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!





An Improved Method for Forensic Genetic Genealogy in an Operational Crime Lab, Upcoming Webinar Hosted by Xtalks and Verogen (PRWeb – 3/12/2021)

  • In this free webinar on March 30, Daniela Cuenca will demonstrate how the traditional genetic genealogy process is improved with the ForenSeq Kintelligence Workflow from Verogen. The presentation will include a comparison of microarray, whole-genome sequencing and targeted sequencing technologies for workflow, outcome success and utility in an operational lab. A case study on long-range kinship determination using a targeted sequencing approach will be shared, as well as best practices and tips for success during implementation.



Auburn Man Charged with Alaska Murder has Hearing About DNA Evidence and Alternate Suspects (News Center Maine – 3/13/2021)

  • Steven Downs is charged with sexually assaulting and murdering Sophie Sergie who was found dead in a dormitory bathroom at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He was arrested in Auburn in February 2019. Officials said Downs was discovered as a suspect through a DNA sample that was provided by his aunt who lives in Vermont.


Seattle Police Used DNA to Identify Suspect in the Death of a Baby 23 Years Ago (WDJT58 – 3/14/2021)

  • Nearly 23 years ago, a newborn baby was found dead in a trash can at a gas station in Seattle. Decades later, police have arrested a suspect in the case who they say is the baby’s mother.Christine Marie Warren, 50, was arrested Thursday after investigators used information from a public genealogy website that linked Warren to the child via DNA, the Seattle Police Department said in a news release.


Scientists Want to Store DNA of 6.7 Million Species on the Moon, Just in Case (Live Science – 3/14/2021)

  • A “lunar ark” hidden inside the moon’s lava tubes could preserve the sperm, eggs and seeds of millions of Earth’s species, a group of scientists has proposed.

    The ark, or gene bank, would be safely hidden in these hollowed-out tunnels and caves sculpted by lava more than 3 billion years ago and would be powered by solar panels above. It would hold the cryogenically preserved genetic material of all 6.7 million known species of plants, animals and fungi on Earth, which would require at least 250 rocket launches to transport to the moon, according to the researchers.


Women in Forensics: Prioritizing Self-Care to Minimize Burnout (Forensic – 3/15/2021)

  • Being selfish and taking care of myself means that I will slow down and listen to my inner self without feeling guilty or obligated to say yes to everything in order to please others and to risk burnout. We are multifaceted women forensic science professionals with hobbies and lives outside of casework, teaching and watching crime shows. Our desire for being successful at work and available to our families can be very difficult.


Genealogy Links Oregon Man to Killings 20 Years Apart (Forensic – 3/15/2021)

  • A Portland, Oregon, man accused of killing two strangers who disappeared 20 years apart pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder charges. Cold case DNA evidence led authorities to Christopher Lovrien’s home, where police said they found the dismembered remains of the second victim.

    Police arrested Lovrien, 53, in May after forensic genealogy linked him to the 1999 disappearance — and presumed death — of Mark Dribin, an airline cargo worker. Authorities searching a shed at Lovrien’s home several weeks after his arrest found the dismembered remains of another man, Kenneth Griffin, who had gone missing three months earlier.



University, Highway Patrol, Othram Team to ID Homicide Victim 21 Years Later (Forensic – 3/15/2021)

  • In January 2000, hunters came across the skeletonized remains of Vernon County John Doe near the town of Nevada, MO. Preliminary analyses provided some important clues that investigators hoped would lead to an identification: he was a biological male, likely of European ancestry, and was 26-36 years old at the time of his death. His death was determined to be a homicide although the post-mortem interval (PMI) is unclear. Louisiana State University’s FACES Lab produced a forensic approximation of what Vernon County John Doe may have looked like and a DNA profile was developed and uploaded to CODIS. Despite these efforts, his identity remains a mystery over 20 years later.



Colorado Police Arrest man for Two Murders in 1982 (Forensic – 3/15/2021)

  • Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw announced an arrest in two cold case homicides dating back to 1982 at a news conference held at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

    Alan Lee Phillips of Dumont, Colorado has been arrested in the murders of Barbara Jo Oberholtzer and Annette Kay Schnee in January 1982.



How the “Pecos Jane Doe” Identity Case was Solved (Your Basin – 3/15/2021)

  • The case of the “Pecos Jane Doe” was unsolved for decades up until this January, when the 17-year-old girl who died was identified as Jolaine Hemmy. The case still has some questions that may never be answered, but those who worked on the case have more insight about how DNA technology and genealogy were used to figure out who Hemmy was.



Researchers Identify 50 Additional Genes for Eye Color (New York Post – 3/15/2021)

  • In a 12-page study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, researchers led by King’s College London and Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam examined the genetic analysis of almost 195,000 people from 10 populations across both Europe and Asia.



The Justice Files: Male DNA Evidence Linked to 1985 Cold Case (ABC4 – 3/15/2021)

  • In 1985, her daughter, Christine Gallegos was murdered in Salt Lake City.  Her murder is now on a list considered a cold case. In May, a member of the Utah Cold Case Coalition delivered a parcel to a forensics laboratory in Salt Lake County.  Gallegos sent a pair of her daughter’s boots to have it analyzed.  She said the boots were carefully packaged and stored ever since her daughter was murdered.



DNA Technology Could Help Close Two Unsolved Infant Deaths from 1970 in Neenah and Two Rivers (NBC26 – 3/15/2021)

  • he deaths of two infants more than 50 years ago in Neenah and Two Rivers are still unsolved today. Now, with the help of the very latest in DNA, this pair of cold cases from 1970 has the potential to find answers.



Forensic Botany: Plants are Now Being Used to Help Solve Crimes (WINK – 3/15/2021)

  • Plants are being used to help solve crimes. The pollen and seed s they can leave behind can often become key pieces of evidence. But, how does this all work?

    While plants aren’t able to testify in court, they are able to provide evidence about guilt or innocence. Forensic botany is the use of plants and plant parts, which includes leaves, seeds, flowers, fruits, etc., in the investigation of criminal cases.



‘The Lost Sons’ Doc: Paul Fronczak Has Entire Sense of Self Stripped Away, Putting in the Work to Forge One for Himself – SXSW Studio (Deadline – 3/16/2021)

  • What would you do if you found out that everything you thought you knew about yourself was a lie?

    In an appearance at Deadline’s virtual South by Southwest studio, in support of Ursula Macfarlane’s documentary, The Lost Sons, Paul Fronczak offered his thoughts on the matter, having lived through this traumatizing scenario.



A Physics-Based Approach to Blood at the Crime Scene (Forensic – 3/17/2021)

  • Locard’s exchange principle tells us that if blood is present at a crime scene, it was transferred. There’s a myriad of reasons why it may not be detectable once crime scene investigators arrive—it could have been expertly cleaned up, it could have been removed from the scene, methods of detection may not be sensitive enough to find the small evidence, or perhaps personnel have not looked in the correct place.

    Understanding the dynamics of how blood droplets fall on and through different materials can help crime scene units investigate a scene and generate a better picture of said scene for investigators and forensic scientists.



Thermo Fisher Scientific to Open Center of Excellence in India (Forensic – 3/17/2021)

  • Thermo Fisher Scientific signed an MoU with the National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU) on March 15, 2021. The collaboration is to establish the NFSU-Thermo Fisher Scientific Centre of Excellence for DNA forensics. The center will be at NFSU’s premises in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The state-of-the art facility will focus on conducting research, method/workflow development and provide scientific demonstrations and training in the field of DNA forensics.



Former Police Chief Superintendent Named Scotland’s First Biometrics Commissioner (Forensic – 3/17/2021)

  • Late last week, the Scottish Parliament approved the nomination for Scotland’s new Biometrics Commissioner.

    Brian Plastow, a former police Chief Superintendent and lead inspector for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, will become the first person to hold the post following an open recruitment competition.

    The newly created role of Commissioner is to support and promote the adoption of lawful, effective and ethical practices in relation to biometric data in a policing and criminal justice context.



Genetic Genealogy Pushes Toronto Detectives Close to Identifying Killer in 2 Cold Cases from 1983 (CBC – 3/18/2021)

  • Detectives with the Toronto Police Service say they are close to identifying the killer responsible for two cold cases from 1983.

    They have been mining family tree records, coupled with DNA matches — commonly known as genetic genealogy — to try to solve the 1983 killings of 22-year-old Erin Gilmour and 45-year-old Susan Tice.