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!




Gujarat: Forensic DNA DNA Test to Solve Crimes Up 71% in 3 Years (The Times of India – 5/23/2022)

    • Sleuths investigating gruesome crimes are increasingly relying on biological evidence collected from the crime scenes to corroborate their probe findings and nail the accused. The analysis of DNA collected from the crime scenes has gone up 71% in three years according to the data of the first four months at the Directorate of Forensic Sciences, Gandhinagar.

Quick Take: 5 Common Myths About Genetic Genealogy Investigations (POLICE1 – 5/24/2022)

  • While the use of genetic genealogy to eventually crack the Golden State Killer case was such a watershed moment for investigations that we named it one of our top law enforcement gamechangers of the 2010s, police use of the direct to consumer services FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatchPro has not been without bumps in the road. The novel solution to approaching cold cases has been a magnet for controversy arguably since the Golden State Killer breakthrough first made headlines. Chief among those concerns are questions around privacy, even leading some states to push back on how police agencies can use genetic genealogy services. There’s a lot of information flying around regarding police use of this investigative technique, and some of the most often-parroted sentiments are misguided.Stephen Kramer and Stephen Busch, who co-founded the FBI’s forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) team, recently hosted an ISHI webinar titled “An Inside Look at the Facts and Fiction Surrounding Genetic Genealogy,” in which they repeatedly stressed the importance of “protecting the technique.” In addition to being thoughtful and careful in how investigative techniques are used, one of the other critical steps to preventing things like FGG from coming under fire to an unmanageable degree is to dispel myths and misinformation. Among the topics Kramer and Busch covered were five common myths about using genetic genealogy in investigations. People tend to fear what they don’t understand, and it’s important to know where there are misunderstandings and how to address them. Here’s a look at these misconceptions and the facts.


How Secure is Your DNA? (NIST – 5/25/2022)

  • In August 2021, at the request of Congress, the NCCoE embarked on an effort to answer these questions. We created an interdisciplinary team that included NIST employees, subject matter experts from MITRE and members from both the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, also in Huntsville. This team is examining the question of what is unique about genomic data, discovering the most common and pressing cybersecurity concerns specific to this data, and identifying and providing guidance around security and privacy practices to help protect it.As a first step, we hosted the NCCoE Virtual Workshop on the Cybersecurity of Genomic Data on Jan. 26, 2022, during which we heard from 18 subject matter experts from around the world who discussed the unique challenges of securing genomic data. The speakers represented the U.S. government, public and private universities, industry and professional organizations. Speakers covered their experiences from the time data is created on sequencers through to when it is stored, shared and analyzed. We also heard from privacy experts.


Authorities Solve 13-Year-Old Cold Case Using New DNA Technology, Sparking Privacy Concerns (KBTX3 – 5/25/2022)

  • New technology has helped police in Wisconsin solve a 13-year-old mystery involving an infant that was found lifeless in a bag on farmland. However, these new methods of locating suspects via genetic testing are raising concerns over privacy. An infant, known only as Baby Theresa, after the village she was found in, was discovered and laid to rest 13 years ago. The lifeless body was found abandoned on farmland. Investigators used DNA collected at the crime scene and sent it to Family Tree DNA, a DNA testing site allowing people to learn more about their family history and heritage.



Parents Were Asked for DNA Samples to Help Identify Victims. (The New York Times – 5/25/2022)

  • Among the countless chilling details to emerge from the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday was this: The authorities had asked parents waiting in agony for news about their children to give DNA samples.

    The request suggests that some of the 19 children who were killed may have been so severely wounded and grouped so closely together that they were difficult to identify, according to experts in medical forensics.

    DNA testing, he said, is not only more accurate, but it also spares parents the trauma of having to view photos like the ones that were shown to parents after 20 children were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. DNA testing also helps the authorities be as certain as possible that they are positively identifying fatally injured children who may look or dress alike and who don’t have ID cards, tattoos or fingerprints on file.


Army Vet Missing Since 1976 Identified as Murder Victim (CBS17– 5/25/2022)

  • The body of a murder victim has been identified as an Army veteran missing since 1976.

    The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office announced that a partnership with the North Carolina Unidentified Project and Othram Inc. led to the identification of Jimmy Mack Brooks.

    In March of 1976, Chatham County deputies opened a homicide investigation after the body of an unidentified man was found in Moncure. The sheriff’s office said a lack of basic information or viable clues made it difficult to make progress in the case early on.

    The sheriff’s office said investigator Ricky Culberson connected with the NC Unidentified Project, an initiative was co-founded by Dr. Ann Ross, Director of the NC Human Identification & Forensics Analysis Lab at NC State and Leslie Kaufman, member of the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition, in 2020 to raise and provide funding or assistance with unidentified person cases. Forensic testing is an expensive process. The NC Unidentified Project received a grant to begin funding DNA extraction and analysis on behalf of participating agencies.

    The NC Unidentified Project worked with Othram Inc. to build a genealogical profile from skeletal remains. A DNA link ultimately led investigators to a family member of the victim. That family member identified the deceased person as Jimmy Mack Brooks.

Shirley Soosay’s Remains Being Returned to Samson Cree Nation, Decades After Her Murder (CBC – 5/26/2022)

  • When Violet Soosay’s aunt went missing in 1979, she made a promise to her grandmother that she would find her daughter and bring her home.

    At a women’s conference in 2020, Soosay spoke about her search and her hope for closure. Just four days later, a Facebook post caught her attention.

    The post was from the DNA Doe Project — an American non-profit that uses genetic genealogy to identify cold case victims — and it was trying to identify an Indigenous woman who had been murdered in Kern County, Calif. The woman had been stabbed to death and her body was found in an almond orchard on July 14, 1980.

    Soosay submitted her DNA to a website listed in the post and the match was confirmed within a few weeks.

    The homecoming marks the end of her family’s mystery but also illustrates the power of DNA testing and social media —tools that Soosay hopes help others searching for answers.


National Missing Persons DNA Program Hits Milestone 50th Case Solved with the Help of DNA (Yahoo! Sports – 5/26/2022)

  • A missing person case in Niagara, Ontario, represents the National Missing Persons DNA Program’s (NMPDP) milestone 50th case that was solved with the help of DNA.

    The Sir Adam Beck Generating Station is approximately 10 kilometers North of the Canadian and American Falls. As part of routine maintenance, the power generating station is required to drain and dredge the hydro dams to ensure efficiency. The maintenance took place over the course of four days in November 2021, during which time two bones were found. One was determined to have been the pelvis of a deer and the other a human femur bone.

    The femur bone was confirmed to belong to a male. On April 12, 2022, the DNA profile was uploaded to the RCMP’s National DNA Data Bank. On April 20, 2022, there was a positive match between the DNA of the located femur bone and that of a male from the City of Niagara Falls who had been reported missing by his family in September 2011.

    The DNA match was made possible by the deceased male’s mother, who voluntarily provided a DNA sample to the RCMP DNA Data Bank to assist with a future comparative analysis.


From the Ancient Ashes of Vesuvius, Human DNA (The New York Times – 5/26/2022)

  • A team of geneticists and archaeologists have successfully sequenced the genome of a man who died during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.. It was the first time that a complete stretch of mitochondrial DNA from Pompeian human or animal remains had been genetically decoded. It’s speculated that the ash and pumice released during the blast may have provided cover from DNA-degrading environmental factors, such as atmospheric oxygen.


Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office and Hinds County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2018 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 5/26/2022)

  • In 2018, employees from a tree cutting service discovered a human skull in a wooded area where they were working, along side Champion Hill Road in Bolton, MS. Additional search efforts yielded additional skeletal remains. The Hinds County Sheriff’s Office and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation were called to investigate the scene. Cause of death could not be established, although it was noted that the remains were partially burned.

    In 2021, as part of an ongoing collaboration, the Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office teamed with Othram to use Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive genealogical profile from the burned skeletal remains. The condition of the skeletal remains necessitated additional processing steps to make DNA suitable for advanced testing. After multiple rounds of testing, Othram scientists were able to build the necessary profile to enable genealogical search. The costs associated with this case were funded by Mississippi native and philanthropist, Carla Davis. In addition, Carla Davis led the genealogical research to search for possible family members of the unidentified woman.



DNA Testing, Genealogy Tools Help Solve Cold Case Murder of Illinois Man (Quad-City Times – 5/26/2022)

  • Pennsylvania state police say they have solved the slaying of a Chicago man whose burning body was found 42 years ago near Interstate 80 in a northwestern town.

    Edwin Rodriguez was identified through the use of DNA testing and genealogy tools, authorities announced Wednesday.

    Rodriguez was 18 when he and a family friend, Nestor Quintanal, left Chicago for Florida in the fall of 1980, and Rodriguez’s family never heard from him again. His burning body was found Nov. 6, 1980, near Interstate 80 in Wolf Creek. Authorities said Quintanal — who died in Florida in 2002 at the age of 71 — is believed to have killed Rodriguez, who had third-degree burns on 70% of his body. A possible motive for the killing was not disclosed.

    The Mercer County District Attorney’s office paid for state police to have an advanced DNA analysis performed, and in 2007 the office secured a DNA profile of the victim through evidence collected at the autopsy. In January 2019, the profile was sent to a lab for DNA phenotype testing and a genetic genealogy screening.



Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify an Atlanta Home Fire Victim (DNASolves – 5/27/2022)

  • In January 2022, a fire broke out in a one-story home in southwest Atlanta. Firefighters from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department responded to the scene where they worked to contain the heavy fire and smoke that had engulfed the home. Once the fire was contained, investigators assessed the damage and found one victim among the debris. The severity of the injuries made it challenging to initially determine biological sex or other details about the home fire victim that might identify him.

    The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office, on recommendation of the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office, engaged Othram to use advanced DNA testing to see if any new leads could be developed based on a DNA analysis of the victim’s remains. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive genealogical profile for the victim. In the course of the investigation, a candidate family member volunteered to help rule out the possibility that the victim could be related to them and testing against the profile, using KinSNP® rapid family testing. Investigators then confirmed that the victim of the fire was 59-year-old Zachary Wells, born and raised in Atlanta, GA.


DNA Testing Leads to Arrest of Newport News Man in 2009 Double-Homicide Cold Case (Daily Press – 5/27/2022)

  • The slaying of two Pennsylvania women remained unsolved for more than a decade. But after years of DNA testing, a Newport News man was arrested on charges related to the 2009 deaths of the women in their Huntingdon County home.

    Morico T. Johnson, 47, was taken into custody Tuesday in Newport News. He’s accused of fatally shooting Christine McWhorter and Beatrice Daniels 13 years ago in their apartment in Mount Union — about 130 miles east of Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania State Police pieced the case together using genetic genealogy DNA testing from Reston-based Parabon NanoLabs. The fairly new method uses public genetic databases, such as 23andMe, to craft family trees from an unknown DNA sample.



Genealogy Records Reveal El Dorado Jane Doe’s True Identity ( – 5/27/2022)

  • The story of El Dorado Jane Doe has been actively investigated since 1991 when an unidentified woman was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend on July 10. For three decades, many have wondered who was murdered at the Whitehall Motel that year.

    Nearly thirty-one years later, numerous law enforcement investigators and genealogy experts have discovered El Dorado Jane Doe’s true identity. Investigators identified the women as Kelly, whose last name is being withheld to keep privacy for her family.

    The discovery of Kelly’s identity was made possible after genealogy experts, Yolanda McClary, Jean Grier and Michael Leclerc worked closely with Captain Cathy Phillips to pull together and test pieces of DNA.


Denver Medical Examiner Receives Grant for DNA Technology to Help Identify the Dead Faster (The Denver Post – 5/30/2022)

  • The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner has received a federal grant to buy an in-house rapid DNA processor — technology that can produce genetic-test results in a matter of hours, expediting the identification of victims in mass casualty events or helping locate family of unidentified bodies.

    “This identification allows loved ones to have a burial, to obtain death certificates and to receive justice, in some cases,” said James Caruso, Denver’s chief medical examiner. “The pain for families can be unbearable when they don’t know where their loved one is and aren’t able to give a meaningful and proper goodbye.”



Tallahassee Police Make Arrest in 25-Year-Old Cold Case ( – 6/1/2022)

  • On Tuesday, May 31, the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) arrested a suspect for first-degree murder in connection to a homicide that occurred more than two decades ago.

    On July 2, 1996, an adult male was found deceased in a room at the Prince Murat Motel, located at 745 North Monroe Street. Based on evidence found at the scene and the completion of a full autopsy, the death was ruled a homicide, and the deceased male was later identified as James Branner.

    In 2020, TPD detectives reopened the case, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) prepared samples from the DNA originally found at the crime scene for further processing using new forensic technology. Through FDLE’s partnership with Parabon NanoLabs and the FDLE genetic genealogy team, an investigative lead was developed in 2021 that pointed detectives toward Alan Lefferts as the suspect.


NIJ Report: Best Practices in DNA Lab Operations (Forensic – 6/1/2022)

  • In 2018, National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) commissioned a group of experts in forensic DNA analysis to research and write a new report—“National Best Practices for Improving DNA Laboratory Process Efficiency.” This just-released guide brings together a combination of innovative and practical concepts, recommendations, and best practices to assist DNA laboratories in increasing their productivity and capacity in a multitude of areas.

    The scope of the report is too wide for one article, so Forensic will continue to summarize best practices in future publications. In this article, Forensic will focus specifically on recommendations for laboratory management and operations.



DNA Identifies 1974 Remains That May Link to Serial Killer (The Washington Post – 6/2/2022)

  • The remains of a teenager who went missing nearly 50 years ago have been identified through advanced DNA technology, and detectives believe she may have been slain by a police officer who was also a serial killer.

    Susan Poole, 15, was a high school dropout whose family reported her missing just before Christmas in 1972. She had been living between the family’s home in a trailer park near Fort Lauderdale and with a friend in a nearby apartment, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Detective William Springer said during a news conference Thursday.

    In 2015, investigators submitted DNA to a national missing persons database, which turned up nothing. Then, in December, Othram, a Texas-based forensics lab that builds DNA profiles using genealogy, contacted the sheriff’s office and said they may be able to help solve cold cases. In March, the company provided the names of the victim’s mother and siblings. Springer said they provided a DNA sample from Poole’s mother, who was verified as a match.

    Now Springer is looking for evidence that connects Poole to Gerard Schaefer, a serial killer who was fatally stabbed by a fellow inmate at the Florida State Prison in 1995.