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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Talk About It, Talk About It ...
A Grim Discovery & the Need for DNA Databases
A worker at a paper recycling plant in the city's Northeast section saw a leg sticking out of a bag yesterday. Inside the bag was the body of a badly beaten woman, her hands bound behind her back with duct tape. She's believed to be in her 20s or 30s and Asian. Authorities are now trying to figure out the woman's identity. They know the bag was carried to the plant by one of two trucks. One came from Pa., the other from N.J. The partly-decomposed condition of the corpse suggests the woman was killed in the last week. Story.

Identifying bodies is too often a problem that frustrates best efforts. A recent Inquirer article, "New ID tools could turn corpses into somebodies," reported that 5,900 unidentified bodies around the country can be connected to the more than 100,000 people the federal government has cataloged as missing. (Pictured is

The FBI's hope is to build a DNA database, using samples from relatives of the missing. That could greatly improve the odds of determining a match. " This is probably the most important thing that families don't know about," said Donna Fontana (pictured), a forensic anthropologist with the state police. An FBI-sponsored regional lab for handling this work is expected to open in New Jersey by year's end.

Of course, other kinds of evidence, such as pictures and dental records, are enough in many cases.

Expanding the FBI's DNA database for criminals is another area that needs work, according to a recent editorial. British police collect DNA from everyone arrested for an imprisonable offense, greatly increasing the chances of pinpointing suspects. A new Pennsylvania law requiring DNA collection from felons has already cracked some cases, according to another Inquirer story.


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