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!




Coroner Identifies Remains of Victim Found on Indiana Serial Killer’s Property (FOX59 – 1/25/2024)

    • Hamilton County authorities have identified the remains of a victim found on the property of a serial killer who lived in Westfield.

      Hamilton County Coroner Jeff Jellison announced Thursday that investigators have identified the remains that were found in 1996 on Fox Hollow Farm, the former home of Herbert Baumeister.

      The name of the victim: Manuel Resendez.

      It has been over 30 years since Resendez went missing in August of 1993. Now, he has finally been identified and there is closure surrounding his disappearance.



West Virginia Lawmakers Reject Bill to Expand DNA Database to People Charged with Certain Felonies (AP News – 1/25/2024)

  • West Virginia lawmakers on Thursday soundly rejected a bill that would have expanded a law enforcement database to include collecting DNA samples from people arrested for certain felonies.

    Some legislators cited privacy concerns during a lengthy debate before the 66-30 vote by the Republican-dominated House of Delegates.


‘A Long 35 Years’: Murder Charge Laid in Canadian Cold Case Thanks to Genetic Genealogy (Global News – 1/26/2024)

    • Who killed Byron Howard Carr?

      For more than three decades, that question has haunted his family, friends and the people of Prince Edward Island.

      On Friday, Charlottetown police Chief Brad MacConnell said they finally had an answer.

      Todd Joseph Gallant, 56, also known as Todd Joseph Irving, was arrested Thursday in Souris, P.E.I., and charged with first-degree murder and interfering with human remains.

      A second person was also arrested in connection with the case but later released. MacConnell said the investigation into that individual is ongoing.



Sailor from Holyoke Killed at Pearl Harbor to be Buried After DNA Identification (WGBH – 1/26/2024)

  • Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class Merle Hillman served on the USS California, one of seven ships sunk in the surprise attack by Japanese forces on Dec. 7, 1941. More than 2,300 American service members were killed that day, including Hillman, but about half of those casualties have never had remains identified.

    Now, more than 80 years later, Hillman will be laid to rest on Saturday in Holyoke, thanks to DNA analysis of remains exhumed from graves of unknown service members. His identification is part of a Navy project, beginning in 2015, to exhume caskets of unknown service members killed at Pearl Harbor to try to identify them using DNA analysis and other tools.



Maui Wildfire: Last of 100 Known Victims of Deadly Blaze Identified (The Guardian – 1/26/2024)

  • Hawaii officials said on Friday that they had identified the last of the 100 known victims of the wildfire that destroyed Lahaina in August.

    The victim was Lydia Coloma, 70, Maui police said.

    Identifying those who perished in the deadliest wildfire in the US in more than a century has been a long, arduous process. Forensic experts and cadaver dogs have had to sift through ash searching for bodies that had possibly been cremated, and authorities have been collecting DNA samples from victims’ family members.

    The DNA testing allowed officials in September to revise the death toll downward, from 115 to at least 97. The toll rose slightly over the next month as some victims succumbed to their injuries or as police found additional remains.


Next Generation Sequencing Accepted in Court for First Time (Forensic – 1/29/2024)

  • For the first time in the U.S., evidence derived from next generation sequencing (NGS) has been accepted in a court of law. In this specific case, NGS testing was used to establish the location of the crime scene, as well as to help determine the circumstances of the violent assaults and murders.

    Analyzing DNA using capillary electrophoresis is traditional, and still considered the “norm” for many forensic and crime laboratories. However, NGS technology has been making waves ever since it first burst onto the scene. Initially seen as a win for the clinical research field, the decreasing cost of NGS over time—in combination with the rise of investigative genetic genealogy—has made the technology an increasingly popular choice for forensics.

    Due to its newness, though, NGS had not been through and approved by the U.S. court system. Now, the solving of the murders of two homeless women in Kern County, California has changed that—mostly likely altering the entire forensic DNA landscape in the process.



Othram to Become Exclusive Partner for Gene by Gene (Forensic – 1/29/2024)

  • Gene by Gene, operator of the FamilyTreeDNA brand, announced its decision to select Othram as its exclusive partner for forensic genetic genealogy search and analysis. This alliance combines Gene by Gene’s consented database with Othram’s purpose-built forensic analysis tools.

    Gene by Gene’s forensic matching database is the largest database in the world consented for law enforcement use to solve violent crimes. Over the past several years, Othram has helped law enforcement crack cases at the local, state, and federal level, many of which had been unsolved for decades. More forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) cases have been solved with Othram’s technology than any other method.

    Under the terms of the new partnership, FGG analysts will be able to leverage Othram’s forensic search algorithms and analysis tools, to maximize sensitivity in detecting genetic matches to forensic samples. The partnership underscores a shared commitment to enhancing database search capabilities to help solve the most complex cases, including those involving DNA profiles generated from highly degraded or damaged DNA or DNA profiles generated from DNA mixtures.

    Gene by Gene’s and Othram’s partnership will further catalyze the development of new, innovative tools designed specifically for forensic applications. These advancements will streamline and accelerate case resolutions using forensic genetic genealogy search.



How Investigators Solved the Cold Case of Seven Doe (Forensic – 1/29/2024)

  • Buried at the edge of a Chicago Catholic cemetery are an elderly person’s remains marked only by a cement cylinder deep in the ground labeled with the numbers 04985. The person died in 2015 at a nursing home not remembering much, including their own name.

    They went by Seven.

    Now police specializing in missing people and cold cases have discovered Seven’s identity in one of the most unusual investigations the Cook County sheriff’s office has pursued and one that could change state law. Using post-mortem fingerprints, investigators identified Seven as 75-year-old Reba C. Bailey, an Illinois veteran missing since the 1970s.

    The breakthrough is bringing closure to generations of relatives and friends. But whether they knew the name or the numeral, the investigation has unearthed more mysteries about how Reba, a Women’s Army Corps veteran raised in a large family, became homeless with no recollection, aside from wanting to be identified as a man called Seven.

    Public records, interviews, newspapers and police work have offered some insight about the person with two lives, even with so much still unknown. Investigators say the next step is to honor them with a new gravestone and military honors.



Orange County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2000 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 1/29/2024)

  • In June 2000, a Winter Park, Florida citizen reported finding a human skull at their Orange County apartment community. Detectives with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene. A search of the area was conducted, and additional skeletal remains, as well as clothing, were found partially buried in a nearby vacant lot. Upon examination, forensic anthropologists determined that the remains were that of a white male between the ages of 40 and 60 years. The man’s remains had been buried for approximately seven to eight years prior to discovery. Investigators concluded that the man had suffered a gunshot wound to the head and his death was ruled as a homicide.

    No identifying characteristics were available for the homicide victim, and he became known only as “John Doe”. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP528. Despite law enforcement’s exhaustive efforts, the man could not be identified, and the case went cold.

    In August 2022, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a DNA extract from a partial subsampling of 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 law enforcement investigators.

    Using these new leads, law enforcement conducted a follow-up investigation. This follow-up investigation led to relatives of the unidentified man. Follow up confirmation DNA testing then enabled investigators to formally identify the unknown man as Paul Laurence “Larry” Rougeux, Jr., who was born October 29, 1951. Rougeux was raised in the Winter Park area and was a graduate of Orlando’s Colonial Park High School. Mr. Rougeux was approximately 40 years old at the time of his murder.



Police Crime Lab Accreditation Initiative (NIJ – 1/31/2024)

  • Crime labs, also known as forensic science service providers (FSSPs), work with law enforcement to investigate crime scenes and collect evidence for investigations. They conduct testing on everything from fingerprints and DNA to gunshot residue while helping to maintain the integrity of the investigation through meticulous documentation and proper chain-of-custody procedures. In the United States, the community of crime labs is diverse, including public laboratories and forensic units, medical examiner and coroner offices, private labs, individual practitioners, academics, and consultants.

    How can one know if a crime lab is performing well? Accreditation—the recognition of technical competence through an independent, third-party assessment of lab quality and administrative and technical systems—offers a way to identify a lab’s conformance with established standards, and it conveys an expectation of excellence. Accreditation differs from certification in that it applies to the laboratory rather than the credentials of any one individual. Approximately 88 percent of U.S. crime labs have been granted accreditation, most commonly by one of the two largest forensic accreditation bodies: the American National Standards Institute National Accreditation Board and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation. Many of the remaining 12 percent of crime labs are run by local law enforcement.



VCU Forensic Science Professor Receives ASPCA Grant to Support Animal Cruelty Investigations (VCUNews – 1/31/2024)

  • Forensic science can play a big role in animal cruelty cases, but while current laboratory techniques can identify which animal left DNA at a crime scene, they can’t reveal when the evidence was left. Researchers in Virginia Commonwealth University forensic science professor Christopher Ehrhardt’s lab are working to bridge that gap.

    Ehrhardt, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was awarded a one-year$36,331 grant in December from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to develop a forensic test that can determine the length of time since animal body fluid, such as blood or saliva, was deposited at a crime scene. Such a test could provide invaluable information to forensic investigators working on cases such as dog- and chicken-fighting rings.



Attorney General Tim Griffin Announces New Child Identification Kit for Parents (Forensic – 1/31/2024)

  • Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin announced a new program that will distribute child ID kits to families of first-graders across the state.

    Griffin said on Tuesday he partnered with various groups, including the National ID Program. He said each kit will include inkless fingerprinting, a DNA sample collection, record keeping, and a place to put a photo.

    The kits will be distributed through Sheriff’s Offices and schools, Griffin said.

    While some Sheriff’s Offices, including Washington and Benton County, already have child info cards, they don’t have a place to put a DNA sample.

    “Fingerprints are really good. But with children, they’re not always clear,” said Colleen Nick, who created a foundation after her daughter, Morgan Nick, was kidnapped when she was six years old.

    Nick described why having a DNA kit prepared could save time when every minute matters.



New DNA Technique Could Bring Closure for Families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (HighCountryNews – 1/31/2024)

  • Shirley Soosay became one of the first Indigenous Jane Does in North America to be identified through Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG), a tool used by Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies. Her family was one of the few of the thousands of Indigenous families in the U.S. and Canada with missing loved ones who finally achieved any closure.

    Investigators believe this new DNA process has huge potential to solve cases involving missing Indigenous people. IGG comes with risks, though. The more people share their genetic profiles with online databases like GEDmatch, the more effective the technique becomes. But experts warn that the private companies that own these databases, or the investigators who use them, could use the information to violate people’s constitutional rights. Ultimately, it could become a new kind of colonial extractive industry, amounting to a loss of genetic sovereignty for Indigenous communities. Law enforcement agencies and groups that use IGG do not always disclose how the DNA data will be used, while recent database breaches by hackers and genealogists reveal how the lack of regulatory oversight leads to violations. And, for some Indigenous communities, there may also be a level of risk to traditions and customs. All this creates a new risk to Indigenous self-determination.