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!




Police: New Tests Link Woman to 1986 Baby Killing (AP News – 11/19/2021)

  • A woman who lived a seemingly quiet, normal life with her family in Florida for three decades was charged with murder Friday in connection with the 1986 killing of her infant son in Connecticut, according to police and her lawyer.

    Greenwich police said new DNA testing linked Janita Phillips to the crime scene and she later admitted during an interview with detectives that she was the baby’s mother and caused his death.



Genetic Genealogy ID’s 1996 Murder Suspect (Forensic – 11/12/2021)

  • In February 1996, Terrance Paquette arrived at the Lil’ Champ Food Store between 5 and 6 a.m. to prepare for a 6 a.m. opening. Within a few hours, he was murdered by an unknown assailant, having been stabbed 73 times. He had only moved to Orlando a few years earlier, worked 60 hours weeks, and did not have many known associates. There were no witnesses to the murder, and investigators quickly exhausted all leads trying to find those responsible for Paquette’s brutal death.In Fall 2019, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office engaged the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to assist with the case. FLDE contracted Othram to use advanced DNA testing to develop a comprehensive genealogical profile that could be used to generate new leads that might identify Paquette’s killer. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a comprehensive genealogical profile.


Predicting Facial Appearance from DNA is Harder Than First Thought (Technology Networks – 11/19/2021)

  • Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has enabled millions of individuals to determine their ancestry and gain insights about their genetic pre-disposition to inherited diseases. While individual genotyping information is stored securely, some people consent to share their genomic data for further study.

    This data sharing has raised some valid concerns about genomic privacy. For example, could hackers reidentify a person — perhaps construct a picture of their face—based on genotype data downloaded legally from open-source web platforms?


HMAS Sydney: DNA Reveals Identity of Australia’s Famous ‘Unknown Sailor’ (BBC News – 11/19/2021)

  • Australia says it has identified the body of the only sailor recovered from a ship sunk during World War Two.


“48 Hours”: How DNA Uploaded to a Genealogy Database Helped Solve a Double Murder After 31 Years (CBS News – 11/19/2021)

  • Chelsea Rustad never expected to learn of a killer in her family tree when she submitted her DNA to a genealogy database. For this week’s “48 Hours” report, “A Killer in the Family Tree,” correspondent Erin Moriarty investigates how a genealogist used Rustad’s DNA to help police crack a double homicide 31 years after it happened.


Girl, 9, was Raped and Murdered in 1959. Authorities Finally Identified Her Killer. (NBC News – 11/19/2021)

  • A former door-to-door salesman who authorities said raped and murdered a 9-year-old girl in Washington State more than six decades ago was identified Friday, ending what one detective called the “Mount Everest” of cold case investigations.

    The man, John Reigh Hoff, died by suicide at the age of 31 in 1970, but his daughter provided DNA to investigators in Spokane that helped solve the murder of Candy Rogers, the city’s police department said in a news release.


1977 Car Crash Victim Finally Identified (Forensic – 11/19/2021)

  • On Nov. 18, 2021, Deputy Medical Examiner Kathryn Dougherty of the Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office and the DNA Doe Project (DDP) announced that investigative genetic genealogy was used to identify a 1977 car crash victim as John Lindberg Scott.John Lindberg Scott was just 27 years old when he died in a single-vehicle car crash west of Delafield in 1977. At the time, he was being pursued by a Waukesha County Sheriff’s deputy for speeding. The car he was driving had been stolen from Gurnee, Illinois.


Police: New DNA Tests Link Woman to 1986 Baby Killing (NBC Miami – 11/19/2021)

  • A woman who lived a seemingly quiet, normal life with her family in Florida for three decades was charged with murder Friday in connection with the 1986 killing of her infant son in Connecticut, according to police and her lawyer.

    Greenwich police said new DNA testing linked Janita Phillips to the crime scene and she later admitted during an interview with detectives that she was the baby’s mother and caused his death.



Man Whose Remains Were Found in 2016 Identified by DNA Tests (U.S. News – 11/19/2021)

  • Authorities say that skeletal remains found in 2016 in Jackson County have now been identified.

    The remains belong to Aaron McGraw, WLOX-TV reported. They were discovered in a wooded area near the Escatawpa River in Moss Point on Oct. 25, 2016.



Researchers of Ancient DNA Set Guidelines for Their Work (Phys Org – 11/19/2021)

  • Fueled by technological advancements, ancient DNA research has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. From the first full ancient genome published in 2010 to the more than 4,000 analyzed today, the DNA collected from ancient human remains has advanced researchers’ understanding of the origins and history of human populations around the world.

    However, given the relative infancy of the field and its rapid development, researchers find themselves in a position where they are building the plane while flying, figuratively speaking.



Phenotyping, Genetic Genealogy Help ID Jane Doe Found at Yosemite in 1983 (Forensic – 11/22/2021)

  • The partial remains of a homicide victim were found in Yosemite National Park’s Summit Meadow along Glacier Point Road in 1983. Special Agents of the NPS Investigative Services Branch (ISB) worked with multiple laboratories and agencies in an effort to identify the victim.



Florida Detectives Use DNA to Track Down Suspect in Old Case (U.S. News – 11/22/2021)

  • Investigators in Florida used DNA to solve a 13-year-old home invasion case.

    The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office tracked down Luis Ruiz Gonzalez, 47, last week after the 2008 case was presented to a grand jury, the Palm Beach Post reported.



Hilda Lockert Death: New DNA Technique Used to Solve 2001 Killing (BBC News – 11/22/2021)

  • A man has been found guilty of killing a pensioner 20 years ago after new DNA techniques linked him to the crime.



DOJ Gives Nearly $1 M to NamUs to Support American Indians, Alaska Natives Cases (Forensic – 11/24/2021)

  • The Department of Justice announced a commitment of $800,000 to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, specifically to increase the program’s capacity to provide outreach, investigative support and forensic services to cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives. The investment is in response to recommendations from the federal Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, known as Operation Lady Justice. It also supports the executive order issued by President Biden on November 15 “to reduce violence against Native American people, and to ensure swift and effective Federal action that responds to the problem of missing or murdered indigenous people.”



As Critics Warn of Genetic ‘Surveillance’, RCMP Explores Use of DNA Matching in Criminal Probes (CBC – 11/28/2021)

  • While law enforcement’s use of genetic genealogy has been credited with advancing and solving cold cases, it’s also raising ethical questions about how police are taking advantage of the at-home DNA testing trend.



Extracting the DNA Mystery Held in Old Bones to Identify Australia’s Long-Term Missing (The Islander – 11/29/2021)

  • After a hiatus during the COVID lockdown period, federal police forensics specialists will reinvigorate a program which will match the DNA remains of more than 500 unidentified bodies in an attempt to determine the potential fate of Australia’s long-term missing.


    The huge project had a perfect trial run and case study recently through the Australian Federal Police involvement in performing the all-important Y-chromosome profiling – that which only belongs to men – to help identify the only sailor found after the sinking of HMAS Sydney II off the coast of Western Australia 80 years ago.



51 Prisoners Will Have Their Cases Reviewed for Potential Wrongful Convictions Over Hair Analysis (CPR News – 11/29/2021)

  • Fifty-one people currently serving sentences in Colorado prisons will have their cases probed by state law enforcement and University of Colorado law school professors for potentially faulty hair analysis that could have led to wrongful convictions decades ago.

    CU’s Korey Wise Innocence Project and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation will review cases identified by investigators where hairs collected from crime scenes were visually compared to draw conclusions about whether the hair came from a suspect.



Kosovo’s Forensic Investigators: ‘We are the Voice of the Dead’ (Balkan Insight – 11/29/2021)

  • Forensics experts who work on exhumations of mass graves of ethnic Albanians killed in the Kosovo war say they feel anger, psychological pain and a huge responsibility to reveal the truth about how the victims were killed.



DNA Helps Solve 1979 Killing of Las Vegas Teenager (NBC News – 11/29/2021)

  • Forty-two years after Las Vegas teenager Kim Bryant was sexually assaulted and murdered, police say that DNA evidence has identified her killer.

    Kim Bryant, 16, disappeared after failing to meet her boyfriend at a Dairy Queen, and her body was found in a desert area three weeks later.



DOJ Awards $500,000 to Retest Evidence from Shuttered Austin Police Forensic Lab (Forensic – 12/01/2021)

  • The Department of Justice has awarded over $573,637 in grant funding to Travis County (Texas) to help the district investigate cases potentially affected by improper testing and other problematic behavior by the Austin Police Department’s forensic laboratory in 2016. The grant covers DNA testing and re-testing, as well as salaries for two additional attorneys.



Iowa has Tested 1,606 Rape Kits in a 6-Year Initiative (Forensic – 12/01/2021)

  • The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has wrapped up a six-year effort to address untested sexual assault evidence kits throughout the state. The project has resulted in 1,606 kits tested, four criminal charges to date, and several improvements in the way kits are processed to benefit victims.

    The Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) project was created in April 2015 to address the issue of untested sexual assault kits. The project was supported by two grants awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in 2015 and 2016, totaling $3 million. The grant period ended in fall 2021.



1999 Cold Case Murder: First Time Familial DNA Leads to Arrest in New York City (Forensic – 12/01/2021)

  • Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark and New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced that a Westchester man has been indicted on murder charges in the 1999 killing of a Bronx teen after investigators used familial DNA, the first time the technology is used in New York City to solve a case.



Mom Charged a Year After Remains of 9-Year-Old Found in Bag in Oregon Forest, Cops Say (The Kansas City Star – 12/01/2021)

  • Someone walking through the forest nearly a year ago discovered human remains of a 9-year-old girl shoved into a duffle bag, Oregon police said. Now her mother has been arrested and charged with aggravated murder, according to the Oregon State Police.



Remains of Alaska Man Found in 1989 Identified through DNA (NBC News – 12/02/2021)

  • The remains of a man found on Fire Island just west of Anchorage in 1989 have been identified through DNA and genome sequencing, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.

    Troopers said the victim was Michael Allison Beavers, who owned an excavation business in Chugiak. He was reported missing in 1980.



Scientific Foundation Review: DNA Mixture Interpretation (NIST – 12/02/2021)

  • Earlier this year, NIST released a draft report, NISTIR 8351-DRAFT, DNA Mixture Interpretation: A NIST Scientific Foundation Review, to seek input from the broader forensic science community. Two public comment periods were held between June 9 and Nov. 19, 2021.

    On the DNA report homepage, we have provided a document containing all public comments, listed in the chronological order in which they were received.

    A final version of NISTIR 8351 will be released after carefully considering the input received.