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!
In May 2022, the remains of an unidentified individual were found in Franklin County, in the city of Mesa, Washington. The remains were found near the shore of the Scooteney Reservoir by children who were fishing in the lake. The Franklin County Coroner’s Office responded to the scene and collected the forensic evidence at the scene. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy of the individual and estimated that the man was less than thirty years old and had short black hair. He likely stood between 5’0” and 5’2”. Due to the condition of the man’s remains, no other identifying characteristics, including his possible biogeographical ancestry, could be determined. It was estimated that the man had died at least months prior to his remains being found. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP91455.
In July 2023, the Franklin County Coroner’s Office and Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office teamed with Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing to determine the identity of the unknown man. Forensic evidence was shipped to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from skeletal remains and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile that could be used for forensic genetic genealogy.
During the investigation, a reference DNA sample from the possible relative was collected for reference testing to compare to the unknown man. The comparison confirmed the relationship between the relative and the unknown man, allowing investigators to identify the human remains as belonging to Antonio Juanes Gaspar of Guatemala. Gaspar, a farm laborer, was in the Othello, Washington area for work. Othello is a short drive from Mesa where Gaspar’s remains were discovered.
The cold case murder of a 20-year-old Kansas woman 34 years ago was solved earlier this year using “cutting-edge” DNA technology, the Wichita Police Department announced in a Monday news conference.
DNA evidence was collected after the Oct. 2, 1989, sexual assault and beating murder of Krista Martin, 20, but testing wasn’t available at the time, nevertheless, it was “carefully preserved,” Kris Gupilan, the public information officer with the department said.
Over the years, DNA samples were compared to potential suspects with no match found and in 2009, a suspect profile was created through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) — but no match was found.
In 2021, a dedicated investigative genetic genealogy team that consisted of an FBI special agent and a Wichita police homicide detective was created and this last April — with the help of private industry genealogists to scrutinize DNA profiles and getting DNA samples from his relatives — a man named Paul Hart was identified as the suspect.
In 2003, the Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Lab transferred several sets of unidentified human remains to Southeast Missouri State University in the hopes that anthropologists would someday be able to identify them. Two of these cases were previously resolved in 2020 and 2022. The work described here represents a third identification resulting from collaboration between regional law enforcement, Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO), and Othram; and the sixth identification between SEMO and Othram.
Under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Bengtson, advanced anthropology students estimated that these remains belonged to a biological male who was at least 50 years old at the time of his death. He stood about 5 feet 7 inches tall and was likely of predominantly European ancestry. All of his teeth had been lost during his life and he had signs of healed facial trauma. The man’s cause of death could not be determined. No records were initially associated with these remains, but a student intern at the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab eventually located a document indicating that the remains had been in the possession of the Cape Girardeau County Coroner in August of 1980. No other records could be located. The case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP14558 and a partial DNA profile was developed and uploaded to CODIS. No hits were returned, and the man’s case did not match any missing persons case.
In collaboration with the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office, Dr. Bengtson and her students submitted skeletal remains to Othram in 2020. Despite the fact that the remains were highly degraded, Othram scientists were able to develop a suitable DNA extract from the remains. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. The matches in the genealogy databases were distant, but Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team was able to return actionable leads, which helped investigators identify living individuals who were able to provide supplementary information about their families and their roots in Cape Girardeau County.
Using these investigative leads along with the coroner’s report, SEMO anthropology students searched newspaper archives for any information related to missing persons or skeletal remains that might help shed light on this John Doe’s identity. Over the course of this work, a student located articles from July of 1980 describing skeletal remains that were recovered from a farm near Gordonville, MO, which matched the anthropological profile and the timeline developed for these remains. Information in these articles also indicated that these remains were identified at the time as likely belonging to an individual whose surname was represented in the genealogy data. Using this information, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s investigators reached out to the closest living relative of that individual to obtain a comparative DNA sample. Follow up DNA testing confirmed that Cape Girardeau County John Doe is, in fact, Louis Charles Borchers of Gordonville, Missouri.
A Northern Ontario man was convicted this week of murdering two women 40 years ago, after police tracked him down with a new investigative technique that uses crime-scene DNA to close in on suspects by mapping their family trees.
By the early 2000s, police had access to some DNA analytical techniques. But an analysis at that time revealed only that the two women had been killed by the same man.
In Mr. Sutherland’s case, the agreed statement of facts notes that Toronto Police started using genetic genealogy in 2021, and turned up five brothers whom they identified as potential suspects. “A police investigation resulted in the elimination of four out of the five Sutherland brothers as the source of the crime scene DNA,” the agreed statement says.
The year before the Kangaroo Island case resurfaced, the AFP’s national DNA program was founded with the promise of helping solve Australia’s backlog of hundreds of cold cases.
The team have developed a suite of new testing capabilities. Among these techniques is FIGG and the capacity to perform the full range of DNA testing required in-house — an Australian first for law enforcement.
University at Albany chemist Igor Lednev has spent more than a decade developing a laser-based technology that can help law enforcement catch violent criminals.
Now, through $1 million in support from the National Science Foundation, he’s preparing to bring the forensic investigation tool to market.
SupreMEtric LLC, founded by Lednev, has received its second highly competitive NSF Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant. It will be used to advance the commercialization of his novel technology, which combines Raman spectroscopy and advanced statistics to identify body fluid traces at crime scenes.
The two-year NSF STTR Phase II grant adds to $256,000 in support for a Phase I proof-of-concept in 2021. The STTR program funds around 400 companies each year.
“This $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will provide support for building a working prototype of our technology,” said Lednev, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry and faculty member at The RNA Institute. “Our tool is the first universal, nondestructive method for identification of body fluids. It was also demonstrated that the method can be used for heavily contaminated samples, biological stains on common substrates and for binary mixtures of different body fluids.
In 2020, the Law Commission published a report highlighting significant gaps in the rules around how DNA is obtained, used and retained for criminal investigations. In the response, the Government accepted the conclusion that the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 is no longer fit for purpose and that the regime lacks adequate independent oversight and governance structures. The Government also accepted the recommendation for a new Act for the DNA regime and the recommendation to establish an independent oversight body. The scope and timing of this work has not been set.
n September 1982, human remains were discovered by citizens who were in the rural desert around Hackberry Road outside of the city limits of Kingman, Arizona. Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Deputies were called to the scene and recovered the remains of an unknown individual. Deputies recovered a variety of personal items, including a plastic hair comb, a rusty can opener, rusty fingernail clippers, a toothbrush, a tattered short-sleeve shirt, leather belt fragments, remnants of denim pants, and an argyle sock. The individual’s remains were transported to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Tucson, where an autopsy determined the victim to be a White male who was 55+ years old. The man stood between 6’1” to 6’2” during his life. The man’s cause of death could not be determined. It was estimated that the man’s death occurred between the years of 1979 and 1981.
The man’s remains were kept at the Medical Examiner’s Office in Tucson, Arizona until 2020. At that time, investigators from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit (SIU) transported the man’s remains to the Mohave County Medical Examiner’s Office. For more than forty years, the man remained unknown and unclaimed as several attempts to identify him proved unsuccessful. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP13165.
In February 2023, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit (SIU) once again teamed with Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing to assist in the identification of the unknown man. Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from skeletal remains and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team then used the profile in a genealogical search to generate new investigative leads in the case, including the identification of distant relatives of the unknown man. A follow-up investigation by the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office SIU confirmed the identity of the man as Virgil R. Renner from Humboldt County, California. It is believed that Renner was born in 1910.
On Tuesday, Perry Lott was exonerated in Ada, Oklahoma, after 35 years of wrongful conviction and 30 years of incarceration for a 1987 rape and burglary. Post-conviction DNA testing performed in 2014 from the survivor’s rape kit proved Lott did not commit this crime. The State’s case rested entirely on the survivors’ identification of Lott, which was based on a suggestive police lineup. No physical evidence connected Lott to the crime, and he did not match the physical description of the perpetrator.
Lott filed a motion to vacate his conviction in 2018 based on these exonerating DNA results and the problematic identification, but former District Attorney Paul Smith opposed the motion. Instead, on the eve of Lott’s evidentiary hearing, DA Smith offered only to modify Lott’s sentence — an offer Lott ultimately accepted on July 9, 2018. In doing so, Lott was freed immediately and avoided the uncertainty of an extended incarceration while his motion to vacate was litigated.
A variety of resources and teams had to come together to investigate a sexual assault case in San Marcos that had gone cold. On Oct. 9, 2004, San Marcos Police received a call about a man entering a woman’s home and sexually assaulting her in her bedroom. Upon arrival, officers found evidence that the suspect had taken off on foot and was no longer at the home. The victim stated that she was never able to see the man’s face, as he covered it with a shirt or mask.
The victim was taken to a hospital in Seguin, where a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) was completed and evidence was gathered, including a DNA sample from the suspect. The SAFE was collected by SMPD and sent off to DPS for testing. Without many leads, detectives weren’t able to identify a suspect and the DNA was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) in hopes that a match would be made in the future.
Years later, investigators reviewed the case and followed up with the victim, and found that she was still interested in prosecuting the person responsible. Investigators then coordinated with the DPS Crime Safety Laboratory to conduct additional DNA testing that was more advanced than the original testing done in 2004.
In March 2023, DPS found a possible lead connected to 44-year-old Ricardo Cruz Rodriguez. Although Rodriguez grew up in San Marcos, investigators learned he was living in Tampa, Florida.
A Lancaster County man charged in the 1975 deadly stabbing of Lindy Sue Biechler is expected to plead guilty next Thursday afternoon. David Sinopoli was arrested last year after investigators said DNA and genealogy linked him to the crime and helped crack Lancaster County’s oldest cold case.
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