The first murder trial to utilize genetic genealogy caught the attention of Edward Humes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist living in Seattle at the time. But as Humes also notes in his book on the breakthrough, the use of genetic information raises hackles for some, who wonder about the potential for intrusions on privacy and police overreach.
Dec 02 2022
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!
DOJ Announces $160 Million to Support Forensic Science (Homeland Security Today – 11/22/2022)
The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has announced almost $160 million in grant awards to support crime laboratories, fund forensics research, decrease DNA backlogs and help investigators locate missing persons and identify human remains. The funding is administered by OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
DNA is Solving Cold Cases Everywhere. One True-Crime Writer Thinks That’s a Tricky Path. (Los Angeles Times – 11/22/2022)
New Certificate in Forensic Investigation Combines Multiple Fields (Forensic – 11/23/2022)
- A new certificate program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is a great option for law enforcement professionals, those looking to enter the field or those in the medicolegal professions relating to both medicine and law.
The Certificate in Forensic Investigation combines coursework from anthropology, criminal justice, geology and journalism, to develop a well-rounded credential.
Deceased Man Linked to 1978 Murder, Possibly More Victims (Forensic – 11/23/2022)
‘Designed with a Forensic Scientist in Mind’: Wisconsin Company Develops Technology to Advance DNA Analysis (WKOW – 11/14/2022)
Scientists at a company headquartered in Dane County have developed new technology that has the potential to change DNA analysis across the globe. It’s the Spectrum CE System from Promega.
The tool performs capillary electrophoresis (CE), a technique that lets forensic analysts process DNA samples and determine if they can be identified to a person.
CE isn’t new, but those at Promega who helped develop the Spectrum CE System say their product expands what’s possible.
DNA Showed A Mother Was Also Her Daughter’s Uncle – How Scientists Solved This Medical Mystery (GRID – 11/25/2022)
How can a paternity test suggest a mother is also her daughter’s father?
The answer to that medical mystery, sparked by a confusing paternity test result, is “When the genes of a vanished twin brother live on in the mother’s DNA.” The finding, which genetics experts reported earlier this month, suggests that such human “chimeras” — people with DNA from more than one embryo — could be more common than we thought.
Just so, the case Yunis presented at the International Symposium on Human Identification in Washington, D.C., in November was at first just a routine paternity test on a young girl. However, it quickly turned confusing: First, some parts of the test suggested the child’s birth mother was not in fact her mother — what is known as a “maternal exclusion” result. Second, some others suggested the child’s alleged father was not her father, a “paternal exclusion” result. Finally, the birth mother’s blood sample tested as male, containing the XY chromosomes found in biological men — rather than the two XX chromosomes responsible for female sex organs. (Some intersex women have XY chromosomes and develop female sexual anatomy, but they are usually infertile.)
“Somebody made a mistake, there’s contamination in the lab, stop everything,” said Yunis of the initial reaction. However, the team saw identical results when they repeated the test with the original blood samples. When the scientists took the mother out of the test, it showed the alleged father was clearly the father of the girl, and the other male genes in the result disappeared, causing more confusion.
DNA Helped Solve 30 Years Old Cold Case of Killed Siblings (Forensic Yard – 11/27/2022)
Danville Neil, a 65 years old man, have been sentenced to imprisonment for the murders of elderly siblings, William Bryan and Anne Castle. The hero of his conviction was his DNA, which was identified by the police on a binocular strap used to tie William.
Mr. Bryan (71 years old) was a World War II veteran who was residing with his widow sister Mrs. Castle (74 years old) at their east London home.
It was in the 2020, when officers reviewing the deaths of the elderly siblings in 1993, submitted the binoculars strap used to tie up William, for forensic testing which have led to the arrest of Neil.
The advancements in forensic technology have helped the scientists to establish that a DNA sample taken from beneath a knot in the strap, which was used to tie William’s hands, belonged to Neil.
DNA From Rape Kit IDs 1 of 2 Suspects in 1972 Murder Case (Forensic – 11/28/2022)
The Uintah County Sheriff’s Office, with help from state investigators and forensic scientists, has identified a suspect in the unsolved 1972 Thanksgiving weekend murder of an Army veteran and rape of the woman he was with at the time.
Daniel Arthur Bell, who died in 2019, has been identified through extensive DNA testing as one of two men suspected of killing Gregory Dahl Nickell nearly 50 years ago at a scenic overlook west of Vernal, Vermont. Immediately after the killing, Bell and the other man abducted Nickell’s date and later raped her. The identity of the second suspect remains unknown; however, forensic testing is ongoing.
“This case remains open and active,” said Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum said. “Our investigators continue to develop and follow leads in the pursuit of justice for everyone who has been impacted by this heinous crime.”
Detectives are optimistic that Bell’s identification might bring forth additional information that will lead them to the second suspect, who is believed to be younger than Bell by several years. They want to talk to anyone who might recall the people Bell associated with in 1972, or anyone with any possible information about the case.
Genetic Genealogy Leads to Arrest of Suspect in Two 1983 Murders (Forensic – 11/28/2022)
In August 1983, a relative of Susan Tice, 45, went to her home on Grace Street to check on her, where he discovered her body in an upstairs bedroom. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed numerous times. Four months later, in December 1983, a friend went to the home of Erin Gilmour, 22, on Hazelton Avenue and located Erin’s body in a bedroom. She had also been sexually assaulted and stabbed numerous times. The women were not known to one another.
The Toronto Police Homicide and Missing Persons Unit, Cold Case section, has been actively investigating the sexual assaults and murders of these two women since 1983. In 2007, DNA obtained at the crime scenes linked the cases and investigators determined the same man was responsible for both homicides.
Toronto Police made an appeal to the media and the public in November 2008, announcing a reward for information about the homicides, and in March 2016, investigators sent out a YouTube video appealing for any information leading to the identification of a suspect.
In 2019, investigators began an investigation that included the use of forensic genetic genealogy, with the assistance of Othram.
It’s an ‘Exciting Time’ for DNA Genealogy in Solving Cold Cases, Experts Say. But Urge Some Caution (CBC – 11/29/2022)
“It’s a very, very exciting time because if we can essentially resolve even a small percentage more of our missing persons or unidentified human remains cases, that’s really incredible,” said Nicole Novroski, an assistant professor of forensic genetics at the University of Toronto.
“The technology itself is incredibly useful and incredibly powerful within this investigative arena,” she told CBC Toronto.
But Novroski also said it’s important that the database collected is done so with public consent. The process involves cross-referencing DNA found at crime scenes with samples voluntarily submitted to services such as 23andMe or Ancestry.ca and then uploaded to open-source databases like GEDmatch, a site that compares DNA data files from various testing companies.
Carbon County Sheriff’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2004 John Doe (DNASolves – 11/29/2022)
In June 2004, a hiker discovered a human skull approximately fifteen miles south of Red Lodge, Montana. Law enforcement responded with search teams and recovered a femur and pelvic bone. Subsequent forensic analysis determined that the bones came from the same individual and indicated that they belonged to a male between the ages of 15 and 32. DNA from the remains were entered in the Missing and Unidentified Remains section of the national Combined DNA Index System, but there was no match with a relative donor. The case was entered into NamUs as UP8932 but there were no matches to known missing persons.
In 2022, with assistance from the US Department of Justice, the FBI, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case team, Carbon County Sheriff’s Office engaged Othram to initiate a genetic genealogy investigation to develop new leads in the case. The skeletal evidence was sent to Othram’s lab in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram’s team developed a DNA extract from the degraded remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile from the skeletal remains. This DNA profile was returned to the investigators and the investigators used the profile in a genealogical search to identify possible distant genetic relatives. Genetic genealogy research, executed by local law enforcement and the FBI, produced an investigative lead that resulted in the identification of the remains as those of Rogers “Roger” Lee Ellis, who was born in Wisconsin Rapids 1954.
Genetic Genealogy Leads to Suspect in 1997 Rape of 9-Year-Old Boy (Forensic – 11/30/2022)
Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley announced that the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office’s (CCPO) G.O.L.D. Unit (Genetic Operations Linking DNA) has identified suspect John Doe #147, Dennis Gribble, 72, in the 1997 sexual assault of a 9-year-old boy in Brooklyn, Ohio.
On Aug. 8, 1997, the 9-year-old male victim was walking alone around the woods near North Amber Drive and Plainfield Avenue in Brooklyn. The victim saw Gribble, who said his son was riding around on a dirt bike and that he needed help finding a gas can. Gribble led the victim further into the woods and told the victim to lie down on his stomach. He then climbed on top of the victim and sexually assaulted him. Brooklyn Police Department responded to the scene and the victim was transported to a nearby hospital where sexual assault kit evidence was collected.
Gribble’s DNA did not produce any matches in CODIS. His DNA profile—unknown at the time—was then indicted as “John Doe #147” to ensure that the statute of limitations did not expire. John Doe #147 was charged with one count of rape.
The CCPO and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s DNA lab (BCI) reviewed the DNA evidence in 2021 for potential forensic genetic genealogy. The DNA profile for John Doe #147 was submitted to Gene by Gene, where investigative genetic genealogists were able to connect John Doe #147’s DNA profile to that of Gribble.
Cabanatuan Prison Camp: Using Modern DNA Tech in Highly Commingled WWII Cases (Forensic – 11/30/2022)
On any given day between 1942 and 1943, between 5,000 and 8,000 Allied prisoners of war (POW) were held at the Cabanatuan prison camp by Japanese forces. By time the camp was liberated in January 1945—rescuing 489 POWs and 33 civilians—2,764 burials had occurred.
Anthropologists know that thanks to death records and cemetery layouts recovered just days after the successful raid.
“One of the things that made this camp different is personnel were allowed to keep track of who died,” said Suni Edson, assistant technical leader of the past accounting section at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.
And while names and a map are a good starting point, the prison camp cemetery is still a mass grave.
“There are over 1,100 individual gravesites containing multiple individuals. All those who perished in a 24-hour period were believed to have been buried within a single grave. A single grave can have anywhere from 1 person to 79, which was found in the largest particular grave,” explained Edson during a presentation she gave at ISHI earlier this month.
Suspect Arrested in 1998 Cold Case Homicide of Marysville Woman, 19 (Renton Reporter – 11/30/2022)
In her 19 years of life, Jennifer Brinkman was known in the Marysville community as somebody eager to make friends. She frequented the local library.
The young woman was found dead in her bedroom in 1998. It would be 24 years before police identified a suspect in her violent killing.
On Monday, Marysville detectives arrested a 52-year-old man at his workplace in Renton for investigation of first-degree murder in the cold case killing of Brinkman, then 19.
Police did not publicly identify the suspect at a press conference Tuesday, pointing to steps in the judicial process that had yet to happen.
On March 13, 1998, Brinkman’s father and his girlfriend left for a trip to Disneyland they had planned. Brinkman opted to stay behind. Before leaving on the trip, the father went shopping and bought food, drinks and cigarettes to last his daughter until he got home.
Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and Othram Team to Identify 2019 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 11/30/2022)
In August 2019, the skeletal remains of an unidentified woman were discovered on an abandoned property in Lake Tapps, Washington. The discovery was made by construction workers who were in the process of tearing down the residence and clearing out the property. Investigators stated that the property had been vacant for years and was located on 9th Street East near Evergreen Point, east of Tacoma.
There were several pieces of clothing found near the woman’s body, including a navy-blue pullover sweatshirt with an American Flag logo, a tank top camisole shirt, and a pair of blue cloth pants. Investigators estimated the woman’s height to be between 5’1” and 5’7”. However, they were unable to make determinations about the unknown woman’s weight, age, eye color, hair color, or cause of death due to the decomposition that had taken place.
Since the discovery of the unknown woman’s remains, law enforcement investigators have diligently pursued various leads about her identity. In July 2020, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP72248. Despite exhaustive efforts from 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 Clallam County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the woman or a close relative. A DNASolves crowdfund has been established to cover casework costs. If you want to contribute, you can do so here.
Coroner Seeks DNA from Relatives of Missing Men to ID Remains Linked to Suspected Serial Killer: “These People are Someone’s Son” (CBS News – 11/30/2022)
An Indiana coroner’s office is asking relatives of young men who vanished between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s to submit DNA samples in a renewed effort to identify human remains found on land once owned by a man suspected in a string of killings, the scope of which remain unclear.
More than 10,000 human bones and bone fragments were discovered starting in the mid-1990s at Fox Hollow Farm, an 18-acre estate in Westfield, a Hamilton County city that’s a few miles north of Indianapolis, said Jeff Jellison, the county’s chief deputy coroner and coroner-elect.
The land’s then-owner, businessman Herbert Baumeister, was 49 when he killed himself in Canada in July 1996 as investigators sought to question him about the remains.
Investigators believed Baumeister, a married father of three who frequented gay bars, lured men to his home and killed them. By 1999, authorities had linked him to the disappearance of at least 16 men since 1980, including several whose bodies were found dumped in shallow streams in rural central Indiana and western Ohio.
Jellison said in a news release that investigators believe the 10,000 charred bones and fragments found at Baumeister’s property could represent the remains of at least 25 people.
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