In an age where digital footprints and crime scenes extend into the virtual realm, the field of forensics has never been more crucial. The ability to collect, analyze, and interpret evidence is not limited to crime scene investigators but extends to cybersecurity professionals, data analysts, and more. This comprehensive guide explores the world of forensics online courses, designed to equip students and professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in this fascinating field.
Table of Contents
- The World of Forensics: An Introduction
- Types of Forensics Disciplines
- Forensics Online Courses: Why Consider Them?
- Choosing the Right Forensics Online Course
- Top Online Forensics Courses and Programs
- Forensics Online Course Curriculum
- Career Opportunities in Forensics
- Challenges and Ethical Considerations in Forensics
- Forensics in the Real World: Case Studies
- The Future of Forensics: Emerging Trends
- Success Stories in Forensics
- Forensics Online Courses: FAQs
- Conclusion: Mastering the Art of Investigation
The World of Forensics: An Introduction
Most people have only heard the word “forensics” associated with coroners or with scientists who work in police labs. When we call our speech team activities by that term, it’s natural that confusion arises. Actually the word “forensics” comes from ancient Greece where the term was applied to speeches made to convince a group of people who would make a judgment based on the arguments and evidence presented in the speech.
The definition “speaking for judgment” still applies to the word today. Hence coroners or police specialists do tests or postmortems, reporting results to a judge in a court of law–and our forensic team members speak before speech experts acting as judges at intercollegiate tournaments. All are engaged in the activity of “speaking for judgment” but in vastly different contexts.
What Is Forensics?
Forensic science assists in the investigation of crimes by examining physical evidence and applying the results of these scientific examinations to courts of law. The results of examinations can determine what happened at the scene of a crime and who was there. This can help the investigators with their work. The evidence can then appear later in court.
Forensic science can be used to identify and incriminate suspects, by studying fingerprints, blood types or DNA profiles for example. It is rare for a court case to hang off one single piece of evidence, although it is not uncommon for the majority of the case to rely on many pieces of forensic evidence that together are conclusive.
There are different types of evidence. Some is circumstantial – you would expect a school teacher to have chalk on their clothing, but not a banker, for example. Conclusive evidence is beyond dispute, such as a drop of a suspect’s blood at the crime scene when the suspect claims to have been elsewhere.
Forensic science is the use of scientific methods or expertise to investigate crimes or examine evidence that might be presented in a court of law. Forensic science comprises a diverse array of disciplines, from fingerprint and DNA analysis to anthropology and wildlife forensics. Though they represent varied disciplines, all forensic scientists face a common set of challenges.
How do you ensure that forensic methods produce reliable results? How do you communicate findings to a jury or other non-experts in a way that is accurate and understandable? How do you keep up with new technology without falling behind on casework? Meeting these and other challenges is critical to ensuring that forensic science remains a powerful force in support of justice and public safety.
The Importance of Forensic Science
Forensic science provides the criminal justice system with evidence that could be used to convict a suspect even when an eyewitness is not present.
Forensic scientists can be used in the initial investigation at the crime scene, gathering the evidence for further analysis in a laboratory. Then, specialized tests are performed on the evidence according to current testing standards to ensure the evidence can meet the requirements of the trial.
An assortment of forensic scientists and forensic tools may be used to establish facts admissible in a court of law. The important relationship between forensics and the law ensures both convictions or exonerations occur without bias or injustice.
Also, forensic science is governed by legal procedures and scientific protocols with support from professional communities such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Law enforcement officers may not have the background or complete understanding of the importance of a criminal investigation. That’s why the need for forensic scientists continues to increase and illustrates the need for interdisciplinary forensic studies programs across the country.
Forensic science is that piece without which the puzzle of a criminal investigation is incomplete. Without the application of forensic science, criminals can never be convicted unless an eyewitness is present. While detectives and law enforcement agencies are involved in the collection of evidence, be it physical or digital, it is forensic science that deals with the analysis of the evidence in order to establish facts admissible in a court of law.
Thus in a world devoid of forensic science, murderers, thieves, drug traffickers, and rapists would be roaming scot-free.
The duties and responsibilities of a forensic scientist in a criminal investigation is crucial as it involves the careful examination of evidence while ensuring that it is not tampered with. A diverse pool of forensic scientists and forensic tools go into the investigation of a criminal act.
For instance, forensic pathologists are skilled at determining the cause of death by performing autopsies. An autopsy helps establish the cause and manner of death through the examination of body fluids and tissues. Forensic Scientists analyze physical evidence (fingerprints, blood, hair etc.) collected from the incident scene to identify suspects. Additionally, forensic professionals use image modification tools to search for criminals absconding from the law for a long time. This tool enables them to digitally age a photograph to understand how the individual would look at aging.
The Evolving Landscape of Digital Forensics
Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) has become a vital tool in the fight against cyber threats in the constantly changing field of cybersecurity. We have seen it grow from a specialized field to an essential component of cyber defense.
The Early Years: Traditional Forensics Meets Cybercrime
Two decades ago, digital forensics primarily involved retrieving data from physical devices such as hard drives and analyzing it to solve cybercrimes. Incidents were relatively straightforward, and digital evidence was often readily available. The field’s primary focus was on data recovery, evidence preservation, and incident documentation.
The Modern Landscape: A Complex Web of Challenges
Fast forward to today, and the DFIR landscape has undergone a radical transformation. Cyber threats have become more sophisticated, diverse, and pervasive. Adversaries leverage advanced techniques, including encryption, anti-forensics, and evasion tactics, to cover their tracks. Mobile devices, cloud services, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have introduced new dimensions to digital investigations.
In response to these challenges, DFIR professionals have adapted and evolved. Here are some key aspects of the modern DFIR landscape:
- 1. Cyber Threat Intelligence: DFIR experts now integrate cyber threat intelligence into their processes to identify, understand, and preempt attacks. Staying one step ahead of attackers is critical.
- 2. Incident Response Readiness: Organizations have recognized the need for robust incident response plans that are regularly tested and updated. Rapid response is essential in minimizing the impact of a breach.
- 3. Volatile Data and Memory Analysis: As adversaries aim to leave no traces behind, memory and volatile data analysis have become indispensable for identifying live threats and advanced malware.
- 4. Cloud Forensics: With the proliferation of cloud services, DFIR professionals must adapt to navigate the complexities of remote data storage and access.
- 5. Legal and Compliance Challenges: The legal and regulatory landscape surrounding DFIR has grown increasingly complex. Professionals must ensure that their investigations adhere to legal standards and privacy regulations.
- 6. Professional Development: Staying current is a priority. Ongoing training, certifications, and networking are essential for keeping abreast of the latest tools, techniques, and threats.
Amidst all these technological advancements and challenges, one thing remains constant – the human element. The keen investigative skills, intuition, and adaptability of DFIR professionals are as crucial as ever. Understanding the motivations and strategies of threat actors is an art that complements the science of digital forensics.
Types of Forensics Disciplines
Generally speaking, forensic science is the branch of science that studies criminal investigations utilizing methods like fingerprint and DNA analysis. It includes all of the scientific methods that are now employed by law enforcement officers to analyze and look into crime scenes. Since forensic science has several branches, it may help you to choose your preferred specialization by doing some preliminary research on them.
There are numerous subfields within forensic science, and they are all important to both criminal and civil law. Some categories of forensic science are listed below:
- Forensic anthropology
Forensic anthropology is a branch of physical anthropology that applies the science of anatomy to law. These scientists help law enforcement agents during criminal investigations to identify human remains, and interpret the trauma, cause and estimated time of death. They use their specialized skills to determine the race, age, physique and sex of the victim using their bones or bone fragments. Forensic anthropologists are also able to determine the manner of death, such as whether it was murder, accidental, natural or suicide.
- Forensic pathology
Forensic pathology concerns the examination of corpses to determine the cause of death of the victim. To help in postmortem identification, these medical examiners perform autopsies by analyzing medical samples taken from the victim’s organs, fluids, and tissues. They also make use of the victim’s medical history and available evidence from the body to investigate the manner of death. For example, a forensic pathologist can examine a bullet wound and determine the type of gun used to cause the damage.
- Forensic engineering
Forensic engineers analyze structures, components or products that fail to function properly and lead to personal injury, economic losses or damage of property. This field of forensics seeks to apply engineering principles to investigating mechanical and structural failures. Forensic engineers analyze accidents and identify the point of failure before working to enhance the performance of the product. Their determination of the specific cause of failure also helps in establishing responsibility for the damage.
- Forensic toxicology
Forensic toxicology is the study of the presence and effect of toxic substances in the body. It combines the disciplines of pharmacology, toxicology, analytical and clinical chemistry to investigate deaths arising from drug use and poisoning. These professionals do this by analyzing various specimens of the victim’s body, such as blood, tissue, fluids, nails and hair, for the presence of chemical substances and then interpret the cause of death using the available results. These medical results play a huge role in determining whether a victim’s death was from an overdose or murder.
- Digital forensics
Digital forensics is a science that involves discovering legal evidence from digital devices, including mobile phones, computers, hard discs, USB drives, electronic storage and cloud computing. These scientists work within IT systems using sophisticated forensic tools to extract data. They analyze digital evidence to provide more insight into the crime.
Digital forensic scientists also work with criminal lawyers to provide evidence or counter-evidence in support of a hypothesis in court. This forensic field can be split into other sub-fields like mobile device forensics, forensic data analysis, computer forensics and network forensics.
- Forensic odontology
Forensic odontology, also known as forensic dentistry, involves the evaluation and examination of dental evidence in cases of criminal justice. Just like in forensic anthropology and pathology, forensic dentists often perform postmortem investigations where the victim is barely recognizable. These professionals study bite marks, attend autopsies where necessary and compare dental remains and records. They also study X-rays and analyze the anatomy of a victim’s teeth, including conducting restorative dental corrections like fillings. They collect this data and use it to compare with missing persons to identify the victim.
- Forensic entomology
This field of forensics studies how arthropods interact with a victim’s deceased body. It uses the application of biology and insect science arthropods like centipedes, arachnids, crustaceans and millipedes in the solving of a criminal case. Forensic entomologists also use this to determine the involvement of poison or drugs, the exact time of an attack and the location of the incident.
They determine the cause of death and postmortem index by analyzing the number of insects present on a deceased body and the developing stage of the eggs. Three categories of forensic entomology include urban, medico-legal and store-product forensic entomology.
- Forensic DNA analysis
This is one of the most popular fields of forensics. Just like fingerprints, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) specimens are another biological parameter that’s exclusive to individuals. In modern times, DNA profiling has become a useful tool in criminal investigations. Forensic DNA analysts collect data from the skin cells of victims at a crime scene and conduct tests that help to identify the perpetrator of the crime. Some of the biological components analysts use for DNA profiling include the blood, hair, skin, saliva, semen and urine of the victim.
The evidence these tests present also helps criminal lawyers in legal proceedings. Some of the processes a DNA sample undergoes before the result comes out include extraction, amplification, quantification, separation, analysis and interpretation of the DNA sample.
- Forensic geology
Also known as geo-forensics, forensic geology is the study of evidence that pertains to materials found on the earth, such as rocks minerals, soil and petroleum. Forensic geologists use the results of the examination to answer questions pertaining to a legal case.
For instance, where there is a deceased victim, forensic geologists analyze materials recovered from the scene of crime, suspect or victim and use the result to ascertain the cause and time of death of the victim. They often make use of techniques and instruments such as microscopes, x-ray diffraction, microchemical analysis and scanning electron microscopes.
- Forensic arts
Forensic arts is the field of forensics that seeks to use high-tech investigative tools and simple tools like pencils to sketch an individual. They use these sketches for the identification and apprehension of wanted individuals. Forensic artists work closely with law enforcement agents and create facial composite sketches using skeletal remains, eyewitness accounts and crime scene evidence. The three main disciplines under forensic arts include image modification, composite art and postmortem and facial reconstruction.
Forensics Online Courses: Why Consider Them?
You should select a qualification program that corresponds to your existing skill and knowledge level when it comes to learning. Even if you are beginning to learn a new subject that is completely foreign to you, this does not always entail starting from the bottom and working your way up.
Prior to enrolling in any course, you should confirm that the qualification is worthwhile and valuable in the industry you wish to work in.
There are many courses offered online and they are described as levels. These levels start at entry level, up to level eight, which is the equivalent to a PhD. Level 3 Diplomas such as those offered with some forensic courses, are the equivalent to an A Level. Level 4 Diplomas are similar to the first year of a degree. As you go up the scale of levels, you will be expected to take increasing responsibility for directing and managing your study, as well as widen your reading and research skills.
Support for any student at any level is key to successful studying, so don’t assume that because you are struggling with a level three course you are not capable of studying further up the scale. The skills you acquire at one level of study will be needed at higher levels thus once you acquire them, further study can actually be easier!
The reputation of online courses, like those in forensic science, hasn’t always been positive. Education is no longer as elitist as it once was, and students who want to study at home or online are given just as much value and credit. Whether you’re reading a text at your desk late at night, on the bus home, or in a classroom, education and learning may take place anywhere.
Learning at home and online has additional advantages, too, like;
- Convenience – you decide the best time to study and learn; you decide when you need a break or when you need to explore something in more depth. The convenience of being able to study when and how it suits you is second-to-none.
- Flexibility – online courses are not open-ended. In most cases, online providers will suggest a timeframe in which to complete forensic science courses. Most level three courses suggest a 12-month timeframe. Within this time, you can study when and where you want.
- Individual attention and support – no matter what course you are studying or at what level, support is imperative. With online courses, you will find a level of individual support that you can call upon when you need some extra advice, hints, and tips.
- Real skills and abilities – online forensic courses give you real skills that are valuable and valued in the field of forensic science. Being able to study under your own steam also shows a sense of self-discipline, as well as keen management and organizational skills. Don’t underestimate the true skill of being able to organize your household, work, and study in your ‘spare time’ – and what this says to potential employers.
Nobody is going to convince you that managing a home, working, and studying on top of everything else you have on your plate is simple. You’ll stumble and stutter, but you’ll also love it when you discover an entirely new universe full of abilities and information.
Choosing the Right Forensics Online Course
You will learn about gathering, analyzing, and presenting scientific evidence for the police to use in court by working in the field of forensic science. Obtaining a degree in forensic science can instruct you on how to become qualified as a forensic scientist for the legal system through laboratory work and an in-depth understanding of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. You can choose if this is a career you want to pursue by learning about the course material.
An online forensic science degree is typically a three-year course that explains investigative methods and how to use laboratory equipment to conduct experiments during the evidence-gathering phase. While some subjects like environmental studies and inorganic chemistry are essential for performing tests, others, like behavioral science and documentation, help in decoding and recording data.
Read Also: How to Reach Maximum Technological Security
There are topics linked to identifying criminals through handwriting analysis and blood pattern recognition in cases of crimes such as forgery or assault. Along with this, such courses teach you important forensic science topics like toxicology, forensic anthropology and DNA breakdown and study.
Choosing a college program is a big choice, so before you enlist, make sure you get as much information as possible. The accreditation status of each school is one item you should investigate. Accredited institutions make up every institution on our list of the top online forensic science programs. This indicates that every school has undergone an evaluation to ensure that it satisfies national requirements for quality education by an authorized, independent body.
Attending an approved institution might facilitate credit transfers or financial aid applications in addition to guaranteeing a high-quality education. To be accepted into a master’s program, one may additionally need to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college.
In addition to institutional-level accreditation, individual programs can earn accreditation. The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the accrediting agency for forensic science degree programs. For a program to be accredited by FEPAC, it must be designed to meet forensic science industry standards.
You may also want to consider the benefits of enrollment in a forensic science online program. Colleges have offered distance learning programs in the sciences for decades, and many students are drawn to the flexibility of online coursework. Asynchronous courses that allow you to access course materials and complete assignments on your own schedule are especially appealing for some students. However, others prefer the interaction of a classroom and the ability to question professors in real time in classrooms or laboratories.
Top Online Forensics Courses and Programs
Depending on a student’s chosen concentration, a bachelor’s in forensic science and crime scene investigation program features many courses. Students may focus on the minutiae of crime scenes themselves or work on laboratory analysis. Courses can expand beyond science to cover government policy and even photography.
- Fingerprint Analysis
Students learn about latent fingerprints. Coursework covers different methods used to lift prints effectively to analyze and prepare them for a forensic setting. Additionally, students learn about various factors that can affect fingerprint analysis.
- Forensic Chemistry
Forensic chemistry courses introduce students to the basic chemical principles used to apply forensics to criminal investigations and litigation. Students learn about fundamental statistics, chromatography, and instrumentation used to examine evidence related to substances, volatiles, and debris found at a crime scene.
- Criminal Investigation
This course covers constitutional requirements for investigations and techniques used for crime scene analysis, including the use of subpoenas and interviews to collect evidence. Students learn the proper steps to take to document and preserve evidence, as well as the continuum of force officials use to arrest suspects.
- Crime Scene Photography
Photographic evidence is essential to the field, and students in this course learn to apply photographic principles to forensic science. Coursework focuses on aerial, macro, and underwater photography, as well as the function and use of digital cameras. Students need to have their own cameras for online courses.
- Forensic Biology
Courses in forensic biology teach students about the proper procedures used to analyze biological evidence, either at a crime scene or in a lab. Students discuss the ethics of forensic science and learn how to be an expert witness in legal cases. Coursework may also cover toxicology, bone and DNA analysis, and working with blood spatters.
If you enroll in a forensic science degree program online, you’re likely to study a range of related topics, including:
These programs may include introductory courses in biology and human anatomy, along with forensic biology courses. Forensic biology classes may teach you about important concepts like DNA, toxicology and bone analysis to help you develop insights from biological samples.
Chemistry classes may focus on chemical compounds and forensic chemical analysis. You may learn how to use key devices and instruments for chemical analysis, interpret results and work with common chemical substances like gunpowder and explosives, paint, polymers, fibers and drugs and alcohol. You may learn about toxicology, how to analyze arson incidents and compound analysis.
- Criminal investigation
You typically learn crime scene and criminal investigation techniques. This may involve capturing, documenting and preserving evidence. It may also introduce you to the chain of command for handling evidence. Criminal investigation courses may also train you in legal processes for investigation, like using subpoenas and search warrants.
- Fingerprint and DNA analysis
Forensic science programs train you in how to effectively collect and analyze fingerprints and human DNA from a crime scene or evidence. You can expect to learn the basics of DNA, like DNA structure and genetic inheritance, and DNA profiling, which can help you match evidence with suspects. These courses may also discuss the ethical implications of fingerprinting and DNA analysis.
- Forensic psychology
Forensic psychology courses may help you understand psychological concepts that apply to both suspects and victims. You may explore topics like lie detection, repressed memories and jury selection and decision-making.
Forensics Online Course Curriculum
The forensics online course curriculum, created by working professionals, teaches students how to recognize, gather, and examine forensic evidence, including DNA, fingerprints, trace elements, and more. After graduating, you’ll have a solid understanding of the legal system and the scientific methods employed in the area, giving you the ability to apply forensics to solve crimes.
Foundations of Forensic Science
This course serves as an introduction to the basics of forensic science, crime scene investigation and reconstruction, and forensic biometrics. You’ll review the history of the field, as well as important procedures that must be taken when processing a crime scene; investigating deaths; and documenting and gathering physical evidence, such as bloodstains and fingerprints.
By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:
- Summarize the history and development of forensic science.
- List common types of physical evidence, including fingerprints and bloodstains.
- Recognize techniques employed during crime scene investigations and reconstructions.
- Define forensic biometrics.
Microscopy, Impressions, and Forensic Chemistry
In this course, you’ll learn how microscopes are used in forensic science and the role of firearms, impressions, and matter as physical evidence. You’ll also examine how hair, fibers, toxicology reports, and trace elements of metals, paint, and soil can play important roles in crime scene investigation.
By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:
- Recognize the importance of a microscope in examining forensic specimens.
- Describe how firearms, bullets, impressions, and matter are investigated.
- Explain the methods used to collect, evaluate, and preserve hairs, fibers, and traces of metals, paint, and soil at a crime scene.
- Summarize how a toxicology report can impact a crime scene investigation.
Forensic Biology, Fire Investigation, Document Examination, and the Future of Forensic Science
This course begins with a review of biological evidence and how it’s collected, analyzed, and preserved. Following this is a discussion of how fires and explosions are investigated and how important documents are examined for clues. Finally, the course concludes with a summary of the future techniques and technologies concerning forensic science.
By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:
- Identify the importance of biological evidence at a crime scene and the ways it’s processed, analyzed, and preserved.
- Explain how fires and explosions are investigated.
- Recognize techniques employed in examining a questioned document.
- Describe the projected trends of forensic science.
The Forensic Science Career Diploma is designed to provide students with the knowledge of the basic skills required of those working in forensic science. Students will learn how to investigate and reconstruct different types of crime scenes and analyze and evaluate various evidence, including impressions, documents, and fire patterns.
After completing the Forensic Science program, students will be able to:
- Explain the career opportunities available to forensic investigators and describe the characteristics of professionals in the field.
- Describe what the term criminalistics encompasses and the significance of individual and class characteristics in the context of criminal investigations.
- Explain the purpose of securing, documenting, and processing the crime scene and outline the considerations involved in the collection of physical evidence, including legal and safety precautions.
- Describe typical procedures followed in the crime lab and in areas such as microscopy, fingerprint development, drug screening, serology, firearms investigations, trace evidence analysis, DNA profiling, and crime scene reconstruction.
- Describe common tools, processes, and evolving technologies in areas such as microscopy, fingerprint development, drug screening, serology, firearms investigations, trace evidence analysis, DNA profiling, and crime scene reconstruction.
- Explain how forensic scientists use the scientific method during evidence examination and analysis, and describe the factors that influence the selection and use of various analytical techniques.
Career Opportunities in Forensics
Here are 10 careers you can pursue within the forensic science field.
1. Fingerprint technician
National average salary: $41,752 per year
Primary duties: These professionals study and evaluate fingerprints in criminal investigations. They work in crime labs and crime scenes. Fingerprint technicians process and preserve fingerprint samples, analyze fingerprints and load fingerprint images into fingerprint databases for comparison.
Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a related field is typically required.
2. Evidence technician
National average salary: $48,838 per year
Primary duties: Evidence technicians are responsible for collecting evidence at crime scenes, processing the evidence, and transporting the evidence to storage locations.
Requirements: Most evidence technician jobs require a degree in criminal justice or a related field. Some positions may allow individuals to hold an entry-level evidence technician job with previous experience and on-the-job training.
3. Forensic science technician
National average salary: $49,103 per year
Primary duties: Forensic science technicians work at crime scene investigations and are responsible for gathering and analyzing evidence. They may take photos and keep written records of crime scene evidence. These professionals most commonly work for crime labs, police departments and medical examiner offices.
Requirements: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in forensic science is typically required for this position.
4. Forensic specialist
National average salary: $57,750 per year
Primary duties: Forensic specialists assess physical evidence from a crime scene using various methods of analysis, including chemical, instrumental and microscopic methods. They may work with biological fluids, drugs, blood, gunshot residue and other materials found at a crime scene. They may serve as expert witnesses in court cases and conduct research related to new forensic equipment and technology.
Requirements: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology or a related field is required. Several years of experience working in a forensic science lab is often needed to obtain a job as a forensic specialist.
5. Forensics manager
National average salary: $63,494 per year
Primary duties: A forensics manager is a professional who oversees the activities that support criminal investigations. They may plan, direct and coordinate various activities related to forensic science within a crime lab or other forensics organization.
Requirements: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a related field is required.
6. Forensic investigator
National average salary: $71,799 per year
Primary duties: Forensic investigators are responsible for investigating evidence found at a crime scene. They may take photos of the crime scene, collect samples and examine evidence in a lab. They then use the evidence to make assumptions regarding the details of the crime.
Requirements: This position requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, forensic science or a related field.
7. Forensic accountant
National average salary: $79,369 per year
Primary duties: Forensic accountants are experts in financial crime and work to uncover fraud and protect bank accounts against fraudulent activity. They examine financial records and accounts that may be used as evidence. They may also assist in court to determine damages and awards for cases.
Requirements: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting or a related field is required.
8. Forensic structural engineer
National average salary: $89,515 per year
Primary duties: These professionals are tasked with investigating structures that have failed or do not function properly. They commonly analyze structures that have resulted in personal injury or property damage and determine the cause. Forensic engineers may use their findings in criminal and civil law cases to support the evidence presented.
Requirements: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in engineering is required to become a forensic engineer.
9. Forensic psychologist
National average salary: $120,710 per year
Primary duties: Forensic psychologists perform several duties within the legal system, including performing psychological assessments of criminals, witnesses and defendants in legal proceedings and acting as expert witnesses in court cases. They may also devise treatment plans and intervention methods for prison inmates and make recommendations for inmates’ parole. These professionals typically work for community health centers, psychiatric hospitals, government agencies and correctional facilities.
Requirements: Forensic psychologists must hold a minimum of a master’s degree in forensic psychology. Many of these professionals also hold certification from the American Board of Forensic Psychology
10. Forensic pathologist
National average salary: $143,759 per year
Primary duties: These professionals are responsible for conducting autopsies on bodies to determine the cause of death. They may assist in the investigation of crimes like murders and evaluate the findings of autopsies.
Requirements: A forensic pathologist must complete a medical school program as well as three to five years of residency training in general pathology.
Challenges and Ethical Considerations in Forensics
In the late 1980s, forensic DNA analysis was first introduced in criminal cases. Initially, any attempts to use DNA evidence in criminal trials were met with skepticism regarding its evidential value and admissibility in a court of law. A debate was raised, which revolved around three main points. The admissibility of the scientific principles in criminal courts; the scientific process involved in analyzing DNA samples; and finally, the impact forensic DNA analysis may have on human rights.
However, the discussion’s human rights aspects were not debated adequately since the scientific accuracy, and legal admissibility angles were the main focal points. An example of human rights violations that currently can occur in forensic DNA analysis is the use of the current capabilities of DNA analysis on the non-coding regions of the DNA, which can allow access to a person’s genome. This technique can shed light on the individual’s undisclosed information, such as ancestry, along with current and future health issues, which constitutes a serious infringement on the right to privacy.
Another example of human rights infringement is the repercussions a DNA cold hit can have on an individual’s life. A cold hit suspect is a person unrelated to the crime other than a DNA databank match. There have been cold hits where the overarching evidence heavily contradicted the DNA match, but that was not enough to stop the prosecution. This can be seen in the case of Raymond Easton, which transpired in the UK.
Raymond Easton was charged with burglary after his DNA was matched with a DNA crime article recovered at a burglary crime scene in Bolton, approximately 320 kilometers away from his home. Easton was a Parkinson’s patient who could not perform simple daily tasks or move more than short distances without assistance. He also had a verified alibi for the time of the crime. Despite this contradictory evidence, the police continued to investigate the case for months before a subsequent re-evaluation of the DNA sample exonerated him. Due to the high evidential value assigned to DNA lately, the jury in any given case can be subjected to unwarranted influence.
Goodman-Delahunty and Hewson, after archival research, concluded that the presence of DNA evidence could predict convictions with an increase in the likelihood of jurors voting guilty when undisputed DNA evidence is used, even in cases where the circumstantial evidence is very weak. In the Victoria court of appeal case R v Jama in 2009, cross-contamination of DNA led to the false conviction and incarceration of Mr. Jama for a rape that was later proven that he did not commit.
Over the years, it has been demonstrated that without any other corroborating evidence, a cold hit has the potential for unnecessary disturbance, wrongful convictions, and infringement on freedom and privacy.
To promote the highest standards of professional and personal conduct among its members and affiliates, the following Code of Ethics and Conduct is endorsed by all members and affiliates of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science.
Ethical and professionally responsible wildlife forensic scientists …
- 1. Are independent, impartial, and objective, approaching all examinations with due diligence and an open mind.
- 2. Conduct complete and unbiased examinations. Conclusions are based on the evidence and reference material relevant to the evidence, not extraneous information, political pressure, or other outside influences.
- 3. Render conclusions only within their area of expertise, and about matters which they have given formal consideration.
- 4. Honestly communicate with all parties (the investigator, prosecutor, defense, and other expert witnesses) about all information relating to their analysis, when communications are permitted by law and agency practice.
- 5. Report to the appropriate legal or administrative authorities any unethical, illegal, or scientifically questionable conduct of other forensic scientists or laboratory employees.
- 6. Report conflicts between their ethical/professional responsibilities and applicable agency policy, law, regulation, or other legal authority, and attempt to resolve them.
- 7. Do not accept or participate in any case on a contingency fee basis or in which they have any other personal or financial conflict of interest or an appearance of such a conflict.
Competency and Proficiency
Ethical and professionally responsible wildlife forensic scientists…
- 8. Base their opinions and conclusions on scientifically validated and generally accepted methods and tests.
- 9. Are committed to career-long learning in their forensic disciplines and stay abreast of new equipment and techniques while guarding against the misuse of methods that have not been validated.
- 10. Are properly trained and competent prior to undertaking the examination of evidence.
- 11. If applicable, complete regularly scheduled:
- proficiency tests within their forensic discipline(s);
- comprehensive technical reviews of fellow examiners’ work;
- verifications of conclusions.
- 12. Give utmost care to the treatment of all samples or items of potential evidentiary value to avoid tampering, adulteration, loss or unnecessary consumption.
- 13. Use appropriate controls and standards when conducting examinations and analyses. The Society for Wildlife Forensic Science will develop and maintain a list of best practices in the various disciplines of wildlife forensic science on the Society website (https://www.wildlifeforensicscience.org/). The best practices document will be reviewed and, if necessary, updated prior to each tri-annual meeting of the Society.
Ethical and professionally responsible wildlife forensic scientists…
- 14. Accurately represent their education, training, experience and area of expertise.
- 15. Present accurate data in reports, testimony, publications and oral presentations.
- 16. Make and retain full, contemporaneous, clear and accurate records of all examinations and tests conducted, and conclusions drawn, in sufficient detail to allow meaningful review and assessment of the conclusions by an independent person competent in the field.
- 17. Do not alter reports or other records, or withhold information from a report for strategic or tactical litigation advantage.
- 18. Support sound scientific techniques and practices, and never pressure another examiner or technician to arrive at conclusions or results that are not supported by data.
- 19. Accept their moral obligation to assure that the court understands the evidence as it exists, and to present that evidence in an impartial manner.
- 20. Provide complete and informative testimony, for example by qualifying their responses if needed when counsel attempts to elicit a simple yes or no answer.
Obligations of Members to the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science
a. Every member and associate of the Society shall refrain from exercising professional conduct adverse to the best interests and objectives of the Society.
b. No member or associate of the Society shall materially misrepresent his or her education, training, experience, area of expertise, or membership status within the Society.
c. No member or affiliate of the Society shall issue public statements that appear to represent the position of the Society without specific authority first obtained from the Board of Directors.
Forensics in the Real World: Case Studies
1. Ted Bundy
Although serial killer Ted Bundy was responsible for an estimated 30-plus murders, there was little physical evidence to connect him to the crimes when he was arrested in 1975. Two years later, having been convicted only of kidnapping, Bundy was preparing to stand trial for murder in Colorado when he escaped and headed to Florida.
There, he killed three more people early in 1978, and when he was finally captured in February of that year, the physical evidence in those cases led to his conviction. Most crucial was the matching of a bite mark on the buttock of victim Lisa Levy to the Bundy’s distinctive, crooked, and chipped teeth. He was convicted also of the murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach based on fibers found in his van that matched the girl’s clothing. Bundy was put to death in 1989.
2. The Lindbergh Kidnapping
On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the 20-month-old son of the famous aviator, was kidnapped, and although a ransom of $50,000 was paid, the child was never returned. His body was discovered in May just a few miles from his home. Tracking the circulation of the bills used in the ransom payment, authorities were led to Bruno Hauptmann, who was found with over $14,000 of the money in his garage.
While Hauptmann claimed that the money belonged to a friend, key testimony from handwriting analysts matched his writing to that on the ransom notes. Additional forensic research connected the wood in Hauptmann’s attic to the wood used in the make-shift ladder that the kidnappers built to reach the child’s bedroom window. Hauptmann was convicted and executed in 1936.
3. The Atlanta Child Murders
In a two year period between 1979 and 1981, 29 people — almost all children — were strangled by a serial killer. Police staked out a local river where other bodies had been dumped and arrested Wayne Williams as he was driving away from the sound of a splash in an area where a body was recovered a couple of days later. Police didn’t witness him drop the body, so their case was based largely on forensic evidence gathered from fibers found on the victims.
In all, there were nearly 30 types of fiber linked to items from Williams’ house, his vehicles and even his dog. In 1982, he was convicted of killing two adult victims and sentenced to life in prison, although the Atlanta police announced that Williams was responsible for at least 22 of the child murders.
4. The Howard Hughes Hoax
In 1970, authors Clifford Irving and Richard Suskind concocted a scheme to forge an autobiography of notoriously eccentric and reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Assuming that Hughes would never come out from hiding to denounce the book, they felt that their plan was fool-proof. Irving went to publisher McGraw-Hill claiming that Hughes had approached him to write his life story and that he was willing to correspond with only the author.
As proof, Irving produced forged letters that he claimed were from Hughes. McGraw-Hill agreed, paying $765,000 for the right to publish the book. When word of the book was made public, however, Hughes contacted reporters to denounce it as false. Not wishing to appear in public, the billionaire would talk to reporters only via telephone. Thus, a “spectographic voiceprint analysis,” measuring tone, pitch and volume, was conducted to determine if the speaker was indeed Howard Hughes.
Although a handwriting expert had previously been fooled by the notes that Irving had forged, the voice analyst correctly identified the speaker as Hughes. Irving was exposed and confessed before the book was published. He spent 17 months in prison, while Suskind spent five. Irving later wrote a book about the scheme,The Hoax, which became a major motion picture in 2008.
5. The Night Stalker
Between June 1984 and August 1985, a Southern California serial killer dubbed the Night Stalker broke into victims’ houses as they slept and attacked, murdering 13 and assaulting numerous others. With citizens on high alert, an observant teenager noticed a suspicious vehicle driving through his neighborhood on the night of August 24, 1985. He wrote down the license plate and notified the police. It just so happened that the Night Stalker’s latest attack took place that night in that area, so police tracked down the car. It had been abandoned, but police found a key piece of evidence inside: a fingerprint.
Using new computer system, investigators quickly matched the print to 25-year-old Richard Ramirez and plastered his image in the media. Within a week, Ramirez was recognized and captured by local citizens. He was sentenced to death and currently sits in prison on death row.
6. Machine Gun Kelly
George “Machine Gun” Kelly was a notorious criminal during the Prohibition era, taking part in bootlegging, kidnapping and armed robbery. On July 22, 1933, he and another man kidnapped wealthy Oklahoma City oilman Charles Urschel. After a series of ransom notes and communications, a $200,000 ransom was paid — the largest amount ever paid in a kidnapping to date.
Urschel was released nine days later, unharmed. The oilman had shrewdly paid close attention to every detail during his ordeal and was able to relate it all to police. Although he was blindfolded, he could tell day from night and was able to estimate the time of day that he heard airplanes fly above. He also noted the date and time of a thunderstorm and the types of animals he heard in what he presumed to be a farmhouse.
Using his memories, the FBI pinpointed the likely location in which Urschel was held to a farm owned by Kelly’s father-in-law. What truly linked Kelly and his gang to the kidnapping, though, was Urschel’s fingerprints, which he made sure to place on as many items in the house as possible. Kelly was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1954.
7. The Green River Killer
The Green River Killer was responsible for a rash of murders — at least 48 but possibly close to 90 — along the Green River in Washington state in the ’80s and ’90s. Most of the killings occurred in 1982-83, and the victims were almost all prostitutes. One of the suspects that police had identified as early as 1983 was Gary Ridgway, a man with a history of frequenting and abusing prostitutes. However, although they collected DNA samples from Ridgway in 1987, the technology available didn’t allow them to connect him to the killings.
It wasn’t until 2001 that new DNA techniques spurred the reexamination of evidence that incriminated Ridgway. He was arrested and later confessed. Ridgway pleaded guilty to 48 murders — later confessing to even more, which remain unconfirmed — in exchange for being spared the death penalty. He was sentenced to 48 life sentences without the possibility of parole.
8. BTK Killer
The BTK (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) Killer was a serial killer who terrorized the Wichita, Kansas area between 1974 and 1991, murdering 10 people over the span. The killer craved media attention and sent letters to local newspapers and TV stations, taunting investigators. It’s this egotism that led to his capture, however. When he resurfaced in 2004 with a series of communications, he chose to send a computer floppy disk to theWichita Eagle. Forensic analysts traced the deleted data on the disk to a man named Dennis at the Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita. It didn’t take long for the police to arrest Dennis Rader, who confessed and was sentenced to nine life terms in prison.
9. Jeffrey MacDonald
Early in the morning of February 17, 1970, the family of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald was attacked, leaving the doctor’s pregnant wife and two young daughters dead from multiple stab wounds. MacDonald himself was injured by what he claimed to be four suspects, but he survived with only minor wounds. Doubt was immediately cast on the doctor’s story, based on the physical evidence on the scene that suggested that he was the killer. However, the Army dropped the case because of the poor quality of the investigative techniques.
Several years later, though, MacDonald was brought to trial in a civilian court. Key evidence was provided by a forensic scientist who testified that the doctor’s pajama top, which he claimed to have used to ward off the killers, had 48 smooth, clean holes — too smooth for such a volatile attack. Furthermore, the scientist noted that if the top was folded, the 48 holes could easily have been created by 21 thrusts — the exact number of times that MacDonald’s wife had been stabbed.
The holes even matched the pattern of her wounds, suggesting that the pajama top had been laid on her before during the stabbing and not used in self-defense by the doctor. This crime scene reconstruction was crucial in MacDonald’s conviction in 1979. He was sentenced to life in prison for the three murders.
10. John Joubert
In 1983, two murders of schoolboys rocked the Omaha, Nebraska area. The body of one of the boys was found tied with a type of rope that investigators couldn’t identify. While following up on the lead of a mysterious man scouting out a school, they traced the suspect’s license plate to John Joubert, a radar technician at the local Air Force base. In his belongings, they found a rope matching the unusual one used in the murder (which turned out to be Korean).
Although DNA analysis technology was not yet an option, the extreme rarity of the rope was enough to lead to Joubert’s confession. Furthermore, hair from one of the victims was found in Joubert’s car. The child killer was even linked to a third murder, in Maine, when his teeth were found to match bite marks on a boy killed in 1982. Joubert was found guilty of all three murders and was put to death in the electric chair in 1996.
Criminal investigations frequently employ the technique of digital forensics. It entails gathering digital evidence from a range of sources, including infrastructures, tools, and devices like computers, mobile phones, emails, hard drives, and cloud storage platforms.
These are a few well-known situations when digital forensics was very important.
The BTK Killer
You can’t talk about criminal cases and digital forensics without mentioning the infamous BTK killer case. What remained to be a mystery for more than 30 years was finally solved via digital forensics in the early 2000s.
The “BTK Killer,” aka Dennis Rader, tortured and killed at least ten people while he was still at loose and undiscovered. He’d taunt the police forces by sending them cryptic messages during his killing sprees, baffling them even more. However, it was this very habit that finally led to his arrest. In 2005, Rader sent the police a Microsoft Word document on a floppy disk. Digital forensics experts were able to trace the metadata contained within the disk, helping unveil the BTK Killer’s true identity. Rader was finally arrested and imprisoned shortly after this.
The Craigslist Killer
When you think of Craigslist, you typically think of buying and selling products online. Over a decade ago, however, the website name was associated with a murder case that was eventually solved through digital forensics.
In April 2009, Boston was shaken by the murder of a young woman in her hotel room. There was also a reported case of assault on another woman who was robbed at gunpoint. What did the two victims have in common? They had both advertised their services on Craigslist and had an appointment with a man named “Andy” on the night of the crime scene.
When investigators traced the emails exchanged between the victims and “The Craigslist Killer,” the IP addresses led them to an unlikely suspect: 23-year old Philip Markoff, a medical student. This was a massive victory for digital forensics, and it showcased how the technology can be used in crime cases.
Larry J. Thomas Vs State of Indiana
In 2016, Larry J. Thomas was found guilty of an attempted robbery that resulted in the murder of Rito Llamas-Juarez. While the case had eyewitnesses who confirmed Thomas’s presence at the crime scene, digital forensics helped strengthen the case even further.
During the investigation, the authorities took the content posted on the culprit’s Facebook account under consideration. They found that he had been using a handle named “Slaughtaboi Larro” and had posted photos of himself carrying an assault rifle. The ammunition used in the murder case matched that of the weapon shown in Thomas’s online images. The photos were also used to match a bracelet found at the crime scene. Thomas had been wearing a similar bracelet in the pictures posted online. Consequently, Thomas was arrested and imprisoned.
The Future of Forensics: Emerging Trends
The area of digital forensics is developing at a rate never seen before in our increasingly digitalized society. Because there are always going to be new issues and trends, investigators need to keep learning new skills and adapting.
The aforementioned trends emphasize the significance of consistent training and obtaining pertinent certifications for professional growth in order to maintain a competitive edge. The top 6 growing trends in digital forensics are identified and explained below, along with helpful tips for overcoming them. We also highlight how ongoing education and certification can keep investigators at the forefront of this rapidly developing industry.
Smartphones are everywhere, and they carry a ton of information. Mobile forensics, therefore, is a powerful trend that investigators can’t afford to overlook. Leading organizations like Cellebrite provide specialized tools and services to extract and analyze mobile data.
Many of today’s most high-profile criminal cases have relied on Mobile Evidence and Data to reach their outcomes. Hone your skills by staying up-to-date with these technologies and understanding the various operating systems and their security measures.
With more data being stored in the cloud, investigators must learn how to access and analyze this information effectively. Cloud forensics requires understanding various cloud-based services’ structures and the legal implications of accessing data stored off-premises.
Build your expertise in this area by deepening your understanding of cloud environments and their associated security protocols and staying abreast of the evolving legal landscape around cloud data access.
The Internet of Things (IoT) — a network of connected devices ranging from smart appliances to vehicles — presents another rich data source for investigators. However, extracting and interpreting data from these devices can be complex, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. Deepen your skill by building knowledge about IoT devices, their communication protocols, and how to retrieve and analyze their data.
Artificial Intelligence in Forensics
AI is here — and it’s all anyone is talking about. AI and machine learning are powerful tools that can sift through vast amounts of data to find patterns and evidence that human analysts might miss. Harness this trend by familiarizing yourself with AI and machine learning principles and learning how to apply these tools in your investigations to make your work even more impactful—and efficient.
As privacy measures strengthen, so do the challenges in accessing encrypted data. Decryption capabilities and understanding the legal boundaries around encryption are critical for investigators. Stay ahead of this trend by developing knowledge around ever-evolving encryption algorithms, emerging decryption techniques, the legalities around encrypted data, and the compliance rules surrounding them.
The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed the trend toward remote digital forensics — and it’s here to stay. This involves accessing and analyzing digital evidence remotely when in-person access to a device or network isn’t possible or safe. Improve your skillset by mastering remote access tools and techniques and understanding how to maintain the integrity of digital evidence in a remote setting.
These are just a handful of the major trends driving the future of digital forensics. While you might know them, a refresher never hurts, especially if you’re not yet certified — or your certification has lapsed. Learning these trends and enhancing your skills can help you remain ahead in the field.
Success Stories in Forensics
Solving cold cases provides closure for families who have waited years for justice. Recent developments in DNA evidence analysis and true crime artistry are hastening these long-overdue resolutions. Unfortunately, closing a case also means bringing up painful memories associated with these tragedies. However, knowing the full truth of what happened can bring peace of mind to loved ones of murder victims whose deaths have been shrouded in mystery and heartbreak.
With the increasing use of DNA analysis, cold cases are being solved faster than ever. In the past, cold murder cases could remain unsolved for decades due to a lack of evidence. However, modern advances in DNA technology mean that police can now solve the most long-term murder cases and overturn wrongful convictions.
For example, in Germany in 2023, a man was arrested as a suspect in a 1988 cold murder case after police used DNA analysis to match the suspect’s profile with evidence from the crime scene. Moreover, in 2017, DNA testing exonerated 71-year-old Craig Coley of a double murder he was wrongfully convicted of in 1978.
True crime media and stories have become increasingly popular in recent years, as they provide a medium to explore the intricacies of unsolved cold murder cases and other mysteries. While it is easy to dismiss true crime solely as entertainment, its presence in society has undeniably contributed to solving historical cold cases. Michelle McNamara, an American true crime author and journalist, wrote a bestselling book about the Golden State Killer, which was published posthumously after her death in 2016.
Her book turned into an HBO docu-series titled “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” and two months after its release, police arrested and later convicted serial killer and rapist Joseph James DeAngelo. The true crime genre does more than sell books: it brings attention to previously forgotten cases and helps generate public interest in unsolved crimes.
1. Conviction of the Golden State Killer, 1974-1986: Solved through DNA evidence.
Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and charged with 13 counts of murder in 2018, linked to multiple unsolved cold cases that dated as far back as 1974. To find him, investigators used public genealogy databases matching the efforts with data obtained from the victims’ relatives leading them closer and closer until they found DeAngelo himself by using his discarded items, such as razors and napkins, to obtain his DNA which connected him to 13 murders, 51 sexual assaults, and 120 burglaries.
The HBO limited series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” released shortly before DeAngelo’s arrest in 2018, featured the case of the Golden State Killer, as told through interviews with victims, family members, and investigators, providing an in-depth look at how this unsolved case was eventually solved. In 2020, The Guardian reported DeAngelo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
2. Murder of Susan Berman, 2000: Solved through witness testimony.
Robert Durst is a New York real estate heir who has been accused of, and convicted of, several criminal activities. He was initially arrested in 2001 for the murder of his neighbor in Galveston, Texas, but he was eventually acquitted after claiming self-defense. The investigation into this case reignited in 2015 when Durst was a key suspect in the disappearance of his first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst. The documentary series, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” detailed the alleged criminal activities.
On the same night, the final episode aired, Durst was arrested for the murder of Susan Berman, his long-time friend, who knew the truth about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife. In September 2020, Durst was sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Susan Berman in December 2000. Shortly after, he was charged with the murder of his first wife, but it never went to trial. According to The Guardian, Durst died in a California hospital in January 2022 while serving his life sentence.
3. Murders and Sexual Assault of Lloyd Duane Bogle and Patricia Kalitzke, 1956: Solved through DNA evidence.
In 1956, three boys discovered the body of 18-year-old Lloyd Duane Bogle near his car with a gunshot wound to the head, the victim’s hands tied behind his back. The following day, a county road worker uncovered 16-year-old Patricia Kalitzke’s body north of Great Falls; she was shot and sexually assaulted.
These killings remained unsolved until June 2021, when investigators announced they had used DNA evidence and forensic genealogy to crack the case, making it one of the oldest cold cases solved using these methods. Unfortunately, the killer, Kenneth Gould, died in 2007.
Still, according to NPR, his surviving family members cooperated with investigators and gave their DNA samples to confirm he was the murderer, bringing closure to a 60-year-old case.
4. Death of Baby Theresa, 2009: Solved through DNA evidence.
In 2022, new developments in the 2009 “Baby Theresa” case were revealed. A moniker given to a nameless newborn found by the side of a road, the body of Baby Theresa was found on June 5th, 2009, deceased and tied up in a garbage bag near Theresa, Wisconsin. DNA evidence identified Baby Theresa’s biological parents, Karin Luttinen, and her boyfriend (who was not named in the case). Authorities found the parents through DNA technology, according to WMTV.
Forensic investigation showed that “Baby Theresa” died during or soon after birth and was not murdered, but whose body was abandoned. In September 2022, Karin Luttinen was sentenced to three years of probation after her guilty plea for concealing the death of a child.
5. Murder of Nancy Marie Bennallack, 1970: Solved through DNA evidence.
For nearly 52 years, the cold case of Nancy Marie Bennallack’s murder had been a mystery. In October 1970, the 28-year-old court reporter was brutally stabbed in her Sacramento apartment. Her family, friends, and even her then fiancé, whom she was supposed to marry about a month later, had no answers for decades about who killed her.
In August 2022, Yahoo! News reported investigators from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office and Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office identified Richard John Davis as Nancy’s killer thanks to the advanced technology of DNA genealogy techniques, which have been used extensively to capture the Golden State Killer. Davis died from complications of alcoholism in 1997 at age 54. The cold case was finally put to rest after more than four decades.
6. Murder of Anna Jean Kane, 1988: Solved through DNA evidence.
The cold case of Anna Jean Kane’s murder goes back over 35 years, making it one of the longest unsolved cases in Pennsylvania. The brutal crime occurred on October 23, 1988, alongside a road in Perry Township. After decades of dead-ends, breakthrough DNA genetic genealogy technology has finally identified Scott Grim as the killer. Pennsylvania State Police and Berks County District Attorney John Adams broke the news in August 2022.
It is an incredible development that offers long-awaited closure for Anna Kane’s family, especially with added insight from a chilling letter sent to a local newspaper after her death that contained intimate details of the crime.
In February 1990, the cold case was reignited when an anonymous letter, signed by a “concerned citizen”, addressed the newspaper containing “numerous intimate details” about the murder. State Police Trooper Daniel Womer said this led them to believe that the letter’s author may have been responsible for the homicide. The saliva-sealed envelope from which the letter was sent tested positive for DNA matching that on Kane’s clothing, indicating Scott Grim as a possible suspect.
Unfortunately, Grim passed away in 2018 due to natural causes and could not be brought to trial to testify. He had been just 26 years of age at the time of Kane’s murder, according to NBC.
7. Murder and Sexual Assault of Fawn Marie Cox, 1989: Solved through DNA evidence.
The cold case of Fawn Cox has been a source of deep grief and immense frustration for Kansas City Missouri Police Department detectives over the last three decades. On June 26th, 1989, someone broke into her bedroom window and sexually assaulted her before killing her in cold blood—all while the rest of her family slept on, oblivious to the violence happening in the other room. Thankfully, crime scene investigators collected bodily fluids from a potential suspect then, although current forensic technology did not allow them to pinpoint the culprit.
Using genealogical DNA results, they could narrow in on Donald Cox, Jr., Fawn’s cousin, who had passed away in 2006. Though his death was not due to foul play, it was suspicious enough for the medical examiner to retain a blood sample from the investigation. Upon extraction and comparison with an existing DNA profile from the original crime scene 14 years prior, there proved to be a match. When investigators shared this discovery with Fawn’s family in November 2020, both of her still-living parents expressed sorrow yet relief that their suspicions may have been true all along.
8. Murder and Sexual Assault of Jodi Loomis, 1972: Solved through DNA evidence.
The cold case of Jody Loomis had haunted families and police officers for 47 years, until a stunning development in 2019 when the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department identified a suspect, according to the Seattle Times. On August 23, 1972, when Jody Loomis’ body was discovered lying by a dirt road with a gunshot wound above her right ear, DNA evidence was preserved on her body and boots.
Years later, the evidence was submitted for genetic genealogy identification. It linked it to 78-year-old Terrence Miller, who lived only 17 minutes from the crime scene where Jody had been murdered. This compelled officers to arrest and charge Miller with first-degree murder. Using DNA evidence, authorities could match Miller’s genetic profile to the semen collected from Jody’s boots. Unfortunately, Miller took his own life just hours before he was to be convicted by a jury.
9. Murder and Sexual Assault of Shannon Rose Lloyd and Renee Cuevas, 1987: Solved through DNA evidence.
In May 1987, police were stymied by the death of Shannon Lloyd in Orange County, California, who was found sexually assaulted and strangled to death in her own apartment. Though a suspect wasn’t found at the time, two whole years later, in 1989, another California woman, Renee Cuevas, met with a similar destiny—and both cases were separately investigated until 2003 when CODIS (The Combined DNA Index System) revealed that their crime scenes shared the same genealogical match. However, no suspect could be pinpointed from the data collected.
In 2021, investigators turned to a revolutionary approach: using genetic genealogy to find suspects. This technique finds partial matches using an unknown individual’s sample of DNA and attempts to build a family tree based on these similarities. According to NBC Los Angeles, the DNA investigation led detectives back to Rueben Smith, who had lived in the area during both crimes. It was revealed that he had a criminal record for sexual assault and attempted murder in Las Vegas dating back to 1998; a DNA sample taken then was later used to connect him to the cold case murders. In 1999, Mr. Smith died by suicide.
10. Murder of George and Catherine Peacock, 1989: Solved through DNA evidence.
After a cold case of 33 years, the mystery surrounding the 1989 murders of George and Catherine Peacock of Danby, Vermont, had finally been cracked. The couple, aged 76 and 73 at the time, had been stabbed to death in their home with no signs of forced entry.
Michael Louise, the Peacocks’ son-in-law, was identified as a suspect a few weeks later, but he remained free due to an absence of hard evidence against him. Nearly two decades later, in May 2020, according to NECN, a cold case unit from Vermont finally got its break when new forensic tests on a blood sample found in Louise’s car linked back to George Peacock. In 2022, police arrested Louise for double homicide, and justice for the Peacocks was served posthumously.
Forensics Online Courses: FAQs
Q: What is Forensic Science?
A: Forensic science the application of science to those criminal and civil laws that are enforced by police agencies in a criminal justice system. A forensic scientist analyzes physical evidence and gives written information and/or expert testimony in a court of law. There are many disciplines and career paths within forensic science.
Q: What does a forensic scientist do?
A: Many forensic scientists work in crime laboratories. For example, a forensic biologist usually specializes in DNA analysis or continues to medical school to pursue a career as a medical examiner, a forensic chemist analyzes non-biological trace evidence found at crime scenes in order to identify unknown materials and match samples to known substances. A forensic geologist applies soil analysis to crime investigations, and a forensic physicist works with trajectories.
Q: What are the other specialized forensic science careers outside the crime laboratory?
A: Forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, forensic entomology, forensic psychiatry, forensic odontology, forensic engineering, and so on.
Q: How do I become a forensic scientist?
A: If you wish to work in a crime laboratory, you must obtain a degree where you have a sound grounding in the basic sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. For most jobs, you must also have a master’s degree in biology or chemistry. A major in criminal justice is not adequate preparation for a career in forensic science.
Q: I’m in high school; how can I prepare myself to be a forensic scientist?
A: If you want to get ready for this career starting in high school, you should take as many mathematics and science courses as possible, develop public speaking skills, and enhance your writing skills.
Q: What are the services of a crime laboratory?
A: A crime laboratory usually includes five basic services:
Physical Science unit: uses the principles of chemistry, physics, and geology to identify and compare physical evidence;
Biology unit: applies knowledge of biological sciences in order to investigate blood samples, body fluids, hair and fiber samples;
Firearms unit: investigates discharged bullets, cartridge cases, shotgun shells and ammunition;
Document unit: provides the skills needed for handwriting analysis and other questioned document issues; and
Photographic unit: applies specialized photographic techniques for recording and examining physical evidence.
Additional services may include toxicology, fingerprint analysis, voiceprint analysis, evidence collection and polygraph (lie detector) administration.
Q: Where can I find more information about forensic science?
A: Visit the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) http://aafs.org/ or other websites listed under the Links section,
Conclusion: Mastering the Art of Investigation
In conclusion, forensics is a dynamic and evolving field that plays a critical role in solving crimes, protecting data, and understanding human behavior. Online courses in forensics offer a flexible and accessible path to acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to excel in this intriguing discipline. Whether you’re an aspiring investigator or a seasoned professional seeking to enhance your expertise, the world of online forensics courses is open and ready to empower you on your journey to mastering the art of investigation.