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!




Palm Beach County Cold Case Murders Get New DNA Testing Thanks to $500K Federal Grant (WPBF25 – 10/21/2022)

    • A new $500,000 federal grant to Palm Beach County law enforcement may help solve cold case murders going back as far as 1964.

      The money will pay for expensive, advanced DNA testing and genetic genealogy at private labs that use technology not normally available to public DNA labs.



DNA Evidence Links 63-Year-Old Man to 1986 Salem Cold Case (CBS Boston – 10/22/2022)

  • The man accused of killing a college student in Beverly over 35 years ago was arraigned on a murder charge Friday. John Carey, 63, is accused of killing Claire Gravel in 1986.

    Carey was indicted back in August. He appeared at Friday’s arraignment via video conference since he is serving a prison sentence from 2008 for attempted murder.

    According to prosecutors, when Carey was convicted of that attempted murder, he had to give a DNA swap. The sample linked him to DNA from the tank top worn by Claire Gravel on the day she was killed.



MS Office of the State Medical Examiner and Moss Point Police Department Partner with Othram to Identify 1996 John Doe (DNASolves – 10/24/2022)

  • In June 1996, the skeletal remains from an unknown man were found in a wooded area near Moss Point, Mississippi. Although investigators found some clothing near the recovered remains, there were no identifying documents or clues as to who the man was. Based on the partial skeletal remains, investigators were able to estimate that the man was 45-60 years of age, at the time of death. He was determined to be 5’10” tall but his weight could not be estimated. He was thought to have brown hair. The case was entered in NamUs as UP869. However with few leads to go on, the case eventually went cold.

    In 2021, the Mississippi Office of the State Medical Examiner and Moss Point Police Department teamed with Othram to use Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to help generate new leads that might identify the unknown man or a member of his family.



Man Found Dead 18 Years Ago in Arizona. Now Genetic Family Tree Helps Identify Him. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram – 10/14/2022)

  • Nearly two decades ago, a man was found dead in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, and with few clues to identify him, his case quickly went cold. The man, who was believed to have fallen from a tall building, was found “in the area of Central Avenue and West Monroe Street” on Oct. 19, 2004, according to a news release from the nonprofit DNA Doe Project. The man was between 40 and 60 years old with blue eyes, gray hair and was missing many teeth. One of the few clues investigators had to help identify the man was the surgical implant in his right ankle, the nonprofit said. However, after they could not trace the implant, the case went cold.

    By tracing the man’s genetic family tree, DNA Doe Project’s inaugural summer apprentices helped identify the man as Frank R. Beck, the nonprofit said.


Three Victims, One County: Genealogy Gives Names Back to 3 Unidentified Bodies (Forensic – 10/26/2022)

    • Thanks to the relentless review of cold cases by a lieutenant at the Benton County (Arkansas) Sheriff’s Office and a March 2021 meeting with Othram, investigators have now identified previously unidentified remains of three homicide victims dating back over 40 years ago.

      Starting in June 2016, Lieutenant Hunter Petray, part of the sheriff’s criminal investigation unit, began a case review of cold cases, particularly the three unidentified homicide victims at Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

      By August 2022, Petray had the name of one victim and a promising lead the Sheriff’s Office is still working on. By September, Petray had the name of another victim and was able to successfully close her case. And then earlier this month, Petray identified the third and final set of human remains.


National DNA Program Partners with Othram to use Forensic Genetic Genealogy for Unsolved Australian Cases (Mirage News – 10/26/2022)

    • The AFP will have access to specialised forensic DNA testing, not currently available in Australia, to identify human remains and develop new leads for unsolved crimes, by partnering with a world-leading forensic genomics laboratory.

      Under the agreement, the AFP’s National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons will provide forensic evidence from some of Australia’s most challenging unidentified and missing persons cases to the United States-based forensic genomics laboratory Othram to be examined using advanced forensic DNA tools, including Forensic Genetic Genealogy (FGG).


    • By analysing ancient DNA recovered from bone fragments found in two Siberian caves, researchers have identified a set of closely related Neanderthals: a father and daughter, as well as several other more-distant relatives. The work suggests that Neanderthal communities were small, and that females may have left their families to join other groups.


The Young Woman Behind a Last Mystery of the Green River Killer (New York Times  – 10/26/2022)

    • Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Mr. Ridgway, one of America’s most devastating serial killers, terrorized King County, Wash. Though convicted of killing 49 young women and girls, he has confessed to 71 murders, and some investigators believe the actual number is even higher. Through interviews with family members, police officers and forensic investigators, we can stitch together the life and death of a young woman who was known as “Jane Doe B-10” longer than she was known as Wendy.



Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office & Southeast Missouri State University Anthropology Partner with Othram to Identify 1981 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 10/26/2022)

    • In April 1981, human skeletal remains were discovered by a mushroom hunter just off Interstate 55 near Oak Ridge, Missouri. Analysis at the time suggested that these were the postcranial remains of a male of European descent who stood approximately 5’10” and was between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of his death. His partial cranium was recovered in the same area in 1988. The decedent was wearing a leather belt, green pants, a khaki shirt, and black loafers adorned with a metal buckle. He died from a gunshot wound from a small caliber firearm. Initial attempts at extracting DNA and developing an STR profile were unsuccessful, and later attempts were only able to develop a minimal STR profile. A mitochondrial DNA profile was developed and entered into CODIS. The case was entered into NamUs as UP15033. With few leads to go on, the case eventually went cold.

      Four decades later, in August 2020, Dr. Jennifer Bengtson and her Anthropology students at Southeast Missouri State University started working with the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office to revisit the case. Under Dr. Bengtson’s supervision, students completed a full inventory and re-analysis of the remains. They also submitted bone and tooth samples for isotopic study; these results provided some geographic clues, helped to narrow down a likely year of birth, and helped to refine the age-at-death estimate. Given their previous success working with Othram to obtain usable DNA from difficult samples, Dr. Bengtson and her students used non-destructive analyses and published literature to select new bone samples for another attempt at DNA extraction. Othram scientists were able to successfully extract DNA and develop a SNP profile suitable for genealogical research.



DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office and Othram Team to Identify 1993 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 10/26/2022)

    • In September 1993, the skeletal remains of a woman were covered with pine straw found behind a building on Ranchwood Drive in northern DeKalb County, Georgia. The remains were discovered in a wooded area behind a Fairfield Inn near Lavista Road and the I-285 interstate. Investigators estimated that the unknown woman was Caucasian, stood between 5’4″ to 5’7″ in height, and weighed between 115 and 140 pounds. It was also determined that she had long, curly light brown hair which was described as “frosted.” Investigators also noted that the woman had received extensive dental procedures in her life, as well as a full left hip replacement and a steel plate on her left femur. It is speculated she suffered a traumatic injury such as a vehicle accident or a fall or suffered from osteoporosis or low bone density and muscle mass.

      For decades, law enforcement diligently pursued various leads about the woman’s identity. Multiple composite images of the woman have been created, including one by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and another by the Dekalb County Police Department. In October 2019, her case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP6001. Despite the exhaustive efforts of law enforcement, the woman’s identity has remained a mystery. With few leads for investigators to pursue, the case eventually went cold.

      In 2022, the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the woman or a close relative.



Man Released from California Prison After 38 Years Following DNA Test (The Guardian – 10/29/2022)

    • A man who spent more than 38 years behind bars for a 1983 murder and two attempted murders has been released from a California prison after long-untested DNA evidence pointed to a different person, the Los Angeles county district attorney said.

      The conviction of Maurice Hastings, 69, and a life sentence were vacated during a 20 October court hearing at the request of prosecutors and his lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project at California State University.


Whole Genome Targeting, Phenotypic Data Give 1800’s ‘Vampire’ a Face (Forensic – 10/31/2022)

    • In a new study that builds on that previous data, forensic scientists at Parabon NanoLabs tested three different DNA analysis approaches, hoping to confirm JB55’s identify and generate phenotypic traits that would provide an idea of what he looked like in life.

      The researchers tested shotgun sequencing, whole genome targeting, and the targeting of about 850,000 custom SNPs. According to the study, the two targeted techniques performed approximately the same, while both significantly outperformed shotgun sequencing. The team determined whole-genome targeting was the most cost-effective for this case.


Genealogy Gives Name to the Oldest Unidentified Homicide Victim in Massachusetts (Forensic – 10/31/2022)

    • On July 26,1974, the nude remains of an auburn-haired woman were found in the dunes about a mile east of the Race Point Ranger station inside the Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The cause of death was determined to be a blow to the head and is estimated to have occurred several weeks prior. Footprints and tire tracks led away from the scene, but the loose sand and passage of several days made them of little investigative value. The victim’s hands were missing, presumably removed by her killer so she could not be identified through fingerprints, and her head was nearly severed from her body.

      It was a brutal death, and for the last 48 years, investigators with the Massachusetts State Police and Provincetown Police Department have worked tirelessly to identify the unknown woman through various means, including neighborhood canvasses; reviews of thousands of missing persons cases; clay model facial reconstruction, and age-regression drawings. The case was registered in NamUs as UP11840. The question of the unknown victim’s identity has drawn much public interest over the years, with decedent becoming known informally as “The Lady of the Dunes.”

      Since this crime was committed, many investigative and scientific techniques have either improved or been created through new advances in technology. Ultimately, the woman was identified through forensic genetic genealogy.



SAKI Identifies Town Supervisor as Suspect in 2010 Rape (Forensic – 10/31/2022)

    • Kenneth Dwyane Linn, 57, was charged with four counts of First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, which is punishable by up to life in prison. It is alleged that Linn assaulted the victim while she was physically helpless due to extreme intoxication and unable to give consent, resulting in physical injury. Linn was arraigned at 8th District Court in Kalamazoo before Judge Haenicke. His bond was set at $100,000 cash or surety.

      The alleged assault occurred in August of 2010 following a golf outing held at Sauganash Golf Course in Kalamazoo County. A sexual assault nurse exam (SANE) was performed the following day. During the exam, the registered nurse collected samples from the victim and preserved them in a sexual assault evidence collection kit. The victim’s sexual assault kit (SAK) was not submitted to the Michigan State Police Forensics Lab until December 2014. It was ultimately returned to the Portage Police Department untested in late January of 2015.

      In 2016, as part of the state-wide Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) testing initiative, the Portage Police Department submitted the victim’s SAK to Sorenson Forensics Lab in Salt Lake, Utah for DNA testing. In October 2021, Kalamazoo SAKI received approval from the MSP Forensics Lab to resubmit the victim’s SAK for further testing. The results of that analysis led to charges against Linn.



Ancient DNA Reveals a Hidden History of Human Adaptation (The Conversation – 10/31/2022)

    • Humans may be just as vulnerable to environmental change as other animals, according to our new research analysing genetic data from more than a thousand people who lived across Europe and Asia over the past 45,000 years.



DNA from a Murder Victim’s Nails Leads to an Arrest 41 Years Later (NBC News – 10/31/2022)

    • DNA from under the fingernails of a Las Vegas woman killed in 1980 has led to the arrest of a suspect in the long-cold murder case, police said Monday.

      Sandra DiFelice, 25, was “brutally raped and murdered” in a home she shared with a roommate on Dec. 26, 1980, Las Vegas Police Lt. Jason Johansson said.

      DNA collected from under her fingernails was tested using new technology after detectives took another look at her case, and the suspect, Paul Nuttall, was arrested Thursday, police said.


Forensic Genetic Genealogy Needs International Cooperation (Forensic – 11/02/2022)

    • It may feel like the U.S. is full steam ahead with forensic/investigative genetic genealogy (FIGG), but there are still many steps to be taken, as evidenced by ongoing legislation in Maryland, Montana and Utah.

      That being said, FIGG is undoubtedly a U.S. technique, practiced often in the nation, especially when compared with little activity in other countries. Nathan Scudder, Coordinator of Research and Innovation with the Australian Federal Police, sees this as an opportunity—one that needs to be seized upon immediately.

      “Genealogy is an international endeavor. You can’t contain this to one jurisdiction,” Scudder said during his presentation Tuesday at the 33rd International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI).

      If countries do not work cooperatively on an FIGG framework, the forensic community could end up with a fractured system vulnerable to inadvertent legal missteps.



Familial DNA Match Helps Identify 1988 Jane Doe (Forensic – 11/02/2022)

    • In June 1988, a local farmer reported to the Baca County Sheriff’s Office that he had found what he believed to be human remains on his farm approximately 20 miles southwest of the Town of Springfield. Former Baca County Sheriff Willard Goff and several deputies along with Baca County Coroner, Robert Morrow, responded to the scene and confirmed the presence of human remains estimated to have been there for 1 to 3 years.

      After the extensive investigation, the remains were still unidentified and the case became cold. As such, the remains were given the name Jane Doe and buried in the Springfield Cemetery. Buried along with the remains were copies of pertinent case information in hopes someday something would happen that would make it possible to identify the deceased person and bring closure for the family.

      In July 2021, the Baca County Coroner’s Office contracted with Solved by DNA, an investigative genetic genealogy company, to attempt to identify Jane Doe. The old DNA records were located but due to the limitations in technology available at the time of locating the remains the records were not adequate to do a familial study so new DNA samples were needed.

      On Dec. 13, 2021, the Baca County Coroner’s Office and Sheriff Aaron Shiplett had the remains of Jane Doe exhumed and obtained new samples to test for DNA. The remains were then reinterred in the Springfield cemetery. The samples were delivered to Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Pueblo by the Baca County Coroner’s Office for analysis. After analysis, CBI entered the new DNA profile into NamUs.

      In August 2021, the Baca County Sheriff’s Office and Baca County Coroner’s Office were notified that a possible familial DNA match had been located. Through their research, Solved by DNA had been able to locate a person with DNA markers that indicated that they were a family member of Jane Doe.



21 New Coffins Found in Search for Tulsa Massacre Victims (Forensic – 11/02/2022)

    • The search for remains of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre has turned up 21 additional coffins in unmarked graves in the city’s Oaklawn Cemetery, officials said.

      Seventeen adult-size graves were located Friday and Saturday, Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said Monday. Additionally, the city announced Tuesday that four graves, two adult-size and two child-size, had been found.

      The coffins, then the remains, will be examined to see if they match reports from 1921 that the victims were males buried in plain caskets.



In Ukraine, a Mobile DNA Lab Helps Relatives Identify Bodies (KYIV POST – 11/05/2022)

    • A mobile DNA laboratory was set up this week in Izyum, eastern Ukraine, to spare relatives of the war dead the pain of visually identifying bodies. The “LAB’ADN” is a mobile structure deployed by the forensics department of the French Gendarmerie Nationale (IRCGN). It is able to quickly carry out genetic analysis on a large quantity of biological samples.



DNA Collected from Pets Could Help Solve Crimes (Forensic – 11/07/2022)

    • Pets at a crime scene may help to gather key evidence but rarely are they considered for their role in human DNA transfer.

      For the first time, Flinders University forensic science researchers have examined the presence and transfer of human DNA on pets, such as cats and dogs.

      This research considers cats both as receptors and vectors for DNA of a person of interest—providing key evidence in criminal investigations.

      In collaboration with the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department, forensic science researchers Heidi Monkman and Mariya Goray collected human DNA from 20 pet cats from multiple households.

      Detectable levels of DNA were found in 80% of the samples—and interpretable profiles that could be linked to a person of interest were generated from 70% of the cats tested.



DNA Databases Key to Preventing Future Victims (Forensic – 11/07/2022)

    • Across the U.S., it is estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 lawfully owed samples, per state, are missing. This is due to a myriad of issues, including a systemic problem of failing to collect and process samples. For example, offenders miss court hearings and ignore court orders. A judge can order an offender to get their cheek swabbed, but once they leave the courtroom, there is nothing that ensures that step is actually taken.

      In fact, uncollected offender DNA is one of the biggest hurdles to solving rape kit backlog issues. While there has been much reform and headway made on the rape kit backlog in the past 10 years, offender DNA is still a missing piece of the overall puzzle.

      “We can do all this work on rape kit reform, but if we don’t have DNA to match, we’re not going to get the hits,” said Spence. “We know that when we can expand the collection of DNA in these databases, we’ll get more hits, which leads to more prosecutions and the right people serving time. This is critical.”

      Innovative technologies like Rapid DNA can help eliminate database loopholes since DNA is taken upon the qualifying arrest and is uploaded and processed within 90 minutes. Louisiana is the first to go live with the FBI-approved technology in booking stations, with other states preparing to follow suit.



Man Sentenced to Two Terms of Life in Prison After DNA Linked Him to 1982 Killings of Colorado Women (CBS News – 11/08/2022)

    • man convicted of killing two women who disappeared near a Colorado ski resort town nearly 40 years ago after DNA testing identified him as a suspect was sentenced on Monday to two terms of life in prison after the women’s relatives called for the maximum punishment for the slayings that forever changed their families.

      Alan Lee Phillips, 71, was convicted in September of two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in the killings of Annette Schnee, 21, and Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29. Authorities said the two women, whose bodies were found in the snow in separate locations, had no connection. Both were believed to have been killed while hitchhiking outside Breckenridge, about 60 miles southwest of Denver, when they disappeared on Jan. 6, 1982.



Suspect Sentenced in NYC’s First Genetic Genealogy Cold Case Solve (Forensic – 11/09/2022)

    • Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has announced Martin Motta was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 1976 killing of an 81-year-old World War I Veteran. The Queens District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Unit solved the 46-year-old homicide case with the NYPD using forensic genetic genealogy for the first time in New York City.



Saskatchewan Man Charged in 1981 Sexual Assault Case, Edmonton Police Say (MSN – 11/08/2022)

    • Police say the girl was walking home across a school field in northeast Edmonton when she was grabbed, dragged and sexually assaulted.

      They say the case went unsolved for decades and was assigned to the Historical Crimes Unit in 2018.

      Police say they used investigative genetic genealogy, which compares a crime scene DNA sample with profiles in public commercial databases.

      Investigators were able to combine information about relatives of the suspect with other existing evidence to identify Guy Greffard of Kelvington, Sask., who is now 65 years old, as the suspect.



Snohomish County Identifies ‘Stilly Doe’ 40 Years Later Through DNA as Man Born in 1898 (FOX13 – 11/09/2022)

    • The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has finally learned the identity of a man found along the Stillaguamish River in Arlington over 40 years ago.

      Known as “Stilly Doe,” the man’s remains were found on July 23, 1980 by a fly fisherman near the Stillaguamish River, half a mile from Interstate 5.

      On Sept. 29, 2022, Dr. J. Matthew Lacy officially identified “I-5 Stilly Doe” as Othaniel Philip Ames, born on Aug. 23, 1898 and died sometime in 1980.

      In an autopsy, it was revealed that Ames was likely around 60 years old, and was suffering from coronary heart disease. However, family confirmed that he was 82 years old when he went missing in 1980.



Maine State Police Partners with Othram to Identify a 1990s Serial Sexual Predator (DNASolves – 11/09/2022)

    • In 1996, Maine State Police began investigating a sexual assault of a 21-year old woman, who was attacked in her own apartment in Hancock County, Maine. During the investigation, DNA from an unidentified male was collected from the apartment that the assault occurred in. Using an STR profile developed from the crime scene, the unknown assailant was connected to at least four other assault cases. In August 2022, an arrest warrant was issued for “John Doe.” specific to the 1996 case.

      In addition to the Maine State Police, several other agencies were involved in this long running investigation. They include the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, Maine Marine Patrol, and the Hancock DA’s office. Many leads were pursued and many persons of interested were excluded as suspects based on DNA testing but the serial predator for these crimes was never identified.

      In 2022, the Maine State Police tried, for the first time, to leverage advanced DNA testing and Forensic Genetic Genealogy to identify the unknown serial predator. Forensic DNA evidence was sent to Othram. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the suspect and Othram’s in-house genealogy team performed the genealogical research for the case.