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!




STRmixWill Interpret DNA Evidence for Mississippi Office of Forensic Laboratories (CISION – 9/22/2022)

    • The Mississippi Office of Forensic Laboratories is the latest U.S. forensic lab to use STRmix™ forensic software in its scientific testing of crime scene evidence.

      Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, STRmix™ has established a highly successful track record of producing usable, interpretable, and legally admissible DNA evidence in a wide range of criminal cases. It has proven to be particularly effective in resolving violent crime and sexual assault cases, as well as cold cases in which evidence originally regarded as inconclusive was able to be reexamined.



Catching Criminals and Solving Crimes: Inside the Sacramento Police Forensics Team (ABC10 – 9/22/2022)

  • While the Sacramento Police Department‘s forensics team usually works behind the scenes, they’re now stepping into the spotlight for National Forensic Science Week.

    The team highlighted the tools and technology they use everyday to keep Sacramento safe.



Fighting Crime from Inside the Lab: A Day in the Life of the KPD Forensics Team (WBIR10 – 9/22/2022)

  • This week is National Forensic Science Week. Forensic scientists are often the “secret weapon” law enforcement uses to fight crime. DNA, fingerprints, shell casings, and left-behind clothing often help this team solve the case.



All-Female Forensic Team Solves Crimes in Fort Myers (ABC7 – 9/22/2022)

  • The Fort Myers Police Department is recognizing its all-female forensic science team. These ladies roll up to crime scenes, searching for evidence to analyze. It’s a complicated job but crucial to the criminal justice system. Matching DNA, fingerprinting, taking photographs of evidence, and many other methods are used to solve many crimes. FMPD said its forensic science team is the backbone of its criminal investigations, and they’re so proud of the work they do.


Forensic Sciences Lab Brings Closure to Families Through DNA Identification (Oklahoma State University – 9/22/2022)

    • The School of Forensic Sciences’ Human Identity Testing Laboratory at OSU Center for Health Sciences works with national and international coroners and medical examiners to help identify human remains and bring closure to families.

      “In the last five years we have had 130 cases submitted to us from across the United States and the world, and we have a 94 percent success rate in establishing the identification of the person,” said Robert Allen, professor of Forensic Sciences and director of the lab. “We try and extract DNA from the remains and then compare it with the DNA of possible surviving family members.”

      Allen said the lab is sent samples of everything from bones, blood stains or tissue— sometimes decades old— along with DNA samples from people who are suspected family members of the deceased. Allen said while some DNA labs can take six months to a year to run tests and report results, the OSU-CHS lab usually has results in two weeks or less.


DNA Match Leads to Conviction in Kidnapping, Rape Case from 1999 (Fort Wayne NBC – 9/22/2022)

    • A California man was convicted for kidnapping and raping a Logansport woman 22 years ago after a three-day trial ended last Thursday.

      The Kosciusko County Prosecuting Attorney’s office says Rodriguez Samandes Todd, 53, from La Mesa California, was a suspect in the 1999 crime after Todd’s DNA profile showed as a match with the suspect in the Combined DNA Index System a national database in 2019.

      When police found Todd in California and questioned him, Todd told officers he lived in Kentucky and Tennessee before moving to South Bend in 1999. The prosecutor’s office says Todd admitted to having “one-night stands” in cars or in the woods or in a secluded place.


    • In March 1980, the New York State Police investigated the discovery of a victim left headless and handless in a travel trunk near a dumpster on the grounds of the Hudson View Apartment Complex in Fishkill, NY.

      In 2011, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP8374. Over the last four decades, investigators followed hundreds of leads trying to identify the victim and the circumstances surrounding her death. Technological and forensic limitations of the time, however, prevented any positive identification of the victim.

      In 2022, the FBI provided forensic evidence to Othram. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the murdered woman. This profile was delivered back to law enforcement so that it could be used in a genealogical search. The FBI investigative team conducted research resulting from the DNA profile created by Othram and provided an investigative lead to the New York State Police. On May 26, 2022, the New York State Police Troop K Major Crimes Unit was able to identify the victim based on that lead.


Study Links BMI to Decomposition Condition (Forensic – 9/26/2022)

    • For their study, published in mSphere, DeBruyn and her research team studied 19 bodies that had been donated and placed in the outdoor facility between February 2019 and March 2020. Temperature and humidity data were recorded hourly by remote tags, and the team collected soil samples at regular intervals throughout decomposition. They also analyzed the bacterial and fungal composition of fluids produced by the bodies, as well as the composition of the surrounding soil during “active decomposition,” which lasts until the body stops releasing fluids and the abdomen cavity collapses.

      According to the study results, most of the bacterial communities in the fluid released into the soil belonged to the Firmicutes and Proteobacteria phyla, which include dominant species typically found in the human gut. The majority of the fungal communities in the fluids were associated with the class Saccharomycetes.

      That data still didn’t explain the observed variation in decomposition, however. Then, the researchers recorded more diversity in the soil microbe communities in the soil around the bodies than they’d observed in the decomposition fluids. That highlighted a possible connection—body mass index.



Exhuming the Truth (Aeon – 9/27/2022)

    • Thousands of victims of political executions lie in anonymous graves. Forensics offers hope for the ‘forgotten’ ones



Family Finds Some Closure 20 Years After Father Goes Missing, Thanks to Forensic Genealogy (KCBY11 – 9/27/2022)

    • Authorities have identified a man who was found dead in Clark County on January 13, 2002, giving a family some closure after twenty years.

      The Clark County Medical Examiner said forensic genealogy from a DNA sample helped them identify the body found in Ridgefield two decades ago as James Orin Johnson Sr.

      “The forensic genealogist found an ancestral link to two sisters born in Oregon in the mid-1800s and compiled a long list of people who were distantly related to the [then] unidentified man,” the ME’s office said.



First Forensic Science University in Africa to be Built in Uganda (Monitor – 9/27/2022)

    • Uganda will become the first country in Africa to provide specialized training in forensics to security and law enforcement agencies as well as other sectors of Government and the private sector.

      This was disclosed after President Museveni gave a green light to the establishment of the National Forensics Science University Campus in Uganda. The university will be affiliated to the National Forensic Sciences University (FSU) of India, a premium and the world’s first and only University with world-class training dedicated to forensic, behavioural, cybersecurity, digital forensics, and allied sciences.



NamUs Selects Othram as a Forensic Genetic Genealogy Partner (CISION – 9/27/2022)

    • Othram, the leading forensic sequencing laboratory for law enforcement, and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases, today announced their partnership to develop and deploy forensic DNA testing tools to help reconnect missing and unidentified persons with their families.

      To date, NamUs houses over 59,800 missing persons and 14,500 unidentified human remains cases and has helped investigators, coroners, and medical examiners solve more than 30,300 missing persons cases and identify over 5,700 decedents from their remains. The NamUs team has extensive experience serving the forensic community and are continuing to advance the NamUs mission through a diverse network of partnerships with organizations such as Othram.



New Bill Would Limit Police Use of DNA Collected from Newborn Blood Screening (New Jersey Monitor – 9/28/2022)

    • Two state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would bar New Jersey from using DNA samples the state stores from its newborn blood screening program for anything other than detecting disease.

      Assembly members Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) introduced the bill last week in response to the state Office of the Public Defender’s discovery that state police retrieved an infant’s years-old sample to link the child’s father to an unsolved rape case.



Investigators Use DNA Testing and Forensic Genealogy to Crack 20-Year-Old Cold Case (KGW8 – 9/29/2022)

    • Investigators in Clark County have solved a 20-year-old cold case using DNA tracing. KGW spoke with a family member who said they’re relieved to finally know what happened to their loved one and get closure, but it’s been a hard road. Johnson, who lives in Utah, said he never expected the call he got earlier this month from the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office. He said they told him that with DNA testing and forensic genealogy, investigators had discovered that a body that was found in Ridgefield back in 2002 after an apparent suicide belonged to his brother.



Tennessee Funds Additional Forensic Jobs after Fletcher Murder (Forensic – 9/30/2022)

    • Memphis police say they took a sexual assault report on Sept. 21, 2021 and submitted the kit to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for analysis. But, due to TBI’s rape kit backlog, the DNA was not tested until nearly a year later.

      When the DNA was finally entered into CODIS, it returned a match for Henderson on Sept. 5, 2022—the same day Fletcher’s body was found after she was abducted three days earlier. Henderson was indicted in the initial sexual assault case just days after he was arrested for the murder of Fletcher.

      On Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the state will fast-track money to hire 25 additional forensic lab positions to decrease turnaround times for sexual assault kits in response to the immense scrutiny following Fletcher’s high-profile murder.



Prisoner Charged, Again, with Second 1983 Murder (Forensic – 9/30/2022)

    • Using new breakthroughs in DNA forensics, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has charged a San Jose man, who is already in prison for a brutal murder of a woman, with another murder, 39 years ago.

      Christopher Holland, 67, was arraigned last week with the 1983 rape and murder of 21-year-old Tara Marowski.

      This is the second time he has been charged in this crime. In 2015, Santa Clara prosecutors were forced to drop the case when a judge legally separated it from the slaying of Cynthia Munoz. Holland was found guilty of that murder and is serving life without the possibility of parole. If convicted in this case, Holland faces life in prison. Holland will next appear in court on Oct. 27, 2022.



New University Hub Addresses Forensic Scientist Shortage (Forensic – 9/30/2022)

    • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is addressing a critical shortage of forensic scientists, advancing criminal justice research, and supporting reform through the launch of the new Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Development Campus at the vacated Lindenwood-Belleville campus, in partnership with the City of Belleville, Illinois State Police, Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC), and other collaborators.

      Southern Illinois University’s contributions to the new campus are funded through a $3.5M appropriation from the State of Illinois’ fiscal year 2023 budget, which includes approximately $3.2M in support of SIUE’s activities in Belleville and builds upon more than two years of planning between SIUE, SIU Carbondale, SWIC, City of Belleville officials, Illinois State Police (ISP), community leaders, elected officials and additional stakeholders.



Human Remains Found in St. Louis Identified 5 Years Later (St. Louis Post-Dispatch – 9/30/2022)

    • Forensic experts in Texas on Thursday identified remains found in 2017 in a backyard of a vacant Kingsway West home. Police found the remains of Merecia Tobias, 34, on the morning of Oct. 10, 2017, about two months after she was reported missing. The medical examiner’s office said at the time it could not determine sex, age or race of the remains but ruled the person’s death a homicide. The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification on Thursday identified the remains for the police department.



Families, Experts Shed Light on Cold Case Crisis at Symposium (Forensic – 10/03/2022)

    • In the United States, there are over 270,000 cold cases—unsolved criminal cases of homicide or missing persons that remain open pending the discovery of new evidence. Behind each of these cold cases there are thousands of families, friends and loved ones that are left without answers.

      This topic and more were discussed last week at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences’ first-ever Cold Case Symposium. At the event, over 300 community members, faculty, experts, students and staff came together, both in-person and virtually, to better understand this crisis, bring awareness to local cold cases and explore some of the work being done to address this growing problem.



Study: Forensic STRs May Reveal Medical Information (Forensic – 10/03/2022)

    • A core assumption in forensic DNA is that the loci used for identification do not reveal any medical information about the owner of the sample. In a legal context, this assumption is critical as current laws authorizing the collection of DNA from certain persons, such as arrestees and convicted felons, would immediately come into conflict with established state and federal health privacy laws and regulations.

      In fact, the 20 short tandem repeats (STRs) known as the CODIS core loci were purposely selected because they are not associated with any known physical or medical characteristics. And while that has always been the conventional wisdom, a new study from researchers at San Francisco State University indicates that may not be true anymore.



Utah Forensic Scientists Play Key Role in Criminal Justice (KJZZ14 – 10/03/2022)

    • While police work on the front lines, Utah forensic scientists play a vital role in solving crimes in the state.

      The Utah State Crime Lab does forensic testing for all law enforcement across Utah.

      Walking into one of their three locations is like walking into a crime television show. In the firearm section, scientists work to restore serial numbers that have been removed from guns and compare bullet markings under a microscope.



Nobel Goes to Scientist who Unlocked Secrets of Neanderthal DNA (NBCNews – 10/03/2022)

    • Swedish scientist Svante Paabo won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for his discoveries on human evolution that provided key insights into our immune system and what makes us unique compared with our extinct cousins, the award’s panel said.

      Paabo has spearheaded the development of new techniques that allowed researchers to compare the genome of modern humans and that of other hominins — the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

      While Neanderthal bones were first discovered in the mid-19th century, only by unlocking their DNA — often referred to as the code of life — have scientists been able to fully understand the links between species.



The Pennsylvania State Police and the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office Partner with Othram to Identify 2012 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 10/04/2022)

    • In November 2012, the skeletal remains of a young woman were found on Alden Mountain Road in Newport Township, Pennsylvania. The Criminal Investigation Unit at PSP’s Shickshinny station submitted the victim’s DNA profile to national databases for comparison to other profiles on record but no matches were found. The case was entered in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP10836.

      In 2022, skeletal remains from the unknown young woman were sent to Othram. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile from the degraded skeletal remains. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the profile in a genealogical search to generate investigative clues to the young woman’s identity. The funding for Othram’s laboratory and research efforts was funded by the Luzerne Foundation and the Othram team is grateful for their support in working this challenging case.


Police: California Serial Killer ‘On a Mission’ in Slayings (Forensic – 10/05/2022)

    • A California serial killer seems to be “on a mission” throughout the fatal shooting of six men and the wounding of one woman dating back to last year.

      Ballistics tests and some video evidence linked the crimes in Stockton and Oakland, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) apart, police said.

      “We don’t know what the motive is. What we do believe is that it’s mission-oriented,” Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said Tuesday. “This person’s on a mission.”

      The first fatal shooting was in Oakland in April 2021. The woman was wounded in Stockton days later. More than a year passed, then the five killings in Stockton took place between July 8 and Sept. 27, all within a radius of a few square miles, police said.



California Woman Murdered Nearly Two Decades Ago Identified Through Genetic Genealogy (FOX News – 10/05/2022)

    • The remains of a woman who was murdered 18 years ago were finally identified this week using genetic genealogy, a cutting-edge field of DNA science.

      The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office originally found the remains in March 2008 and a coroner determined that the woman died by homicide sometime in the fall of 2004.

      Law enforcement reviewed hundreds of missing persons reports, distributed photographs of her clothing and jewelry to the media, and created a composite drawing of what she may have looked like, but the case went cold for years.

      In 2021, investigators reopened the case using genetic genealogy and were able to identify the woman as Shannon Vielguth by comparing her remains to the DNA of a close family member.