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Attendees at last year's International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI). This year's symposium will include presentations about Rapid DNA, genetic mixtures, familial DNA, next-generation sequencing, best practices for sampling swabs and more. (Photo: Courtesy of the International Symposium on Human Identification)

The Beauty Queen Killer, Christopher Wilder, went on a murderous rampage across the United States in early 1984, abducting attractive young women with promises of modeling careers and then brutally raping and killing them. The FBI put him on the Most Wanted List, and after three months and eight victims, he was shot through the heart and died in a struggle with a police officer at a New Hampshire gas station.

But this was before DNA science had become commonplace in the United States. Wilder remains a suspect in rapes and killings from New York to Florida to the killer’s native Australia, stretching back to 1977 and earlier. It was only this summer that his genetic profile was uploaded into CODIS. Cold cases could soon be solved, Alyse Yacovone-Margetts and Brandy Plean, two scientists at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, will tell the crowd at the annual International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) next week in Seattle.

The Wilder case is one of the marquee presentations at the annual conference. Other presentations will focus on the advent of Rapid DNA, genetic mixtures controversies, the familial DNA debate, next-generation sequencing, and best practices for sampling swabs, among a litany of other topics, according to organizers.

Attendees at last year's International Symposium for Human Identification (ISHI) participate in a "table talk" titled "Giving Expert Testimony." This year's symposium will include presentations about Rapid DNA, genetic mixtures, familial DNA, next-generation sequencing, best practices for sampling swabs and more. (Photo: Courtesy of the International Symposium on Human Identification)

Among the highlights:

  • Keynote speaker Michael Capuzzo, author of the bestseller The Murder Room, will speak about his research into the Vidocq Society, a group of detectives and forensic experts who meet monthly for lunch in Philadelphia to reappraise unsolved crimes.
  • FBI experts will update the attendees on the CODIS and NDIS genetic databases.
  • Rapid DNA, and quick-hit genetic sampling at crime scenes amid developing investigations, will be the focus of multiple talks on Tuesday, the first full day of the conference. Thomas Callaghan, of the FBI Lab, will talk about how the feds plan to use the technology at booking stations across America, especially since the Rapid DNA Act of 2017 was passed last month. Chantal Fregeau, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s forensic division, will present how that country’s top law enforcement agency has used the ParaDNA System to accelerate investigative leads right at crime scenes.
  • STRmix, a probabilistic genotyping software program used to sort out DNA mixtures, will be the focus of talks on Wednesday. An FBI scientist who worked on the agency’s internal validation of the system will discuss how it was proven to work. Cristina Rentas of DNA Labs International will explain how STRmix works in case histories they she and her Florida-based lab have worked on. One of the cases began with two conflicting likelihood ratios - one which clearly included the suspect, and one which did not. They were ultimately clarified - and a new suspect identified - based on adding family members of the people involved into the analysis. "This is something that can make a difference in the case - and bring a case in a new direction," she told Forensic Magazine.
  • Battelle will show the latest results of its extensive look into next-generation DNA sequencing, also known as massively parallel sequencing. The Battelle scientists have previously spoken about some of the results with Forensic Magazine earlier this year. (A Chinese scientist named Le Wang from that country’s Institute of Forensic Science in the Ministry of Public Security will show that country’s latest MPS advances, in a poster during the meeting, as well.)
  • Bruce Budowle, of the University of North Texas Health Science Center, will talk to the crowd about how best to balance swab sampling while still preserving enough evidence for a defendant’s right to conduct their own genetic testing.
  • Another UNT scientist, August Woerner, will present the research of Sarah Schmedes on using the bacterial profile (microbiome) of a person’s shirt collar or palm to make identifications.
  • The Beauty Queen Killer, and potential cold case links, will be presented by Yacovone-Margetts and Plean. But there will also be other case histories. Paul Berry of the Louisiana State Police will talk about how investigators used a tire track and DNA analysis of hair samples to catch the “Token Serial Killer,” Sean Vincent Gillis, in 2004—and prove his brutal dismemberment killings were not the work of contemporary Baton Rouge serial killer Derrick Todd Lee. Forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders International will also talk about how ancestry led to the arrest of Bryan Patrick Miller, the Phoenix Canal Murderer.
  • Advanced identification through “protein profiling” of hairs will be shown through posters by Joseph Donfack of the FBI and Zachary Goecker of the University of California, Davis. Such work is only just being better understood; the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published its findings last year about “molecular fingerprints.”
  • Y-STR genetic typing improvements for identification during disasters, missing persons searches and investigations of historical human remains will be shown by Angie Ambers of UNT.

The full ISHI agenda can be seen here. Forensic Magazine will be writing ISHI updates all week.

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