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!




Can Ancient DNA Methods Be Used to Improve Success Rate of Forensic ID? (Forensic – 10/01/2021)

  • Anthropologists use 300,000-year-old ancient DNA (aDNA) to help inform their studies regarding human evolution and population. By virtue of time, this aDNA arrives at the lab highly degraded.

    In the modern forensic world, this degradation, which results in highly fragmented and damaged DNA, is also seen in victims of war, disaster victim cases, mass fatality cases and even some cold cases.

    This led Elena Zavala, a graduate student at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, to ask the question: can methods from ancient DNA be used to improve the success rate for forensic identification?



Investigators to Use Genetic Genealogy to Try to ID Baby Wyatt (Forensic – 10/01/2021)

  • In March 2020, a male infant was found by fishermen near the bank along the Melton Lake Greenway in Oak Ridge, TN, a part of the Knoxville Metropolitan area. Investigators described the infant as a 34-week-gestational-aged male. In addition, he appeared to have some some birth-related trauma to the right side of his head.With no leads to his identity, the Oak Ridge Police Department named him “Baby Wyatt,” meaning little warrior. The community came together to give him a funeral, and donated a wreath and a teddy bear. The details surrounding the case are not clear and in spite of pursuing all available leads, Baby Wyatt’s true name remains unknown.

    In 2021, the Oak Ridge Police Department and Knox County Regional Forensic Center parterned with Othram to use advanced forensic DNA testing to develop new investigative leads that might assist in identifying the infant or his family.


French Ex-Officer’s DNA Ends 35-Year Murder Hunt (BBC News – 10/01/2021)

  • For decades the crimes of a notorious serial killer have haunted the Paris crime squad. But now a former military police officer is said to have confessed to being the murderer known as Le Grêlé – the pockmarked man – before his death. Named locally as François Vérove, his DNA has been matched to several crime scenes linked to Le Grêlé.




20 Years Later, San Diego Police Identify Woman’s Body Found Burning Behind Church (Los Angeles Times – 10/01/2021)

  • For 20 years, the young woman whose hands were chopped off and whose body was found burning behind a San Diego church was identified only as Jane Doe.

    But last year, as cold-case investigators scoured ancestral DNA databases looking for potential relatives of the victim, they caught a break. A man in Michigan who was adopted as a child had just uploaded his genetic information into one of those databases in search of his biological family — and investigators determined he was Jane Doe’s half-brother.



Museum Exhibit to Feature Cold Case Homicide Victims and the USF Forensic Anthropologists Working to Identify Them (University of South Florida – 10/01/2021)

  • Twenty individuals who’ve posthumously been nameless for decades will be in the public eye as part of an exhibition designed to identify them and solve their homicides. The cold cases will be featured in the “The Art of Forensics” exhibit at Sulphur Springs Museum & Heritage Center throughout October. It includes clay sculptures, digital composites, photographs and drawings of the victims, as well as a photographic series that portrays Tampa Bay professionals who contribute to cold case investigations. The exhibit was created by USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, executive director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science (USF-IFAAS), along with USF graduate student and Tampa Bay Times journalist John Pendygraft.


Colorado Springs Police use DNA Evidence to Solve Year-Old Murder Case (KRDO – 10/01/2021)

  • Thanks to DNA technology, police were able to arrest a suspect in the 2020 murder of a Colorado Springs woman.

    On October 2, 2020, officers responded to a report of a disturbance near the intersection of Delta Drive and Hancock Expressway. At the scene, police found a man suffering serious injuries and a deceased woman in the road.

    According to the Colorado Springs Police Department, a man purposely ran over 37-year-old Chasta Rogers, killing her.



Woodlawn Jane Doe: How Scraps of DNA and a Genealogy Website Solved a 45-Year-Old Mystery (The Washington Post – 10/02/2021)

  • Shannon McAdoo, a former bookkeeper in Erie, Pa., spends her evenings hunting for ancestors on genealogy websites. This year, in an effort to widen her search, McAdoo swabbed her cheek with a long Q-tip and sent her DNA to a genealogy website that specializes in making genetic family matches. McAdoo, 53, had no idea she would apparently help solve a family mystery: what happened to her cousin, Margaret Fetterolf, a habitual runaway who went missing from her Alexandria, Va., home in 1975 at age 16. 

Investigative Genetic Genealogy Offers New Clues about ‘Jane Seneca Doe’ 45 Years After Her Murder (yahoo!news – 10/02/2021)

  • For 45 years, the identity of a young woman found murdered and tossed in a ditch along a highway in a rural area near Seneca, Illinois, has been a mystery.

    She’s only been known by the name Jane Seneca Doe. But authorities in Grundy County haven’t given up and one dedicated coroner believes he’s getting close to finding out who she was. He was born 15 years after the unidentified woman was murdered, but he has made it his mission to give her back her name.



DNA Technology Helps Authorities Identify Remains of Murdered Man Found in 1976 (Lake County News – 9/28/2021)

  • The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said this week that DNA technology has helped it solve a decades-long mystery involving the identity of a murdered man whose remains were found near Lower Lake.

    Lt. Corey Paulich said this week that the investigation has identified the remains as belonging to Leopoldo Torres Melendez, whose family said he had gone missing nearly 50 years ago.



Death 101: A Look Inside Texas State University’s Body Farm and Forensic Anthropology Center (KSAT – 10/04/2021)

  • Field and lab training help researchers learn how to solve crimes and investigate human decomposition



Acknowledging the Missing and Those Who Try to Find Them (The New York Times – 10/04/2021)

  • To document the crisis of Mexico’s disappeared, the photographer Fred Ramos followed families in their search and documented the clothing that dressed unidentified bodies.



Studies Assess Impact of Budget Cuts, COVID-19 on Missing Persons Reports (Forensic – 10/06/2021)

  • Calling missing persons among the “most challenging issues” for modern police forces, researchers from the University of Portsmouth have recently published two independent studies assessing the impact of police budget cuts on missing person investigations, as well as the impact of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on missing person reports in the UK.



Team Seeks to ID Young Woman Found in 1981 (Forensic – 10/06/2021)

  • In April 1981, the skeletal remains of a young woman were found off I-80 near Route 30 in New Lenox, Illinois. The cause of death is not clear, although there was no clothing found at the scene and investigators believe the body was intentionally place where it was found. The young woman was described as caucasian, blonde, standing at around 5’5, and between the ages of 23-40 years old at the time of her discovery.

    The Will County Coroner’s Office has now engaged Othram to leverage advanced forensic DNA testing to generate new leads that could help identify the young woman or a family member.



DNA Evidence Clears Man, Co-Defenders of 2002 Murder Charges (Forensic – 10/06/2021)

  • Special Prosecutor Thomas Plymale dismissed all charges against Philip Barnett, who spent 10 years in prison for a crime DNA testing proved he did not commit. Charges were also dropped against his co-defendants Nathan Barnett, Philip’s brother, and Justin Black. A fourth defendant, Brian Dement, accepted a sentence modification of time served. All four men were convicted of the 2002 murder of a young woman in Cabell County, W.Va.



Research Reveals ‘Huge’ Impact of Pandemic on Sexual Violence Support Services (Forensic – 10/06/2021)

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual abuse survivors going through the criminal justice system has been “huge” with support services reporting referral increases of up to 366 percent.

    They also reported supporting clients for much longer periods of time because of the delays now being seen in the criminal justice system.

    A new evidence briefing, written by Lancaster University and published on the Justice in COVID-19 for Sexual Abuse and Violence (JiCSAV) project website, focuses on the experiences of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and Third Sector Support Services during the pandemic.



Fort Wayne Woman Says She Has DNA to Prove She is Virginia Girl Missing 21 Years (Fort Wayne NBC – 10/06/2021)