Forensic genetic genealogy can help solve puzzles about missing persons and unidentified remains.
ATLANTA – There are 2,500 missing in the state of Georgia and 154 unidentified remains. A new technology called forensic genetic genealogy could help solve these mysteries.
One involves the case of a young girl whose death and identity have been unknown for nearly three decades.
“Here we are 27 years later, and we still don’t know who she is,” said Dr. Carol Terry. Gwinnett County Medical Examiner.
The “she” she’s referring to is known as the “Atwood Girl.” She was found in a shallow grave off Atwood Street on April 5, 1995. Her real name and everything else about her remains a mystery.
“There are few answers. So many questions about what happened to this girl,” Terry said. Who is she? How did she die?
In 1995, Terry worked in Fulton County. She autopsied and examined the girl’s body and has thought about her ever since.
She said her body was badly decomposing, but she could tell the girl was in her mid to late teens. Technology told investigators what the girl looked like, but it can’t tell us much.
“There was nothing in the toxicology, no obvious shock,” Terry said.
At the time, Teri said, she was sure that all her questions about the girl would be answered. But as the years went by, those answers never came.
Get the answers
Today, she said she’s renewed hope she’ll get those answers, thanks to forensic genetic genealogy. It’s the same technique that helped identify Marilyn Stanrich.
“Someone found the remains in Stone Mountain, Georgia,” said Gwinnett County Police Detective Brian Dormini.
It took Gwinnett County Police 40 years to identify the wife and mother, who disappeared in 1973. Dormini said she would remain an anonymous person if the technology did not exist.
The same is true of Gordon Rexrode in Gwinnett County, Stacy Lyn Chahorski in Dade County, and dozens of other people across the country who, decades later, now have names again.
Conventional DNA testing has not been able to identify these people because the researchers did not have DNA to compare against. But companies have developed their own sites where people can upload their DNA, like grandpa match And DNA family treeso investigators can access it and solve cases.
“Our technology looks at tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of markets,” Mittleman said.
DNA Solves help Uthram build a family tree of potential relatives for the person being tested. Mittleman said the company’s success rate is close to 100%.
“Almost all of our cases are cases that have failed elsewhere or become a DNA dead end,” Mittleman said.
Helping solve crimes
Uthram said it’s working on hundreds of cases now. She said the technology not only helps identify remains, but also helps solve crimes.
Investigators attribute forensic genetic genealogy to the capture of the Golden State Killer, who killed 13 people and raped nearly 50 others in the 1970s and 1980s.
But while departments like Gwinnett are embracing the help, the technology is not widely used.
“Our technology is fairly new and people don’t know about it yet,” Mittleman said. “I think as more and more people hear about what we’re doing and see the difference, I think that’s going to become the norm.”
This brings her back to The Atwood Girl.
Technology can do more than just tell investigators who she was, it can tell them if she was murdered and who most likely killed her.
“I’d like to have an answer before I go to my grave, and that’s one of the things that always bothers me,” Terry said.
Fulton County did not respond to requests for an interview but told 11Alive Investigators it was in contact with Uthram Laboratories about identifying the “Atwood Girl” because of our report.
Fulton County likely won’t have to pay for the test.
Two Georgia philanthropists cover the costs of any state departments you still wish to specify. Any interested departments just need to contact Outram Laboratories.