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!




Four Decades Later, a Victim of the Highway Killer is Finally Identified (The New York Times – 7/27/2023)

    • Four bodies were found on an Indiana farm in 1983. The remains of Keith Lavell Bibbs, 16, of Chicago, were the last to be identified. All were victims of the serial killer Larry Eyler.

Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office and Othram Partner to Identify 1979 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 7/27/2023)

    • In June 1979, the remains of an unidentified woman were discovered alongside U.S. Highway 290 east of Elgin, Texas. The discovery was made by law enforcement officers passing by. Investigators determined that the unknown woman was Caucasian and between the ages of 16 and 40 years old. She was estimated to be between 5’ and 5’ 2” tall and to have weighed between 90 and 130 pounds. Her hair was likely brown but investigators were not able to determine eye color. When she was discovered, the woman was wearing a white pullover shirt with red trim around the neck, and dark colored blue jeans with no label. The shirt bore a label of the “Evian JRS” brand. The blue jeans had a tag that read “styled in California, size 13-14.”

      During the course of the investigation no leads were uncovered leading to the female being identified. In 1984, Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing the Jane Doe.

      In May of 2019 the case was reopened/taken from the cold case wall. Research was conducted in regards to the investigation that the Texas Rangers had completed. The burial location was identified in the Elgin Cemetery. Also in 2019, Investigators from the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office worked to exhume the woman’s remains in hopes that newer DNA technology could be used to generate investigative leads that might point to her identity or the identity of a close relative. Prior to the exhumation, Investigators entered the case into the NamUs database as UP57657. The exhumed remains were transported to the University of North Texas (UNT) for DNA analysis. Upon the completion of the extraction of DNA from the remains, the UNT laboratory used the sample to compare against missing person files in NamUs. In September 2019, Investigators received notification from UNT that the DNA comparisons had been completed on the case and that currently, there was no match with any profiles in the CODIS database. The case once again went cold. In September 2022 a second exhumation was done with the Texas State Anthropology Unit.

      In September 2022, the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help establish an identity for the woman. Law enforcement officials also want to rule out the possibility that her death was linked to serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who had previously confessed to the woman’s murder. Skeletal remains from the second exhumation were sent to Othram and Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the remains. Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® was used to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown woman.

      In January 2023, Othram’s in-house genetic genealogy team used the DNA profile in a forensic genetic genealogy search. In April 2023, the team produced investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement. The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office continued the investigation and completed a family tree and was able to confirm the identity of the unknown woman. The woman is now known to be Kathy Ann Smith, born July 19, 1956. Kathy was born with a different name and adopted young in life. The family of Kathy Smith has been notified of the location of her remains.



Are You the Missing Link? Missing Persons Week 2023 Shines a Light on the Importance of Voluntary DNA (The National Tribune – 7/31/2023)

    • Missing Persons Week 2023 has officially launched with the goal to shine a light on the investigative processes involved in dealing with unidentified bodies and human remains.

      This year, State Crime Command’s Missing Persons Registry has received 42 reports, and 20 confirmed reports, of unidentified bodies and human remains found in NSW.

      Of those 20 confirmed reports, the Missing Persons Registry has successfully identified nine of those people through varying investigative techniques, including advancements in the science of DNA.



DNA from Steering Wheel Links School Bus Driver to Decades-Old Rapes, NM Officials Say (Sacramento Bee – 7/31/2023)

  • A school bus driver has been arrested after DNA helped officials identify him as a suspect in four cold case rapes, New Mexico prosecutors said. Ralph Anthony Martinez, 61, who works as a bus driver for Albuquerque Public Schools, has been identified as a suspect in four cold case sexual assaults from 1988, 1989 and 1991, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office said in a July 27 news release.


Degrees and Careers in Forensic Science: Everything You Should Know (Forbes – 7/31/2023)

  • In movies and television shows, forensic scientists are often portrayed as experts who use specialized equipment to examine medical samples and help identify crime victims or perpetrators. However, these depictions oversimplify the complexity of a career in forensic science. This field demands advanced expertise and precision.

    Forensic science professionals spend numerous hours studying, working in laboratories and examining evidence to refine their skills and expand their knowledge. While some people may find the idea of investigating crime scenes and examining human remains emotionally challenging, others may find this career path rewarding.

    If you desire a career that allows you to use science to solve cases and bring criminals to justice, read on to learn about careers in forensic science, including education requirements and professional certifications.


Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2008 Doe (DNASolves – 7/31/2023)

  • In August 2008, an individual walking along the beach near the old Silver King Resort west of Port Angeles, Washington discovered a shoe containing a sock and what appeared to be human skeletal remains. Detectives with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene and collected the items. Investigators with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the remains found inside of the shoe were part of a human foot.

    The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office published a news release on August 5, 2008 that included details of the discovery along with photographs of the shoe and the tube sock. Investigators confirmed that the shoe was a size 11 Everest brand made for the right foot. Additionally, a Levi’s brand tube suck was also recovered. No other identifying information was discovered and despite investigators’ efforts, the identity of the individual remains unknown.

    In 2023, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing can help to determine the identity of the person to whom the recovered foot belongs. Othram scientists will work to develop a suitable DNA extract that can be used with Forensic Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile to be used in records research and forensic genetic genealogy.



DNA Retesting Leads to Suspect Already Serving Life for Nearly Identical Case (Forensic – 7/31/2023)

  • A man already serving two life sentences for sexual battery and attempted murder of a young teen in 1992 has been indicted by a Florida grand jury on similar charges and then some for the murder of a 12-year-old girl just 13 months after that January 1992 crime.

    Jeffrey Norman Crum, 61, has now been indicted on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in the February 1993 death of Jennifer Odom. Fittingly, the big break in Odom’s cold case came from biological evidence collected from the 1992 crime.

    “Dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds, of items were tested and retested everything a new technology came out, thinking there was a glimmer of hope we’d be able to get the smoking gun based on that particular test,” said Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis during a press conference announcing the new charges.



Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Australian Federal Police, and NSW Police Team with Othram to Identify Sandy Point John Doe (DNASolves – 7/31/2023)

  • On Christmas Day in 2017, a snorkeler’s chance discovery at Shallow Inlet, Sandy Point, Victoria, would set into motion an investigation that would unravel a 95-year-old mystery. Skeletal remains were found on the ocean floor, devoid of tissue, clothing, or personal effects. With no context or clues to the man’s identity, Victoria Police reported the death to the coroner and transferred the remains to the Victorian Institute for Forensic Medicine (VIFM).

    As the VIFM’s team of experts began their scientific tests, they were able to infer some characteristics of the unknown person. The forensic anthropologist determined that the remains belonged to a Caucasian male, aged between 21 and 37 years, and stood at approximately 170 centimeters tall. The forensic odontologist, delving into the dental restorations, hinted at the intriguing possibility of an overseas origin or a dental work style that harked back to antiquity.

    Radiocarbon testing further illuminated the timeline, indicating a 95% probability that the individual lived between 1666 and 1942. A nuclear DNA profile and a mitochondrial DNA profile were obtained from the remains. The DNA profile information was compared to the Victorian Missing Persons DNA Database and no match was found. The DNA profile was also uploaded to the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database – Integrated Forensic Analysis (NCIDD-IFA) for identification purposes, with no match.

    At one point, there was speculation that the skeletal remains could have been those of Martin Wiberg, who stole 5,000 gold sovereigns in 1877. Wiberg had escaped police custody several times and it was presumed that he drowned in 1883 in a boat off Wilsons Promontory.

    Determined to bring identity to the unknown man, the VIFM embarked on a pilot program to explore the use of forensic genetic genealogy to solve several Australian cold cases, including this case. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas and Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile. Once Othram developed the DNA profile, it was returned to investigators, who then uploaded the profile to genealogical databases.

    The team of investigators and researchers that performed the forensic genetic genealogy included Dr. Dadna Hartman, Fiona Leahy, and April Stock from VIFM, Dr. Jennifer Raymond and Alison Sears from the New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF), Dr. Nathan Scudder from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and Dr. Runa Daniel from the University of New Haven. The team received mentorship from Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick.

    This investigative research resulted in a compelling lead that Sandy Point John Doe was Mr Christopher Luke Moore, a Gippsland farmer and WW1 veteran who drowned in Waratah Bay in 1928. Unearthed historical records unveiled an interesting twist—mere weeks after Christopher’s drowning, a local Sandy Point farmer discovered a mandible at Shallow Inlet. Christopher’s father, recognizing the distinct dental work, confirmed the mandible as his son’s. The coronial inquest held on 24 January 1929 officially validated this identification.

    The VIFM’s findings were shared with the State Coroner, prompting the reopening of the case and its inclusion in the State Coroner’s pilot program. Following the State Coroner’s direction, the dedicated team at VIFM delved deeper, seeking a living connection to the past.

    A possible grandniece of Christopher Luke Moore was identified, residing in Gippsland. Police contacted this vital link to history, and she graciously cooperated, confirming the family’s account of Christopher’s drowning and the subsequent recovery and burial of his mandible. To establish an irrefutable familial connection, the grandniece provided a DNA sample. Through confirmatory DNA analysis, the truth was confirmed—Sandy Point John Doe was indeed Christopher Luke Moore.



Suspect Arrested After 2003 Rape, Attempted Murder Case is Reopened (Forensic – 7/31/2023)

  • David Hollowell of Clark County, Indiana, was taken into custody July 20 by investigators of the Charlestown Police Department after the issuance of an arrest warrant. Hollowell is facing Attempted Murder, Rape, Child Molesting and Burglary related charges, and is currently being held on a $250,000 cash bond in the Clark County Jail.

    In September 2020, Charlestown Police Department Detective Jason Broady re-opened an investigation that began on April 14, 2003 in the 200 block of Highland Drive in Charlestown, Indiana. The case involved the rape and child molestation of a then 13 year old female as well as the attempted murder of her 50 year old step-father. The case went cold in 2005 after 2 years of investigation. Broady re-opened the case after speaking with an involved family member.

    Broady met with victims and family members to obtain information about the case in hopes of generating new leads to follow up on.

    In addition, significant advancements in forensic DNA technology, including genetic DNA analysis and research have arisen and were utilized during the investigation. Through the investigation, Hollowell was identified as a suspect and was ultimately charged by the State of Indiana in connection with the offenses.



Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff-Coroner’s Office Team with Othram to Identify a 2014 Daughter and Mother (DNASolves – 7/31/2023)

  • In February 2014, the Monterey Police Department (MPD) responded to the death of a woman in the 1100 block of Fourth Street in Monterey, California. The woman, identified by her California Driver’s license as Francesca Linda Jacobs with a birth date in 1955, had died from starvation. No foul play was suspected. As part of the investigation, MPD officers and the Monterey County Sheriff-Coroner located the decomposed remains of another person inside a box under the kitchen table, indicated to be the woman’s mother. The remains were transported for an autopsy, where the body of a fully clothed woman was found inside of the box. Due to the condition of the remains in the box, which appeared to have been in that state for many years, no cause of death could be determined. Foul play could not be ruled out.

    At the time of her death, the woman identified initially as Francesca Jacobs appeared much older than the indicated age of 58 years and her driver’s license photo suggested similiarly that the woman was older. The records for Francesca Jacobs were only related to her time living on the Monterey Peninsula, starting in the 1990s. Almost no records could be found for Jacobs’ mother. In late 2022, with the election of Monterey County Sheriff-Coroner Tina Nieto, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Task Force began working directly with the Monterey County Sheriff-Coroner’s office in an to attempt to identify all unknown human remains cases in Monterey County. This included the Monterey case that was referred to as the “Mom-In-The-Box” case and Francesca Jacobs, whose true identities could not be established.

    In 2022, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the Monterey County Sherriff-Coroner’s Office and the California DOJ, submitted forensic evidence to Othram in hopes that advanced DNA testing could help identify both women. Othram scientists developed DNA extracts from the forensic evidence and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop comprehensive DNA profiles for the unknown women. Funding for Othram’s DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy research in this case was provided through the Roads to Justice (RTJ) funding program.

    Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the profiles in a forensic genetic genealogy search and returned investigative leads to law enforcement for a follow-up investigation. The follow-up investigation led investigators to family members of the decedents including a former husband of the woman who claimed to be Francesca Jacobs.

    Investigators were able to determine that the woman who had portrayed herself as Francesca Jacobs, who was born in 1955, was actually Linda Rae Jacobs, who was born in 1942. The California DOJ was able to confirm through confirmation DNA testing that Linda Rae Jacobs and Ida Florence Jacobs were indeed daughter and mother. As part of their investigation, detectives learned that Linda Rae (daughter) and Ida (mother) shared an unusually strong lifelong bond. The reasons Linda Rae Jacobs assumed a new name or why she kept keep her mother’s remains in a box under the kitchen table are unknown and may never be known.



Investigative Genetic Genealogy Could Help Address Cold Case ‘Backlog’ in Wyoming, Legislative Committee Hears (County 10 – 7/31/2023)


California Woman’s 1991 Killer Identified after DNA Left Under Victim’s Fingernails (CBS News – 8/1/2023)

  • Police in Northern California have solved a gruesome cold case murder more than three decades after it happened.

    Vicki Johnson was killed on Jan. 3, 1991 in Seaside, a city previously known as East Monterey. Johnson’s body was found near a playground in the city’s Sabado Park neighborhood after she was strangled, suffocated and set on fire, Seaside Fire and Police wrote in a Facebook post shared on Monday.

    “Ms. Johnsons’ death shocked the Seaside community due to the details of the brutality,” authorities said. “For decades, the case remained cold and left Seaside with a reputation of a violent and unsafe community.”

    Johnson’s case was “one of many” reopened by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office when it launched its cold case task force, Seaside Fire and Police said. Authorities were then able to identify a suspect in connection with the murder, after submitting additional evidence to the California Department of Justice for DNA testing.



Duct Tape Evidence Holds Up in Court Using Innovative Method from WVU Forensic Scientists (WVU Today – 8/2/2023)

  • Duct tape found at crime scenes can provide forensic scientists with important information, but no standardized protocol for analyzing it has ever existed.

    Now, Tatiana Trejos, assistant professor in the West Virginia University Department of Forensic and Investigative Science, and graduate student Meghan Prusinowski have developed a one-of-a-kind method that can help piece together a crime scene by literally piecing the evidence together. Or not.

    The method provides a systematic approach for comparing pieces of trace evidence that appear to be from the same source. Prusinowski, a graduate research assistant, recently published the findings in Forensic ChemistryAldo Romero, Eberly Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and statistician Cedric Neuman, Battelle Memorial Institute, contributed to the project.

    Trace evidence is usually invisible to the naked eye but is likely to be transferred at a crime scene. This may come from contact between individuals or objects and may include things like fibers, glass or paint polymers.

    “Duct tapes, in particular, are used very often to gag victims,” Trejos said. “So, when we have traces that are left, they can tell us about who was there, who tore it apart and so forth.

    “In doing that, they need to separate the tape, and when they do that, they can leave fingerprints. They can leave DNA from the suspect, from the victim. But sometimes they are smart enough that they use gloves, so there are no fingerprints and there is no DNA.”

    However, when a material like duct tape is separated into pieces, it leaves what forensic scientists call “fracture edges,” which can be evaluated and examined to see if there is a physical fit.



Remains Found in Arizona Desert Identified Through Genetic Investigation (KTAR News – 8/3/2023)

  • Human remains found in the desert in northwestern Arizona two years ago have been identified through a genetic genealogy investigation, authorities said Thursday.

    The remains belong to Christopher Canning, 60, of Golden Valley, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office announced.

    An official cause of death could not be determined because of the state of the remains, but foul play isn’t suspected, the sheriff’s office said.