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!




They Called Her ‘Baby Angel.’ Now, Forensic Genealogy Might Finally ID Infant Found in Mississippi River (INFORUM – 5/5/2022)

  • More than 10 years after a days-old infant girl was found in the Winona waters of the Mississippi River, forensic genealogy is leading investigators closer to the child’s identity.

    Concealed in a white tote bag, the baby was retrieved from the river by a family of boaters on Sept 5, 2011. While they believed they were picking up trash from the river, what they discovered was something infinitely more precious.

    A 7-pound baby, seemingly untouched by the circumstances, was concealed in the tote. She was found inside two plastic bags, swaddled under a green t-shirt. Inside the bag, four porcelain angels and a seeing eye bracelet, a symbol of protection, were discovered.


Body Found in a Barrel at Lake Mead is the Tip of the Iceberg. Forensic Anthropologists are Now Recovering Human Remains Following Droughts, Sea-Level Rise, and Wildfires. (INSIDER – 5/5/2022)

  • A changing climate is revealing decades-old items once submerged in lakes or buried in glaciers, including human remains. For forensic anthropologists, who are tasked with retrieving them, a warming world may mean more discoveries unveiled by receding water and ice. It also means recovering victims of climate change.

    On Sunday afternoon, boaters made a grim discovery along the shoreline of Nevada’s Lake Mead: human remains inside a rusty barrel. More bodies could turn up, given that water levels have receded to historic lows amid a climate change-fueled drought, according to Jennifer Byrnes, a forensic anthropologist that consults with the Clark County coroner’s office. “I would expect human remains of missing persons will probably be revealed over time, as the water level continues to recede,” Byrnes told Insider.


Philanthropists to Fund DNA Testing of Body Found at Lake Mead (Las Vegas Review-Journal – 5/5/2022)

  • A group of local philanthropists who helped helped solve several homicide cases through DNA last year has offered to help the Metropolitan Police Department identify the man found stuffed in a barrel at Lake Mead National Recreational Area.

    Las Vegas resident and philanthropist Justin Woo said the Las Vegas Justice League has donated $5,000, which Othram Inc. will use to test the remains.


Public’s Help Needed to Solve 2009 Kenora Cold Case (DNA Doe Project – 5/6/2022)

  • She was found in 2009 by a hiker walking near the Trans-Canada Highway, a small woman in a one-person tent, dressed and equipped for rugged hiking. She had died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning a day or two before she was found, and investigators found no identification among her things. Her autopsy revealed she had had substantial facial reconstructive surgery 20-30 years prior to her death.

    Ten years after the discovery of her body, investigators brought the case to the DNA Doe Project for investigative genetic genealogy to try to discover the identity of the woman nicknamed “Millie”.

    “We have been diligently working on this case for over two years,” said DNA Doe Project volunteer Bryan Worters. “Due to the lack of close matches in the ancestral trees of her DNA cousins and complications related to tracing the migration of persons from Denmark to Canada, we still haven’t identified her immediate family.”



OSAC’s Human Forensic Biology Subcommittee Develops DNA Analysis Process Map (Forensic – 5/6/2022)

  • The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science’s Human Forensic Biology Subcommittee, with contributions from the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM), has developed a Human Forensic DNA Analysis Process Map that captures details about the various procedures, methods and decision points most frequently encountered in human forensic biology/DNA analysis.

    Forensic science service providers make many decisions that can impact the quality and accuracy of results. Process mapping is the visual representation of critical steps and decision points of a process and is a useful tool that can help forensic science disciplines provide insight into their specific activities. The Human Forensic DNA Analysis Process Map can benefit the discipline by providing a behind-the-scenes perspective into the various components and decision points in the human forensic biology/DNA analysis process.


Two Penn State Health Hospitals Launch Partnership to Support Sexual Assault Victims (Forensic – 5/6/2022)

  • Two Penn State Health hospitals are announcing a partnership to elevate their commitment to delivering expert care for survivors of sexual assault.  Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center and Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center are partnering with Penn State’s Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing to enhance support for these patients through secure telehealth technology. Registered nurses in the emergency departments at both hospitals who have completed Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training are joining with the College’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Systems.

    SAFE-T Systems, which is part of the Nese College of Nursing’s SAFE-T Center, serves rural and underserved areas through telehealth and facilitates the development of locally-based sexual assault treatment teams. SANEs are specially trained in medical forensic examination to provide a high level of care and support for victims seeking a treatment after a sexual assault. These nurses have completed a training course and are on-call for the Hampden Medical Center and Holy Spirit Medical Center emergency departments 24/7. SANEs provide comprehensive, trauma-informed, person-centered sexual assault forensic examination care.

Parabon Finding Persons of Interest (Fairfax County Times – 5/6/2022)

  • On March 6, 1987, a local 14-year-old reported being abducted and sexually assaulted. Fairfax County Police made a sketch of the assailant and opened a case that remained open until this year. Now 35 years later, police arrested William Clark for the crime.

    DNA analysis is a new technology, the first reported case closed with its help was also in 1987. Old open cases have closed over the years with advances in technology to analyze preserved DNA.

    CeCe Moore was Parabon’s lead genealogist involved in the case. Moore begins work after the lab reconciles DNA for genetic genealogy research. DNA analysis supplements Moore’s work but the bulk exists in public records, archives, and media.


New York Court Halts Family DNA Searches for Crime Suspects (The Washington Post – 5/6/2022)

  • A New York court halted the use of a DNA crimefighting tool that has helped crack cold cases and put murderers behind bars, but has also raised privacy and racial discrimination concerns, because state lawmakers never approved the practice.

    Known as familial DNA searching, the technique allows law enforcement agencies to search the state’s DNA databank for close biological relatives of people who have left traces of genetic material at a crime scene.

    A panel of judges on a mid-level appeals court ruled Thursday that regulations for the technique were invalid because a state committee implemented them without consent from the Legislature.

    Three of the panel’s five members voted to suspend the searches, which were challenged by a group of Black men who worried they could be targeted for investigation because their biological brothers were convicted of crimes and had genetic information stored in the state’s DNA databank.


CFSL Starts Building Repository of DNA Evidence, Wants to Save Samples for 75 Years (The Indian Express – 5/7/2022)

  • Officials said that DNA samples of repeat offenders, who are at times found to be involved in multiple sexual assault cases, will also be stored in the dedicated repository which is being made under the supervision of director, CFSL, Sector 36, Dr Ikramul Haque — a leading DNA expert.


Smithsonian Acquires First U.S. Rape Kit Designed by Martha Goddard (Forensic – 5/9/2022)

  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum mark the ending of Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April by announcing the joint acquisition for the Smithsonian’s permanent collections of the “Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit for Sexual Assault Examination,” the innovation that helped accelerate successful investigation and prosecution of sexual assault in the United States and whose influence continues to this day.

    Martha “Marty” Goddard (1941–2015) generated the idea for the kit between 1972 and 1978 when she worked as a women’s rights advocate and founded the Citizens Committee for Victim Assistance in Chicago. Goddard understood the pain and stigma surrounding rape and realized that thousands of sexual assault cases had low prosecution rates because there was no standardized procedure for collecting and preserving evidence. Along with colleagues, she undertook a research and development process that involved interviewing policymakers, law enforcement agents, attorneys and hospital workers in a quest to understand how survivors were treated and how evidence was collected. Her goal was to design a new system to increase the probability of suspects and criminals being identified and prosecuted.



Red Wing Woman Arrested for 2003 Death of Baby Found in Lake Pepin (Minnesota Department of Public Safety – 5/9/2022)

  • The Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) today announced an arrest in the 2003 death of a newborn baby boy discovered deceased in Lake Pepin in 2003.

    The woman, Jennifer Lynn Matter, 50, of Belvidere Township, was recently identified through DNA as the child’s mother.

    Goodhue County deputies and BCA agents took Matter into custody at 6:38 a.m. Monday at her Belvidere Township home without incident. She has been charged via complaint with Second Degree Murder – With Intent – Not Premeditated and Second Degree Murder – Without Intent. Matter is currently in the Goodhue County Jail. Matter is scheduled to appear in Goodhue County District Court on Tuesday. Additional information about the charges is available in the criminal complaint. Her booking photo is provided here on behalf of the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office.

    The baby boy was discovered deceased on December 7, 2003, in Lake Pepin at the Methodist Campus Beach in Frontenac. A second child, a newborn baby girl found deceased on November 4, 1999, in the Lower Boat Harbor of the Mississippi River near Red Wing, was also determined through DNA to be Matter’s child.


Forensic Genealogists Closing Cold Cases Through Your Family Tree (FOX29 – 5/9/2022)

  • Cold Cases sitting in filing cabinets for years waiting for authorities to find the final piece of the puzzle. Fox San Antonio’s Yami Virgin investigates new technology and a new kind of detective is using DNA and family trees to help solve cases – many thought were unsolvable.


The Skeleton in the Chimney (Madison Magazine – 5/10/2022)

  • A cold case heats up as DNA experts step in to try to help solve a late-1980s mystery: Whose skeleton was found in the chimney of a local music store, how did it get there, and why?



The DNA Detective: How to Solve Family Mysteries with Ancestry Testing (Science Focus – 5/11/2022)

  • All sorts of mysteries lurk in our family trees, from long-lost relatives to adoptees’ hidden heritages. In the new series of DNA Family Secrets, geneticist Prof Turi King sets out to solve them with the help of presenter Stacey Dooley and home genetic testing kits.

    Turi is a scientist, presenter, speaker and author who is passionate about communicating science to the public. She’s been working in the field of genetic genealogy since 2000 and is perhaps best known for leading the genetic analysis for the identification of King Richard III.


GOP Call for Albany Dems to Let Police use ‘Familial DNA’ on Cold Cases (New York Post – 5/11/2022)

  • Republicans are pleading with Albany Democrats to pass legislation vital to helping police solve cold cases amid an ongoing surge of violent crime.

    state appellate court decision issued last week blocked the use of so-called familial DNA to track down the relatives of possible suspects who might be listed on law enforcement databases or genealogy websites open to the public.

    The use of the emerging technology could resume though if the Democrat-dominated state Senate and Assembly pass legislation sponsored by state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Long Island) and Assemblyman Doug Smith before adjourning for the year on June 2.


Dixie County Sheriff’s Office Partners with Othram to Identify a 1990 Baby Doe (DNASolves – 5/12/2022)

  • In February 1990, human remains belonging to a female newborn infant were found in a partially wooded area in Dixie County, FL. Investigators believe the baby girl was born alive and possibly premature. Her umbilical cord was still attached and torn at the end. The shocking case gained substantial local media attention and in spite of many investigative efforts, she was not able to be identified. Eventually, the infant girl became known as “Little Dixie Doe”.

    An autopsy report revealed that the likely cause of death for the infant girl was blunt force trauma and therefore ruled her death a homicide. Years later, in 2005, the body of the infant girl was exhumed in an effort to obtain DNA evidence to assist with her identification. At the time, a DNA profile was unsuccessfully developed from the exhumed remains. Fortunately, in 2019 a second attempt at DNA profile was made by the forensic laboratory at the University of North Texas and this attempt was successful. In spite of the success, however, the DNA profile did not match in any government database. Once again, the case went cold.


2022’s DNA Hit of the Year Program Reflects on Database Loopholes (Forensic – 5/13/2022)

  • “The case could have been solved decades earlier. [Investigators] claim that Washington state’s DNA database policies, laws and procedures are out of date and prevent police from using DNA to protect victims of violent crimes.” – Tim Schellberg, President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs

    “Sarah’s case could have been solved decades earlier if Washington state had stronger DNA policies in place. Why aren’t they in place? Shouldn’t the state do what they can to utilize the full potential of DNA to solve crime, prevent crime and exonerate the innocent?” – Rockne Harmon, Ret. Senior Deputy DA, Alameda County DA’s Office

    The above quotes, spoken by four different people during the 1-hour DNA Hit of the Year program at the HIDS conference Wednesday afternoon all allude to the same thing: justice could have been served in the Sarah Yarborough case much sooner if the law better reflected and reacted to the power of advancing DNA technology.


Ancient DNA Gives New Insights into ‘Lost’ Indigenous People of Uruguay (Forensic – 5/13/2022)

  • The first whole genome sequences of the ancient people of Uruguay provide a genetic snapshot of Indigenous populations of the region before they were decimated by a series of European military campaigns. PNAS Nexus published the research, led by anthropologists at Emory University and the University of the Republic, Montevideo, Uruguay.

    “Our work shows that the Indigenous people of ancient Uruguay exhibit an ancestry that has not been previously detected in South America,” says John Lindo, co-corresponding author and an Emory assistant professor of anthropology specializing in ancient DNA. “This contributes to the idea of South America being a place where multi-regional diversity existed, instead of the monolithic idea of a single Native American race across North and South America.”


DNA Recovery Attempt Begins on Last American Slave Ship (National Geographic – 5/13/2022)

  • In a press conference recently held by the Alabama Historical Commission in Mobile, scientists announced the discovery of artefacts from inside Clotilda‘s sunken hull, including charred timbers, that directly point to the fiery coverup of the crime more than 160 years after it was committed. Since the beginning of May, a team of archaeologists, divers, and forensic scientists has been working to further explore and stabilise the submerged remains of Clotilda, which was found in the Mobile River in 2019.



‘He Was Gone’: 32 Years After Teen Vanished, St. Louis Police Tap Genetic Forensics to Solve Case (St. Louis Post-Dispatch – 5/16/2022)

  • Tymon “T.J.” Emily’s family laid his body to rest this month, just over 32 years after he disappeared while living in a halfway house in the city’s St. Louis Place neighborhood.

    Tymon’s mother, Vera Emily, reported the 17-year-old missing in March 1990 in Montgomery County, where he grew up and where his family lived.


    Just two years later, in March 1992, skeletal remains for a “John Doe” — a teen who had been stabbed to death, a medical examiner determined — were found in a vacant Central West End building.


    They wouldn’t be identified as the missing Montgomery County teen for three decades.


ASCLD Recognizes Top Performing Forensic Laboratories (Forensic – 5/16/2022)

  • The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) announced 13 forensic laboratories as recipients of the Foresight Maximus Award, a distinction recognizing the top performing forensic laboratories in the world based on Foresight business metrics.

    The 2022 Foresight Maximus award was presented to 13 participant laboratories operating at 90% or better of peak efficiency.



The Power of DNA Databases to Solve Rapes, Missing Persons (Forensic – 5/16/2022)

  • Two years ago when Brazil’s “Robbery of the Century” was selected as the 2020 DNA Hit of the Year, the processing of 457 pieces of evidence and over 580 reference samples shined a light on the power of the country’s DNA database program.

    Now, almost exactly 5 years after the crime, the 2022 DNA Hit of the Year program is looking at how Brazil—and Latin America in general—is leveraging their incredibly successful DNA database programs to solve sexual assaults, missing persons cases and more.



Kentucky State Police Utilizes DNA Technology to Solve Missing Person Case (Kentucky State Police – 5/16/2022)

  • The Kentucky State Police (KSP) is utilizing the ANDE Rapid DNA Identification System, a technology that generates DNA identification from forensic samples in less than two hours, to help solve open cases in the state. Recently, KSP positively identified a woman who went missing in 2020.

    On October 24, 2020, Makayla Collett went missing from Leslie County. In 2021, unidentified remains, including a skull, were found, and taken to the Rapid DNA section of the KSP Forensic Lab. The results led to a partial female DNA profile. KSP Forensic Scientist Regina Wells took further action to research the national missing person database and connected it to Collett.



Startup White Plains Company Uses Genetic Genealogy to Solve Cold Cases (Westchester & Fairfield County Business Journals – 5/16/2022)

  • A newly launched White Plains-based company is planning to partner with law enforcement agencies for solving cold cases through genetic genealogy services. Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy Services (CCGG) will provide forensic genetic genealogy for the identification of suspects in homicide and sexual assault investigations, as well as unidentified remains cases including infant and child remains. The company plans to provide educational services for law enforcement agencies that want to learn more about forensic genetic genealogy practices, and it will also provide traditional genetic genealogy work for adoptees or foundlings requiring advanced expertise.



Tooth of an Ancient Girl Fills Gap in Human Family Tree (The New York Times – 5/16/2022)

  • A tooth found inside of a mountain cave in Laos has solved one of the biggest scientific mysteries of the Denisovans, a branch of ancient humans that disappeared roughly 50,000 years ago.

    Since 2010, when Denisovan teeth and finger bones were first discovered, DNA testing has revealed that the enigmatic hominins were among the ancestors of people alive today in Australia and the Pacific.

    But scientists didn’t understand how the Denisovans, whose scant remains had been found only in Siberia and Tibet, would have been able to interbreed with the group of humans who expanded east from Africa through Southeast Asia before reaching Australia, New Guinea and other islands in the Pacific.

    Now, the discovery of a girl’s molar in Laos, published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, puts Denisovans right in the path of modern humans who arrived in Southeast Asia tens of thousands of years later.



DNA from Fingernail Scrappings Taken at 1988 Crime Scene Finally Hit to Convicted Sex Offender (Forensic – 5/18/2022)

  • On Monday, May 23, 1988, Galt (California) Police Officers were dispatched to the 500 block of Poplar St. regarding a deceased female inside of the residence.  The female, 79-year-old, Lucille Hultgren, had been located by two friends who came to the residence to check on her when she didn’t attend church the previous day. The two friends had entered the residence through a partially opened sliding glass door on the east side of the residence.

    Upon making the discovery of their friend, they drove to the Galt Police Department to report what they had found. Galt police officers and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office deputies immediately responded back to the female’s residence. Officers entered the residence, through the same unlocked sliding glass door, and confirmed the female was deceased. Hultgren had visible injuries to her chest and appeared to have been sexually assaulted. There were no signs of forced entry into the residence.



DA’s Untested Rape Kit Initiative Results in First Indictment (Forensic – 5/18/2022)

  • Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn’s Untested Rape Kit Initiative has resulted in the first indictment related to previously untested rape kits. Scot Trudeau, 47, of Worcester, Massachusetts, has been indicted by a Bristol County Grand Jury on charges of Aggravated Rape and Assault and Battery connected to the cold case 2010 rape of a woman.

    On March, 18 2010, a 23-year-old woman was walking along a street when she was violently attacked by two men. She was struck in the head and then dragged to a secluded area, where one of the men (this defendant) raped her while the other one held her down. She could not see or identify them because they were wearing hooded sweatshirts. She gave a description to the police and was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital for treatment.

    While at the hospital, the victim agreed to undergo a sexual assault evidence collection kit. That kit was one of more than 1,100 from Bristol County alone that was never fully tested by the state lab. However, after the DA’s office became aware of the scope and breadth of the problem with untested rape kits in Bristol County and throughout the state, the DA took action to obtain a federal grant. We then began the painstaking process of inventorying and prioritizing all untested rape kits in our county, and are now in the process of getting all 1,148 previously untested Bristol County rape kits fully tested by a private lab under the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant obtained by District Attorney Quinn in 2019.



NY Teen Found Dead after 13 Years, Sex Offender Charged (Forensic – 5/18/2022)

  • The body of a 17-year-old girl from New York who disappeared while visiting South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach on spring break 13 years ago has been found and a sex offender has been charged with murder, kidnapping and rape, authorities said Monday.

    Brittanee Drexel was last seen April 2009 when she was walking between hotels in Myrtle Beach. Her boyfriend, who stayed home in Rochester, New York, became concerned when she stopped answering texts.

    Drexel was kidnapped that night by Raymond Douglas Moody, who raped and killed her before burying her body the next day in the woods, Georgetown County Sheriff Carter Weaver said Monday at a news conference.

    Drexel’s body was found last Wednesday in Georgetown County, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) down the coast from where she disappeared. The discovery came after a flurry of tips and investigation that included Moody’s arrest May 4 on an obstruction of justice charge.

    Investigators remained silent about the break in the case until Monday, when Moody, 62, was charged. Jail records did not indicate if he had a lawyer.



Cold Case: After 23 Years, Body Found in Campbell County Identified as Missing Ohio Woman (WATE – 5/18/2022)

  • The Knox County Regional Forensic Center announced Wednesday that its team had made a breakthrough in a cold case dating back to 1998 and shared the identity of an Ohio woman whose body had been found near a creek in Campbell County, Tenn.

    Investigators have determined that the remains are those of 27-year-old Lori A. Alexander of Toledo, Ohio. She had been reported missing in October 1998 and her remains were found later that month.



Yuma County First Rural County in Arizona to Launch Rapid DNA Law Enforcement Program (KNWC – 5/18/2022)

  • Yuma County Sherriff’s Office investigators will now be able to run DNA samples faster and locally, thanks to a new program.

    Yuma County is the first rural county in Arizona to launch the Arizona Rapid DNA law enforcement program. Rapid DNA testing has been available in Arizona since 2014 but only in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

    Yuma County received about $150,000 from the state to purchase equipment and train two investigators. Previously, Yuma area investigators had to send DNA samples to the state crime lab and wait weeks or months for results. Now it can be done here in as little as 90 minutes.