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!




L.A. Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Decades is Declared Innocent After DNA Evidence Points to a Different Suspect (NBC News – 3/02/2023)

    • A man who spent more than 38 years behind bars for a 1983 murder he did not commit was declared innocent by a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

      Maurice Hastings was released from prison last year after long-untested DNA evidence pointed to a different suspect. The judge in October vacated Hastings’ conviction at the request of prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and his lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project.

      Prosecutors and Hastings’ lawyers returned to court to ask Judge William C. Ryan to take the additional step and declare him innocent of the killing 40 years ago.



New AFP Forensic Lab to Solve Crime Faster in NSW (Australian Federal Police – 3/02/2023)

  • The AFP has today launched its new cutting-edge Sydney forensic laboratory that will enable serious drug, weapons and child abuse crime to be solved more quickly in NSW.

    Officially opened by Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC and AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw at the AFP’s Sydney headquarters today (2 March, 2023), the laboratory further bolsters the fight against serious organised crime in Australia’s biggest state.

    The new forensics facility enables crime to be solved more quickly through:

    • The ability to run simultaneous and multiple examinations, which is particularly important when a high-number of search warrants have been executed and a large volume of evidence has been seized;
    • Multi-use forensic laboratories that allow multiple specialist disciplines (such as crime scenes and digital forensics) to work on seized exhibits concurrently;
    • Additional technical capability that was not in the smaller laboratory, and
    • Cutting-edge engineering technology that will make it easier to identify transitional serious organised criminals, plus offenders who share child abuse material.


Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office & California DOJ Partner with Othram to Identify 1998 John Doe (DNASolves – 3/02/2023)

  • In March 1998, a Loleta resident and his father were searching the Eel River by boat for driftwood when they located what appeared to be human remains in the river near Cock Robin Island. Sheriff’s deputies responded via jetboat and recovered the remains. The decedent was found to be partially clothed and in advanced stages of decomposition. No identification was located.

    Following this recovery, an autopsy was conducted, and it was determined the remains had been in the water for approximately one month. The decedent’s cause of death was listed as possible drowning.

    Missing persons cases stay open until solved. 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 an identity for the unidentified man or a close relative. With funding provided by Roads to Justice (RTJ), 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 man. Once the profile was built, Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to produce investigative leads.

    In mid-February of 2023, the HCSO received the Othram report indicating the DNA profile may belong to Jeffery Todd Sydow, born in 1963.



California Cold Case Solved Thanks to DNA Taken from 1994 Washington Sexual Assault Kit (Los Angeles Times – 3/02/2023)

  • For more than 35 years, she lay buried in a grave marked “Unidentified Female.”

    And for more than 40 years, her alleged killer roamed free, an unidentified suspect in a brutal beating and strangling at a South Lake Tahoe campground.

    Now they both have names: The victim, Patricia Carnahan, and the accused killer, Harold Carpenter.


Snohomish County Sheriff’s & Medical Examiner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify Spencer Island John Doe (DNASolves – 3/02/2023)

    • In January 1979, a duck hunter discovered human remains entangles in fishing line on the tide flats near Spencer Island just south of Marysville, Washington. The Snohomish County Coroner’s Office called the decedent “John Doe (79-1)” under Coroner’s case number 79-1-7. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and determined that there did not appear to be any suspicious circumstances.

      The Snohomish County Coroner Robert Phillips classified the cause and manner of death as undetermined, stating that the skeletal remains were found on the tide flats.

      From 2018 to 2021, Snohomish County Medical Examiner Investigators ruled out numerous missing persons by circumstances, STR testing, and dental records. In 2021, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office began collaborating with Othram, Inc. to obtain an advanced DNA profile, suitable for investigative genetic genealogy, for our unsolved cold cases. This collaboration has resulted in several successful identifications. In January 2021, a section of femur bone from Spencer Island Doe was sent to Othram, Inc. for DNA extraction, testing, and a DNA profile that could be uploaded to genealogical databases. The funding for the laboratory work on this case was generously provided through

      In May 2021, Othram successfully obtained a DNA extract that was sufficient for testing after multiple rounds of extraction and human enrichment. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to develop a DNA profile that could be uploaded to genealogical databases. Biogeographical analysis of the DNA profile revealed that the decedent was, in fact, Caucasian. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office uploaded the Othram DNA profile to genealogical databases that allow law enforcement search and obtained several matches. SCMEO Investigator Adam Wilcoxen built ancestor trees from several of the top matches and found a male who went missing in the Everett, Washington area in the late 1970’s, Gary Lee Haynie. DNA reference testing of Gary’s half-sister ultimately confirmed that Spencer Island Doe was Gary Lee Haynie, who was about 29 years old when he went missing.


How Many Cases Have Been Solved with Forensic Genetic Genealogy? (Forensic – 3/03/2023)

    • The April 2018 arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer, is often considered the birth of forensic genetic genealogy (FGG). Since then, the method has taken off, with investigators in the U.S. and across the globe repeatedly turning to FGG for their coldest of cases.

      The research-intensive method has been used to find the perpetrator in some of the most famous murder cases, as well as identify Does who have gone without their names for far too long—such as Joseph Augustus Zarelli, previously known as the Boy in the Box and America’s Unknown Child.

      And while cases like Zarelli’s receive mass media attention, investigators are using FGG to solve rape and murders cases in small judications in the middle of the country, too. Exactly how many cases, you ask? According to Tracey Leigh Dowdeswell, 545 cases as of Dec. 31, 2022.

      Dowdeswell, a professor of criminology and legal studies at Douglas College in Canada, is the first to put a number on cases solved using FGG. By doing so, she’s also the first to construct an adequate sample frame for further research into forensic genetic genealogy.



Reexamination of Evidence Leads to Already-Jailed Suspect in 1980 Cold Case (Forensic – 3/03/2023)

    • Last week, deputies booked a suspect into Solano County Jail for a homicide committed 42 years ago.

      In August 1980, two field workers discovered a body in a cornfield in Dixon, California. The victim was a white female, but otherwise unidentified. Her cause of death was listed as multiple gunshots to the head and neck.

      The victim was initially listed as Jane Doe for more than 10 years. It was not until 1992 when the Coroner’s Office was contacted by the National Missing Persons Unit that investigators learned the victim was 21-year-old Holly Ann Campiglia from New Jersey.



New Steps Taken to Identify Criminals’ Footwear (EurekAlert! – 3/03/2023)

    • Forensic experts have developed a new approach to assist the comparison and interpretation of footwear mark evidence.

      The joint project saw Staffordshire University collaborate with Huddersfield University and Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Scientific Support Services (YatH RSSS), which supports four police forces in the region.

      Together, they created a specially designed ‘assault course’ to collect data which can be used to verify footwear mark evidence left by criminals. The study focussed on footwear most frequently worn by detainees in custody and the most commonly identified tread patterns found at crime scenes, according to the National Footwear Database.



MS Office of the State Medical Examiner Teams with Othram to Identify 2021 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 3/04/2023)

    • In 2021, a skull from an unknown female was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, Harrison County, Mississippi. The discovery was made by a commercial diver cutting old support beams in the water from a pre-Hurricane Katrina casino site. Anthropological assessment of the skull suggested that the unknown female was between 17 and 18 years old at the time of death.

      In November 2021, the Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office teamed with Othram to use Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to help generate leads that might identify the unknown female or a family member. The skull was sent to Othram’s laboratory, and Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract and built a comprehensive DNA profile to enable genealogical research. Funding to support this case was provided by Mississippi native and philanthropist Carla Davis. Carla also executed the genealogical research necessary to generate investigative leads for the agency. Investigators used the leads to complete their investigation and confirm that the unknown female was, in fact, a teenager from Clinton, Mississippi.



Investigators, Scientists Team Up to Find Better Way to Identify Jane, John Does (NL Times – 3/05/2023)

    • Dutch forensic investigators and scientists have teamed up to find better and more efficient ways to identify unknown deceased persons in cold cases. They found ways to divide a single tooth or nail so that four or five scientific studies could happen on them simultaneously. With the nails, 100 percent of the studies led to useful information; with the teeth, it was 76 percent, the Police and Science Research Program announced.

      Teeth and nails can say a lot about a person, but the police don’t always have a lot to work with when they find parts of a skeleton in the woods or a jawbone washed ashore, for example. With this new method, even a tiny bit can go a long way in helping identify a person.

      For example, DNA can be extracted from a tooth to determine the person’s gender and identity. An anthropologist can learn a person’s approximate age. Toxicologists can extract information from teeth about possible medication and drug use. Carbon dating can determine a person’s date of birth, and isotope research can indicate in what region a person lived. The researchers figured out how to divide one tooth so that all five studies could happen at the same time.



Massachusetts Woman Killed in 1978 Identified After DNA Match from Son Who Was 5 When She Vanished: “It’s a Lot to Process”  (CBS News – 3/06/2023)

    • Nearly 45 years after a woman was found shot to death on a logging road in western Massachusetts, investigators have identified her through advanced genetic testing.

      Patricia Ann Tucker, 28, was found on Nov. 15, 1978.  A group of kids playing in Granby found her body on November 15, 1978 buried under a pile of leaves, stuffed underneath a log, CBS Boston reports. Investigators said at a news conference Monday that she had been shot in the temple and they believed she was killed about three months earlier in August 1978.

      For decades, the woman known as “Granby Girl” was buried in a local cemetery with a headstone marked “Unknown.”

      About two years ago, Massachusetts authorities obtained Tucker’s DNA profile through a forensic laboratory and eventually identified a woman in Maryland who was likely related to her, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said. Police contacted the woman. She led them to Tucker’s son, who was 5 years old when Tucker vanished. Comparison of his DNA to Tucker’s resulted in a 100% parent/child match.



Identifying Three Southern Arizona John Does Through Genetic Genealogy  (Yahoo! – 3/06/2023)

    • Ramapo College of New Jersey is funding genetic genealogy for three John Does out of Pima County.



Phenotyping, Genealogy Lead to ID of 2020 Jane Doe  (Forensic – 3/08/2023)

    • On April 4, 2020, the remains of a partially skeletonized human body were discovered in an extremely remote, wooded area off a U.S. Forest Service Road, 13 miles east of Sweet Home in Linn County, Oregon. Law enforcement responded and recovered the almost-complete skeleton of a female individual and several distinct articles of clothing associated with the remains. No identification for the deceased was found within these items.

      Based on the physical characteristics of the deceased, a forensic illustration was created by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Imaging Unit. The re-approximation of the woman’s face was used in press releases, on unidentified person websites, and as the main profile picture for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System-Namus website.

      Despite the efforts of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, no active missing person case was discovered that matched the physical characteristics of the deceased female, and no leads had produced results.

      The deceased was in danger of becoming another “cold” unidentified remains case, so the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office decided to utilize grant funding provided by the National Institute of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance to perform innovative DNA techniques. A sample from the deceased’s tooth was sent to DNA Labs International, and a different type of DNA profile was produced for DNA phenotyping and investigative genetic genealogy provided by Parabon NanoLabs.