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!




Toronto Police Service Leverages Othram’s Genetic Testing Platform to Identify 2019 John Doe (DNASolves – 7/14/2023)

    • In July 2019, the remains of an unknown man were located in the stairwell of a building located at 901 King Street West in Toronto, Ontario. The man was White and 5’8” to 6’2” tall with short, salt and pepper hair and a few days growth facial hair that was also described as being salt and pepper in color. It was estimated that the man was between the ages of 32 to 52 years at his time of death. The man bore tattoos on both of his arms and upper back that were described as being “distinct and extensive.”

      Throughout the course of the investigation, a composite sketch was created by a Forensic Artist with the Ontario Provincial Police and released to the public in hopes that the man could be identified. Toronto Police Services provided additional information to the public regarding the case including a description of the articles of clothing found on the man’s body in hopes that these would lead to his identification. The man’s identity could not be determined and eventually all leads in the case were exhausted and the case went cold.

      In 2022, Toronto Police Service teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help to identify the man. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile. The profile was delivered to Toronto Police Service investigators, who then used forensic genetic genealogy to identify multiple individuals that may be related to the unknown man. In May 2023, Toronto Police Service investigators contacted a relative of the man who provided the unknown man’s possible name. Using these new investigative leads, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario subsequently confirmed the identity of the unknown man through medical imaging records. Investigators determined that the man’s manner of death was not criminal in nature and no further details regarding the decedent will be released.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Teams with Othram to Identify a 2019 John Doe (DNASolves – 7/17/2023)

    • In March 2019, Cook County 911 received a call about a human body found in a pond on Ed Lindsey Road in Lenox, Georgia. Deputies arrived on the scene and found the partially decomposed body of a white male in the pond. Department of Natural Resources rangers assisted in recovering the body. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy and determined the cause of death was drowning and the manner of death was accidental.

      At the time of discovery, the man was wearing multiple layers of clothing and white tennis shoes with a black trim. One of the outer layers of clothing was a pair of Georgia Tech pajama pants and the man also had on a yellow metal angel pin and a green and tan “Soldier of God” plastic bracelet. There were not enough clues at the scene to identify the man, however.

      DNA and fingerprints were obtained from the remains in an effort to identify the man. Scientists then compared the DNA and fingerprints in the CODIS and AFIS databases but there were no matches to anyone. A GBI forensic artist created a sketch of what the man may have looked like. The sketch provided multiple leads, however the man’s identity remained elusive. The case was also entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP58209.

      In late 2022, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could assist in the identification of the unidentified homicide victim. Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram, a private DNA lab in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram developed a DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. A successful profile was obtained and then Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the profile in genetic genealogy search to identify new investigative leads. These leads were returned to the GBI investigators, who then continued the investigation.

      The follow up investigation, led GBI to a potential relative of the unknown man and additional confirmation DNA testing with the potential relative then confirmed that the unknown man was in fact Jeremiah Garretson, born April 29, 1982.



The Emerging Forensic Initiative to Identify Mexico’s Disappeared (Mexico News Daily – 7/17/2023)

    • In researching how Mexican forensic experts identify the recovered bodies of victims of forced disappearance, UNAM professor Vivette García Deister has encountered some gruesome situations.

      “Most difficult is that many of the international standardized protocols on how to identify [bodies] cannot be applied to the victims received in many places by the forensic services of Mexico, for the reason that what arrives at the morgue is not always a complete body,” she said. “Sometimes you have a femur, a torso, a head.”

      Yet García Deister continues to study the issue, including the increasing trend of using DNA to identify the disappeared. Over the last 10 years, she has examined forensic DNA analysis initiatives by the Mexican government as well as by civilian-led groups, becoming familiar with both the promises and shortcomings of DNA identification.



What We Know About the Gilgo Beach Investigation So Far (Forensic – 7/17/2023)

  • On Friday morning, most people were shocked to learn police had a suspect in custody for at least some of the Gilgo Beach murders committed more than a decade ago. A press conference was held by investigators Friday afternoon and more information filtered out to the public as the weekend progressed.

    Here is a review of some of the most pertinent information, along with the critical steps investigators have taken in recent years to try to bring justice that is long overdue.


St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Teams with Othram to Identify 2019 Baby Doe (DNASolves – 7/18/2023)

  • In July 2019, the remains of an unidentified infant, less than a year old, were discovered inside a residence in the 6000 block of Magnolia Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri. Detectives from St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Child Abuse and Homicide Units responded to the call and found a male infant who had been wrapped in a blanket, placed into a cardboard box, and stored inside of the home’s freezer. A preliminary analysis led investigators to believe that the clothing worn by the deceased infant were made in the mid to late 1960s. The infant had likely spent decades in the freezer before being discovered. Little information was available to investigators to aid in identifying the infant as well as the circumstances surrounding the infant’s death. The infant’s cause of death could not be determined conclusively.

    In March 2023, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department teamed with Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing to help generate new leads that could identify the unknown male infant and his family. Forensic evidence from the infant was submitted to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing®, Othram scientists developed a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown infant.

    During the course of the investigation, a concerned citizen contacted the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department with information about potential relatives of the infant. Investigators worked with the candidate relatives to obtain reference DNA samples that could be used to determine if, in fact, they were related to the unidentified infant. The comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown infant was compared with the DNA profiles of two candidate family members and this testing along with a follow up investigation by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Detectives, confirmed familial relationship between the two candidate family members and the infant. While investigators could not find evidence that the infant was legally named, investigators were able to establish that the infant was a half-brother to both candidate family members.



What is Mitochondrial Analysis, Used on Accused Gilgo Killer’s Pizza? (Patch – 7/18/2023)

  • In elementary school, many of us were taught that mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of the cell. But in forensic science, mitochondria are powerful enough to solve serial murder cases.

    Rex Heuermann, 59, who was charged on Friday with six counts of murder in the deaths of three sex workers, was linked to the women through mitochondrial analysis, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.

    Female hairs were found on the remains of Amber Costello, Melissa Barthelemy, and Megan Waterman, but due to the amount of time their bodies were exposed to the elements, the evidence was degraded, and a typical DNA analysis could not be performed, prosecutors said. The female hairs did not belong to the deceased women.

    At a news conference on Friday, Tierney said it wasn’t until 2022 that forensics could use mitochondrial analysis to identify the DNA.

    Dr. Deborah Silva, professor and director of the Forensic Science Program at Hofstra University, spoke with Patch about mitochondrial analysis and its importance in forensics.



2 Years after Cold Case Arrest, Man Charged with Additional Rapes (Forensic – 7/19/2023)

  • Nearly two years ago, during work to clear the rape kit backlog, Albuquerque investigators and forensic experts used forensic genetic genealogy to link Edward Gilbert Duran to a 1997 rape in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since then, Duran has been charged with five additional sexual assaults committed in the 1990s—with the possibility of more.

    In the latest, Duran was indited on Monday in connection with three assaults, adding to the three he is already being charged with.



Decades-Old New Hampshire Cold Case Murder Solved through Genetic Genealogy, Officials Say (ABC News – 7/20/2023)

  • A four-decade-old murder has been solved with the help of genetic genealogy technology, New Hampshire officials announced Thursday.

    It was early in the morning of Sept. 28, 1981, when the body of then-23-year-old Laura Kempton was discovered in her apartment in Portsmouth. She had entered alone after a night out with a friend.

    The autopsy determined she died of massive trauma to the left side of her head.

    The evidence revealed a male DNA profile, but authorities — despite pursuing hundreds of leads and suspects — were never able to identify the suspected killer. Until now.

    Beginning in 2022, authorities re-analyzed DNA samples from the crime scene using forensic genetic genealogy technology and, on Thursday, publicly identified the suspect as Ronney James Lee. After years of failing to find a DNA match in various databases, in 2021, investigators discussed utilizing forensic genetic genealogy using whole genome sequencing, “which had recently developed as a viable option for suspect identification in cold cases,” the report stated.



Benicia Police Department and FBI Team with Othram to Identify Solano County Jane Doe (DNASolves – 7/20/2023)

  • In April 1983, a portion of a human skull was discovered on a beach south of Ryer Island in Solano County, California several miles from the city of Benicia. It was confirmed that the partial skeletal remains belonged to an adult female. No identifying information for the woman was available and she became known as “Solano County Jane Doe #3-1983.” The woman’s remains were discovered in close proximity of Jane Doe #16 whose torso was discovered by individuals on a sailboat in 1979. The remains of Jane Doe #3-1983 and Jane Doe #16-1979 were interred together in a plot at a cemetery in Benicia. Throughout the course of the investigation, many women were excluded and for over three decades, the identities of both Jane Does were unknown.

    In September 2020, Benicia Police Department detectives investigated a new lead regarding the identity of Jane Doe #16-1979. This led detectives to exhume both the torso and skull for DNA analysis. In October 2020, DNA analysis was performed on the torso belonging to Jane Doe #16-1979, as well as the skull belonging to Jane Doe #3-1983. The identity of Jane Doe #16-1979 was confirmed as Dolores Wulff who was murdered in Woodland, California, but interestingly, the skull was not a genetic match to the remains for Jane Doe #16-1979. Therefore, Jane Doe #3-1983 (the skull) remained unidentified. A DNA profile for the skull was developed and searched in CODIS but no matches were found. The case was also entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP15590. With all leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.

    In 2022, Benicia Police Department, in collaboration with the FBI, teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help identify Jane Doe #3-1983. Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing®, a comprehensive DNA profile was developed for the unknown woman. The DNA profile was returned to law enforcement and the FBI assisted in generating new investigative leads using forensic genetic genealogy. A follow-up investigation led by the Benicia Police Department revealed a potential family member, who assisted in the identifying the unknown woman. Jane Doe #3-1983 was finally identitifed and she is now known to be Tomye Ross Smith. Smith was born February 10, 1927. It is likely that she was estranged from her family, but it is believed that she lived in the Contra Costa County area when she went missing in 1980.