Anthro Notes – Nov. 29/12
- TWA Flight 800, July 1996: Plane 747-131 carrying 230 people crashed off Long Island. The forensic
identification team, using a combination of methods and obtaining reference samples, identified all
230 victims. The number one identification method was dental records, then fingerprints. All the
victims could have been identified using DNA, but only 22 were identified solely using DNA.
Identification modalities included dental, x-ray, fingerprint, DNA. 82 people were identified using
only dental, 49 using only prints, 22 using only DNA, 8 using only x-ray, 32 using dental and prints,
11 using prints and x-ray, 19 using dental and x-ray, 1 using DNA and x-ray, 1 using DNA and prints,
and 5 using dental, prints, and x-ray. This was the first time DNA was used in an airplane mass
disaster. DNA is used when other quicker methods fail. Family trees/pedigrees were created to try
and help identify victims. Personal effects from the victims were used as reference samples. Personal
effects that were successful in providing samples included – toothbrush, underwear, head hair, comb
(beard), pillowcase, sock (blood), tshirt (blood), and razor residue (electric). Personal effects that
were unsuccessful included – hat, shorts, hair (shed hair), pillowcase, sock, tshirt, razor (disposable).
- Swiss Air 111: On Sept. 2, 1998, Swiss Air flight 111 carrying 229 people crashed in Canadian waters
near Peggy’s Cove while en route to Geneva. The wreckage was in 60m of water. Like TWA, many
methods were used for identification, including prints, dental records, x-ray, and DNA testing. Only
one body was intact enough for visual inspection. Over 2400 remains were found and 1277 were
analyzed by DNA using STRs. 147 (64%) could be identified by means other than DNA. 43 victims
were identified using fingerprints. DNA analysis from the RCMP was the most effective method. Four
RCMP and two Ontario labs were used. The DNA identification process was coordinated by the DNA
methods and database section directed by Dr. Ron Fourney. He is the RCMP’s top DNA specialist and
developed the Canadian DNA databank. Genotypes of all 229 victims were compared to genotypes of
all other victims and family relatives, making there be 71,490 comparisons. Most samples were
tested with 9 STRs and amelogenin and then four additional STRs were added as needed to obtain a
higher power discrimination between closely related individuals. The relational database compared
genotypes of 1277 crash scene samples to genotypes of all 299 victims and family members, for a
total of 71,490 genotype comparisons. All 229 victims were positively identified using DNA. A formal
recommendation was made by the RCMP to the Canadian transport safety board for all airline
personnel and frequent fliers to have fingerprint and DNA samples made available.
- Waco, Texas: On April 19, 1993, the Mount Carmel davidian branch compound in Waco, Texas was
torched during an FBI raid. Over 80 people died and their remains were severely damaged by the
high temperature fire. Half were identified using dental, fingerprints, and anthropological analysis.
The other half required DNA analysis (even though extreme heat denatures DNA). This was the first
mass disaster in which STRs were used. Work was carried out by AFDIL (212 samples from 82 sets of
human remains) and FSS, also using mtDNA. Without DNA typing (mostly from ribs) about half of the
victims would not have been identified. Body identifications were made by matching observed
sample genotypes with predicted possible genotypes obtained via relative reference blood samples.
This approach is called reverse paternity analysis, where the parent genotypes are used to predict
the child’s genotype. 26 positive IDs were made using the family tree matching approach. A shortage
of relatives prevented the identification of the other bodies. These results highlighted the need for
- 9/11: The twin towers were destroyed Sept. 11, 2001. It is estimated that 2819 people were killed.
Forensic efforts were tested to the limits. Forensic scientists had to use creative ways to identify the
remains. The main person for identifying the victims was Dr. Robert Shaler. He said that if everyone
had their DNA on file it would have reduced the costs and time of the DNA identification program by 90%. Traditional forensic identification methods were of limited value and the circumstances even
challenged traditional DNA methods. The US government developed the WTC kinship and data
analysis panel (KADAP). Private labs had new technology. Bode technology assisted. SNP technology
was supplied by orchid genescreen. 9/11 was the first time miniSTRs were used in mass disasters.
miniSTRs are the same STRs but with smaller primers. The miniSTR developments were headed by
Dr. Butler. mtDNA done by AFDIL and Bode group was also used. More than 500 samples were tested
using STRs. DNA by itself was compromised as anthropologists discovered 69 inconsistencies after
viewing 19,000 samples. Problems in identification included lack of exemplar samples and having
partial profiles that did not meet statistical requirements for ruling on inclusions. If DNA testing of
soft tissue had been used exclusively, then many problems would have occurred because of linkage
problems between body parts.
- Summary: All primary evidence is circumstantial. DNA has set the standards, but other evidence is
still important. Mass disasters show the multidisciplinary importance in forensic science.
Coordinating forensic team work and contacting relatives is time-consuming. The recommendation is
that all frequent fliers should be DNA profiled.
- Forensic science in human rights cases: Since the 1980s, forensic scientists have been playing an
increasingly important role in human rights cases. In 1982, UNECOSOC, on the advice of the
commission on human rights, established a mandate to investigate arbitrary and summary
executions. A special rapporteur was appointed to investigate all human rights violations. These
cases are unique as the violations are committed by the state (government) under the operation and
control of the military (also guerilla groups). Working in different jurisdictions and countries can be a
challenge to scientists (different customs, languages). The role of cultural anthropologists can be
important. There are many examples, but we will discuss East Timor (DNA work) and Argentina
(anthropology and DNA work). Anthropology was the first scientific discipline to get involved in
human rights in Argentina in 1983. Forensic anthropology and archaeology are important in these
cases because of the nature of the remains (mostly skeletonized and unmarked) and excavation
- Objectives of forensic investigations of human rights: 1. Collect, preserve, and objectively interpret
physical evidence that might lead to justice. 2. Firmly document that crimes were committed by
entering evidence into the historical context (set the record straight and protect it from revisionists).
3. Potential deterrent effect for repressive regimes. 4. We are often able to give closure to the pain of
- Examples of major human rights violations: Argentina, 1976-1983 – Junta and the dirty war.
Cambodia, 1975 – killing fields. Rwanda, 1994. Kosovo, 1989-1999. East Timor.
- The East Timor conflict: In the 1990s, a dispute developed between Indonesia and East Timor. The
East Timorese wanted independence from Indonesia and sought support from the UN. Many East
Timorese went missing during the purge when Indonesian troops were withdrawing (scorched earth
policy – military strategy which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy). The
UN sent Dr. Gruspier and Dr. Pollanen, who has worked in Kosovo together, to East Timor to set up a
major forensic investigation. Part of this project was the identification of victims using DNA. Most of
the victims were otherwise unidentifiable. The Passabe massacre was targeted because it had the
best information available. 47 men were tied up, marched to Passabe, and massacred. The DNA
program was run by E Molto.
- The Passabe massacre: 47 men were tied together and made to walk many km into the jungle. They
were made to dig graves and then killed. When the remains were exhumed, none were visually
identifiable. Bone samples were taken from each individual and stored. A year later, mothers and
female relatives were gathered and buccal and/or blood samples were taken. The problem of
identifying victims made DNA work all the more important. - Phase one of identification took place at Lakehead’s paleo-DNA laboratory. A selection of modern
comparison and evidentiary samples were tested. Because of hot and humid conditions, STRs were
not successful, so mtDNA was used. Modern comparisons (MC) used FTA cards. There were 29 blood
samples and 17 buccal samples, and individuals were assigned numbers to protect their privacy.
Evidentiary samples (ES) used skeletal material from ribs. Individuals were assigned numbers to
protect their privacy. The extraction protocol was modified by Boom et al. (1990). PCR was used to
amplify the HV1 and HV2 regions of the human mitochondrial genome. Gel electrophoresis was used
to visualize mtDNA. Automated CE technology was used to determine the genetic profile for each
sample. Determination of genetic profiles – Each sample was sequenced in repeat for verification.
Maternal relatives were presumptively identified when their genetic profiles matched. mtDNA
results – All 46 MC samples were successfully sequenced for HV1 and HV2. 7 of 8 ES samples were
successfully sequenced for HV1 and HV2. Presumptive identification means an individual cannot be
excluded from a line