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!





  • The Forensic Services Division of the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff was awarded $376,101 in grant funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) DNA Capacity Enhancement for Backlog Reduction (CEBR) Program.

    The grant will allow for the hiring of a forensic analyst and the purchase of new instrumentation and equipment. This will increase the capacity to process more DNA samples, thereby helping to reduce the number of forensic DNA and DNA database samples awaiting analysis and to prevent a backlog of forensic and database DNA samples, like those collected at crime scenes.


Investigators Using ‘Rapid DNA Testing’ to Identify Victims of Surfside Tragedy (WFLA 8 – 7/02/2021)

  • As the search continues after the condominium collapse in Surfside. Forensic investigators are using rapid DNA testing to identify the victims pulled from the rubble.

    The use of rapid DNA testing is studied at the national forensic science technology center in Largo, which was contacted to potentially help with the tragedy.


Body Found in February Identified through DNA as Missing New Mexico Woman Cecelia Barber Finona Two Years After She Disappeared; Boyfriend Charged with Her Murder (NBC News – 7/04/2021)

  • A body discovered in Nevada earlier this year has been identified as a New Mexico woman missing since 2019 – and her boyfriend is facing murder and kidnapping charges, the Farmington Police Department announced Friday.

    Cecelia Barber Finona, a 59-year-old U.S. Army veteran, was last seen on May 30, 2019.


Thunder Bay Lab Hopes to Help Crack Decades-Old Babes in the Woods Case in B.C. (CBC – 7/06/2021)

  • A university laboratory in Thunder Bay, Ont., has successfully extracted DNA samples from the remains of two unidentified children found in Vancouver, part of ongoing efforts to find answers in the nearly seven-decade-old Babes in the Woods case.

    The investigation has progressed in spurts since 1953, when a gardener working in Stanley Park discovered the remains of two boys, aged seven and eight, underneath a woman’s coat along with the hatchet believed to have been used as the murder weapon.


Scientists May Have Cracked the Mystery of da Vinci’s DNA (LiveScience – 7/06/2021)

  • Leonardo da Vinci — the great Renaissance artist, inventor and anatomist — has 14 living male relatives, a new analysis of his family tree reveals. The new family tree could one day help researchers determine if bones interred in a French chapel belong to the Italian genius.

    Historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato have spent more than a decade tracing the genealogy of the famed “Mona Lisa” painter. Their map stretches across 690 years, 21 generations and five family branches, and will be vital in helping anthropologists sequence the DNA of da Vinci by sequencing the DNA of his descendants, the researchers say.


20 Years Ago, DNA Cleared an Idaho Death Row Inmate of Charges for the First Time (KTVB7 – 7/06/2021)

  • In courtrooms across the country, DNA tests and samples can be used as evidence in order to convict someone. DNA can provide conclusive evidence of someone’s wrongdoing. However, nearly 40 years ago, DNA testing was still in its infancy.


    In March of 1984, Charles Fain was convicted for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old Nampa girl, with DNA from a hair tying him to the crime. He was sentenced to death and he saw on death row for nearly 20 years before that same DNA sample proved Fain was wrongfully convicted.


Accurate, Precise Soil Analysis Methods Could Place Suspects at Crime Scenes (Forensic – 7/07/2021)

  • The use of soil in forensic investigations is increasing in police forces around the world, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Australian Federal Police. In fact, in Australia, successful soil forensic investigations have contributed evidence in cases ranging from attempted murder, cold case murder and sexual assault—and all evidence has been accepted by the nation’s supreme courts.

    In a new study, researchers from the National Centre for Forensic Studies in collaboration with Geoscience Australia and the Australia Federal Police, have taken another step toward developing a method to match soil remnants found on personal items to regional soil samples to either implicate or eliminate a person’s presence at a crime scene.


Minnesota Investigators Hope Genetic Genealogy Can Help ID 3 Babies Found Dead in River (KIRO7 – 7/07/2021)

  • The first unidentified baby pulled from the Mississippi River was a girl, named Jamie by the Minnesota investigators probing her death.

    Four years after Jamie was found in Red Wing, Jamie’s newborn half-brother, whom detectives called Cory, was pulled from the river just a few miles away, on the edge of Lake Pepin. Four years after Cory, there came Abby, an unrelated newborn whose decomposed remains were discovered in a marina slip near Treasure Island Resort and Casino.



Oregon Authorities Using DNA in Effort to ID Young Jane Doe Found Stuffed in Duffel Bag (KIRO7 – 7/07/2021)

  • Oregon authorities have yet to identify the child, whose badly decomposed remains were found Dec. 10 in the woods beyond the rest area in the H.B. Van Duzer Forest State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch along Route 18 in Lincoln, Tillamook, and Polk counties. The girl’s body was estimated to have been there for at least a month.



A Newborn Baby was Discarded in a YMCA Dumpster 13 Years Ago. The Suspected Mom is Now in Custody, Police Say. (The Washington Post – 7/08/2021)

  • Police officers stood near a dumpster roped off by yellow tape in 2007 after employees at a southeast Pennsylvania YMCA discovered a newborn baby’s body in the trash.The body was found inside a canvas bag, wrapped in a towel and plastic. The Lancaster County Coroner’s Office later ruled the baby girl’s death a homicide. She had been born alive, an autopsy found, but later suffocated.

    No one was arrested in connection to the baby’s death for more than 13 years. The placenta and umbilical cord were also in the dumpster. Now Tara Brazzle of Valparaiso, Ind., has been charged with homicide, Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said in a Wednesday news conference. The 44-year-old woman told police last week that she had given birth to the baby in 2007, Adams said.

FBI Approves New DNA Database System to Speed Up Investigations (FOX Business – 7/08/2021)

  • The FBI has approved a new DNA database system that will expedite the process of matching various DNA samples to identities.

    Law enforcement booking stations will use the new Thermo Fisher Scientific database to automatically upload and process DNA samples from qualifying suspects within 90 minutes, according to a press release.

Tree DNA Helps Convict Washington Timber Thief After Fire (ABC News – 7/09/2021)

  • A federal jury has convicted a timber thief who authorities said started a large forest fire in Washington state, a case that prosecutors said marked the first time tree DNA had been introduced in a federal trial.

    The jury deliberated for about seven hours before convicting Justin Andrew Wilke, 39, on Thursday of conspiracy, theft of public property, depredation of public property, and trafficking and attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington said in a news release.

How Burgeoning Genealogical DNA Science is Helping Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Solve Cleveland-Area Rape and Homicide Cases One Thought Unsolvable ( – 7/10/2021)

  • Authorities on Friday arrested what prosecutors in Cuyahoga County hope is the first of dozens of previously unidentified rapists and murderers thanks to an emerging crime-fighting technique where investigators use DNA databases maintained by popular genealogy websites to solve cold cases.

    Cuyahoga County prosecutors teamed up 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.

GBI Crime Lab Recognized for Implementing National Science Standards (Forensic – 7/12/2021)

  • The GBI is proud to announce that the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science has recognized the GBI Crime lab for implementing nationally recognized standards for its forensic laboratory system.  The voluntary implementation of OSAC standards that occurred in 2020 demonstrates the lab’s commitment to serving the citizens of Georgia at a high level.

Forensic Anthropologists Seek Relatives’ DNA to Solve More Than 140 Cold Cases (ABC News – 7/12/2021)

  • The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) is calling for relatives of missing people to donate their saliva in the hope it will help to solve more than 140 baffling cases. The newly launched Familial DNA Sample Collection Pilot Program aims to identify long-term missing people by linking the DNA of family members to unidentified human remains.


DNA Leads to Arrest in ‘Woodline Rapist’ Cold Cases Dating Back Nearly 20 Years (Click Orlando – 7/13/2021)

  • After nearly two decades, authorities have made an arrest in at least two sexual battery cases perpetrated by the “Woodline Rapist” with the help of genetic genealogy, according to a news release.

    Orlando Police Department officials announced the arrest of Dwight Harris, 50, on Tuesday during a joint news conference with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Both agencies have rape charges on Harris dating back to 2002, according to the sheriff’s office.


Bode to Provide DNA Testing to NamUs, Expand Missing Persons Program with Baltimore Police (Forensic – 7/14/2021)

  • Bode Technology and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Forensic Laboratory have developed a program to help family members and investigators identify those who have gone missing. Since initiating the partnership in 2017, Bode and BPD have provided more than 20 putative identifications and entered more than 300 unidentified persons profiles into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Law enforcement agencies, medical examiners and coroners across the country can now work directly with Bode to identify missing persons or unidentified remains. The effort will also be expanding, as Bode has recently been named as a partner to provide forensic DNA testing as part of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) program.


1987 Army Cold Case Solved, Suspect Convicted (Forensic – 7/14/2021)

  • More than three decades after the body of a female Fort Carson Soldier was found, justice has finally been served.

    On June 25, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, jury sentenced Michael Whyte to life in prison without parole for the 1987 murder of 20-year-old Spc. Darlene Krashoc. Solved in 2019, the conviction comes two years after investigators from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command connected Whyte to the murder using DNA evidence.


Study Highlights Need to Replace ‘Ancestry’ in Forensics with Something More Accurate (EurekAlert! – 7/14/2021)

  • A new study finds forensics researchers use terms related to ancestry and race in inconsistent ways, and calls for the discipline to adopt a new approach to better account for both the fluidity of populations and how historical events have shaped our skeletal characteristics.


His Son was Kidnapped as a Toddler 24 Years Ago. DNA Testing Just Found Him. (USA Today – 7/14/2021)

  • Thanks to DNA tracing and a father’s devotion, one man in China was reunited with his son after 24 years. When Guo Gangtang’s son was just 2, he was kidnapped by human traffickers outside of their home in the province of Shandong, China.

    In 1997, when his son was taken, the suspects planned to kidnap and sell the child for money.


Podcasters Ashley Flowers Launches Nonprofit to Fund DNA Testing in Cold Cases (Rolling Stone – 7/15/2021)

  • Despite the availability of new approaches, budget remains a barrier to many police departments and their cold case units taking advantage of the technology. That’s the problem Ashley Flowers, founder of podcasting company Audiochuck, is aiming to solve with the launch of the nonprofit Season of Justice, which funds advanced DNA testing for law enforcement agencies, among other services.