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!




Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Teams with Othram to Identify 2020 Jane Doe (DNASolves – 10/22/2023)

    • n November 2020, the body of an unidentified woman was found in an abandoned house located in Nashville, Tennessee. On Thanksgiving evening, at approximately 8:00pm, a 911 call was placed to report the incident. The Nashville Fire Department District 17 and Metropolitan Nashville Police Department responded to the scene. The body was determined to be that of a White female who was approximately 20 to 45 years old. The woman was 5’4” tall and weighed 225 pounds; she had wavy hair that was reddish-brown in color and approximately twelve inches long. On her left wrist was a semi-colon tattoo consisting of a red heart situated above a black comma. At the time of her death, the woman was wearing a white metal stud earring in each ear.

      Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP76679. In 2023, a forensic artist with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation developed a forensic sketch depicting the appearance of the woman. Despite continuous efforts by law enforcement to identify the woman, no leads have yielded an identity for the unnkown woman. With existing leads exhausted, the woman’s identity has remained a mystery and the case has gone cold.

      In 2023, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department partnered with Othram to generate new leads in the case using advanced DNA technology and forensic genetic genealogy. Anyone with information that could aid in the investigation is encouraged to contact the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department by calling  615-862-8600 and referencing agency case number 2020-0731871 or NamUs ID #UP76679.



GBI Identifies Woman from 1988 Cold Case using Genealogy (Forensic – 10/23/2023)

    • The GBI has identified human remains found in a dumpster in Jenkins County on February 14, 1988, as Chong Un Kim, of Hinesville, Liberty County, Georgia. Kim was 26 years old when she was found.

      Chong Un Kim came to the United States from Korea in 1981 and lived in Hinesville, Georgia for years before her death in 1988.

      On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb.14, 1988, the GBI received a request from the Jenkins County Sheriff’s Office to assist with a death investigation. The victim, wrapped with plastic and duct tape, was found inside a large, nylon suitcase that had been placed in a dumpster just north of Millen, GA in Jenkins County. The victim had been dead for about 4 to 7 days. The cause of death was asphyxiation.

      Throughout the investigation, fingerprints and dental records from the victim were compared to other missing persons from around the country. A GBI forensic artist created a sketch of what the person may have looked like which was disseminated to the public. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) opened a case. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) also created and disseminated a computer-generated sketch. As DNA technology advanced over the years, police resubmitted evidence to the GBI Crime Lab for additional testing. Analysts found DNA on the items submitted, but the profiles obtained were not eligible for entry into the CODIS DNA Database.

      In 2023, the GBI sent forensic evidence to Othram, a company that uses advanced DNA testing to solve cases. Based on the DNA, a genealogical search produced investigative leads that led to Kim’s identification. The GBI notified Kim’s family in October 2023 about the identification.



University’s First Doctoral Degree in School History is Forensic Science (Forensic – 10/23/2023)

  • The University of Central Oklahoma recently received approval from the Higher Learning Commission, UCO’s accrediting body, to launch the Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in forensic science, the first-ever doctoral degree offered by the university.

    Housed within UCO’s W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute, classes for the doctoral program will begin fall 2024.

    “This is a landmark moment for the University of Central Oklahoma. I thank former UCO Forensic Science Institute Director Dwight Adams for building the premier forensic science program in the nation. His efforts, alongside the FSI faculty and the Academic Affairs team, positioned UCO for this recognition and achievement,” said UCO President Todd G. Lamb.

    “UCO is now unquestionably the destination for forensic science education at every level, leading the way in developing the workforce in this important area.”

    The Doctor of Science in forensic science is an interdisciplinary applied science degree designed to provide students with the critical-thinking ability, problem-solving skills and advanced discipline-specific knowledge to allow them to advance into leadership positions. It will provide students with an additional 60 hours of graduate courses and research beyond a master’s degree. The program is designed to produce graduates for forensic science and management positions at all levels of government and private industry where there is currently great demand.


$4M Investment Gives Center New Genetic Genealogy Capabilities (Forensic – 10/23/2023)

  • The Center for Human Identification at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth said it is the first public crime lab in the U.S. to offer forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) capabilities, making it possible to solve decades-old crimes once thought to be unsolvable.

    Using a combination of advanced DNA technology and genealogical mapping, the center will assist law enforcement and medicolegal agencies in solving both criminal and missing persons cases. The announcement follows the center’s recent accreditation extension by the ANSI National Accreditation Board.

    This extension in the field of forensic testing includes the addition of single-nucleotide polymorphism, better known as SNPs, and massively parallel sequencing, technology (also known as next-generation sequencing), which support the FGG process.


Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 1997 Jane Doe (Forensic – 10/27/2023)

  • In June 1997, the remains of an unidentified individual were found buried under stones in a shallow grave in Reno, Nevada. Detectives estimated that the remains belonged to a Caucasian woman between thirty-five and forty-five years old. The woman was 5’2” in height and she had brown hair at the time of her death. Her weight and eye color could not be determined. Investigators noted that during the woman’s life, the left side of her mandible was fractured and repaired by the placement of a metal plate.

    Several items of clothing were recovered along with the unidentified woman’s remains, including a pair of dark blue dungaree trousers, size 5.5 light gray and white athletic shoes, white socks, and a black padded long sleeve jacket with bright orange inner lining. The victim was also found wearing a yellow oval “Elgin” brand watch, a black and silver colored metal ring with magenta colored stone bearing the inscriptions “1992” and “oakridge”, and a silver colored ring in the shape of two hearts, and a bronze colored bracelet. Within the vicinity of the crime scene, investigators found a bolo tie with a black braid, an arrow-shaped white and black stone, and a metal whistle.

    In August 2010, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP7713. A forensic reconstruction was created to depict how the woman may have looked like during her life. Despite continuous efforts by law enforcement to identify the woman, no leads have yielded a match and the case has gone cold.

    In 2023, the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office partnered with Othram to generate new leads in the case using advanced DNA technology and forensic genetic genealogy. Anyone with information that could aid in the investigation is encouraged to contact the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office by calling  775-785-6114 and referencing agency case number 1997-00667 or NamUs ID #UP7713.



Ramapo College’s IGG Center Helps ID 2012 John Doe (Forensic – 10/30/2023)

  • The Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) Center has successfully uncovered the identity of “St. Louis John Doe,” now known to be Joseph Daniel Pierce of St. Louis, MO.

    Pierce was 23 years old when his remains were found in 2012. The St. Louis City Medical Examiner’s Office attempted to identify him with traditional means but his name remained a mystery.

    It was at the Missing and Unidentified Persons Conference held in May 2023 where a member of the St. Louis City Medical Examiner’s Office attended a presentation given by David Gurney and Cairenn Binder of the Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center about how investigative genetic genealogy helps human identification.



Cat-ching Criminals with DNA from Pet Hairs (University of Leicester – 10/30/2023)

  • Cat hair could be the purr-fect way to catch criminals, according to researchers from the University of Leicester.

    They have shown that a single cat hair contains DNA which could link a suspect and a crime-scene, or a victim.

    Around 26 percent of UK householders own a cat and with the average feline shedding thousands of hairs annually, it’s inevitable that once you leave, you’ll bear evidence of the furry resident. This is potentially useful in the forensic investigation of criminal activity.

    While a human perpetrator may take pains not to leave their own DNA behind, transferred cat hair contains its own DNA that could provide a link between a suspect and a crime-scene, or a victim.

    In a paper published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics earlier this month, researchers at the University of Leicester describe a sensitive method that can extract maximum DNA information from just one cat hair.

    Emily Patterson, the lead author of the study and a Leicester PhD student, said: “Hair shed by your cat lacks the hair root, so it contains very little useable DNA. In practice we can only analyse mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mothers to their offspring, and is shared among maternally related cats.”

    This means that hair DNA cannot individually identify a cat, making it essential to maximise information in a forensic test.

    However, a new method identified by the researchers enabled them to determine the sequence of the entire mitochondrial DNA, ensuring it is around ten times more discriminating than a previously used technique which looked at only a short fragment.



DNA Evidence in 3,000 Sexual Assault Kits to be Tested (Ojai Valley News – 10/30/2023)

  • Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff and District Attorney Erik Nasarenko reported Oct. 30 that the county has received $2.5 million in grant funds from the US Department of Justice to test 3000 evidence kits from sexual assaults in Ventura County. This is the second grant received.

    The Sheriff’s Forensic Services Bureau, with assistance from the District Attorney’s Office, applied for this supplemental grant to further efforts that began following receipt of a prior award of $2.5 million in late 2021.


    The Ventura County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (VCSAKI) is a multi-agency countywide effort to test every sexual assault kit for the presence of DNA and investigate unsolved sexual assault cases.

Israel’s Missing: Forensic Workers Struggle to Put Names to the Dead (The Washington Post – 10/31/2023)

  • The bodies keep arriving at the Abu Kabir morgue, but by now they’re rarely intact, or are burned beyond recognition. The scale and brutality of Hamas’s attack on southern Israel is still coming into focus here, more than three weeks later.

    Of the more than 1,400 dead, there are about 200 bodies that forensic pathologists have been unable to identify because they were mutilated or incinerated. The damage is so severe, and the task so complex, that the Israeli government has turned to archaeologists to collect bone fragments from the sites of the attack.

    “Like coal” is how Chen Kugel, director of the national forensic center, where the morgue is located, described many of the bodies he is now seeing.



Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 1989 John Doe (DNASolves – 10/31/2023)

  • In July 1989, an employee at Spokane Northside Landfill in Spokane, Washington was using a bulldozer to clear an area of debris when he noticed that he had uncovered what appeared to be human remains. On further inspection, the body was that of a White male wearing blue slacks, a blue jacket, and a light-colored shirt. The man had visible injuries, including skin tears and broken bones. Today the landfill is private, but in 1989 it was unmonitored, open to the public, and only maintained by employees every 2-3 weeks. Because of the injuries and the accessibility of the landfill, the death was initially considered suspicious. However, an autopsy revealed that, rather than being the cause of death, the decedent’s injuries likely occurred when the body was struck by the bulldozer.

    Due to the advanced state of decomposition, there were no organs for examination and no tissue suitable for toxicology testing. A definitive cause of death could not be identified, leaving the cause and manner of death undetermined. Because of postmortem changes, the decedent’s face was not recognizable and fingerprints could not be obtained, so the usual forms of identification at the time could not be used. The unknown man was buried at Fairmount Cemetery as an unidentified male while the Spokane Police Department (SPD) and the Spokane County Coroner continued investigating his identity and the circumstances of his death.

    The man had several distinct tattoos which were preserved for public viewing. Beyond this, the only individualizing characteristics noted during autopsy were stubble present on the man’s chin and upper lip and possible degenerative joint disease. A forensic pathologist estimated the age of the man to be between 40-60 years and he was between 5’4” and 5’6” tall. Fingerprints were eventually obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but did not match any prints in the existing database. The decedent’s teeth were charted by a forensic dentist for comparison to missing persons’ records, but this did not result in a match.

    Through the years, the SCMEO and SPD were contacted by family members with missing relatives and law enforcement agencies offering possible leads on this John Doe’s identity, but none of these leads resulted in identification. Without investigative leads, no further investigative steps could be taken to determine how he came to be in the landfill, and the case went cold despite the exhaustive efforts of investigators.

    In July 2023, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads that were returned to Spokane County Medical Examiner Office investigators. Investigators used these new leads to continue their search for the man’s identity.

    A biological son of the unknown man had uploaded his DNA profile into a genetic genealogy database; he had been adopted at birth and was in search of his biological family. Although he didn’t know who his biological parents were, he had done extensive family tree research and was able to provide a family name and possible leads on who his father may be. Investigators with the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office were then able to locate a living biological sister who submitted a DNA sample for reference testing. In October 2023, the reference test confirmed the sibling relationship between the unknown man and his sister, and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Veena Singh officially identified the man as Clifford Wayne Bippes, born in Tekoa, Washington on September 25, 1943.



Idaho Judge Gives Bryan Kohlberger Win Over Genetic Genealogy Battle (FOX News – 10/31/2023)

  • An Idaho judge gave quadruple murder suspect Bryan Kohberger’s defense a minor victory last week after denying their efforts to dismiss the indictment against him for the stabbing deaths of four university students last year.

    Kohberger, who is accused of killing Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin in a 4 a.m. ambush in an off-campus rental home, is seeking specific details about how law enforcement used investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) to thumb him as a suspect after he allegedly left a Ka-Bar knife sheath with his DNA on it under Mogen’s body.

    In a 32-page order, Judge John Judge granted a request for an in-camera review of the IGG evidence. He will look at all of the IGG evidence in the possession of the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI and determine what should be shared with the defense, what should be kept secret and what will be redacted from the public.