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!
For 40 years, the remains of this teen from Chicago were known only as Adam Doe.
Keith, 16, was found in a shallow grave in an abandoned Newton County farm in October 1983. He was alongside the remains of three other young men. They were all victims of serial killer Larry Eyler.
Eyler, who became known as the “highway killer,” confessed to killing more than 20 men and boys before he died on Death Row in an Illinois prison in 1994.
Two of the men found at the farm, Michael Bauer, 22, and John Bartlett, 19, were identified early in the investigation. The others were given the names Adam Doe and Brad Doe.
McCord said the break that led to Adam Doe’s real name came in early July thanks to an investigator with the non-profit DNA Doe Project. The organization uses volunteer genealogists to help identify victims of cold cases.
The remains of two people who died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center have been identified, the latest positive identification in the decadeslong effort to return victims to their families.
Authorities confirmed the identification of the remains of a man and woman days ahead of the 22nd anniversary of the hijacked-plane attack that killed nearly 3,000 people in Lower Manhattan. Their names were withheld by city officials at the request of their families.
New York City‘s medical examiner has now been able to link remains to 1,649 World Trade Center victims, a painstaking process that relies on leading-edge DNA sequencing techniques to test body fragments recovered in the rubble.
Advancements in the sequencing technology, including increased test sensitivity and faster turnaround times, have allowed officials to identify remains that had tested negative for identifiable DNA for decades, officials said.
In October 1978, power company employees discovered the lifeless body of 16-year-old Krisann Baxter near power lines south of and between Whitworth Drive and Division Street in Spokane, Washington. Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputies and Detectives responded to the location to begin the investigation. The scene was documented and processed for evidence with the assistance of forensic personnel. Evidence, including possible DNA samples, was collected during the investigation and autopsy. The victim was identified as Krisann Baxter, who had been reported as a runaway by her mom on September 30, 1978.
Evidentiary items were sent to the Washington State Patrol (WSP) Crime Laboratory for testing. Although 1978 DNA testing abilities were limited compared to the testing abilities of today, the samples were believed to contain DNA. However, an analysis could not be completed due to these limitations. The evidence was securely stored for future testing. In August 2006, knowing the advancement in DNA testing abilities, Major Crimes Detective D. Marske (Ret.) sent the samples back to the WSP Crime Lab for testing. The test results showed DNA consistent with Krisann Baxter and an “unknown male”. The male profile was entered into CODIS (Combined DNA Indexing System), but a match was not found. In 2014, the profile was updated in CODIS and entered into the National DNA Indexing System (NDIS), where it is compared to every DNA entry in the nation on a rotating basis, but still, a match was not identified.
In 2020, Major Crimes Detective M. Drapeau again submitted the samples to the WSP Crime Lab for additional examination. In early 2021, a portion of the forensic evidence was sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas for advanced DNA testing. Using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing®, Othram’s scientists developed a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown male contributor. Othram’s in-house genealogy team identified potential relatives of the unknown male, including a direct decedent of the individual who was deceased. These leads were provided to Spokane County Sheriff Detective M. Drapeau who used this new information to conduct a follow-up investigation. Living family members of the identified relative were contacted and interviewed. Reference DNA samples were collected, and subsequent DNA profiles were developed and analyzed by Othram’s scientists, resulting in additional investigative attempts to identify the unknown male contributor.
In December 2017 and January 2018, the partial remains of an unknown individual washed ashore near Four Mile Rock in Seattle, Washington. Four Mile Rock is a twenty-foot tall glacially deposited rock located four nautical miles from an early Seattle landmark. It is located near Discovery Park on the shore of the Puget Sound and is fully accessible at low tide. The Seattle Police Department responded to the scene. An autopsy revealed that the remains belonged to a male individual, who was between the ages of 30 and 60 years at his time of death. While the man’s weight could not be determined, it was estimated that the man was between 5’8” and 5’11” in height and he likely died in 2016 or 2017. Investigators found black Adidas brand underwear and black Air Jordan high top tennis shoes on the individual’s body.
After the discovery of the man’s remains, a remote-operated underwater vessel searched the area, but did not find any additional forensic evidence. Despite the extensive efforts of law enforcement, the man’s identity remains a mystery. A forensic reconstruction was created to depict how the man may have looked during his life. Details of the missing person case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons database (NamUs) as #UP17874.
In 2023, the Seattle Police Department teamed with Othram to leverage advanced DNA testing to develop new leads in the case. We are grateful to the Seattle Police Foundation which raised the money to fund advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy costs associated with the case through their own outreach efforts.
After nearly 29 years of questions about a homicide that occurred in the West Springfield District, Fairfax County Police Department detectives are finally able to bring answers to the victim’s family.
51-year-old Stephan Smerk, of Niskayuna, NY, is facing Second Degree Murder charges related to the tragic homicide of 37-year-old Robin Lawrence. On November 20, 1994, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Lawrence was found stabbed to death inside her home, located in the 8600 block of Reseca Lane, in Springfield.
During the initial investigation, detectives were proactive in their efforts to interview suspects and witnesses, and to recover evidence from the scene. In 1994, a DNA profile was developed; however, at the time there was no match in any system for the recovered DNA.
In the years that followed, detectives from the Cold Case Unit continued their efforts to meticulously review the evidence to identify a suspect. After many years of dedicated time to this case, a familial DNA match was found with the suspect. Detectives determined Smerk was working in the area at the time of the murder.
Pictures of Smerk from 1988 and 1998 were found and compared to a digital composite image created by Parabon NanoLabs. Parabon NanoLabs is a DNA technology company in Northern Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping and genetic genealogy analysis: processes that predict physical appearance and biological relationships from unidentified DNA evidence.
The Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice recently published an article discussing a new method to improve the efficiency and workflow of DNA processing in sexual assault cases.
The ability to prosecute a sexual assault case often relies on the availability of DNA evidence. Notably, 72% of jurors anticipate seeing DNA in a sexual assault trial, but the process of manually extracting DNA from sexual assault kits can be time consuming and labor intensive. The consequence is a nation-wide backlog of unprocessed kits and fewer convictions.
With NIJ funding, researchers automated a key step in the process that separates sperm cells from other cells using a robotic platform. The platform automates the process of mixing samples, which increases efficiency and speed, improves accuracy and reliability, reduces contamination or degradation of samples, and standardizes the procedure, both within and between labs.
In January 1996, two men discovered human remains approximately three miles north of Stockton Hills Road while running their dogs and looking for rocks outside the city of Kingman, Arizona. The remains of the unidentified individual were found in a shallow grave next to a large rock formation, under a juniper tree near a gravel pit. Detectives with the Mohave County Sherrif’s Office responded to the scene.
Anthropologists with the University of Tucson Department of Anthropology determined that the individual was a Black male who was estimated to be between the ages of 30 and 40 years; the man was approximately 5’10” to 6’1” in height. No other identifying characteristics were available for the man. The man’s cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound to the head. Despite investigators multiple attempts to identity the man, his identity remained a mystery. In November 2021, details of the missing person case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP85996.
In February 2023, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit (SIU) teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could assist in the identification of the man. Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing®, Othram scientists developed a comprehensive DNA profile for the man. The profile was used by Othram’s in-house genealogy team to generate new investigative leads in the case. These leads revealed potential family members of the unknown man and subsequently he has been tentatively identified as Sherman George of Los Angeles County, California. Confirmation testing is underway.
2004 Hit-and-Run Victim Finally Identified (DNA Doe Project – 9/12/2023)
The DNA Doe Project and Phoenix Police have identified Amelia Muñoz Loera, who died after being struck by a car that left the scene at the intersection of 15th Street and Broadway in Phoenix in November, 2004. Loera, who was 41 at the time of her death, was born in Mexico.
Investigators at the time of Loera’s death could locate no clues to her identity, and the case went cold for 16 years before detectives with the Phoenix Police brought her to the DNA Doe Project to try investigative genetic genealogy to restore her name. Extraction of DNA and the process of translating the sample into a workable DNA profile was relatively straightforward, but Loera’s family tree was difficult to untangle.
Loera’s relatives came from the Aguascalientes region of Mexico, a community genetically complicated by endogamy, or intermarriage between related families over generations. Endogamy can make it difficult to determine relationships based on traditional measures in genetic genealogy, making distant relatives seem closer in the family tree because they share more DNA. The name change of a close relative further hampered the identification.
“This was one of the most challenging cases of endogamy imaginable – our closest matches shared two close relationship paths with our Doe,” said investigative genetic genealogist Lisa Ivany. “One of those paths led to a New Yorker who served in the American Revolutionary War, which was quite a surprise in a case with deep Mexican roots!”
Cases involving recent immigrants and minority populations are also more difficult to solve because far fewer of their relatives have uploaded to the databases at GEDmatch.com and FTDNA.com. In some circles, these cases are considered unworkable, but the DNA Doe Project never gives up.
State police are calling on families who have missing relatives to take part in a DNA drive on Saturday to help identify human remains that have been found in the state.
The Missing Persons DNA Drive is for families who have missing relatives. It will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the University of New Haven.
State police said the DNA drive is for families closely related to the missing person, including parents, siblings and children. The closer the relationship to the missing person, the better the chance for an identification, they said.
The University of New Haven, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Connecticut State Police and the Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection Division of Scientific Services are holding the drive so families with missing loved ones who have not already submitted a DNA sample into the missing person and unidentified database of the Combined DNA Index System – or CODIS – can do so.
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