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!
Thousands of Ukraine’s war dead are unidentified. Police, soldiers, investigators, morticians and forensic experts — desperate to return remains to loved ones — are working tirelessly to find out who they are, so their bodies can be laid properly to rest. In most cases, only DNA analysis can provide the answers needed.
The capture of the Golden State Killer put this technique, called genetic genealogy, in the headlines. Police now regularly use it to catch cold case killers, and to identify the remains of murder and accident victims from decades ago.
It also raised a question for historians and forensic anthropologists at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which has labs at Offutt Air Force Base and in Hawaii: Could they use the same method to identify the war dead from World War II, Korea and Vietnam?
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) is announcing the arrest of Meaonia Michelle Allen in connection with the death of Baby Doe in 1993. Allen, 53, turned herself in to an OSBI Special Agent in Hugo, Oklahoma for an outstanding warrant for one count of Murder in the First Degree – Deliberate Intent. Bond was denied.In October 2020, the OSBI Special Agent currently assigned the Baby Doe case worked with the Cold Case Unit, including criminalists in the Biology Unit at the OSBI Forensic Science Center, to submit Baby Doe’s DNA to Parabon Nanolabs. In April 2021, the result from Parabon were reviewed by the OSBI team and investigative leads as a result of the test results were pursued.
Earlier this month, additional DNA testing resulted in Allen being identified as the baby boy’s mother. During her subsequent interview, Allen admitted to being the baby’s biological mother.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced his lawfully owed DNA project identified 387 sex, kidnapping and homicide offenders still living in Washington who illegally failed to provide DNA samples after their criminal conviction. Of these 387 individuals, the Attorney General’s Office already collected 102 new DNA profiles, including:
5 new DNA profiles from individuals convicted of homicide;
10 new DNA profiles from individuals convicted of kidnapping; and
88 new DNA profiles from convicted sex offenders. (The previous phase of this project collected DNA profiles from registered sex offenders. This phase focused on sex offenders who are not required to register.)
All 102 new profiles were added to CODIS, the national DNA database.
This is the second phase of Ferguson’s lawfully owed DNA project. In May, Ferguson announced that his office completed the collection of lawfully owed DNA from currently registered sex offenders across the state, resulting in 372 new profiles in CODIS.
Human remains found in Midland County in 2013 have now been positively identified as Sylvia Nicole Smith following an extensive investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). A homicide investigation is now underway.
On Aug. 1, 2013, Smith’s then-unidentified remains were found near South County Road 1160 and FM 1213, south of Midland. Workers surveying near an oilfield wellsite discovered her partial remains. The Texas Rangers, DPS Aircraft and the Midland County Sheriff’s Office conducted an extensive search of the area to ensure all evidence was gathered. The remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where an anthropology report was completed, and DNA was extracted. The results revealed the victim was a female between the ages of 14-21 who was likely the victim of a homicide.
The DNA results were put into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). No results came back over the next several years, and in 2020, working with the Midland County District Attorney’s Office, the Rangers looked for additional means to identify the remains. They were sent to DNA Labs International and, ultimately, to Parabon Nanolabs for advanced DNA analysis to determine what the victim looked like.
DNA evidence helped convict a Ventura County man of a string of sexual assaults spanning a nearly two decade long period.
Prosecutors say Rodolfo Fernandez Franco committed the first two crimes in February of 2003, in Oxnard and Ventura. They say the third attack happened in December of 2020.
Investigator say after the third attack, the 41-year-old Oxnard man left a mask behind at the scene of the crime. Oxnard Police detectives used DNA evidence from the mask to link Franco to the 2020 attack, as well as one of the 2003 assaults. They say further investigation tied him to the third crime.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has developed and released its Forensic Science Strategic Research Plan for 2022 through 2026, which details priorities and objectives intended to address opportunities and challenges faced by the forensic science community.
The report includes five overall research priorities, with objectives/actions for each goal.
“Only through research can we continue to develop accurate, reliable, cost-effective, and rapid methods for the identification, analysis, and interpretation of physical evidence and strengthen the scientific foundations of forensic practice,” the report reads. “Applied research and development…may not always provide immediate solutions but can move the state of the art forward and optimize the implementation of available technologies.”
The five strategic priorities are: 1) advance applied R&D in forensic science; 2) support foundational research; 3) maximize the impact of forensic science R&D; 4) cultivate a diverse, highly skilled forensic science workforce; 5) coordinate across the community of practice.
British mathematician Alan Turing was born in June 1912. Esteemed as the father of computer science, his Turing Machine revealed the full power of modern computation, while his Turing Proof showed its limits.
At Cambridge University, Turing invented the concepts underlying modern computer software and hardware. In 1939, he joined the Bletchley Park code-breaking unit. Once there, he designed and built the automated computing machinery and algorithms needed to crack Enigma—the Nazi’s coding device for sending secret wartime messages.
This innovative automated decryption helped the Allies win World War II. Intercepting coded German troop, navy and air force instructions, the Bletchley unit decoded them in time to foil enemy attacks. But the top-secret code-breaking work would remain classified for decades after the war, and Turing died before he could receive a war hero’s honor and recognition.
While pioneering computer science, Turing also laid the foundation for modern forensic science. In cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code, he introduced the likelihood ratio (LR) to measure digital information. The LR shows how much the support for a hypothesis is changed by an experiment. The LR is routinely used to measure identification information in DNA and other forensic evidence.
Advanced computer systems, like Cybergenetics’ TrueAllele technology, accurately assess the impact of new evidence. Examining data, the computer measures the change in the chance that someone left their DNA. The reported LR number—Turing’s Statistic—can help find, convict, acquit or exonerate suspects.
The Orange County (California) District Attorney’s Office has successfully cleared a 30-year countywide backlog of untested sexual assault kits, resulting in hundreds of new DNA profiles being uploaded to law enforcement databases and criminal charges being filed in six cold cases, including providing justice for a couple kidnapped at gunpoint 28 years ago by a man claiming to be a police officer.
“Every one of these untested sexual assault kits represents a victim who deserves justice,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “I have made testing every single kit that could be tested a priority since I was a member of the Board of Supervisors. I want to thank Supervisor Don Wagner and the entire Board of Supervisors for their continued support in making this project a reality. By clearing the backlog, we fulfilled a promise to every victim of sexual assault that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office will never stop fighting for victims and we will never stop fighting for justice.”
In recent years, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has been working to address the issues of unsubmitted sexual assault kits from various law enforcement agencies throughout Orange County. Using a $1.86 million grant from the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (“SAKI”), the District Attorney’s Office created Orange County Sexual Assault Forensic Endeavor “OC SAFE” to inventory thousands of sexual assault kits to identify which kits have yet to be tested.
Out of the 6,480 Orange County sexual assault kits inventoried through the OC SAFE program, 3,791 sexual assault kits were identified as being previously untested. Each of those cases were subsequently reviewed and a total of 1,705 were determined to be eligible to be tested by the Orange County Crime Lab.
A new study in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, however, reveals new approaches for getting and maximizing usable DNA from decades-old pickled specimens, and uses these techniques to solve a long-standing mystery about a small snake from the island of Borneo.
Florida International University (FIU) has launched a first-of-its-kind resource for forensic science practitioners, students, researchers, and the general public. The Research Forensic Library provides access to thousands of articles and reports in the scientific literature, a critical step in the forward momentum required of forensic science and its varied applications.
From daily digest emails to curated search results, the Research Forensic Library provides easy, online accessibility to material covering all disciplines of the forensic sciences. The library is part of Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC), an FIU program with a focus on innovation from the crime scene to the courtroom.
On the last day of his 45-year career in law enforcement, Detective Jim Scharf of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office closed yet another of the tough cases assigned to his cold case unit — the 1990 murder of 17-year-old Michelle Koski. Scharf had five unsolved murders he hoped to solve “before retirement” when he first contacted Parabon NanoLabs in 2018 and, with the company’s help, he has closed all five.
The crime scene sample in the Koski case was particularly challenging. It contained DNA from both the perpetrator and the victim. Dr. Janet Cady, Senior Bioinformatics Scientist at Parabon who performed the analysis said, “Without mixture deconvolution, the genetic genealogy matches would have included relatives of the victim and led investigators down the wrong path.”
Det. Scharf underscored the importance of strong bioinformatics for advancing cases. “I’m sure there are hundreds of DNA cases out there going nowhere — where genotyping has already been performed — that could be solved if state-of-the-art bioinformatics methods were applied.” He continued, “For our Investigative Genetic Genealogy work, Parabon’s ability to deconvolute the mixture ensured that the matches we got would lead to the perpetrator, which they did.” He thanked the Parabon team for their contributions to several of his investigations. “Together, we got them all solved!”
Meet the Trans Doe Task Force, the transgender-led nonprofit organization on a mission to identify missing transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals using the latest scientific advancements.
Founded by Anthony Redgrave and Lee Bingham Redgrave, the Trans Doe Task Force has worked side-by-side with various agencies across the country researching the unidentified bodies and missing persons that don’t necessarily fit the traditional “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” placeholders.
“We founded the Trans Doe Task Force while we were volunteering with the DNA Doe project as some of their earliest forensic genetic genealogists,” Anthony Redgrave told Oxygen.com. “As we aided in the resolution of the first few forensic genetic genealogy cases, we found ourselves wondering if there were any Doe cases that were possibly transgender.”
Because he is intersex, he said, he wondered how a forensic anthropologist might estimate his sex should he become a Trans Doe.
“We started researching and looking for cold cases that might have been transgender, and we found dozens — and eventually hundreds,” he explained. “The contextual clues were there, but oftentimes were misrepresented by the person writing the report, or completely overlooked.”
For 28 years, Tulare County sheriff’s detectives have worked tirelessly to find Angelica’s killer.
In February, detectives had a breakthrough when the FBI Forensic Genealogy Unit agreed to assist the Sheriff’s Office with a different approach.
Instead of relying on a hit from the CODIS database, which had proven unsuccessful in the past, detectives, instead, decided to try their luck with GEDMatch, an online genetic genealogy database where anyone can submit their DNA File and compare it with other DNA Files submitted.
The suspect’s DNA sample was submitted into GEDMatch, and just a month later, in March, detectives received a match for a man living in the LA area. That’s when Detectives started an investigation into the individual’s family.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) Vinai Kumar Saxena on Thursday visited the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Rohini to take stock of the situation on the ground. He was accompanied by the Chief Secretary and other senior officers of the stakeholder departments. Saxena said all 15 police districts will soon have Mobile Forensic Labs.
It took 20 years to identify Lina Reyes Geddes. It took another four to identify a suspect in her murder.
At a joint Zoom press conference on Wednesday with police in Youngstown, Ohio, representatives with the Utah Department of Public Safety said they believe the husband of the missing Ohio woman who was found shot to death in 1998 was her killer.
Edward Geddes, who owned a business in Youngstown, died by suicide in 2001 in Nevada. Investigators said they were able to match DNA from Edward Geddes, Lina’s husband, on the rope that was used to bind her.
The Office of the City Medical Examiner is in the process of hiring two dozen forensic scientists to staff its new DNA Gun Crimes Unit, Adams and the city’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Jason Graham, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The “state of the art” crime lab’s goal will be to cut the time it takes to test evidence in gun crime cases from 60 days to 30 days, Adams said.
While the medical examiner’s office already has a forensic biology lab focused on testing criminal evidence, its scientists work on a “variety of types of cases,” Graham said, including sexual assaults, homicides and robberies.
The new unit, set to be the “first of its kind in the country,” will focus “exclusively” on gun crimes, allowing for faster turnaround times, he explained.
In August 2019, employees of McKnight Tire in Columbia, Missouri found a small backpack hidden inside of a tire and made a gruesome discovery. In the backpack was the decomposing remains of a full-term female infant. Due to the state of decomposition, the initial autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death or how long the child may have been at the location.
The Columbia Police Department investigated many leads over the past years but we unable to determine what happened to the infant and who her parents are. “Our investigation will be the voice of this baby,” said Assistant Chief Jeremiah Hunter. “And we need your help, we need the community’s help, and everyone in Columbia’s help.” As part of the ongoing investigation, the infant’s case was logged into NamUs as #UP59447.
In Fall 2020, Columbia Police Department partnered with Othram to use advanced DNA testing to develop new investigative leads that might help identify the infant. A DNASolves crowdfund was established to cover the costs of testing for this case. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a comprehensive genealogical profile for the infant. In the course of genealogical research, Columbia Police Department received a tip that led to the identification of the female infant and her parents. On June 28, 2022, the Columbia PD investigators announced, via live press conference, the successful resolution of the case.
With the help of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the East Haven Police Department Investigative Services Division was able to exhume and inspect Jane Doe’s body before collecting viable DNA from several DNA-rich areas.
This new development will allow the team to extract, sequence and apply DNA results to genealogy databases across the globe in hopes of identifying Jane Doe.
In August 1975, she was found by a trucker wrapped in a painter’s tarp, bound, gagged and floating in a drainage ditch. She was believed to be white or Latina, somewhere between 18 and 28 years old and with a slight build. An autopsy confirmed her cause of death was asphyxiation—likely strangled to death.
Since she was never identified, Hamden paid the East Haven Memorial Funeral Home $600 to handle her burial. With nowhere to bury her, the State Street Cemetery was chosen as it was home to a number of indigent burials.
Forensic staff will now test the pubic bone and use DNA to try to genealogically identify Jane Doe.
Though Morgan Korzik never knew his great grandfather who served as a police officer in Chicago in the 1920s, Korzik was fascinated and inspired to learn about his career and dedication to service. While reading newspaper articles about his work as part of a school project, Korzik was amazed by how far his great grandfather would go to help others—including intervening in a bank robbery while off duty—an act of bravery that left him partially blind. Korzik says it was his great grandfather who inspired him to pursue a career in forensic science, a field that he, too, loves because it enables him to help others.
As a child, Korzik was also interested in drawing and painting, dreaming of becoming an artist before he discovered his passion for forensic science. He recently found a way to combine both interests—as well as his passion for education—while writing and illustrating his very first children’s book.
“Scene to Scientist” is an introduction to forensic science for kids of all ages—in particular, older elementary school kids to those early in their high school careers.
Detectives from Fairfax County Police Department Cold Case Squad spent years tracking down clues about the woman known only as “Christmas Tree Lady”. They compared her physical description to numerous missing persons cases in the National Capital Region but were unable to find a match. In 2000, a colorized sketch of the woman was produced in hopes that it might be recognized by friends or family but the sketch did not produce leads to her identity. With all leads exhausted, Fairfax County Police Department engaged Othram with the goal of using advanced DNA testing to identify this woman or a close relative.
In January 2022, Fairfax Police Department detectives sent physical evidence to Othram and Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive genealogical profile for the unknown woman. Othram worked with forensic genetic genealogist, Carla Davis, to execute the genealogical search and perform the research necessary to produce investigative leads. The costs associated with this casework were funded by a DNASolves crowdfund and a substantial contribute from an anonymous donor.
In May 2022, investigative leads were returned to the detectives and this led to a connection with one suspected family member of the unknown woman. From there, the investigation led to additional family connections across the country. A DNA sample from a close relative confirmed a match and this confirmation was further corroborated by conversations with long-lost siblings. The woman known for a quarter century as “Christmas Tree Lady” was determined to be Joyce Marilyn Meyer Sommers, originally from Davenport, Iowa. She was the oldest of 5 siblings.
Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni announced today that Robert John Lanoue, age 70 of Reno, Nevada, has been charged with the January 1982 murder of five-year-old Anne Pham of Seaside. Pham disappeared while walking to her kindergarten class at Highland Elementary School on January 21, 1982. She was never seen alive again. On January 23, 1982, her remains were discovered on the former Fort Ord.
The initial investigation did not result in any arrests, and Pham’s murder went unsolved for more than 40 years. In 2020, investigators with the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Task Force worked collaboratively with Seaside Police Department to reopen Pham’s case and submit items of evidence from the case for DNA testing. A new type of DNA testing not previously available to earlier investigators identified Lanoue as the suspect in Pham’s murder. Lanoue was 29 years old at the time of the homicide and lived in Seaside.
On July 6, 2022, investigators obtained a warrant for Lanoue’s arrest. Lanoue is currently being held in custody in the state of Nevada pending his extradition to California. Astrea Forensics, Dr. Ed Green of UC Santa Cruz, Parabon NanoLabs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Nevada State Police Division of Parole and Probation and the Regional Sex Offender Notification Unit provided valuable assistance to the Cold Case Task Force during the investigation.
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