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!




Yakima County Coroner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2008 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 1/04/2023)

    • In November 2008, skeletal remains, belonging to an unknown female, were found west of White Swan. The Yakama Nation Tribal Police and Yakima County Coroner’s Office investigated the case and worked to pursue all leads available. Traditional forensic DNA testing was attempted, but the skeletal remains were not productive in yielding a usable DNA profile. Without a DNA profile and with all leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.

      In 2022, the Yakima County Coroner’s Office teamed with Othram to leveraged advanced DNA testing to identify the unknown woman. Skeletal remains were sent to Othram and Othram scientists were able to produce a usable DNA extract from the skeletal remains. The lab then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile. Through an investigation by the Yakima County Coroner’s Office, a familial reference DNA sample was provided and Othram used KinSNP® familial testing to confirm the suspected relationship between the reference sample and the DNA profile of the unknown woman.

      The Yakima County Coroner’s office then confirmed that the unknown woman was in fact, Daisy Mae Tallman, also known as Daisy Mae Heath.



Woman Found in Lake Michigan in 1997 Identified as Dorothy Lynn Thyng (DNA Doe Project – 1/09/2023)

  • A woman found in Lake Michigan in October 1997 has been identified as Dorothy Lynn Thyng Ricker by the DNA Doe Project and the Michigan State Police. Investigative genetic genealogy performed by the DNA Doe Project’s expert team of volunteers was able to identify close family members of Ms Ricker, confirmed by direct DNA comparisons.

    When her remains were recovered in 1997, investigators quickly ran out of leads as to Jane Doe’s identity, and her case went cold for more than 20 years. In 2020, the Michigan State Police reviewed the case and asked the DNA Doe Project to attempt an identification using DNA and investigative genetic genealogy. The lab work to develop a workable DNA profile was complex, taking more than a year before the team of volunteers could get to work.

    The DNA Doe Project wishes to acknowledge the contributions of the groups and individuals who helped solve this case: the Michigan State Police, who entrusted the case to the DNA Doe Project; Astrea Forensics for extraction of DNA; HudsonAlpha Discovery for sequencing; Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics; GEDmatch Pro for providing their database; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who work tirelessly to bring victims home.



QIAGEN Completes Acquisition of Verogen, Strengthening Leadership in Human ID/Forensics with NGS Technologies (QIAGEN – 1/09/2023)

  • QIAGEN announced it has completed the acquisition of Verogen, a leader in the use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies to drive the future of human identification (HID) and forensic investigation.

    Verogen, a privately held company founded in 2017 and based in San Diego, supports the global human identification community with NGS tools and professional services to help resolve criminal and missing-persons cases. QIAGEN and Verogen have been commercialization partners since announcing a distribution agreement in June 2021.

    QIAGEN – which in the late 1990s launched the first commercial kits to purify DNA from forensic casework samples – already has a leading position in the HID / forensics market. QIAGEN’s sample collection and preparation kits, genetic testing analysis, and workflow automation products are used around the world by forensic science laboratories and criminal investigators.



Man Found in Golf Bag at Douglas Lake in 2019 Identified as Earl Pizzoferrato (DNA Doe Project – 1/09/2023)

  • The DNA Doe Project and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have identified a homicide victim found on the shore of Douglas Lake in 2019 as Earl Pizzoferrato of Knoxville.

    On March 10, 2019 a homeowner walking the shoreline of Douglas Lake in Dandridge, Tennessee reported to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office a suspicious bag on the lakeshore. Jefferson County deputies determined the bag, a golf bag, contained human remains and requested the assistance of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Investigators were unable to determine the John Doe’s race, age, or even how long he had been dead. After exhausting all leads, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation brought the case to the DNA Doe Project in 2020, hopeful that the use of investigative genetic genealogy could provide an ID.

    Once a workable DNA profile was developed, the DNA Doe Project’s talented team of investigative genetic genealogists began tracing the John Doe’s relatives.

    The genealogy in this case was complicated by the fact that Earl Pizzoferrato had been adopted. The team came across an obituary that connected a number of DNA matches, which helped identify both of Earl’s biological parents. But no children were mentioned in the obituary, so the team hypothesized that this man may have been adopted. A biological relative later confirmed that all of the children in the family had been placed for adoption, and they provided key information that helped resolve this case.


36 Bodies were Found in Unmarked Colonial Graves. DNA is Revealing Their Stories. (The Washington Post – 1/09/2023)

    • During renovations to a performing arts center in Charleston, S.C., in 2013, workers discovered an unmarked 18th-century burial ground containing the remains of 36 mysterious people.

      They had no names, but they had been buried with care in four evenly spaced rows. There were coins over the eyes of a child. A bead was found next to an infant. “Bodies likely of lower class,” a 2013 headline in the Post and Courier newspaper announced.

      The colonial-era remains raised deep questions. Who were they? Were they related? Where were they from?

      Now, DNA analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new layers to their complex story, which has been slowly unfolding thanks to an ongoing collaboration between anthropological geneticists and the Gullah Society, a nonprofit focused on preserving African American burial grounds. The Gullah Society was dissolved in 2021 after its founder, Ade Ofunniyin, died, but the work continues under the Anson Street African Burial Ground Project.


Cold Case Murder Victim Identified by DNA Doe Project (DNA Doe Project – 1/09/2023)

    • Almost fifty years after the remains of a woman were found off a logging road near the town of Bedford, the New Hampshire State Police and the DNA Doe Project can confirm the woman’s identity as Katherine Ann “Kathy” Alston. Although the cause of her death could not be determined, based on the location of the remains her death has been treated as a homicide.

      Ms. Alston was born in 1945 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the eldest of several siblings, and spent much of her life in the Boston, Massachusetts area. She was approximately 26 at the time of her death.

      After exhausting all leads, the New Hampshire State Police reached out to the DNA Doe Project in February of 2020. The lab work to develop a DNA profile was complex, ultimately requiring a second bone sample.

      One of Ms. Alton’s siblings had taken a Direct-to-Consumer DNA test and uploaded their DNA file to GEDmatch. GEDmatch changed the setting on that kit in May 2019 as part of their new policy regarding law enforcement access to matches. Because the kit remained “opted-out”, when Jane Doe’s profile was uploaded in 2020, that crucial connecting match, which would have solved the case immediately, was not available to the team. GEDmatch changed this policy in January of 2021, and since then the entire database has been available for investigative genetic genealogy matching to John and Jane Does.


22-Year-Old Cold Case Solved: Medical Examiner Identifies Remains of Missing Nevada Man (KTNV13 Las Vegas – 1/11/2023)

    • After 22 years, the Maine Office of Chief Medical Examiner has positively identified the partially skeletonized remains of an unknown male that were discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, 27 miles off the coast of Maine, near the Grand Manan Banks. The remains have been identified as those of Mr. Philip Kahn.

      Mr. Kahn, who was 84 years old at the time, left Las Vegas, Nevada, and landed in New York City in July 2000. It remains unknown why or how he ended up off the coast of Maine.