This Week in Forensic Science – ISHI News

Jun 09 2023

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!




Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office & Spokane Police Department Partner with Othram to Identify 1980 John Doe (DNASolves – 6/02/2023)

    • In January 1980, three transient individuals were walking in a railroad tunnel located at 700 E. Trent in Spokane, Washington when they discovered a deceased male curled up with burn marks to his torso and significant head trauma. The man’s death was ruled a homicide due to traumatic injuries and smoke inhalation. The man did not have any identification and confirming his identity proved difficult as no missing person’s report was ever filed for someone fitting his profile.

      It was determined that the unknown male individual was between the ages of 35 and 45; he was 5’6″ tall and weighed 125 pounds. An autopsy was conducted, but no DNA samples were retained, which was not an uncommon practice at the time of the man’s murder. In 1980, technology and forensic testing ability were virtually unrecognizable from the capabilities of today. Spokane Police Department detectives gathered evidence, conducted interviews, and followed up on leads, but the case went cold despite their exhaustive efforts. Fingerprints were also collected, but they failed to produce an identification. The homicide victim was buried as a John Doe in February 1980 in Fairmount Memorial Park. In 2007, details of the case were uploaded to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP457. For more than four decades, his identity has remained a mystery.

      Because no DNA evidence was retained from the victim, his body was exhumed in October 2022 to collect forensic samples for testing at Othram. The forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to provide Spokane Police Department detectives with investigative leads, including potential family members of the unidentified man.

      Using these leads, Spokane Police Department detectives and an investigator from the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office located a potential son of the unknown homicide victim in Missouri. The man’s potential son provided a DNA sample for reference testing. In April of 2023, Othram confirmed the parent/child relationship using KinSNP® familial reference testing, providing an identity of the John Doe as Donald Leroy Pearson.

‘Same Eyes, Same Monster’ | How Genealogy DNA Helped Crack a 38-Year-Old, Unsolved Dallas Cold Case (WFAA – 6/02/2023)

    • Thirty years later, Carrie Krejci still remembers his eyes. “I never knew what he looked like,” Krejci said, “except the color of his eyes.”  In 1985, a man crawled through her apartment door in North Dallas and attacked her.

      Eventually, he left. That’s when Krejci called police and went to a hospital, where medical professionals collected DNA from her. But decades then passed, with Krejci still having no idea who raped her.

      Now, when police get DNA from a crime scene, they run it through CODIS, looking for a match. In 2003, Dallas police finally ran the DNA from Krejci’s rape exam through CODIS.

      The results, however, didn’t match her expectations.

      The system showed whoever raped her had also attacked three other women in Dallas — and two more women in Shreveport. And, years later, when forensic genetic genealogy would eventually come along, they’d find even more.



Idaho State Police Forensic Services Wins Award for Efficiency for Second Time (East Idaho – 6/03/2023)

    • The Idaho State Police Forensic Services (ISPFS) has been awarded the Foresight Maximus Award which is presented by The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD).

      Based on Foresight business metrics, the Foresight Maximus Award recognizes 15 laboratories that operated at 90% or greater peak efficiency during the 2022 operational year. ISPFS is a two-time recipient of the global award.



Persistence of Touch DNA for Analysis (National Institute of Justice – 6/05/2023)

  • In 2018, the Forensic Technology Working Group at NIJ called for “comprehensive, systematic, well controlled studies that provide foundational knowledge and practical data about ‘touch evidence’ persistence in the real world.” That same year, Dr. Meghan Ramsey’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory began quantifying how long touch DNA would persist on certain surfaces under specific conditions. Building on that knowledge, and in collaboration with Dr. Ramsey, scientists at South Dakota State University created predictive models of how DNA degrades on different surfaces under a range of environmental conditions.


Kathleen Folbigg Pardon Shows Need for Dedicated Body to Investigate Wrongful Convictions (Forensic – 6/05/2023)

  • The New South Wales Attorney-General Michael Daley today announced Kathleen Folbigg has been pardoned after having served 20 years for the murder of three of her infant children and the manslaughter of a fourth child. She has already been released, and won’t serve the rest of her 30-year sentence.

    The Folbigg case is a particularly tragic case, but it’s not unprecedented. The criminal justice system carries an inbuilt risk of wrongful conviction. Ad hoc commissions of inquiries like the Folbigg inquiry are inefficient and expensive. The system needs reform.

    The Folbigg case is yet another demonstration that Australia needs a Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – a statutory body working at arm’s length to investigate claims of wrongful conviction.

    A CCRC would have the powers and resources to investigate defendants’ claims to have been wrongfully convicted. Claims found to have substance can be referred back to the court of criminal appeal. Standing CCRCs have proven to bring a cost-effective improvement to the accuracy of criminal justice systems overseas.



Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office & Othram Identify 2015 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 6/05/2023)

    • In September 2018, a man fly fishing on the Spokane River found a small fragment of human skull. At the time, the Medical Examiner could not determine the cause and manner of death. Limited resources at the county, state, and federal level meant that DNA testing was not an option, so the skull fragment was placed in storage to await future analysis.

      In August 2020, another fragment of human skull was found in a different area of the Spokane River. Again, this fragment could not be identified by standard means, and was too small to determine the cause and manner of death. The fragment was also placed in storage to await future analysis. There was no indication initially that the fragments were related, so they were treated as separate cases.

      Information from both cases was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) in June 2022 as UP92361 and UP92359. In August 2022, as part of an ongoing collaboration with Othram, Inc. the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office submitted a portion of the skeletal remains to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the victim and Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the DNA profile in forensic genetic genealogy research to generate investigative leads.

      Othram genealogists worked together with Nicole Hamada, a death investigator with the Medical Examiner’s Office, to find possible relatives. More than 30 first, second, and third cousins were identified. Multiple relatives were interviewed, eventually producing the name of a missing family member: Bret Snow, a homicide victim from 2015 whose body had never been found.



DNA Research is Helping Investigators Track Down Suspects in Cold Cases. But How Does it Work? (Boston Globe – 6/05/2023)

  • The recent arrest of a New Jersey lawyer now charged in connection with a spate of rapes in Charlestown in 2007 and 2008 has highlighted the use of investigative genetic genealogy, a tool police are increasingly employing to solve cold cases.

    Historically, investigators had to rely on a federal DNA database containing profiles of people previously arrested. If a suspect’s DNA profile wasn’t in the system, called CODIS, that person couldn’t be identified.

    But ancestry sites have changed the game.

    Now authorities can submit an assailant’s autosomal DNA profile to two commercial genealogy databases, GEDmatch and FamilyTree DNA, which are used by consumers to trace their ancestry or locate relatives. Customers must consent before their information is shared with law enforcement.


Court Sides with Arkansas Death Row Inmate Over DNA Tests that May Clear Him of 1993 Murder (FOX News – 6/06/2023)

    • A federal appeals court has ruled that death row inmate Stacey Johnson may sue the state of Arkansas in his push to have new DNA tests run to clear him of Carol Heath’s 1993 murder. Johnson posits that DNA evidence may implicate Heath’s boyfriend, Brandon Ramsey, as her actual killer. Johnson has spent a quarter-century on death row.




The Impact of Stress, Trauma, and Burnout on Forensic Scientists (Forensic – 6/07/2023)

    • Forensic scientists are an essential part of the criminal justice system, meticulously examining evidence to aid in investigations and courtroom proceedings. However, the demanding and often distressing nature of their work takes a significant toll on their mental health, a trend that is often underrecognized by the organizations that employ them. Recent research has aimed to shed light on this understudied phenomenon in forensic science, exploring the effects of stress, trauma and burnout.



Professor Guides Hands-On Learning While Solving Cases with Local Police (Forensic – 6/07/2023)

    • When the medical examiner’s office needs help gathering biological information about skeletal remains, they often turn to Fresno State for help.

      Forensic anthropologist Dr. Chelsey Juarez of the Fresno State Forensic Anthropology Laboratory analyzes the remains to estimate things like age, sex, stature, ancestry and to investigate the type and timing of traumatic injuries —whatever the medical examiner needs.

      Her work, with assistance from about six undergraduate students in the lab, helps find resolutions for missing people or those who suffered violent deaths, and it gives closure to families waiting for answers.

      In May, Juarez helped the Kings County Sheriff’s Office estimate the time since death and the ancestry of bones that were found in a bag along a rural road. She also received news from a separate case that a 2020 collaboration with the Madera County Sheriff’s Office resulted in a positive DNA identification and return of remains to a family on May 1.

      This summer, Juarez has another 41 cases, mostly from the Central Valley, to work through.



Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Partners with Othram to Identify Claiborne County John Doe (DNASolves – 6/07/2023)

    • In August 1986, skeletal remains of an unknown individual were discovered by hunters along an isolated abandoned trail in the Caney Valley area of Claiborne County, Tennessee. Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) began working alongside the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the death of the individual. Forensic anthropologists determined that the skeletal remains were those of a white male, likely between the age of 30 and 40. The unknown man had been shot, and his death was ruled a homicide. According to the University of Tennessee Anthropology Department, the unidentified victim had been deceased for six months to a year prior to the discovery of his remains. After exhausting all leads, investigators could not determine the victim’s identity, and he was classified as a John Doe.

      Details of the case were entered into National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) on April 10, 2008 as UP1570. In September 2015, forensic evidence was submitted to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI) where a DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) as well as NamUs. There was no matching DNA profile in either system and the man’s identity remained a mystery.

      In December 2022, as part of TBI’s Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative, TBI agents submitted forensic evidence to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas in hopes of identifying the man. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to provide TBI agents with investigative leads about the possible identity of the man.



Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office & California DOJ Partner with Othram to Identify 1997 Victim of Serial Killer Wayne Adam Ford (DNASolves – 6/07/2023)

    • In October 1997, a duck hunter located a dismembered female torso in the Ryan Slough, just north of Eureka. The remains were recovered, however, attempts to identify the female victim were unsuccessful. In January 1998, additional remains were located and recovered on Clam Beach.

      On November 3, 1998, Wayne Adam Ford arrived at the HCSO’s Main Station in possession of a female body part. He subsequently admitted to murdering several women throughout the North State, including the unidentified female. Investigators interviewed Ford numerous times, obtaining descriptive details of the female. Ford’s encampment was searched as part of the investigation. Investigators located additional remains belonging to the female recovered from the Slough. Attempts to identify the female were made, but ultimately were unsuccessful.

      In June of 2006, Ford was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder in a San Bernardino County court and was sentenced to death.

      Through the years, HCSO investigators never gave up on attempting to identify Ford’s unknown female victim, routinely searching missing persons reports from all of the West Coast to obtain leads. Using DNA, investigators were able to confirm that the remains located on Clam Beach were also that of the unknown female. The DNA was entered into both the California Missing Persons DNA database and the National Unidentified Persons DNA index. The DNA profile was routinely searched against profiles from both missing persons and other human remains in the Combined Index System. No profile matches were ever made. The case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP53661.

      HCSO Sheriff William Honsal created the Cold Case Unit in 2021, assigning two investigators to exclusively review HCSO’s unsolved cases for new leads. In December of 2022, the HCSO and the CA DOJ partnered with Othram Inc, a forensic genealogy lab, to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish the identity of the unknown female, or a close relative. The CA DOJ sent Othram a DNA extract from the unknown man’s remains. Othram scientists used Forensic -Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the victim.

      Utilizing this profile and forensic genealogy, a potential DNA match was developed for a close relative. Investigators contacted the relative, inquiring if they had any missing family members. The relative stated that their family member, Kerry, had been missing since the mid-1990s. HCSO Investigators were able to track down Kerry’s sister who confirmed that Kerry’s last contact with family was in 1997. Kathie provided investigators with a DNA sample which was then compared to the DNA sample from the unknown female’s remains. These DNA profiles were confirmed to be a genealogic match- officially identifying the remains as that of Kerry Ann Cummings, born in 1972.



Identifying the Bones: TBI Announces Inititative to Identify Remains in 10 Cold Cases (WBIR10 – 6/07/2023)

    • The TBI hopes an initiative that takes advantage of genetic science breakthroughs will at last provide answers to some of Tennessee’s longest-running mysteries: the identities of human remains discovered decades ago.


      The state agency’s Unidentified Human Remains Initiative secured $100,000 last year in one-time money from the Legislature. It will be used to cover the costs of specialized forensic genetic genealogy testing, a method that’s proven successful in recent months and years in revealing the names of people once considered unidentifiable.



Custom Manufacturing: Translating Research into Product (Promega Connections – 6/09/2023)

    • Scientists around the world are focusing their energy and resources on translating advances made in clinical research into relevant biotechnology, clinical, and applied products that improve our health and well-being. Once research looks promising, there is substantial pressure to expedite the release of that product or assay in the market.

      For many organizations focused on developing these advanced products, their expertise and core competencies are in developing the assay. Often, they do not have the experience, infrastructure, or quality systems in place to support large-scale production, packaging, or distribution of their newly developed assay in a way that is also in compliance with relevant regulatory requirements. These next steps become a barrier to realizing the value of the research. Working with a custom or contract manufacturing partner can lower this barrier and expedite the time to market.

      Beginning a conversation with a custom manufacturer can feel like you are talking in circles. However, there are a few topics you can focus your attention on to better prepare.