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!




New Tools Seek to Aid Evidence Gathering in Rape Cases (Forensic – 1/27/2023)

    • TV detectives investigating a rape are portrayed as finding incriminating DNA evidence easily enough. In the real world, however, the search is often constrained by current forensic methods that can detect only 10% of sperm traces because surfaces absorb evidence and criminals often attempt to wipe it away.

      Now two European projects have developed technologies to improve ways of finding the microscopic material needed to ensure a conviction. One – from French biotechnology company AXO Science – is a newly formulated spray for detecting evidence at rape scenes.



Cold Case Initiative Partners with Innovative Forensic Investigations (Forensic – 1/27/2023)

  • Cold Case Initiative (CCI), a nonprofit assisting agencies with funding to offset the cost of techniques used to solve cold cases, violent crimes, missing persons, and unidentified decedents, is pleased to partner with Innovative Forensic Investigations (IFI), an investigative genetic genealogy firm providing services to law enforcement and government agencies nationwide. IFI will provide CCI access to its full suite of investigative genetic genealogy services. CCI will fund any legitimate investigative step needed in a cold case in addition to investigative genetic genealogy.


Brothers Arrested in 1997 Cold Case Homicide of Decapitated John Doe (Forensic – 1/27/2023)

  • Richardo Sepulveda, 51 of Cincinnati, OH and Michael Sepulveda, 49 of Toledo, OH, were arrested on January 24 by the United States Marshalls Service for the 1997 cold case homicide of “John Doe,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced.

    On Nov.19, 1997, police were dispatched to Blissfield Twp. in response to the discovery of human remains in a cornfield owned and farmed by the caller. When police arrived to examine the remains, they observed the body of an unidentified, unclothed male that was missing the head and both hands. The hands appeared to have been cut from just above the wrist. Officers also observed what appeared to be saw striations on the ends of the bones.

    In September 1999, a DNA profile of the victim was developed, but it has not led to an identification of the victim, so far. Detective Sgt. Larry Rothman of the Michigan State Police First District’s Cold-Case Unit said the DNA profile has been uploaded to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, as well as genealogy websites. The Michigan State Police First District Cold-Case Unit worked with other local and federal agencies and prosecutors to gather evidence, establish a timeline of events, and locate the defendants.



DNA Leads Houston Police to Incarcerated Suspect in 2009 Fatal Stabbing (Forensic – 1/30/2023)

  • Charges have been filed against an incarcerated suspect in the fatal stabbing of Domitila Alvarez, 38, on April 24, 2009.

    The suspect, Jorge Trevino Cardenas, 50, is charged with murder in the 185th State District Court.

    Alvarez was found inside the office of her family’s auto repair shop suffering from multiple stab wounds. Paramedics pronounced her deceased at the scene. Despite thorough investigation, the initial investigation yielded minimal leads.

    In 2021, the Houston Police Department Homicide Division Cold Case Squad re-examined the evidence in the case as part of a case review project and identified suspect Cardenas through DNA evidence. Further investigation found additional information implicating him in this case, and he was subsequently charged last Thursday.

    He is currently serving a sentence for an unrelated crime in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice William R. Boyd Unit prison.


Now-identified Pennsylvania Doe is Missing NJ Homicide Victim (Forensic – 1/30/2023)

    • In June 1986, a fisherman found a human skull on the banks of the Delaware River by the Morrisville Boat Ramp. The fisherman lived in Buckingham Township and took the skull to the Buckingham Township Police Department. Due to the condition of the remains and the fact that no other related remains were found, there was little investigators could do to identify the unknown person or even attempt to describe any physical characteristics about the unknown person.

      Bucks County Detectives took possession of the human skull in October 2019 during a probe of a homicide investigation, but then relinquished it to the Bucks County Coroner’s Office. Later that year, the Bucks County Coroner’s Office entered the skull into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database as UP62362. Eventually, without any leads, the case went cold.

      In September 2022, Bucks County Detectives retrieved the skull from the Coroner’s Office and sent it to Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing so that new leads could be developed. Othram developed a viable DNA extract from the skeletal remains and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to develop a comprehensive DNA profile. Othram’s in-house genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genealogical search to develop investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement.

      A follow up investigation by Bucks County detectives revealed that the skull belonged to Richard Thomas Alt, who was 31 years old when he was reported missing to the Trenton Police Department in early 1985. He was last seen on Christmas Eve 1984 by his parents. Richard was reported as missing in NamUS as MP97130.


Pet Theft: Police Force Using DNA to Find Stolen Dogs (Forensic – 1/30/2023)

    • DNA profiling is being used by police to sniff out stolen dogs in Wales. Dogs must be chipped for identification by law, but these can be lost, stolen or removed, while DNA is tamper-proof. Dyfed-Powys Police has introduced the measure after a spike in thefts during the Covid-19 lockdown. The force believes its new database – the first of its kind in Wales – will be able to reunite stolen dogs with their owners.

      Insp Reuben Palin said: “The DNA in the dogs is linked directly to the dog, it can’t be changed. “So if we do a warrant, or if the RSPCA come across dogs anywhere in the country, anywhere in the UK, we can run tests on those dogs’ DNA to see whether or not they are a stolen dog.”


Forensic Challenge: How Investigators Found the Yugoslav Wars’ Disappeared (Balkan Insight – 1/30/2023)

    • Criminal investigators, forensic scientists, ballistics experts and DNA specialists worked together on the colossal task of finding 40,000 people who went missing during the Yugoslav wars and establishing how they were killed.



40 Years Later, Tylenol Murder Investigators Order New DNA Tests on Key Evidence (CBS News – 1/30/2023)

    • Beginning on Sept. 29, 1982, and over the next week, seven people were murdered in the Chicago area after unknowingly taking Tylenol pills that were spiked by a killer. Now, investigators are turning once again to DNA evidence to try to identify the person or people who did it. The Arlington Heights (Illinois) Police Department (AHPD) is initiating much of the DNA testing and collection as it continues to investigate the deaths of three members of the same family – Adam Janus, Teresa Janus, and Stanley Janus. They all were killed in Arlington Heights after taking poisoned Tylenol. AHPD said in a statement that the recent DNA testing done on the Morgan family was to eliminate their DNA, and officials continue to review and submit elimination prints for people they know handled evidence. The agency would not comment on what specifically prompted investigators to take another look at the Morgan family’s DNA, and why it wasn’t until 2020 that they took Laura’s DNA, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.



After 37 Years, Unidentified Woman is Identified Using Genealogy Technology (Georgia Bureau of Investigation – 1/31/2023)

    • A woman who remained unidentified for 37 years has been identified as Mary Anga Cowan, missing out of Seminole County, FL. On Friday, May 14, 1985, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office requested the GBI assist with an investigation into the discovery of a woman who had been found injured and unconscious by passersby on the west side of GA Highway 91 north of Newton, GA. The woman was taken to the hospital in Albany, GA, where she died from her injuries on Saturday, June 1, 1985. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office findings were the manner of death was undetermined and the cause of death was subdural hematoma secondary to blunt force trauma to the head.

      On September 21, 2012, the woman was exhumed, and a sample of bone fragment was obtained. The bone fragment was sent to a private company for isotope analysis, but no leads were developed.

      In March 2022, the GBI Sylvester Regional Investigative Office partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to have genealogical DNA analysis completed on the woman. A portion of her remains were submitted to Othram, a private DNA lab, who completed a DNA extraction.

      In October 2022, a DNA profile was generated for comparison and turned over to the FBI for genealogical research. The research yielded a high probability that the unidentified woman was Mary Anga Cowan, aka “Angie.” Agents obtained DNA from one of Cowan’s children and the comparison indicated a parent/child relationship.


Cleveland Man Tied to Decades-Old Rapes Through Genealogical DNA Database Pleads Guilty ( – 1/31/2023)

    • A 61-year-old Cleveland man pleaded guilty this week to rape and sexual battery charges after investigators used DNA from a genealogy company to tie him to two decades-old rapes. Leo Bradley Scott III, is set to be sentenced March 3 in the attacks that occurred in 1994 and 1998.

      Scott was charged as a result of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office’s G.O.L.D. Unit, which was set up through grant funding to use burgeoning DNA testing technology to investigate unsolved rape cases.

      The unit pairs prosecutors with the Texas-based genetic testing company Gene by Gene and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s Office’s forensic crime lab to use the same technique — and the same genealogist — that led to the 2018 arrest of the notorious Golden State Killer in California.



New Promega Chemistry Will Enable Forensic DNA Labs to Solve More Challenging Cold Cases, Sexual Assault Cases (Business Wire – 1/31/2023)

    • New chemistry for DNA analysis will empower forensic laboratories to overcome common challenges including degraded and contaminated samples. PowerPlex® 35GY System, launched today by Promega Corporation, is a first-of-its-kind eight-color DNA analysis kit that helps forensic laboratories get more information out of their most challenging samples. The kit works in tandem with Spectrum CE System, a capillary electrophoresis instrument launched by Promega in 2022.



Marshall University Launches Project to Expand Forensic Training in West VA (WFXR – 1/31/2023)

    • The Bureau of Justice Assistance gave a $1.75 million grant to Marshall University (MU) in West Virginia to create a forensic training center for digital and genetic evidence.

      The Law Enforcement Training Center in Forensic Sciences (FTC) will provide free forensic science education to authorities. Specifically, the center will offer technical training for forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) cyber forensics tools.

      The FTC will also function as a center for MU’s Institute for Cyber Security (ICS) and build data for forensic laboratories in Huntington and throughout the state.



CS’fly’: Insect Data Holds Clues to Crimes (ASU News – 1/31/2023)

    • According to Jonathan Parrott, assistant professor of forensic science at Arizona State University, blowflies usually arrive on a crime scene just 10 minutes after a murder. They are drawn by body fluids and gasses associated with the decomposition of an open-air corpse, and like a fly on the wall, can reveal secrets about the homicide.

      But in order to accurately answer these questions, investigators need to know the precise life cycle of the blowflies. That’s where Parrott’s research comes in.

      For the past two years, the forensic entomologist has been developing one of Arizona’s first and much-needed databases of forensically important blowflies to assist both crime scene investigators and the courts. The data will help determine more accurate and robust time-of-death estimations from insect evidence.



Genetic Genealogy ID’s Missing Colorado John Doe (Forensic – 2/01/2023)

    • The Weld County Sheriff’s Office is happy to announce that a cold case from 2018 has been solved using advanced forensic techniques. Cases like this are resolved due to good old fashioned investigative techniques, paired with modern day technology. The Weld County Sheriff’s Office also has an investigator assigned to work solely on cold cases that lack information.

      On Dec. 7, 2018, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) was dispatched to an area in unincorporated Weld County, Colo., on a report of human remains that were found while a crew was surveying the land. Upon arrival, deputies were led to the remains, which consisted of a skull, bones, some clothes, a backpack, and other miscellaneous items. The remains appeared to have been there for a long period of time.

      The case was turned over to WCSO Investigations to identify the remains; but was not investigated as a homicide.

      On July 23, 2020, a press release was issued, including photographs of personal items found with the John Doe along with an artistic reconstruction of his face.

      On March 26, 2021, the Sheriff’s Office submitted portions of the remains to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). CBI obtained DNA from the remains. The DNA was then sent to Parabon Nanolabs for forensic genetic genealogy.

      On Nov. 22, 2022, the Sheriff’s Office received a report from Parabon Nanolabs that identified the remains as possibly being Douglas Wayne Jackson, a missing person from Aurora, Colorado. WCSO detectives contacted Jackson’s sister and were able to compare her DNA with his. The results confirmed Jackson’s identity.



23-016 Mississippi Man Arrested for 1987 Pinellas County Cold Case Murder (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office – 2/01/2023)

    • On January 26, 2023, detectives assigned to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Robbery/Homicide – Cold Case Unit arrested 55-year-old Michael Lapniewski, Jr. for a murder that occurred in 1987. Detectives conducted an extensive investigation over a period of several years. A suspect was developed after advancements in DNA testing.

      According to detectives, on February 9, 1987, deputies responded to a residence in unincorporated St. Petersburg for a deceased person. The victim, 82-year-old Opal Weil was located deceased by her sister-in-law after not answering her telephone. Weil had obvious and visible signs of trauma. Deputies discovered the suspect fled the scene prior to their arrival.

      Throughout the course of the investigation, a partial DNA profile was developed from the hairs located at the scene, but no matches were identified until recently.

      In December of 2020, PCSO cold case detectives were assigned to the case. Detectives sent a request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for additional testing of the hairs located at the scene. Detectives also contacted Parabon Nanolabs to conduct further genealogical testing.

      After extensive testing was done by Parabon Nanolabs, family trees were constructed, and familial relatives were identified. Of the relatives identified, Parabon Nanolabs were able to narrow down the suspects to three possible males. After extensive investigation, detectives excluded two of the males leaving Lapniewski as the primary suspect, who at that time resided a half mile from where the murder occurred.