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!




St. Tammany Parish Coroner, Sheriff, and Othram Team to Identify 1993 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 6/28/2023)

    • A male homicide victim was found in October 1993, in a heavily wooded area off Interstate 59 near the Mississippi state line. Much of his body had been scavenged by wild carnivores, however the skull and partial skeleton were recovered, as were a unique pair of eyeglasses and a few remnants of clothing. In November 1993, the remains were sent to the LSU FACES Lab in Baton Rouge, LA, where additional tests were done, and a facial reconstruction model was created. A second computer modeled reconstruction was completed in 2003. The victim is believed to have died by a gunshot wound to the head sometime between April and October 1993.

      At that point, the FACES Lab determined that the subject was a Caucasian male of between 25 to 38 years of age, with significant antemortem trauma to the right hip area. The FACES Lab analysis also identified perimortem trauma (trauma that occurs at or around the time of death) to the skull as a gunshot wound. Between 2011 and 2021, more DNA comparisons were processed by the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office Forensic DNA Lab, although no immediate matches were found in existing DNA records. Using more advanced technology than available to the Parish’s laboratory in 2019, and continuing over much of the next four years, investigators mined the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database to compare physical characteristics and relevant timelines of missing persons who could potentially fit the victim’s profile. This process also involved work performed by the University of North Texas Forensic Sciences Center. The case was entered into the NamUs as UP890.

      In April 2022, the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office sought and received a grant from the nonprofit organization Season of Justice to fund forensic genealogical testing through Othram, based in the The Woodlands, Texas. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s lab and Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive genealogical profile. Othram’s in-house genetic genealogy team used the profile to produce investigative leads which were returned to law enforcement investigators. This led investigators to two potential living siblings in a family originally from Burnsville, MN.

      Armed with this information, STPCO investigators contacted police departments in Florissant, MO, and Burnsville, MN, that provided access to the victim’s biological siblings, and confirmation that the victim was known to be in Louisiana around the time of his disappearance in 1993.

      The victim is now identified as Mr. Joseph Lee Muniz, DOB January 30, 1972. The Cause of Death is a Gunshot Wound to the Head; The Manner of Death is Homicide.

Genetic Genealogy Gives N.L. Police a Break in 22-Year-Old John Doe Case (CBC News – 6/29/2023)

    • For 22 years, his identity has baffled the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

      The man’s severed head had been stuffed in a Billy Boot shopping bag and buried in a dump site in Conception Bay, near St. John’s. Two men looking for tree saplings discovered those remains in 2001.

      The unknown victim has been known as Conception Bay John Doe ever since. Two years ago, the RNC began using genetic genealogy — when DNA is used to do family tree research — to try to identify the man. But the matches with his relatives were too distant to make an identification.

      Then, about a year ago, a woman from the U.S. uploaded her DNA. She turned out to be John Doe’s third cousin — this means that her great-grandparents and his great-grandparents would have been siblings.

      However, very little family information could be gleaned from the match because the woman had been adopted at birth and could provide little information about her biological family. The genetic genealogy research did provide one significant break — she and John Doe are of Cuban heritage, Davis said.

      Davis said this is the case from his 11-year career that he has not been able to let go of and made a public appeal.

      “At this point, we’re one profile away from identifying our victim. I’m encouraging anyone with Cuban ancestry to upload their profile to GEDmatch or to contact our investigators.”



Restoring the Identities of Mexico’s Unknown Dead (EurekAlert! – 6/29/2023)

    • Goethe University Frankfurt has entered into a cooperation agreement with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Mexico to assist the Mexican government in identifying the country’s more than 110,000 officially disappeared. At 55,000, the official figure of unidentified decedents is also staggering. The Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, Mexico’s national human rights commission, has called the current situation as a forensic crisis and an enormous burden on civil society.

      Although the Mexican government is increasingly relying on international cooperation and assistance in recent years to help identify unidentified decedents, and significant progress has been made (including the construction of regional identification centers), identification remains a significant challenge. One partner is UNFPA, whose Mexican branch is a member of the “Identifications in Mexico” project (partially funded by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office), which supports the Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda (CNB) search commission’s national identification policy. One of the project’s workplans comprises Goethe University Frankfurt’s collaboration with Mexican institutions and universities.

      The signing ceremony was attended by Cecilia Villanueva Bracho, Mexican Consul General to the city of Frankfurt; Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff; the Deputy Head of UNFPA Mexico, Iván Castellanos; the Director of Goethe University’s Institute of Forensic Medicine, Prof. Dr. Marcel Verhoff: and UNFPA Project Head Maximilian Murck. The goal of the cooperation agreement between UNFPA and the Institute of Forensic Medicine is to offer families certainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones.



Unlocking History’s Secrets through DNA ( – 6/30/2023)

  • Doing a DNA test can bring some surprising results about your ancestors. It can reveal who was in your family tree, where they lived, where they travelled, and who they bred with while they were there…. Hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago.

    So how can looking at ancient DNA help explain the world we live in today?

    Suzanne Hill spoke with Professor Eske Willerslev, a molecular anthropologist at University of Cambridge and the Director of the Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen.
    His work on paleo DNA has been groundbreaking and what he’s uncovered has been responsible for rewriting our understanding of human history and who we think we are.


Death Penalty Case to Continue Against Man Citing New DNA Evidence in Stabbing Death of Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch Reporter (CBS News – 6/30/2023)

  • A death penalty case will continue against a Missouri man who is citing new DNA evidence in his innocence claim for the stabbing death of a former newspaper reporter, the governor announced Thursday.

    Republican Gov. Mike Parson dissolved a panel of five former judges who had been tasked with reviewing Marcellus Williams’ case and ended a stay on his execution. No execution date has been set yet.

    Williams was convicted of killing former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle during a 1998 burglary at her home in University City. Gayle, 42, was a reporter at the Post-Dispatch from 1981 to 1992 before leaving to do social work.

    “This Board was established nearly six years ago, and it is time to move forward,” Parson said in a statement. “We could stall and delay for another six years, deferring justice, leaving a victim’s family in limbo, and solving nothing. This administration won’t do that.”



West Haven PD & Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Team with Othram to Identify New Haven County Jane Doe (DNASolves – 6/30/2023)

  • In April 1979, skeletal remains were found on the property of the New Haven Water Company adjacent to Route 34 and Derby Avenue in New Haven County, Connecticut. Investigators determined that the skeletal remains were that of a Caucasian woman estimated to be in her late teens to early twenties. The unidentified woman stood between 5’1” and 5’3” in height during her life. Investigators were unable to make definitive determinations about the woman’s weight, hair color, or eye color during her life. It is believed that the decedent had been deceased for one to eight years upon discovery of her remains.

    Since the discovery of the woman’s remains more than 44 years ago, law enforcement investigators have diligently pursued various leads about her identity, but none have returned a match for her identity. Two years following the discovery of the remains, a mandible was located which investigators associated with the woman’s remains found in 1979. Later, a facial reconstruction was created to depict what the woman might have looked like. Along with the discovery of the unknown woman’s remains, investigators also recovered a black lace bra, and a “Westclox” brand folding travel alarm clock in a hard red case. Investigators located a replica of the alarm clock, which has been provided for reference, although they noted that the actual clock may have differed somewhat from the replica. Finally, in May 2008, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case number UP9236. Many leads were followed in the case, but in spite of exhaustive efforts, the woman could not be identified.

    In 2022, Medicolegal Death Investigator Michelle Clark partnered with Othram to use Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown woman, in order to generate leads to her identity. In a follow up investigation by law enforcement, the West Haven Police Department confirmed that remains found in 1979 belonged to Sarah Tatham Abbott, also affectionately known as “Sally” by her family.



Will County Coroner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify a 2013 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 7/03/2023)

    • In March 2013, 24-year-old Marcus Wright was reported missing to the Joliet Police Department. His parents reported that he had not been seen or heard from since March 20, 2013. Joliet Police opened a missing person investigation. Throughout the subsequent years Joliet Police investigated numerous leads including leads that he had been murdered.

      The case was entered into the National Crime Information Center and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP14360. Police investigators obtained DNA samples from family members that were subsequently profiled and entered into CODIS, a national DNA database that compares unidentified persons DNA with relatives of missing persons.

      In 2023, Joliet Police investigators under the supervision of Deputy Chief Matlock developed new leads which resulted in several searches in the area east of McKay Steet which included a wooded area belonging to the Will County Forest Preserve. In March 2023 two human bones were located in that area. The bones were placed into the custody of the Will County Coroner’s office in compliance with state law.

      The bones were subsequently evaluated by Forensic Anthropologist Cris Hughes, a professor at the University of Illinois and were found to be consistent with originating from a tall male subject. Marcus Wright is 6’2” tall. One bone was sent to Othram Inc., located in The Woodlands, Texas, along with a DNA swab from a close relative.

      Othram Inc. has partnered with the Will County Coroner Office on several occasions these last two years resulting in the resolution of four other cold cases. Othram Inc. was developed to assist law enforcement specifically with missing and unidentified persons cases. Othram developed a suitable extract from the degraded skeletal remains and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the remains. A pairwise comparison of the profile against a close relative, using KinSNP® familial testing, indicated a genetic relationship suggesting that the skeletal remains belonged to Marcus Wright, who was murder a decade earlier.

      In June 2023, the Will County Coroner office confirmed the identification and an investigation into Wright’s death continues.



‘She Was Practically There Waiting for Us’: Canadian Cold Case from 1975 Finally Cracked (CTV News – 6/27/2023)

  • An Ontario cold case from 1975 has finally been cracked thanks to the use of genetic genealogy, or DNA testing designed to find genetic matches and help discover one’s ancestry.

    On May 3, 1975, a local farmer discovered the remains of a woman floating in the Nation River near the Highway 417 bridge, south of Casselman, Ont. The unidentified woman was referred to as the “Nation River Lady,” after the body of water she was found in.

    For years, attempts by authorities to identify her were unsuccessful and the case went cold.

    On Tuesday, the DNA Doe Project (DDP) said the mystery had finally been solved and identified the woman as Lalla Jewell Parchman Langford.

    The non-profit organization, which aims to identify people in cold cases and return them to their families and communities, said it was approached by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in 2019 for help on the case.

    The DDP said it developed a DNA profile and uploaded it to two genetic genealogy databases — GEDmatch Pro and Family Tree DNA — in 2020.

    By researching matches from these websites and conducting an “extensive search” of available historical records, the organization said its team of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists were able to target Langford as a likely candidate within a few weeks.



Perth Develops World First Forensic Technique Involving Analysing Hair Strands at Crime Scenes ( – 7/04/2023)

  • Inside Perth’s Chemcentre lab, a new forensic technique is being developed in a world first that will see the proteins in a strand of hair used to identify people from crime scenes.

    Chemcentre’s director of forensic science Bianca Douglas said this technique examined the proteins within hair, which last longer than DNA.

    Ms Douglas said the study is called “proteomics”.

    “The protein within our hair has a sequence and that sequence is unique to an individual.

    “And so, this research project is going to explore those sequences of protein, and how we can discriminate between different hairs for different people.”

    Ms Douglas said this technique would be helpful not only for identifying criminals, but also for identifying disaster victims.



Research Finds Sex Can Be Confirmed by Hand Odor (Florida International University – 7/05/2023)

  • FIU researchers determined a person’s biological sex can be confirmed by their hand odor with extreme accuracy.

    The novel approach can assist in forensic investigations when other biometric indicators, such as DNA and fingerprints, are limited or non-existent. The study was published in PLOS ONEan open access science journal.

    Our research at FIU is always focused on moving the forensic sciences forward,” said Kenneth G. Furton, executive director of the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC) and the project’s administrator. GFJC has one of America’s oldest forensic science education programs and has grown into one of the world’s largest forensic science centersas well as among the most diverse in terms of areas of study, degree areas and geographical reachA focus of GFJCis to work on research that can be used right now in laboratories to help science serve justice effectively and efficiently.”

    According to FBI figures, about 72% of crimes are committed by men and about 28% by women. The research also could lead to non-forensic applications in the future.



WVU Forensics Lab Cracks Case on Newer, ‘Greener’ Gunshot Residue (WVU Today – 7/06/2023)

  • Discoveries by West Virginia University forensic scientists about how gunshot residue behaves on skin, hair and fabric will allow crime scene investigators to catch up to the proliferation of new, eco-friendly types of ammunition and make faster, more informed decisions at crime scenes and in forensic laboratories.

    Lead and other toxic components of ammunition are crucial in establishing the presence of gunshot residue, or GSR, at crime scenes. However, heavy metals like lead aren’t present in new “green” ammunitions that are changing the rules for GSR analysis, according to Tatiana Trejos, associate professor in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Department of Forensic and Investigative Science.