A Cold Case, A Mystery, and DNA

“How do you like the name Jack?” the woman on the phone asked.

41731849 - soft focus and blurry of baby hands vintage style color effectOn April 26, 1964, a nurse came into the hospital room of Dora Fronczak, who had just given birth to her young son, Paul. She told Mrs. Fronczak that it was time to take the baby to the nursery (at that time newborns did not stay in the room with the moms), took the baby, and left. A few hours later, another nurse came into the room to take young Paul to the nursery. It was then that everyone realized a mother’s worst fear: Her infant had been stolen.

Authorities were able to determine how the woman left the hospital and that she got into a cab, but they were never able to find the woman. However in 1965, a small toddler-aged boy was found, abandoned outside a store in New Jersey. Blood tests were not inconsistent with him being Paul Fronczak (DNA testing was not available), and there were no other missing children cases in the area that were matches. The little boy was sent to Chicago as Paul Fronczak and the case was closed.

However, as an adult Paul Fronczak, began to suspect that the couple who raised him were not his biological parents, and in 2012 Paul underwent DNA analysis to test his suspicions. The results showed that indeed, he was not the biological son of Dora and Chester Fronczak. His next step was to enlist the help of a genetic genealogist to assist him in finding his true biological parents and his identity.

By conducting “familial searches” using commercially available DNA databases like 23andMe and AncestryDNA and many resources, the genealogist’s group found a match to his DNA on the east coast. Further ground work, discovered that this family was indeed Paul’s…now Jack.

The knowledge of Jack’s true identity, didn’t bring with it a joyous union of the adoptive family who had raised and loved Jack (as Paul) with the biological family who had pined for him over the years as many might imagine. Continue reading

Bones: Improved Technology is Bringing Loved Ones Home

21537407 - archeology, human bonesToday’s Promega Connections blog is written by guest blogger Rachel H. Oefelein, QA Manager/Senior DNA Analyst at DNA Labs International. 

Shakespeare said, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  This is continually true in the case of unidentified remains throughout the United States.  The action of a person going missing or the events leading to an individual’s demise are frequently the memory that haunts a town or the media for years to come. However, for each such case, somewhere lies a set of skeletal remains not yet found, or just as tragic, recovered but still unidentified.  The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) estimates approximately 40,000 sets of unidentified skeletal remains linger in morgues around the country or that have been cremated and buried as Jane and John Does.

Many crime labs do not have protocols in place for the extraction of DNA from skeletal remains or have outdated protocols for bone extraction that are not sensitive enough for poor quality bones. Bones are often recovered from harsh environments and have been exposed to extreme heat, time, acidic soil, swamp, chemicals treatment, etc. These harsh environmental conditions degrade the DNA present in the remains which further complicates the already difficult procedure of releasing the DNA in cells buried deep within the bone matrix. Another challenge is that cases often involve recovery of skeletal remains in areas with animal activity, water recoveries and scenes involving explosions or fires; these case types may require re-association of dozens if not hundreds of bones and bone fragments. Continue reading

Meet Sue Wigdal, Senior Quality Assurance Scientist on the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Sue Wigdal, Senior Quality Assurance Scientist. Continue reading

Familial Searching Solves Cold Cases—At What Cost?

A cold case that had stumped investigators for nearly 41 years was solved last month. The 1976 sexual assault and murder of Karen Klass, ex-wife of Righteous Brother’s singer Bill Medley, shocked her Hermosa Beach, CA community and captured the public interest. Failing to make any arrests for decades, detectives were able to use DNA evidence to eliminate suspects in 1999 but were unable to find a database match. In 2011, investigators decided to try a new technique called a familial search and, after a few attempts, successfully identified the perpetrator.

Familial searching (FS) involves taking a DNA profile obtained from a crime scene and comparing it to profiles in CODIS and other databases to identify male relatives. The DNA profile of an immediate family member, such as a sibling, parent or child, can provide a match that generates new leads for law enforcement. Detectives can then collect additional evidence to narrow down that new pool of individuals to a single suspect.DNA-Handcuffs-double-exposure-R2

Last May I wrote a blog featuring a Q & A about FS provided by Mr. Rockne Harmon, a respected member of the forensic community and passionate advocate for FS. Supporters, like Harmon, and opponents agree that this method of obtaining matches to DNA evidence has demonstrated scientific precision and successful outcomes, as in the Klass case. However, it is still considered controversial and most states have not implemented specific policies regarding the application of FS to criminal investigations. So why isn’t the use of FS more widespread?

Continue reading

Meet Brian Hayman, Program Manager on the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Brian Hayman, Program Manager. Continue reading

Meet Lisa Misner, Technical Support and Training Specialist on the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Lisa Misner, Technical Support and Training Specialist. Continue reading

Meet Tony Gonzalez, Global Service Specialist for the Spectrum CE

29160613_lPromega will soon introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines—from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Tony Gonzalez, Global Service Specialist. Continue reading

We Need More Conferences Like ISHI: Memoirs of a First Timer

Keynote speaker David O’Shea kicked off the ISHI 27 conference with his investigation on how DNA profiling is helping to reunite families in Argentina after the military coup in the late 70’s.

We shared in laughter and tears. We tempered our scientific pursuit of the truth with the story of an unimaginably strong survivor of rape. We witnessed the struggles of a man trying to find his identity and the joy of being reunited with real family members after 30 years of lies. I find it hard to succinctly describe to others what my first ISHI conference was like. There is perhaps nothing more personal than our own genetic identities. This conference didn’t shy away from the raw emotions that encompass the human experience. We define ourselves as employees of this company or researchers at that institution, competing for attention and funding, yet this conference reveals how limiting these preconceptions may be.

The desire to make the world a better place unites us. I spoke with analysts for hours about the challenges of overcoming the sexual assault kit backlog, I made a fool of myself dancing to musical bingo with new friends from the Philippines and Brazil, and I was inspired by the casual musings of a video journalist. We are sure to see countless more ethical debates on how we should be using DNA (or proteins!) for human identification. The field of science relies on the open sharing and exploration of new ideas, and as admittedly biased as I am to the conveniences of the digital age, there has never been a better time to come together in person.

Don’t just take my word for it, though.

There were some phenomenal talks each day, and I did my best to capture the essential takeaways from Continue reading

Of Elephant Research and Wildlife Crime – Molecular Tools that Matter

Here at Promega we receive some interesting requests…

Take the case of Virginia Riddle Pearson, elephant scientist. Three years ago we received an email from Pearson requesting a donation of GoTaq G2 Taq polymerase to take with her to Africa for her field work on elephant herpesvirus. Working out of her portable field lab (a tent) in South Africa and Botswana, she needed a polymerase she could count on to perform reliably after being transported for several days (on her lap) at room temperature. Through the joint effort of her regional sales representative in New Jersey/Pennsylvania (Pearson’s lab was based out of Princeton University at the time) and our Genomics product marketing team, she received the G2 Taq she needed to take to Africa. There she was able to conduct her experiments, leading to productive results and the opportunity to continue pursuing her work. Continue reading

Meet Jonelle Thompson, Validation Services Manager for the Spectrum CE Instrument

29160613_lPromega will soon introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines—from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Jonelle Thompson, Validation Services Manager. Continue reading