DNA, GedMatch & Genealogy identify murder victim
A COLD CASE SOLVED: MSJ PROFESSOR HELPS CRACK 37-YEAR-OLD MYSTERY
For nearly four decades, a woman who was found murdered in Troy, Ohio, in 1981 has remained unidentified until now.
Previously known only as “buckskin girl” because of a fringed buckskin jacket the Jane Doe was wearing at the time of her death, the woman was finally identified in April 2018 thanks to the incredible perseverance of the Mount’s Beth Murray, Ph.D., ’86. a biology professor and one of only about 100 board-certified forensic anthropologists in the world, she spends her time outside the classroom working with law enforcement on cold cases or current cases involving bodies with skeletal trauma.
Dr. Murray worked with Ohio’s Miami County Sheriff’s Department on the cold case of the “buckskin girl” for several years, but every attempt to uncover the Jane Doe’s identity proved unsuccessful. Pollen studies on her clothing and tests on her hair attempted to determine where she spent the last year of her life, but did not lead to her name or her killer. In February 2017, Dr. Murray attended a presentation on forensic genealogy at a conference, during which the speaker discussed using ancestry databases (yes, like the ones advertised on TV) as an identification tool.
Soon after, she began emailing private DNA labs until she connected with someone who was so certain that the “buckskin girl” blood sample would be unusable (it was, after all, sitting in a drawer at the sheriff’s station for nearly 40 years) that he agreed to test it at no cost. As it turned out, the lab was able to extract a useable DNA profile from the blood. Working with the DNA Doe Project, which uses genetic genealogy to ID unknown persons, the DNA profile from the “buckskin girl” was then used to search for her relatives through genealogy registries. A match was found and the authorities were able to connect with that relative. The “buckskin girl” was identified as Marcia L. King from Arkansas. The sheriff’s department continues to work the case to solve her murder. “What couldn’t be done in 37 years was done in a couple of hours, once the genetic profile was in the hands of the DNA Doe Project,” Dr. Murray says. (Emphasis Tom Conover)
While that case received national media attention, it’s just one of the hundreds of cases Dr. Murray has worked on. During her sabbaticals away from the Mount, forensic cases have taken her all over the world, including the jungles of Laos to excavate a Vietnam War plane crash and exploration of a mass grave site in Guatemala.
The Mount has been a home for her since the early 1980s when she enrolled a few years after graduating from nearby Seton High School. She was encouraged by her professor and mentor (and now longtime colleague) Gene Kritsky, Ph.D., who serves as dean of the School of Behavioral and Natural Sciences, to pursue her master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Murray began her forensic anthropology career in 1986 and earned board certification in 1999. Teaching at the Mount, however, remains her central focus. “The values of the Sisters of Charity include helping others get a leg up,” Dr. Murray says. “Gene pushed me to my next step, and it’s been an honor to push students to their next step.”
Story is courtesy of Mount St. Joseph University, as originally published in Fall 2018 Mount News Magazine.
Photo is courtesy of Don Denney Photography and Mount St. Joseph University.
A special thank you to Kathleen M. Cardwell, Communications Manager,
Division of University Communications, and Mount St. Joseph University for permission to use this story.
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