New Approach to Identifying Remains Helps Solve Cold Cases

There are thousands of unidentified cold cases in the United States.  Too many Jane and John Does lay waiting for years in hopes of someone coming along to solve the mystery of who they are and how they died. At the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, a new technique called “bomb pulse” radiocarbon analysis is used to help solve these cold cases.  The scientists at Livermore National Lab use a “multidisciplinary” approach along with traditional Forensic DNA research.  They recently cracked a 41 year old cold case of a missing child.  Up until now, the only information known about the skull, first discovered in 1968, was that it belonged to a child between ages 7 and 9, and that the child had died about 4 ½ years before the skull was discovered.

Working with the Centre for Forensic Research, Simon Fraser University in Canada in Vancouver, Canada, researchers were able to determine that the skull belonged to a male.  They were able to further create a mitochondrial profile that then matched a living maternal relative to the presumed missing child.  Livermore Labs took over from there.  Scientists took skull measurements, determined the skull ossification (the amount of soft tissue that s into bone-like material) and looked at the skull’s dental formations.  Then they examined the enamel from two teeth using this new radiocarbon analysis.  This analysis helped the scientists narrow down the exact birth date of the skull to within two years.  Through this information, scientists were successfully able to make a legal match and close the case.

This new research technique has numerous implications for the identity of victims in mass graves or mass fatalities.  Combining DNA and radiocarbon analysis provides the additional benefit of distinguishing between maternal relations and helps make a clearer match to those cases that have sat on a shelf, a mystery, for so many years.

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