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!




A Serial Killer ‘Tried to Erase His Victims.’ But Three Bodies Hidden in Barrels Have Now Been Identified. (The Washington Post – 6/7/2019)

  • For more than three decades, law enforcement officials worked to not only find the person responsible but also identify the victims. In 2017, half of the mystery was solved when alleged serial killer Terry Peder Rasmussen, who went by several aliases, was named as a suspect. Now, with the help of the victims’ family and friends, DNA testing, genetic genealogy, and a librarian interested in missing persons cases, officials announced Thursday that they’ve made another breakthrough — confirming the identities of the woman and two of the three girls.


Investigator Helped Catch the Golden State Killer – and He’s Still Solving Crimes (People – 6/7/2019)

  • Paul Holes, who spent 24 years hunting the Golden State Killer, will do a mock crime-scene investigation at CrimeCon in New Orleans this weekend


New NJ Law Requires Anyone Charged with Child Porn Offenses to Give DNA Sample (North Jersey – 6/7/2019)

  • A bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Phil Murphy requires anyone charged with child pornography offenses to provide a DNA sample, building upon New Jersey’s criminal database.



After a Rape, the Forensic Exam is ‘Extremely Confronting’ but Crucial, Says Victim (Stuff – 6/9/2019)

  • You probably know of it as a “rape kit”. But these two words can evoke unease and alarm – and they don’t accurately describe what is involved.


How a Podcast Helped Solve a Grisly Cold Case (The Verge – 6/9/2019)

  • The Bear Brook podcast played a small role in identifying the victims of a serial killer


Prosecutor: More Than 60 Deaths Now Linked to Serial Killer (Forensic Magazine – 6/10/2019)

  • Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland said Samuel Little continues to cooperate with investigators from around the country who interrogate him in prison about cold case killings dating back to the 1970s. Among those who spoke to him were investigators from Ohio, where Little grew up and where he’s suspected of killing at least five women.



Iraq Begins Examining Yazidi Mass Graves Remains (Forensic Magazine – 6/10/2019)

  • Iraq will use DNA testing to identify the remains of 141 bodies found in mass graves believed to contain the Yazidi victims of Islamic State group massacres, the head of the country’s forensics administration said on Sunday.


Alexandria Rape Suspect Challenging DNA Search Used to Crack Case (The Washington Post – 6/10/2019)


Paternity Testing Had a Long History Before Today’s DNA Kits. The Science Hasn’t Always Matched the Hype (TIME – 6/10/2019)

  • The press’ fascination with the science of ancestry began long before such DNA tests were available. In the 1920s, researchers began to explore the development of genealogical tests — research that, not coincidentally, occurred in an era of burgeoning interest in eugenics and racial pseudoscience.


The First Murder Case to Use Family Tree Forensics Goes to Trial (WIRED – 6/10/2019)

  • At stake is more than justice for Cook and Van Cuylenborg. The trial’s outcome could result in legal precedents that could determine the future of one of the most powerful and invasive tools for finding people to ever fall into the hands of law enforcement.


DNA’s Big Moment? The O.J. Simpson Trial (OZY – 6/11/2019)

  • After the case was concluded and Simpson was acquitted of double murder, the overriding media narrative was that the jury simply didn’t understand DNA as a concept and thus discounted the evidence. But the truth was more complicated, argued a paper published a year after the trial by law professor William C. Thompson, who had worked with the defense team.



Breakthrough in the Discovery of DNA in Ancient Bones Buried in Water (Phys Org – 6/11/2019)

  • Fresh evidence rewrites the understanding of the most intriguing archaeological burial site in western Finland. New DNA technology gives significant information on the bones buried in water. The DNA matches that of present day Sámi people, who nowadays live far from the site. The question of why the bones were buried in water remains a mystery and demands further investigation.



From Face to DNA: New Method Aims to Improve Match Between DNA Sample and Face Database (EurekAlert – 6/11/2019)

  • Predicting what someone’s face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science. It is, however, getting easier to use such a sample to filter the right face from a face database, as an international team led by KU Leuven has shown. Their findings were published in Nature Communications.



A Murder Trial will Allow DNA Evidence from a Genealogy Site (WIRED – 6/11/2019)

  • The legitimacy of the method, so far untested in a court of law, was expected to be a major flashpoint in the potentially precedent-setting case. Last week, the defense filed motions to make the DNA evidence inadmissible.

    But in the latest development, the jury will not hear from the genetic genealogist who worked the case, the company she works for, Parabon Nanolabs, or the lab it contracted to develop its genetic profiles. Instead, a cold-case detective for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office who reached out to Parabon will summarize the work they did to identify Talbott as the source of the crime scene DNA.



Want to See My Genes? Get a Warrant (The New York Times – 6/11/2019)

  • Should the police be able to investigate your genetic family tree for any crime, no matter how minor?



A Great Time to Be a Cold Case Detective – If We Can Use the Tools (Forensic Magazine – 6/11/2019)

  • The recent advances in DNA collection and analysis and their impact on murder investigations is a huge breakthrough, comparable to the first use of fingerprints, or when DNA was first used forensically.



All-female Victims Unit Team Brings Justice to Rape Victims (Forensic Magazine – 6/12/2019)

  • The all-female, four-member team is composed of Wardrip and fellow Deputy Prosecutors Maryam Afshar, Infinity Baulos and Jessica Arnold, with each representing one of the four felony courtrooms.

    Since forming, the SVU handles all reports of crimes involving sex offenses or intimate partner violence before charges are filed until the final resolution. The process removes discretion from police on whether the case has sufficient evidence for prosecution, creating department-wide consistency.



Case Study: First Criminal Conviction from Next-Gen DNA in Holland (Forensic Magazine – 6/13/2019)

  • One huge leap was recently realized in Holland, where next-generation sequencing (NGS), otherwise known as massively parallel sequencing (MPS), earlier this year secured its first criminal conviction.

    The breakthrough was made in an Amsterdam sexual assault case, and it was achieved through the use of the Verogen MiSeq sequencing system.