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 October 2022, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered on Van Brunt Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. The Kansas City Police and Fire Departments responded to the scene where mostly skeletal remains were found near a gas station on the southeast side of Kansas City, near Interstate 70. It was determined that the remains were that of a white male between the ages of 18 and 29 years. The man was estimated to be between 5’7” and 5’10” tall. He had straight brown hair and reddish colored facial hair.
No other identifying characteristics were available for the man and despite the efforts of investigators, the man could not be identified. The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office entered details of the case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP96729.
In September 2023, the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas in hopes that advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy could help generate new leads and identify the man. Othram scientists developed a DNA extract from partial skeletal remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the DNA profile in conjunction with forensic genetic genealogy to produce new investigative leads, which were returned to investigators.
Using these new leads, a follow-up investigation was conducted. This led investigators to relatives of the unidentified man. Confirmation DNA testing has now enabled investigators to establish the identity of the unknown man as Kevin Dewayne Cochran, born October 21, 1987, and originally from Oklahoma. No further details about Cochran’s death are available at this time.
In March of 1978, a hunter spotted a body in the Mississippi River near Elsberry, Missouri. Lincoln County authorities responded to the scene and the individual’s remains were transported to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner for autopsy. It was determined that the remains were that of a white female whose cause of death was drowning. No signs of trauma were observed, and the woman’s manner of death was classified as undetermined.
The decedent was wearing a cat’s eye ring and she had a tattoo of the name “Dee” on her left forearm. Despite their extensive efforts, authorities were unable to identify the woman and her remains were interred in the Troy, Missouri city cemetery. In 2009, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP5295.
In November of 2023, Lincoln County Jane Doe’s remains were exhumed by the Lincoln County Coroner’s office with assistance from Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) Anthropology faculty and students. The remains were brought to SEMO for updated anthropological analysis and sampling for specialized testing. Osteological and dental analysis revealed that Lincoln County Jane Doe was likely in her late teens when she died. The remains were poorly preserved, but under the supervision of Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Bengtson, advanced SEMO anthropology and chemistry students applied chemical analyses and used published literature to choose the most promising samples for DNA extraction.
In 2024, Southeast Missouri State University teamed with Othram in the Woodlands, Texas to determine if advanced DNA testing could assist in finally identifying Lincoln Jane Doe. Othram will use Forensic-Grade Genomic Sequencing to build a comprehensive DNA profile which will be used by Othram’s in-house genealogy team to develop investigative leads to return to law enforcement. SEMO anthropology students will learn about records and archival research as they continue to search missing persons reports and historic newspaper records for more information in support of the investigation. Anyone with information that might aid in this investigation is encouraged to contact Lincoln County Coroner Dan Heavin at 636-528-8546, referencing case number A78-93 or NamUs ID #UP5295.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office became the first agency in the state to make arrests under a DNA database collection law that went into effect in July, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The new law requires law enforcement to collect DNA samples from anyone booked into a Florida jail on an immigration detainer, according to the FDLE.
Two DNA samples in Collier County matched sexual battery cold cases, officials said.
Some advocates say a tool touted by Manitoba RCMP for helping identify a suspect in the cold case of an Indigenous woman’s murder should be expanded to help solve more cases like it.
Others fear it could do more harm than good.
Last week, police arrested Kevin Charles Queau, 42, accused of killing 24-year-old Crystal Saunders in 2007, thanks to advancements in DNA technology in 2014 that helped the Canadian DNA databank link him to a DNA sample found on the woman’s body.
Arthur Schafer, an ethics professor at the University of Manitoba, says Queau’s arrest shows the national DNA databank can be “really useful in a number of cases,” but warns “without rules or regulations, there could also be serious harm.”
The RCMP stewards the databank, established in 2000, which holds just over 650,000 DNA samples from crime scenes, as well as profiles of people convicted of certain designated offences, victims of crime, unidentified human remains, volunteers and missing persons and their family members from across Canada.
The national databank has been under scrutiny in recent years, as a Conservative senator’s proposed bill sought to allow police to search it for familial matches of a DNA sample for perpetrators of some serious crimes when an exact one cannot be found — an idea that senators quashed in December.
Last year, a total of 29 states and Puerto Rico introduced 58 bills aligned with Joyful Heart’s six pillars of legislative reform to count, test, and track rape kits, and grant rights to survivors. Out of these, 20 states successfully passed 26 laws. The legislative victories extended access to justice and healing for more than 66,000 survivors of reported sexual assault every year and impacted 200 million Americans.
As of December 2023, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have achieved all six pillars of reform, with 12 states requiring one more pillar for full reform. Every year, there are more than 66,500 reported rapes in these 19 states. These laws impact 145.6 million people by ensuring rights for survivors of sexual assault, increasing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, and making their communities safer.
These victories drive us to continue our pursuit of comprehensive rape kit reform in all 50 states. Out of 300 pillars, we have helped the country adopt 228 pillars, which means we have 72 pillars left to enact! Our Policy and Advocacy team works daily to ensure implementation of all adopted reforms.
In October 2016, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered near the intersection of 25th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. Law enforcement responded to the scene and found the remains of a man on the side of the roadway in an area southwest of downtown Nashville. It was determined that the man was between the ages of thirty-five and sixty years. The man was approximately 5’9” tall with gray hair that was approximately three inches long and he had a long, gray/red beard.
No other identifying characteristics were available for the man and despite the efforts of investigators, the man could not be identified. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP16576.
In May 2022, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas in hopes that advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy could help generate new leads and identify the man. Othram scientists developed a DNA extract from skeletal remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the DNA profile in conjunction with forensic genetic genealogy to produce new investigative leads, which were returned to investigators.
Using these new leads, a follow-up investigation was conducted, leading investigators to relatives of the unidentified man. Confirmatory DNA testing was performed and has now enabled investigators to establish the identity of the man as Barkley Phillip Jones, born March 16, 1957. No other details regarding Jones are available at this time.
In December 1987, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered near the intersection of 130th Avenue and 72nd Road North in Royal Palm Beach, Florida. A citizen who out walking their dog along a road composed of shell rock made the discovery near a stand of trees. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBCSO) and Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the scene and, upon further investigation, determined that the remains were that of a female and the woman’s remains had been there for an extended period of time. It was estimated that woman was in her 20s or 30s. There was no clothing, jewelry, or identifying information accompanying the woman’s remains. Foul play was suspected.
Since the discovery, the identity of the woman has been unknown, and she has been listed as a PBCSO “Nameless” victim of the Unidentified Human Remains (UHR) case files. Using a traditional STR testing, a DNA profile was developed and entered into the FBI’s CODIS – Unidentified Index in 2005. A forensic sketch depicting how the woman may have looked during her life was developed and released to the public. Throughout the investigation, multiple individuals were excluded as the woman. Despite investigators exhaustive efforts, no leads materialized, and the woman could not be identified. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP1213.
In September 2023, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office working with the District 15 Medical Examiner Office – Palm Beach County, submitted forensic evidence to Othram, in The Woodlands, Texas, in hopes that advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy could help generate new leads and identify the woman. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown woman. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the DNA profile in conjunction with forensic genetic genealogy to produce new investigative leads, which were returned to investigators.
Using these new leads, a follow-up investigation was conducted, leading investigators to relatives of the unidentified woman. Confirmatory DNA testing was performed and has now enabled investigators to establish the identity of the unknown woman as Pati Lisa Loguercio Rust. Pati is believed to have last lived in the area of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in Broward County, Florida in the late 1980s.
To combat the challenges of wildlife trafficking, Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment was awarded a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to develop a state-of-the-art wildlife forensics laboratory in Kasane, Botswana, that will be operated collaboratively with the Botswana government.
The new wildlife forensic laboratory will expand the research portfolio in Botswana of Professor Kathleen Alexander, the William E. Lavery Professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. The laboratory will allow researchers and interagency law enforcement professionals to rapidly use DNA evidence to investigate and prosecute wildlife trafficking in northern Botswana. The grant also will support a novel experiential learning program that will launch Botswana’s multiagency wildlife crime training and response units: the Elite Team.
Virginia Tech will partner with the Republic of Botswana as well as the nongovernmental organization Centre for African Resources: Animals, Communities, and Land Use (CARACAL), which Alexander founded in 2001. The Wildlife Investigation Training Alliance, a nonprofit conservation organization, will lead educational components of the project with Virginia Tech and its partners.
In August 1998, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in San Juan Capistrano, California. A research biologist for the Rancho Mission Viejo Company discovered what he believed to be human remains in a remote area of a southeastern Orange County (OC). OC Sheriff’s Office Homicide investigators, Orange County Crime Lab (OCCL) personnel, and Coroner personnel responded to the scene. Initially, investigators did not discover any indication that the decedent was the victim of a homicide.
The following day, OC Sheriff Homicide investigators, OCCL, and Coroner personnel returned to the location to conduct a more extensive search of the area, but no additional evidence was located. Outside resources called in by the Coroner and Homicide Investigators conducted an initial examination of the recovered remains and estimated that they belonged to a Caucasian or Hispanic man who was over 40 years old, and approximately 5’6” to 5’8” tall.
In September 1998, an additional search of the area where the remains were initially found was conducted resulting in the discovery of a shallow grave where additional human remains and clothing were found. OC Sheriff personnel once again responded to the scene to collect the additional evidence. Over the next several months, OC Sheriff Homicide investigators attempted to identify the man, but despite their efforts, were unsuccessful. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP7688.
In January 2023, using funding provided by the Roads to Justice (RTJ) program, and working in partnership with the California Department of Justice, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas in hopes that advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy could help generate new leads and identify the man. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the forensic evidence and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. The DNA profile was returned to investigators who began genealogical research in hopes of identifying the man.
In November 2023, investigators tentatively identified the man as 54-year-old Donald Raymond Loar, who had been reported missing to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in February 1998. Loar was last seen in the city of Bellflower, and he reportedly was wearing clothing similar to the clothing recovered near the remains of John Doe. In early December 2023, OC Sheriff investigators met with representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to learn additional details regarding Loar’s disappearance.
OC Sheriff investigators then met with Loar’s family and obtained a sample of their DNA for comparison purposes. On January 24, 2024, the California Department of Justice confirmed the remains recovered in August 1998 belonged to Donald Raymond Loar.
Reps. Joe Hogan (Bucks) and KC Tomlinson (Bucks) and Sen. Frank Farry (Bucks) today hosted a press conference on bicameral legislation that will expand the collection of DNA samples in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system.
Hogan, Tomlinson, and Farry were joined by Bucks County Sherriff Fred Harran, an advocate for the technology in law enforcement, and Ashley Spence, founder of the DNA Justice Project and a rape survivor.
The proposed legislation expands the number of DNA samples in the criminal justice system by requiring post-arrest testing of anyone charged with a felony or certain misdemeanors. This sample-taking would be no different, practically speaking, than the established process of taking an arrestee’s fingerprints. Nineteen states currently collect post-arrest DNA samples.
The bill would also expand the collection of DNA samples for those offenders convicted of criminal homicide. Under current Pennsylvania criminal laws, samples are required to be taken from those convicted of felonies and other serious sexual offenses, but criminal homicides are their own classification of crime—they are technically not classified as felonies. This legislation would close that loophole and require collection of DNA samples from these offenders to solve other cold case murders and crimes.
As more police forces crack decades-old cold cases with the help of genetic genealogy, Montreal police have yet to have a major breakthrough on a case of their own.
The lack of progress — at least publicly — is raising concerns about the Montreal police department’s priorities at a time when both the Sûreté du Québec and neighbouring Longueuil police have used new forensic methods to solve cases long thought to be unsolvable.
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