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!




Ancient DNA Lab Maps Little-Explored Human Lineages (Emory University – 10/2020)

  • Emory scholars study genetics of deep past to better understand modern-day populations of the Americas



How Familial DNA Helped Solve the Wendy Jerome Case (WHEC 10 – 10/1/2020)

  • News10NBC has been following the Wendy Jerome murder case as part of our Inside the Evidence series for over a year. Until recently, the case had been cold for 36 years. Familial DNA testing is ultimately what lead the Rochester Police Department to suspect Timothy Williams.



Study: Forensic Examiners are Stressed (Forensic – 10/2/2020)

  • The study, published in Journal of Forensic Science, surveyed 150 practicing forensic examiners from one major crime laboratory about their experiences with workplace stress and explicit and implicant feedback they receive. While previous studies have focused on unique stressors for examiners exposed to internal crimes against children or forensic odontologists identified mass casualties, there has been a lack of research addressing stress across core forensic science fields.



Genetic Genealogy Testing Helps Solve Sexual Battery Cold Case (WJHG 7 – 10/2/2020)

  • Efforts by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Layton Utah Police Department have led to the closure of two cold case sexual battery cases, perpetrated by the same man. He died in South Carolina in 2015.



Tracked Down through DNA Site, Former Virginia Nurse Gets 65 Years for 2 Lifeguard Rapes (WJLA 2 – 10/2/2020)

  • Bjerke’s sperm was used to identify him, even though his DNA didn’t match any found in law enforcement databases. The Alexandria Police Department contracted with Parabon Nanolabs to have the DNA analyzed using genetic genealogy. Parabon investigators used a public access site called GEDmatch to search for relatives. Using the list of relatives and the strength of the relationship, Parabon suggested Bjerke as a suspect.



Operation UNITED Exhumes Buried Remains for DNA Identification (Forensic – 10/5/2020)

  • The unidentified remains date back to cold cases originating in the 1950s, way before DNA analysis was available. Even as late as 2013, it was not standard procedure to obtain the DNA of unidentified victims. This combination led to about 100 unidentified people buried between 1959 and 2013 in the city of Detroit. Exhuming their bodies now to collect DNA and use advanced analysis techniques allows hope of an identification.



How a 1983 Seabrook Woman’s Murder Case was Cracked Decades Later (KHOU 11 – 10/5/2020)

  • A new podcast out October 5 dives into how a Houston-area cold case was cracked using forensic genealogy. It features the 1983 Seabrook murder of Susan Eads.



‘CSI Effect’ Remains a Myth, Retired Judge Says on 20th Anniversary of Popular Forensic Science Show (ABA Journal – 10/6/2020)

  • Shelton’s penchant for proof, coupled with an interest in statistics and forensics—he believes he is the first judge in Michigan to handle a case involving DNA evidence—led him to conduct surveys to determine if the CSI effect was real or just an excuse—“mainly from losers.”



Evolution of the Y Chromosome Deciphered (Forensic – 10/7/2020)

  • A team of biologists and computer scientists at Penn State sequenced and assembled the Y chromosome from orangutan and bonobo and compared those sequences to the existing human, chimpanzee, and gorilla Y sequences. From the comparison, the team were able to clarify patterns of evolution that seem to fit with behavioral differences between the species and reconstruct a model of what the Y chromosome might have looked like in the ancestor of all great apes.


Counting the Species: How DNA Barcoding is Rewriting the Book of Life (The Guardian – 10/7/2020)

  • In 2003, Canadian scientist Paul Hebert published a study claiming to have developed a technique that could identify and differentiate between all animal species on Earth. Using common moths collected in his own backyard, he successfully identified 200 closely related species using the mitochondrial gene cytochrome c oxidase I (COI), which is present in all aerobic life.



Tapp Sues Idaho Falls, IFPD (IdahoStateJournal – 10/8/2020)

  • Tapp spent nearly 20 years in prison after he was falsely convicted for the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge. Tapp was exonerated on July 17, 2019, after Brian Dripps, of Caldwell, was arrested for the murder.

    Tapp’s case drew renewed scrutiny after a 2014 review by Judges for Justice concluded Idaho Falls police officers had coerced Tapp’s confession and fed him information about the crime, only to later claim in court he knew details about the crime that weren’t publicly available.