Help Anthropology Club Identify Human Remains

26% Funded
  • $768.90 Donated
  • $3,000.00 Goal
  • 18 Impact Donors

About the Campaign

The Anthropology Club is seeking to raise $3000 to pay for forensic genealogy services to identify a set of human remains recovered from an agricultural field in Charleston, Missouri, in 1979. Forensic genealogy is a new approach to human identification using GEDmatch, a repository of DNA profiles voluntarily submitted by the public in an effort to connect with biological relatives. Most DNA profiles from unidentified decedents are entered into a database called CODIS, which analyzes only a small segment of DNA and is only useful if the decedent or a first degree relative was required by the criminal justice system to submit a DNA sample. Forensic genealogy utilizing GEDmatch analyzes a much larger portion of the genetic sequence and allows for the identification of more distant relatives. When a relative is identified, their family tree is reconstructed using traditional genealogical research methods in an attempt to identify a missing person in the family who can then be compared to the unidentified decedent.

The remains in question are those of a male, likely middle aged and possibly of European ancestry. His mostly skeletonized remains were burned and highly fragmented, although the skull and forearms are largely intact with small amounts of adhering soft tissue. Initial reports were generated in 1979, but the case went cold until the remains were inadvertently “rediscovered” by Dr. Bengtson and her students. They created a biological profile for the decedent, entered his information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS.gov case #14540), and submitted a sample for CODIS DNA testing to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. DNA extraction was successful, but there were no hits in the CODIS database.

Forensic genealogy has been applied successfully to solve cold cases as old and complicated as ours (see Lavender Doe and Belle in the Well cases, for example). These cases and others were solved by a forensic genealogy organization called DNA Doe. Two of the researchers from that organization have started their own organization called Redgrave Research (they are also still affiliated with DNA Doe, and were involved in both of the cases linked above). I have decided to use Redgrave Research for this case because of their enthusiasm for allowing students to be part of the investigative process. While the research will predominately take place elsewhere, Redgrave Research has offered to create a private online forum and repository for information/findings and to act as a primary communication forum as the geneticists and genealogists work through the case. The students added to the group will be able to observe the process and interactions among the specialists and will be able to ask questions and get answers directly from the experts. Othram, a Texas-based forensic genomics firm, will conduct the genetic sequencing. This project will thereby serve not only to potentially solve a cold case and bring closure to a family but will also provide an invaluable opportunity for students to learn about cutting edge approaches to human identification.

Terry Parker, Mississippi County Coroner, is fully supportive of this effort.