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!




Maryland AG Seeks to Preserve Massive Set of Sexual Assault Evidence (Forensic – 1/20/2023)

    • Two years ago, ProPublica showcased the remarkable tale of a doctor who saved physical evidence from more than 2,000 rape exams starting in the 1970s, years before police began to preserve forensic DNA. Baltimore County police tested just a tiny portion of the samples decades later and solved more than 80 cold cases; they made dozens of arrests and exposed serial rapists, including a man who assaulted at least 25 women and murdered one. The evidence also exonerated an innocent man and gave survivors life-changing closure.

      Though the samples have been tested in fits and starts over the past two decades, those from about 1,800 cases remain untested and off the books.

      Now, Maryland’s new attorney general and several other officials are looking for ways to safeguard the collection, incorporate it into yearly inventories and oversee its processing amid growing concerns of its vulnerability.



Authorities Working to Identify Foot in Shoe that Washed up on Port Angeles Shore in 2021 (KING5 – 1/20/2023)

  • The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is asking the public for donations to pay for a DNA analysis of a foot still in a shoe that washed ashore near the mouth of the Elwha River in Port Angeles in 2021.


    In 2022, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the woman or possibly a close relative.

    Investigators determined the shoe’s label was a woman’s size 8 New Balance brand shoe. Due to the limited recovery of the woman’s remains, investigators have been unable to make a definitive determination about the woman’s age, ethnicity or height.


Finding a Serial Killer – and Justice – After 40 Years (Podcast Episode and Blog Post) (Bureau of Justice Assistance – 1/20/2023)

  • In the most recent Justice Today podcast episode, Finding a Serial Killer—and Justice—After 40 Years, Detective Kari Johnson of the Denver, Colorado Police Department and Dr. Angela Williamson, the Forensics Unit Supervisor at the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), describe how decades of determined police work and cutting-edge forensic science identified Joe Michael Ervin as the person who assaulted and murdered four women between 1978 and 1981.



Update on Investigation of 1972 Murder of 12-Year-Old Brad Lee Bellino (Boardman Police Department – 1/24/2023)

  • On Tuesday, April 4th, 1972 at approximately 7:55 am Brad Lee Bellino was discovered deceased by employees of a trash hauling company in a refuse dumpster located behind what was then Isaly’s restaurant in Boardman Plaza.

    The Boardman Police Department worked extensively over the years to try and positively identify and charge a subject in the homicide. In 2001, Bellino’s clothes were sent to the Ohio Bureau of Investigation’s (BCI) forensic laboratory, and a DNA profile was obtained from evidence left on the victim. Over the years, numerous potential suspects were checked against the DNA sample and also through the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database with negative results.

    In 2019, Boardman PD Captain Albert Kakascik revisited the case and started work to facilitate the use of familial DNA testing and genetic genealogy related to the DNA sample found on the victim. The department contracted with Parabon Nano Labs to analyze the DNA sample and provide leads based on the family trees related to the familial DNA. During the next four years, DNA samples of persons identified by Parabon with possible familial links to the unknown subject were taken to test. Some of the individuals volunteered their samples while others were collected by other means. The results of this testing helped to eliminate certain branches of the extended family tree and to focus on others.

    Recently a sample taken resulted in a finding of a 98.28% probability that the DNA found on the victim and his clothing matched an individual previously unknown to investigators. The identified subject, JOSEPH NORMAN HILL, resided on Shadyside Drive in Boardman at the time of Bellino’s murder. HILL moved to California approximately six years later and died there in 2019 from natural causes. While residing in Boardman, HILL worked as a truck driver for a bottled water company. HILL was 32 years old at the time of the murder. At this time no link between HILL and Bellino or his family has been identified.


State Police use Genetic Testing to Identify Woman Killed in 1987 Crash on Pennsylvania Turnpike (FOX43 – 1/24/2023)

    • State Police announced they have solved a 35-year-old case by identifying the victim of a deadly crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County.

      Linda Jean McClure, 26, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, was riding in a tractor trailer truck that crashed into the fuel tank of another tractor trailer at mile marker 119.4 in the eastbound lanes of the Turnpike on Oct. 22, 1987, State Police determined.

      The truck McClure was riding in caught fire, killing her and the truck’s driver, police said. While police immediately identified the truck driver as a California man, his passenger remained unknown despite multiple attempts to identify her, according to police.


      That changed in August 2022, when the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission agreed to pay for forensic genetic genealogy DNA testing, police said. Once funding for the testing was secured, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) teamed up with Othram to help establish an identity for the unknown woman—or to at least identify a nearest living relative. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s lab in The Woodlands, Texas, where forensic scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to produce a genealogical profile for the unknown victim. Othram’s genealogy team then produced investigative leads from this profile, police said.


West Virginia Senate Passes Mandate on Rape Kit Training (Forensic – 1/25/2023)

    • Victims of sexual assault in West Virginia may have an easier time finding health care providers to conduct forensic examinations and collect rape kits if a bill passed Monday by the state Senate becomes law.

      Currently, some sexual assault victims have to travel hours to find a provider properly trained to complete forensic examinations, Republican Sen. Michael Maroney said. There are only a few hospitals in northern West Virginia with personnel who are properly trained to collect evidence from rape victims.

      Rape kits are used to collect evidence following sexual assaults, and can be used to link the assault to a suspect in existing DNA databases or develop a DNA profile that can be used in the future.

      The bill now headed to the state House of Delegates would require all hospitals in the state with an emergency room to have staff available 24 hours a day who are trained to conduct forensic examinations for sexual assault victims. The bill requires that providers receive the training from the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission by July 2024.


1971 Homicide Victim Now Identified as Colleen Audrey Rice (Forensic – 1/25/2023)

    • In January 1971, an unknown female victim was located in the desert area near a dirt road east of US Hwy 93 in Mohave County, Arizona. The victim was located in a canvas sack that had been tied at the top with a white cotton rope. The sack was a white cotton, loosely-woven sack, with the words “Deer-Pak Ames Harris Neville Co.,” printed in green.

      The female victim was described as approximately 35-40 years of age, 5’4”, weighing approximately 125-140 pounds, with curly brown hair. She was dressed in a size 14 multi-colored long sleeve blouse, a black long sleeve cardigan sweater, and burnt orange stretch pants with the following tab inside, “Symphony, it’s what’s happening” size 12. She was wearing a pair of black leather, ankle high boots and bobby sox, possibly white at one time. The victim was not wearing any type of jewelry.

      Over the past 51 years since the discovery of the woman’s remains, investigators have pursued an expansive number of leads into determining her identity. Early in the investigation, her fingerprints were sent to the FBI in Washington and a report of her expensive dental work was distributed in prominent dental magazines. Those records were checked against thousands of patient files. A police artist sketched a portrait. Local hotels, motels, and stores were checked. Missing reports from across Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah were all pursued. In November, 2021, the case was registered in NamUs as UP85987. None of these efforts led investigators to determine the woman’s identity, and the case went cold.

      In 2022, MCSO Cold Case investigators partnered with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing and Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing could help give insight into the identity of this woman and the circumstances surrounding her untimely death. Mohave County Sheriff’s Office committed $1000 to the cause and asked for assistance from the community to give her justice and closure to her family who has been looking for her. Othram set up a DNASolves crowdfund to raise the remaining $6,500 to perform the work necessary to produce investigative leads. The hope was that the community would open its heart and help to finally give her a name. The “Dear Gladys” DNA Solves page was advertised and the community opened its heart, funding the case in only 5 days. The testing process began in late 2022.

      In January 2023, the victim found her voice. She is now identified as Colleen Audrey Rice. DNA testing of a family member confirmed her identity after countless hours of investigation into her family tree and contact with distant family relatives.



Man Exonerated of 1991 Murder After DNA Excludes Him, Brother (Forensic – 1/25/2023)

    • Tuesday, Judge Peter Kubota dismissed Albert “Ian” Schweitzer’s conviction for the 1991 rape and murder of Dana Ireland, based on new DNA testing that excluded Schweitzer and his co-defendants, and identified a single unknown male suspect. Additional newly discovered evidence presented to the court revealed that although DNA testing at Schweitzer’s original trial excluded him and his co-defendants, the State used false jailhouse informant testimony to build its case, which led to the wrongful conviction of Ian Schweitzer, his younger brother Shawn Schweitzer, and Frank Pauline, Jr., who is now deceased. Ian walked free Tuesday after 25 years of wrongful incarceration.



Calculating Variation in Mixed DNA Samples Interpretation (Forensic – 1/25/2023)

    • NIJ-funded researchers from the Defense Forensic Science Center sought to improve mixed DNA analysis, eager to understand the amount of interpretation variation that exists in the analysis of complex DNA samples, both within and between laboratories. First, they evaluated the current state of the practice in interpretation of DNA mixtures. Then, to objectively assess the variation in forensic DNA interpretation, they created new statistics to quantify interpretation variability.

      The researchers created new ways to measure the variability in interpretations of DNA mixtures:

      • Between examiners within the same laboratory (intra-laboratory variability), where protocols and training were expected to be similar and variation was expected to be low.
      • Among different laboratories (inter-laboratory variability), where protocol and training differences are expected to be greater and variation is therefore predicted to be greater.