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!




Charges Filed in Cold Case Assault in Taney County (Missouri State Highway Patrol – 10/13/2022)

    • The Missouri State Highway Patrol announces that charges have been filed against Tony Lee Wagner, 61, of Fort Scott, Kansas, for a 1992 assault in Henning State Park, Taney County, Missouri.

      On August 14, 1992, two women traveled from Texas to vacation in the Branson, Missouri, area. On the afternoon of August 15, 1992, both women visited the Henning State Park on Missouri Highway 76 in Taney County to walk on the trails. While walking the trails they encountered an unknown male. The unknown male began to assault both women. One of the women was able to escape and summoned help from a passing motorist. Law enforcement officers quickly began a search of the park. The second victim was located in the park in an area away from the original scene. Both victims were transported to area hospitals. The Missouri State Highway Patrol and Taney County Sheriff’s Department immediately launched a joint investigation. No suspects were identified during the initial investigation; thus, the case went cold.

      Continued investigation efforts and advances in forensic science technology led to Wagner being identified as a suspect. The Taney County Sheriff’s Office, Troop D Division of Drug and Crime Control Unit, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Laboratory Division, Fort Scott (Kansas) Police Department, and Parabon Nanolabs worked together to solve the case. The Taney County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged Wagner with assault first degree (two counts), kidnapping, and forcible rape on October 11, 2022. Fort Scott (Kansas) Police Department officers arrested Wagner, who is being held without bond in the Bourbon County, Kansas, jail pending extradition to Missouri.

      The above charges are mere accusation and are not evidence of guilt. Evidence in support of the charges must be presented before a court of competent jurisdiction whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.



Will County Coroner’s Office Teams up with Othram to Identify a 1974 John Doe (DNASolves – 10/13/2022)

  • In November 1974 hunters stumbled upon the discovery of skeletal remains in the creekhead of a partially wooded area in Channahon, IL. There was a crop field in the area and a motel near I-55 and I-80. Based on the advanced stage of decomposition, investigators estimate that that the unknown man’s death could have occurred up to two years prior to his discovery.

    Over the years many tools were utilized to attempt and identify the unknown man. This includes anthropological analysis, CODIS testing, and forensic facial reconstructions. The case was also entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP5212.

    In June 2021, the Will County Coroner’s Office, as part of an ongoing collaboration with Othram, submitted skeletal remains to Othram’s lab. Othram’s scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile. Othram’s in-house genealogy team used this profile to conduct genealogical research and develop investigative leads. The costs associated with Othram’s laboratory testing and genealogical research were funded through a DNASolves crowdfund.

    Othram returned leads to the Coroner’s Office and the investigation continued. Discussions with potential family members and confirmation DNA testing eventually revealed that the unknown man was Donald M. Rozek of Harvey, Illinois. Rozek would have been in his early 30s at the time time of his death. He also appears to have been an Army veteran.



DNA, IGG ID’s Woman Missing Since 1994 (Forensic – 10/14/2022)

  • In October 1994, human remains belonging to an unknown woman were found in a wooden area under a bridge in Hancock County Indiana. Investigators thought that the remains were likely there for several months before discovery. The woman had appeared to be a white female with short brown hair, stood approximately 5’1” to 5’4” in height, and was between 30-50 years old at the time of death. Hancock County detectives subsequently opened an investigation into the unknown woman’s death.

    The unknown woman became known as Hancock County Jane Doe. For over two decades, investigators diligently pursued all leads regarding the woman’s identity. In February 2009, an unidentified person’s case was entered in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP4862. A clay portrait was created to help approximate the woman’s appearance. However, with all leads exhausted, the case eventually went cold.

    Although early investigation into the case was hampered by a lack of basic information or viable clues, members of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department remained open to new methods and opportunities to identify the deceased. In August of 2021, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Ted Munden contacted Joanna Johnson – a forensic scientist with the Indiana State Police Laboratory – and inquired about advanced forensic tools such as forensic genetic genealogy, that might help generate new leads in the case. The two agencies teamed up and the Indiana State Police Laboratory performed an initial DNA extraction on the remains.

    In March 2022, the DNA extract from the ISP Laboratory was sent to Othram’s forensic laboratory. Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the woman. A few months later, Othram returned the DNA profile to investigators so that they could continue the investigation. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, working in conjunction with the Indiana State Police Laboratory used genetic genealogy to develop investigative leads pointing to the unknown woman’s identity.



First Female-Focused Criminal Justice Mentorship Program (Forensic – 10/14/2022)

  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a partnership with the UW-Madison Center for Law, Society, and Justice and the UW-Platteville Department of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences to provide the first female focused mentoring program at the two universities for students interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice.

    “Women are underrepresented in criminal justice careers, and one way we can help change that is by ensuring that meaningful mentorship opportunities are available,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul. “Having people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences working in the criminal justice system leads to better policies and safer communities. Thank you to the members of our team at DOJ and those at UW-Madison and UW-Platteville who are participating in this program.”

    The program, titled UW Women in Criminal Justice, is a semester long virtual mentorship program that pairs students with mentors from a variety of agencies at the local, state, and federal level. Wisconsin DOJ is proud to have 14 mentors from the Division of Legal Services, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Division of Forensic Sciences, the Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center, and the Office of Crime Victim Services participating in the program.


A Drop of Blood and Modern DNA Test Lead to an Arrest in a 1989 Double Murder (NPR – 10/15/2022)

    • A drop of blood that was subjected to modern DNA testing enabled Vermont State Police detectives to make an arrest in the 1989 murder of a Danby couple found stabbed to death in their home, police said.

      Michael Anthony Louise, 79, was arrested Thursday in Syracuse, New York, on two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of George Peacock, 76, and Catherine Peacock, 73, police said.

      The Peacocks were found dead on Sept. 17, 1989. There were no signs of forced entry or items of significance having been removed from the house.

      Louise, who was married to one of the Peacocks’ daughters, was identified as a suspect about two weeks later. Investigators at the time developed circumstantial evidence tying Louise to the killings, police said.

      Detectives were unable to establish a conclusive link until forensic testing in May 2020 confirmed a DNA match to George Peacock in a spot of blood found inside Louise’s car in October 1989.


New DNA Profiles Discovered in Michelle Bettles Murder Investigation (Forensic – 10/17/2022)

    • Detectives using the latest advances in forensic science have identified new DNA profiles in their investigation into the murder of Michelle Bettles. A forensic review into Bettles’ murder—launched in March 2022 on the 20th anniversary of her murder—has identified several DNA profiles on Bettles’ clothing, including a complete male DNA profile.

      Detectives are now investigating the identify of the male and forensic work is also ongoing to examine if the other DNA samples found on Bettles’ clothing can provide complete DNA profile of those individuals who were in her company in the days and hours leading up to her murder.


    • In May 2004, the unidentified remains of a male homicide victim were found by turkey hunters, in a wooded area in eastern Monroe County, Indiana, in the Unionville area near Lake Lemon. The man was estimated to be 55-70 at the time of his death and about 5’11” tall. Investigators believed that he likely was murdered within the past year before he was found. Through the years, attempts to identify these remains were made by entry of DNA into a federal database; facial reconstruction through forensic computer programs and modeling clay methods; and numerous press releases requesting assistance had been conducted. The case was entered into NCIC and into NamUs as UP12236.

      In 2022, Monroe County Sheriff investigators obtained funding for a forensic genetic genealogy DNA examination through Othram. Skeletal remains were sent to Othram and Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified homicide victim. Othram’s in-house genealogy team developed investigative leads based on the DNA profile and returned these leads back to law enforcement.

      Detective Alex Hahn continued the investigation and made contact with potential family members. Through additional investigative work and confirmation DNA testing, the unknown man was confirmed to be Steven Gabbard of Louisville, Kentucky, aged 38 at the time he was reported missing by family members.


New York City Man Pleads Guilty to Killing World War I Veteran Decades Ago (Yahoo!News – 10/18/2022)

    • A New York City man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the killing of an 81-year-old World War I Veteran several decades ago, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a press release on Tuesday.

      Martin Motta, 75, of Queens, faces 20 years in prison for the 1976 killing of George Clarence Seitz. Motta is due to be sentenced on Nov. 7, the press release said.



How ISP Uses New Forensics Technology to Solve Cold Cases and New Criminal Investigations (KIVITV – 10/18/2022)

    • Idaho State Police (ISP) and the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s office have confirmed the identity of a suicide victim back in 2014.

      Jane Doe’s identity was revealed as Cynthia Gunnerson of San Diego, California. She was spotted by a kayaker under the Snake River. Investigators deemed the case inactive in 2020 but after a state grant was given to ISP’s forensics department, DNA testing was done and the identity was confirmed.



DNA of 13 Neanderthals Reveals ‘Exciting’ Snapshot of Ancient Community (The Guardian – 10/19/2022)

    • The first snapshot of a Neanderthal community has been pieced together by scientists who examined ancient DNA from fragments of bone and teeth unearthed in caves in southern Siberia.

      Researchers analysed DNA from 13 Neanderthal men, women and children and found an interconnecting web of relationships, including a father and his teenage daughter, another man related to the father, and two second-degree relatives, possibly an aunt and her nephew.

      All of the Neanderthals were heavily inbred, a consequence, the researchers believe, of the Neanderthals’ small population size, with communities scattered over vast distances and numbering only about 10 to 30 individuals.



Classmate Convicted of Killing Kristin Smart (Forensic – 10/19/2022)

    • The last man seen with Kristin Smart was convicted Tuesday of killing the college freshman, who vanished from a California campus more than 25 years ago, but his father was acquitted of helping him conceal the crime.

      Jurors unanimously found Paul Flores guilty of first-degree murder. He could face 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced.

      In an email, his attorney, Robert Sanger, declined to comment on the verdict because “the matter is still pending.”

      A jury in a separate trial found his father, Ruben Flores, not guilty of charges of being an accessory to murder after the fact. The conflicting verdicts were read moments apart in the same courtroom.



First Alumni of New Forensic Genetic Genealogy Program Launch Company (Forensic – 10/19/2022)

    • lumni of the first cohort to graduate from the new Forensic Genetic Genealogy certificate program offered by the University of New Haven have launched their own Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) company called IGGnite DNA, LLC.

      The founding members met during the program, and in the summer of 2021 were selected to intern with the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization that uses genetic genealogy to assist law enforcement agencies with unidentified remains cases. During their internship, the women recognized the growing need for forensic investigative genetic genealogy involving suspect identification in cases of violent crimes.

      Together, the founding members of IGGnite DNA have worked more than 80 cases as volunteers with non-profit organizations including Search Angels, the Cold Case Coalition, and the DNA Doe Project.



International Cold Case Analysis Project Presents its Results (Forensic – 10/19/2022)

    • For four months, more than 85 students from eight British universities worked with the Australian Murdoch University, the German Universities of Bonn and Cottbus, the Northern Macedonia University of Skopje, the French Gendarmerie, the Universities of Applied Science of the Police Saxony-Anhalt, the Bundeskriminalamt and the Police Academy of Lower Saxony on four cold cases of homicides and missing persons as part of the fourth International Cold Case Analysis Project (ICCAP).

      Networking with AMBER Alert Europe, the PEN-MP and Locate International is an important building block for establishing this unique project worldwide.

      Proposals on forensic issues as well as media strategies were again presented in the cases. In one case of an unidentified victim of a homicide, photographic facial reconstructions and aging images of the man were created in order to carry out publicity measures based on the result of available isotope analyses in other European countries where the murder victim had lived in the past.

      Also, in other homicide and missing persons cases, suggestions for further interrogation strategies were presented after analysing the files and identifying inconsistencies.

      “It is also to be noted that the results and proposals of the students in ICCAP are increasingly being carried out in parallel with investigations by the cold case units and public prosecutors’ offices, or are even being integrated into current missing persons cases to work out concrete proposals,” said Bettels.



Idaho Cold Case Task Force, Othram ID Woman Found in 2014 (Forensic – 10/19/2022)

    • Twin Falls County Sheriff’s & Coroner’s Office, Idaho State Police Forensic Services (ISPFS), Idaho Cold Case Advanced DNA Methods Working Group (ICCADM), and Rocky Mountain Information Network (RMIN), a part of the national Regional Information Sharing System (RISS), funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), are pleased to announce they have solved a 2014 unidentified, deceased female case.

      In September 2014, a kayaker on the Snake River found the body of a woman floating in the water below the Perrine Bridge. Twin Falls County Deputies, and Search and Rescue responded and recovered the body of the woman. Sadly, there was no identification on her body. After an autopsy and DNA samples and fingerprints were gathered, the woman, Jane Doe, was buried at Sunset Memorial Park , with a small gathering including members of the coroner’s office, law enforcement personnel, and a few community members.



Dog Finds Evidence of Sexual Assault After Unique Training Program (Forensic – 10/19/2022)

    • An extremely unique forensic search dog project pioneered by Derbyshire Constabulary (UK) just recorded its first success—only 36 hours after Police Dog April completed her training program.

      April’s 6-week training program wasn’t focused on searching for human remains or explosives; rather, April is now one of three dogs in the UK trained to detect very small amounts of seminal fluid.

      April, who was joined in the training program by Rosie, can now pinpoint tiny amounts of seminal fluid without being distracted by other scents. The noses of the seminal fluid search dogs are so sharp they can detect as little as 0.016 mL of fluid, sometimes years after it has been deposited.

      April and her handler, police constable Steve Gunn, were called to investigate the scene of an alleged sexual assault on a 10-year-old girl. After agreeing to a forensic strategy with the CSI, April commenced a systematic search of the girl’s bedroom and eventually indicated the presence of semen on the young girl’s duvet. The item was subsequently seized and submitted for forensic examination.



Forensic Experts are Using Touch DNA to Solve Maryland’s Crimes (CBS News – 10/19/2022)

    • Advancements in technology are changing the way crimes are solved in Maryland. (VIDEO)


Arizona Death Row Inmate Seeks Forensic Tests in 1980 Deaths (The Washington Post – 10/19/2022)

    • A judge is mulling an Arizona death row prisoner’s request to have fingerprint and DNA tests conducted on evidence from the two 1980 killings for which he is scheduled to be executed next month.

      A lawyer for Murray Hooper said at a hearing Wednesday that her client is innocent, that no physical evidence ties him to the killings and that forensic testing could lead to the identification of those responsible. Kelly Culshaw, Hooper’s attorney, also raised questions about the benefits received by witnesses who testified against her client, including favorable treatment in other criminal cases.

      “Forensic evidence would have made a difference in this case,” Culshaw said.

      Hooper was convicted before computerized fingerprint systems and DNA testing were available in criminal cases, according to his legal team.



2004 Cold Case Solved with Investigative Genetic Genealogy (DNA Doe Project – 10/20/2022)

    • A man who had been unidentified since he was found in the area of Central Avenue and West Monroe St. in downtown Phoenix on October 19th, 2004 has been identified as Frank R Beck, originally from Pennsylvania. Beck’s injuries suggested that he had fallen from a tall building, and investigators at the time were unable to establish his identity. Earlier this year investigators from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s office brought the case to the DNA Doe Project to use investigative genetic genealogy to determine his identity by researching his genetic family tree.

      Frank R. Beck, age 57 at the time of his death, had experienced homelessness in his later years and had lived in Arizona since the 1990s. One of the few early clues investigators had to his identity was a surgical implant indicating he had experienced a serious injury and surgery on his right ankle. They were unable to trace the implant, and the investigation went cold for nearly 18 years until this summer.

      The DNA Doe Project has partnered with local agencies on 15 cases in Arizona, including four that are in active research, four that have been solved, and others that are in various stages of the lab and research pipeline. This case was assigned to DNA Doe Project’s first summer apprentice program where 8 apprentice genetic genealogists worked under the supervision of experienced lead volunteers to learn and practice the techniques used by the DNA Doe Project on an actual case. “Thanks to our excellent relationship with Phoenix Police Department and The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office, we were able to restore the name of this former John Doe and advance the field of investigative genetic genealogy by using this case for an education initiative,” said Director of Education and Development, Cairenn Binder.