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!
In April 1985, the remains of an unidentified individual were located in Fairhaven, Massachusetts along Route 195. The Fairhaven Police responded to the scene and determined that the remains were that of an adult male, estimated to be 5’9” tall and likely in his 30s or 40s at the time of his death. Investigators believed that the man had died one to three years prior to the discovery of his remains. Along with the man’s remains, investigators recovered spent projectiles and the remnants of clothing. The evidence the scene supported homicide as the manner of death for the unknown man.
Over the years, investigators pursued various leads and avenues to determine the man’s identity. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP58261. A forensic cast was created to depict how the man may have looked during his life in hopes that it would help to generate leads about the John Doe’s identity. With no other clues or identifying documents available, and few leads to pursue, the murdered man’s identity could not to be determined and the case eventually went cold.
In 2022, the Massachusetts State Police working with the Bristol County District Attorney, submitted skeletal remains to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a suitable DNA extract from the skeletal remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified homicide victim. After successfully completing the process, the DNA profile was delivered to investigators who worked with the FBI’s forensic genetic genealogy team to generate new leads in the case.
With these new investigative leads in hand, the law enforcement team made contact with a potential family member of the murdered man. Confirmation DNA testing between the potential relative and the DNA profile developed for the murdered man, established the identity of the man as Keith Olson of Rhode Island. Olson, born May 13, 1953, was reported missing to the Cranston Police Department by his family in April 1981. With Olson now identified, investigators have also identified a likely suspect in his murder. The homicide investigation continues and we will provide updates as they become available.
In October 2020, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in an abandoned house in Blue Island, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Investigators responded to the scene and determined that the remains were that of a white man, estimated to be between the ages of 40 and 60 years, who was between 5’4″ and 5’11” tall. Initially, the man’s remains were described as having been burned, however follow up analysis revealed there was no evidence to support that the remains were burned. Rather, the updated analysis suggested that the remains were just severely decomposed. The man was wearing several articles of clothing, including a jacket with the word “LOVE”, a shirt, jeans, socks, and leather shoes.
The man could not be identified despite investigators’ efforts and the case went unsolved. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP76452. Eventually, investigators turned to advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy in hopes that the man’s name could be determined.
In 2023, the Cook County Medical Examiner’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 Cook County Medical Examiner investigators, who used these new leads to continue their search for the man’s identity.
In the course of a follow-up investigation, the Medical Examiner’s office contacted potential family members of Cook County John Doe. A candidate relative provided a DNA sample for reference testing, which was used to confirm the identity of the unknown man as Todd Alan Kenny of Michigan.
In a significant breakthrough for cold case investigations, DNA Labs International (DLI) has provided crucial assistance in solving a longstanding Oregon mystery. Utilizing the innovative ForenSeq® Kintelligence Kit for forensic investigative genetic genealogy (FIGG), DLI has confirmed the identity of previously unidentified remains as those of Tanice “Tana” Laatch.
In a turning point for the investigation, Oregon State Police Medical Examiner submitted skeletal remains to DNA Labs International in 2020. With the advancements of new technologies, the ForenSeq® Kintelligence Kit was used in 2023 to sequence targeted regions of DNA, producing a profile suitable for genealogy research. The resulting profile was then uploaded to GEDmatch Pro™, a law enforcement-dedicated portal for DNA comparison and genealogy analysis.
Through the process of building out family trees of genetic associations, DLI determined that the unidentified remains were likely those of Laatch. Subsequent STR testing of a buccal swab from a living relative provided the necessary confirmation, marking a poignant resolution to a case that had remained unsolved for nearly two decades.
Series Sharing Swiss forensic expertise abroad, Episode 1: Scores of people have been disappeared in the course of Mexico’s war on drugs. As the backlog of unidentified bodies surpasses 52,000, Switzerland is offering training in forensics to Mexican officials attempting to solve some of these cases.
Scientists in Tulsa, Oklahoma are looking for answers from families in Texas. Genealogists have traced DNA from Tulsa race massacre victims to multiple places in Texas and want to get in contact with the possible victim’s families.
They’re looking for families who are in the following regions with the following surnames: Bremby family (also spelled Bembry, Brembry and Brimbry) in Sealy, Texas and Austin County, Traylor family in Bowie County, and Davis family in Kaufman, Texas.
Wrongful conviction, or the conviction of a person for a crime that they did not commit, is one of the greatest travesties of the criminal justice system. As of 2023, The National Registry of Exonerations has recorded over 3,000 cases of wrongful convictions in the United States. Organizations such as The Innocence Project work to free the innocent and prevent these convictions, so far exonerating 375 people, including 21 who served on death row.
Dr. Jon Gould of the University of California at Irvine has claimed that faulty forensic science is partly to blame for some of these convictions. As one of the architects of research that assesses the impact of forensic science on wrongful convictions, he has cited flawed eyewitness identification, confessions, testimony, police and prosecutorial conduct, defense lawyering, and forensic science as factors related to wrongful convictions. He stressed these are “factors” rather than “causes” because in prior analyses researchers have not been able to draw conclusions about causation because the studies did not use control groups.
Forensic scientists at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) wanted to understand the causes, or etiology, of the errors in forensic science specifically. To explore the issue, NIJ enlisted the help of Dr. John Morgan, independent research consultant, to analyze and describe the impact of forensic science on erroneous convictions that the National Registry of Exonerations classified as being associated with “false or misleading forensic evidence.”
DNA evidence and genealogical data have finally led investigators to positively identify a skeleton found off the interstate near Fairhaven as a Rhode Island man who went missing in 1981, the Bristol County DA’s Office announced.
“After connecting this individual to a family tree, investigators were able to positively identify the recovered remains as Keith Olson of Cranston, RI,” the DA’s Office stated. “Mr. Olson was last seen in April of 1981 and had been reported missing from Cranston.”
The identification comes nearly 40 years after Olson’s remains were found on April 8, 1985. That day, a driver traveling on Interstate 195 stopped in the breakdown lane in Fairhaven, just over the Mattapoisett border.
Wayne County Jane Doe 1982 Identified as Connie Lorraine Christensen by DNA Doe Project and Wayne County Coroner’s Office (DNA Doe Project – 11/30/2023)
A Wayne County Jane Doe case that has baffled investigators for over four decades has finally been resolved through the collaboration between the Wayne County Coroner’s Office and the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization that deploys investigative genetic genealogy to identify Jane and John Does. Connie Lorraine Christensen from Madison, Wisconsin, has been positively identified as the woman whose remains were discovered by hunters in a rural area north of Jacksonburg, Indiana, in 1982. She was 20 years old at the time of her death.
Investigative genetic genealogy is the process of analyzing the DNA relative matches of an unidentified person in order to build a family tree that will lead to an identity. DNA Doe Project’s expert volunteer investigators have resolved more than 100 cases of unidentified remains using these techniques.
“We were fortunate enough to find two relatively close DNA relative matches in GEDmatch that led us to Connie’s family,” said team leader Lori Flowers with the DNA Doe Project. “Taking a DNA test and uploading to GEDmatch is the best way for families of missing persons to help organizations like ours make these identifications.”
“Our hearts go out to Connie’s family, and we were honored to bring them the answers they have sought for so long,” team leader Missy Koski added. “I am proud of our dedicated and skilled volunteers who were able to assist law enforcement in returning Connie Christensen’s name after all this time.”
The DNA Doe Project is grateful to the groups and individuals who helped solve this case: the Wayne County Coroner’s Office, who entrusted the case to the DNA Doe Project; Hudson Alpha Discovery and Astrea Forensics laboratories for extraction of DNA and whole-genome sequencing; Kevin Lord for bioinformatics; GEDmatch Pro providing their database; our generous donors who joined our mission; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who work tirelessly to bring all our Jane and John Does home.
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