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!




Suspect Confesses to 1994 Murder Hours After Police Visit (Forensic – 9/13/2023)

    • In a series of unusual happenings, cold case detectives from the Fairfax County Police Department (Virginia) have obtained a full confession from the prime suspect in the brutal 1994 murder of a 37-year-old mother.

      Stephen Smerk, 51, is now being extradited from New York to Virginia for the murder of Robin Lawrence on Nov. 20, 1994.

      That day, a neighbor was sent to do a wellness check on Lawrence as her husband was out of the country for work and had not been able to get in touch with her. The neighbor found a bloody crime scene in the house, with Lawrence stabbed to death multiple times in what Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis described as “a particularly gruesome scene.” Lawrence’s 2-year-old daughter was in another room of the house, unharmed.

      During the initial investigation, detectives interviewed suspects and witnesses, and were careful to recover all evidence from the scene. At the time, a DNA profile was developed; however, no matches were found. Years later, the unknown DNA profile was uploaded to CODIS once that database became available, but again, there were no matches.

      Then, in 2019, cold case detectives submitted the DNA to Parabon Nanolabs. Parabon then developed a profile to utilize for forensic genetic genealogy, creating a family tree based on the submitted DNA.

      Fairfax detectives and consultants worked on the family tree for three years, searching for leads. Eventually, their research and data led them to a Stephen Smerk, who was stationed at nearby Ft. Myer on active duty in 1994.



Suspect Arrested After Victim Asks to Reopen Cold Case (Forensic – 9/15/2023)

    • Detectives with the Fayetteville Police Department’s Cold Case Sexual Assault Unit have charged a suspect in connection with a rape that occurred in October 1997. Linford Deamoris Moore (55), of Fayetteville, has been charged with First Degree Rape, First Degree Kidnapping, and Felony Breaking and Entering.

      On Wednesday, Moore was located in Hope Mills and arrested by members of the Fayetteville Police Department’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Team and Hope Mills Police Department. Moore is currently being held at the Cumberland County Jail under a $250,000 secured bond.

      In 1997, the victim was was asleep in her residence when she was awakened by an unidentified male shining a flashlight in her face. The suspect placed a bag over her head and proceeded to sexually assault her. The case was investigated, but eventually went unsolved.

      However, the case was reopened after the victim observed the 2015 press conference awarding the Fayetteville Police Department the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s FY2016 National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant.

      Due to the ongoing advancements in DNA technology, and collaboration from Parabon Nanolabs, Inc., the NC State Crime Laboratory, analysts with the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, and other members of Fayetteville Police Department’s Sexual Assault Cold Case Multidisciplinary Team, Moore was identified as a suspect.



Penn State Team to Triple Size of Forensic Database of Mitochondrial DNA (PennState – 9/15/2023)

  • In circumstances where potential crime scene evidence such as hair or bone might be old or degraded, forensic scientists rely on DNA from a cell’s mitochondria — an organelle that has its own genome separate from the “human genome” in the cell’s nucleus. Now, the National Institute of Justice has awarded a team of researchers from Penn State $770,000 to sequence the mitochondrial genomes of 10,000 Pennsylvanians. This will more than triple the size of the existing database and provide a crucial point of reference for use in human identification cases.


Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office & Othram Identify 1971 John Doe (DNASolves – 9/15/2023)

  • In September 1971, a marina employee discovered a body in the Spokane River near the Division Street Bridge. The decedent appeared to be an adult male wearing jeans with a plain tattoo depicting the letters “BS” on his left forearm. Unfortunately, no personal belongings were found, and decomposition prevented visual identification. An examination by the Spokane County Coroner found no evident injuries and the death was determined to be an accidental drowning. Fingerprints taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Washington DC did not match any on file. No other resources were available at the time, so the decedent was buried at Fairmount Cemetery as an unidentified person.

    In August 2022, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office (SCMEO) received an allocation of American Rescue Plan funds to help identify unidentified human remains using forensic genetic genealogy.

    In November 2022, the Spokane County Medical Examiner sent skeletal remains to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract 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 investigators.

    A reference DNA sample from the brother was compared to the DNA profile for the unknown man, confirming the suspected genetic relationship. With this information, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Veena Singh officially identified the man as Bruce Frank Sherman.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office & California DOJ Team with Othram to Identify a 2014 John Doe (DNASolves – 9/15/2023)

  • In December 2014 and later in April 2021, skeletal remains of an unidentified man were found scattered near a creek in Sonoma County, California, just off of Chanate Road and west of Terra Linda Drive in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the remains were found in an eddy of the creek where it merged with a man-made culvert. Due to the condition of the remains, no conclusions could be made regarding the identity of the individual. Investigators with the Coroner Unit of the Sonoma County Sheriff submitted evidence to the California Department of Justice (CA-DOJ) where traditional DNA testing methods were pursued in an attempt to identify the individual. Despite the work of investigators, the individual could not be identified, and the case went cold.

    In 2023, the California Department of Justice, in collaboration with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, submitted forensic evidence to Othram, in hopes that advanced DNA testing could assist with the identification of the individual. Othram scientists developed a comprehensive DNA profile for the individual using Forensic Grade Genome Sequencing®. Funding for advanced DNA testing was provided by the Roads to Justice (RTJ) program. During the course of the investigation, a potential relative of the individual came forward and provided a DNA sample for reference testing to determine if they were related to the unknown individual.

    A comparison of the unidentified individual’s DNA profile to the potential relative’s DNA profile concluded that the two individuals were in fact related, confirming the identity of the unknown person as Joshua Daniel Fritz.



Mummified Remains Found in 2000 Identified (Forensic – 9/18/2023)

  • The 22-year-old mystery surrounding the identity of New Brighton Jane Doe 2000 has finally been resolved thanks to the groundbreaking work of the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to using investigative genetic genealogy to identify unidentified human remains. The project’s expert team was able to build a family tree using matches to the Jane Doe’s DNA profile, leading them to present her name to the New Brighton Department of Public Safety, who confirmed the identification of New Brighton Jane Doe 2000 as Gail Marlene Johnson of Minneapolis.

    Johnson’s body was discovered on September 15, 2000, in Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton. She had been outdoors for several months, resulting in the mummification of her remains.

    “The genealogy in this case was challenging,” said Tracie Boyle, team leader for the DNA Doe Project. “Her maternal line came from Norway and her paternal line from Sweden. We were lucky to find the right paternal match that led us to her parents, and then to Gail.”

    The team was also fortunate to locate a recorded oral history of Gail’s great-aunt from 1978, which is part of the collection at Minnesota State University Moorhead.



True Crime Fan Funds DNA Research, Solves the Case of a Man Missing for 40 Years (Huff Post – 9/19/2023)

  • After touring Othram, a forensic DNA sequencing laboratory, Jeanne Ayotte was inspired to contribute $7,000 toward identifying a man who’d gone missing in 1983.



Animal CSI: Forensics Comes for the Wildlife Trade (Knowable Magazine – 9/19/2023)

  • Techniques used in wildlife forensics are often direct descendants of tools from human crime investigations, and in recent years scientists have adapted and tailored them for use in animals. Harper and colleagues, for example, learned to extract DNA from rhinoceros horns, a task once thought impossible. And by building DNA databases — akin to the FBI’s CODIS database used for human crimes — forensic geneticists can identify a species and more: They might pinpoint a specimen’s geographic origin, family group, or even, in some cases, link a specific animal or animal part to a crime scene.

    Adapting this science to animals has contributed to major crime busts, such as the 2021 arrests in an international poaching and wildlife trafficking ring. And scientists are further refining their techniques in the hopes of identifying more challenging evidence samples, such as hides that have been tanned or otherwise degraded.



Genealogy Names Suspect in 1972 Murder of 9-Year-Old Girl (Forensic – 9/20/2023)

  • Using a 51-year-old DNA sample, bones dead and buried for 49 years, and forensic genetic genealogy technology, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office working with DNA Labs International have identified the murderer of 9-year-old Debbie Lynn Randall.

    On Jan. 13, 1972, Randall, a 3rd grade student, was walking home from the laundromat when she was abducted. The laundromat was only a half block away from the family home. After 16 days in which 4,000 community members participated in an extensive search for Randall, she was finally found. She had been raped and strangled to death. Marietta (Ga.) Police detectives investigated and followed up on hundreds of leads without success.

    Dedicated to closing this cold case, in October 2001, the FBI conducted forensic testing on a strand of the suspect’s hair removed from the victim at the crime scene 29 years earlier. While testing could not provide a suspect’s name, it did rule out many other potential suspects.

    Then, in May 2015, a piece of cloth recovered from Randall’s body was sent to Sorensen Forensics for DNA analysis. This resulted in a partial profile attributed to an unknown male. There was another round of DNA testing in 2019, but no leads were found.

    In 2023, the police turned to forensic genetic genealogy thanks to funds granted by Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The department worked with DNA Labs International to obtain a SNP profile, genealogy research, and family tree from the DNA recovered from the cloth.

    DNA Labs International quickly found distant relatives in the GEDMatch Pro and FamilyTreeDNA databases using the SNP profile developed with the Forenseq Kintelligence System. The family tree pointed to the Rose family, and they cooperated by providing a sample DNA for comparison. The DNA left on Randall’s body and the comparison familial DNA was consistent. William B. Rose was the likely culprit.

    But William Rose committed suicide in 1974, just two years after the crime. So, investigators received permission to exhume the body. DNA Labs International then did STR confirmation on the exhumed remains per the DOJ interim guidelines to ensure the DNA recovered from the scene was a match to William Rose. It was.



Ohio Gets $3.3 M to Address DNA Testing Backlogs throughout State (Forensic – 9/20/2023)

  • U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced that he secured $3,365,875 to reduce and eventually eliminate the backlog of forensic DNA casework in Ohio. These investments will provide needed technology and software to process DNA evidence in criminal cases, staff training, travel associated with training, and overtime pay to assist forensic laboratories in meeting expected caseloads and enhancing overall lab capacity.

    “This investment will assist Ohio law enforcement in their efforts to test more DNA evidence in criminal cases,” said Brown. “These resources will help Ohio law enforcement clear cases more quickly, bring more criminals to justice, and prevent crime in our communities.”

    The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs has awarded the funds as Congressionally Directed Spending through the Formula DNA Capacity Enhancement for Backlog Reduction Program. Brown helped secure this funding in the FY23 CDS requests he submitted.



Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Teams with Othram to Identify 1985 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 9/20/2023)

  • In September 1985, a body was discovered by two juveniles riding bicycles along Buttermilk Road off Interstate 40 in Lenoir City, Tennessee. Forensic anthropologists determined that the remains were those of a white male, likely between the ages of 40 and 57. The victim had been shot, and his death was ruled a homicide. According to the University of Tennessee Anthropology Department, the man had been deceased for one to two weeks prior to the discovery of his remains. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) special agents and investigators with the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office worked to determine the identity of the victim through the use of fingerprints and technology available in 1985, but their efforts were not successful. After exhausting all leads, investigators could not determine the victim’s identity.

    Attempts to identify the Loudon County John Doe continued, and in 2015, the UT Forensic Anthropology Department submitted a sample of his remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI). A sample was also sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory. A DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, as UP1575, in hopes that the man would eventually be identified, but no developments occurred.

    In December 2022, as part of the Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative, TBI agents submitted skeletal remains from the unknown man to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the skeletal remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the DNA profile in a genetic genealogical search to produce investigative leads that were returned to TBI agents.

    Using the investigative leads, TBI agents made contact with a potential family member of the man and obtained a familial DNA standard. That standard was submitted to Othram for comparison against the DNA of the unidentified man. In parallel, a TBI Intelligence Analyst was able to locate a set of the victim’s post-mortem fingerprints. The prints were submitted to the TBI Crime Lab in Nashville to be manually compared by the Latent Print Unit. TBI was then able to confirm that the unidentified remains belonged to James Keith Nuchols.



Decades-Old Trove of DNA Evidence, Collected by a Maryland Doctor, Leads to a Serial Rape Arrest (ProPublica – 9/21/2023)

  • An alleged serial rapist was arrested last month with help from evidence saved by a Baltimore County doctor nearly half a century ago. ProPublica highlighted this rare trove of hospital microscope slides in its Cold Justice series and inspired a new Maryland law to protect the evidence.

    In this case, the evidence was collected from five women who visited the Greater Baltimore Medical Center for rape exams between 1978 and 1986. All said a man had violated them after breaking into their first-floor apartments in complexes within the same mile radius. Police at the time had not yet started saving standardized rape kits. But a prescient doctor, Rudiger Breitenecker, anticipated that one day, science might advance enough to make use of the specimens.

    Most of the evidence collected by Breitenecker between 1975 and 1997 sat untouched for decades, until a new generation of cops recognized its value and slowly began to test it. By 2022, Baltimore County police knew four of the cases shared the same perpetrator’s DNA. (Initial testing didn’t yield a profile from the fifth, according to prosecutors.) But the suspect’s identity was still a mystery.

    Enter Detective M. Lane, one of two detectives in the relatively new Special Victims Unit cold case division, who decided to read all of the police reports connected to those slides and link them to other cases. (Lane uses only her first initial on court documents.) She found a reported attack that wasn’t one of the four DNA-linked cases, but which happened just a short walk away from a rape connected to DNA evidence, and just two months later.



Kansas Man Charged in 2 Cold Case Murders After DNA Links Him to Crime Scenes (ABC News – 9/21/2023)

  • A Kansas man has been charged in the cold case murders of two women from the 1990s, authorities said.

    Gary Dion Davis has been arrested for the murders of Pearl Davis, who was killed in 1996, and Christina King, whose body was found behind an abandoned building on Christmas Day in 1998, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree said.



Cold Case Team Identifies Baby Precious, Father Indicted (Forensic – 9/22/2023)

  • On Tuesday, May 28, 2013, officers responded to a report of a deceased baby found in a recycling center at 4325 North Commerce Street. The Medical Examiner ruled the baby’s death a homicide. Despite significant community outreach by the Portland Police Bureau and Crimestoppers of Oregon, and widespread community concern, the identity of Baby Precious remained unknown and the case went cold.

    In 2019, the Portland Police Cold Case Unit took on the case under primary Detective Brendan McGuire. McGuire sent tissues to Bode Technology, a private forensics laboratory with whom the Bureau has partnered on several cases for forensic genetic genealogy assistance. It did not immediately result in a lead. In December 2021, McGuire was alerted to a family connection found. But the submission was anonymous. It took another year-and-a-half of investigation to identify Baby Precious’ maternity and paternity, and locate a suspect.

    McGuire, with the assistance of the initial investigator, Detective Kristina Coffey, also learned that Baby Precious’ name was Amara.

    In September 2023, the case was presented to a Grand Jury by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office. On September 18, the Grand Jury indicted Amara’s father, Alnath Omar Oliver, 53, of Portland, on charges of Manslaughter in the Second Degree (2 counts), Criminal Mistreatment in the First Degree (2 counts), Rape in the Third Degree, and Concealing the Birth of an Infant. On September 21, 2023, The United States Marshals Service arrested Oliver and booked him into the Multnomah County Detention Center on the arrest warrant.



Americas’ First Cowboys Were Enslaved Africans, Ancient Cow DNA Suggests (Science – 9/22/2023)

  • Think “cowboy,” and you might picture John Wayne riding herd across the U.S. West. But the first cowboys lived in Mexico and the Caribbean, and most of them were Black.

    That’s the conclusion of a recent analysis of DNA from 400-year-old cow bones excavated on the island of Hispaniola and at sites in Mexico. The work, published in Scientific Reports, also provides evidence that African cattle made it to the Americas at least a century earlier than historians realized.

    The timing of these African imports—to the early 1600s—suggests the growth of cattle herds may have been connected to the slave trade, says study author Nicolas Delsol, an archaeozoologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “It changes the whole perspective on the mythical figure of the cowboy, which has been whitewashed over the 20th century.”



Forensics: Identifying the Dead After Flood or Flames (DW – 9/25/2023)

  • When a natural disaster occurs or a mass grave is discovered in a war zone, it’s forensic scientists that are called upon to help identify the large number of bodies.

    Disasters, such as the flood that caused devastation in Libya, often leave barely recognizable bodies behind or, if it’s a fire, nothing but charred remains. The experts have to use every trick in their forensic toolkits to find out who the victims were ― an extraordinarily important task.



‘Disturbing’ Man Linked to Second Cold Case, Possibly More Coming (Forensic – 9/21/2023)

  • Detectives with the Michigan State Police (MSP) First District Cold Case Unit have identified a suspect in the 1982 murder of 16-year-old Kimberly Louiselle, of South Lyon, last seen on March 20, 1982, near Eight Mile and Merriman roads in the Livonia area. The teen’s body was located weeks later, on April 14, 1982, nearly 20 miles away, off a wooded trail in the Island Lake Recreation Area in Green Oak Township.

    For decades, investigators from the MSP and Livingston County Sheriff’s Department worked the case with no substantial leads.

    In the summer of 2022, MSP’s First District Cold Case Unit re-opened the case and partnered with students from Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice to re-examine Louiselle’s murder.

    The team of detectives and students spent several months reviewing the case, organizing and digitizing paper files, analyzing property and evidence, and resubmitting items of evidence to MSP’s Forensic Science Division for testing.

    During this same time, detectives from the Livingston County Cold Case Team were working on the 1983 homicide of 19-year-old Christine Castiglione of Redford. Utilizing forensic genealogy, they linked Castiglione’s homicide to 26-year-old Charles David Shaw, who died in 1983. As a result of this work, a genetic profile for Shaw was entered into CODIS.

    In June 2023, the MSP Forensic Science Division located DNA on evidence resubmitted in Louiselle’s case by MSP’s First District Cold Case Unit. The sample was entered into CODIS, revealing a match to DNA in the Castiglione case—linking Shaw to physical evidence recovered from the body of Louiselle.

    Based on information received from Shaw’s family, he was described as a sex addict with a disturbing life who struggled with mental illness. Shaw had several interactions with law enforcement beginning at a young age. One such interaction resulted in his arrest in 1981 for the attempted abduction of a woman in the Fowlerville McDonald’s parking lot.



Michigan Researchers Receive Funding to Improve Response to Sexual Assault (Forensic – 9/25/2023)

  • Karen Holt and Allison Rojek have received funding from the Michigan State Police to work on the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) in Michigan. This national initiative seeks to bring justice to survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. To do so, researchers and investigators work to reduce the 3,440 sexual assault kit backlog, better understand the perpetrators of sexual violence, develop victim and survivor centered responses to sexual violence, and provide training programs for law enforcement investigating sexual assaults.



He Died as the Only Suspect in a Boy’s Murder. Decades Later, DNA Evidence Clears His Name (Los Angeles Times – 9/25/2023)

  • Shawn Quincy Melton knew he was innocent, but he would not live long enough to see himself exonerated and cleared of all wrongdoing in the vicious 1987 murder of a 6-year-old boy in Solano County.

    Melton had gone to police with information about the killing and sexual assault of Jeremy Stoner in Vallejo on Feb. 21, 1987, but he quickly became the suspect when police determined he had intelligence only the killer could know.

    After his arrest, he was tried twice and jailed for 19 months. Both juries were hung and Melton never went to prison for the crime, but he remained a suspect and police would sometimes come to question him, according to a relative. Melton died in 2000, according to public records, more than two decades before DNA evidence cleared his name and led to the arrest of another suspect.



Police Solve a 40-Year-Old Murder Using DNA Testing (CBS News Minnesota – 9/26/2023)

  • Police solve a nearly 40-year-old murder after matching a 2018 DNA profile to a disposed plastic cup.

    Matthew Brown, 66, was arrested in June for the murder of a man in 1984.

    Then, in 2018, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension developed a DNA profile from the blood collected from the crime scene in 1984. Over the next few years, investigators worked with genealogists and determined the profile matched Brown, per the criminal complaint.

    In March of 2023, police collected a disposed plastic cup used by Brown and compared it against the DNA profile created from the crime scene. Officers determined the profiles match, said the criminal complaint.



How to Meet Quality Assurance Standards in DNA Analysis (Forensic – 9/27/2023)

  • Quality assurance (QA) is an integral aspect of forensic DNA testing as it ensures accuracy, reproducibility, sensitivity and reliability in the results obtained from analyzing DNA. Rigorous standards set by entities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI) must be met to ensure a level of trust in forensic data. Here, we define quality assurance standards and validation procedures and provide an example of a tool designed to support forensic labs in meeting quality assurance requirements.

    DNA extraction, amplification, analysis and STR profiling all take place within the forensic lab and must conform to quality standards. The production of precise and reliable DNA analyses begins with lab equipment that has been validated for compliance with all the appropriate quality controls. Instrument validation and quality control measures ensure that a forensic lab’s procedures are in keeping with the most up-to-date methods and technologies in order to maintain the scientific validity of their analyses over time. These efforts provide DNA analysts greater confidence in the data informing their analyses and that their findings are acceptable evidence.



How an NJIT Forensic Team Helped Exonerate Two Men Wrongfully Imprisoned for Murder (NJIT – 9/27/2023)

  • A New Jersey Institute of Technology forensic team’s crime scene reconstruction of a 1994 shooting in Queens, N.Y. has helped clear the names of two wrongfully convicted men who spent a combined 37 years in prison for murder.

    A long-awaited moment of vindication came for Armond McCloud (incarcerated for 29 years) and co-defendant, Reginald Cameron (incarcerated for eight years), when their convictions were vacated last month by a state Supreme Court judge in Queens after a joint motion was filed by the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University, the New York City Legal Aid Society and Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

    Since their convictions, both men have maintained they were coerced into falsely confessing to the murder of 22-year-old Kei Sunada on the night of Aug. 4, 1994, after they were held for thirteen hours under interrogation without legal counsel.

    The case received a lifeline after the New Jersey Innocence Project began assisting them three years ago.



California Man Released After 28 Years in Prison when DNA Clears Him of Rape, Robbery (NBC News – 9/27/2023)

  • A man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery and rape has been declared innocent and freed, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Tuesday.

    DNA testing helped exonerate Gerardo Cabanillas in a 1995 attack on a couple sitting in a parked car in the city of South Gate, the county district attorney’s office said in a statement.

    Cabanillas’ case was reexamined by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the DA’s office, and last week a judge reversed his conviction, found him factually innocent and ordered his permanent release.



Pennsylvania State Police & Perry County District Attorney’s Office Team with Othram to Identify 2014 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 9/27/2023)

  • In May 2014, the remains of an unknown individual were discovered in Perry County, Pennsylvania on State Game Lands. A Forensic Anthropologist and members of the Mercyhurst University Forensic Scene Recovery Team determined that the individual was a white male who was between the ages of 45-70 years. Investigators estimated that the man stood approximately 5’11”-6’6” tall and had suffered trauma to his right ankle area which required surgery and screw implants.

    It was determined that the man had died due to a gunshot wound to the head and his death was ruled as a homicide. Despite investigators attempts to identify the man, his identity remained unknown. Details surrounding the death of the man were also unclear, largely because the victim could not be identified. The case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP12635.

    n 2022, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and the Perry County DA’s Office teamed with Othram to determine if advanced DNA testing could help to identify the unknown man. Skeletal remains were sent to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the skeletal evidence 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 that were returned to PSP investigators.

    PSP investigators used Othram’s leads in a follow-up investigation. A distant relative of the man was identified and a DNA sample was collected for reference testing. Using the reference DNA sample, investigators were able to confirm the identity of the unknown man as Michael Allen Holober.



Pennsylvania State Police and Perry County District Attorney’s Office Team with Othram to Identify a 1979 Homicide Victim (DNASolves – 9/27/2023)

  • In June 1979, the remains of an unknown female were located by a stonemason on an embankment between the Juniata River and the eastbound lanes of Route 22/322, near Watts Township in Perry County, Pennsylvania. The skeletal remains were determined to likely belong to a white female between the ages of 15 and 30. The woman had light brown to blonde, medium-length hair. Investigators estimated her height to be 5’6” and weight to be 125 pounds. The woman’s cause of death could not be determined; however, investigators listed the case as a suspicious death due to the circumstances around the discovery of the woman’s remains.

    In 2008, the woman’s remains were exhumed so that DNA testing could be performed in hopes of identifying her. In 2009, details of the woman’s unidentified person case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP5166. A forensic sketch was created to depict what the woman may have looked like during her life and in 2015, isotope testing by the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute provided additional insight. Analysis of her hair indicated that she might have visited the Southwest United States in the months prior to her death, while analysis of her teeth suggested that she likely grew up in the Great Lakes region, possibly in Southern Canada.

    In 2023, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Perry County District Attorney’s Office partnered with Othram in hopes that advanced DNA testing will help finally identify the “Girl with the Turquoise Jewelry.”



DNA Drives Help Identify Missing People. It’s a Privacy Nightmare. (WIRED – 9/28/2023)

  • Earlier this month, state police in Connecticut held a “DNA drive” in an effort to help identify human remains found in the state. Family members of missing people were invited to submit DNA samples to a government repository used to solve these types of cases, a commercial genetic database, or both, if they chose to.

    “This is a really powerful tool that can have a terrific impact and get closure for families and victims of homicides and sexual assaults,” says Claire Glynn, an associate professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven, who helped coordinate the event. She says genetic genealogy is useful in instances where a close family member hasn’t provided a sample to CODIS.

    But genetic genealogy isn’t used by law enforcement only to identify missing persons and human remains. It is also widely used to identify suspects in investigations. Even if a suspect has not submitted their own genetic profile to a consumer site, investigators can infer biological relationships based on how much their DNA recovered at a crime scene matches that of other users. Police use that information, along with public records, to build out a suspect’s family tree and narrow down their identity.

    Natalie Ram, a law professor at the University of Maryland, cautions that, although families of missing loved ones may be desperate to get answers, it matters which DNA database they choose. Strict state and national laws govern how CODIS data can be used. Family member reference samples collected for the purpose of identifying missing persons can’t be used in other types of criminal investigations.

    At the event, Glynn and public officials also explained the risks of consumer databases and their different privacy settings. “We wanted to make sure every general member of the public that takes one of these kits has full control and full autonomy over their DNA, their data, and what they want or don’t want to do with it,” she says.

    Family members can also provide photos, medical and dental records, fingerprints, and other identification documents for their loved ones. Ultimately, people will have to decide for themselves how they want their DNA to be used, with the knowledge that their decision might spread to other branches of their family tree.



Juries that Don’t Understand Forensic Science Can Send Innocent People to Prison – a Short Training Video Could Help (The Conversation – 9/28/2023)


Genetic Genealogy Reveals Heritage of 2012 Jane Doe (Forensic – 9/29/2023)

  • On Oct. 10, 2012, Cameron County Sheriff’s Investigators were dispatched to 5 miles north of Beach Access #6, South Padre Island, Texas in reference to human remains located by a tourist. Sheriff’s investigators recovered the body of a female buried in the sand.

    The Texas Department of Public Safety—Texas Rangers Evidential and Facial Identification Division provided a generic sketch and a 3D model of a female with similar characteristics resembling that of the body recovered from the beach. The female’s age is between 18 and 50, approximately 5’00”, 100—120 lbs. and black hair. The victim had her lips and eyebrows cosmetically tattooed and was wearing blue/plaid shorts with pink stars and a sleeveless purple shirt.

    Now, a new genetic genealogy analysis has revealed the unidentified female to be 100% Asian with a breakdown of 45% Thailand and southern China, 36% Southern Han, and 19% Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.



1996 Skeletal Remains ID’ed as Missing Man with Dementia (Forensic – 9/29/2023)

  • Attorney General John M. Formella, State Police Colonel Mark B. Hall, and Chief Medical Examiner Jennie V. Duval, M.D. announce that a collaborative effort involving the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit working with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has led to the successful closure of a previously unidentified person case.

    In June 1991, then 78-year-old Benjamin Adams left his residence in Canaan, New Hampshire to go out for a walk and did not return. Adams’ family said he had been suffering from dementia. Search efforts for Adams were unsuccessful.

    Nearly six years later, in November 1996, a hunter discovered some skeletal remains in a wooded section of Hanover, New Hampshire. A search of that area resulted in the recovery of additional human bones. Due to the vicinity of Adams’ last known location, investigators suspected the remains might be him.

    In 1997, the recovered remains were sent to an out of state forensic anthropologist. That examination indicated that the biological characteristics were not inconsistent with those of Benjamin Adams, but a positive identification could not be made.

    Recently, forensic investigators with OCME, the University of New Hampshire F.A.I.R. Lab, and the State Police Major Crime and Cold Case Units reexamined this case and believed they could potentially close it by utilizing modern DNA testing technologies. As a part of their reexamination, they were able to connect with Benjamin Adams’ son and obtain a sample of his DNA. That sample, along with certain skeletal remains, were then sent to a private contract lab for DNA comparison testing. The lab, Bode Technology, confirmed the probability of relatedness is “at least 99.999998%” and the DNA evidence is “at least 42 million times” more likely to be from “a biological parent as compared to untested and unrelated individuals”.