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!





Coffee with a Criminalist Podcast Launches from Washoe County Sheriff’s Office (Forensic – 3/19/2021)

  • Brittney “Bodean” Chilton and Darby Stienmetz have a combined 15 years working at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office crime lab and host the podcast. The first episode introduces the listener to both hosts, as they discuss how they entered the field of forensic science. Darby and Bodean provide a broad overview of what their tasks are, what happens to evidence samples, and what work keeps them awake at night. Future episodes delve into Nevada cases that have been processed by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Science Division and that have been adjudicated, cases that have changed law in the State of Nevada, interviews with the Sheriff and crime lab staff, and more.



DNA Testing for 1969 Cold Case Possibly Connected to Black Panther Party (Forensic – 3/19/2021)

  • The Porchlight Project, a local nonprofit, will assist the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office by fully funding Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing and family records research by Othram Inc., in an effort to generate leads that could identify the homicide victim whose remains were recovered in a barrel, in 1969. “This is a piece of Cleveland history that remains untold,” says James Renner, founder of The Porchlight Project. “We’re excited to provide the means to finally give a name to this man so that we can learn how he came to be here and who may have wanted him dead.”


Perspectives from Bridge Group@NCFS: Glitter and Shimmer as Forensic Tools (Forensic – 3/19/2021)

  • Research conducted by Kandyss Najjar, a Ph.D. student in the lab of Bridge, investigates the possible transfer of cosmetic products through skin-to-skin, skin-to-fabric or fabric-to-skin contact.


Massachusetts Widow’s Killing Solved 36 Years Later, Alleged Killer Confessed Before He Died (FOX News – 3/20/2021)

  • Authorities in Massachusetts this week announced the solving of a decades-old brutal slaying of a widow following the killer’s 2019 confession just before he died.

    Virginia Hannon, 59, was found in her Pembroke home on Feb. 13, 1984, strangled and stabbed to death. The Plymouth District Attorney’s Office said DNA evidence linked Jesse Aylward to the murder.


Cold Case Program Partners Students with State Police to Investigate Murders (Forensic – 3/22/2021)

  • Think back to being a 20-year-old college student—classes and homework during the day, hanging out with friends at night, maybe a party or two on the weekend. Western Michigan University criminal justice students can now add another activity to that list—working with police to solve a 10-year-old cold case.

    In an unprecedented partnership, undergraduate criminal justice students at the university will receive access to and work on case files from unsolved murders in southwest Michigan.


BU Researchers Explore Forensic Anthropology’s Current Knowledge with Transgender Bodies (EurekAlert! – 3/22/2021)

  • While transgender and gender-diverse individuals have historically been disproportionately susceptible to violence and homicides, the recent rise in visibility of ongoing trans-focused violence has highlighted how the medical-legal community, in general and forensic anthropology, in particular, have largely neglected trans and gender-diverse people.

    This is exemplified by a new study that found nearly 30 percent of forensic anthropologists surveyed had participated in a case involving a transgender individual, yet the vast majority (75 percent) were unfamiliar with gender-affirming surgeries.



Safe, Efficient, Reliable: New Science in the Fight Against Killer Drugs (NIST– 3/24/2021)

  • NIST researchers give law enforcement and public health experts new tools to combat fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.



Researchers Find Oldest Documented Site of Indiscriminate Mass Killing (Forensic – 3/24/2021)

  • Anthropologists report they have found the oldest documented site of a mass killing in what is now Croatia. Findings from the 6,200-year-old massacre were published in PLOS ONE earlier this month.

    Previous research has identified ancient massacre sites of men in battle, as well as mass graves containing the remains of a targeted family. To verify the uniqueness of this grave as neither of those options—rather, a “traditional massacre”—the researchers performed a genome-wide analysis on nearly all of the victims.



Parabon, Delaware Division of Science ID Human Remains Found in 1977 (Forensic – 3/24/2021)

  • The New Castle County Division of Police Criminal Investigations Unit, Cold Case Squad are announcing the identification of human remains that were discovered more than 40 years ago in the area of Townsend, Delaware.



Forensic Collaborators Partner to Identify Nun’s Remains (Forensic – 3/24/2021)

  • Penn State and Croatian faculty, including from partner university the University of Split, recently collaborated on the identification of the remains of Sister Marija Krucifiksa Kozulić (1852–1922), a Croatian nun who is in consideration for beatification by the Vatican. The team of researchers consists of colleagues who have collaborated in the forensic sciences for years, including members of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in the United States.



Researcher to Assess Reliability of Burn Patterns as Forensic Tool (Forensic – 3/24/2021)

  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researcher Albert Simeoni has been awarded $519,893 from the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the reliability of burn pattern indicators used by investigators to determine the starting point of wildfires.

    Simeoni, professor and head of the Department of Fire Protection Engineering, will use a laboratory wind tunnel at WPI, field studies in a New Jersey forest, and data analysis to determine if scars on a landscape, ash deposits, and other indicators widely used by investigators reliably point to the place where a wildfire originates.



From Crime Lab Tech to Community Action Officer (Forensic – 3/24/2021)

  • She started with a degree in criminal justice, where she happened to meet a crime scene specialist. After learning about the lab, she became a volunteer in controlled substances. About a year into that, she applied for a full time job as a lab tech.

    She says the experience exposed her to the drug side of crime, and that activated an interest in getting outside of the lab and onto the streets.



A Scientist on the Great Responsibility of Using Ancient DNA to Rewrite Human History (VOX – 3/24/2021)

  • In universities and research labs across the world, scientists are actively rewriting whole chapters of human history, big and small. And they’re doing it using a very new piece of evidence: ancient DNA. That is, DNA collected and analyzed from a long-dead person. Scientists drill down into ancient bone, which, under the right conditions, can preserve genetic material for hundreds of thousands of years.



80 Years After Pearl Harbor, DNA Identifies Veteran’s Remains (ABC30 – 3/25/2021)

  • About 80 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a veteran who died during the attacks has had his remains identified.

    The remains of William Eugene Blanchard, who was killed at Pearl Harbor while serving on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, were identified through DNA testing conducted by an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense, the Idaho Statesman reported Wednesday.



‘Finding People is Easy:’ DNA Databases Help Unite American Veterans with their Long-Lost Children (Stars and Stripes – 3/25/2021)

  • Phan Thi Nuoi, was born Nov. 15, 1971, and had her DNA sent to in September 2017, in an effort to track down her father, an American GI who served there during the war.