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!
Sheriff James Fryhoff and District Attorney Erik Nasarenko have announced the award of a second $2.5 million grant from the United States Department of Justice in support of the Ventura County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The Sheriff’s Forensic Services Bureau, with assistance from the District Attorney’s Office, applied for this supplemental grant to further efforts that began following receipt of a prior award of $2.5 million in late 2021.
The Ventura County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (VCSAKI) is a multi-agency countywide effort to test every sexual assault kit for the presence of DNA and investigate unsolved sexual assault cases. Approximately 3,000 kits have been located and will be tested as part of this initiative. Many of these kits pre-dated the advent of DNA technologies. While most of the kits have been tested utilizing the technology available at the time, the grant will allow us the opportunity to re-test the evidence through the lens of modern DNA analysis.
Through the creation of a new online university database, a Mississippi State forensic anthropologist is using his expertise to help find missing people.
The Mississippi Repository for Missing and Unidentified Persons, launched this month at www.missinginms.msstate.edu, opens access to important forensic information and biological profiles—from physical makeup to trauma assessments and estimated times of death—used by law enforcement in finding missing people and identifying remains. The website features a searchable portal with access to public case information.
In February 1990, the remains of an unidentified individual were located in a wooded area near Evans Bridge Road in Heflin, Alabama, a small town situated nearly halfway between Birmingham, AL and Atlanta, GA on Interstate 20. A logging crew working in the area discovered the remains and contacted the Heflin Police Department. The Alabama Department of Forensic Science and Alabama Bureau of Investigations assisted local law enforcement in their search of the wooded area. Skeletal remains were collected and submitted to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science laboratory for identification. It was determined that the remains belonged to a White female. The woman’s identity could not be established. Her age was difficult to determine due to the condition of the remains, but it was estimated that the woman was in her late twenties to late thirties at the time of her death. The woman’s manner of death was determined to be homicide. She became known as “Cleburne County Jane Doe.”
Baltimore County leaders have announced a new effort to expedite the testing of cold case forensic evidence in sexual assault cases.
Back in September, WJZ’s Cristina Mendez took a tour at GBMC to learn more about Dr. Rudy Breitenecker – an emergency room physician at GBMC, who during the seventies, began collecting DNA evidence from sexual assault survivors.
At the time, DNA profiling did not exist.
Breitenecker preserved the evidence for more than 2000 sexual assaults on microscope slides. Now, about 1400 survivors have a chance for closure and justice.
In 1958, the remains of an unknown individual were found in Kanosh, Utah, a small desert town in Millard County. In 1979, the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office was notified about the existence of the remains. While records indicate the individual’s remains were discovered in 1958, it is not known who discovered the remains or where they were stored prior to the Medical Examiner’s Office receiving them twenty-one years later. The remains were stored without any clues to help determine who the unknown person may be. In 2020, more than sixty-years after the remains were discovered, a forensic anthropology analysis was completed. It was determined that the skeletal remains are likely that of a White male, estimated to be between 5’8” and 6’2” tall, who at the time of his death was between 25 and 35 years old.
The anthropological assessment determined that the decedent experienced skeletal trauma during his life. While estimates of an individual’s lifestyle and occupation are not routinely estimated when examining skeletal remains, the extent of healed injuries that were sustained during the man’s life indicate that he may have been a working cowboy or rodeo athlete. Additionally, the man may have had a condition in which the knees tilt inward while the ankles remain spaced apart, commonly referred to as “knock-kneed.”
It is speculated that these remains could be that of Everett Ruess, an American artist, poet, and writer who was known to be exploring the Utah deserts in the 1930s when he went missing. However, with the passing of decades and the lack of identifying characteristics or other information, the identity of the man is unknown. In 2020, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP64653.
In 2023, the Millard County Sheriff’s Office teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help to finally identify the remains of the John Doe. Anyone who may assist in the investigation is encouraged to contact the Millard County Sheriff’s Office and reference agency case number 197900337 or NamUs ID #UP64653.
In March 2021, the remains of an unidentified individual were found by timber workers in a wooded area on Raubuck Road near Winlock, Washington. Winlock is located in Lewis County west of Interstate 5. A 911 call was made to report the discovery and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene. The skeletal remains were examined by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. It was determined that the individual was a White male, who was estimated to be between the ages of 18 and 30 years and 5′ 10″ to 6′ 1″ tall at the time of his death. Due to the condition of the man’s remains, no other identifying characteristics could be determined. There were no signs of trauma found on any of the remains. The man’s cause and manner of death were ruled as undetermined.
A forensic artist created a forensic sketch to demonstrate how the man may have appeared during his life in hopes that it would generate leads about his identity. In October 2021, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP85217. Despite the investigative efforts of law enforcement, the identity of the man remained unknown and the case eventually went cold.
In April 2023, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads that were returned to detectives with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. Detectives used these new leads to continue their search for the man’s identity.
A follow-up investigation led detectives to a potential relative of the unknown man who submitted a DNA sample for reference testing. The DNA profile of the relative helped confirm the identity of the man as Glen Michael Rudge. Rudge’s last known address was in the Lewis County area. The last known contact with Rudge was in early 2018 when he was 25 years old.
An Orange County Superior Court judge has tentatively granted a defense request for extensive DNA testing on evidence collected in a 1984 killing that sent a homeless man to prison.
For decades, Kenneth Clair has maintained his innocence in the slaying of a Santa Ana nanny, making him a cause celebre and sparking an online petition that gathered more than 160,000 national signatures in 2016 demanding a new trial.
With advancements in DNA analysis, Judge Sheila Hanson said on Friday, Nov. 3, that she would allow tests on pieces of evidence found at the crime scene that could not be tested at the time of the original investigation. The logistics for the testing are being determined for a final court order. Prosecutors did not oppose the new testing.
On Monday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee published the Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) Annual Report for 2022.
The 2022 annual report marks another important year for FSI. Despite an increase in the volume and complexity of submissions to FSI, the agency is performing very well, and has met or exceeded the majority of its targets for 2022, including issuing 23,542 forensic reports.
In May 2016, the remains of an unidentified murdered man were recovered from the Ohio River in Daviess County, Kentucky. The Ohio River forms the boundary between the states of Kentucky and Indiana. The man’s remains were found near those of a woman, who was identified at the time of discovery. The unknown man’s remains were sent to the Office of the State Medical Examiner in Louisville, Kentucky for further examination. Due to the condition of his remains, few identifying characteristics could be determined. Investigators concluded that the man had black hair and that he likely suffered from a fracture to the skull or eye socket during his life. The man’s death was ruled a homicide.
In May 2016, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP15138. Despite the investigative efforts of law enforcement, little could be determined about the man’s identity and he became known as Daviess County John Doe. With leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.
In 2022, the Indiana State Police submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads that were returned to detectives with the Indiana State Police. Detectives used these new leads to continue their search for the man’s identity.
Using these new leads, investigators contacted potential family members of Daviess County John Doe and have now positively identified the man as Wilbur Allen Grant of Louisville, Kentucky.
In February 1980, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered near Trinidad, California. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) receive a call regarding possible human remains located in the brush off Stagecoach Road. A HCSO Detective responded to the scene and an investigation was launched. It was determined that the remains were that of an unidentified female, described as being between the ages of 20 and 30 years. She had reddish-brown hair, was 5’9” tall, and weighed 170 pounds. The woman’s remains were located in a sleeping bag.
During the initial investigation, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) recovered a latent fingerprint which was ran through the Automated Latent Print System with no reported matches. A forensic Dental examination was completed by a local dentist. An autopsy was completed, and the cause of death was listed as an overdose. A DNA sample was obtained and entered into both the California Missing Persons DNA Database and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP55390. The DNA profile was routinely searched against profiles from both missing persons and other human remains in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
Missing Persons cases stay open until solved. In December of 2022 the HCSO and the CA DOJ partnered with Othram Inc to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the unidentified woman or a close relative. CA DOJ sent Othram a DNA extract from the unknown woman’s remains. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the woman. Once the profile was built, Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to produce investigative leads. Funding for advanced DNA testing was provided by the Roads to Justice (RTJ) program.
In August of 2023, the HCSO received investigative leads from Othram indicating that the DNA profile may be that of Denise Gail Cruz, born in 1953. The report included several genetic relatives, including a possible brother named Mark from Colorado. HCSO Investigators were able to contact Mark, who confirmed he had a sister named Denise Gail Cruz. A DNA sample was obtained from Mark and sent to CA DOJ for comparison to the unknown female. CA DOJ was able to confirm that Mark and Denise were genetic relatives. Mark told investigators that, for unknown reasons, Denise stopped communicating with family members. Their last contact with her was in September of 1979. As the family was not sure whether the loss of contact was intentional, Denise was never reported as missing.
In May 1980, the remains of an unknown man were found near Brea, California in the Tonner Canyon area adjacent to an oil well. The remains were examined by a forensic anthropologist. It was determined that the individual was a Black male, who was estimated to be between the ages of 17 and 24 years. The man’s height was estimated to be between 5’8” and 5’11” and he weighed approximately 180 pounds. It was estimated that the young man had died five to twelve months prior to the discovery of his remains. His cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound to the face and his death was ruled a homicide.
For decades, investigators worked to identify the man. Despite their efforts, the identity of the man remained unknown, and the case eventually went cold. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing an Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP7652. The man was buried with a name, but investigators never gave up trying to identify him. With advances in DNA testing, the murder victim’s remains were exhumed in May 2022, in hopes that advanced DNA testing could assist in his identification.
In June 2022, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. After successfully completing the process, the DNA profile was delivered to the FBI’s forensic genetic genealogy team and the FBI team performed the necessary work to generate new investigative leads in the case.
The FBI identified several promising leads and Orange County Sheriff investigators began working to identify family members of the unknown man. After months of work, investigators contacted a woman in Compton, California who was believed to be the young man’s mother. Using familial reference DNA samples, investigators were able to identify the murdered young man as Lonnie Raymond Thomas. Thomas was 20 years old at the time of his death. Thomas’s family has been notified of his positive identification and his remains will be reinterred this week. Orange County Sheriff investigators ordered a gravestone to mark his final resting place with his real name.
The scientific analysis of evidence is now essential to modern law enforcement, helping to close cases faster with irrefutable facts and data. Managing this vast amount of information, though, requires special technology so the collection, storage, and sharing of information is efficient and above reproach. A forensic information management system (FIMS) tailored for forensic investigation provides the end-to-end support that law enforcement needs, from gathering information to prosecution.
Immigration across the US-Mexico border has been a politically charged topic for more than half a century. Those who attempt to cross the border undocumented face perilous journeys that can cost them their lives and, in many cases, result in a large number of unidentified human remains cases that overwhelm local resources for death investigation.
In an effort to provide closure to families of the dead, Dr. Krista Latham, professor and forensic anthropologist, and her graduate students with UIndy’s Beyond Borders Humanitarian Forensic Science Team have been traveling to the Texas Borderlands for the last 10 years to help with efforts to recover and identify migrant remains and return them to their home countries.
In July 2023, the Atlanta Police Department completed to a welfare check at a southwest Atlanta, Georgia home where they located the remains of a woman. The Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department also responded to the scene and confirmed the death. The woman could not be identified due to the advanced state of decomposition. The unidentified woman’s remains were transferred to Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office for investigation and identification.
As part of an ongoing collaboration with Othram to close unsolved cases, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office once again partnered with Othram to identify the unknown woman. Forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified woman.
In the course of the investigation, a possible family member contributed a reference DNA sample to help determine if the victim could be a genetic relative. The family member’s DNA was compared to the unidentified woman’s DNA profile using KinSNP® rapid familial testing. Using this information in conjunction with a follow up investigation, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office was able to confirm the identity of the woman as 75-year-old Arlene Woods, born July 13, 1947. No foul play is suspected, however the cause and manner of death are still undetermined. An investigation into her death continues.
The Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) Center is a relatively new addition to Ramapo’s campus. Few would suspect such a monumental step forward, for the field of IGG is tucked away on the first floor of the Learning Commons. The center is the first of its kind “to offer case work, research, and hands-on education in [IGG],” according to a press release.
The developing field of IGG gained prominence in 2018 when it was used to solve the Golden State Killer case. An article in Forensic Science International defines IGG as “the use of SNP-based relative matching combined with family tree research to produce investigative leads in criminal investigations and missing persons cases.”
IGG Center Assistant Director Cairenn Binder described the process as two steps. The first is an outsourced lab process including extraction, genotyping and bioinformatics of a DNA sample.
In January 1976, 16-year-old Pauline Brazeau visited a pizza diner in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for dinner and drinks, where she was last seen alive around three o’clock in the morning. Hours later, Pauline’s body was discovered in Cochrane, a rural city that is located approximately 22 miles from Calgary. An autopsy confirmed that Pauline’s manner of death was homicide. Brazeau was a single mother who had recently moved to Calgary from Saskatchewan. For decades, law enforcement worked to identify the person responsible for Pauline’s death, but a suspect was not identified.
In 1995 a task force investigated the cold case, and despite exhaustive efforts, the case remained unsolved. Later in 2021, the Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police worked with the Calgary Police Service to re-evaluate homicide investigations dating back to the 1970s. Brazeau’s murder was included in this effort and the decision to utilize forensic genetic genealogy was made in hopes that advanced DNA testing could generate new leads and solve the decades-old mystery of Pauline’s killer.
In 2022, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. With this forensic evidence, Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown suspect. After successfully completing the process, the DNA profile was delivered to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who worked with forensic genetic genealogists from Convergence Investigative Genetic Genealogy to generate new leads in the case. The leads were returned to law enforcement investigators who continued working the case.
Empowered with new leads, investigators were able to eventually identify the unknown suspect in Brazeau’s murder as 73-year-old Ronald James Edwards of Sundre, Alberta, Canada. Edwards was arrested on November 7, 2023 on murder charges consistent with the 1976 Criminal Code that was in place at the time of Brazeau’s murder. Following a Judicial Interim Release Hearing, Edwards has been remanded into custody and is scheduled to appear in the Alberta Court of Justice in Calgary on November 14, 2023.
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