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!




Federal Dollars Helping DNA Backlog at State’s Forensic Laboratory (New Hampshire Bulletin – 11/10/2023)

    • Cases requiring DNA analysis are currently taking more than 10 months to analyze at the State Police Forensic Laboratory, the sole provider of such services in the state.

      A series of federal DNA Backlog Reduction grants awarded to the state Department of Safety will hopefully assist in increasing throughput, the department wrote to the Fiscal Committee ahead of its Nov. 9 meeting. The money will enhance capacity, pay for overtime and continuing education, and allow for the purchase of additional equipment.

      The laboratory’s Forensic Biology Unit performs all serological and DNA analyses associated with criminal investigations in the state, and is also responsible for analysis and entry of offender and casework samples into the Combined DNA Index System database.

      It receives and analyzes evidence from more than 220 city and town police departments, as well as state law enforcement agencies and, on occasion, federal law enforcement.


Forensic Students at Cranfield University Help Locate Missing Second World War Pilot After Eight Decades (Cranfield University – 11/10/2023)

    • It is estimated that around 72,000 American personnel are still unaccounted for from World War II alone, with around 39,000 deemed to be recoverable. For years, Myers was one of those individuals. In 1947, investigators conducted search and recovery operations near Sciacca, but could not locate anything linking back to Myers.

      But then last year, nearly 80 years on from the B-25 crash, that changed. Forensic experts from Cranfield University’s Recovery and Identification of Conflict Casualties team (CRICC) worked in partnership with colleagues from the US Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA), travelling to Sciacca to undertake a painstaking investigation. In October 2023, investigators announced they had located human remains belonging to Myers, and through DNA analysis in the USA, he has now been accounted for.

      The Cranfield team consisted of a team of 20 people – each assigned to scouring the vicinity surrounding the impact zone. Such an undertaking entailed meticulous examination of tonnes of soil, aiming to recover fragments of human remains or personal effects crucial for identifying crew members.


Forensic Website Helping with Cold Cases in Mississippi (WDAM7 – 11/12/2023)

  • In December 2021, Dr. Jesse Goliath, a forensic anthropologist at Mississippi State University, got a call that inspired a project.

    “We were contacted by (District Attorney) John Weddle, and he said that there was a case—a missing person cold case. Felicia Cox,” he said. “The person who had committed the crime just recently was executed, and in the execution letter, he had placed the location of Felicia’s burial.”

    From this case, Goliath created “Missing in Mississippi,” a database for missing persons and crime information across the state.

    Goliath said one of the reasons for the site is the amount of cold cases involving minorities.


Prisoner Arrested in two 15-Year-Old Unsolved Sex Crimes After DNA Breakthrough (NL Times – 11/12/2023)

  • A new DNA research technique has resulted in the arrest of a 30-year-old man for two sexual offenses that occurred in 2008 in Spijkenisse, Zuid-Holland, police reported on Tuesday.

    The man was arrested at a psychiatric detention clinic where he was serving a sentence for a similar offense committed in Belgium. The suspect was brought before the examining magistrate on Thursday and remanded into custody.


Forensic Software Enhanced for Resolving Degraded or Mixed DNA Samples (Lab Manager – 11/13/2023)

  • The STRmix team has launched the latest version of its groundbreaking software for resolving low-level, degraded, or mixed DNA samples from multiple contributors.

    STRmix™ version 2.11 features enhancements to memory use, general improvements to the models and model maker, and the inclusion of an upper bound to the HPD likelihood ratio (LR). Its most significant change, however, is the addition of Amelogenin into the deconvolution and LR.

    “These changes, coupled with other recent improvements such as v2.10’s introduction of a Visualize Weights module to help analysts investigate DNA interpretation results, make it easier for forensic labs to produce highly usable, interpretable, and legally admissible DNA results in a wide range of criminal cases, including violent crime, sexual assault, and cold cases,” says STRmix team Senior Science Leader and co-developer of STRmix™, Dr. Jo-Anne Bright.



Man Missing for 30 Years Finally Identified as Murder Victim (UNILAD – 11/13/2023)

  • Jerry A Mikkelson from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was reported missing by a member of his family on 8 August, 1983. The 24-year-old has since been identified as the 1987 male homicide victim in a case which had gone cold, and police are appealing for information to track down his killer. The press release states Mikkelson’s body was discovered on 18 October, 1987 on ‘a Forest Service Road located 15 miles north of Walden and five miles from the Wyoming border’. It reveals Mikkelson has since been able to be identified as the victim of the 1987 male homicide case as a result of Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) ‘and other advancements in technology‘.




Hampikian Changing Lives with Forensic Biology (Boise State University – 11/13/2023)

  • In addition to his work tracking COVID and other diseases in wastewater, developing cancer drugs and better HIV testing, Boise State University Professor of biology Greg Hampikian is proving whether prisoners have been wrongfully convicted as co-director of the Idaho Innocence Project.

    The Idaho Innocence Project lab attracts some of the most challenging DNA cases from around the world. A national organization dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, the Idaho Innocence Project at Boise State has become known worldwide and has been instrumental in DNA testing for criminal cases.



Sacramento Police Department, Sacramento County Coroner’s Office & California DOJ Team with Othram to Identify a 1991 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 11/14/2023)

  • In September 1991, the remains of an unidentified woman were discovered in a Sacramento, California parking garage located at the intersection of 3rd and L Streets. The woman was estimated to be 45 to 60 years old. She was approximately 5’11” tall, weighed 154 pounds, and had full, wavy hair described as being 10” in length and gray/brown in color. The woman wore upper dentures, and had lost many of her bottom teeth. At the time of her discovery, the woman was wearing an aqua color T-shirt, a blue and green plaid long-sleeve shirt, a dark green “Member’s Only” windbreaker jacket, tan corduroy pants, dark brown socks, and size brown leather deck shoes.

    Prior to her death, the unidentified woman was known to use the names “Amanda Defore” and “Carol Houston”. She reported that her date of birth was January 22, 1935. These names turned out to be aliases and did not aid in her identification. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP2382. Investigators followed the available leads but the case eventually went cold.

    In 2022, the California Department of Justice, working with the Sacramento County Coroner and the Sacramento Police Department, submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified woman. The casework completed at Othram was funded by the Roads to Justice program and we are grateful for the support funding this case and previous cases. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement investigators.

    A follow-up investigation led to potential genetic relatives of the unknown woman. These relatives assisted in the investigation by providing DNA samples for reference testing. Confirmation DNA testing then established the identity of the unknown woman as Dorothy A. Sandusky, born January 22, 1935. Sandusky was a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was 56 years old at the time of her death. Additional details about Sandusky’s life and disappearance are not known at this time.

New Scientific Method for Analyzing Criminal Careers (Forensic – 11/15/2023)

  • Researchers at the Complexity Science Hub have examined 1.2 million criminal incidents and developed an innovative method to identify patterns in criminal trajectories.

    When it comes to preventing future crimes, it is essential to understand how past criminal behavior relates to future offenses. One key question is whether criminals tend to specialize in specific types of crimes or exhibit a generalist approach by engaging in a variety of illegal activities.

    Despite the potential significance of systematically identifying patterns in criminal careers, especially in preventing recurrent offenses, there is a scarcity of comprehensive empirical studies on this subject.

    “To address this gap, we conducted an exhaustive examination of over 1.2 million criminal incidents,” said Stefan Thurner of the Complexity Science Hub. This comprehensive dataset encompassed all criminal reports filed against individuals over six years in a small Central European country.



Challenges and Solutions in the Analysis of Degraded DNA Samples (Forensic – 11/15/2023)

  • Successful forensic DNA analysis hinges on the quality of a DNA sample. However, forensic scientists often struggle to analyze degraded DNA, or DNA that has undergone significant damage from factors including environmental conditions, the passage of time or improper storage. Advances in forensic technology have focused heavily on improving the tools available for forensic scientists to assemble high-quality analyses from degraded DNA, typically achieved through short-tandem repeat (STR) analysis via capillary electrophoresis (CE).



OsteoID: A New Forensic Tool to Help Identify the Species of Skeletal Remains (NIJ – 11/15/2023)

  • When a law enforcement agency receives a call to investigate skeletal remains, any number of specialists might answer that call, including forensic anthropologists, medical examiners, coroners, crime scene investigators, or death investigators.

    Although most experienced forensic anthropologists can distinguish human bones from animal bones with relative ease, assigning non-human bones to a particular species can be a bit trickier if the investigator does not have extensive zoological training.

    There may be times when someone with less training must decide whether remains are likely to be human. That determination is critical; if they believe the remains are human, law enforcement must secure the scene and investigate further.

    The assistance of a tool to quickly, easily, and reliably determine the species associated with a bone could save valuable time and resources.

    There may be times when someone with less training must decide whether remains are likely to be human. That determination is critical; if they believe the remains are human, law enforcement must secure the scene and investigate further.

    The assistance of a tool to quickly, easily, and reliably determine the species associated with a bone could save valuable time and resources.



DNA Evidence Cracked Decades-Old Murder Case, York Police Say (CBC Lite – 11/15/2023)

  • Nearly 51 years after she was last seen alive, York Regional Police detectives say they finally know who killed North York teenager Yvonne Leroux — thanks to decades-old DNA evidence.
    Leroux, who was 16 years old at the time of her death, was last seen alive on the night of Nov. 29, 1972, walking in the area of Oakdale Road and Finch Avenue West in Toronto. The next morning, her body was found on a side road in the Township of King, 24 kilometres north. She had died of blunt force trauma to the head.
    For years, no one knew who killed her — but on Tuesday, police announced a new investigative tool, coupled with preserved DNA evidence from the scene, had pointed detectives to Leroux’s killer: a Toronto man named Bruce Charles Cantelon.
    Cantelon, police say, died by suicide in 1974, 19 months after Leroux’s death. The 26-year-old was known to police at the time, investigators say, having committed several violent offences against women and having been incarcerated at various points in his life due to mental health issues.
    At a news conference Wednesday, officers said if Cantelon was still alive, he would have been charged with murder.



Highland Park Jane Doe Identified 27 Years After Being Found in Alley (WXYZ7 – 11/16/2023)

  • A Highland Park teen who was found dead in an alley 27 years ago has finally been identified.

    The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children announced Thursday that Jane Doe was identified as Mindy Clevidence.

    In May 1996, unidentified remains of a young woman were found in an alley in Highland Park. The identification was made with the help of the center’s partnership with Innovative Forensic Investigations, Intermountain Forensics, the Highland Park Police Department and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.



30-Year-Old Cold Case Resolved in Apache Junction (DNA Doe Project – 11/16/2023)

  • The decades-long mystery surrounding the Apache Junction Jane Doe case has finally been resolved with the positive identification of the previously unnamed victim. After relentless efforts by Apache Junction Crime Scene Investigator Stephanie Bourgeois and innovative investigative genetic genealogy techniques deployed by the DNA Doe Project, the once unidentified woman has been identified as Melody Harrison, reported missing from Phoenix, Arizona.

    Melody Harrison’s remains were found in a remote area of Apache Junction, sparking a painstaking forensic investigation to determine her identity and return her to her family.

    Despite the best efforts of investigators, the case went cold until Investigator Bourgeois learned about the DNA Doe Project’s first identification of a Jane Doe in 2018. She reached out to the non-profit organization for help with Apache Junction Jane Doe, and applied for a grant to help offset the cost of expensive lab work needed to develop a DNA profile.

    It would take five years and countless hours of dedicated research by more than a dozen volunteer investigative genetic genealogists to find the critical breakthrough in this case.

    The genealogy in this case was complicated by adoptions as well as the fact that Melody Harrison’s ancestry includes relatives of Mexican and African-American descent, both populations that are underrepresented in the databases.

    Team leaders Cairenn Binder and Harmony Bronson of the DNA Doe Project worked with Investigator Bourgeois to communicate with family members of Melody Harrison in order to better understand her relationships and family history.