and that the cause of death as strangulation. It is speculated that the woman may have had connections to Columbus, OH and/or southern Florida.
Investigators collected and compared her fingerprints to others in government databases. Multiple forensic facial reconstructions were developed to help aid in the identification of the woman. To date, leads have been exhausted and no one has come forward with information that has been able to assist investigators in determining who this woman was.
In 1988, a hunter found what he thought may be human skeletal remains while scouting for a potential hunting location. The man initially left the skeletal remains alone, speculating that the skeletal remains might have belonged to an animal. However, the hunter returned, collected the skeletal remains, and brought them to a dentist for analysis. Initially, the remains were identified as belonging to a female but later analysis revealed the remains belong to an older male.
Once the remains were identified as human, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office was contacted to investigate. Returning to the location where the skeletal remains were initially found, investigators were able to locate other bones as well as a pair of pants and a shoe. Although a cause of death for the unidentified man was not clear, investigators were able to estimate post-mortem interval (PMI) as four years.
In 2009, UNTHSC extracted DNA from the skeletal remains and developed a DNA profile that was searched in CODIS. Unfortunately, no hits were found in the CODIS database, but UNTHSC did confirm that the skeletal remains belonged to a man. With all leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.
To avoid any further headlines that read “forensic lab under investigation,” forensic scientist and consultant Brian Gestring suggests taking cues from the transportation industry, specifically cars and aviation.
Late last week, Gestring gave a presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) conference that posed an interesting question: “We solve mysteries for a living, [so] why are we so bad at figuring out our own?”
Gestring, who has held various roles in the last three decades, including forensic lab scientist, academic and now a training consultant with 4N6 Services, argues that forensic science may not be “broken,” but there are cracks in the foundation that need to be addressed.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS? SUBSCRIBE TO THE ISHI BLOG BELOW!