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!





Arrest Made in 1972 Killing of 15-Year-Old Illinois Girl Thanks to Genetic Genealogy (ABC News- 6/4/2021)

  • Nearly 50 years after a 15-year-old girl was stabbed to death in suburban Chicago, genetic genealogy has led to an arrest in the case.

    Barry Lee Whelpley, 76, was arrested on Wednesday for the July 1972 murder of 15-year-old Julie Ann Hanson in Naperville, Illinois, the Naperville Police Department said.



Arizona Department of Public Safety Begins Using STRmix™ ( – 6/4/2021)

  • The Arizona Department of Public Safety Scientific Analysis Bureau will begin using STRmix™, sophisticated forensic software capable of resolving mixed DNA profiles previously thought to be too complex to interpret.


‘Tip of the Iceberg’: The Aspect of DNA Analysis that Isn’t Often Talked About (Oxygen – 6/4/2021)

  • Despite the advances in DNA analysis, some hurdles remain, like a preponderance of low-quality samples. David Mittelman, CEO of DNA lab Othram, says he’s up for the challenge, though.


A Complete Human Genome Sequence is Close: How Scientists Filled in the Gaps (Nature – 6/4/2021)

  • Researchers added 200 million DNA base pairs and 115 protein-coding genes — but they’ve yet to entirely sequence the Y chromosome.


Argentina is Seeking DNA Samples to Identify Those “Disappeared” (AXIOS – 6/5/2021)

  • An extensive international campaign is underway through Argentine embassies and consulates to obtain genetic samples that could link families to people who were “disappeared” during the country’s last dictatorship.



67,000 DNA Samples Added to Anti-Crime Database (Independent – 6/6/2021)

  • Almost 70,000 DNA samples have been uploaded to a national DNA database established five-and-a-half years ago to help solve crimes and identify culprits, new figures reveal.

    Data released to this newspaper shows that more than 67,000 DNA profiles have been uploaded to the database since November 2015.



The Forensic Microbiome: The Invisible Traces We Leave Behind (NIJ – 6/7/2021)

  • But one significant advance in modern forensic science came in 2001, with the anthrax attacks in Florida, New York, and Washington, DC that began one week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Letters containing deadly bacterial spores that caused anthrax were sent to several news media offices and two US senators. Five people died and 17 were infected, triggering one of the largest FBI investigations in history.

    That investigation marked the birth of microbial forensics, according to Bruce Budowle, a geneticist with the University of North Texas Health Science Center who was with the FBI at the time. “There was an attack, there was forensic evidence, it was microbial evidence, and we were woefully unprepared for it,” Budowle said. “The technology at the time was limited, so we created the field of microbial forensics. It was dedicated to the analysis of microbial evidence related to a bioterrorist act or a bio-crime. It was very focused on using microbes or their by-products as a weapon.”



An Innocent Man Went to Prison for Murder. Now, It’s the Real Killer’s Turn. (The New York Times – 6/8/2021)

  • Brian Leigh Dripps Sr. was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday in the 1996 killing of Angie Dodge in Idaho, a crime for which Christopher Tapp was exonerated.


NIST Publishes Review of DNA Mixture Interpretation Methods (NIST – 6/9/2021)

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published DNA Mixture Interpretation: A Scientific Foundation Review. This draft report, which will be open for public comment for 60 days before being published in final form, reviews the methods that forensic laboratories use to interpret evidence containing a mixture of DNA from two or more people.

    NIST scientific foundation reviews document and evaluate the scientific basis for forensic methods. These reviews fill a need identified in a landmark 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that many forensic disciplines lack a solid foundation in scientific research.

    The NIST review states that currently “there is not enough publicly available data to enable an external and independent assessment of the degree of reliability of DNA mixture interpretation practices, including the use of probabilistic genotyping software (PGS) systems.”



48-Hour Case Highlights, Inspires the Use of DNA Databases (Forensic – 6/9/2021)

  • Like many other things, the 2021 Hit of the Year program sang a different tune this year thanks to COVID-19. Instead of reviewing new cases, the program took the opportunity to reflect on cases that were submitted in the previous four years but not selected by the judges as the Hit of the Year.

    “The top case selected at each year is certainly a key part of the Hit of the Year program, however, to me, the Hit of the Year is so much more,” said Tim Schellberg, President of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTH-GA). “It’s about the hundreds of cases submitted that we all collectively learn from.”

    Lorna Santos, DNA leader with the Philippines National Police, takes that learning very seriously—and literally. For years, Santos has led the effort to expand the DNA lab within Philippines National Police and establish a national DNA database. Serving as a Hit of the Year judge in 2017, Santos says the cases she reviewed are still an inspiration to her.



Rapid DNA Test Kit Saves Thousands of Earth’s Most Bizarre Turtles (Forensic – 6/9/2021)

  • Using a rapid DNA testing toolkit developed by FIU researchers, Colombian officials stopped an illegal shipment of 2,200 Matamata turtles and returned them to the Orinoco river basin.

    Diego Cardeñosa, FIU postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Environment at the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, worked with a collaborative team of Colombian scientists and authorities at the International Airport Alfredo Vásquez Cobo in Leticia, Colombia to test the shipment of freshwater turtles. The DNA testing toolkit developed by Cardeñosa and FIU marine scientist Demian Chapman is fast, portable, easy to use and highly accurate in identifying species.



Arrest Made in City’s Oldest Cold Case Murder Thanks to Genetic Genealogy: Police (ABC News – 6/9/2021)

  • An arrest has been made in a decades-old Oregon cold case murder thanks to an investigative tool known as genetic genealogy, authorities said.

    Robert Plympton, now 58, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly killing a 19-year-old college student in January 1980, according to police in Gresham.



DNA, Forensic Genealogy Close 65-Year-Old Double Homicide (El Paso Inc. – 6/9/2021)

  • DNA evidence preserved after a 1956 double homicide and the use of forensic genealogy helped a Montana sheriff’s office close the books on the 65-year-old cold case, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office announced.

    Investigators concluded Kenneth Gould — who died in Oregon County, Missouri in 2007 — more than likely killed Patricia Kalitzke, 16, and Duane Bogle, 18, the Great Falls Tribune reports. Both were shot in the head.



Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Mississippi State Crime Laboratory Team with Othram to Identify Vancleave Jane Doe (DNASolves – 6/10/2021)

  • The young woman, original found by hunters in 1991, was identified after 30 years as Kimberly Ann Funk