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!





DOJ Grant Brings in Forensic Genealogists to Help Solve 2005 Connecticut Homicide (Forensic – 5/14/2021)

  • Authorities are hoping to solve a 16-year-old Hartford cold case murder by using new genetic genealogy testing made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Edward Bell was shot multiple times on the night of May 6, 2005 and died at a hospital. A $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for killing the 34-year-old father of three has remained unclaimed.



DNA Helps Identify Severed Legs Found in 2003 as Temecula Woman’s; Husband Arrested (Los Angeles Times – 5/15/2021)

  • Her name was Laurie Diane Potter. She was 54. The legs found in a trash bin in Rancho San Diego in 2003 were hers.

    No one ever reported the Temecula resident missing. It took 17 years, DNA, genetic genealogy and determined sheriff’s detectives to discover who she was.


Tiny Traces of DNA Found in Cave Dust May Unlock Secret Life of Neanderthals (The Guardian – 5/16/2021)

  • Scientists have pinpointed major changes in Europe’s Neanderthal populations – from traces of blood and excrement they left behind in a Spanish cave 100,000 years ago.

    The discovery is the first important demonstration of a powerful new technique that allows researchers to study DNA recovered from cave sediments. No fossils or stone tools are needed for such studies. Instead, minuscule traces of genetic material that have accumulated in the dust of a cavern floor are employed to reveal ancient secrets.


How DNA Databases Solve Cold Case Rapes (Forensic – 5/17/2021)

  • In a year characterized by unprecedented challenges, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTH-GA) took the opportunity to reflect—looking back at some of the positives and lessons learned in the forensic/law enforcement community over the past four years.

    In 2017, GTH-GA launched “DNA Hit of the Year,” a global program designed to recognize the value of DNA database technology to solve and prevent crime. Every year, GTH-GA partners with a group of international judges to determine which submitted case will be recognized. Due to the pandemic, the program decided not to review new cases in 2021; but, as they say, the show must go on.


Mary McLaughlin Murder: Killer Jailed After DNA Solves 35-Year Mystery (BBC News – 5/18/2021)

  • Graham McGill strangled Mary McLaughlin with her own dressing gown cord – and was back in his prison cell the morning after the murder.



Genealogy Experts Try to Identify Woman Found Dead in Portland in 2015 (WGME13 – 5/18/2021)

  • On May 22, 2015, someone passing by spotted a body in the water along the Eastern Promenade Trail.

    In 2018, the DNA Doe Project was brought in to help with this case. The non-profit organization has been able to solve dozens of John and Jane Doe cases nationwide. Maine investigators previously used their expertise to identify a man in Oakland.



Vancouver Police Employ Genetic Genealogy on ‘Babes in the Woods’ Cold Case (CTV News – 5/18/2021)

  • Sixty-eight years after a groundskeeper discovered the bodies of two young children who’d been murdered with a hatchet in Stanley Park, Vancouver police have enlisted the help of an American genetic genealogy expert to try to put names to the still-unidentified victims.



Court Declares Texas Man Innocent after DNA Cleared Him (Star Tribune – 5/19/2021)

  • A Houston man who had been convicted in a 2010 fatal stabbing but was later eliminated as the killer by DNA evidence was declared innocent on Wednesday by Texas’ highest criminal court.

    The ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came after a new analysis of DNA found on the victim’s fingernails pointed to Lydell Grant’s innocence.



DNA Study Seeks to Pinpoint Cristopher Columbus’ Origins (La Prensa Latina – 5/19/2021)

  • A DNA study to confirm the origins of Christopher Columbus is due to resume after a 16 year hiatus and could reveal answers by 12 October, the 528th anniversary of the explorer’s first arrival in the Americas.

    Scientists are analyzing remains belonging to Columbus and two family members.

    José Antonio Lorente, professor of forensic medicine at the University of Granada in Spain, said the study would attempt to settle the debate surrounding the early life of the explorer, who is widely believed to have been born in Genoa.




GEDmatch Partners with Genetic Affairs to Offer New Tool for Users (Forensic – 5/19/2021)

  • Consumer genealogy site GEDmatch announced the release of three new tools that will enhance the experience for its 1.1 million users. The tools—Autocluster, Autopedigree and Autotree—were developed by EJ Blom of Genetic Affairs.



Australian Police Exhume Body of Unknown Man Found in 1948 (Forensic – 5/19/2021)

  • On Dec. 1, 1948, the body of a man was found on Somerton Beach in South Australia. The man has never been identified and as such the investigation into his identity and the circumstances of this death remain an open inquiry.

    Following approval by the Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, his body was exhumed this morning. The case is in the hands of the SA Police’s Major Crime Investigation Branch, who have continued to review and investigate the matter.



Back to the Beginning: First Forensic DNA Technology Solves Cold Case Rape (Forensic – 5/19/2021)

  • In a unique solution that would make Doc Brown proud, a team of forensic scientists solved a 1988 rape case by going back to the beginning—leveraging the equipment and techniques that were considered the gold standard over three decades ago.

    And if you’re going to resurrect a 30-year-old technology that has since gone by the wayside, what better place to do it than in the laboratory where it all started—the lab where Sir Alec Jeffreys first discovered the potential of DNA typing in forensic science.