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!




Jefferson County Coroner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify a 2000 John Doe (DNASolves – 03/01/2024)

    • In July 2000, the skeletal remains of an unidentified man were discovered by Open Space trail workers who were building the Galbraith hiking trail north of Golden, Colorado. The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office determined that the man likely died at that location in the fall or early winter of 1999. The remains were that of a white male estimated to be between the ages of 45 and 55 years. Investigators determined that the decedent was approximately 5’3″ in height and had a slim build, weighing approximately 135 pounds. A dental exam at autopsy revealed evidence of poor dental health, a tooth implant, a root canal, and gum disease.

      In 2023, the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas to determine if advanced DNA testing could help identify the man. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the forensic evidence, and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive genealogical profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team then used this profile to conduct extensive genetic genealogy research, ultimately providing new investigative leads to law enforcement.

      Using this new information, a follow-up investigation was conducted leading investigators to potential relatives of the man. This investigation lead to the positive identification of the man. At the request of the family, the identity of the man will not be released at this time. The family has asked for the opportunity to grieve privately but are incredibly grateful to finally have answers. Final arrangements are being made for the return of the remains.




Mississippi Office of the State Medical Examiner & Desoto County Sheriff Team with Othram to Identify 1985 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 03/01/2024)

    • In January 1985, the remains of an unidentified woman were discovered by a southbound truck driver off of Highway 78, just east of the Coldwater River Bridge in Olive Branch, Mississippi. Desoto County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene and located the woman. Investigators determined that the remains were that of a female weighing approximately 110 pounds and standing 5’3″ tall. The woman was estimated to be between 20 to 35 years of age. Her hair was light red to blonde in color and wavy with a medium length. She had three piercings in each ear. Authorities also discovered tattoos on the inside of both ankles as well as a small surgical scar on her left forearm. No other identifying characteristics could be determined for the woman, and she was classified as Jane Doe.

      The woman’s manner of death was determined to be homicide. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP8675. Although the woman’s face was recognizable, her identity was unknown, and the case went cold for nearly 40 years.

      In 2022, working with the Desoto County Sheriff’s Office, the Mississippi Office of the State Medical Examiner submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas to determine if advanced DNA testing could help identify the murdered woman. Previous attempts at DNA testing for forensic genetic genealogy had failed. Funding to support this case was provided by Mississippi native and philanthropist Carla Davis, who is committed to resolving the backlog of cold cases in Mississippi. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA profile using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing®. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team then used this profile to conduct forensic genetic genealogy research, ultimately providing new investigative leads to law enforcement.

      A follow-up investigation led investigators to relatives of the murdered woman. Additional comparisons of the DNA profile for the murdered woman and a close relative confirmed the identity of the woman as Lorie Ann Mealer Pennell, who was born on September 6th, 1962, in Missouri. Lorie was last seen at a West Memphis Truck Stop in 1982. Her family filed a missing persons report in West Memphis, Arkansas, but she was never found. Pennell’s death remains under investigation and further information will be released as it becomes available.



DNA Aids Investigators in Examining 1982 Double Murder of Texas Mother, Young Daughter (Yahoo! – 3/02/2024)

    • In 1982, the brutal double murder of 30-year-old Susanna “Susan” Flores Brown and her 8-year-old daughter, Francesca “Cha Cha” Martinez, occurred in the city of Abilene, Texas, about 180 miles west of Dallas. Mother and daughter were found strangled to death in their home in a case that would go unsolved for more than four decades.

      Siegler and homicide investigator Lt. Lesa Hodgkins teamed up with Detectives Jeff Cowan and Shawn Montgomery of the Abilene Police Department, eventually leading to an arrest captured by Cold Justice.



Attitudes of Reporting Officers Can Affect Rape Case Outcomes (Forensic – 3/04/2024)

    • One of the first steps in a rape investigation is the responding officer’s written report. What the officer includes and how those conclusions are worded can have an impact on the case.

      In a study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that used cross-disciplinary research, data scientists applied machine learning techniques to nearly two decades’ worth of police reports on rape cases.

      The data scientists used advanced computational power to support social scientists in a study of how evidence of officer sentiment — meaning opinions and subjectivity — toward victims’ credibility may affect key procedural decisions down the line, such as whether to prosecute a rape case.

      The study — conducted by a team of scholars from Case Western University, Cleveland State University, and Texas A&M University — aimed to identify linguistic “signaling” of officers’ views or biases found in their narratives of rape reports.

      The research team evaluated narratives in more than 5,600 police reports of rape in one large urban jurisdiction from 1993–2011. Using sentiment analysis, a form of natural language processing, to screen for words or phrases that contain hidden emotions — such as dissatisfaction, happiness, or doubt — researchers detected and interpreted evidence of officer emotion or bias found in the narratives. (See “Natural Language Processing: AI Dives into Human Narratives” and “Leveraging the Nuance of Qualitative Analysis on a Larger Scale.”)

      The study demonstrates the power of algorithm-based technology to help social and behavioral sciences address pressing social issues. Cross-disciplinary research, like this joint effort of data scientists and social scientists, is a key priority of NIJ Director Nancy La Vigne.



How Genetic Genealogy Helped Crack the ‘Sorority Rapist’ Case (NBCDFW5 – 3/04/2024)

    • They were shocking crimes: Sorority sisters in their 50’s and 60’s raped in their homes.

      For years, the cases sat cold until new DNA technology re-ignited the journey for justice.

      Last week, a man known as the ‘Sorority Rapist’ was sentenced in a Collin County courtroom to life in prison.

      Jeffrey Wheat’s conviction came more than 20 years after his first known victim, who was not a sorority member, and more than a decade after the three Delta Sigma Theta alumnae were raped in their homes. Genetic genealogy is the same technology used to catch the Golden State Killer.

      It was successfully used for the first time in Collin County to identify Wheat, according to Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis.


Fairfax County Police Closes in on 1989 Cold Case Murder (Fairfax County Police Department News – 3/05/2024)

    • After more than three decades, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Elroy Neal Harrison, 65, of Stafford and charged him with the 1986 murder of Jacqueline Lard, 40 of Stafford. Forensic evidence has linked the same suspect to a homicide that occurred in Fairfax County in 1989.

      In 2021, Fairfax County Police Department’s Cold Case detectives submitted their evidence to DNA Labs International, resulting in the development of a DNA profile. Uploading this profile to the Virginia state database revealed a link between Baker’s death and the ongoing homicide investigation of Jacqueline Lard in Stafford County.

      Utilizing Parabon NanoLabs and the Virginia State Police’s Unsolved Violent Crimes and Cold Cases Analytical Support Team, funded by a National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant , detectives analyzed genetic genealogy, leading to the identification of Elroy Neal Harrison, 65, of Stafford as the suspect.



CA Bill Aims to Keep Funding Flowing to Solve Crime and Missing Persons Cases with DNA (ABC7 – 3/05/2024)

  • DNA testing has become key in solving many different crimes, but the funds that make that possible in California will dry up unless state lawmakers take action.

    California voters in 2004 approved Proposition 69, dubbed the DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act. The ballot measure was the results of Bruce Harrington’s drive to find the person who murdered his brother, Keith, and sister-in-law Patrice in 1980. Proposition 69 may have helped law enforcement solve the cold case, but this year funding for it will sunset unless state lawmakers approve Assembly Bill 3042.



Lyon County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify a 2017 John Doe (DNASolves – 3/05/2024)

    • In April 2017, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call that a skull had been found along the banks of the Neosho River following a period of recent rain in Lyon County, Kansas. Upon processing the scene, law enforcement located the skull and also discovered a large black trash bag that contained additional remains of the unidentified individual wrapped inside of a fitted bed sheet and comforter. A digital watch was also found inside of the trash bag.

      Investigators were able to determine that the remains were that of a male.The man’s hair color was noted as being blonde, white, or gray and was approximately 6 to 8 inches in length. Additionally, it was estimated that the middle-to-late aged man had scoliosis and was 5’5″ tall at his time of death. The unknown man’s year of death was likely between 2013 and 2016, and the cause of death is unclear, at this time.

      In August 2017, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP16928. Over the years, investigators diligently worked to identify Neosho Rapids John Doe. However, the identity of the man remained unknown.

      In 2022, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office investigators partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help to identify the man. Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the homicide victim. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement.

      Using these new leads, Lyon County Sheriff’s detectives conducted a follow-up investigation and made contact with a potential relative of the murdered man. Follow-up DNA testing confirmed the identity of the man as Randy Bruce Clayton, born October 12, 1953. Clayton was from the Phoenix area and lived in Oklahoma.



FY24 Postconvcition Testing of DNA Evidence Solicitation Rleased (BJA – 3/06/2024)

  • The FY24 Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence funding opportunity is now available.

    With this solicitation, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) seeks to assist in defraying the costs associated with postconviction case review, evidence location, and DNA testing in violent felony cases (as defined by state law) where the results of such testing might show actual innocence. The program ensures the availability of fair and impartial administration of justice to individuals who may have been unjustly convicted.

    On April 3, 2024, at 3 p.m. ET, BJA will be hosting a webinar to provide details about this opportunity and offer a chance for participants to ask questions. Register to participate.



Public’s Help Needed to Identify Woman Murdered in 1988 (DNA Doe Project – 3/07/2024)

  • ’s been almost thirty-six years since mushroom hunters exploring a wooded area north of Elma, Washington located the remains of a woman with a gunshot wound to her head. She remains unidentified to this day.

    At the time, investigators determined that this Jane Doe was in her late 20’s, between 4’10 and 5’2 in height, 100 pounds, with dark brown hair. Her skeletonized remains could have been lying in the woods for up to five years. Scraps of clothing found at the scene included a white multi-colored blouse with a floral pattern, a blue shirt, black pants, and new dark blue slip-on shoes. She wore a pearl ring and sapphire earrings that were found with her body.

    Former Grays Harbor County Coroner, Lane Youmans, was first on the scene when she was discovered. At the time, he was a detective with the Sheriff’s Department, and he’s never stopped trying to solve the case. “There hasn’t been a week that has gone by that I haven’t thought about her,” he said.

    In 2020, the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department reached out to the DNA Doe Project to use investigative genetic genealogy to try to identify Jane Doe. A nationally known non-profit organization that provides funding and expert researchers to law enforcement and medical examiners, the DNA Doe Project uses a DNA profile developed from the unidentified remains to explore genetic matches in public databases and build family trees. With close enough relatives among the matches, this technique can target the specific branch of the right family tree and find the unidentified person’s identity.

    But, the case proved to be much more difficult than most.

    “This case is one of our most challenging ever. Our Jane Doe is likely Cambodian, and all of her DNA relative matches are too distant for successful family tree building,” said DNA Doe Project Executive Director of Case Management Jennifer Randolph. “We continually monitor for new, better matches, but it’s slow going because she was likely a recent immigrant or the child of immigrants.”

    If you or your relatives immigrated from Southeast Asia and lived in Southwest Washington in the 1980’s, the DNA Doe Project team would love to connect with you to share how your DNA may help solve this case. Contact