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!
For the first time in New York State’s history, investigators used investigative genetic genealogy to help generate a lead and make an arrest in two rapes that occurred 23 years ago.
On Thursday, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark announced that Jancys Santiago, 48, formerly of the Bronx and currently of Groveland, Fla., was arraigned on Nov. 15, 2023, on first-degree rape charges for the assault of a woman in Manhattan in 2000 and another in the Bronx in 2001.
A 2022 three-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for cold cases was used to fund the genetic genealogy portion of the investigation.
A body found wrapped in tire chains at the bottom of a lake in Kentucky in 1999 has now been identified as a man wanted by the FBI after an arrest for the alleged rape of a minor child one year earlier.
On May 6, 1999, two fishermen found the body of a man in Lake Barkley, Lyon County, Kentucky, wrapped in heavy tire chains and anchored with a hydraulic jack. The autopsy report described the man as a brunette between 35 and 50 years old, and between 5-foot-6 and 6-foot-1 at 235 to 255 pounds. He had gold crowns and a permanent bridge, wore an extra-large T-shirt with a “No Fear Sports Bar” logo, a Dallas Cowboys’ windbreaker and 10 1/2 wide Voit tennis shoes.
Despite the physical description, investigators at the time were unable to identify the victim using traditional investigative techniques.
In 2016, his body was exhumed in hopes that further examinations would help make an identification. Despite extensive efforts using DNA technology, dental examinations, forensic pathology, and other advanced forensic testing, the victim remained unidentified.
Then, in 2023, Kentucky State Police enlisted Othram to see if forensic genetic genealogy could provide a lead. The private lab succeeded in identifying a close relative of the victim. Ultimately, the family tree led investigations to identify the human remains as Roger Dale Parham.
But when investigators went to follow up on the lead, they were surprised to find Parham listed as wanted by the FBI for a crime committed 25 years earlier.
Parabon Nanolabs was contracted to do forensic genetic genealogy testing on “Bones 17.” Due to advancements in DNA technology, they were able to develop a new DNA profile to begin the forensic genetic genealogy process. After extensive research, they concluded that the victim was Lori Anne Razpotnik.
On Dec. 30, 1985, employees from the City of Auburn were called to investigate a car over an embankment. They discovered potential human remains and the Green River Task Force was called in and oversaw the investigation. During a subsequent search of the area by detectives and search and rescue personnel, a second set of human remains were found. These two victims were not immediately identified and have been referred to as Bones 16 and Bones 17.
Gary Ridgway led investigators to this location in 2002 and admitted to placing victims there. He plead guilty to murdering these two victims in 2003. In 2012, Bones 16 was identified through DNA testing as Sandra Majors.
Now, Bones 17 has ben identified as Lori Anne Razpotnik.
In 1982, Lori Anne was 15 years old and lived with her family in Lewis County. She ran away at some point during that year and her family never saw her again. King County detectives contacted Lori Anne’s mother who provided them with a saliva sample. The University of North Texas did DNA comparison testing, which confirmed the remains as that of Lori Anne Razpotnik.
U.S. Congressman Al Green (TX-09) recently presented a symbolic check for $12,164,000 for the federal funding Harris County will be receiving to renovate, expand, and improve the existing Institute of Forensic Sciences (IFS) building. These funds will benefit the rapidly growing Harris County population by consolidating the medical examiner and crime laboratory services.
These federal dollars are essential for the future growth of the Institute of Forensic Sciences. The critical need for expansion arises from funeral home backlogs, requiring prolonged preservation of deceased persons. This funding will help improve services, aid with facility expansion, and upgrade DNA systems related to evidence intake and firearms identification.
When a law enforcement agency receives a call to investigate skeletal remains, any number of specialists might answer that call, including forensic anthropologists, medical examiners, coroners, crime scene investigators, or death investigators.
Although most experienced forensic anthropologists can distinguish human bones from animal bones with relative ease, assigning non-human bones to a particular species can be a bit trickier if the investigator does not have extensive zoological training.
There may be times when someone with less training must decide whether remains are likely to be human. That determination is critical; if they believe the remains are human, law enforcement must secure the scene and investigate further.
The assistance of a tool to quickly, easily, and reliably determine the species associated with a bone could save valuable time and resources. Published reports suggest that 25%-30% of a forensic anthropologists’ caseload consists of non-human elements, such as bones and teeth from other species.
Heather Garvin’s group from Des Moines University Osteopathic Medical Center created a free and easy-to-use searchable online database (OsteoID). They compiled simple measurements and visual comparisons so that a person could easily identify the species of a bone by using this tool. The group, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, also created a decision tree for determining species as well as accuracy estimates for using their database to distinguish human from non-human bones.
OsteoID includes metric data, quality photographs of exemplar species elements, and 3D scans that users can access freely online.
In October 2006, the remains of an unidentified individual were located near the Salmon River Boat Launch in East Haddam, Connecticut, a town in New London County. It was determined that the remains belonged to a male individual who was between the ages of 35 and 45 years at the time of his death. No other identifying characteristics, including the man’s likely ancestry, could be determined.
In 2011, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP8907. Despite the efforts of investigators, the man’s identity remains unknown and he became known as New London County John Doe (2006).
In 2023, as part of an ongoing collaboration aimed at solving the backlog of cold cases in Connecticut, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner partnered with Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram will use Forensic-Grade Genomic Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile to generate new investigative leads for the case using forensic genetic genealogy.
In October 2022, the remains of an unidentified individual were found in Norwalk, Connecticut. Investigators responded to the scene and discovered the remains of a male individual in a house that was under construction. The male had short black hair and brown eyes. He was 5’4″ tall, weighed 106 pounds, and was estimated to be between the ages of 30 and 40 years at the time of his death. Investigators believe he died approximately one week prior to the discovery of his remains. The man was wearing a t-shirt, hooded sweatshirt, a jacket, and tan hospital socks. On the man’s body, investigators also found a brown bead rosary necklace.
No identifying information was available for the man and he became known as Fairfield County John Doe (2022). Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP101112.
In 2023, as part of an ongoing collaboration aimed at solving the backlog of cold cases in Connecticut, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner partnered with Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram will use Forensic-Grade Genomic Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile to generate new investigative leads for the case.
In November 1978, the skeletal remains of an unknown individual were discovered by a couple who were remodeling an apartment on Wilson Street in Batavia, Illinois. Batavia is located in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. The resident advised police that a bone had fallen from within the wall while removing a baseboard. Upon further investigation, the Batavia Police Department recovered additional skeletal remains behind the same wall.
The individual’s remains were sent to the anthropology department at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois where it was determined that the remains were that of a female estimated to be in her mid-twenties at the time of her death. The Illinois Geological Society at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign also assisted in the investigation.
Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP90186. Despite the efforts of investigators, the case went cold, and the woman was classified as Jane Doe. Law enforcement is now seeking to utilize DNA technology, unavailable in 1978, in hopes of providing new leads about the woman’s identity.
In 2023, the Kane County Coroner’s Office and Batavia Police Department teamed with Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing and genetic genealogy.
In September 2022, the remains of a child were discovered in Galax, Virginia near Iron Ridge Road. Galax is bounded to the northeast by Carroll County and to the southwest by Grayson County. The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and found the child’s body in a trash can that was placed within a wooded area. Investigators determined that the child was white and male, and that he was likely 4 to 7 years old at the time of his death. It was estimated that the child’s body was likely in the area for an extended period of time. At the scene, investigators also discovered a gray/blue sleeping bag, a white Winnie the Pooh blanket with pink flowers, and a fragment of orange/pink cloth.
No identifying information could be collected from the scene and therefore law enforcement investigators launched an investigation to determine the identity of the unknown boy. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP99035.
In 2023, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with the Virginia State Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, submitted skeletal remains to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the skeletal remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown child. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to investigators.
In a follow-up investigation, Carroll County Sheriff investigators met with potential genetic relatives of the unknown child. DNA comparison samples collected from two family members were used to establish the identity of the child as Logan Nathanial Bowman of Galax, Virginia. Logan was five years old when he was reported missing from Grayson County, Virginia under suspicious circumstances in January 2003. Although Logan went missing in 2003, his body was not found until 2022. Details of his disappearance were entered into NamUs as MP5868 with notes that Logan had a healing fracture in his left arm from a previous injury, teeth decay, and burn scars on his feet.
Logan’s biological mother, Cynthia Davis, was charged and pled guilty to two counts of child neglect and one count of homicide associated with Logan’s disappearance and presumed death. Davis was sentenced to 20 years for the two counts of child neglect with the sentence suspended and 30 years for homicide with 15 years suspended. The mother’s boyfriend, Dennis “Danny” Schmermerhorn, was convicted of one count of child neglect and sentenced to one year in jail. Born February 15, 1997, Logan Nathanial Bowman would have been 26 years old, if alive today.
An Oregon man has been convicted of murder in the 1978 death of a teenage girl in Alaska, in a case investigators made using genetic genealogy decades later.
Donald McQuade, 67, was convicted this week in state court in Anchorage of murder in the death of Shelley Connolly, 16, whose body was found near a highway pullout between Anchorage and Girdwood, Alaska Public Media reported. Sentencing is set for April 26.
Years after Connolly’s death, Alaska State Troopers developed a DNA profile from swabs collected from her body but failed to get a match. In 2019, they turned to genetic genealogy testing, which involves comparing a DNA profile to known profiles in genealogical databases to find people who share the same genetic information.
McQuade was living in Alaska when Connolly died, and investigators later were able to get a DNA sample from him that they said matched DNA found on her body.
McQuade was arrested in 2019 but his trial, like others at the time, was delayed because of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The prosecutor during the trial emphasized the evidence from Connolly’s body. But McQuade’s attorney, Kyle Barber, told jurors the DNA evidence was the only evidence the state had against McQuade. He said investigators also found DNA evidence possibly linked to two other people.
In September 1980, skeletal remains from an unidentified man were found on banks of the Ohio River, in Switzerland County, Indiana. A few month later, in November 1980, skeletal remains were found, again by the Ohio River, this time in Caroll County, Kentucky. Decades later in 2005, DNA testing would connect the cases, establishing that the recovered skeletal remains belonged to the same person.
Although DNA testing connected the remains to the same person, traditional forensic techniques did not enable investigators to determine who the person was. A forensic sketch was developed for the unknown man, in hopes that someone might recognize him. The case was added to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP104. There were few clues to work from and with leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.
In 2023, the Kentucky State Police submitted skeletal remains to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to investigators.
Using these new leads, Kentucky State Police investigators conducted a follow-up investigation and met with a potential relative of the unidentified man. The follow up investigation combined with additional DNA testing, established that the remains from 1980 belong to Kenneth Linville, born December 3, 1939.
Mr. Linville was from Bethal, Ohio. He was institutionalized for a number of years. Investigators believe he was in and out six times, beginning in 1969, and that he was last discharged on August 22, 1980, mere weeks before his remains were found. The cause and manner of death are unclear at this time and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death continues. This is an ongoing case and we will provide updates as they become available.
When Toronto Police cold-case investigators used new techniques of genetic genealogy to re-examine DNA evidence from the 1983 murders of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour, they soon made a break in the case: the killer was likely one of five brothers in a remote community in Northern Ontario.
But that discovery in the spring of 2021 left them with a new hurdle that set off a nearly two-year-long investigation to determine which sibling was the killer. Undercover officers shadowed several of the brothers so they could gather DNA from their discarded items, which included pop cans and a COVID-19 mask.
The police force’s use of genetic genealogy to uncover a pool of suspects and then narrow its search is detailed in newly released court documents that were prepared as investigators sought a warrant last year for a DNA sample from the sole remaining suspect brother. Joseph George Sutherland, of Moosonee, Ont., later confessed when confronted by police. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of second-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing.
In 1958, the remains of an unknown individual were found in Kanosh, Utah, a small desert town in Millard County. In 1979, the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office was notified about the existence of the remains. While records indicate the individual’s remains were discovered in 1958, it is not known who discovered the remains or where they were stored prior to the Medical Examiner’s Office receiving them twenty-one years later. The remains were stored without any clues to help determine who the unknown person may be. In 2020, more than sixty-years after the remains were discovered, a forensic anthropology analysis was completed. It was determined that the skeletal remains are likely that of a White male, estimated to be between 5’8” and 6’2” tall, who at the time of his death was between 25 and 35 years old.
The anthropological assessment determined that the decedent experienced skeletal trauma during his life. While estimates of an individual’s lifestyle and occupation are not routinely estimated when examining skeletal remains, the extent of healed injuries that were sustained during the man’s life indicate that he may have been a working cowboy or rodeo athlete. Additionally, the man may have had a condition in which the knees tilt inward while the ankles remain spaced apart, commonly referred to as “knock-kneed.”
At one point it was speculated that these remains could be that of Everett Ruess, an American artist, poet, and writer who was known to be exploring the Utah deserts in the 1930s when he went missing. However, there were few leads to work from and after decades of effort, the indentity of the man eluded investigators. In 2020, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP64653.
In 2023, the Millard County Sheriff’s Office teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help to finally identify the remains of the John Doe. A DNASolves crowdfund was established to fund the casework and we are so very grateful to everyone that contributed to help solve this case. Funding was a substantial barrier in this case.
Skeletal remains were sent to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the 65-year-old remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to investigators.
Using these new leads, the Millard County Sheriff’s Office conducted a follow-up investigation and met with a potential relative of the unidentified man. The follow up investigation combined with additional DNA testing, established that the remains from more than a half-century ago belong to Robert Holman Trent, born on 15 January 1913 in Reidsville, Rockingham County.
The ANSI National Accreditation Board has returned accreditation to the department’s Forensic Biology Unit, which conducts DNA testing, and its Forensic Chemistry Unit, which performs drug testing, according to certificates posted by the board this week.
In August 1979, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in an open field near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) responded to the scene and found a deceased female. The woman was wearing Levi’s jeans and a light blue-green button-up linen shirt that had a tie-up bottom and red floral embroidery with sequins. She was also wearing several pieces of jewelry including a white metal chain with clear plastic heart pendant with a rose painted on it, a white metal chain with a pendant containing a turquoise-colored stone, and a white metal plain ring worn on the right hand.
During the course of the investigation, forensic sketches depicting how the woman may have looked during her life were developed and released to the public. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP159. Despite efforts of investigators, the woman could not be identified, and for more than forty years, the woman has been known as “Sahara Sue Doe.” Determined to identify the woman, the case was assigned to the LVMPD Homicide Cold Case Section.
In September 2022, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the woman. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to investigators.
LVMPD Cold Case Investigators continued their investigation using these new leads. Sahara Sue Doe is now identified as 19-year-old Gwenn Marie Story, who was born February 23, 1960. During the course of the investigation, investigators learned through Story’s family that she left the Cincinnati, Ohio area in the summer of 1979 with two male friends. She was traveling to California in search of her biological father. Story’s two friends returned to the Cincinnati area in August of 1979 and told her family members that they had left Gwenn in the Las Vegas area. Gwenn’s family never heard from her again after she left Cincinnati in the summer of 1979.
In January 1985, children playing in a heavily wooded area discovered unidentified human remains near a canal bank. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) and the Medical Examiner’s Office collected the remains and investigated the scene. The identity of the remains was unknown and the case was ruled a homicide. At the time of discovery, DNA was entered in the FBI’s CODIS database, but no match was found. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP830. Multiple forensic facial reconstructions were developed, but none of these images led to the identification of the homicide victim and with leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.
In 2022, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office sent skeletal remains for the unidentified homicide victim to Othram. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the skeletal remains and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genealogical search to produce investigative leads.
The investigative leads were returned to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and a follow up investigation determined that the 1985 homicide victim is Terry Ketron, born February 12, 1953 and originally from Campbell County, Kentucky. Further inquiry into Mr. Ketron’s background indicated that he traveled to south Florida in the early 1980’s from the State of Kentucky with a female companion named Connie or Bonnie (last name unknown). Ketron last spoke to his family via phone where he shared information that he was having problems with his girlfriend and her family members. Ketron’s family had not heard from him since that phone call and his whereabouts were unknown.
PBSO Cold Case Detectives are seeking the public’s assistance with identifying Terry Ketron’s female companion who traveled with him to Florida or any other friends/associates known to him. Anyone with information is urged to contact Detective John Cogburn at 561-688-4063 or by email at CogburnJ@pbso.org.
The ANSI National Accreditation Board has returned accreditation to the department’s Forensic Biology Unit, which conducts DNA testing, and its Forensic Chemistry Unit, which performs drug testing, according to certificates posted by the board this week.
Students of the Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) Center have successfully uncovered the identity of “Rhinelander John Doe,” now known to be Norman Grasser of Chicago, through DNA testing and investigative genetic genealogy.
On March 19, 1980, the Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office along with the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call about a body found in the snow in a field in the Town of Pine Lake, Wisc., approximately 46 yards off of Highway 17. No identification was found on the body. A forensic autopsy performed at the University of Wisconsin determined that the male died from cold exposure due to hypothermia. Fingerprints sent to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory and Federal Bureau of Investigation did not confirm an identity. The case continued to be investigated through missing persons reports and press releases through the years.
In 2019, the unidentified male was entered into NamUs. Multiple potential matches were all confirmed to be negative.
In April 2021, the Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office exhumed the body of John Doe 1980. The body was taken to the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office to be processed for DNA collection. The collected items were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico for DNA profiling.
In January 2023, the Ramapo College IGG Center was enlisted by the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office in Rhinelander, Wisc., to assist with identifying “Rhinelander John Doe.”
In February, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office sent a portion of John Doe’s lower jaw to Intermountain Forensics where DNA extraction, whole genome sequencing, and bioinformatics were performed.
In May, the same month that Intermountain successfully generated a SNP profile which was uploaded to the DNA databases GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, students in the Ramapo College IGG Certificate Program investigated genetic matches of “Rhinelander John Doe” and identified Norman Grasser as a candidate.
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