This Week in Forensic Science – ISHI News

May 28 2021

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!





He Was Executed for Murder 4 Years Ago. Now Someone Else’s DNA Has Been Found on the Murder Weapon. (CNN- 5/22/2021)

  • Before he was executed by the state of Arkansas in April 2017, Lee gave some of his last words to the BBC, telling the broadcaster, “My dying words will always be, as it has been: I am an innocent man.”
    Now, four years after Lee was put to death for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, attorneys for his family say someone else’s DNA was found on the murder weapon, raising new questions about Lee’s conviction.



Convicted Murderer in Florida Linked to Hawaii Cold Case from 1982 (KHON2 – 5/22/2021)

  • Her body was found down a gulch about almost 39 years ago. According to court documents, two joggers spotted her along Nuuanu Pali Drive when they stopped by the water reservoir.
    Hicks, 25, had been strangled to death. Her murder, and who killed her, remained a mystery until Friday, May 21.


Guatemala Disappeared: Reuniting Families with the Remains of Loved Ones (BBC News – 5/23/2021)

  • Almost 25 years on from the signing of a peace agreement which put an end to Guatemala’s bloody armed conflict, thousands of families have yet to find the remains of their missing relatives.


‘You Save as Long as You Have To’: Pathologist Created First DNA Database of Rapists 50 Years Ago (Forensic – 5/24/2021)

  • He opened the Rape Care Center within the hospital, a unit dedicated to doing better for the traumatized women who wound up there. He trained physicians on how to conduct respectful but meticulous exams and how to preserve the evidence of a possible crime.

    Women would be seen within an hour of their arrival. A physician trained by Breitenecker would swab the vagina, vulva, cervix, legs and wherever else there could be physical traces of the attacker. They documented any injuries and took fingernail scrapings. They combed for pubic hair and pulled blood and urine. They put a small amount of saline water inside the vaginal canal to collect the washings into test tubes.

    The swabs and tubes were transported to a hospital laboratory where Breitenecker — “Dr. B,” as he was known among colleagues — smeared the contents from the swabs onto thin glass slides, then slid the evidence under a microscope, which he used to check for spermatozoa.


San Diego Uses Genealogy to ID Murder Victim for the First Time (Forensic – 5/24/2021)

  • On Oct. 5, 2003, at about 1:25 p.m., Sheriff’s Deputies responded to an apartment complex in the 1600 block of Hilton Head Court in Rancho San Diego for a report of body parts found in a dumpster by a worker. Deputies and fire personnel arrived and confirmed two human legs were found in the dumpster. The Sheriff’s Homicide Unit responded and assumed responsibility of the investigation. No other body parts were located at the scene.

    In June 2020, the Homicide Unit’s Cold Case Team, in coordination with the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Sheriff’s Crime Lab, selected the case to be worked using investigative genetic genealogy. This was the first time the Homicide Unit attempted to identify a murder victim, or “Jane Doe” case, utilizing investigative genetic genealogy.



DNA Identifies Murdered Missouri Woman’s Body Found in 1981 (FOX 2 Now – 5/25/2021)

  • The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and the DNA Doe Project have identified a Jane Doe woman whose body was discovered on May 25, 1981. She has been identified as Karen Kay Knippers. Her body was found at a low water crossing near Dixon, Mo., the victim of an apparent homicide.

    After authorities were unable to identify her back in 1981 or any details involving her death. She was buried in the Waynesville Cemetery in a grave marked Jane Doe.



A Woman Was Groped at the University of Utah. Skin Cells on Her Clothing Helped Investigators Catch Her Attacker. (The Salt Lake Tribune – 5/25/2021)

  • Touch DNA, which is DNA from skin cells left behind on something that a person has touched, had not traditionally been used in groping and sexual assault cases at the time, according to Valentine.

    But when the nurse examiner was left with few other options, she remembered that the state crime lab had recently improved its DNA testing methods. So, she tried something different.

    The nurse swabbed the victim’s skin and clothing everywhere the victim said the man had touched her, and the nurse also collected the victim’s clothing. The method seemed so unusual at the time that when the nurse called the crime lab to explain why she collected what she did, she told them, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but this is all we had to go on.”



A Plane Spotted His ‘SOS’ and Saved Him in 1982. It was the Same Night He Killed Two Women, Police Now Say. (The Washington Post – 5/25/2021)

  • When rescuers on the ground made their way up to the 10,000-foot mountain pass in subzero temperatures, they found Alan Lee Phillips, 30, stuck in a snowdrift. His astounding rescue tale made national headlines.

    But now, almost four decades later, it appears Phillips wasn’t an innocent motorist trying to make his way home in bad weather. In fact, police say, hours earlier he’d killed two young women who were hitchhiking nearby.

NC State Anthropology Lab to Subcontract with NamUs (Forensic – 5/26/2021)

  • NC State was recently announced as one of two forensic anthropology subcontractors with RTI International on the management of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). Ann Ross, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, will lead the NC State team on NamUs work.

    Ross has been a longtime leader in the field of forensic anthropology, working extensively with law enforcement and on international efforts to identify victims of war crimes and political killings. Since 2007, her lab has been involved in the prosecution of more than 100 criminal cases (including the Laura Ackerson murder and 10 cases involving children 13 years of age and younger), as well as in resolving more than 60 other identification cases.